“Death is not impressed by what we have done, unless what we have done leaves a legacy of life; death’s tide washes over everything we have taken so long to write in the sand. What is remembered in all our work is what is still alive in the hearts and minds of others.” -David Whyte in Crossing the Unknown Sea
Memory tells me it was late August when we completed the organizational culture assessments. My development team were in the final stages of designing the planned follow-up activities. We were briefed on the technical aspects of the instruments and I began to study the reports in light of the newly learned language. The reports were thorough and data credible. The culture professionals were proven statisticians and, by their own declaration, not consultants who would advise on what to do with the results. Yet something bothered me.
At the end of my study, I had determined the missing in all our efforts; the data did a fine job telling us about current and desired culture, but said nothing about why. To me, the why was in what we collectively valued. In response I hired two consultants I trusted to join us in facilitating sessions where we could create dialogue and listen for these values. The sessions were scheduled for late September.
Between the time we scheduled the sessions and the time we were to facilitate them, something terrible happened; September 11, 2001. The sessions were held as planned and, as you might imagine, the outcome was skewed by the events of that day just two weeks prior.
People from varying levels of management gathered in these dialogue sessions. Attendance exceeded our expectations. People needed to be together. I had instructed the facilitating consultants on the range of questions I wanted answered and in how I required them to be asked. One specific instruction was to not use the term “values” as they sought answers to the questions. Based on the predetermined topical questions, the facilitators asked the people to tell about a time when … . The respective storytelling was no less than powerful as one by one each person told about how we had come together to get communications back up and running for employees and customers in New York City.
Without limitation of any sort, people gave from individual and collective strengths. This does not mean that individuals did not feel weakness during this tragic time. Indeed we each did. Even in a time of great weakness, people pulled together in strength. In those rooms where we provided stillness, people came together once again to share the bounty of collective strength through impassioned story.
As I think back on these sessions, I am grateful for the things I learned. Awakened to the power of dialogue, I continue on the difficult journey to glean all that can be gathered from this power. Listening is a developed strength and can open doors like nothing else. The right questions are a gift. Don’t worry about the answers; just focus on the questions that will free the information needed to form the story.
Story creates connection that teaches. In all times, lean on your strengths to determine what to give and how to give it. Leverage a developed strength of listening to open others to the blessing of the moment as you engage them in the common story.
Model focus and direction as you manifest the empowerment of ‘no’ as you guide personal narratives into collective reality and weed out the distractions to the creation of the common, desired story.
As your purpose/brand narrows you into focus, you open bright portals not before seen by the busy and distracted following.
For more like this and the developing series around the 7 skills, see: 21st Century Leadership Skills