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What follows is a letter I recently sent to a Project Manager I was working with after an long engagement. Its contents were changed to protect the identity of my client.

Dear Ray:

It was great to work with you in the past months. And now that we are almost finished with our work, I wanted to answer the question you asked me to clarify the other day about aliveness and leadership. I see exercising leadership as an expression of aliveness, an aliveness in constant danger. Your creativity and daring, your curiosity and eagerness to question, your compassion and love for people can dry out daily as you get beat up, put down, or silenced. The sequence is often like this: we get excited about our purpose, we get to do something great, then we get beaten up or disapponted by the results.

When that happens, a lot of the people I work with take on a cloak of self-protection and insulate themselves from the dangers of stepping out of their comfort zone of leading. Self-protection makes sense as the dangers are real. I suspect a lot of people in your organization know exactly what I am talking about… The work we did last week and in the past months had tried to do the opposite. Not because is right, but because when you cover yourself up to protect yourself you risk losing something as well. In the struggle to save yourself, you can give up too many of those qualities that are the essence of being alive, like innocence, curiosity, and compassion. Human connections is the ultimate casualty. To avoid getting hurt too badly, it is easy to turn innocence into cynicism. I have been there. Maybe you have as well.

Now a lot of people last week have told me that after the session they feel more alive. I was stricken by the word and excited to hear it: the department we worked with is indeed on the threshold of a major transformation in its working relationships, a transformation rooted in the transformation of each and every one of you.

What is required of you now to continue in this transformation? I urge you to keep the faith and to enjoy the ride by staying open to what happens. What you need now is continuing to cultivate that quality of the heart called innocence we touched on the other day; the most difficult work of leadership that is left to do now involves learning to experience distress  without numbing yourself. The work is to stay open to the pain of possible errors, disappointments, delays or mistakes that will inevitable follow.

All this for the sake of cultivating the seeds of change we have planted together.

I am grateful for your support and friendship