Holding environments are where you find them! One day last week our team of leadership consultants took a rare opportunity to escape the confines of our offices and go to lunch. While I can’t deny that I thoroughly enjoyed the hot pastrami sandwich, which I wolfed down with zest, I equally enjoyed the opportunity to share in a variety of important conversations with my fellow consultants and good friends.
We rarely have the opportunity to sit as a group and relate stories of our recent travels, triumphs and faux pas, along with sharing ideas about future work and how to improve our presentations. This was a golden opportunity in which we all equally participated. This was a holding environment in its purest form… unplanned, with no required agenda. Instead, it was a chance to gain valuable insights from one another.
But holding environments come packaged in a variety of formats.
I just recently returned from a professional development in a far-away place. The two-day event went extremely well. I was well received and the administrators who attended walked away with what seemed to be a great number of ideas which they could put to use in their own school.
However, it was the third day of consultation which turned out to be the most worthwhile for all parties. On this day, principals were offered the opportunity to meet with me and engage in open-discussions about initiatives and situations upon which they were about to embark in the coming semester.
Principals and their leadership teams were each given an hour to meet in a private location, where they could talk openly and honestly about their particular situations. In each session the emotions ran high as teams expressed their anxieties, frustrations and nervous anticipation about what was waiting for them in the coming year. This office had evolved into a think tank of the highest order.
And it wasn’t just negativity being expressed in these sessions. Both young and seasoned administrators proudly offered details of exciting new ventures, which were now only in the design stage. As much as they wanted answers from me, they were equally as satisfied just to have me listen.
It was as if I had taken the lid off the pot, allowing their thoughts, dreams, and concerns to rise to the top, just like the steam which rises from that giant pot of vegetable soup. Not that they were ever denied this opportunity… but rather that the setting, timing and cast of characters had never before come together.
Talk about the sheer power of a “holding environment,” or “safe place,” where staff members feel free to talk about what is going on in the organization; where they can express themselves, debate issues and clarify assumptions without fear of repercussion. This was certainly it.
At the conclusion of that 8 hour marathon, I walked away both exhausted and at the same time exhilarated. Sometimes the best teaching we can do is when we provide the opportunity for people to learn together and from each other.
By Mel Sussman