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?