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August 12, 2003

Connecting with people: exhortation or inspiration? 

Yesterday I had an enjoyable meeting with Tim Stockil of Arts & Business in London and he told me a great story of an event he attended.

Tim got the opportunity to conduct a choir, something he had never done before. He did it without instruction, just doing his best to wave his arms in what he took to be a conductor-like fashion. Although this was great fun, he yearned to lead the choir to a rapturous crescendo and gesticulated wildly with his arms to convey this. Mysteriously, the effect on the volume of the singers was negligible. They seemed confused.

At this point, the facilitator intervened to ask Tim what he was trying to achieve. Tim explained his desire for building to a crescendo. The facilitator said: just stop for a moment and think about where in your own body you would look to develop a sense of your full power, a place from where you yourself could build a big crescendo.

Tim realised that to feel his own power he would need to create it deep within his belly.

At this point in telling me the story, Tim stands to his full height and shakes his body down, giving me the visual sense of a man getting well-grounded. From here, he finds a simple but full-bodied gesture to suggest the building of power from his gut; hard to capture in words, it’s a sort of combination of a Frenchman’s shrug and an Italian godfather’s gesture of acceptance. He extends his arms downwards, with his legs more rooted to the ground and his back and torso becoming more solid. Then Tim makes, a long, deliberate and slow movement of his arms upwards from the level of the hips. It’s a striking and powerful moment.

Returning to the story… Tim turns to his choir and effects this simple, subtle movement. So much more effective than the wild exhortations, he now hooks the human choir as one into a powerful chorus, the embodiment of a group of people connected to a deep sense of their communal voice and spirit.

Tim seems deeply touched just recalling the experience and just sitting here at my PC writing this story I feel a tingle down my spine.

I was at this meeting with Sue Glasser whose life’s work as a dancer is now also directed to helping people in organisations embody physical change in themselves. Her observation in response to Tim’s story was to echo her own experience of working with individuals and teams: that often the deepest change can be found in paying attention to the power of our physicality - how we hold ourselves when we engage with others.

And I think it’s a powerful metaphor for the difference between ineffective but noisy interventions in organisations, and subtle but powerful ones. It’s about looking within for power, finding inspiration and exuding it – instead of simply exhorting others to do things.
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