Anecdote #1: It was Day Two of a training of “high potentials” employed by an automotive manufacturing company when one of my participants realized that he was lost. His expectations of a more structured learning experience (as a result of his German training) had distracted him from the learning itself; he was “missing the forest for the trees”. I held space as he thought aloud, arriving at the insight that unearthing his beliefs and assumptions about how our work together “should” be designed was a part of his learning process toward increased cultural competence. He had led himself to a self-knowing that “broke the shell” of his original understanding and expanded his worldview.
This past weekend, I broke out of my own comfort zone, rented a cabin a couple of states east of Illinois in the Michigan woods, and went on a solitary retreat to reach in and reclaim myself. Let’s just say that it was the summer haze into which I recently walked and got lost in the wilderness of that self. Pragmatism is something I inherited by way of matrilineal ancestry, a mindset that may have once fooled me into dismissing my retreat into nature as a frivolous act. Though more than 10 years of partnering with people to engage between one another toward whatever their bottom line, I increasingly experience that connecting to one’s self is what’s needed to work effectively with others.
I reclaimed myself in all the rich and mighty green of the woods. My surround sound theater system was a 360-degree view of a thousand trees from the windows of my cabin. I partied hard into the wee hours of the morning fitting together 499 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle—with one rogue piece. I gave my undivided attention to a two-pound piece of fiction authored by one of my favorites. I walked a labyrinth for the first time. At night, an all-consuming, zero-gravity, pitch-darkness embraced me the instant I switched off the gas lanterns. Instead of feeling small in the face of the depth and wealth of the experience, I felt bliss; intimate familiarity with an awe of our universe; and my own contribution to existence relative to all others’.
"In our business of creating common value, knowing self is gold."
On my way back to the city, I drove under bounds of blue sky clouds and past places with what I consider quintessential country names like Grape Road and Potato Park. I sang aloud--“And I’m free/ Free fallin’…”—down highway that would have most likely been dangerous for me to drive alone at high noon as Black woman barely 50 years ago—and maybe even now. My Ma, a child of the 60s herself, called to ask whether I had resolved what I needed during my time away. It occurred to me that there was nothing to resolve—just someone to reclaim.
Anecdote #2: Kudos to a client of a client who recently paused our negotiations as they grapple with who they are as an organizational culture in offering training on, and advocating dialogue around, race. As a U.S.-headquartered, multinational bank, they had been trying to calculate how to get every penny worth by inviting a significantly high number of participants to a significantly short training. In guiding us all towards a solution, my client and I offered possibilities and set boundaries that supported our client in determining how they want to characterize themselves and their brand—to more deeply engage with key stakeholders within, and external to, the organization.
One of the things that I find most challenging and rewarding about my work—and maybe you do, too—is the blurred line between what’s personal and what’s professional. In connecting with various clients, I’ve learned to speak “business-ese”, nonprofit, academia and more, but only to use familiar terms to convey a common message: Effectively engaging between people to accomplish shared purpose is about personal choice and change. In our business of creating common value, knowing self is gold.
Anecdote #3: Later this month, I’m on the road again—this time to the Sunshine State to meet with a set of participants who are consultants with one of the global Big Four auditing firms. We’ll be cultivating their skills by coaching them to be consultants who don’t get lost in the muck and mire of their own brilliance. They are to be advisors who listen to understand their clients' core qualities, because it’s discovering who we are that leads to us to determine how to get work done together.
people. place. purpose.