byOne of my highlights of 2018 was a two-week journey in Ecuador to work with a variety of spiritual leaders…
The wisdom, hospitality, and ease of the people I had the chance to meet is still vivid in my head and heart, four months after returning to ‘normal’ life in Manhattan. The urban ‘jungle’ that I call home is a far cry from the clearing in the Amazon rainforest to which we hiked 15 minutes to camp with one Shaman family that hosted us.
Nonetheless, as I’ve worked to integrate the learnings of the trip into daily life, I’ve realized how directly some Shaman wisdom can inform leadership, here in the Big Apple as much as in an Amazonian ritual. In the interest of paying forward some of the insights from this life-changing trip, here are nine take-aways for leaders from the Shamans I was blessed to know in Ecuador. And a quick reminder that we are all leaders! Whether it’s your family, yourself, a sports team, an entire company, your board, a friend group, or otherwise, you are – at least on some days in some moments of your life – a leader. So yes, I’m talking to you.
- Ritual is important. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, culturally or historically grounded, or even serious. But having routines to start your day, call a meeting to order, celebrate a win at home or work, begin a meal, or otherwise, is a valuable way to ensure that the moments of our lives don’t fly by unnoticed. Some of my favorite rituals, depending on the occasion, are a moment of closed eye deep breathing, a round of one-word check-ins for a group, and a solo dance party to a random selection of three songs.
- Repeat things. A lot. In simple language. Whatever you’re a leader of, it’s easy to forget that you know more about it than most of the people you’re leading. So it’s your job to clearly and continuously remind them of your shared goal so that they can contribute their respective roles. Partially because of the dual translation from Quichua to Spanish to English, the Shamans were forced to speak simply, and it was powerful.
- Play your role and guide others to do theirs, and then let them do it. Even the most inclusive or democratic leaders have a unique role to do on a team of setting the direction and tone. It doesn’t help anyone to give up that role, nor does it help anyone for you to try to do other people’s roles. Do you, make it clear what you need others to do, and then you can all get on with it.
- Prey for help and strength to do your job. These prayers don’t have to be religious, but no one has every accomplished anything of worth by herself. So ask for what you need – clearly and often.
- Gush love, be firm. The Shamans we met radiated love: love for the rainforest around us, for their ancestors, for us as curious visitors, and a palpable love of life with all its mysteries. That said, they were firm in their instructions during our time together and for the follow-up required to make the most of their work. We’ve let fear triumph over love in far too many of our institutions today, partially out of fear that love is incompatible with rules or structure. Take the Shaman way: use love with clear and healthy boundaries.
- Use your power transparently. Tell others its source and intended use. The Shamans talked regularly about what they had learned from ancestors, nature, and peers from around the world. They addressed these learnings as the source of their power, and their intent to use that power to help each of us with the challenges we had come with. Every human interaction is characterized by power differentials – often several of them. Transparency about that power and its sources and uses make it more difficult for anyone to abuse her power.
- There is always a place for fun. Even century-old rituals addressing the necessary but dark elements of healing don’t have to be stoic. There was time for giggles, light-hearted dancing, beautifully set tables, and joke-telling throughout our days with the Shamans.
- Everyone – including you – needs help. Find professionals who can provide what you need. The Shamans supported each other throughout the ceremonies we were part of. While they were each magnificently powerful leaders in their own right, on more than one occasion we saw a Shaman request assistance from another. None of us is infallible – be sure that you have the support and guidance you need to do the difficult work of leading your team.
- Collaboration makes work easy. Reviewing #3, we remember that nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished alone. When you identify your role and the roles you need others around you to play, not only do great things become possible, they become easier and fun. So find the allies and supporters you need this year, and get to it!
If you have the chance to experience the wise and generous love of an authentic Amazonian Shaman, I highly recommend it. In the meantime, keep these tips in mind as you head into 2019 – we could all use a more soulful flavor of leadership this year.