Spoiler Alert: Big Bang Theory Series Finale!
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When was the last time you felt totally safe, at work, to address the central relational challenges that hold you and your team back from your best performance?
How often at work can you really assess and evaluate your own interpersonal skills, their impact on those around you, and on the organization as a whole?
How much time and energy do your teams waste being stymied by relational issues, stuck in redundant, dysfunctional power struggles up and down the organizational hierarchy?
How do you feel in your body just reading these questions? Perhaps tense and frustrated?
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We, the eight participants and two faculty members of Leading Organizations to Health Cohort 11, reported palpable heaviness upon convening for our second training retreat last Tuesday. Despite the Colorado spring bursting with blooms, wildlife, and vast clear blue skies, dark clouds hung over our collective consciousness, each for our own reasons. Throughout the week we shared stories of successes, challenges, conflicts, power and powerlessness. We practiced appreciative inquiry and relational coordination, and explored the insidious impact of unearned privilege. We spent three days in intense skills training, supporting one another through viscerally gnarly role plays and open, honest feedback about how we impact the group.
In the midst of all this deep work, we also shared meals, walks, a horseback ride, and life stories around a fire pit and drippy s’mores. As we debriefed around the circle on the last day, something had shifted: overall we now felt refueled and energized. The air buzzed with the anticipation of learners on the verge of integrating our emerging skills, excited to bring it all home to practice. The clouds had parted. We will keep in touch through peer coaching groups—our newly established, intense-support network. In my heart, I feel we are really becoming a family.
I headed to the mountains straight from the session, for 24 hours of processing and decompression (and more washi tape card-making). More and more I marveled at what a rare opportunity I have in LOH, to be led and learn to lead in this relationship-centered way. For these ten months I am immersed in a professional learning lab, experimenting with different ways of speaking, acting, and being, safe among fellow professionals also grappling with this skill set. It just does not get any better than this!
On my way down from the mountains, I listened to an interview with Bonnie St. John on Ozan Varol’s podcast, Famous Failures. She is the first African-American to win medals in Winter Paralympic competition as a ski racer; she is a lower extremity amputee. She is also an author, an entrepreneur, and a former member of the Clinton administration. Her story is inspiring, please take a listen! At the end of the interview she describes asking a former coach about how he built champions. He said he never built individual champions; rather, he built communities of champions. You can only push one person so far, he said; but an allied group of people will hold one another up, push each other harder, make each other better, take one another farther.
That is exactly how I experience LOH—my best self is challenged and called forth in the most loving and professional way. We hold space for all our struggles, allowing the learnings (epiphanies, in my experience!) to emerge. It is deeply and literally inspiring. Though I already do so much of this inner work on my own, there is a profound and unparalleled synergy from learning in this group—we serve as one another’s pit crew for the journey toward our better selves at work and in life.
Nobody succeeds alone. In the series finale of The Big Bang Theory (my favorite TV show of all time, which I missed while at LOH!), Sheldon (the obliviously self-centered genius) finally realizes this. During his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he acknowledges his sudden and profound appreciation for his family and friends, crediting his success to their unconditional love and support, and recognizing them in front of an international audience. LOH made this finale even more meaningful to me than it already would have been.
It is always through the struggles that we grow. When struggle together, any and all successes are amplified exponentially. My nine new friends will make me immeasurably more successful, both professionally and personally, than I would ever be without them. God bless them all, and may the work we do together ripple out for the benefit of all whose lives we touch.