• Sue Staropoli

Leadership in the most sacred of times

Updated: Jun 25

These days we wake to a new reality each morning as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds. This moment in human history presents an opportunity for profound personal and spiritual growth. I hope this essay, written in January as an exploration of my experience of personal growth as a community activist and leader, will be useful to each of you as we navigate this challenging time and look for ways to remain steadfast and to serve our community.


My capacity for meaningful leadership is deepened by a daily practice of reflection – a time to slow down and do inner listening. It is in the quiet reflective moments that I can see where I need to grow by surrendering arrogance, control, and my ego in order to become grounded in the bigger picture of what is waiting to unfold – within myself and within my relationships and work.


As a part of my reflection, I ask myself some of the important questions:


  • What do I need to hear and learn in this situation?

  • How am I being invited to grow?

  • What do I need to let go of and surrender to find peace and foster healthy relationships?

  • What is this situation really about within “the bigger picture”? (perspective)

  • How can I be a healing presence in this situation?

  • How can I see this challenge as a gift?


These questions are especially pertinent now as we consider our response to this disaster in the context of social distancing.


Here are some of the key lessons I have learned in my evolving leadership role in the Rochester Area Pachamama Alliance:


  • With my desire to foster collaborative and empowering relationships, listening is a practice that is central; listening to myself, listening to others and tuning in to life and circumstances. Deep listening with compassion, beyond giving answers or information, connects me with others’ hearts and fosters healthy authentic relationships. I need to recognize the obstacles within me that prevent me from listening, accepting and honoring others as they are.

  • Maintaining reflection and listening as a way of being requires that I stay grounded in a spiritual reality beyond my own limited capacity and perspective. A daily spiritual practice (meditation, yoga, prayer, reading, reflection etc.) is an important way to stay connected to my own heart and to the universal love that grounds all life. When I’m living within that connection things seem to flow and thrive in surprising ways! Any “success” or “achievement” has to come from allowing life and love to move through me, not by trying to force things based on my own ego and limited perspective.

  • Admitting mistakes and being vulnerable is a sign of strength, not of weakness, and it is a powerful way to connect with others in our common humanity.

  • Seeing and acknowledging others’ strengths, gifts and interests is an essential aspect of team-building and leadership. It is important to help people discern their unique contributions and empower them into using their talents within our team. So many of our Pachamama work groups have emerged from the unique interests, passions and gifts of individual group members. A leader must affirm and empower what is alive in each person. Getting new volunteers into action shortly after they join our group is critical to keep them engaged and to affirm their value as part of the team.

  • Often I hear what is needed from unlikely places so I need to be attentive to people I might otherwise dismiss. Every voice has value. I need to seek out those who might not agree with me to broaden and enrich my thinking and perspective. I need to practice open-minded listening to different opinions. This can certainly be a spiritual challenge and discipline!

  • Starting all meetings with brief personal “checking in” and “acknowledging sacred space” helps deepen our connection as a community (not just a committee). This practice grounds us in our connectedness with all life and with the mission of our gathering.

  • Having shared agreements helps create a culture that honors the value of each person – through group norms of respect, deep listening, celebrating differences and fosters participation and inclusion of all. We all grow as we listen and learn from each other. And these agreements can be a grounding for moving through conflicts that may arise.

  • It is in community and connections that we can have a safe place to live and grow in these challenging times – where we can be vulnerable and express all the emotions we experience along the way (grief, anger, pain, joy, confusion, etc.). It is in moving through these emotions that we can be free to act with integrity and authenticity – and have the impact needed in our world. A leader models such vulnerability and authenticity, while fostering a culture of safety for all.

  • Leadership comes in many forms: from the front, from the back, from beside, and from the field. We empower and celebrate everyone’s leadership!

  • Humility is another quality that is important for leaders, recognizing that it is only by being self-aware with a capacity for listening that we can support others on their journeys. I’ve heard humility described as being able to look at oneself honestly – acknowledging our weaknesses and short-comings as well as our strengths and gifts. And this allows us to do the same with others – seeing them with compassion, with their strengths and weaknesses.

The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are serious and uncertain but we can be sure, more than ever, that we will need invigorated, determined, creative volunteers and leadership to guide our communities into recovery. This transformative moment demands that we continue to grow as individuals, as a community and as leaders grounded in our connection to each other and all life!


Sue Staropoli (c) 2020.


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