Brett Wood explores the relationship between inner work, performance and well-being.
“The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” – Parker J Palmer
I got out into winter the other night with a bunch of folk around a campfire in zero degree temperature in the blue mountains. I nearly didn’t go out. I mean… zero degrees, come on! I was so tempted to just stay on the couch and watch episodes of ‘Big Love’. I love my couch; my refuge, my comfort zone, my cave; my retreat when I come home from facilitating world peace and all that other tiring stuff. Fortunately my wife, in her quietly inspiring way got me out of the house and into the winter.
It was a wonderful evening. In this speedy, impatient world where fast is the new slow, and manic is the new fast, it takes something to disconnect from technology and task and entertainment and just stop and take a breath in the company of others. I’m not saying my thoughts didn’t wander back to the couch now and then. I’m up to Season 2 of ‘Big Love’ which is getting really interesting so, as I nodded caringly at people sharing their hearts around the fire, I secretly wondered how long I’d have to stay and be polite and appropriately soulful & connected to my Fellow Man before I could get back to the telly. But DVD’s are easily available, whereas campfires with real live human beings are rare, so I stayed.
Eventually I settled into the present moment, into the winter, into the company of others, sharing thoughts and feelings and stories. In zero degrees. It was both fresh and refreshing! And as a bonus, spontaneously I discovered a great clarity regarding a job I had coming up the following week. I suddenly felt very clear and confident on how to approach the job. It goes to show, when the conditions are right, the inner teacher can emerge and figure out solutions to our endeavours.
The upcoming job was me facilitating a group of senior leaders who would be coming together for a team day with the aim to have authentic conversations with each other. As I dodged the gusts of smoke from the campfire it struck me how simple and yet elusive authentic conversation can be. Something about a ritual like a campfire circle helps, as does a willingness to trust in silence and to listen beyond the internal voice that chatters away in an incessant commentary on what other people are saying. “Authenticity” is a bit of a buzz word that gets thrown around like a Frisbee in the corporate world and so often loses meaning. Around that fire I remembered that authentic conversation has a very real flavour to it, though it’s hard to put in words. It’s an atmosphere that
arrives when people get beyond the clever debating and pantomimes of intimacy and start really talking, surprising themselves with the truth that emerges.
So I took my renewed and refreshed understanding of authenticity into my session with that senior leadership team. Sadly, the occy health and safety policy of the hotel wouldn’t allow me to light a campfire in the seminar room. But there were other conditions I could create in support of connection and authenticity. For a start I got the room changed from the planned boardroom to an open space without a whopping great table in the middle. Then I used some of Parker Palmer’s guidelines from his courageous leadership process.
The day was a great success. Conversations that had been repressed in the background, came into the foreground, so they could be dealt with, and let go of, providing space for some new and better conversations to begin. Themes and issues emerged and some positive actions effortlessly flowed out of the group. This was, as I suggested to them, ‘inner work’. And this is my first blog in a series which will explore the correlation between people’s Inner Life and their Outer Results. There is a whole inner realm of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, and an even deeper, mysterious realm we might call the soul. This inner realm drives behaviours and creates tangible outcomes. There are many thought leaders currently looking at the relationship between the outer and inner realms. They suggest that these realms are habitually kept separate, particularly in the business world, and this may come at a cost to both performance gains and well-being. I’m going to explore the work of some of these thought leaders, along with my own experiences in my work at Be Learning. My underlying assumption is- as Bill O’Brien famously said- when it comes to change… “the success of the intervention depends upon the interior condition of the intervener.”
Parker Palmer founded the centre for courage and renewal and has been leading retreats for teachers and leaders which focus on the Inner Life. I recommend his book “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life” – it’s truly a knock out. Or rather, a knock in.
Bill O’Brien was a previous CEO of Hanover Insurance and a pioneer in institutionalising vision and values in the workplace. In his memory, the O’Brien distinguished lecture series has some great speakers exploring inner work for outer change.
If you like this post; You may also enjoy reading Inner Life…Outer Results (October Edition)