My friend Lowell works in a large bank. He called me with a radical idea. He said he wanted to hold Jeffersonian dinners with small groups of CEOs who bank with him. He explained that Thomas Jefferson used to hold unusual dinners. Jefferson was hard of hearing. He needed one person to speak at a time. He would pose a question, and each person at the table would take turns sharing their stories and insights.
Lowell asked if I would facilitate the process. We began to hold the dinners with eight CEOs at a time. The dinners have been meaningful. Recently we did one that was unforgettable. Each CEO told of an extreme crisis stemming from the pandemic or other recent societal disruptions. In each case, there was a crisis that brought business and revenue to a sudden halt. What do you do when your business collapses? Here is a composite answer taken from across the very similar stories.
- I had to clarify my core values and follow them, despite my fears.
- There was no obvious strategy, all I could do was listen to everyone.
- It was all about human connections, I had to build trust.
- We had to improvise, do things we never did before.
- We were all in, we worked harder than ever.
- In the challenge we bonded, all the silos fell, we reached high collaboration.
- We discovered emerging opportunities and acted on them.
- What we accomplished was miraculous.
- Today, we can do things we never could have imagined, we are way ahead of others.
Towards the end, I shared this composite image. The group was silent. Then one man spoke of gratitude, of collectively practicing gratitude during the crisis, and now feeling deep gratitude for the good that came out of it. A woman pondered this and responded as follows.
“The thought of crisis and transformation seems dreadful. We had to change everything. Yet, I look back and I see it as exhilarating. It was not work. It was a joyful process. Changing how we operated brought challenge, profound bonding, deep connections, high collaboration, and radical new capacities. It was magical. If you meet crisis appropriately, you discover that disruption is a gift.”
- Why do we individually and collectively dread profound disruption?
- What does it mean to meet disruption appropriately? What underlying model do you see in the above bullet points?
- What did disruption do to and for these leaders? Why was it a gift?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?