Freeing Our Voices
Hi. This is Tony. I say so because the book you are about to read could be pretty confusing. I’m the one who starts and ends the book. I am the narrator, and there are lots of other voices in it, and different pieces – prose poems, plain prose and exercises. It’s a workbook of sorts with things for you to read, reflect on and do.
I wrote a book before. Eight years ago in fact. I find it’s a pretty absorbing experience that takes you over. Writing the first book took me over during the quiet time in 1995 at the end of a major project when I had nothing else in my order book. I’m self-employed you see and only work when clients give me projects to do… so when I write a book I’m making work for myself. Hoping for a reaction, voices to come back in response… you could call that a return.
The last time round the book didn’t really work as a piece of marketing for my business. Arguably it helped my colleagues (competitors?) more than it helped me. They are the people who bought it, not my clients. But it was wonderfully fulfilling and helped me to grow a bit.
This time I was writing to
fill another void. Things sort of went quiet on me after the twin towers went
Please read and enjoy this if you are a person who wants to find your voice.
But the people I’m really writing this for are people who want to make a further step into the mysteries of how people create success together. It’s not so much for people who feel stifled themselves, but for leaders who need to figure out how to contribute the best of themselves while getting the best from others.
As a facilitator this is what I help leaders to do. This is a facilitator telling his secrets… and once again hoping for a reaction and a return. I have not found a publisher yet and for now I have decided to publish it on my website. The indications are this is once again going to be enjoyed more by facilitators and than leaders. Time will tell.
… there's a cork
down your throat…
… that stops you…
… exactly what you feel
in your heart.
The words you speak…
… miss their mark…
… sometimes getting ignored…
… and occasionally upsetting people.
Or the words you want…
…just don't arrive…
…so you cover up.
… as if you speak
a foreign language
And other people
are speaking nonsense
back to you.
But you've learned
to live like this.
Then a day arrives when…
… the cork is drawn out…
… and your way of speaking shifts…
… as you realise that…
…you better serve yourself and others…
… by stepping up a level.
Instead of phoney baloney…
… you start
what is true
… exactly as you FEEL it personally…
… in the present moment…
… knowing this is a gift…
… that both unburdens you…
… and liberates other people…
… to speak back their heartfelt truth…
… bringing new energy to your team…
… bigger contributions from each individual…
… and raising the intelligence,
for your organisation.
Maybe you don't care? I do. Why?
Well there are professional reasons and personal reasons. As a facilitator and organisation consultant I'm making a professional judgement that if you take a bold step, asking people to pop their corks, or if you prefer, to crawl out from underneath an invisible inherited ten ton weight, it will benefit them and the organisation they work for. Cutting through the confusion about leading and facilitating a team today, then it is about this: being uncorked. I hope to show you both why and how.
Personally, I have very strong feelings about the way we often fail to engage people in their work. I won't go right into it yet, but I'll just say that through my own upbringing I find myself noticing and identifying strongly with those who lack a voice. I find myself feeling angry on their behalf. I find myself empathising deeply with their fear that saying something wrong and unacceptable will be following by the most damning act of all: rejection.
When Helen tells me it's hard being married to someone who is snappy, irritable and moody, I find it coincides with times I am trying to get something out, expressed, voiced. I'm know I'm not alone in this, and it happens at work too.
What is the business case for a dream?
This is a compelling (to me) dream about the benefits of being uncorked, and of letting others be uncorked. We all know a dream can give inspiration, direction and meaning. But this is more than a dream: it is already starting to happen, in pockets, in diverse organisations, from time to time, albeit only in a rather muddled and awkward sort of way so far.
How it works is that through uncorking we create a special attitude in an organisation, like a hand knocking on each person's front door, inviting them, making them WANT to participate, to include more, to give more. When you encourage this, instead of the noisy disorder you might expect with everyone shouting at once, something remarkable happens: a new order emerges, with higher levels of energy and responsibility.
With this special attitude an organisation rarely needs change programmes because it has become change capable in the moment: adaptive, alive, creative, proactive in its evolving environment.
Few people have come to realise that their job is to uncork: to voice the unspoken truths that hang behind and drive each conversation. Few attend to how they tactically claim, share and surrender space during the flow of conversation to support this sense-making aim, to leave all present feeling included and heard.
