In this mini blog series, I explore Dr John Scherer’s 5 powerful questions designed to develop the PERSON in life and leadership:
1.What CONFRONTS you?
2.What are you BRINGING?
3.What RUNS you?
4.What CALLS you?
5.What will UNLEASH you`?
In the first two blogs, I explore Q#1, and Q#2 + #3 together, respectively. These questions, in and of themselves, can help to deepen our insight into our own leadership. Facing what CONFRONTS us and exploring what it is we BRING to the issues or situations we find most challenging, can lead us to powerful insights about what RUNS us and thus open up greater possibilities for how we choose to respond. Q#4: What CALLS you? takes our inquiry to a whole other level. This question can upend our current way of living and working; it can also bring us a greater sense of purpose and peace.
The idea that life ‘calls’ us, is something many of us associate with people of faith or religion but it is not the preserve of the few. John Scherer invites us to consider the question through these sub questions: What calls out to you from the world? What is a need that exists ‘out there’ that grabs you and won’t let you go? What situation in Life are you perfectly designed to address?
In thinking about these questions recently, my thoughts turned to an earlier period in my career. Many years ago, while working as the Learning and Development Manager for a large children’s charity, I felt motivated by a desire to work to build and develop a learning culture in the organisation that could better support managers and their teams to carry out the emotionally demanding work with children, young people and their families who faced significant adversities. I had been one of those managers and, prior to that, had been one of the field workers undertaking the direct work with young people for many years. I understood only too well the challenge of the work and the feelings of responsibility to, at the very least, not do any harm. I wanted to make a difference to those doing the work, believing that would support them in their efforts to make a difference for the families they worked with. And so, for eight years, without thinking about it too much, I pursued this vision with others in my team and the wider organisation. The work was rich and rewarding and we enjoyed some success but, ultimately, it proved difficult to sustain. A change of leadership, accompanied by changes in organisational priorities undone a lot of the good work. And it was time for me to move on.
For a long time after leaving that role, I did not experience the same drive or motivation; work did not hold the same meaning for me. Somewhere along the way – probably before I left the Charity – I lost my conviction about the real prospect of lasting change. The company I worked with at that time was going through its own financial challenges and it, too, had questions about its mission and purpose in the world. Some days it was difficult to get myself out of bed in the morning. This was not the case every day, but it was the case often enough for me to know that something wasn’t quite right for me but I didn’t know what it was or what to do about it.
I recall a dream I had during this time which occurred as I was coming to the end of a 4-week family holiday in Australia and had begun to experience a sense of dread at the prospect of returning to work. In the dream I was speaking to a good friend and mentor. I excitedly told him that I had FINALLY worked out what my life’s goal was, and proudly declared: ‘my goal is not to have a goal!’ ‘How very zen’, he said and laughed with delight. I remember the sense of relief I felt after waking that morning and the days and weeks that followed; it was as if a cloud had lifted. There are, I’m sure, many ways in which the dream could be interpreted but, for me at that time, I understood it to be an invitation to let go; to let go of the need to find my ‘one single purpose’ in life. Instead, I felt invited to simply choose to be as fully present in the work I was doing as it was possible for me to be. My attitude towards my work changed significantly; I felt lighter, curious again and a good deal more creative.
Paradoxically, by letting go of the apparent need to have a purpose, what has emerged over time is an ever-growing and deepening commitment to work much more in the moment - whether that is working with organisation leaders in my coaching work, or with teams in my consultancy or facilitation work. This means really noticing what is being said, conveyed or experienced in the conversations and remaining curious about the meaning or significance of that for the tasks at hand. It is during these times that I feel most alive. I believe it is from these deeper sense-making spaces that we are more able to identify meaningful action based on real insight.
It is not only in my work that I find being in the moment the place to be. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic and during the various lockdowns, I found myself developing a daily practice of taking photographs of my local neighbourhood and of nature around me. Through my camera, or iPhone, I capture what catches my attention, stops me in my tracks, or calls out to me in some way. This daily practice has gathered a momentum of its own, developing in me a greater curiosity and appreciation of the quality of life – and death – that surrounds me moment to moment. I don’t know where this is leading but it feels right to be paying attention in this way.
It occurs to me now that the notion of lasting change that I once felt so convinced of, and longed to rediscover in my work, and life, is an illusion. All we can be certain of is what is happening here and now. I want to commit to that, to notice it and be curious about the possible meaning and significance it holds for me and others.
This is what calls me, and it is also what will UNLEASH me – Q#5.
What CALLS you? What will UNLEASH you? What are you ‘perfectly-designed’ to address in the world?
Last week I wrote the first in a series of short blogs about John Scherer’s Five Powerful Questions that can transform your life and your leadership, focussing specifically on Q#1: What CONFRONTS you? You can access that blog here. In this blog, I will address Q#2: What am I BRINGING? and Q#3: What RUNS me? These questions relate to the ‘tigers’ in our life that we choose to either turn and run away from or face with courage. Questions #2 and #3 lead us into a discovery process about what makes the tiger a tiger for us.
