Cauldron Stories

In the last positive passage, I reviewed a story about the courage to learn. In the reflection section, I asked this question: “What can you teach your people about personal cauldrons of transformation?”

For some, the question is incomprehensible. Others understand it but do not know how to answer. Some do. I have a friend named Larry Peters who is a professor at Texas Christian University. He formally teaches his students how to learn from the personal cauldron stories. He shares the following account (in Building the Bridge as You Walk on It; Quinn; p. 221):

My students shared many examples of failed leadership, from those who settle for “peace and pay” to those who tried to “manage” people to a new future. I had my students think about deep change that they experienced in their own lives (or that others close to them experience) and had them share stories with the class.

We heard stories of a man who lost a child in a car accident (and who changed the seat belt law in Texas); a woman who was promoted to the toughest assignment in her company, a position for which she had no prior training; and a man who was given the assignment of opening a market in China and found everything he knew about management didn’t work. We heard stories of passion and focus and courage and commitment and perseverance and energy. We heard stories that produced results beyond anyone’s expectations, and we saw the emotion and shared the feelings of pride these people had. We saw what was possible when people experienced deep change. Nobody in the room will ever mistake management for true leadership again. They raised the bar on themselves that afternoon – and on everyone else who presumes to lead.

By asking people to share their stories, Larry transforms the classroom into a sacred space where authentic feelings are shared, trust grows, and learning accelerates. I have had the same experience with thousands of executives. Afterwards they are moved and share many insights. I then ask them for the implications of their experience. The vast majority cannot imagine creating the same kind of sacred learning space in a professional setting. A few do. The latter often write to tell of extraordinary outcomes.

 

Reflection

  • What is a cauldron experience?
  • What transformations take place when we share our cauldron experiences?
  • Why can so few executives create sacred space?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?
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