We were about halfway through the program on facilitation skills. Participants were practicing the core skills we had explored by facilitating various small group conversations. As I observed one very earnest young man in action, I kept feeling his efforts lacked authenticity. The questions he used and the gestures he made were too studied, too rehearsed, too textbook.
During the debriefing, I asked him to talk about how he felt
he had done during his practice time. Brimming with enthusiasm, he
spoke with great pride about how he had incorporated many of
the techniques and mannerisms he had seen his mentors use when leading
groups. It became clear to me that the discomfort I felt while
observing him was because his facilitation was not of his
own doing. Rather it consisted of loose-knit ”impersonations” of the
mentors he apparently channeled during his practice time.
I began to gently probe his thinking about effective
facilitation, his own communication style, and his own beliefs about
what gifts he could offer to a group when serving as its facilitator.
Though my questioning was non-judgmental, it was not completely
comfortable for the young man. Getting inside his own head when it came
to the topic was not something he had spent much time doing.
After our conversation, I asked him to demonstrate some of
the thinking he had just shared in another round of role rehearsals.
Somewhat hesitantly, he agreed. His initial efforts were less polished
than in the first round and were offered more tentatively. But as the
discussion progressed, you could slowly see a more natural rhythm being
established. The young man’s confidence increased, and when it did, he
actually became a bit more reserved, more trusting of the group to
continue on without his every intervention.
This young man’s experience is one that we have all probably
had numerous times. In our effort to honor what we have learned from
those we admire—our mentors and role models—we try and appropriate
their speech, their actions, their thoughts, and then proffer them
somewhat as our own. This right-hearted, but wrong-headed, approach
causes our efforts to feel hollow when introduced into our
This situation reminds me of a vocal master class that the legendary singer Barbara Cook taught at
the Kennedy Center. One of the
many epiphanies she offered resonates so deeply with me: “It’s so hard
to believe that what the world wants is us. It’s hard to believe,
whatever you’re doing, that you’re enough. We are all, always, enough."
Without a doubt, we should reflect on (and learn from) the
wisdom of our friends, family, colleagues, and mentors. But ultimately,
we have to find our own voices as individuals, as facilitators, as
leaders. And perhaps the best way to find our own voice is simply to
let our voice speak, to listen to it with great intention, and to make
as much meaning of it as we are equipped to do at any particular point
in our lives.
That will be enough because we are each enough. As Cook so eloquently noted in her master class:
“To be as authentic as we know how to be at the moment, so
that we can be more and more present in what we do. The more we can do
that, the safer we are. The problem is it feels most dangerous … But
this very thing that seems dangerous is where safety lies.”