Sunday, November 25, 2012

Emotional Leadership

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

The Delegate Couldn't Know How Deeply His Comment Resonated with Me

Just prior to our saying goodbye, one of the IBM Global LGBT Leadership Workshop delegates, remarked to me one on one, "American culture has a different way of public speaking... and the way you facilitated -- I would call it -- 'emotional leadership'."

Is it part of American culture to facilitate warmly, or is it just my style, and I happen to be American?

It's true that I touch participants on the shoulder and back occasionally and also laugh easily as well as hope to move people -- to activate them -- but it's not even fully conscious on my part...until now, as I'm reflecting on what the delegate said.

In terms of emotions themselves, I always feel so many when facilitating learning, and perhaps, more than ever with this series: a summit for openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) IBM executives, and a global leadership development workshop for LGBT not-yet-exec. leaders.

For the workshop I co-designed and facilitated last Friday, I felt sad, desirous, anxious, competitive, thrilled, super-invested, touched and loving. And then afterward, while sitting in the hotel bar with a number of delegates, I felt the same emotions, plus exhausted.

Sad: My father of blessed memory died at ~11:20 pm, November 1st, 1982 and had grown up in D.C., 40 minutes from where I was facilitating in Baltimore. Could I do all I did on November 1st and 2nd to honor his memory? Would he be proud of me, or would we be estranged if he did not approve of my lesbian identity?

Desirous: All of the female delegates and even a few of the male ones are attractive to me. It's exciting to know that none of them is heterosexual -- never happens in any other learning arena. Please God, let me remain appropriate and not cause anyone to feel harassed verbally. Please don't let me embarrass myself by leaking any of these feelings, even as I have a pact with Pat never to act on any such feelings, and haven't in the 20 years we've been together. Don't want to express 'em either.

Anxious: Will I be able to be a great agent for their learning and activation? Am I reaching all of them, or am I leaving some behind? Will the timing of the agenda work out? Can I adjust it effectively if need be? Are they finding the exercises meaningful? Are they willingly opting in to one of the teams being formed around the 2013 Vital Few? Is this learning experience one of the best they've ever had or not? And if not, why not?

Competitive: What is it about the execs. that enabled them to lead such huge missions? What would it take for me to be recognized as worthy of leading one? Which one could it be? Will I ever be recognized as meriting the exec. stripe? Do I look as fit as the other women? Why am I one of the only women in the entire room with short hair? Who am I better-/worse-looking than? How can I stay quiet instead of revealing competitiveness by what I say? How can I remain poised and just listen and be happy for others' success?

Thrilled: What a rush to see them enter the ballroom and pick up their name-badges and tent-cards and to know that it's really happening: nearly 50 LGBT IBMers from around the world, together -- just us -- for a whole day. And thrilled by the international panel -- charming, lovely delegates from Bangalore, Moscow, Vienna and Tel Aviv. How lucky am I to get to ask questions that make me curious and to invite questions from participants! What a privilege to be the moderator!

Super-invested: I want these learners to succeed, especially because they are my people. Also, am concerned that being one of them, I will be judged even more strictly by them than I might be if I weren't one of them.

-- Disclaimer -- : I'm sitting in front of a football game on TV because Pat and I want to be together this evening after my having been away for half a week, and so it's harder to focus on my feelings for this blog-entry. By the way, her Green Bay Packers won, so the mood around here is buoyant.

Touched: When one of the executive panelists -- who's responsible this year for 3/4 of a billion dollars of IBM revenue -- responded to my moderator-question about when he first became aware of his gender identity, I was moved because he spoke of how abused he'd been as a kid by peers, since they saw him as effeminate. Most of all, I was touched that the delegates apparently bought in to my upfront premise of the workshop -- that self-awareness leads to authenticity, which leads to premier leadership -- as demonstrated by their willingness to reflect with one another so openly, especially since a good number of them had never met one another prior to the workshop.

Loving: Just before kicking off the workshop, I sat down next to a delegate with whom I wasn't previously acquainted, introduced myself and asked, "How's it going?"

