An Invitation to Make a Difference

by Simon Goland, December 16, 2008

Today’s Reflection is about an opportunity – and an invitation – to make a difference, of a specific kind, this holiday season.

Sandra, a student in a Coaching for Leadership course at Royal Roads University, shares the following story. In this course, students practice coaching each other in triads (among many other learning processes), while periodically being audited and assessed by the course instructor; the story she shares follows her experience after the first audited teleconference call.

It’s the year 2001 and I take my son to the ice rink to try skating for the first time. He is so excited. At five years of age he has already determined that he wants to play in the National Hockey League. As I tied his skates he was grinning from ear to ear, and eager to get onto the ice. As we approached the edge of the ice I asked him if he’d like a support bar to help him skate. He pushed past me saying that he didn’t need one. In his mind he could already skate… so why would he need support? With reservation, I led him to the edge of the ice. With confidence he stepped out on to the ice with great expectations…

He fell flat on his back. Good thing he had a helmet on. A look of horror washed over his face, and he broke into a flurry of tears. I gently scooped him up and carried him off the ice. I sat holding him struggling between my own tears and feelings of laughter. How could he be so naive to think he could skate without being taught, and without practice? It was sad, silly, and heart wrenching all at the same time.

With some gentle persuasion and a whole lot of love I coaxed him back onto the ice with a support bar. He struggled, but after a half-hour I could see that he was beginning to get some satisfaction from the experience.

Eight years later… he skates like the wind. He’s powerful, confident, and light on his feet. He makes it look so easy and he loves it so much. NHL or not, skating has enriched his life. Only from guidance, practice and perseverance has he been able to become such a skilled and valued defense man.

After our triad coaching call, I felt a lot like I’d fallen flat on my back. Afraid that I had not done my best, and afraid to try again. Wondering if coaching is really something I have an inclination for, and if it can bring value to me and those around me. Full of self doubt, I wasn’t feeling very positive about my attempt to ‘skate.’

During a quick run yesterday, I was struck by the similarities of these situations. Why do I believe that I should be able to coach someone without being taught? I have been working on reframing my perspective to believe that with guidance, practice and perseverance, I can become a much better coach.

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. “I–I hardly know, Sir, just at present”, Alice replied rather shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” – Lewis Carroll

Such is the nature of learning, a journey with a destination that often ends up being very different from where we thought we would end up. The importance of support along the way cannot be underestimated; any place worth going is not worth going alone. Somehow, today the story above resonates more with the theme of “support” for me. Whether it is the influence of the holiday season, or the invitation below, I am thinking of supporting and serving and of contributing. Please share this message far and wide, because such simple action can also make a difference.

“Shadow and Light exist in the same universe. We don’t have to choose. The shadow is sharpest when the light is brightest.” – anonymous

I think many of us realize that we do live in challenging times, likely at a tipping point in our world’s history. From global warming, to social injustice, to corporate greed, to extinction of species, to ecological disasters, to eradication of tribal ways of life, to… unfortunately, the list can be very long. Luckily, so are the attempts and actions of many people all over the world to make a difference, to take action, to fight for the plant and ALL its inhabitants. One of the places I want to mention here is Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI), which is a school for MBA in Sustainable Business on Bainbridge Island, just outside of Seattle. Given that businesses are one of the key factors in the negative impacts through their actions (and some would argue that businesses are THE key factor), it only makes sense to focus on this direction to make a profound difference. This is what BGI is all about – changing business thinking at the core, changing the thinking and the actions of hundreds of companies and dozens of business schools. Changing business for good.

Watch this short, 3-minute video, to get a better sense of what BGI is all about, as described by the BGI president. Or, this 7-minute BGI Program Overview clip. Or, think of what one graduate, who heads the Corporate Social Responsibility department at the billion-dollar retailer REI, put it: “What passes for a casual coffee conversation at BGI is treated as genius at REI.”

Right now, BGI needs help. BGI needs your help because other schools are coming and asking for help building sustainability into their curriculum and BGI needs the finances to respond. BGI needs help with accreditation because even though it is going very well it is taking up a lot of time and resources. BGI also needs help because the school is growing. It has already grown from 14 to 200 students and tuition only covers 70% of our costs. Your contribution will help BGI address these issues and help bring BGI into the mainstream of business education. And make a difference.

So this part of the newsletter is an invitation and a request for help. It can take many different forms, whether by donating (via a link here), by sharing this message with many others everywhere, and anything else you can think of. Any action of yours will be of support to BGI, to change business for good, and make a difference for our collective future.

“The rain doesn’t fall on only one roof.” – Cameroon proverb

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.