I returned Sunday from the Oregon coast (which by the way struck me as though it was a marvelous cousin to the lands of the Lake Michigan dunes). I was on a retreat with 11 other men looking to renew “meaning in the middle of life.” Ann Ladd and Tim Barraud* who facilitated the session invited us to pair up and ask another guy, “What deeply touches you that makes you love this human life?” The structure of the exercise was to have the other answer the question with something, e.g., listening to the Beatles, a sunset, a child, a spouse, etc., at which point the listener (and scribe) would say “thanks,” and then repeat the question. The speaker would give another thing that deeply touched them. And the process was repeated over and over. I believe we each had 10 minutes to reveal to ourselves and other what deeply touched us.
The exercises that had preceded that one had opened us to personal hopes and aspirations, as well as to some of our well-kept fears and unaccepted losses. I suppose it was surfacing, facing and easing of some of my fears that gave me a more right-brain perspective on some of what “touches me and makes me love this human life.” Early on my list, I told my partner: “My mom.” I enumerated aspects. Perhaps you too would have noted your mom’s remarkable steadfastness? Maybe if you’re of my generation you would note mom’s growing fragility, which is part of what intensified my deep love for her and for life. I was surprised to hear myself speak a candid sense, that her mortality made her that much more precious to me.
I saw this exercise and so much of what we did on the retreat as powerful, right-brain leadership. They led us – in my words, but in a different way — to our personal VISION and of the deep VALUES that motivate and direct us. It also unleashed deep gratitude, a powerful life and leadership force.
I was not able to get home to Detroit, but I know some ways everyday leadership works. So, I called my mom and asked if I could share an exercise from my retreat. I began to ask her that question over and over: “What deeply touches you that makes you love this human life?” And her list got longer and longer: her kids love for her, art, music, her garden, Spring, novels, her kids caring for each other, her ability walk in a safe neighborhood. I asked her how she felt about the list, and she said that though she’s a person who regularly gives God thanks, the exercise made her appreciate more deeply how good her life was. I felt great and told her how awesome I thought she was that she was so full of rich life. And the fact was, if I had upped her energy or motivation, She had really inspired me. As James MacGregor Burns famously wrote back in 1978: “transforming leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with each other in such a way that leader and follower raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”
Maybe you’ll try Linda and Tim’s exercise with your mom (or spouse or kids or staff). And I invite you to see how leading through the heart is what really moves us all to higher levels of life, love and leadership!
Leading with your best self,