This is the fourth in the series of posts about ‘relational learning’; how we learn about ourselves through our relationships with others. This week, I'm shifting the attention to the 'depth' of our relationships and how we choose to participate affects us. Click for posts one, two and three.
This week I was gifted the image of a kite, blowing in the wind, connected by almost invisible nylon to a person on the ground. It was given to me in response to a question I was posing about the nature of participation. When is participation voluntary or mandatory?
This question had come up for me when watching a video, part of the series of the MOOC (massive open online course) by Otto Scharmer and the team at MIT, Learning from the Emerging Future. I was thinking about how all the participants had chosen to take part. By doing so, they already have an awareness of something that they want to learn or change. It reminds me of when potential clients seek out coaching. They know that there is something that they want to move away from or towards within their leadership and believe that coaching will support them.
The question is also highly relevant as I prepare to ask for volunteers to participate in my MSc research:
“An exploration into how we pay attention to our working relationships to support performance, growth and well-being.”
Voluntary participation suggests a degree of self-interest, mandatory or dictated participation suggests that someone else thinks that you should have this interest. It sets up a very different power dynamic between all the parties and changes the initial conditions of the relationship. There is still potential for learning when participation is mandatory, but my sense is that the intention arises from a different place. Perhaps to please someone else, to comply, to tick the box, etc…?
If your participation in something is mandated to you, seek out your interest and intention within it. Please don't go through the motions, just because you have to. Find something to which to connect. Life is too short to not participate!
As I write this, I realise how much I value that I work with those who really want to explore what can be different from the current situation. Returning to the kite analogy, I am the one who holds the kite as the kite flyer unreels the nylon. I hold it lightly, waiting for the signal from the kite flyer, waiting for the wind to grab it; then as it flies, keeping an eye on it that it’s staying safe; observing the kite flyer and warning of any obstructions. The choice belongs to the kite flyer, how high they choose the kite to fly; the conditions they choose to fly in, and ultimately whether they choose to fly the kite at all.
In the first 3 posts, the focus has been on how we learn about ourselves in relationship to others and situations. This one is starting to explore a second element of relational learning, known as ‘relational depth’. The quality and essence of a relationship that allows deep learning to take place. This is of the utmost importance to me, it’s what I believe makes coaching transformational, not just a short-term transactional fix.
What are you participating in this week? Where is it on the spectrum between voluntary and mandatory and how is this impacting your relationship to it?
In the words from Mary Poppins, let's go fly a kite, up to the highest heights and send it soaring!
Felicity Hodkinson is a leadership coach working with individuals and groups, creator of ‘relational learning experiences’ and founder of Bend the River. She combines her marketing, commercial and change management experience of 20 years gained in small business and corporate FTSE100 companies with her passion for coaching individuals and organisations.
Email Felicity to explore how this coaching approach could help you develop your leadership practices. Alternatively, read her recent article on 'Softening the Goal Mindset' in Global Coaching Perspectives, July 2016 (the magazine from the Association for Coaching).