Fully Human

Published December 14, 2021

Having just completed the 4th Sport Leaders Retreat, Sport Law is accompanying a group of technical leaders on what will be our 5th Quest in a few weeks. These leadership journeys take us up a metaphorical mountain that is filled with new discoveries. Much like pioneers exploring new landscapes, we set out together, our eyes and hearts wide open to what we will encounter. These leadership boot camps demand so much of our climbers. We invite them to become more deeply and intimately self-aware. We invite them to become more present through sitting and meditation practice. We explore the more challenging terrains of forging stronger relationships with others and the risks related to the erosion of trust. We spend time deepening our understanding of our fundamental motivations and invite climbers to unearth their core values. There are many gems that remain hidden on the mountain and each new group brings a new level of “knowing” to these sacred climbing experiences. We also give expression to some of the hidden caves that are too often left unexplored. Together we learn about a new way of being with loss and curate a new level of empathy for self and others. We find the courage to have the difficult conversations and in so doing, forge greater levels of trust. Each time we accompany these groups, we are forever transformed as guides.

When I wrote about The Expendables a few months back, I referenced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and presented it using the well-known pyramid to speak to the importance of both our essential security needs and those needs that allow us to flourish. I just read an article on the history of Maslow’s work, and he never created a pyramid to represent his theory. Instead, Maslow emphasized that we are always in a state of “becoming” and that one’s “inner core” consists of “potentialities, not final actualizations” that are “weak, subtle, and delicate, very easily drowned out by learning, by cultural expectations, by fear, by disapproval, etc.” In my own experience of becoming a fully awake and aware human, self-actualization is better described as fleeting moments of pure joy and a feeling of oneness with the world around me. Often fully experienced when I am in nature, my self-actualized self is at the mercy of both my inner state and my external environment. I am most fully human when my head, heart, and gut are in alignment. These fleeting moments create a transcendent state that lasts mere seconds.

It’s pure bliss. Maslow’s earlier teachings spoke to the human needs of security and growth. His theory speaks deeply to me as someone who has experienced great loss and who has spent the last two decades navigating the troubled waters of grief towards unexplored landscapes. These journeys required that my basic needs of safety (both physical and psychic) be met, and this takes time. In grief work, we often share that there is no reward for speed. This perspective often goes against everything we have been taught, and especially in a competitive sector like sport, where speed is rewarded, encouraged, and demanded. But not all experiences are rewarded with speed and the process of becoming ‘fully human’ is one of them. The new metaphor offered by Scott Kaufman appeals to me. It is the image of a sailboat that invites us to attend to our security needs, while also staying open to our growth needs. I love the simplicity of the metaphor as it speaks to ‘life as a voyage’. The sailboat is a powerful vessel that is both elegant and simple. She uses nature’s gifts to propel her forward and is deeply connected to the elements … most of which are invisible. And while it’s tempting to get distracted with what lies on the horizon, Maslow’s invitation is for us to be nimble and present to what the vessel is communicating to us. If the boat has holes, you can’t travel very far. It requires an immediate and all hands-on deck approach to ensure the boat stays afloat. The boat metaphor also reminds us that while we can travel the seas alone, it is often a richer and more fulfilling experience when we are accompanied by others who share our vision and values. Our travel companions can be our greatest teachers. I know that my children, my family and close friends are part of my navigation system and remind me of what it means to be fully human.

As sport leaders look ahead to 2022, I remain hopeful that as we continue to navigate through the troubled waters, we will have taken this opportunity to strengthen our boat. Resources like updated policies, a more modern approach to governance, and a review of our reward systems are required to ensure we are ready for the next leg of the voyage. The unknown waters ahead are bound to be filled with inclement weather, different currents, and new lands to discover. A values-based ethos of leadership is required if we are to stay relevant to the next generation. I am excited about working with the sport leaders who have invited me onto their ships to support their desire and commitment to manage by values. Management by Values (MBV) is a contemporary approach that invites leaders to self-actualize by ensuring that they are integrating their personal and shared values into the culture of the organization they are serving. This refreshing way of leading creates the space for all sailors to feel seen, heard, and valued and creates an environment that is responsive, adaptable, and open. Fueled by management science, MBV reminds us that we can deploy several management approaches and that people need to feel safe in order to thrive. “Transcendence, which rests on a secure foundation of both security and growth, allows us to attain wisdom and a sense of connectedness and synergy with the rest of humanity,” shares Kaufman. Rather than something to be achieved, transcendent states are something to be experienced. My vision for sport is that we continue to invest in people, so they feel ready to explore the unchartered waters ahead and feel empowered to do so. The previous management philosophies of management by instruction and management by objectives are simply insufficient to deal with the complexities of the 21st Century. And truthfully, they always felt partial to me. As the sun sets on this last year, my high hope for sport is that we give ourselves the time we need to get this right. Let us commit to a more humanistic approach to self and others as we get ready to discover the hidden waters of growth, deeper connection, and belonging.

For more ways to lead, coach and compete in a manner that aligns with your values, please connect with Dina Bell-Laroche at DBL@sportlaw.ca.

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