In 2011 I wrote a column on how I had been collecting moments of personal transformation in people’s lives.
I did so through having participants in some of my workshops share such moments with each other as a way of opening up and also showing they were as likely to continue experiencing such moments in future.
It is these uplifting stories that led my colleague Frank Kretzschmar and me to select this as the theme of our latest Leaders Circle, where we again invited a small group of leaders to a story-telling afternoon.
As always, before they arrived Frank and I, having researched quotations on the theme, wrote a selection of them onto flip charts that we taped to the walls around the room, and here are a few of our favourites, first from Abraham Maslow (famous for his “Hierarchy of Needs”): “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth.
“Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” Then, Buckminster Fuller’s “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” Finally (I wish I had space for more), from Lao Tzu, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.”
So how did we talk about our transformative moments? Not surprisingly, several stories related to revelations arising out of these Covid times, which revealed the fragility of life and how we must not take it for granted. As a consequence, this led several of us to re-evaluate both our activities and our attitudes.
“Before I was thinking of early retirement, but no longer, as I love what I do,” we heard from one. And from another (me): “How I survived my heavy bout of Covid led people to describe me as a fighter, encouraging me to accept the label.”
Some of what we’ve been through should better be described as evolution rather than transformation, we heard, as we are constantly challenged to change and adapt. Much of what happened to us was unplanned and unpredicted – maybe even just due to luck, either good or bad.
For each of those in the room, however, all leaders in our own right, by and large, we took advantage of the circumstances in which we found ourselves. We were bold in stepping forward when opportunities arose, and having to dealing with setbacks was common.
“I am because we are,” was how one participant headlined a story from the time he was a student.
“I came across a limping old beggar in Meru and took an interest in him, so he asked me why I wanted to know him. He had been a freedom fighter, and so if it were not for him I wouldn’t be who I am. He became poor so I could be rich. It was a moving, transforming moment for me, and this revelation of truth set me free.”
Another leader acknowledged how he was transformed by the strong values of his Maasai community in which he was brought up, values he is so proud of. Had he come from a different kind of environment he might have just become a street boy, he mused.
As we heard stories of personal transformation, we also reviewed such moments at the national level, with some more enthusiastic than others about the progress having been made and the outlook.
And in between, within the organisations where we operate, several spoke of their evolution into purpose-driven entities, where concern for their employees, the communities around them and other stakeholders became the norm.
Among the reflections we heard about the importance of viewing our cup of life as half full rather than half empty; and about how transformation favours the bold – those who are blessed with the courage to hope. It is why we heard that transformation starts with each of us. “It is for me to change others, not wait for others to do so,” posed one.
Let me conclude by reporting that prior to our Leaders Circle I shared the topic with my daughter and her husband and children. Guess what? The young ones had already experienced their own transformative moments. Do reflect on yours… and have your young ones share theirs with you.