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January 10, 2010


Would you have acknowledged the burning bush?

by Chris Lindholm

Earth's crammed with heaven,

and every common bush afire with God;

but only he who sees, takes off his shoes —

the rest sit around it and pluck blackberries (Barton, pg. 64).

One quarter of the way into Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton, reads this Elizabeth Barret Browning poem that brought me to an abrupt halt.  How many burning bushes have I missed in my principalship journey? 

Barton's book is a study of Moses' leadership, and she directs her reflections squarely at those called to spiritual leadership positions.  Maybe because I am a leader constantly trying to find the right path, and maybe because I don't leave my own soul in the car when I walk into the public junior high school that I call work, I believe Barton's thoughts are applicable to the principalship.  Indeed an average suburban principal, if true to this calling over an entire career, will impact the lives and education of thousands in the walk through 21st century wilderness, Red Seas, plagues and Pharoahs.   Barton's reflections on Moses' mistakes, on the make up of his soul that spilled into his leadership, on his decision to pursue solitude, and on his struggle to overcome his weaknesses to deliver on God's call for him are incredibly insightful about real soul struggles in the day to day business of leading a school. 

Learning to pay attention and knowing what to pay attentino to is a key discipline for leaders but one that rarely comes naturally to those of us who are barreling through life with our eyes fixed on a goal.  One of the downsides of visionary leadership is that we get our sights set on something that is so far out in the future that we miss what's going on in our life as it exists now.  We are blind to the bush that is burning in our own backyard and the wisdom that is contained within it… Amid the welter of possible distractions, leaders need time in solitude so that we can notice those things we would otherwise miss due to the pace and complexity of our lives (Barton, 63). 

Isn't it incredible how well intended goals, efforts and initiatives – that are wonderful causes on their own – can actually distract us from that which may be most important?  Barton forces us to question if we are walking right past the burning bush in our organization or in our personal life.  Even worse, we may be looking right at it and "plucking blackberries," oblivious to the blaze that is actually right in front of us! 

How does that look in the life of a principal?  Many days go by when I fail to acknowledge the magic of learning that is happening all around me.  Some days go by in which I don't speak with a single student.  The incredible flow of thoughts, issues, and strong opinions coming at me often demands all of my attention leaving me to ignore the deep wisdom of the silent majority.  The pressure to be visible at and attentive to every event and detail frequently distracts me from my most important role – being a husband and father.  No doubt, this leader has missed a burning bush or two…

One does not need to be a person of any particular faith or religion to gleen wisdom from the reflections that Ruth Barton offers us on Moses' leadership journey.  I invite you to join me in this read and offer your thoughts .  How is your soul as you walk the leadership journey?  Seen any burning bushes lately?

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Alyssa Rutherford
    Jan 15 2010

    “goals, efforts and initiatives – that are wonderful causes on their own – can actually distract us from that which may be most important?”
    And it is so easy to miss the burning bushes when we’re distracted by all the blackberries to be plucked, or are perhaps too busy to stop plucking at our Blackberries to take time to be alone, reflect and learn so we can go back to working on our goals, efforts, and initiatives with fresh eyes.


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