This is why leaders like you need facilitators like me to help them work with their teams.
Increasingly leaders are realising that they want to be more like facilitators to their people, but
have not yet found out the magic facilitators use to spark the more intelligent and committed "take" that is possible from a fully wired-up team.
The practical key to this is that any person - you included, any team, any kind of organisation, a bank branch, hamburger chain, hotel, or a government department, can start from a single, simple question "Where's Your Voice?", and the answers unfold from there.
How to use this book
In every mythical tale from Jack and the Beanstalk to Star Wars, there is a hero who receives a Call To Adventure (my theatre director colleague Andy Harmon taught me this as we researched how people lead change in organisations). Sometimes the Call comes from deep within. Sometimes from God. Sometimes from a mentor figure.
In this book, you are the hero, and the first section is your Call To Adventure. If it has the desired effect it will, at the very least, prick your conscience. As you read, I invite you to consider a simple question: Where's Your Voice?, asking this of yourself and others around you. Not once, but time and time again from different angles.
I invite you to examine how you are using your own voice: are you one who tends to dominate and drown out others? Are you one who is more likely to be drowned? Whether you talk more or less than others, behind this is a further question: What truth are you holding onto that is so far unvoiced?
You can ask the "Where's Your Voice?" question in at least three useful ways in any everyday work situation:
1. Ask it of yourself ie. what are you experiencing right now and how are you giving voice to this?
2. Ask it of another person ie. what are they experiencing and how are they giving voice to this?
3. Step back and explore the voicing pattern ie who is contributing, how are the voices moving in your conversation, team or organisation?
The answers may start to be illuminating. Unless you're in a truly exceptional organisation, you'll be unearthing new sources of potential that you can pursue in part two.
Rarely in mythical tales is the Call responded to immediately by the hero. More often it is ignored, misunderstood, denied, avoided time and again. An inner struggle ensues with the hero asking shall I/shan't I?, can I/can't I?, am I OK as I am?, going round in circles for a time.
This might happen to you.
Once the potential of Voice is clear in your mind then, you could say, you have "received the Call" and you have a purpose for crossing the threshold into the unknown and more challenging realms of part two.
This means embarking on an active adventure: a series of tests and ordeals, applying the Voice Proposition, finding your own voice and other voices, developing your own proposition. Through your struggles in this "workout" section you might uncover a special leadership wisdom, to bring back and use.
Finally, in part three, you gain the reward, or "payback" by applying and passing on the wisdom you have gained, to develop your team's performance to a new level, and as you do this "Calling" other people "to Adventure". Your three part cycle is then completed and through the Call you have given to others, the cycle can repeat, endlessly, giving added impetus to a civilising force in your team, your organisation and the world, that has been emerging in fits and starts since the beginning of time.
My role, when you look at this longer timescale, is small and temporary, just as ultimately yours may be. I will try to engage you, give you some activities, examples, readings and challenges. I will guide you as best I can. But ultimately, you are on your own, to do, to grapple, to discover, to gain or lose from the Voice principle.
Are you ready? Then let's get started.
That's your belly voice!
Read this and notice the voice
What was all that about?
Bringing out your voice
You and I both know that…
Creating a clearing
The Voice Proposition part one - the BIG CHOICE part
Listening to the wake-up call
Stopping people being small
Facing up to strong reactions
Noticing your flight into "business speak"
The Voice Proposition part two - the CONSEQUENCES part
Learning the second language
Creating good conditions for directness
Crossing the threshold
Test 1 Checking out your reactions
Test 2: Now I am aware of…
Test 3: Finding the gap
Test 4: Spotting stuck conversations
Test 5: Awakening your voice
Test 6: Drawing out the other voices
Test 7: Proposition erupting
Test 8: Confronting the bad guys
Test 9: The spontaneous shift
The Dance of the Blind Reflex (Oshry)
Test 10: Awakening your team
Losing the plot…
Recovering the plot… uncovering the self-organising principle
Growing your Third Order team
Freeing up your organisation
Getting well connected
Reframing your role as a leader
Rebuilding from ground zero
Getting to grips with the change thing - the reality principle
Becoming partners in a larger team
Figuring it out for yourself