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6 Know What You Stand For

Dressler, Larry Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

My orientation establishes the field so that when I am standing in the fire and a choice point comes up, it informs or reveals a range of choices that I might not otherwise see if I did not have a clear orientation.

—Doug Silsbee
Leadership Coach and Author,
Presence-Based Coaching

AS THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS suggest, we are creatures of habit. But we are also creatures of choice. In the disorienting swirl of group conflict and confusion, we need to know where our feet are planted. As we face what feels like overpowering pressure to comply with a group’s wishes, we need to know who we are at our core. As we feel ourselves succumbing to the pull of ego and pride, we need a higher, authentic self that serves as a solid anchor point from which to make good choices.

Every high-heat moment presents an opportunity to choose where we place our attention and how we use our considerable power as conveners. This chapter describes how knowing what we stand for enables us to choose to lead with consistency, integrity, and resolve in the face of pressures to act from self-defensive habit.

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10 Prepare to Lead

Dressler, Larry Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

If I’m to work successfully with others, I have to remember who I am. So before “we” show up, I do a bit of “me work” and remember who I am.

—Chris Grant
Process Facilitator, 14A Conversations

FOR MANY LEADERS AND FACILITATORS, what happens just before the meeting is largely a matter of agenda review, materials production, and logistics related to the meeting space. Those are important activities. However, there are other important practices related to preparing. These enable us to settle into our own rhythm and intention for the day, connect with meeting participants on a human level, sense the mood in the room, and do the little things that help to create a container in which people will be able to do their best work together.

Many world-class athletes and musicians engage in extensive rituals just before entering the playing field or stage. While some of their practices are driven by superstition, many serve the much deeper function of centering, focusing, and moving into the present moment. Fire tenders are expected to perform under similarly stressful and unpredictable conditions. How do we begin well? How do we arrive in ways that put us in a frame of mind to truly be with others? What are the practices and rituals for coming into a meeting space that support a grounded presence, clear purpose, and authentic way of leading? There are four categories of practices for preparing to lead, and to engage in them you must:

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7 Dance with Surprises

Dressler, Larry Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

If I can’t find a way to let go, it carries over into the gathering and I become very controlling— and I tend not to let things unfold.

—Chris Corrigan
Facilitator and Process Consultant,
Harvest Moon Consultants

A MEETING WITHOUT SURPRISES is a meeting in which nothing particularly important occurs. Without surprises we learn very little, because everything that occurs is exactly what we expected. Surprises are that disruptive spark that often lights the fire for innovation. But our human nature is such that when shocking or even merely unexpected events occur, we resent them.

When we can dance with surprises, we are able to welcome and work in concert with whatever is occurring. In the face of surprises, we embody an effortless grace and adaptability. We don’t hold on to preconceived outcomes, resist unforeseen events, or resent an unanticipated change in the agenda we worked so hard to craft. When we move fluidly in the fire, we are inviting the unexpected to be our dance partner. We view every person, every event, every piece of new information, and every expressed emotion as our partner in the creation of something new.

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11 Face the Fire

Dressler, Larry Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

When things heat up, it takes moment-by-moment awareness and adjustment to what you are feeling, thinking, and doing in the group. A brief lapse of awareness, and you can really set the process back.

—Myrna Lewis
Facilitator, Deep Democracy

MASTER FIRE TENDERS DON’T necessarily get triggered any less than others. But like championship ice-skaters, they seem to recover from missteps and falls more quickly and gracefully than the average leader. Most of the time, the in-the-moment self-correction occurs instantaneously, so that only the fire tender knows it occurred.

The self-directed practices in this chapter are specifically for use during meetings— in the heat of challenging events and difficult group dynamics. These practices for facing the fire assist us when we notice ourselves being pulled into a reactive or unbalanced state of being.

It is inevitable that at some point you will experience any number of strong thoughts and emotions—confusion, anger, fear, self-doubt, self-righteousness—on which you will be tempted to act. Practices for facing the fire are specifically aimed, first, at disrupting the natural impulse to act on those thoughts and feelings and, second, at replacing habitual reactions with more constructive responses.

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8 Stand with Compassion

Dressler, Larry Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Sometimes we guard our impartiality and professional distance at the expense of allowing compassion into our work.

—Sidney Wasserman
Professor of Social Work

BY THE END OF THIS CHAPTER I want you to be familiar with a way of standing with your heart wide open to yourself and to others. As change agents working in emotionally volatile situations, our goal is not to extinguish or become impervious to unpleasant feelings. Our goal is to learn to feel human fear and heartbreak without defaulting into a fight-or-flight mode. In this chapter we will explore how the capacities of emotional openness, self-acceptance, awareness of the whole person, and unconditional positive regard enable us to tend the fire in ways that invite human dignity into spaces where fear, intolerance, and aggression might otherwise take over.

Despite some older notions of the facilitator as someone “standing outside of it all,” we are in fact, a very real and connected part of the system.

Where there is group fire, there is often pain and suffering. And where there is suffering, there is nearly always the tendency for people to move into fight-or-flight reactions. Despite some older notions of the facilitator as someone “standing outside of it all,” we are in fact, a very real and connected part of the system. When things heat up, we have no heat-resistant suit to slip into, nor would it serve our purpose if we did.

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