It seemed like a normal meeting with a group of 15 participants, each person’s image in small boxes on Zoom. We introduced the session, reviewed the agenda and guidelines, and settled in for the first topic. One participant bravely stepped up and with a quivering voice told the group she struggled with the format of the class. And then another did the same. We ended up spending a big amount of time unpacking how we could make the class a more effective learning environment. We welcomed the feedback and made adjustments to the guidelines and expectations. Everyone seemed pleased. Then it happened.
Another participant came forward to not just question but call into question the program content– that it was oppressive and personally distasteful. Rather than use inquiry questions or choosing to unpack our different perspectives, I got defensive and disagreeable. It didn’t go well. Several in the group jumped in to side with the perspective of the participant and we spent the whole time volleying small and large triggers and personal “polite” attacks. All of this without directly addressing the content now in question. Leaving the meeting nearly breathless, I spend days recycling and replaying the situation, trying to make sense of it on many different levels.
Groups gatherings are complex and messy. They can soar to incredible heights of creativity, healing, and even transformation. And they can crash and burn quite quickly and unexpectedly. The same dynamics that make groups so powerful and grant the possibility for growth also can leave us feeling defeated and deflated. Our ability to be resilient, constantly aware, and in the game is a prerequisite for anyone wishing to practice collaborative leadership. Letting up or taking a back seat can leave you vulnerable to small and LARGE fits of ego to rear its ugly head. But sometimes ego gets the upper hand, and it’s our choice to treat it with humility.
Practice: Direction of Humility
Groups continually point us in the direction of humility. For a group leader, this demands being “outside” and “inside” of ourselves at the same time. This seeming paradox can be resolved but only if we resist the enticing pull to attach too strongly to our ideas, feelings, or patterns. Here are a few ways I’ve found to practice pointing in the direction of humility:
- Pause and Watch: Take an active stance of the observer. I say active because most people see the observer as passive. Scan the room or Zoom squares for clues such as folded arms, frowns, or distracted participants. Slow down your attempts to fix or correct in favor of a receptive posture. If pushing or hurrying is your default mode, try to slow down and see what happens.
- Feel In and Reach Out: Notice sensations you your body and thoughts in your head. Are they are hard, jagged, or frenetic, or loose, gooey, or draggy? After you access whatever is happening on the inside, take a moment to share it with others on the outside. Use an “I” statement to let people know what you are experiencing and ask them what they notice.
- Learn and Apply: When something falls apart, you can treat it as a mistake or an opportunity to learn and make adjustments. That’s what they do in IMPROV theatre! Ask yourself and the group what they’ve learned from what happened and how to adjust.
- Own and Build: Probably the hardest step and the one with the most potential for growth is to own your faults, shortcomings, and “mistakes” out loud. When you take responsibility for something, it sends a clear signal that you are self-aware and human rather than right and righteous. When you build this platform with the group, it models a way of being that can align, over time, with trust.