Tilting the seesaw

Bringing people together necessitates an interest or care in something to gather around. It also necessitates the often harsh recognition that what we care about, others likely don’t. Or at least not yet. To make change truly stick is to take what is important to us and help it become important to others. When that happens the need to repeat our message decreases. We achieve scale and true efficiency when others share it for us. 

When others advance our ideas and produce more gatherings, ownership of the experience shifts. It no longer belongs to one person. It belongs to everyone. This is both the essence and core challenge of organizational change. It is also the core challenge of leadership.

The transfer of not only information but care and ownership is what I call “tilting the seesaw”. And in order for any change we seek to stick, the seesaw needs to tilt. 

When we first look to bring people together, the seesaw is naturally tilted towards us. That’s because gathering brings with it inherent power differences. When a leader or someone with authority gathers us, the differences are amplified. These differences are signaled in three ways: 

  1. Overemphasis on information: the expectation that one has something others don’t
  2. A stage or set up of the room: the physical and symbolic distance this creates 
  3. Authority: an expectation that someone in charge has the answer we are waiting for

On a stage far away, those who gather often seem not only physically but symbolically far away from their employees. They can also set the implicit expectation that an external expert has the answer. Taken together, what this can produce is neediness of someone or something else to get us from point A to point B. And while the information may tilt, ownership and care often don’t. 

These differences also signal distance. To tilt the seesaw is to utilize these inherent differences to create more connection instead of distance. Here the role of leader or gatherer shifts from simply an information broker to a connection builder. The model of leadership shifts as well. While the old model may have been, ‘we will wait for the gatherer to tell us the answer’, the new model is ‘the gatherer will lead the room to their own answer’. This is achieved when we make our audience the hero instead of us, or our information.

Rather than waiting for a gatherer to tell us what to do, sometimes repeatedly, the gatherer unlocks the capability and abilities of those already in the room. Rather than people needing you or your information, we can create a joint sense that we need each other. After all, why are we gathering if we don’t need an audience?

To believe the audience is the hero also requires the belief that people are capable of growth and change. It also requires the admission that they may not want or need us in the way we thought. They often don’t need us to fix or prod or repair. What they want is to be inspired, engaged, and connected — not only to you but to each other and themselves. It is this core belief about people that drives the choices we make with our gatherings.

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