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Looking At, Looking Through

March 15, 2011 2 comments

photo by Nancy DaughertyI’ve always loved this photo, taken by my friend Nancy Daugherty in Bermuda, because it reminds me to be respectful of multiple realities.

Can’t you just imagine a team leader confidently describing what she’s looking at—say, for example, some trees and a house on a bluff—while the rest of the group have puzzled looks on their faces. They’re wondering how in the world she sees trees and houses in these beautiful abstractions they’re looking at. It’s only after they realize that they are all looking through different windows that the team can have an intelligent conversation about what they are seeing together.

The first step in moving toward a shared vision, whether at work or with family and friends, is to recognize that we each experience reality through our own window, and that there are as many windows as there are people in the world.

In The Dance of Change, Peter Senge and his co-authors recount how Harley-Davidson CEO, Jeff Bleustein could tell that the change initiative the company had undertaken was beginning to make a difference: “The most tangible change I observed in the first few years after the organizational learning work began at Harley was at meetings,” Bleustein observed. “People stopped saying, ‘This is the way it is,’ and started saying, ‘This is the way I see it.’”

An important breakthrough. But of course, the work of building a shared vision doesn’t end with acknowledging the existence of multiple viewpoints. The harder work lies in developing the capacity—even the courage—to try out different windows, and commit to the one(s) best-suited to moving the vision forward together.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, the authors of Immunity to Change, describe the capacity to relinquish our attachment to our own window in terms of mental complexity. “If one is not to be forever captive of one’s own theory, system, script, framework, or ideology, one needs to develop an even more complex way of knowing that permits one to look at, rather than choicelessly through, one’s own framework.”

So, the challenge for the team leader is to encourage everyone else to let go of their frameworks and come over to her window, right? No! Why should her window be sacrosanct? If she’s really after team success, her job is to facilitate a conversation in which the whole team can step back, agree on what they want to create, and take a bold look at how each of their windows obscure, distort, or magnify the view.

What do you know about the window that you’re most comfortable looking through?

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In It Together

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

StarIn his warts-and-all autobiography, Open, Andre Agassi displays remarkable sensitivity in assessing his relationship to the sport that brought him into the public eye. He hates tennis, he asserts repeatedly, because it is the loneliest sport on the planet. At the same time, he recognizes tennis as a metaphor for life, and he fully accepts the gifts and lessons the game has offered him.

His challenges are extraordinary: A terrorizing father, prodigious talent, competitive pressures of the highest order, and invasive celebrity. He makes some poor choices along the way. But he consistently makes one good choice, a choice that ensures his success, and this is to follow his instinct for meaningful connection with others.

Performing better in situations like Davis Cup and the Olympics—when he’s representing something greater than himself—Andre knows that for him, the antidote to tennis’s loneliness is being part of a team. He tends to his closest relationships with generosity and gratitude. In his singles career, he achieves his best results when he’s most aligned with a team of friends, family, coaches, and trainers.

Nobody embodies the spirit of coach/friend better than Gil Reyes, the strength trainer who has been with Agassi since early in his career. And as Andre recalls how Gil first expressed his commitment, I can’t help but think about the kind of teammates I want to have and the kind of teammate I want to be.

Gil said, “Andre, I won’t ever try to change you, because I’ve never tried to change anybody. If I could change somebody, I’d change myself. But I know I can give you structure and a blueprint to achieve what you want. There’s a difference between a plow horse and a racehorse. You don’t treat them the same. You hear all this talk about treating people equally, and I’m not sure equal means the same. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a racehorse, and I’ll always treat you accordingly. I’ll be firm, but fair. I’ll lead, never push. I’m not one of those people who expresses or articulates feelings very well, but from now on, just know this: It’s on, man. It is on. You know what I’m saying? We’re in a fight, and you can count on me until the last man is standing. Somewhere up there is a star with your name on it. I might not be able to help you find it, but I’ve got pretty strong shoulders, and you can stand on my shoulders while you’re looking for that star. You hear? For as long as you want. Stand on my shoulders and reach, man. Reach.”

Whose team are you on? Who are the teammates who help you shine?