Paying Tribute to Dr. Angeles Arrien

While it is always a pleasure to write this column for Nurse Leader, this time the occasion is both joyous and sad. In this issue, I am honoring the life of Angeles Arrien, PhD, who passed away in April 2014. Angeles was a cultural anthropologist and a true “shaman” whose work and wisdom graced many nurse leaders, including those in the Center for Nursing Leadership (CNL), sponsored by Hill-Rom, AONE, and the Network for Healthcare Management from 1995 through the early 2000’s.

Angeles was best known for her authorship of The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary*1. This book, filled with heart and deep wisdom, was just one of her many contributions to any field, and most particularly the field of leadership. In this and other works, Angeles revealed her unique capacity to understand the principles of native people from many traditions. She was able to translate them into insights that are relevant in any modern setting that requires exceptional stewardship.

Although it is impossible to capture the full spectrum of Angeles’ knowledge in this short piece, I would like to offer a few highlights. In addition to reading her works during the CNL, I had the privilege of working directly with Angeles as my personal coach from 2005 through 2007. Here some of the insights I gained from those experiences.

1. Angeles encouraged us, as leaders, to focus on what we want to see in the world, not what is wrong with what we see in the world.

2. Long before it became fashionable, Angeles foresaw a world of mutuality and collaboration versus a world in which 1 leader or 1 tribe or 1 culture is deemed “better than” or “superior to” another.

3. Angeles offered strategies for managing conflict that were profound in their simplicity:

a. Show up

b. Follow what has heart and meaning

c. Tell the truth without blame or judgment

d. Be open to outcome versus attached to outcome

4. She talked about the “shadow archetype” of a visionary, which is self-abandonment. She also suggested why some leaders embody this negative way of being:

a. For others’ love

b. For others’ acceptance and approval

c. To maintain balance

d. To stay in a state of harmony

5. Angeles pointed out that nature’s rhythm is medium slow. As mammals born of nature, we are not built for a world that is perpetually fast paced and focused on multitasking. It is up to us to slow down and to listen to and honor what our bodies tell us. At times, it is up to us to be patient and wait for what is emerging, even when what is emerging is not yet clear.

6. As leaders, when we are dependent on action, and only action, we are denying the wisdom that comes from slowing down to understand who we are “being” in a given situation.

Those familiar with Angeles knew of her profound commitment to authenticity, and the importance of living a life that reflects our essential spirits. To that end, she counseled us to notice:

• What genuinely inspires us, and to follow those sources wherever they lead.

• What energizes us vs. what depletes us. When we are open to these insights, we are engaged with our own truth and we can act from a place of belief in ourselves and the world around us.

• The difference between overachieving and perfectionism versus excellence. She understood that the overachiever does not trust her own gifts. The leader striving for perfection is coming from a basis of fear. By contrast, excellence is about showing up with a full heart, doing our best, and coming from a position of trust. Choosing excellence allows us to relax and to lead with commitment and courage.

Angeles said that learning to trust life is one of the most central lessons any of us can learn. This belief has some deeply important elements:

1. There are significant differences between attempting to control versus allowing ourselves to trust. The same is true for struggling versus trusting. Recognizing these distinctions is important for any leader. They are important to us personally as well, especially as we enter the second half of life.

2. She asked that we examine the relationship we have with our own “voice”—our own wisdom. Do we trust it? Or do we have a “conditional relationship” with our own truth?

Throughout Angeles Arrien’s life, she was unflinchingly committed to integrity. This deeply resonated with me because of my own research on the significance of integrity in perceived leadership effectiveness for healthcare leaders*2. As Angeles noted in The Four-Fold Way, “…many societies recognize that a lack of alignment between word and action…results in a loss of power and effectiveness.” 2(p.16)

Angeles was passionate about being consistent in thought and deed. She believed that by nurturing our own congruence and wholeness, we can live in integrity and fully attend to our leadership and the real meaning of our own life story.

I am deeply grateful for Dr. Angeles Arrien and the gifts she gave to all of us.



1. Arrien, A. The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco;1993.

2. Robinson-Walker, C. Women and Leadership in Healthcare: The Journey to Authenticity and Power. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 1999.

This article originally appeared in Nurse Leader.

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