"It's all sort of a whirlwind," she said, "I'm just taking it all in." She looked like I remember feeling in the early days of my coming out: bombarded. I felt flooded with compassion, listening to her. At the end of the day, when she said goodbye, I saw that she had dimples. They were visible, now that she no longer seemed overwhelmed.

And after the international panel was done, I stood and looked at each of the panelists from Austria, India, Israel and Russia, and felt tearful with a rush of affection; it seemed that they were similarly moved when I looked in their eyes.


I've been sitting on this blog-entry for weeks, wondering why I couldn't write something more perfectly expressive of my feelings post-Baltimore and as self-revealing and honest as I've been above, I didn't post the above prior to now because it was missing the full expression of my most embarrassing feelings of all (though I did leak a bit of it above in the "Competitive" section....) In the spirit of my friend Richard's belief that it's the things about which we're most embarrassed that are most interesting about us, I'll express it finally, 23 days later:

Am I a hypocrite? Am I practicing what I preached, about pursuing our potential? I invested imagination-time x 2, design-time x 2, sponsor-review-time x 2, room-setup-time x 2, facilitation-time x 2 and all-of-the-above-emotions-time x 2 in dedicating sessions to the advancement of IBM, the LGBT community at large, and very specifically to a selected group of LGBT IBMers, but when will I know when I've fully advanced and reached my own potential? What *is* my own potential? What is healthy ambition vs. unhealthy ego? How much ego do I get to have before it's unhealthy?

I am qualified and repeatedly invited to help develop premier leaders, but am I recognized as a leader myself? And if so, why am I not literally leading people again, with a title to match? And is it enough to me if I myself recognize myself as a leader? And when did I gain this craving for outward status? When I joined the company, I did not even aspire to be a first-line people manager, and then did, but for pastoral reasons -- really -- and the people-manager role did satisfy my pastoral bent. And I left management to help start up the LGBT business development mission, and didn't return. Why am I thinking so literally now?

Would it wreck the amazing experience a number of delegates told me they had if they knew that their facilitator had these questions? Or might it paradoxically reinforce my credibility?

And what will I do with these questions? How can I answer them in a way that benefits my work and me altogether? All I can do is make a personal pledge that co-designing and delivering the sessions is rededicating me to further pursue my own potential in addition to having promoted that the delegates pursue theirs. Time for more prayer, too, I think: God, please help me follow your direction. Amen.


Silvy said...

On the public speaking part ... I totally relate to what this person said about Americans and public speaking. You Americans seem to be born with a gene to be good at it, while in other parts of the world people miss this gene. Rationally I know it's not a gene, but we, in other parts of the world, miss the part in the American education system that makes you into good public speakers! So, from my perspective, this is not so much a comment on how warmly you facilitate, but more on how easily you facilitate, how you find the right words immediately and put others at ease, how you react naturally to what others are saying, never ever creating an awkward moment of silence.

On what it feels like to be amongst my own community for an entire day (or in my case multiple days!) I can totally relate to that as well. No matter how much I love my straight friends, family and neighbors, there is nothing like being amongst other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. I feel a level of connection with each and every one of you that I simply cannot reach with my straight friends. To know we have the same desires, but also the same struggles creates a bond stronger than family ties. To me, we, the LGBT community, are all family to each other.

And lastly on the leadership part, described in your competitive section, you know some of my thoughts on that as we have discussed it before. We are all unique individuals with our strengths and weaknesses. And it doesn't matter if you are an executive or not, this is valid for everyone. We can also all be leaders, you don't need a jobtitle for that which indicates you have an executive role. You are a leader in what you do, I am a leader in my role, and our executives are leaders in their roles. Do they have something that non-execs don't have? Maybe they do, maybe they don't. Maybe they just happened to be at the right place at the right time when interesting opportunities were presented to them. One thing is sure, they have a drive to perform and to work hard. But you do as well and so do I. Reflecting on my own career, I think a lot depends also on who your manager is. I have known times where I was consistently the highest performing, highest regarded employee, recognised at an international level as a real leader and the best in what I was doing at the time, but it didn't bring me any step closer to a higher banded role. And I have known times in which I was seen as average. I did not change, I was the same person bringing the same skills and competencies to whatever job it was I was doing, what changed was who was managing me, an outsiders perspective on me. The lesson I learned is that you can't please everyone.

