Four-Fold Way

Arrien, Angeles. The Four-Fold Way: Walking Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Being in education, summer tends to be the time for reflection (an ending), a little rest (neutral zone), and starting to reflect forward (a beginning). You might recognize the parentheses as the William Bridges model of transitions.

I am grateful for the time I spent learning from Angeles Arrien. Even though she has passed her influence on my personal and professional life has been profound. Her four tenets remain a central core of leadership to create learning cultures in schools and organizations. As a cultural anthropologist she draws from multiple indigenous cultures for direction.

It is important to remember that indigenous cultures have been around for thousands of years. They have existed without pages of printed strategic plans that we put on the ‘wall of binders,’ long contracts, and org charts. These cultures exist through relationships, elders guiding youth, and common goals for their culture. I do recognize the need for plans, contracts, etc. in today’s world. At the same time the day-to-day operations are dependent upon the skills and good will of the people doing the work.

When asked for the most important leadership books I have read and learned from, I proudly say the Four-Fold Way is in my top three. Below are some excerpts from the book. I recommend reading the whole book.

In the acknowledgements Angeles writes, “I respect the first and second generations of the ethnic peoples of the world for they are the bridge-makers.” Who have been the bridge makers in your life? When is the last time you have thanked them? (See New Rule on Emotional Anorexia).

Angeles identified the need to take of the environment. Indigenous cultures have known respect for the environment is critical for our long-term survival. I remember team teaching about ecology in the 70s with a colleague named Warren Kaari, a social studies teacher. Yes, a science teacher and social teacher did collaborate to teach high school students from the science and social points of view. We had the same goal. Preserve the environment.

Indigenous peoples are one of the world’s most persistent voices of conscience, alerting humankind to the dangers of environmental destruction. As the world searches for alternative strategies to deal with global problems, it is turning more and more to indigenous peoples. Our planet, the house we live in, is in danger of becoming unlivable due to the neglect of our own industrialized society. The interface is where the vital relationships are established that are necessary for survival in a world of increasing interdependency.

The Four-Fold Way basic tenets:
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.
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.
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.
4. Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome. Openness and non-attachment helps us recover the human resources of wisdom and objectivity. This is the way of the Teacher.

In our society we express the way of the Warrior in our leadership ability. We express the way of the Healer through our attitudes toward maintaining our own health and the health of our environment. We express the way of the Visionary through our personal creativity, and through our ability to bring our life dreams and visions into the world. We express the way of the Teacher through our constructive communication and informational skills.

Activity: Take a moment, which type do you consider yourself as a strength? Which type of person/people do have the most contact with? Strengths of those you work with.

The Way of the Warrior
People are like tea bags. You find out how strong they are when you put them in hot water. Rita Mae Brown

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Warrior is the ability to extend honor and respect. Honor is the capacity to confer respect to another individual. It is the willingness to look again. We must be willing to look at our real abilities rather than fixate on just one or two parts of who we think we are. Successful leaders are able to appreciate the diversity within themselves and others. The skillful Warrior values the art and craft of communication. The effective leader is consistent in words and action.

I try to remember that my communication is not as much what I say as it is what is heard.
There are two causes for all misunderstandings:
1. not saying what we mean
2. not doing what we say
When we say what we mean and do what we say, we become trustworthy. Many indigenous societies recognize that a lack of alignment between word and action always results in a loss of power and effectiveness.

Children recognize the importance of keeping trust by honoring contracts when they cry, “But you broke your promise!”

One caution for warriors s what Richard Heckler said, In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Believing you can be perfect is the fatal imperfection. Being a Warrior doesn’t mean winning or even succeeding. It means risking and failing and risking again, as long as you live… Sounds to me like life-long learning.

I have been fortunate to work with Jane Stevenson on several administrative teams. Her background in Special Education helped me by reminding me to use the least restrictive alternatives first. The challenge of every Warrior and leader is the right use of power.

Three universal powers:
1. power of presence – We convince by our presence. The power of presence means we are able to bring four intelligences forward: mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical.
2. power of communication – Skillful communication means we have aligned content, timing, and context. Bluntness is great content, poor timing and context. Confused carries good timing and context but poor content which leads to incongruity.
3. power of position – let others know where we stand, where we don’t stand, what we stand for, and how we stand up for ourselves.