Turning and facing a ‘tiger’ requires a certain kind of curiosity about oneself as well as courage. We start by reflecting on the particular ‘tiger’ situation that confronts us and ask ourselves, ‘what am I BRINGING to this situation?’ Allow me to share a personal example:
A recent ‘tiger’ situation that I faced was that of promoting my work, and thus by definition, promoting myself. Although, this is a necessity if I wanted to get my work out into the world and to grow and develop my Leadership & OD consulting business, the thought of self-promotion of any sort filled me with dread. Writing this series of blogs is, of course, one example of such self-promotion. When faced with a tiger – a situation we’d do anything to avoid – it helps to explore what lies behind our wish/need to turn and run and to ask ourselves, 'what am I bringing to the situation that makes it a tiger for me? What are my hopes, my fears and my history with this? My hope is that in promoting my work I am to able to convey the significance of the meaning of something for me that will resonate with others - enough for them to want to work or collaborate with me. At the same time, however, I fear, that what I promote may be quickly dismissed as a form of shameless self-promotion and deemed irrelevant. This is an example of the kind of internal conversation that I would all too easily have with myself. Many of us know this ‘inner critic’ all too well.
As I reflected on Q# 3: what’s been RUNNING me in relation to this particular tiger, an interesting memory from my early adolescence came to mind. When I was about twelve years old I joined a Latin American dance class, which I attended twice weekly and regularly participated in dance competitions. I was not ‘naturally talented’. I had to work hard. I watched all the winning dancing couples to see what I could learn from them. I noticed something about the way they carried themselves; their confidence and cockiness, particularly the way they moved their heads as they danced the rumba, samba, and cha cha cha. If you’ve watched ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ or some other similar dance competition programme, then perhaps you can imagine what I’m talking about? I thought this was key to their success and so I started copying them in my dance routines with my dancing partner. I’d shake my head this way and that, as I danced around the ballroom floor. It seemed to get me noticed and it wasn’t too long till we won our first bronze medal! I was feeling chuffed with myself. However, on returning to my dance class one week after a competition, my dance teacher remarked, in front of the class, “If you shake that head of yours any harder, it will come off your body!” I immediately felt embarrassed and my fragile confidence crushed. Looking back on it with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think his intention was to embarrass me. Perhaps he was trying to prevent me from making a fool of myself? Sure, he could have handled it better, but previously I had only felt encouraged by him. However, put his 'feedback' in the context of the culture of a working class, West of Scotland, where it was not okay to get ‘too big for your boots’, or ‘show off’, then the message that I internalised - that any form of self promotion is shameful and is to be avoided - begins to make sense to me. I could now better understand what makes this a tiger for me and that understanding helps create new and different possibilities for me.
Why does this matter? In 'Half a Shade Braver: the foundations of conversational leadership', poet and author, David Whyte, asserts that 'leadership is about being seen'. If I/we want to create something in the world, or to make a difference in our work, relationships and life, we need to bring all of our leadership to the pursuit of what matters to us and that means allowing ourselves to be seen.
In my final blog in this series I will address Q#4: What CALLS you? and Q#5 What will UNLEASH you.
If you're interested to find out more about these Five Questions or the Leadership Development Intensive get in touch with me: email@example.com
The Leadership Development Intensive (LDI) that I will be running as Lead Facilitator in March, along with our colleagues, John Scherer from the USA (creator of the programme) and Karol Konkel from Poland, is designed around 5 powerful and transformative questions:
1. What CONFRONTS you?
2. What are you BRINGING?
3. What’s RUNNING you?
4. What CALLS you?
5. What will UNLEASH you?
I’m going to share a series of short blogs to illustrate how these inquiry questions help to generate new and deeper insights into who we are and how we show up in our leadership, creating greater possibilities for action that result in surprising outcomes. In this blog, I’m going to address Q#1 – what CONFRONTS you?
We don’t need to think too hard about what confronts all of us at the moment! The Corona Virus pandemic presents enormous challenges to our health systems, our economies, our workplaces, and our home and personal lives. Increasingly, we are looking for leadership at all levels in our communities, organisations and wider society to help us navigate the uncertainties we face. But what kind of leadership is called for? What kind of leadership is needed NOW? I believe that, more than ever, the PERSON in the POSITION of leadership matters. Who we are, and how we lead, is central to establishing and maintaining the trust needed to bring people together to find new and lasting solutions for the world we live in. Gaining insight in to your leadership starts with Q#1.
Q#1 invites you to identify what situation(s) CONFRONTS you in your life and/or leadership that up till now you’ve been avoiding?
For example, perhaps you prefer to avoid:
• Difficult, but important, conversations with a colleague for fear of conflict?
• Making/taking crucial decisions because you can’t be sure it’s the right decision?
• Speaking up, or saying what you really think, because you know it will be too much for some people to hear?
John refers to these situations as ‘tigers’, that is, issues or situations we would prefer to avoid at all costs, primarily because we can’t conceive of them ending well. In his book, Facing the Tiger, written with Dorota Nawalaniec, John invites the reader to consider what s/he would do if confronted by a tiger in the jungle? What would your instinct be? To turn and run, of course – and that most certainly would not end well! Apparently if you turn and face the tiger, so the story goes, then the tiger will pause and consider its response ... at least for a nano second. The outcome may well be the same … but at least you have created the possibility of a different outcome! If you’re not facing your tiger, the chances are it’s already eating you! Just think about the ways in which the key thing you avoid doing or saying holds you/others back in some way? By learning how to confront the ‘tigers’ in your life/work, YOU create possibilities for different outcomes for yourself, and for others. Understanding what makes these situations a tiger for you is something I will briefly examine in my next blog which will cover Q#2: What are you BRINGING and Q#3: What (up till now) has been RUNNING you?
If you’d like to chat about these 5 questions or find out more about the LDI, then get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org