Deborah and the Starlings – Chapter 9

“So what I’ve just recounted,” Jack concluded, “should give you confidence that you are ready to leave the nest, as it were. You are skilled in using the tools that I’ve introduced you to. More importantly, you have shown a consistent commitment to working with each other as fellow learners.” He paused. This was always a bittersweet moment for him. “That means that the day has come that you don’t need me here to teach, facilitate or coach you. You are able to do that for yourselves.”

The Starlings regarded him somberly.

“If you are willing,” he went on, “could we take the rest of our time together to reflect on our journey. It would be valuable for my own learning to hear from you what you are taking away from our time together and what difference it makes in terms of your experience on this team.”

“Received in a spirit of learning without response or comment?” asked Margaret with a smile.

“Of course.”

There was silence for a few moments then Margaret spoke again quietly. “As I’ve told this group before, I felt very intimidated coming on this team. I thought that since everyone seemed to be so much more educated and experienced than I my role must be just to do what I was told.” She smiled and her voice grew stronger. “But I now understand that those were just my assumptions. Thanks to what we’ve learned with you I feel more confident naming and sharing my assumptions with this team. That has opened a door to me being able to contribute in ways that I never thought would be possible or welcome.”

Rosemary nodded. “I feel that I have gotten better at being able to ask questions in ways that don’t make people feel threatened or defensive.” She paused for a moment. “Jack, the way you modeled what you call a ‘Learner Mindset’ made me realize that my approach was creating defensiveness and impeding learning, even though I intended the exact opposite. I am now more aware of my tendency to do that and,” she chuckled, “I’m more willing to have that pointed out to me when I get into my ‘gotcha’ mode.”

Sergei spoke up. “Before this I didn’t realize that I tend to be a very ‘black and white’ thinker. I’m still not always comfortable with grey and I’ll confess that I can get a bit intense with what I see as fence-sitting. But,” he paused for effect, “the concepts of polarities and polarity management have expanded my horizons incredibly.” He pointed across the table. “Harshad and I have opposite views on just about everything. But because we are better able to recognize polarities when they arise, we have a way of looking at the problem that gets us out of ‘win/lose’ thinking.”

Harshad laughed. “I agree with both statements! I also feel that I’m now better equipped to understand my own thinking. I use the Left Hand Column/Right Hand Column exercise all the time. After all,” he smiled wryly, “if I don’t understand my own thinking, why should I expect anyone else to?”

Carlos chuckled. “I can’t point to any one thing, but I know that,” he paused, his brow furrowed, “I guess I would say that my attitude has changed profoundly. In the beginning I felt very frustrated because it seemed that we are performing far below our potential. In my heart I was looking at everyone else and blaming them. One time when I was venting to you you asked me ‘Carlos, where are your fingerprints on this?’ That opened my eyes to the fact that I was part of the problem, and potentially part of the solution.” He smiled, “I find that I ask myself that question a lot now in all kinds of situations.”

Deborah seemed to be studying her latte closely. “My concept of team leadership has shifted, maybe I should say matured, a lot. Everyone knows how I was approaching things when we started. We had a dialogue about team leadership and collegiality in one of our meetings a few months ago, looking at it as a polarity, It gave us a new framework for thinking about the issue.” She looked up and smiled, “I am still accountable for this team’s performance, but I no longer feel that I have to carry the responsibility for the team’s performance all by myself. It’s very liberating!”

Margaret stood up holding a gift bag. “Jack, we’d like to give you a small token of appreciation for your work with us. A while back Deborah told us excitedly about how she was able to finally convince you to try something new in the beverage line. I was visiting family in Tuscany last month and picked up some genuine Italian caffè tostato scuro.” She passed over the aromatic package. “I hope that you enjoy it.” She winked, “the proprietor said that this is his finest dark roast blend.”

“Why thank you,” said Jack, “how very kind of you!”

“Jack,” Deborah spluttered, “are you trying to tell me that your fancy ‘caffè tostato scuro senza latte o zucchero’ was just a black dark roast by another name?”

Jack gave her an innocent look. “Deborah, I never told you anything. What assumptions were you holding?”

There was a pause and then everyone, including Deborah, erupted in laughter.