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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Momentary Stay Against Confusion

A Momentary Stay Against Confusion

Dr. Ryan Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

I was in good company this past weekend.  Good people, good conversation, good scholarship ... good food as well.

At a remote location ideal for a retreat, a group of Midwestern higher education scholars spent the weekend in a military fort, admittedly, in officers’ homes – sharing, collaborating, teaching, learning, investigating, writing, eating, exercising, and at sunset (sunrise, in a few cases), bunking down for a few hours of shut-eye. 

They worked round-the-clock on meaningful research and scholarship. 

As faculty members, we were on hand to support them -- guiding, cooking, critiquing, challenging, motivating, congratulating, and providing whatever cleaning and errand running was needed. 

Completion of doctoral dissertations, or at minimum, furthering them, was a goal.

Yet, I’m wondering if something else was even more important.

As you might guess, most in attendance left families behind – families who undoubtedly missed their mommies, daddies, siblings, and significant others … families who might not have seen too much of their loved ones the week prior, with the vast responsibilities they hold and the busy lives they lead. 

I admired the number of cell phone calls ending with, “I love you’” and “Sweet dreams” during our late-night writing.

As I am an armchair philosopher deeply interested in the human condition and leadership, I couldn’t help but share this inspirational experience in the Ed. Leadershop this week.

Please consider the following take away’s that were meaningful to me, as I got to know this group.

1.     Our best leaders set lofty goals, those that are first and foremost, intrinsically valuable to them on a deeply personal level.  As one example, many pursue doctoral degrees because doing so is a goal that they value, not because of any promised, professional advancement or economic benefit.  It is simply important to them.

2.  This personal goal setting often accompanies one’s valuing deferred gratification and paying forward to oneself and others. It has a strong ethical and moral framework upon which all other actions are suspended.  I saw these attributes in my colleagues and students.

3.     The vicarious learning that takes place, in witness of people such as those mentioned in 1 and 2 above, does well to uplift others; it inspires transformational performance.

4.    Leaving one’s family and professional roles behind for a time should not be seen so much as moving AWAY from the responsibilities and lived experiences one has.  Instead, it should be seen as one’s moving closer into oneself (from Kahler’s, 2008, The Process Therapy Model).

5.  In doing so, those at the retreat provided themselves a “momentary stay against confusion,” a phrase I borrow from Robert Frost (1939, The Figure a Poem Makes).  This “stay” better allowed them to think, to process, to reflect, and then to lead when they emerged at work this week to address the personal and professional responsibilities they assume by way of leadership.

I was in good company this past weekend.


Dr. Ryan Donlan wants to better understand the ways in which people self-actualize and is intrigued by your ideas as they pertain to leadership and education.  Please feel free to comment on his points, observations, and assertions above or contact him at (812) 237-8624 or

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