“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”
– Francois de La Rochefoucald –
The last two weeks have presented me with the welcome challenge of getting clearer and more concise in sharing my message regarding the kind of leadership that leads to sustainable change. I gave a talk to a group of graduating seniors, business students eager for experience and application, and it went well enough but I can’t say I was elated about my efforts. The constructive feedback I received from the good friend who invited me to give the talk was that I was simply trying to do too much. It was a welcome confirmation of what I consistently notice about myself in those situations: my energy and passion for the subject is so high that I cram in as many ideas and angles as I possibly can. Part of that, of course, comes from not trusting that a simplified message, of course more powerful because more easy digested and more memorable, will not be sufficient to the task. That if I somehow manage to pare it down to its essence it will just not be enough. Rationally, I know this is a story but emotionally it’s a legitimate concern.
Fortunately I have two perfect opportunities in the coming few days to practice the power of clarity and brevity; a couple of 30 minute presentations that require me to deliver my essential message. This couldn’t have come at a better time because, a year into my adventure as an independent speaker and professional coach, it is obvious to me now what so many already understand: it is easier to say “yes” when you understand what you are saying “yes” to!
As this question and this process have been bubbling up and brewing within me I have been feeding it by taking in ideas and insights from a number of different sources: podcasts, articles, talks, fiction. Finally, with thanks to Krista Tippett’s program, “On Being” and her two outstanding interviews with Seth Godin and Parker Palmer, my thinking clarified and simplified.
Seth Godin reminded me that our shifting economy – and the shifting landscape within organizations – is less and less about the accumulation of “stuff” and more and more about opportunities for connection and meaning. The quote above and the others I have recently shared and written about all get to what I see as the essential leadership question of our time: in a connection economy doesn’t it make sense that we should have more connected leaders? And the leaders who are going to be more connected and connective are those who are not “disguised to themselves” or others; they are those who are willing to know themselves and be known.
Parker Palmer, in his interview, shared a framework developed by Marshall Ganz for organizing Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign for the presidency. In the two years prior to winning the White House the Obama Campaign organized a series of volunteer trainings called “Camp Obama.” The core of this effort was to teach and practice storytelling and it was done in this way:
1. Tell the STORY OF SELF: What is my heart connection with this work? The hopes of my heart that bring me to this place?
2. Tell the STORY OF US: How does the story of self connect to what is going on in the hearts of people in this society as I know them?
3. Tell the STORY OF NOW: What might be done in this moment that would help us advance our hopes?
As I heard this methodology described I felt for the first time a way forward in my efforts to create a personally compelling message that would withstand the limits of time and the challenge of trying to do too much. It is personal and therefore connective. It is inclusive and therefore energizing. It is an invitation and therefore an opportunity for others to rise to the occasion of our current challenge.
Most importantly, for me, it is a fresh way forward in the definition and delivery of what I care most about. I don’t have to share it all, just the part that earns me the right to continue the conversation.