Last week, I wrote about a story I shared at the opening of Thrivability Camp. According to the story, leaders can be seen as “keepers of the fire,” a powerful symbol of transformation. Though this is a role traditionally played by women, leaders of any gender can create the fertile conditions for emergence and evolution within a group.
At the Camp, we also experienced another side to the metaphor. Keeping the fire is not just about transformation. Even as we strive to create the conditions for change, there’s also something about accepting – and even loving – what is. Through a combination of truly wonderful people and an invitation to authenticity, our experience at the Camp was one of warmth and genuine acceptance. Only against such a backdrop could we open ourselves to transformation.
The phrase “hearth and home” comes to mind. Importantly, the hearth – or fireplace – sits at the center of home and family life. Traditionally, this is where meals were prepared and served, where stories were told. It’s where you were always welcome… where you could be yourself. As leaders, transformation is most powerful within such a space of acceptance for what people already are and for what the organization currently is. Without this, we bring limiting fear, anger and resistance to the task.
I experience this in my parenting. If I focus only on how I wish my kids would behave, the feeling I convey is frustration. They sense this, and they feel small and incapable – and they certainly don’t feel inclined to do what I want. It doesn’t lead to the desired behavior – or to anything good, in fact. If, on the other hand, I look at them with compassion and love, only then am I able to see why they behave the way they do and only then can I imagine the ways I can support them in moving toward behaviors I seek. Love and compassion are critical to supporting transformation.
My friend, Julie, is a master at this in her work. Several years ago, her organization created an ambitious vision and then embarked on a massive journey of transformation. Along the way, inspiration, collaboration and effectiveness have reached astonishing levels, despite considerable turbulence. As a result, they’re moving in leaps and bounds towards their vision. Recently, Julie asked a group of her employees and colleagues why they thought things were flowing so well. “It’s because you seem to genuinely think that we’re all wonderful,” one of them said. That was a necessary condition for transformation. As it stands, though, acceptance of this kind is such a rarely offered gift that I feel a pang of emotion every time I recall her story.
Love what is, even as you create the conditions for it to change. This is one of the many paradoxes of stewarding living organizations. And as my friend Tolu Ilesanmi says, “It takes a different kind of thinking.”
In fact, the lesson can be applied broadly. Genuinely loving ourselves, our colleagues, our organizations and our world just as they are – even as we work towards transformation at all of these levels – this seems to be a core practice on the path to thrivability.
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