From any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary. –Walt Whitman

Yesterday morning I was sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops savoring my coffee and the words I was reading.  I was engrossed in a passage, lost in thought, when I sensed that someone had settled in next to me.

I looked up and there was another regular, Ali.  His warm smile greeted me and invited me into connection-conversation.  He began to describe some things that were occurring with his youngest son, a college student who is trying to find his way; he described some of the challenges that were emerging with the employees at the company he owned.  And he described the on-going dramas that continues to unfold in our country.

After some time Ali looked at me and said: I am swimming in the sea of chaos and confusion.

Later, when I was settling in at home with a few books I remembered a Greenleaf quote.  I pulled out a few of his essays and paged through them.  On page 45 of Greenleaf’s essay, Advices to Servants I found the quote: ‘…all is confusion.’

Greenleaf wrote: all is confusion may be seen as describing an opportunity. It presents all an opportunity because it is a threat.  I have watched closely many able leaders… The best of them feel that a prolonged period of calm and stability is a greater threat to viability than is an occasional state of confusion.  …they will do something to deliberately create confusion… …struggle is of the very essence, it is life giving, therefore it is necessary.  I look upon the struggle to recover from confusion as a necessary condition for viability.

I have known a number of leaders like the ones Greenleaf described.  The ones I knew were all primarily ‘visionaries.’  They were constantly contributing to, if not directly causing, confusion.  They would, literally, wander around and ‘plant seeds of confusion’ by listening in on conversations and then as they were taking their leave they would offer a question that would invite ‘contrary’ thinking.

They believed that if they could help keep folks off-balance that these folks would become more creative – more options and possibilities would emerge.  Generally, they were correct.  Their companies were not only full of creative energy they were always on the ‘cutting edge’ of their industry.  One of these leaders told me that his job was to ‘stir the pot of complacency.’  And he was really good when it came to being a ‘pot stirrer.’

On the other hand, the leaders I knew who were gifted ‘operationalizers,’ not ‘conceptualizers,’ worked hard at maintaining ‘stability.’  They did not suffer visionaries well.  Intellectually they knew that it developing and integrating and embracing a vision was important they were more comfortable focusing on the ‘mission’ and the action-steps needed in order to live into and out of the mission.

Ironically, the operations-centered leader’s organizations experienced greater ‘threat’ from their competitors than the visionary-centered leader’s organizations did.  The op-centered organizations tended to be industry followers and were almost always ‘behind’ when it came to being on the ‘cutting edge’.  As one of these op-centered leaders said to me: ‘Richard, I don’t like to be on the cutting edge.  In fact, I like to be about 50 yards behind the plow.’

How about you, gentle reader, do you like to be on the cutting edge or would you rather be 50 yards behind the plow?

We are called to be architects of the future…—R. Buckminster Fuller



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