Stop Talking

Looking through a New Lens

In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing environment leaders are expected to move with speed and agility, and to drive results. Individual talent, skill, and effort are highly valued and rewarded. At times, I feel myself getting caught up in this mantra, watching life fly by. Yet, I know I feel and do my best when I find ways to slow down and reconnect with nature. Thinking about this inspired me to examine the intersections of my leadership style and personal identity, as a Chippewa with a tribal affiliation of the Turtle Mountain tribe in North Dakota.
The book Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogs in Higher Education provided me with a starting point to reflect upon leadership lessons. Even though higher education is the contextual backdrop, the lessons are relevant to any profession, and to new as well as experienced professionals. 


A view of a field of flowers by Nicole Rovig
Experiencing Nature in Michigan
Native American culture emphasizes the principle of the interconnectedness amongst all things. All things are related and deepen our sense of connection to the world – which is at the heart of living and learning.
Our mental constructs are one with our bodies, spirits and hearts. Land, ancestors, elders, language, culture, arts, and storytelling are intertwined. Parts of our being cannot be separated. Some of the most important human characteristics are to listen; revere all of life; experience the world without words; respect others; affirm others, and feel the connection to all that is.


We can foster an environment in which individuals feel free to speak with confidence by honoring these Native American discourse values: 
  • Treat each other with respect;
  • Keep in mind that everyone has their own truth, and their own starting point;
  • Listen without agenda; refrain from thinking about your own response while the person is talking;
  • Never talk over someone else;
  • Affirm other speakers;
  • Instead of disagreeing, say something positive about the previous speaker and then simply add your own thoughts;
  • Be polite, courteous, and thoughtful; and
  • Be supportive of each other.
The rhythm to indigenous discourse is purposefully slow. There is a pause after each person speaks, allowing time for reflection and observations. Silence is valued. Too much talking interferes with observing, listening, and experiencing the world and others around us.  


Non-hierarchical leadership is important. When gathered, no one is more or less important than any other person. Indigenous leadership is not limited to individual actions or characteristics. There is a greater emphasis upon having respectful and meaningful relationships with others, and a sense of community before self. Relationships go beyond who we know or how many followers we have on social media – they serve as reminders of the responsibilities we have to the collective.

Being in the Moment

Let go of your electronic devices, go outside, and take time to stop thinking. Focus your energy upon the sights and sounds around you. Listen to the birds, the sound of traffic, and the wind. Notice the air. Observe the dewdrops and bees on flowers. What do you notice and how do you feel? Merculieff and Roderick summarize this concept very well:
“Modern Western society centers intelligence in one place only: in the brain. But our Elders tell us that the brain is all about the past or the future, never the now. We need to slip out of our thoughts in order to be present in the now. This is one reason we learn from the animals, because the animals are profoundly present. We watch them closely and see how they use their innate intelligence to live and survive and thrive. This is how we begin to feel spirit in all things. But as soon as I slip into my brain, I disconnect from everything else: my body, my being, my relationship to animals and other people and the earth. The Elders say that when we separate from our bodies, we separate from All That Is” (Merculieff and Roderick, 2013, p. 89). 


Leadership lessons from Native American culture include characteristics of interconnectivity, having meaningful relationships with others, putting others first, engaging in respectful discourse, and being in the moment. How do you experience interconnectedness of the world?
Word Cloud of Blog Posting


Merculieff, L., & Roderick, L. (2013). Stop talking: indigenous ways of teaching and learning and difficult dialogues in higher education. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from


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