I have been reading a book called Small Arcs of Larger Circles by Nora Bateson. At one point, she writes of her son and his challenges with a bully.
I am reminded of a time when my son was bullied by a boy in the 5th grade who wiped dog poop on him every day at school. It took him weeks to tell anyone because he was so ashamed. That afternoon in the living room, we practiced saying the words “back off” in a voice that came from my son’s “I-mean-it” place. It took a while, but finally after an hour or so, he found what we called his “thunderous roar.” The next day at school, he was ready to use that voice. The boy with the dog poop on a stick approached him to smear him with humiliation, and my son took a breath and was about to say his “back off,” when the boy changed his mind. Somehow he knew the relationship had shifted. (Bateson, 2016: 114)
I love this story. I listen to endless accounts from professionals who tell me about people in their organization who wipe dog poop on them. Stop for a minute. Think about it. Who in your organization goes around wiping dog poop on you? How does it feel? How does it impact the organizational culture? What is the cost to the organization? What do you do about it?
In this case, the mother was not a conventional mother. She was a great mentor, a transformational leader. She did not respond conventionally. She did not transfer her pain onto her son’s teacher or the principal for allowing bad things to happen in the world. Instead she took accountability and she chose to make a difference. What great teachers do is teach to empower. What great leaders do is teach to empower. She taught her son a principle and helped him practice the application.
That is, she shared a vision of a better possible future. In doing so, she gave him hope. Then she opened a path, she gave him a new strategy, and helped him practice the strategy. In doing so, she gave him faith. She then protected his agency by allowing him to face his own challenge.
When the boy exercised his agency, he had a new experience and he engaged in learning by faith. In a real situation, he not only obtained a new result, he also obtained a new definition of self. He encountered his own power.
- Who in your organization is a bully?
- What happens when someone rubs dog poop on you or someone else?
- What do you need in order to act like this boy acted?