Yowzers, what a week! I just got back from a mind-blowing 6 day Leadership Retreat in beautiful (and rainy!) Sonoma, California. The course was an advanced Leadership Program put on by my Coaching School, the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). It was a live-in program that started at 7 in the morning and ended at 9 in the evening (shared accommodations and all). The retreat was intense as hell but provided a great return on the energetic and monetary investment. Seriously people, this was massive transformation in a ridiculously short length of time!
Given the magnitude of the experience and the fact that I’m still downloading and processing all that I learned, I thought I’d share my peak experience from the week. It really captures what the program is about and allows me to share some of my key learnings. Here goes…
It was the second morning of our retreat and we were debriefing an exercise/game we had done the previous evening. I was feeling unsettled after the exercise and wanted to verbally process what I was learning about myself. My realization went something like this: I can show up at 60% and still win the game. The Problem: I didn’t feel good about my win. It was unsatisfying to know that there was 40% more that I could have brought but didn’t due to fear, limiting beliefs, etc. In my mind, I didn’t deserve the win because I knew I had WAY MORE in me.
I realized that this game was representative of my day-to-day life, namely, that I’ve been lucky enough to achieve many things while only operating at 60% of my capacity. And while that looks fine and dandy on the outside, it creates massive dissonance inside of me. When I spoke about my realization in front of the group, I became obvious of the fact that I was quite comfortable at 60% and hadn’t fully bought into the idea of stretching to 100%. It was abundantly clear to my Leaders as well (the illustrious Karen and Henry Kimsey-House, founders of CTI and early pioneers in the Coaching field).
They prodded and questioned to no avail. My fear was running the show and nothing they said convinced me that I should abandon my comfortable 60% perch. At one point they asked me if perhaps I was really scared that I didn’t have an additional 40% in me. I knew that wasn’t the case though. I can recall plenty of moments when I have popped into 100%. It isn’t a question of getting there, it’s a question of STAYING with it for a sustained period of time. Little did I know that just a few minutes later I’d be getting a full immersion into what it felt like to be at AND stay at 100%….
Here’s what happens next: I was asking Henry HOW I could learn to live and stay at 100%. Karen then jumped in and said, “I have a way, would you like me to show you?” I naively said yes and just as I’m trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, Karen runs at me full force and starts shoving me HARD. At first I thought it was a joke and tried to sidestep her advances. I mean really, I wasn’t about the full-on fight the CEO of the Coaches Training Institute on the second day of my retreat was I??? Upon further reflection (in the 10 seconds I had to contemplate my options) it became crystal clear to me that I indeed was going to fight or I was going to be laying on the ground with my ass kicked by a 50-something year old woman!
As soon as I made the decision to fight her 100% my adrenaline kicked in. I ran at her and started shoving back. Without agreeing to any rules verbally, I somehow knew that we wouldn’t punch each other but that pretty much anything else was on the table (on a side note, the only time I’ve ever fought at 100% before was when I was in a rape aggression defense course in college and we fought off an attack from a padded instructor). At this point I got out of my head and into my body. I became insanely strong, recognizing that the only way to get this exercise to end would be to pin her to the ground so she’d stop coming after me.
My recent viewings of wrestling movies with Nick must have come in handy because I somehow knew how to throw her to the ground and get a lock on her head and legs. She wasn’t going down easy though and she fought and fought. I vaguely remember kicking her in the back and tightening my grip on her head, willing her to give up. I was fierce but God was it intense. The fighting had been going on a good 5 minutes I think before I had her pinned long enough that Henry called time.
We unraveled from each others bodies and turned to face each other, noting for the first time that tears were running down both our cheeks. I had no idea what would happen next, so I sat there waiting for instructions. Suddenly Henry said, “Okay, now show me how you stay at 100% without fighting.” My instincts told me to embrace her from my spot on the floor and suddenly we’re intertwined again, both sobbing as we cling to each other and roll around the floor becoming intermeshed. It’s hard to explain but the intimacy fell somewhere between sex and a hug with a dear friend. I was insanely uncomfortable, but I STAYED with it – evacuating my mind and occupying my body fully. I banished the gremlin thoughts that whispered about my inadequacy and the fool I was making of myself.
It was intense. And very moving. Something shifted in me in that moment and I finally GOT what it felt like to stay at 100%. Before I had only understood that in my head, now every cell of my body shared in the understanding. I felt powerful beyond belief and incredibly connected to this woman I’d met only one day prior.
When the exercise was called to a close I got up and dusted myself off. The end was very anti-climactic actually. The tears stopped rolling and I took my seat, grounded in peace and love. I managed to take my first glance around the room as was met by expressions of absolute shock and intense emotion.
The thing was, at no point did I feel unsafe. Yes, it was an unheard of thing for a leader to do but I believe she knew I would let her go there with me, just like I knew what the unspoken rules were. In fact, as I reflected on it more in the coming days, my overall response to the event was humility – I was sincerely humbled and honored that she’d be willing to risk physical injury in service of my learning. Talk about walking your talk and modeling true Leadership!
If that story doesn’t convince you to check out this program, I don’t know what will. Although I’m sure you could have a similarly impactful exercise without wrestling on the ground! For those of you who were moved by this and are at a place where you want to explore who you are as a leader in this world and the impact you’re supposed to make, do check out this program. It’s not just for coaches – half my group did other pursuits for their work. If you’re looking for powerful change in 2012, this would be a great place to start. Let me know if you have any questions about the program. I’m only doing the first retreat as a stand-alone right now and will be taking the remaining 3 at a later date. Words can’t explain how this program has changed my life…
Dear colleagues who were on the retreat with me, I would love to get some comments about what the experience was like for you, since I was so fully immersed in it. What did you notice/take away from the exercise? Anything else you’d like to say to those considering doing this Leadership program?