I, like you, continue to pursue my own potential and I do ask myself questions similar to yours every once in a while. But then I quickly realise that I am really lucky, that I absolutely love what I'm doing, that I can provide for my family and that there are far more important things in life than status. Love and friendship and health and happiness.

Sarah Siegel said...

Silvy, wow! Thank you for telling me how you related, including your point about feeling kindred with LGBT people. And the reminder that leadership status is relative. And for your dear friendship and colleagueship for more than a decade so far.

Christie Hardwick said...

Dear, dear Sarah,

You are not alone in your musings and sometimes angst.  Of late I have been using Shakespears three questions that I learned from Tina Packer of the Royal Shakespear Company in the Berkshires.  She says that every one of his plays seeks to answer three fundamental questions, What does it mean to be alive? How shall we act? What must I do?

With those questions and our individual answers comes the things by which we measure and judge what is good and what is enough.  I am learning to recognize that each of us has within us an unlimited potential that is awaiting our recognition.  This unlimited potential is what connects us and holds us and we are never separate from it.  When we think in the small ego way we think we are alone and doing things on our own will and efforts.  When we lean into the substance of Life itself, energy itself we find ourselves moving along a natural flow, which I believe moves toward what is good.

You question your desire to be recognized for the leader that you already are.  This is the natural desire within you to reach up toward more light.  If you want the title executive, asking for it with the knowledge that it is only an outward expression of who you are inside will allow it to happen for you.  One of my best teachers said, 'what others think of you is none of your business'.  Instead my business is to work on my own relationship with that higher self that knows it is connected to all things.

Your tendency to feel and display emotional connection, to empathize to feel love and compassion for others being called out by one of the attendees is a good thing.  Even if they are uncomfortable with how it made them feel, you are doing your work in the world.  I recognize the powerful leader that you are and I celebrate you.

Like all of us that are not Moses, Bhudda, Christ, Krishna, Mohammed, we keep working on that still small voice that says all is well and quieting the voice that says there is lack and limitation.  One thing I know for sure, no one can do Sarah better than Sarah and there is only one Sarah Siegel on the planet.

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Sarah Siegel said...

Christie, thanks for the Shakespeare framework. And for all of the essential reminders. And for your kind, encouraging response altogether.

I knew you'd have wise things to say.

Tara G Chattopadhyay said...

Beautifully written Sarah. To add to that most of us who was present on that day was having very similar emotions as yours. I personally felt thrilled, anxious, competitive, moved, touched and desirous. Also a but jealous about how good everybody is in public speaking and I am not.. Haha. Yes, your emotional leadership is what was demonstrated throughout, and I could sense the harmony and a vision.
I always feel very comfortable in our LGBT crowd, and something about us which is very warm and accepting almost like family. That day was a perfect example of that.
It started off rather mellow, but Fred Balboni's speech and a dynamic executive panel set the tone of the day; that its not going to be like other boring collaboration event. Its was an open and warm discussion with highly relevant questions, and only you could pull it off. I am sure your Dad is very proud. Bless you.

Sarah Siegel said...

Tara, thanks for your generous feedback, especially for your final statement about my dad. You were wonderful when you spoke, by the way. Remember, your statement about your mom when you were on the int'l. panel was among the most moving of the day!

Leslie said...

What a lovely piece of writing. Any facilitator dedicated to his/her mission could surely relate to much of what you wrote about wanting to connect with the audience and likewise most of us humans can relate to grief, worrying about being judged, fear of emotional leakage, and ambivalence towards our own competitive striving. You didn't put it this way, but the question that your piece planted in my mind is "What is enough?" Maybe because that's the question I've been wrestling with, too!

Sarah Siegel said...

Leslie, or as my mother would say, "Sarah, why don't you let yourself live?" And she hasn't even seen this piece(!) She's right. And your question's a great one. And I found comfort in the Martin Buber quote you recently added to your blog, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

Jeni Shih said...

Dear Sarah

I felt a lot for missing the workshop in Baltimore with our friends this year and was really sad to miss the unique opportunity to learn from you! Having you as facilitator was my #1 reason to be there. But you know the story and I’m glad to read your entry here.

