I often find that I hold back when it comes to sharing my leadership reflections. It may appear to some that I exercise leadership actions and inquiry with ease; however, often I am only relaying half my message. In the past, I was burnt by offering my voice, particularly when individuals or groups were not ready to digest the message that I was offering. I took away from these interactions the belief that I needed to calm the flame inside of me. I believed that I was too passionate and did not know how to work with my own fire. I recognize that my voice represents a millennial, white, female perspective and frequently frames or even restrains my offerings as a result of this representation. At times, I have allowed the concept of “surrender” to be exercised within myself and in my interactions in a way that accepts the flow and direction of critical conversations, believing that this was a natural process.
Recently, I attended the Action Inquiry & Global Leadership Profile (GLP) workshop in Boston. If you are not familiar with it, the work of the GLP is based on Bill Torbert’s Action Logics. This framework assists leaders and organizations in understanding their “center of gravity” or their predominant frame for inquiring and acting and has been featured in the Harvard Business Review: Seven Transformations of Leadership. In essence, the theory helps you to understand the way in which you interact with the world around you as well as the ways in which the lenses of others may differ.
While there are many takeaways and tools worth sharing, I wanted to provide you with a powerful metaphor and image that truly assisted my own learning.
Imagine a figure 8. If “good” leadership interventions could take on a shape, this is what they would look like. There is a weaving of information as it flows from an individual perspective to the larger context and back. This information is continuous and connected equally to the individual and to the system. In Torbert’s action logic framework, this ability to conduct the figure 8 is indicative of the transforming action logic.
For me, in practice, this looks like connecting my observations, ideas, and thoughts, with data points I’ve seen in the larger system AND THEN bringing them back to the way that they show up personally within my life.
But how do we do that in a way that is helpful and not hurtful; open but not charged; insightful but not condescending?
Here is a glimpse into my own practice of the figure 8:
At a recent conference, I heard a colleague refer to another participant using the pronoun “she”. This had come after several requests by the participant to be referred to as “they/them”. When other members had attempted to make interventions and requests on behalf of “they/them”, the older, white, male responded, “Well, she has she parts so it’s hard for me to not refer to her as she”.
Practicing my own figure 8, looked something like this, “I can imagine that it may be a struggle that is real for you – remembering the correct pronoun to use at the correct moment. However, it also strikes me that this may also be difficult and real for “them”. I haven’t heard an apology, but rather an excuse, and I am wondering why the resistance here? For me, I’m just weeks away from perhaps choosing not to have certain “she” parts in my anatomy because of a disease that is threatening my well-being, and as I navigate my own understanding of what it means to be a female; to have a gender and whether to have gender parts or not, this conversation is challenging and meaningful for me too.”
There is an element of vulnerability and introspection required when offering your individual perspective. This is crucial. While, I would like to think that I always do this, in reality, I often do it privately. This offering of vulnerability and deep reflection NEEDS to be articulated to others. In offering it, we show those around us what is important to us and why. It makes us appear more human, more connected, and more real to one another.
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