A thought experiment that may help you see yourself, leadership, and diversity in your organisation with different eyes…

“The landscape of my life is composed of diverse materials, a heaped mess like you find in mountainous areas. I see my character back, I’m also a mixture, composed of equal parts instinct and training. Here and there the granite peaks of The Inevitable are rising above it, but everywhere you see the junk that the avalanches of Chance have left behind. Sometimes I followed a vein of gold or the course of an underground river. I am trying to trace my life there, to find a plan. …” 

You’re in the middle of your life story, wondering where it may go…

The above quote is abbreviated from Marguerite Yourcenar’s brilliant (fictional) novel “Memoirs of Hadrian”. The novel is written as a long autobiographical letter from the dying Roman emperor to his 17-year old protégé Marcus Aurelius (emperor from 161 to 180 AD).

The quote may put your imagination to work. It is an exercise in sincerity of Hadrian or at least the fairest possible try-out. A search for the meaning of his life and the meaning that his life might have had for others – friends, employees, members of the Senate, the citizens of his empire. Up to the insight that some parts of the landscape were vague, misleading and confusing (like memories occasionally can be).

And yet, it can be a good exercise, perhaps even one that you can do with others – your management team, your employees, friends.

For what do others see when they look at us? Our mirror image. And one step further: what we want them to see. We sometimes find it difficult to be honest about ourselves, to show our ‘soul’ or our vulnerability. The old struggle between identity and image. The inner landscape of our lives – created from our experience – can help us. Experiences create a foundation for knowledge, including self-knowledge and reflection.

An exercise: See each other with different eyes 

Close your eyes and imagine looking behind you. What does your landscape look like? Examine, describe it. Where did your journey start and how did it look along the way? Have you chosen the easier path? Have you raced through it and only seen the roadside or have you lost yourself in the details and did you follow all the signs? How many side paths did you turn into or not, was it a highway, or have you been hiking, climbing, struggling and occasionally enjoyed a beautiful view? Was it mountainous like Hadrian’s landscape, were there deserts, did you have to wade through rivers or to cross oceans?

The good part is that your landscape, anyone’s landscape, as described, is always special, it has made you strong and maybe it has even marked you (the wrinkles on your face have then taken on significance). Tell the landscape to your team-mates and listen to their landscape stories. See each other (and the shared diversity) with different eyes.

And now step further, into a future.

Close your eyes and look at the scenery in front of you. Does it resemble the landscape behind you? How will you continue in it? Do you have expectations, a purpose, a plan to get somewhere? Do you continue haphazardly because you think your journey is more important than your destination? Do you want to walk a section of the road TOGETHER? Submit the idea to your team, or your employees. Ask them about their imagined expectations. What would that shared journey look like?

Author: Peter Fruhmann, Storybag

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