We open this year with an inspiring guest post from our friend, colleague and Tables of Ten participant Alex Mills. Alex is coordinator of the Opening Doors community leadership program and a passionate social inclusion advocate. Based in Melbourne’s east, Opening Doors supports existing and emerging leaders to create stronger, more connected and more inclusive communities.
Every year in the Opening Doors community leadership program, we conclude our opening three-day retreat with a simple, yet challenging, process. We ask each of our participants to write down a strength or asset they’ve observed in every other member of the group. The participants then share their reflections with each other individually.
Our leaders are rarely challenged in coming up with something to say to their peers, but they often feel overwhelmed at the prospect of the feedback they will receive.
The emotions this process elicits never cease to move me. As our participants share their feedback with each other, there are often tears, hugs, laughter and the full spectrum of raw, emergent emotions. To witness these moments between people who only days earlier were complete strangers is a blessing and a profoundly moving experience.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my time with Opening Doors over the past ten years, it’s that the world desperately needs more of these exchanges.
As humans, we seem to gravitate towards the giving of feedback only when it is essential, and usually critical: in a time of crisis, when something negative has happened or when we feel aggrieved.
For those who occupy positions of leadership in our communities, this is compounded even further. Often, the expectation placed on our leaders is that they should be all things to all people at all times. It’s not unreasonable that we should hold our leaders to high standards, but the work of leading can become incredibly lonely and isolating when the majority of the feedback you receive is negative, judgemental or even scathing.
When our Opening Doors leaders give this feedback to each other, it runs the full spectrum. It might be something as small as the inclusive language someone used in a sensitive conversation right down to someone feeling truly heard by a peer for the first time in years.
However, no matter the scale of the feedback, the impact of random acts of acknowledgement like this can be transformative.
This process of acknowledging the gifts we bring to our communities not only deepens our sense of connectedness but ultimately offers us the opportunity to reflect on where our individual strengths lie. It offers us the opportunity for wisdom and insight on individual and collective levels.
In my experience, affirmation is crucial to keeping us driven and motivated. Positive feedback can be given in a matter of seconds, but its effects can be far reaching and long lasting. I’ve seen countless leaders feel completely reinvigorated through the simple act of those around them pausing to acknowledge and celebrate their work.
The world needs more of these ‘above the line’ exchanges. If we could all be even slightly more conscious of the impact our positive feedback has on those around us, we could deepen our relationships, invigorate our leaders and create a whole bunch of positive energy in the process. Which, in my experience, can be deeply infectious.
Embracing these opportunities is one of the many gifts that Gayle, Malcolm and everyone at Global Leadership Foundation have brought to the Opening Doors program over the past 10 years. Our leaders wouldn’t be where they are today without these learnings, and we feel deeply blessed to be a part of the change the Global Leadership Foundation is creating in Australia and around the world.
Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash