Getting Out of the Way

A few weeks ago I co-led a session called “Writing to Be” at our annual Mindcamp creativity retreat. The feedback from participants was astonishing. People loved it. Many of the evaluation sheets were filled with big bold caps reading AWESOME! or WOW! or BEST SESSION BY FAR!

Here’s what’s interesting: my partner and I hardly did a thing. We set up the premise (that you can alter your recollection of an event by the stories you tell about it) and then let people experiment and discover for themselves. Then we made room for them to talk about their observations. In other words, we stayed out of the way.

One of the things I’ve noticed leading innovation sessions over the years is that it’s all too easy to get in the way. Teachers, facilitators, and coaches often seem to try to justify their positions (or their fees) by dominating the room. Unfortunately, just as often, that means they get in the way of the very people they’re trying to help – taking up so much time and mental space fulfilling their own need to talk or perform or be a star that there’s very little room for the group to talk or learn or be stars themselves.

In my experience the best facilitators are the ones who are almost invisible, the ones who get out of the way. The last thing I want to hear in the hallways after a session is “Wow, wasn’t that facilitator great!” What I want to hear is “Wow, weren’t we great!”

And what’s true for professionals who lead groups is probably even more true for us on a personal level. How often do we get in our own way? How often are we so concerned about being smart or knowledgeable or “right” that we prevent ourselves from being the best we can be? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just get out of the way?

“When people thank and tell you how much you’ve helped them, what they say has nothing to do with you. This is just their way of expressing joy in their own experience. Remember this, too, when people complain or criticize.” – KEN McLEOD

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