Ron Heifetz, a Harvard professor says that it is not change itself that disturbs people; it is the loss that accompanies change. With change, stability is lost; relationship to one’s perceived reality and identity can disappear. Who you are now is different than who you were just moments ago. You can’t not be affected by what you invite into your reality. That can sound pretty daunting, but is actually just part and parcel to being human!
As you embark on the possibility of considering that maybe you could create what you say you want, you face fashioning a world that doesn’t yet exist. There is madness to being in this world, facing reality every day, to find only that what you had once perceived as real wasn’t real at all. You made it up to support and validate tribal truths”your family, your company’s or community’s beliefs”those that they made up, too. Trying to stay within the confines of a reality that no longer exists for you is impossible, just as it would be madness to try to remain enthralled with a magician’s magic once you know how the trick is done. Change happens to us and change happens because we choose to change.
In Vancouver, Canada this week, I sat with a group of women “ all successful financial consultants, who are doing their best to make a living for themselves and their families. My associate, Magi, and I were invited in by their Director of Training, Harry, to see what was missing in the company that if it were present would create more empowerment for these women. As wise as Harry is and as much as he "gets" these women, I’m not sure he is fully prepared for what is transpiring as a result of this meeting.
What Harry wanted, I believe, was to give these women an opportunity to be more effective in their career, make more money and have more fun doing it. What showed up in the room of seven participants and two facilitators was far more engaging. What showed up was deep disappointment and discontent in the fact that there are no women managers or directors in this company “ there never have been, and from the perspective of these women, there never will be. These women expected to get another "talk" on how to be better consultants. Neither Harry nor these women were ready for the change that may be coming their way.
The dialog emerged from three questions: 1) What is the quality of the experience of having what you say you want? 2) What would you need to shift in order to have that happen? And, 3) what are you willing to practice in order to facilitate the shift and generate what you are wanting? Each question is oriented toward empowering each woman to identify her truth as well as her willingness to fully step into generating her results.
From the first question, each woman felt into the qualities of peace and fulfillment, the confidence and competence, the lightness and fun of having what they say they want. Hearing question two, they became reticent to answer and fell into an anxious silence. There was a mix of "what am I responsible for in my profession" and "what is the company responsible for in providing what I need? This is where the conversation got juicy. Where most conversations can go to blaming or shaming “ it’s the company’s responsibility or it’s my responsibility; as transformational coaches we view it as a both, and. It’s the relationship between the company and the women and both are responsible to that relationship. Both are accountable for the evolution of the relationship to its fullest potentiality.
In the current paradigm where the quality of the experience is of being disempowered, and disenfranchised, these women feel powerless and hopeless to make a change within this organization. What these women are living with is a dilemma. On the one hand they are showered with praise because of the successful relationships they build with their clients. On the other hand they are treated as second rate citizens not good enough for cultivating successful relationships as managers and directors. What’s up with that?
As facilitators of this conversation, our job was to cultivate awareness around how we be in relation to our circumstances, that have them be how they be. How are these women unknowingly participating in their own self-deprecation and belittlement? What beliefs and interpretations do they carry that activate submission of their own personal power? In what ways are they seeking approval from others, when it may be most effective to seek approval from themselves? In other words, in what ways could they be disempowering themselves and having it look like that disempowerment is coming from others? Again, this isn’t a conscious process, but one that has evolved over hundreds, if not thousands of years. By shifting the conversation from one based on discrimination and marginalization to one based on something far more foundational to our human processes we can discover incredible potential in just being and being present to the dialog within the company.
Harry, being essentially the only male director who "gets" these women has thrown his hat into an arena that will potentially shift the dynamics and the way this company relates to women and to gender issues. He has a lot at stake now “ to continue to follow through with these women and their development, and also to potentially facilitate this transition to equanimity and balanced distribution of power for both men and women.
When there’s something at stake there is a potential for change and for loss, as Ron Heifetz claims. This company is on the verge of a loss of innocence because of these seven women who are willing to embark on shifting their own current paradigm of themselves and their company. This is an essential and critical moment in the life of these women and this company, without which they will continue to struggle and settle for less than full fulfillment of their potential. We are saddened when a rose wilts before it expands into its full bloom. So be it with anything less than the full flourishing of every one of these women, with their company, and with every individual on this planet.