Activity: Practices to develop the inner Warrior – three possibilities
1. Spend 15 minutes each day in standing meditation. Journal your experience.
2. Spend one hour in nature.
3. Spend time each day being aware of how you handle unexpected events or surprises.

The Way of the Healer
Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. Healers recognize that the power of love is the most potent healing force available to all human beings. Effective healers from any culture are those who extend the arms of love: acknowledgment, acceptance, recognition, validation, and gratitude.

One thing I learned from Barbara Fredrickson’s work on Positivity is that people need some positive comments in addition to caring confrontation or suggestions for improvement. Fredrickson recommends a 3:1 ratio, positive to negative to keep the relationship even. The list below gives me more options that just metrics and builds relationships.

People the world over consistently acknowledge each other in four ways:
1. We acknowledge each other’s skills – Healers are skilled in this. e.g. Mother Teresa
2. each other’s character qualities
3. each other’s appearance
4. the impact we make on each other

Healing involves the principle of reciprocity, the ability to equally give and receive and the ability to connect.

One of the most important of the oral traditions was storytelling and the preservation of the origin histories. Recent research by Joanne Martin, Stanford Business School makes it clear that illustrative stories told within organizations encourage more commitment, generate more belief, and are more remembered than statistical data that “proves” the same point in a factual way.

There is an old adage that says, ‘you can’t give what you don’t have.’ This can put us in a scarcity mindset. Angeles writes about four universal addictions which I call negative mindsets.
Four universal addictions:
1. The addiction to intensity. The unclaimed human resource is the expression of love. Low tolerance to boredom, tend to dramatize, sensationalize, and exaggerate.
2. The addiction to perfection. The unclaimed human resource is the expression of excellence and right use of power. Does not tolerate mistakes, they equate vulnerability with weakness rather than strength.
3. The addiction to the need to know. The unclaimed human resource is the expression of wisdom. They don’t like surprises or unexpected events, need to compartmentalize, information needs to be controlled, and relationships need to be strategized. They become dogmatic, righteous, critical, and arrogant.
4. The addiction to being fixated on what’s not working rather than what is working. The unclaimed human resource is the expression of vision and ways of looking at the whole. They magnify negative experiences.

The Way of the Visionary
The principles that guides the Visionary is telling the truth without blame or judgment. When we express the inner Visionary, we know and communicate our creative purpose and life dream, act from our authentic self, are truthful, and honor the four ways of seeing.
Gandhi: “My life is my message”
Spanish Proverb: If you are not good for yourself, how can you be good for others.

One of the best questions Angeles asked us in several workshops was, “Is my self-worth as strong as my self-critic?” I don’t know about you but when I am down, my self-critic is higher than my self-worth. Fortunately I have friends who recognize this, challenge me in a caring way, and give me great feedback.

Activity: Practices to develop the inner visionary:
1. 15 minutes each day in walking meditation.
2. Spend some time honoring your dreams by recording them in a dream journal.
3. Make a commitment to practice truth-telling on a daily basis.

The Way of the Teacher
Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.
Trust is being comfortable with uncertainty. Most “Westerners” equate the word “detachment” with “not caring.” Linguistically, the word detachment is most often defined as “the capacity to care deeply from an objective place.”

Dan Rather: “The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.’”

There are two sources of harm: fear and ignorance. Fear’s major function is to alert us to something that may harm us so we can heed the warning. Fear’s major effect is to constrict energy, which can harm us both mentally and physically and motivate us to fight or flee.

Ignorance can sometimes be the source of confusion, which along with doubt is the shadow side of clarity.

Discernment is the ability to respect appropriate context, timing, and content. When we are attached to something, we often lose our objectivity about it. It is important to remember that wisdom is always flexible and seldom rigid.

I close with one of my favorite quotes from Angeles Arrien: If you goal is to wake up the dead, GET UP, TODAY IS A WORK DAY.


Bridges, W. (1991). Managing transitions – making the most of change.
New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity. New York: Crown