It just made sense to take the kids to see Cirque du Soleil last night.
While today’s countdown to 2018 post won’t include an explanation about why I’m running away to join the circus next year, please do keep that sentiment in mind as we think about how we want to start next year.
It’s not true that organizations never hire process consultants when things are going well, because they do. But consultants are often at the front of leaders’ minds when there’s a crisis. Or one beginning to erupt.
Toxic personalities have an uncanny ability to freeze people. Leaders can ponder too long to avoid acting too fast, but then toxic behaviour can entrench.
By the time we reach adulthood we generally embrace a kind of social maturity where people treat each other with respect.
The #MeToo movement, harrowing conversations about consent and rape and patriarchy, and #BlackLivesMatter are but a few examples of how “generally” can be a word to keep us all complacent, reminding those with privilege that things aren’t truly decaying right before our eyes.
But they are.
And it happens at work too. Corporations, government, non-profits, co-ops…it doesn’t matter. Where there are people, there will be anti-social personalities. Sexual predators who are experts at spotting and victimizing the vulnerable, and bullies whose power in adolescence continues to inspire them to, again, victimize the vulnerable. And, of course, others.
It does make us want to run away to join the circus.
But when organizations have crises and if leaders and people freeze and manifest inaction, someone needs to step up.
But we can’t live in the delusion. We can’t live in the mood where you’re going to pack your bag tonight to stow away on the circus train that leaves in the morning.
But instead of forever living in the toxic zone of teenage bullying and predatory behaviour, we need to embrace a different kind of childhood wonder. Like at the #Kurios.
Last night, the band was tight and soothing, and in sync with the rest of the cast. And sure, there is tension in a circus, what with superhumans defying gravity, with wires tethering them to the top of the tent. But there is tension at work as well. And we need a soundtrack, a backing band that creates a tone of stability DESPITE the ups and downs of tension. Our job in organizations is to ensure that people feel safe.
We sat very near the Cirque du Soleil superhighway last night. It was the one pole that everyone used when they were going to work at the top of the tent, or going up there or coming down. The crew and the anti-gravity personnel. Every single one of them walked to the bottom of the latter, attached their tether and ascended. Coming down everyone one touched the ground and transferred their tether to the pole.
When you have a safety net or a tether, you are free to risk more. I would often look up and see the crew in black at the top of the tent assembling a variety of gear and assisting the anti-gravity folks as they reached the sky or descended from it. Knowing you will not die when at work, allows for far more responsible risk-taking. Without a tether, the #1 thing on your mind is “don’t fall” [and do whatever work you can, but really, just…don’t…fall.]
Our job is to make work safe, with bedrock layers of stability. Toxic people are an existential threat to that. And in the circus, EVERYone works together so everyone is safe and soars. Often literally.
Don’t we deserve that too?
Lifting Each Other Up
We need to lift each other up.
Toxic people at work do their best to weaken others, often for their own enjoyment or to soothe their own personal weaknesses.
We cannot do great things alone. Our support networks and concentric circles of guidance and wisdom are always there, on the surface or buried in our souls.
At Kurios last night, we saw mutual interdependence dozens of times every minute. They are incapable of defeating gravity and normal human limitations without each other.
In our workplaces, we need to provide opportunities to lift each other up. Constantly We need to expect it of others and provide it ourselves.
And those of us in charge are responsible for ensuring not only the stability of the band, but the interdependence of the players. I don’t want to go into weakest link cliches but they’re real. And we all see them.
16 Days to 2018
So now you have 16 days to learn from Kurious.
We need to assess how strong is our base and how tight are our relationships. You can try to do this on January 2, but I think you should start thinking about that now.
And consultants, while knowing they’re often hired in crises, also know that they don’t get hired much in December.
But I want to challenge you to use this last week before everything becomes like a dotted line between Christmas and New Year’s. If you know your organization needs a tune up, make that decision and commitment now. Even to begin talking about a new direction with less toxicity and more stability.
We all know the first couple weeks back after the holidays are profoundly busy and scattering. It could be the end of January before you get around to addressing something you can do this week.
Be intentional, don’t be reactive.
Do you see what’s in that bell jar below?
It’s your future. It’s what 2018 wants to be.
You don’t have to run away to join the circus, but you can bring the intensity and rewards of the circus to where you work.
Pack your bag. You have 16 days left.