What’s Your Soundtrack for 2012?

“For next lesson, pick a few songs that have some meaning for you, and speak to your focus in the next year – a soundtrack for 2012.”

For over 30 years, growing up in BC, I sang – in choirs and bands, and summer stock theatre. While I wasn’t big on hymns, I’d carol at Christmas, and I even wrote a song or two.

Then I fell in love with Ann, joined her family in Midwestern USA, and life so filled and crowded and rushed with consulting and raising kids and caring for parents and teaching and volunteering. While I started the decade in song, by the end I had elbowed singing into the shower, where I’d occasionally hum a few bars and snatch a passing fragment of lyrics from memory’s mists.

Thinking back, I came to see singing and many forms of joyful expression incompatible with the “serious, credible” pursuit of business and consulting and organizational transformation. In many (not all) of the business settings I worked in across North America, including my hometown on the decidedly New Age west coast, suggestions of opening up and expressing and connecting more deeply were not usually well–received. “Now all together, let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya!” someone would scoff, and, well, that was that and it was time for something more productive.

I know my experience is not unique, and that many are coming to view this “us” and “them”; this disciplined corporate compartmentalization of mind and intellect and power and ambition from heart and doubt and expression and vulnerability – from the generative spirit – as unworkable for the complexities we face in the decades ahead. Without question, much has been accomplished, both great and terrible, with such a mindset, and we owe the majority of our today to it. I just wish very much we hadn’t borrowed so heavily from our future, and from our kids’ future to pay for our today.

The fundamental shift facing anyone who has modeled their leadership on predominant patterns of prior centuries is one Richard Barrett captures so eloquently in a phrase from his paper: The New Leadership Paradigm – A Response to the Global Leadership Crisis’ “…the shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world.”

It was at my blackest, lowest point in my relationship with my chosen craft of catalyzing organizational transformation for the greater good that I realized my own complicity in reinforcing old roles – patriarchal models that would not serve our future. I discovered it through my work with First Nations clients in Canada, through my interactions with my closest colleagues, friends and family, and even in my act of exiling my heartfelt musical expression to the shower!

So imagine my hair-blown-back surprise at rediscovering music and song during a corporate engagement where I was introduced to two new colleagues. These alchemists of corporate culture who, in addition to wit and wisdom and insight, brought their extraordinary gifts as  musician / composer and singer / songwriter, respectively, into the corporate arena.

Did I get what these two remarkable beings were offering? Was I humbled by their vision and courage? Did I immediately see the error of my ways and re-integrate? Heck, no! First, I scoffed to our team lead and said: “Like THIS is going to fly with the client. Now all together, let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya!”

This was not my proudest moment.

A couple of years later, with the love and candor of my family, friends and colleagues, a good deal of stumbling, soul searching (soul–scraping?), and a stubborn determination to learn in support of my aspirations (thanks, dad!), I’m told I’m making good progress. I now sing with real COMMITMENT in the shower!

I also might be better prepared to join the community putting their hearts and minds and backs to the impossible but worthy task of finding and amplifying what’s right with the world, and shaping the future we want to live into.

I study with my singer / songwriter friend when I get the chance, and it was she who in January suggested I select, with clear intent, songs that fit the coming year. While many I chose have been favorites for years, one in particular hit me as I was driving home after receiving my assignment, listening to a cappella groups on internet radio. The King’s Singers were rendering a truly beautiful, straight-up version of “The Rose”, by Amanda McBroom. The second verse:

It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live

What will you choose for your soundtrack in 2012?

- Gary Ralston
February 11, 2012

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Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 Article Archive, Leadership, Main Page, Values

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