I am writing this article to share some reflections of a 3-city A/R tour I just completed (Philadelphia, Baltimore and Silver Spring MD), leading 4 events in 5 days. The topic is the marketing of A/R.
About the groups
All the groups were small, between 3 and 8 people, averaging around 6. All the groups were “home-runs”, which I define as everybody leaving happy and smiling and wanting more. I filled the groups through contacts I had in the different cities, plus I made websites (sample Philadelphia and Baltimore), Meetups, Facebook groups and mailing lists for each city (this a fair amount of work, but it’s what I do for my bread-and-butter business, so it wasn’t a big deal). I charge $10 for an A/R game and $15 for a Circle, which is well below market rates, but I don’t care because I only need to supplement a small income from other sources, and because I am committed to keeping my groups affordable.
The success of the groups, frankly, blew me away. I did not realize I was that good. I had been telling myself, and saying publicly (partly in response to push-back from the global community, which I will say more about below) that I am a “good enough” A/R leader (and not a great one). But what I realized on the trip, is that it doesn’t take a genius to lead A/R. All it takes is an intelligent structure and some level of humility, surrender to the group and to “trust that people move towards wholeness, and we just have to follow” [Alexis Shepperd]. I am not actually doing the work, or at least the hard work; I am just setting up the container and witnessing. People are not there for me, to be wowed by what a genius leader I am. The best I can do is get out of the way, in fact that is the main problem of being an A/R leader, managing one’s own reactivity and leading from and expressing vulnerability. Plus, there are no geniuses anyway (or very few, I do think of John Thompson and Sean Wilkinson as geniuses, Decker Cunov and Guy Sengstock), we are all works-in-progress. My only caveat to this idea of “getting out of the way” is that I am quite aggressive on the appreciations, my style is a bit “yang”. I am also very strong on vulnerability. I actually suspect that those traits (appreciations and vulnerability and “finding people right”, as I write about in my book) are the key to mine, and maybe to anybody’s success here. Just thinking out loud here.
Format of the groups
The updated version of the A/R Game format that I recommend is now posted here.
Marketing of A/R and the problem of private Circling and A/R brands
I get now into the “meat” of this article into some controversial subjects. As a preamble, I will declare upfront that there are some elements of “not-yet-recovered asshole” here (especially my own reactivity to being dismissed and ignored). I will say, in my defense, that A/R leadership is inherently “a swamp” (to quote Jason Digges on his Authentic Life podcast), because it’s in the nature of the game that our own shit comes up in the process of becoming a relational leader, indeed that is the whole point. Furthermore, as a wise friend of mine told me recently, you have to be some kind of egotist, or traumatized person, to even want to be an A/R leader (treat that claim as pure projection, of course. I am not talking about you! 🙂 ). In any case and as is to be expected, the relational swamp gets multiplied many-fold when questions of power, prestige and money come in. Plus, once you get “professional” and start to charge money for it, you end up “competing” against other brands, brands who will highly probably (since they are more established) be charging more money than you, and might feel threatened.
(On a separate but loosely related topic, I need to say that hitting the street and starting to lead, has been extraordinarily liberating to me in terms of some negative feedback I have received in the global community about my leadership. The problem there being not the feedback — from an enlightened perspective all feedback is useful — but my own reactivity to it. As it turned out, however, getting into the street and testing my leadership there was the only way to clear my distress around the feeling of being dismissed in the global community. I had to stop looking for attention and affirmation in the global community).
Anyway, let me give my somewhat off-the-cuff, not-yet-fully-recovered-asshole thoughts on this. With the caveat that my ideas on this may change with time.
I have a strong belief that A/R is such a compelling brand, that it is so easy to sell, that there are so many untapped markets and so many benefits in collaboration, and “the rising tide floats all boats” — that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who create private brands with “Authentic” in them (“private” means they won’t collaborate). I recognize my arrogance and judgmentalism in this as about 75% of what I am saying here (why should anyone who has created a private brand feel an obligation to collaborate with me?). But it’s not entirely my own shit, because I have a passionate desire that “Authentic XXX” (i.e. “Authentic Baltimore”) should be an open-source brand as well.
To note that Circling is already an open-source brand, meaning I can legally call myself a Circling leader despite my lack of formal training. I am not saying this is necessarily a good idea, but I am doing it, at least for now, out of expediency and lack of cash for the high-level training (I recommend Circling Europe SAS training and Boulder Integral T3). “Authentic Relating” and A/R Games are private brands owned by Authentic World, but they are very loosely enforced, current trainings consisting of Authentic Revolution’s Authentic Leadership and Facilitation Training, and The Connection Movement in NYC.
But back to my desire that “Authentic XXX” brands be open-source as well: I can’t really claim any “rightness” in this belief, or truth; let me just say that is what I want to happen. There needs to be, in my opinion, one over-arching group in each major city, with one website and one facebook group, which will promote any reasonably credible A/R offer. This is what I have done in Philadelphia and Baltimore, and it’s about to happen in Washington DC as well (DC is not my initiative, but I am a part of it). To note here that I have no objection to private-brand Meetup groups, on the contrary I think that people should create their own Meetups, and that these meetups should be promoted from the single, area-wide website or facebook group or mailing list (as in an “event digest”). I do passionately believe that each area should have a single website and single facebook and single mailing list representing everyone. Of course leaders should still create their own sites, facebooks, meetups and mailing lists. But everyone should have marketing access to the primary “authentic” brand. I also think that the “authentic” brand should include compatible event listings like NVC and New Culture. Maybe it’s too much to ask for or expect, but this is what I would like.
That’s the first thing I want to say, and let me expand now on “the rising tide floats all boats”.
There are IMMENSE opportunities for marketing A/R. We have barely begun to tap the potential here. There is of course the entire professional or semi-professional markets (schools, workplaces, community centers, entrepreneur groups, social-change activists, LGBT, etc. etc), I am not even talking about those markets. I am talking about the potential of the “shared humanity” market: we all have relationships and we all stand to hugely benefit by learning these skills. That would include the Singles market, which is huge, in desperate need of this, and which hardly anyone has even touched, as far as I know (outside of AMP and AWE, which are geographically-specific offers, and pricey).
Perhaps the clearest way I can articulate this is to say: I feel the tension between moving forward my leadership, which includes marketing activities (specifically reaching out to Meetup organizers and community-centers, offering free or low-cost events), as well as supporting other up-and-coming leaders; versus supporting existing leaders with their own “Authentic” brands. We did solve the problem in DC, and with a minimum of fuss, by creating the open Authentic Relating DC brand, versus the private Authentic DC brand. But it would be tough to do this in every city (how many variations of “Authentic” can you make? THE BESTEST MOST AUTHENTIC RELATING GROUP IN PARIS, TEXAS, lol), and I find it quite painful when existing brands don’t want to collaborate with me, and I specifically tend to get reactive and asshole-ish (and afterwards I feel guilty and stupid at my self-righteousness — like I say, “work in progress”).
Please let me know your thoughts on this in the comments below, as I don’t claim to own the truth here.