A balancing act…

by Didier Marlier on Saturday September 21st, 2013

Oriana Nawezi is the youngest member of our team. She showed me a video clip which had profoundly moved her and she offered to write a blog post that would draw leadership lessons from it. Here it is: the few clients who were fortunate to see her comment it this week in Luxwmburg were all impressed.

Having formally joined the Enablers team 18 months ago and widely bought in its ideas, I was at first surprised when reading Didier’s last blog in July where he self-challenged and destroyed his own “orthodoxy” about the three levers of performance (Logos, Ethos and Pathos) that he had so fully embraced until now. But, his addition of a fourth one (about personal conviction and ethics, spirituality) really made sense to me. A further exchange of mails between him and a Brazilian consultant, Fernando Lanzer, where Fernando was confirming that, even in Aristotle’s’ views there were indeed an ethical agenda (Ethos, “human character and goodness”) and a behavioural one (Praxis), made a lot of sense to me.

So, in order to illustrate my thinking, I chose an amazing clip from Miyoko Shida performing a breath taking “balancing act”.  It displays a scene which I find very illustrative of a leader’s journey, her strength, her determination and her “Deep Intent”.

The Deep Intent is illustrated by… a feather, which is so light, so fragile, a feather which weighs almost nothing but is at the center of everything. Without it, the whole structure collapses. It weighs nothing but it allows us to always progress further, to aim higher. This feather represents our inner self, what guides us in our daily decision and actions. It is the duality between Good and Bad, the Values that we embrace. This feather is vulnerable as it has to co-exist with the Values of other people, with society and the pressures we, as leaders, cannot walk away from.

Just like Miyoko, we pile-up experiences, constraints and wounds from life which are symbolized here by the branches that she handles so carefully and cautiously. Little by little, through the skirmishes of life, we build ourselves, our convictions, our choices, our likes and dislikes. We learn to keep them in balance. We try to progress the best that we can, whilst keeping an eye on our feather, our Deep Intent. Day by day, we all perform “balancing acts”, each one of us building our own construction with determination and patience…

I can hear some of you think : “Thank you but so what for leadership ? What is the difference between a “normal” human being, carrying his daily fate and a leader?” Choice! : A true leader has, just a Miyoko, chosen to carry and balance his weight, he is aware of the difficulties he will be confronted with but he is not deterred by them. He is not a victim of his choices, he takes full ownership of them. He knows the journey will be a long one, he expects to carry the heaviest weight. He chooses to be the captain of his own boat, the master of his own destiny. But what differentiates an Ethos (Values) driven leader from a tyrannical, ego-driven “boss” is that he will do this whilst remaining integer to his Deep Intent and enjoys what he does. Because he refuses to negotiate the Values that are dear to him, he guarantees his integrity. He does not compromise for easy choices nor to save time. He invites all of his followers, because he stands in the middle of them, he can show them the way, he is connected. He “carries” the biggest weight and excels at self-derision. When Miyoko stands there, “carrying” her “Mission” on her head, when she turns to the audience and stares at us with pride, strength and fierce determination, it is a true, Values based leader that we see in action. We, as spectators, are all well aware of the difficulty of her challenge and here she is, replying by saying “I will go until the end, I will accomplish my duty”. And here, my thoughts go to all of you, leaders, who have a “Mission” to accomplish, those of you carrying a whole construction on your head, accommodating your own lives, your personal objectives with those of your teams and people. I can see you when she stares at us, with her determination and resolution to succeed.

And… that is precisely the moment where this magic quote that you all heard so many times, from so many consultants, comes up… You have got to let it go!!! What? Letting go after getting so close from the “Holy Grail Quest”, so close from achievement and perfection??? You are asking us to let go, to me who has grown so used to carry the World on my shoulders? I have been at the helm of so many decisions… and you request me to… let go? I have become a “winning machine”, my body and my soul have been so accustomed to carry objectives, results and people and I should let go? Even if I were to agree, how would I do it?

Some succeed in letting go, they manage to carefully hand the fruit of their determination over in the good hands of someone else. As Miyoko does it, they contemplate their artwork, they savor the result of so many sacrifices and reconnect with their public, their families, their loved ones… They take the time to appreciate, celebrate and congratulate themselves and their team. Having dedicated so much energy to the art of doing, they may finally reconnect with their deeper being. When, by the end of the clip, Miyoko finally delicately lifts her feather off, the masterpiece disappears and it is for me the symbol of her being finally able to reconnect with her deeper self, having let go of the task to achieve. Being able to let go of your outstanding realization, taking all the weight off our shoulders, enjoying the celebration and recognizing our achievement prior to getting ready to rebuild… Maybe this is is what Leadership Ethos truly is about: Managing carefully this balancing act.

I have had the privilege to work with some of you, leading under very different conditions in so many different parts of the world, acting in such different sectors of the economy. And when I first saw this clip, your collective stories came to my mind. Ethos based leaders seem to balance their Deep Intent with the one of others and, because this is no soft consensus but strongly Values driven, they manage to reach their demanding objectives. Great leaders seem to be able to contemplate and celebrate the result of their work, with their team, the translation of their values in behaviours (Praxis) made them credible and supported by all. The energy emerging from their Deep Intent enabled them to take their feather back and reconnect to their deeper self.

Another powerful image that comes to my mind is the one of the captain, having built his boat with his own hands, who turns it over to another sailor, entrusting him with the mission and crew. He trusts that they will reach their destiny since the work has been done, balancing at best the conflicting agendas, pressures, circumstances… His boat will not sink, he may start a new one when this one will float away.

Miyoko’s amazing performance certainly is the fruit of Logos, a carefully thought of and detailed plan. Her behavior and gestures (Praxis) have been trained so many times that she commits no mistakes or knows how to quickly recover, should she need it. Her passion (Pathos) is very tangible. But what keeps her together, what gives her this amazing mastery and stability? I see the strength of a fourth lever, Ethos, which structures her and provokes her to practice hours and hours, fail and recover until she finally succeeds… in order to let go and start again.

I was fascinated by her clip and the inspiration it provided me with. Thank you all for making my own leadership journey so rich! Thank you for having followed me up on my first blog post. I hope it was worth your time and effort…

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5 Responses to “A balancing act…”

  1. Thanks for sharing this video which kept my breath on hold.. Our being, when able to surface an inspiring intent, is the ground to grow leadership in. It’s worth maturing a personal deep intent and this means stepping back sometimes, to think.

    • Thank you Christophe,
      “Our being is the ground to grow leadership”… This summarizes it all… Thank you

  2. Dear Oriana, thank you for this very inspiring blog ! I have been moved by the video and your comments. The feather is the way to keep the balance right.
    Being in the IT industry, I see however quarterly pressure as a gravity force that drives leaders towards a more transactional leadership, away from transformative and engaging leadership, like a strong wind blowing the feather away from its true center.
    Thanks to your blog, I trust leaders will remember the importance of the true self to hold the balance within turbulent and quarterly-driven time.
    Thank you for sharing with us,

    • Thank you very much Axel, indeed this feather is a great illustration of “Ethos” which may not be as tangible as “Praxis” (our visible behaviours) but is the balance to everything.
      Thank you for your very illustrative comment…

  3. Thanks axel for forwarding this to me – thanks Oriana for finding this and Didier for the thoughtlful blog.


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