Giant #5: Angeles Arrien

When I have been asked, ‘what are your top three leadership books?’, my answer always includes, The Four-Fold Way: Walking Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary.

Suzanne Bailey, a presenter at NSDC annual conferences introduced me to Angeles Arrien’s work in the 80s. I, along with my learning partner Skip, attended Angeles’s seminars whenever she was in town and we traveled to California several times to learn from and with her.

Angeles, although she has passed, positively affects my spirituality and learning from indigenous cultures. She was a cultural anthropologist and always had great quotes that deepened my thinking.  Below are some of the great lessons I learned from Angeles and they have guided my own and others’ leadership behaviors.

The Four-Fold Way:  find a summary at

  1. Show up or choose to be present. Being present allows us to access the human resources of power, presence, and communication.  This is the way of the Warrior.      (People watch what you do, visibility is extremely important.)
  2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. Paying attention opens us to the human             resources of love, gratitude, acknowledgment, and validation.  This is the way of the  Healer. (Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”)
  3. Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Nonjudgmental truthfulness maintains our authenticity and develops our inner vision and intuition. This is the way of the Visionary. (I admit that I struggle with this one the most. I want to put my spin on issues.)
  4. Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome. Openness and nonattachment helps us recover the human resources of wisdom and objectivity.  This is the way of the Teacher. (There are many ways to get to an outcome.)

“People are like tea bags. You find out how strong they are when you put them in hot water.”                                                                                                                        Rita Mae Brown

It’s not what happens to you. You cannot control that.  The only thing you control is how you respond to what happens to you.

Never spend time with people who don’t respect you.

Māori Proverb

Yes, choose with whom you spend time.  Do you spend time with people who sap your energy and promote a downward spiral, or do you spend time with people who zap you and elevate your creativity and energy?  Sometimes you don’t have a choice whether to spend time or not.  And, you can try to limit how much time you spend with them.

No one is hurt by doing the right thing.

Hawaiian proverb

The right thing is not always easy and what is easy is not always right.  Do you stand up for what is right and/or equitable? Do you speak for those who don’t have a voice?

 If you are not good for yourself, how can you be good for others. 

Spanish Proverb

A sequel is you can’t give what you don’t have.  Be kind to yourself as well as others.  You can disagree AND be civil.

People are arriving exhausted. This sabotages wisdom.  In a book called Scarcity the author says finances and resources can be scarce.  Time scarcity can drive quick decisions with long-term consequences.  Consider the bird’s eye vision with the worm’s eye need to get things done.

What is it, the only most precious wild thing we will do with what you call your life? What is your passion?  What gets you out of bed in the morning?  I have never heard of a student who says my goal today is to take a test.  I have never heard of a teacher who said my goal is to raise test scores at all costs.  Being from Iowa, we have a saying.  ‘The ‘cattle don’t get heavier by weighing them all the time.’  Teach them to fish.

It takes no courage to chronically complain.  I know people have to vent.  It is also important to decide what actions might you take to respond.  Start tracking how much time people tell you what they ‘don’t want.’  Now how much  time on what they do want.  Words are rumors.  Watch their feet, that will tell you what they are willing to do.

Dropping out is the hardest to detect and most insidious form of corporate theft.

Patrick O’Neill

Would you rather burnout or rust out?  Patrick co-presented with Angeles for years and still does seminars called, “Extraordinary Conversations.”  He is also amazing and carries on much of Angeles’s work called the ‘Four Directions.’

Is myself worth as strong as myself critic? One of Angeles’s greatest questions to answer.  Her recommendation is, Say “YES” everyday! I have down days like most people.  My friend and colleague Jane (another future Giant), used to ask me, ‘how long are you going to stay mad about this?’  It was a signal to me to be mad AND get over it.  What are you going to do rather than stay stuck in the emotion.

What is right use of my gifts and talents? This continues to be at the forefront of my thinking.  Where can I contribute the most to myself and others.  Where can I put myself in the ‘place of most potential.’  Whining, inaction, and blaming will not produce positive results.

I close with an inspirational quote that Angeles and Patrick would use during seminars.  I offer it to you because miscommunication is rampant in our society especially with 24/7 reporting and social media that make it hard to know what is real and what is crap.  Our job now is to pick the unpopped popcorn (what is real) from the fluff and bigger kernels that can hide and obscure the real information.

Nine Possibilities:

            Between what I think,

            What I want to say,

            What I believe I’m saying,

            What I say,

            What you want to hear,

            What you hear,

            What you believe you understand,

            What you want to understand,

            And what you understood,

There are at least nine possibilities for misunderstanding.

Francois Garagnon

Angeles, I am grateful for your guidance and support over the years. I am sure you are doing good work in heaven.  Bill