I applaud you Sarah!!!

Talking about our emotions is not an easy thing at all, but LEADING EMOTIONS is tremendously taxing!!!

You are “gifted” with the art of the spoken words and you touch everyone deeply in their feelings. And you said it….you land all your deepest energy planning, preparing, running and enjoying your group. And you expect to deliver nothing less than “a great experience” to each and everyone in the room. So although I was not there, I know that you did great and you made the difference in their lives, as you did to mine when I first attended a session that you facilitated.

And you already know me, so these are not simple words from a friend who admires you. You know that I really mean it from my heart!

You know well the energy from a rutilated crystal…no words needed and simply holding it in your hands starts an internal energetic movement that it’s hard to explain. This is the feeling you promote in peoples’ lives with your words, your pictures, your insights. It’s the energy generated by your “leadership” and no words needed!!!

So you know well your potential and the strong leader you are, so an executive appointment is also expected. Well, I believe that being an executive in the company is not only about a nice job title, it’s really about an expected “formal recognition” for all your dedication and commitment for all you have been giving to IBM.

And it’s part of human nature to expect recognition, as well as part of animal nature to be competitive in order to survive in the food chain. So I really believe that it’s absolutely natural to expect formal recognition from the company and to be competitive! We are human beings so we are animals! And I do share your pain and I know it is genuine!

So for me, the real question is why do we continuously expect an external recognition when we could be very happy with our own recognition of who we are.

I still don’t know the answer, Sarah, but I already found a clue…it requires huge “courage” to look into ourselves and accept that we carry attitudes that we always wanted to hide from everyone, including ourselves: hypocrite, selfish, envious, arrogant, greedy...

So I applaud you, Sarah, for who you are, for your honesty, for your courage, for your energy, for ALL YOU ARE!!!!

Big Brazilian Hug!!!

Sarah Siegel said...

Jeni, you're so generous. And yes, I am still in awe that you gave up your seat to ensure that another colleague had an opportunity to join us.

Making breakfast this morning, I was thinking about your kind comment and it struck me: This is what "bringing our whole selves to work" looks like. And I smiled.

Shalini said...

Dear Sarah,

Got to this only now , and am so touched reading this. I can relate to so much of what you've expressed in being anxious (with a capital A), super-invested, touched as well as competitive as a facilitator... infact embarrassingly competitive once or twice as I reflect back , with people who (I felt) inappropriately challenged my authority .. usually a few questions to gauge the merit of one's facilitator are ok , even welcome as it gives you a chance to establish credibility. Interestingly ofcourse, most challengers become rather open & friendly with time - that's another discussion :) .

I'm only going to flow with what i feel like sharing here, hopefully i still sound coherent by the end of it ! Emotions and feelings to me have always been sacred, real ... and when dealt with purely in a developmental & non-judgmental way - a great route in igniting passions & efforts we want activated. So 'emotional leadership' to me would be a huge compliment as a facilitator because then you have touched the group at deeper level than just the intellect - and that's where shifts happen. Despite all the anxiety, it takes reasonable courage and ironically all your conviction & confidence to express your perspective (especially in a new / fluid non-scripted workshop) to put yourself on the spot, so to say , and this is accentuated when you have an accomplished group to work with. I have many , many times questioned my own merit to have been chosen to facilitate on these occasions sometimes even being nearly convinced that I am not yet ready, that i need more accomplishments, a couple of high flying titles and the expertise they bring into my kitty and that that would perhaps give me the 'right' needed to facilitate these groups :) . And i've paradoxically also always 'known' that isn't the right line of thought for what I do. As a facilitator, my purpose is not to lead a business or manage the Profit & Loss a/c - it is to help leaders blossom & flourish & lead with respect for all and with the right values ... and to that point , we've all seen leaders at some point in time who aren't able to facilitate or lead change and demonstrate these values very effectively. What is important and means success is that I be good at what I do & they be good at what they do - our purposes are different - and they are complementary. - so the knowledge that 'success' has a very individual personalized meaning, helped me keep my confidence when facilitating accomplished groups, even with all the normal anxieties that accompany. The other big shift I had sometime through the facilitation journey is also significant as it drastically reduced my anxiety - the realization that i don't have to prove any point to them about how much i know or have done - I'm here to assist & enable, to help people become leaders and in whatever the purpose of the workshop is ... that it just isn't about me - it is about them. It turned the way I looked at group at it's head. It was okay for me to not be perfect suddenly, it was okay to tell them i may not have all the answers and that i was as anxious as some of them may be at the beginning of the workshop. We were in it together ! ... and that we will both take away some good stuff from each other :).

