A Precious Whisper In A Windstorm (A Book Review)

I just finished reading Leadership and the Art of Struggle by Steven Snyder.

In Leadership and the Art of Struggle, Steven Snyder combines examples of leadership struggles faced by leaders in many walks of life (big business, non-profit, politics) with exercises any of us can do to help clarify our path to reaching our own leadership aspirations. Woven throughout the combination of examples and exercises is a reminder of the beautiful utility of mindfulness, enabling anyone to “step off the treadmill of time.”

snyder bookI have to say, in all honesty, that there was an inherent struggle for me in reading this book, because I am personally grappling with whether or not I fit the definition of “leader” right now. I no longer supervise anyone, and I can’t think of a single individual featured in this book who did not have supervisory responsibilities. But do I lead by being my organization’s primary liaison with our health and dental plans? Do I lead by having a social media presence that I use for good in addition to the occasional tweet or status about which star should be allowed to remain on Dancing With The Stars? Do I lead by waking up every morning knowing a 16 year old and a 13 year old are still taking notes for the life they will live once they are beyond my threshold?

The above paragraph, about my current internal questions, is to some extent encapsulated in a story Steven Snyder told about a time in his life when he had made life decisions based on what seemed best for his interests and aspirations. The job he ended up in as a result of these decisions evaporated less than a year into the venture. This was not good. Steven Snyder talks about the self-pity he felt at the time: “I imagine that my reflective mind was calling out to me, trying to help, but hearing it in the midst of my panic would have been like trying to listen to a whisper in a windstorm.”

Steven Snyder explains the difference between the “automatic mind,” which “reaches judgements … quickly but often prematurely” and the “reflective mind,” which “challenges assumptions, generates multiple alternatives and evaluates them systematically” on the premise that strengthening the reflective mind can be a key to becoming a stronger leader who in turn helps other leaders grow.

When I was reading this book, I wondered if Steven Snyder had stopped by my office (or had a balcony seat to my mental goings-on!). He tells a fascinating story of Dr. David Abelson, who through a surprising twist of events moved from practicing medicine to being CEO of his large health-care delivery system. In discussing his eventual embrace of the position, Abelson said, “At some point I just heard an internal voice saying that being CEO would be my way of bringing value. It was almost a sense of reverence.”

I have had a copy of a piece of Hugh MacLeod’s artwork on my door at work for years. It says:

Credit: www.gapingvoidart.com

Credit: www.gapingvoidart.com

Dr. Abelson and I agree: reverence has to be part of the equation.

I also saw an echo of my own thought process in Steven Snyder’s discussion of Frank Russomanno, who was overlooked the first time he applied to be CEO of his organization, Imation (he was asked to stay with the organization as COO instead). He says, “I didn’t think they saw all the good things I’d done for the company.”

My personal struggles currently aren’t about feeling like good things I’ve done haven’t been seen — it’s a different twist — it’s feeling like leadership does not recognize how much I love the organization.

And for me that’s the struggle. I also believe that an organization should be performance-measures based (as much as possible). And I’m not sure where or how loving an organization factors into that. Is it better for a leader to have reports who meet every deliverable but are wishy-washy about purpose, or someone who is on fire for the purpose but not fulfilling performance metrics?

I am going to leave the struggle/loving the organization/metrics thread unresolved because I want to mention one other concept of Steven Snyder’s that resonated so deeply with me: celebrating what’s precious.

You don’t hear the word “precious” thrown around a lot in the corporate world.  But I know it’s there for each one of us. I have seen the children’s pictures tacked on to the hundreds of cubicles I have seen in visiting various contact centers in  several states. I know it’s where many people’s minds go when a meeting wanders into a counterproductive spiral — to the things, ideas, goals that are precious to them.  The precious things are the passions, actions, and choices that energize us mentally, spiritually, and physically.

I know that for me, there is a windstorm blowing and that hearing that whisper, the one that helps me follow my reflective mind which is trying to tell me where to go, is going to take commitment and, yes, some struggle.

Steven Snyder recounted a conversation in which the eighteenth-century Hasidic rabbi Zusya’s teachings were paraphrased:

At the end of your life, God will not ask you why you were not more like Moses. God will ask you why you were not more like Steven.

Yes, it is a struggle to hear that whisper through the wind, to figure out how to be “more like Paula”.  But a precious calm awaits.


Steven Snyder will be participating in a Twitter Chat on Monday, March 11, from 8 p.m. – 9 p.m. This would be a great time to hear more about his thinking (and his book)! Just tweet with the hashtag #booklaunchchat. If you can’t make the chat, you can visit his website at www.snyderleadership.com.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

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