During the final production of my dance company in 2010, I had the honor to collaborate and train with actor Dan Istrate, who has since become a close friend. You can hear him speak about the magic of lead and follow on stage in episode 15 of my podcast.
Abrazo was a movement-based exploration of what happens when the fantasies and expectations of two partners collide on the dance floor. Nearly a month in, one of the actors had to leave the project, and in a decision I will probably always feel ambivalent about, I replaced her with myself. With Dan’s guidance, I stumbled my way through memorizing lines and miming gestures for opening a door, putting on lipstick, smoothing a dress.
One of the many powerful lessons I learned from Dan was to begin every project fresh, as if you know nothing, even if you’ve been acting for your whole life, as he has, and especially if you think you know what you’re doing, as I definitely tend to do whenever I’m in a leader role like Choreographer.
“Be new,” he would say, “like a child, but also curious, like a child, with no expectations of what you might discover.” My performance wasn’t outstanding, but it was good, and without Dan’s wisdom, I never could have done it at all.
Some of the work you do every day is probably routine, and not something you want or need to “discover,” but at the same time, there’s probably at least one conversation, one problem, or one meeting each week where the idea of Beginners Mind, a concept from Zen Buddhism, can help you enjoy your work more, excel more, and be recognized as more helpful and valuable by your coworkers.
Here’s what Beginners mind might look like from both leadership and followership perspectives:
Leadership: There’s often pressure on titled leaders to know everything already, to always have an answer, and the right answer. This pressure prevents new learning and diminishes dialogue and curiosity, which is where we know creative solutions come from. If you are in a position of leadership, be clear with your team that you are not the source of all answers, but rather a curator of answers that may come from any and all directions. That way, they’ll know you’re open to hearing their suggestions and learning from them as well as the other way around.
Followership: The follower role usually has less direct authority in a hierarchical organization, and so there’s often a temptation is to prove yourself so that you’ll be heard, respected, rewarded and promoted. Unfortunately, proving language and behavior usually results in anti-collaborative behavior: poor listening, disconnection, an abrasive tone, and narrow thinking. The principle of Beginners Mind helps you remember to keep your senses open in a meeting or discussion. You listen more attentively, make meetings more efficient with strategic silence, and find key moments to ask a question or provide data that is relevant and helpful.
Where might Beginners Mind help you this week?