Stevie Wonder and Surrender

Surrender isn’t something normally taught in leadership trainings.  But here is my take on it:

It was my day off when our news director called and said, “Stevie Wonder is holding a press conference.  Will you cover it?”  This meant driving a long way into Hollywood. Nothing in me wanted to do it.  (I know.  This sounds crazy, but in those times, I interviewed a famous celebrity almost every day and I had been looking forward to playing tennis.)  But … I said yes.

It turned out that Stevie Wonder was announcing that he would stay at Motown.  Most of their big acts had left including Diana Ross and the Jackson Five.  If Stevie left, the company might collapse.  

He made his announcement, I interviewed him, and then I was standing by the elevator to leave when a man walked up to me.  “Mr. Wonder would like the pleasure of your company in Mr. Gordy’s office.”  

There were about seven people in the room including Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown.  Stevie Wonder was sitting at the piano.  Today, “Songs in the Key of Life” are old familiars, but on that day it was all new music.  

For the next three hours I sat a few feet away as Stevie Wonder serenaded us with his exquisite music including one of my favorites, “Isn’t She Lovely.” 

I looked out the window and couldn’t believe my good fortune.  It was raining.  The office was a penthouse with views of the iconic round Capitol Records Building and the Hollywood Hills.  That was my first experience of the magic of “surrender.”  I had resisted giving up a day off.  But because it was my day off, I could stay all afternoon.  

When a raindrop surrenders to the river, it becomes the river.  It becomes greater, not less. In yoga, surrender doesn’t mean giving up.  Instead, you let go and go with the flow.  And then, almost as magic, a great sense of relief and wellbeing comes over you.  You feel satisfied.  You appreciate the beauty and harmony in the world.  You are filled with gratitude. That’s the glorious experience of surrender. 

We can learn a lot about surrender from nature.  The day surrenders to the night.  The seed surrenders to the soil.  

Picture this:  You are on the phone waiting for tech support.  It takes forever.  You have a deadline, or at least a plan for today.  Suddenly that plan is interrupted.  Thwarted, you are exasperated. Finally, you realize that this is going to take a long, long time. When you let go and relax, you have surrendered.

One of my favorite stories of sacrifice and surrender is from the Talmud.  A king and his son loved each other but they could not get along.  Eventually, the son left home and went far away.  After a while, word came back that the son was not doing well.  

The king sent a message to the prince, “Come home.”  But the prince was too proud.  He sent a message back to his father, “I cannot.” Then the king sent another message saying, “Just turn around and come as far as you can.  I will meet you wherever you are.”  

In leadership, you don’t surrender your ideals.  You only surrender your way of implementing them.  

If you’d like to read more about surrender, check out my book, Leadership with a Twist of Yoga on amazon.  As one reviewer said:

Leadership with a Twist of Yoga is a contrarian book that envisions an alternative style of leadership ideally suited for our current generation. When I finished reading this book, a quote popped into my mind, “Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no one else has thought.” 

And another review said, “The stories shared by executives and the author about their own experiences in challenging situations, illuminate the leadership lessons in a way that is fun and thought provoking. “