Playing the Edge
Playing the edge begins with the acknowledgement of a desire. It becomes real when a risk is taken.
Years ago Will Stockton and Marjorie Herdes of Mobius Inc. were my guides in creating a vision for hospitality at a hotel where I was the general manager. I had lunch with them one day and was immediately attracted to their sense of playfulness at work.
Their proposal was unlike anything I’d ever heard of. I saw in it a possibility that this could be a way to “get” people to care as much as I did. I use quotes because you don’t actually “get” anyone to do anything, but, I didn’t realize back then that they cared as much as I did – about the things they cared about.
It began with Will asking me to put my vision out there, which was:
To be 150 servants with me as the head servant.
“Great!,” Will said, then he asked me if I was willing to learn.
“Yes!” I said.
“Wonderful! The only thing you need to do with this vision now is hold it loosely during this next exercise.”
Sounded good to me. Then he walked me through the exercise.
After hearing what the exercise was, my immediate reaction was: “Shit, I can’t back out now, I’ve invested in these guys and I really wanted this vision to come to life.” So, I decided to accept the risk.
The exercise would result in a “shared vision.” Will & Marjorie helped me see that if we had a shared vision, then everyone who was part of its creation would care about it as much as I did. That also sounded great to me.
The exercise had my twenty-person hotel management team sitting in a semi-circle facing me, Will sat on my right side and Marjorie on my left. Prior to this exercise there was some more coaching from them on being a learner, and not holding too tightly to my vision.
The first half of the conversation was really affirming. We made a list of all the things that we already had going for us in order to get this vision to happen. By the time we were done, we all looked at the list in awe, there was a lot more here than any of us thought. We stopped and celebrated together!
Then they asked another question to the team, and that question specifically was, “What’s missing from this list, that if you had it or even just a bit more of it, this would enhance your vision, and you would stand behind it?”
The team began by talking about systems, policies, tasks, and then someone broke the ice and said “I’m not sure that you (meaning me) will follow through with this. I’ve seen you bring up ideas before and then change your mind without even asking me what I thought about it.”
You can imagine, that once the ice was broken, people felt more comfortable in telling me the truth. Having two facilitators there to guide the dialogue in a way that made the team feel safe and generally positive helped us all speak to what we were really thinking and feeling.
Although the energy was really positive, including my own, I left there feeling insecure about my ability to lead, but Will and Marjorie encouraged me to keep going, and said this was great work.
Here were the major themes of what the managers were asking for in terms of my leadership:
Listen to me when I bring you my ideas, or feedback.
Treat everyone equally, don’t have favorites.
Get my input when you make decisions about my area.
Don’t be so intimidating when you don’t get what you want.
After a day or two, when I got over my hurt feelings and felt like I could lead this group again, I took to heart what they said and committed to growing again as a leader. That day, the team told me directly how I could lead them more effectively. What a gift. A risky, put-it-on-the-line and tell your boss what you really think, painful, yet, beautiful gift.
I saw this was my new edge. I knew how to be the same manager I’d been, however, I didn’t know exactly how to be a different version of Carl the Manager. But, I had a team of great people who said they would support me and hold me accountable.
There were times when a new way of being came easily. I noticed myself acting differently to managers and feeling better about how they responded to me, it was a good feeling. And sometimes, it felt really scary.
The biggest challenge for me was to keep listening when I didn’t agree, it felt unnatural to let others take a chance when I thought I knew better. I’ve gotten much better at it over the years, but back then, I had to make up a mantra so I could actually listen when I didn’t agree. Then I discovered that the mantra got in the way of listening too. It didn’t come overnight, but eventually I eased into listening without attachment to things being my way. It used to be an edge of mine, but nowadays not so much. Now I have other growing edges of development.
Fast forward. The shared vision created by the team that day turned out to be: “We serve each other first, then our guests.”
To this day it’s one of the most powerful and fun visions I’ve ever been a part of, and the process worked! It was no longer Carl’s vision, it was our vision. Will and Marjorie were right, those managers created that vision, and it was their vision. They wanted to make it come true.
I’m 100% certain that if I had not taken the risk by listening to those courageous managers and playing my edge, my desire (our shared vision) would not have come to fruition.
Part of being a leader is listening to, and fulfilling your own desires, through work. Sometimes, that flows – and sometimes, you have to reveal your (self) as it is, not as you wish it was, and invite others to blend their desires with yours in order to reach fulfillment.
That is the risk of sharing leadership.
I bet that you have had versions of this experience yourself. Remember, taking a risk, always feels risky, if you are comfortable taking the risk, then it’s not a risk.
Having support is a key element in risk-taking of this nature. A good first step in risk-taking is to ask for support. Start small, pick one person to take a risk with and grow it from there.
We would be happy to support you in playing your edge.