Day Three – The Return/Witnessing

Vulnerable Leadership

Ward: Welcome, Everybody, to our third day, which is classically, the Return. We have the Call, the Journey, the Return which is the process of witnessing and being witnessed. What I and witnessing or noticing concerns something that I think is very hard to attain. It has been hard for me to attain in the classroom, but something that I notice is very present in this gathering, in this community, and that is the act of vulnerable leadership.

Angeles Arrien and Peter Block
Angeles Arrien and Peter Block

In the Stone Soup metaphor when people bring that magic stone of their question, they’re bringing their vulnerability into the public space, and that makes room for everybody else’s gifts to show up, and for their humanity to show up. It was something that never really occurred to me in. In all my models of leadership growing up it was about having answers and being invulnerable, being right. My peers will tell you that that has been a long struggle in my life; the need to be right. It does clear the room, and it’s isolating, but nonetheless, addicting. (laughter) Yeah, I’m still not over it, but I’m in the struggle.

Vivian: It’s not going to get any better. (laughter) Declare victory.

Ward: I think we heard that from Peter, earlier, so I’ve actually quit working on myself.

Vivian: What’s the point?

Ward: Yes I’m no longer a fixer-upper, you have to take me as I am.

The act of placing that vulnerability in the center of the room to be seen, and I have to say, I have to credit Peter. From you I learned that when you lead with your vulnerability, you create trust, a ‘pipeline of engagement,’ and once that trust is established, the genius comes through. Because once there is that vulnerability of who I am as a human being meeting who you are as a human, and being in the space of our not knowing together, then the genius that is each of us shows up. And that creates a learning field like no other. This is just a brief commentary on what I feel and see in this room, that the genius has shown up through the vulnerability of not knowing. We avoid speeches, we avoid the experts, we avoid the knowing, and when we show up in that not knowing, that’s when I think we are most intelligent, we are most human. I wonder why vulnerability is not a subject, why vulnerability is not a practice. I think we have gifted teachers in this room, of all ages because people have shown up as who they are and in their vulnerability, and that is deeply inspiring and the source of great learning.

Angeles, and Peter, and Vivian and all of you; some people have this capacity to name it in a way that we understand it in ways we didn’t understand it before. I was talking to Kelly this morning about the South Africa trip, and she said “I don’t know if what I’m experiencing with the kids in their Return is something that germinated or came into being on the trip, or was already there.” I think the answer is it was already there. And the experiences that get created by our journey reminds us of the capacities that are already there.

I learned that from you, Angeles. We had a conversation one day, and I said “What’s up for you?” and you said, “I’m trying to create learning experiences, and to stop teaching.”

The gift here is that we all naturally showed up as that. That’s who we are. That’s probably why we are here and I just want to express my appreciation to everybody in the room for demonstrating such great teaching skills thought your willingness to be vulnerable.