It was the second week in a row that N “just happened” to be out of town for Monday Evening Book Group. That’s not really a problem; people do have other plans, and I know that N will keep up with the reading and be back (with great ideas and contributions) next week. C was away, too, because she’s in the process of moving, and F was going to be out of town as well. So it was a small group that gathered Monday evening … and we were out of our comfort zone because N is the only one with the key to the room where we’ve been meeting this fall as renovations are under way in our “regular” meeting place.
And we were out of our comfort zone in other ways, too. Out of the six of us who could be there on Monday, four or five are very rational and analytical people, and we were discussing a particularly metaphorical and oblique section of our current book. We were struggling, too, and not in a productive way. Somebody needed to say or do something.
“You know,” I said, “there’s no law that says we have to finish every book we start. Are we feeling like we need to stop reading this one and move on?” That freed us to talk about why we were uncomfortable, and in the end we decided to continue for at least one more week. “Maybe,” said B, “we should just pick out and talk about the parts that really speak to each one of us. Maybe we shouldn’t try to follow his logic the way we’ve been doing.”
And of course B was right, and so was D, who said the same thing in a slightly different way. We’d been thinking very hard, and maybe we needed to feel instead … which, strangely enough, was the topic of one of the “Reflective Pause” questions in the very section we were discussing. But if I hadn’t tried leading with WHY, I’m not sure we would have gotten anywhere.
Less than a day later, I found myself leading with WHY once again. The beginning Latin Family group at District Y is brilliant, but sometimes silly, and their silliness sometimes crosses the line from amusing to distracting. We talked about why they have a daily score called comprehension and participation check, and we talked about why those scores would need to be reduced if we distracted others and didn’t manage ourselves. And then, when a few of us did cause some distractions, I let them know what the consequence was.
If I hadn’t led with WHY, though, there would have been a great deal of pushback. WHY is important for everyone, but it’s especially important when you’re changing direction or establishing a culture.
And in both of these cases, there was culture-building and community-building that needed to be done. The Monday Evening Book Group has a well-defined culture, but everybody there on Monday was relatively new to the group, relatively quiet, or both. It was easy for us to fall out of our normal receptive pattern and into a critical, even snide approach … and once we fell into that ugly pattern, it took leading with WHY to get us out. The District Y beginners have all known each other for years, but they haven’t been “a class” until now … and since I’m new to them, they don’t have the kinds of culture-building patterns in place that an equivalent group at Former School would have.
In the absence of a pattern or map, leadership is especially important. Leading with WHY is my preferred style, but it’s also what both of these groups needed.
By the end of the hour, the Book Group felt like a community again, and so did the District Y Beginning Latin Family. But I don’t think that would have happened if I’d fussed and fretted … and I’m pretty sure it would never have happened if I’d focused too quickly on the how or the what or the who.
That’s the thing about a joyful learning community: the why attracts the who, and then you can focus on what and how. And that’s what makes leadership roles in a joyful learning community so important … and so different from the ways you lead a hierarchical, industrial-model organization or group. On a rainy Wednesday morning, with much to accomplish in the next few hours, I’m glad I had this insight about leading with WHY … and I wonder what other insights and discoveries await in the days and weeks to come!