Can You Set a New Course?
Sometimes our biggest lessons come from the most uncomfortable situations. One of the reasons having clarity about what I stand for has been helpful, is that it’s made it possible for me course-correct when I find myself reacting to situations instead of bringing my best. As those of you fabulous human beings who read my blog regularly know, my Super Objective (what drives me as a leader in OnStage-language) is: To connect people to the best of who they are. I wish I could say that I always do this, but I don’t. Sometimes I get mad, or snarky, or feeling sorry for myself and I don’t give two hoots about connecting others to the best of anything. But then I always pay the price. I feel it. I know it in my bones. I’m not being the person I want to be.
Many years ago, I was leading a class for about 35 people in a typical hotel break-out room, when I first discovered how valuable my newly-minted Super Objective would be. I was team-teaching at the time, we had just finished covering one unit and were transitioning to the next. Now, when you start teaching a new unit it’s critical that you have everyone’s attention, because you’re often taking the learning in a new direction, and you don’t want to lose anyone. So I’m standing up front, I capture the group’s attention, and begin.
I begin, but while most of the group is with me, back in the far left corner of the room, one of the participants is still talking to her table-mate VERY loudly, doing her own thing and totally ignoring the lesson. So I did what most facilitators would do in that moment. I continued teaching as a I made my way to her corner of the room – hoping she would sense my presence and…hush.
Nope. Didn’t work.
The rest of the room kept looking over at her, annoyed (for good reason), so I knew I needed to deal with the issue but didn’t want to call her out. So I kept talking and then gently put my hand on her shoulder, thinking she would realize what she was doing and…well…hush.
Nope. She kept yacking. Loudly.
Now her table-mate is looking up at me sheepishly, but the talker-lady was completely unaware. So I’m thinking to myself, “Okay…what do I do? I don’t want to embarrass her. Nothing else seems to be working….” then I thought, “Humor! That’s it! I’ll try humor!” So I leaned over, smiling, and whispered quietly, “Okay peanut gallery!”
(Can I tell you how much I regret that?)
She turns to me with a massive scowl on her face and says vehemently (and again, VERY loudly), “EXCUSE ME??”
The room was so silent that you could have heard a pin drop.
I felt like I had been slapped. I felt humiliated. I felt confused. I didn’t know what had just happened. Was “peanut gallery” a bad word in Philly? Did it mean something I didn’t know it means? I was completely shocked.
(Can I tell you, that the last thing on earth I wanted to do at that moment was to “connect that lady to the best of who she was”?)
Luckily, my co-facilitator jumped right in and without me having to say a word and the class went on. And I, like a beaten dog, put my tail between my legs and sat down, completely flooded by my own emotion.
Now, in the past I would have ignored that scary-lady for the rest of the two-day session. I would have pretended she didn’t exist. I would have just put a protective shield around that corner of the room and over-compensated for my insecurities and bewilderment. And I would have gone home after the program feeling like crap about my work. About that lady. About the whole session. And especially about myself. Because when we can’t show up at our best, we feel it. We can’t escape ourselves.
But the thing was, that was the first time in my life that I had some clarity about who I was. I had named it. I knew that if I was really about “connecting people to the best of who they are” then something had to happen. Because the truth is I wasn’t capable of connecting anyone in that room to their best, if I wasn’t bringing mine.
I tell participants all the time that knowing your Super Objective doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it makes life harder. Because all those things that we normally do when we react or mess up, we can now recognize they won’t get us where we want to be. And as Maya Angelou always said, once you know better, you do better. You can’t escape the knowing.
I knew. I knew I had to take some kind of action to get myself back on track. To be the person I know I am, at my best. I had to take a risk. I had to be vulnerable. I had to go talk to the scary-talker-lady.
(Can I tell you how much I did not want to do that??)
So at the beginning of the next break, I followed her out like a little stalker, I pulled her aside and said, “Ummmm…(yeah, it wasn’t eloquent)…Look…I’m sorry if I said something that offended you. That was certainly not my intent. Please forgive me.”
And she looked at me, stunned, and laughed (loudly – go figure), “You didn’t offend me!”
It was like a release-valve went off inside of me.
We talked. It turned out that she loved the content so much that she just couldn’t stop talking about it with her friend. It had triggered something for her and she was excited. And, I also learned, that she’s someone who processes things orally – she needs to talk about it so it can sink in.
Oh my goodness! It was like finding the holy grail! I would have never guessed that that’s what was going on with this lady. Never!
Now that I knew what she needed, I could find constructive solutions for her to be able to talk about the content without disrupting the process or the rest of the class. Now that I knew, she wasn’t scary-lady, she became awesome-lady.
But I would never…never, never, NEVER, have gone to talk to her before I named my Super Objective. Not in a million years. I would have let my fear, or anger, or discomfort, be bigger than the possible outcome.
Since that time I’ve had countless opportunities to course-correct. They find me on a daily basis. Because that’s how we humans work. We react. It’s not always pretty. But we don’t need to sit in the mess we’ve made and let it ruin our results, our experience, or how we feel about ourselves.
We can courageously set a new course.
©OnStage Leadership, 2014 (revised from blog originally posted October, 2013) If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share. It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too. My sincere thanks. Kimberly
Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying!
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