Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
– William B. Yeats
It may be William B. Yeats who coined that prose, but I first learned it from Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart”.
Yeats was talking about the Second Coming.
Chinua Achebe was talking about the advent of Christian missionaries who came to convert the Igbo, and the subsequent collapse of the African tribal system.
But these words, especially the last two lines, made me think about how ‘systems’ work.
Or rather, how ‘systems’ fail.
And, in particular, it made me think about the role of leadership in holding systems together.
For the system to survive, thrive …
the centre must hold;
the falconer must define and build a home base;
the falconer must call to falcon;
the falcon upon hearing the call must be inspired, compelled, to return.
I have always liked this vision of leadership, versus the autocratic and domineering style of leadership I encountered much more often growing up.
The vision of free falcons that are well-prepared … by both nature and nuture, roaming as they please.
The vision of a stable, steady, nurturing home base for the falcon to return to.
The best managers and leaders I’ve ever followed were the ones who gave me room to do, learn, grow, create without stifling or micro-managing me.
And they did make sure that there was always a solid base to return to … a centre.
So now when I think now about being a leader, I think about two things:
(1) My circle
The circle is whatever I am leading.
It could be family circle, an organisation or a part of an organisation, or a community of thinkers on a particular topic.
And I think about who is part of that circle – the falcons.
Some of those circle colleagues are leaders as well and stand in the centre with me.
Or perhaps I don’t hold the centre quite as much as others do and so I stand centre-adjacent. 🙂
(2) The center:
And then I think about the centre.
What are we, the leaders, holding together?
Is it a sustainable company? Is it a core set of skills? (e.g. productivity tools & techniques) Is it a family?
There are no leadership tools & techniques in this vision.
But, in those moments when I feel that things are falling apart and anarchy is loosing upon the world, it helps me think about the circle, finding the centre and focusing on holding that together.
Because only then, surely, will the falcon hear the call and return.