On another note, and i don;t know exactly why i'm thinking about this just now, when i think about all the wonderful people i feel attached to.. some of it is sheer respect for what they're capable of or have accomplished - their strengths ... but a larger part is about how they're just as human & vulnerable, with their share anxieties & questions, as I am. That's what helps me connect to them in a real sense. So I would be lesser anxious about what they'd think about me having my anxieties as a facilitator ... :)

Sarah Siegel said...

This is the first time since launching my blog in 2007 that I've had the urge to comment in response to each comment. And I'm yielding to it.

Shalini, thanks for being honest likewise about the art of facilitating and what it provokes in its practitioners! You final point, about feeling less worried about facilitating for a group who you know shares any of your vulnerabilities/differences is a positive version of my opposite worry and I hope I can internalize that because it does also make sense, but I think it can go either way, i.e., sometimes, marginalized people are our own worst enemies. In the happy case of this most recent workshop, all of that anxiety was in my head and did not manifest itself in the room as far as I could tell.

Noga Tor said...

Sarah... my turn :-)

I think that people tend to admire in other people things that they are not good at, or think that they are not good at or at least things they struggled with as children and carry them along to their adulthood: Fat children will find it hard to feel skinny, socially rejected children will find it hard to feel popular, etc... For me, personally, it was struggling with being shy and introvert. So if you followed my drift.. I am always highly impressed with people who seem comfortable with public speaking, and expressing themselves, managing to find the right words in the right time (and not in retrospect, in their own minds). The point I'm getting to is that you are all of those and for that I admire you. You do it so well, that it's kind of a surprise to see you mention the word anxiety.

To be honest, I would find it hard to admit in person to some of the things you willingly admitted in a blog entry! so that's definitely a compliment for you and a work item for me!

I completely relate to what Silvy said about feeling closer to new LGBT acquaintances than to old straight friends. I think it's probably because that I already know about them so much, as all of our stories usually share some, if not a lot, common threads.

Sarah, I'm a big believer that things happen for a reason and it's just a question of when we are aware of it. I also know you're sort of a celebrity in IBM :-) I know so many people that know you and that you've touched! So I think whatever happens with your career and title, you are already a big influence on what IBM means to so many people.
No doubt, Aba Siegel is proud :-)

Sarah Siegel said...

Noga, reading your comment was a great way to begin my day and I have a few min. to respond during "lunch time". Who knew this blog-post would turn into a love-fest for me? I'm so grateful to see people rising so loftily to my occasion!

Usually, I also think that everything happens for a reason, except when I get lost in literal-land and my ego, so I'm glad to be reminded of that.

It's fascinating how people see us compared to how we see ourselves. When I saw your video from your L-Women at Work session ( last year, I thought, how charming, smart and naturally funny a speaker Noga is! I watched it again just now and was delighted again. And you seemed equally comfortable as a panelist at our workshop in Baltimore.

Now, after hearing from a number of you who are not native English speakers in this wonderful collection of comments, I need to say that I cannot imagine -- no matter how fluent I might ever be in any other language -- being able to be at ease with public speaking in the same way I am relatively when I'm speaking English. So I think that's important to remember, too.

And thanks to you and Tara for your confidence in my dad (z"l). He was a bit homophobic, unfortunately, and he died when I was 17, four years before I came out to my family, but my mom's most recent suggestion was, "He loved you, so he would have been OK." And as you might remember from when Pat & I spent our vacation in Israel this past summer and saw you and your wife Hilla, our favorite experience of the trip was visiting my five generations of relatives, all of whom are from my dad's side, and how warmly they welcomed Pat & me as a couple.

As you said in your video, visibility is key, especially because it helps us feel like we belong.