THE BLOG
11/17/2010 01:31 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Wisdom of the Leaves

I write this on the last day of October, a full moon drenched Halloween, rich with the smells of autumn, with fallen leaves, restless as sparrows, rustling along the sidewalk. The world seems to be preparing us for winter, as we gather, rake and cart away the collections of another season.

I am late to ponder another month because of crisscrossing the country, speaking, teaching, listening, trying to be fully present in the dreams and dilemmas of our clients, all the while remembering from a quiet corner of seat 4A so many of my own autumns, casting their leaves for one last day.

This has always been more than a season to me. It's a semicolon in my year, a time to collect thoughts for another year end marked by business calendars, meetings with partners and accountants, and conversations with clients about their next. This year the frenetic and often mean-spirited election campaigns are out of sync with my reflective mood. It's as if we need a collective shot of dopamine-induced good will to counter the bad economic news, slowing house sales (I know, I am selling one), and continuing unemployment. The world feels like a bittersweet Sondheim lyric, or a misplaced watch.

As a child I raked the piles of accumulated leaves from our large yard, and then burned them by the side of our road, something clearly illegal in most quarters now. The smell of fall's burning fruits seemed to round out an annual ritual. In New York, we knew winter's frost and snow were only weeks away. I wonder now if we still have enough of these simple rituals of leave-taking (sorry for the pun), the natural summaries and recapitulations of spring and summer.

Business and life can move with a breathless ferocity and distraction that pushes us off center -- of any chance of being present, of remembering, of acknowledging, of celebrating. Many of us go to the web for information, only to step into a swirl of competing conversations and communities, the core elements of the wine dark sea of cyberspace.

I love the internet and my devices, but more and more I have to turn away to really listen to my internal conversations, the life story I am writing in each moment.

The challenge in our practice is to help remarkable people become more clear about their intentions, to focus their attention, to shape, frame and hold a compelling personal context for their next, all the while not slipping into happy talk, what historian Gary Wills calls "omnidirectional ingratiation and placation." It's about first telling the truth to ourselves, and then to everyone we love, teach and lead.

Only then can we discover the prose and poetry of our own life. Knowing that, sharing that, creates the subtext of authenticity. It's what people sense, trust and follow. Absent that, we are frauds.

This takes courage, grace and grit. When I'm lazy, I would rather read one of the beguiling mysteries stacked by my bed, or wander, drift or dream. Fall is about loss, so it also provokes memories and melancholy. It's easy to slip away into the leaves.

I hope you will find moments for yourself this fall. Many of the exceptional leaders I know and support still sort for a center they trust. They work an agenda, a plan that is measured and monitored, and they have metrics to track their progress. It's a great way to keep score, but it may have little to do with making a life.

I invite you to consider this autumn as a special invitation. Try, if only for an hour, to surrender your need to be right, to win, to be "more than," and instead listen to your own voice as you allow the memories, begin to rake and gather the accumulation of this season around you. For this moment surrender any need to be right. Or important.

Instead, enter into the small silences between the piles you have drawn about you, of intentions, postponed plans, old dreams and long lists. Allow the movement of nature around your feet. Feel time move. Then, take a deep breath and begin a new season, empty of clutter and ready for your best intentions to be realized.