The Role of Others in Fostering Transformational Growth

December 23, 2012

By: Chris White

Originally posted on Lead Positively

In our culture, we often place a premium on agency – the role of the individual actor. In reality, the individual works within a system. That system places a key role in determining whether a person grows and is successful – or does not.

Last week, I had the privilege of participating in one of the regular Research Incubators offered by the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship. These sessions offer scholars the chance to share their research and get generative feedback at a relatively early stage in their work. So early stage, in fact, that the sessions were originally nicknamed “the half-baked brown bag”!  Suffice it to say, we never really have a difficult time getting people to sign up to present in this kind of supportive setting.

The topic last week was “Transforming Pain-Disabled Selves into Pain-Enabled Selves: Collective Processes of Compassion”, by Oana Branzei, a Visiting Scholar at The Ross Business School. Oana, along with her colleagues Jane and Kathleen, have been studying how communities have contributed to the recovery and growth of individuals since the genocide in Rwanda. It was simply breathtaking to learn the role the community plays in not only supporting healing processes, but also fostering growth. So much that is done is incredibly subtle. So subtle, in fact, that individuals may not realize that their actions are enabling leadership to emerge in others.

Obviously, the situations that we are in on a daily basis within organizations are never akin to the horrific genocide in Rwanda. The trauma and heartbreak caused cannot be compared to even the worst organizational violence, such as sweeping and poorly-handled layoffs. Yet, the collective process of enabling leaders to emerge may be similar.

Think about it: how many times in your career has someone picked you up when you have failed dramatically, or after you have been beaten up in a meeting? How many times have people – in what they say and in how they act – helped us see leadership potential inside of us that we did not realize was there ourselves; see possibilities for us that we did not dare dream about; entrust us with responsibilities that felt beyond our abilities to begin with?

And then think about how we grew from those moments, how we gradually came to accept the identity that was bestowed upon us by other individuals and by the collective. Pain doesn’t necessarily go away, but we can grow from it and beyond it. This is especially true with the help of others. And receiving that kind of support and trust inspires us to pay it forward, to help others to grow and lead.

Thank you to those who have picked me up when I have been down. Thank you to those who have believed in me more than I believed in myself. Thank you to those who continue to play these roles in my life and in my organization.

May I do my best to be one of these people, and part of this community, too.