I get push-back all the time from people in the Circling community, and sometimes outside of it (i.e. New Culture) about my leadership. The feedback is generally in the nature of: I don’t get it, I am a terrible leader (too reactive, to begin the long list of faults and omissions), that what I am doing is not circling and therefore I should not call it that, etc. etc. That I should stop embarrassing myself and others and go back to school. That I am causing more damage than good here.
Up until very recently I have been quite reactive and defensive about this. I especially get apoplectic when people tell me I am not circling, or circling poorly (because I view that as the height of hypocrisy: telling someone they are not circling, or circling poorly, is not circling either. What you would need to do instead is give negative impact or else a fully-owned judgment, which is a judgment which you acknowledge upfront may have no reality). It pushes my financial buttons: I would love to “go back to school” but it’s not financially possible for me (I am saving up for the Amsterdam SAS, 3800 Euros + travel, but it will be a while). The feedback pushes my “not good enough” buttons, challenging what I have come to see as my constant compulsive search for love and affirmation. It stands in the face of what I consider the reality of my effectiveness over the last 1 1/2 years, along with 600+ hours I have invested in my training (mostly on CircleAnywhere, the most “bang for the buck” relational leadership development program in the world, plus leading groups for about a year now). And finally, it surfaces what might be seen as an ideological difference between myself and some people in the community: that in a world that is crying for love, I am less concerned with creating “great” circling leaders than I am in creating “good enough” circling leaders (of which I imagine myself to be one). The process of certifying leaders and attendant costs of high-priced coaching (it’s not high-priced in terms of the market, but it is high-priced in terms of your average working stiff) is inherently limiting to my dream of having a large number of circling leaders, both official and “undercover” (the “guerilla circling” modality that I describe in my book).
To summarize: my most polite response to my critics so far has been something like “Lead, Follow or Get out of the way“. Or else: “Watch me“, which carries the subtext: “The marketplace will decide what Circling is or is not — and hence I don’t give a shit about your opinion, asshole“. My least polite response.. even worse than that. Not anything I am proud of having said, or that I would repeat. There are times when I am indeed a very bad circling leader. Especially Facebook circling, my least favorite modality.
But I have recently had a big shift in my understanding of leadership development, specifically with regards to Circling leadership:
What I have realized is that when you show up in leadership, you are going to get push-back of all kinds, some of which will be accurate and some of which will be pure projection and/or trauma triggering. And that a good leader does not engage negatively or reactively with push-back. On the contrary, a good leader actually solicits and encourages negative feedback.
Why? Two reasons
First, because it’s important to the person giving the negative feedback to be heard. This is THEIR process of leadership development, for them to articulate their experience of me as a leader. Even if the feedback is coming from pure projection or trauma activation or even jealousy, it is still a valuable training exercise for me to stay in connection.
“Only that which is weak, needs defending” [Victor Baranco?]
The second reason why it’s important to stay in connection in the face of negative feedback is that it’s highly probable it will have at least a grain of truth in it. There is a real danger in Circling, from leaders who are unconscious of their own shadow and unwilling to face it. Indeed this is what I understand now to be THE key to becoming an effective circling leader: willingness to face your shadow, and especially when it is reflected by members of the community. Facing your shadow is the essence of what good circling is, and the reason it is so powerful.
Facing (or acknowledging) your shadow will not immediately make you (me) a great leader. But it will make you a “good enough” leader. Good enough to create a reasonably consistent positive (transformational) outcome for people. Along with a reasonably rare negative outcome (triggering clients or circlees), and when that happens to either exit gracefully (avoid compounding the damage) or else stay in connection and heal the relationship.