A Circling Vignette
Last night after a two hour, public Circling event a bearded young man tapped me on the shoulder and asked for the gift of my attention. The bamboo-lined walkway where we stood was dimly lit with strings of small bulbs casting warm light. He stood very close, stared intently into my eyes, and said, “I’m disappointed in your leadership and wanted more from you tonight.”
Two hours earlier was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on the tall, backpack-clad fella, so I found this comment confusing. Since I had no idea what he meant, I responded “I don’t know what you mean by leadership, can you tell me more?”
He proceeded to tell me that he inherently trusts me and therefore I should have guided the group more to the experience I wanted us to have.
I let his advice sink in, quietly noticing my reactions (which were legion)… including defensiveness (that I in fact did just guide us to the experience I wanted us to have, including this present conversation) and the following delightful judgement—which might hold some truth but reveals more about me and what I’m working on than the bearded-guy:
What you’re really saying is “you didn’t meet my needs—needs which I didn’t tell you, and you didn’t consent to taking responsibility for. I expect you to make me comfortable because that’s normally what ‘leaders’ at the front of the room do.”
I let the internal variety-show work its way through my body-mind, unaffected by the late evening breeze, until I settled into a deep sadness. I allowed myself to surrender into the body sense of the sadness—a “I'll never be understood” feeling—without buying into it as inherently true. I looked at the bearded man with tears behind my eyes, wondering how I would respond (When deciding what aspects of my rich inner world to share, I often choose by feeling into the connection and seeing what leaps forth to be expressed between us, which is usually truer, gooder, and more beautiful, but surprises me as much as anyone else). This sadness sallied forth along with the words “I don’t know how to show you myself.”
Gracefully receiving my unorthodox response to his critique, he stepped back to give me space. (I didn’t know I needed it, but the extra six inches definitely felt good). I then proceeded to share myself with him.
“I feel very comfortable coming forward into the room and leading people in the way you’re asking, but I’ve noticed in the past this kind of heroic leadership made it much harder for others to step up and lead themselves or speak up to direct the group’s attention. Plus I would use that kind of leadership to feel valued and loved—which I think is based on false premises since I’m inherently loved regardless of what I do. So I’ve been practicing a different kind of facilitation which is less obvious and coming from a different intention. Maybe the way I was tonight is a counterbalance, and your feedback is helping me find the middle way, but it was a very conscious decision to be that way I was tonight.”
“Whoa” said the the bearded man and it was as if his heart opened. His eyes glinted in the shadowy light. “I’m seeing now that I did exactly that—I stepped up to create what I wanted with the group tonight. I was dissatisfied and I didn’t do anything about it for a long time. It kept getting bigger,” he held his hands out to his sides, indicating the size, “and bigger, further than anyone’s ever let it get, until I had to act. And then I did get what I wanted.”
My entire body relaxed and a grin formed on my face. “I’m very happy to hear that,” I said.
“Thank you,” he responded, “I didn’t think much of the night, but now I feel completely different and I’m really glad I came.” “Yeah, and thanks for your leadership coming to talk to me about this—I’m really glad you were willing.”
We hugged (for too long), and then awkwardly walked out into the moonlit parking lot together.
I started wondering how many times I’ve gotten stuck in that “I don’t know how to show you myself” feeling, and as a result ended up “unseen” in my leadership choices (whether or not they were good ones remains an open debate, but at least people could know that they were indeed leadership decisions, not ignorance or indecision).
So—since I think the best way to be seen is to actually show yourself (entering the vulnerability of potentially being missed)—here I am: leading often by silence, containment, listening, receiving, trusting others, and letting things happen. Actively choosing to say “no” to what normally gets seen and rewarded as leadership—speaking, sharing knowledge, directing, coaching, taking responsibility for others, making things happen. And willing to do both the normal and abnormal, to oscillate, to pick whichever capacity the moment calls from me.
Photo: Joshua Zader; note that none of these men are the bearded man in the story (though perhaps, metaphorically, all of them are :)
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