Come to the edge
We can't. We're afraid.
Come to the edge.
We can't. We will fall!
Come to the edge.
And they came
And he pushed them.
And they flew.
-- Guillaume Apollinaire, 1880-1918
What if the word were SuperVision? How would that shift the way we work with others or teach students? How would it impact the way we view our role in their work, their learning lives, in their development? Would it help us see their highest selves and coach, teach and lead to that person?
There is an exercise at the end of this piece
Berkeley, CA, 1969. I had never been late for work before, from age 10 as assistant to my first dance teacher, Karl Heinrich, to this moment. But for the past couple of weeks, I have been working long days and nights, driven by the deadlines and details of organizing the first program between the Jewish community Center in Oakland, and a center for economic opportunity for inner city students. Blazing through morning bathroom rituals, grabbing whatever clothes I can excavate from the heap on the chair and floor, maneuvering the 22-minute freeway drive to the Fruitvale exit, a myriad of scripts runs through my head to explain to my boss Peg, why I am late.
Breathless, I run into her in the front office and hear myself blurt out: I overslept. Oh no! Overslept? How lame. I wait for admonishment. Instead, she casually utters, Oh, you must have needed it, smiles, and moves along. Little do I know that this benign exchange would turn out to be one of the defining moments of the politically transformative era I was living in in Berkeley, California in the late 1960s: Urgency and humanity could productively coexist in the workplace.
Early on in my three years under what I have come to call Peg Roger’s SuperVision, she said to me: I’ll let you go to the edge, but I’ll always catch you before you fall off. She once let me fire my entire four-member winter camp staff the night before camp began, so I could experience what it meant to make unwise decisions. That night, through thoughtful, nonjudgmental questioning, she helped me understand how I got there and what I might have done differently. Then through the strong relationships she had built with the quartet before I had arrived on the job, she helped me recruit them back. The next morning, humbled to my bones, we began again.
Throughout my life, I have called on the lessons I learned from Peg Rogers. She taught me the importance of asking people questions anchored in the intention of helping them become their highest selves, as she consistently did with me. It’s a practice that has become a bedrock of my coaching work. She blurred artificial lines between boss, mentor and friend, offering her authentic self to me, and coaxing my hidden self toward visibility.
She expected excellence and taught it by example. She taught me how to build and nurture a team and organize a community. She protected her staff when under fire. She let her staff see her mistakes and taught me about forgiveness and humility. She asked me what my dreams were, the thwarted and the still unrealized. She fostered my creativity by making space and time for me to teach dance at the community center. She encouraged me to take risks.
And perhaps, most importantly, Peg listened to my Stories, a skill I have honed over the years which has become another cornerstone of my coaching work. The late Peg Rogers was a short, round, dynamic woman of courage and vision – a woman with a big laugh, heart and footprint whose full impact on my work would take many years to realize.
Try this: If you had SuperVision, what would you see in a colleague you are challenged by? What would you shift in yourself, and what would you change in how you help her or him become the vision of that person you see?