from Mary Pierce Brosmer, founder of Women Writing for (a) Change(TM). This is part of a draft of the second chapter of her book with the working title Uncommon Sense: Leadership Lessons from the Heartland. The chapters are organized and being written seasonally, with liturgical and poetic overlay. The street paper, Article 25, published the whole chapter to date in its current issue.
Primer: Common Sense Practices for Integrating Shadow
1. Deal with your own shadow on a regular basis before attempting this work with those for whom you have responsibility. I don’t care how busy you are. Stop. Write your personal versions of the prompts you’ll ask your staff to respond to. This writing is to keep you honest and grounded. You don’t share the private writing with them, but when you are in group sessions, you must write, and you must share, or it is an abuse of your positional power
2. Enter this kind of work with the understanding that it’s relational, dynamic, and must never descend to pro forma, rote, or uninspired. Allow it to be both steady and allow it to evolve or it will become just one more dog and pony show.
3. Gather your staff or community on a regular basis, NOT just when there is a crisis, or when you have the energy for listening to them, or have just come back from a seminar filled with new ideas you want to suddenly implement. The practices I’m describing leverage the collective intelligence of a group. They also prevent the unhealthy dynamic of calling people into your office and setting the rumor mill going: so and so has the boss’s ear, or so and so was called on the carpet. I call this leadership style “throwing your weight around,” indulging in the RHIP pleasure of being a shot-caller, someone who can hold court whenever you want. It’s also at least a mild abuse of power which will lose you the respect and regard of your staff because of your failure to be disciplined and respectful.
4. You have to be, or become, a person who can be trusted to hear what might make you unhappy or troubled. No naked emperors need apply.
5. Now, gather everyone you are working with to write together to variations on these questions:
– from your perspective on our shared project, and from your expertise within it, what is happening now?
– what do you think it means?
– what do you recommend for next steps in view of our short term goals and long-term vision? steady the course? tweaking? other?
– If you have time, write a brief story which illustrates your responses.
6. Ask everyone to read what they have written verbatim. No “talking about” or “from” what is on the page. ( People start “editing” and throwing up smoke screens when this happens.) Ask everyone to write down key phrases from one another and read them aloud without comment when everyone has read
7. Facilitate a conversation about what came up when people went down into listening-to-themselves mode and wrote to the questions. DO NOT debate, argue, but do guide the group toward provisional decisions about what to create out of the elicited wisdom. Be transparent about who has authority or responsibility for decision-making if decisions are in order. One of the most damaging, cynicism-creating things you can do is to fail to teach and model the distinction between speaking and words becoming actions immediately.
Part of the context-setting a leader must do every time a “what’s happening where you live and work” gathering is convened is to hold up this paradox:
(a) Just because someone articulates a point of view doesn’t mean it will result in a quick fix or shift. All words spoken with good intention are valuable to the whole, but not necessarily in the cause and effect way we might desire. That would be magical, as opposed to mature thinking….
(b) AND, I’ll do my best, with your help, to keep us connected to the things which need attention and when and how to attend to them. I want you to keep me honest on this—AND have compassion for the fact that I may be dealing with behind-the-scene complexities that I am not at liberty to share.
(c) Warning: do NOT fall in love with shadow. Yes, that is possible too. I’ve seen leaders who only believe information is valuable and honest when it’s pointing out mistakes, or pitfalls. Of course, they keep the information under wraps, or leak it strategically, but living in the heady adrenaline swirl of “everything is great,” closely followed by “people, we have a situation; let’s man the ramparts and pull an all-nighter.” is unsustainable—and itself addictive.