Wild Things & Peace

Wild Things & Peace
Self

Reflection and planning as a critical priority for nonprofit leaders.

A dear friend of mine shared on Facebook one of her favorite poems, “The Peace of Wild Things.”

It gave me a lot to think about.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

~ Wendell Berry, 1963

It seems to encapsulate much of the world today. And I think it highlights the realities of leadership in many nonprofit organizations, especially small- and medium-sized ones.

Being in such a position of leadership necessitates a deep understanding of the organization. It requires an awareness of what it takes to make the widget the organization produces. It empowers leaders to make decisions. And it gives them news that keeps them awake at night from terror or excitement about the future.

In my first nonprofit leadership role, I inherited plans for expansion of the organization that were ambitious. I spent my first 6 months absorbing information that was critical to our ability to expand and I had a deadline that was, at best, unrealistic. I was long on information and short on time. I wondered if I could make a quick exit that no one noticed.

My peers told me I wasn’t alone. Other small nonprofit organization leaders had similar experiences. It wasn’t, “Ready! Aim! Fire!” It was, “Ready! Fire! Aim!”

The truth about leadership in the nonprofit sector is it brings with it a burden to address the flaws or shortcomings we discover. In some ways, leaders put themselves into a state of call-and-response with the things that enter their awareness. And that state can become their new normal.

One of the things I ask leadership development clients is how much time they commit in their calendars for reflection. I’m almost always met with an incredulous look and horrified response of, “Why would I block out time in my calendar for that!?”

My answer is long: I understand how easy it is to be lulled into a sense that the needs of the organization should always come first. I’ve spent weekends and vacations on things I put off because I was committed to my job. I believed that if I filled my calendar with work-related meetings and tasks and sacrificed my weekends to move my organization forward, I would be wiser for the experience.

But experience can teach us only if we give it a way to do so.

Reflection is one way to let our experiences teach. It allows us the time and space to think, create, review, or plan. It’s imperative for leaders to spend time in deep thought because their decisions often have an impact on other people and, potentially, other organizations. Some of my clients find that time they spend in reflection is offset by efficiencies they gain in doing so.  

The peace of wild things is no accidental paradox. Berry’s insightful use of language strangely matches the realities of leading the organizations that do good where you live. The chaotically wonderful environment is happily exhausting for many of their leaders. And those are the very reasons that also demand the peace of still water.

Contact me to get started finding and sheltering your time for reflection and planning.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is Principal Coach and Consultant at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

This article was originally published at The Mission Coach Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.