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.