Sam Netherwood is a trained Fierce facilitator. Here he talks about the lessons he's learnt from living Fierce and its power to change behaviour and create learning
I don't believe that you ever become 'Fierce'. It's not a finish line that you cross or a destination you arrive at.
Using the ideas, principles and models is like creating a tapestry.
Each time you engage in a Fierce Conversation, ask a Fierce question or listen with Fierce intent you weave in another thread - another lesson learnt, another take on reality, another invaluable discovery.
We can always become more Fierce; continually developing our capability to tackle our toughest challenges, provoke learning, more deeply interrogate reality and enrich our relationships.
Fierce has taught me that accountability for our success in work and in life starts and ends with the person we see in the mirror. Including accountability for the quality of the conversations we have, and the connections we create, is the foundation of everything.
Becoming more Fierce hasn't been easy for me but it has been profound. I've ditched long-held beliefs, left a job and lost friends (well, acquaintances really). But for all that I've let go I travel more lightly, creating more space for the experiences, learning and people that mean the most.
"Mastering the courage to interrogate reality" and the idea that "All conversations are with myself and sometimes, involve other people" are two fundamental elements of Fierce which have become part of my every day life.
The first is a principle of any Fierce Conversation. It enables sense-making, insight generation and double-loop learning. It's a principle that challenges assumptions, underlying beliefs and opinions. The second is a transformational idea. An idea which encourages you to speak to your own context and challenge cognitive biases. Both generate insight, both catalyse un-learning and both create change.
There are some valuable lessons that interrogating reality and having conversations with myself have taught me. These lessons, and Fierce questions, have led to new discoveries, better relationships and greater success.
Lesson One: Hold people able
Believing that others can handle the truth is at the core of any Fierce Conversation but, in reality can be more difficult than the concept. For me - this is where courage comes in. It takes little boldness to involve yourself in water-cooler conversations about a colleagues' [perceived] poor performance or talk behind smokes screen about all of the poor leadership decisions that lead to one failed initiative after another. It takes guts to stand side by side with the person who needs to hear "it" and speak in your real voice. It takes courage to give someone the whole truth and to really hear what they have to say.
We can't expect to explore someone else's reality unless we are prepared to give our own - when we hold people as able to hear the truth and offer us the same in return. The Fierce questions I ask myself, and sometimes ask other people:
How would I feel if other people weren't holding me able to hear "the truth"?
What am I pretending not to know?
What am I not saying that really needs to be said?
Are the real issues really on the table?
Am I saying things I don't mean to speed things up or be polite?
Lesson Two: Unplug from the 'comparison machine'
Much of what we do in our life and work is subject to scrutiny and ranking. We compare ourselves to our colleagues, friends and celebrities based on likes and shares. We also compare our working practices, knowledge and organisations to benchmarks, to the world's "best companies" and upper quartile performers.
Comparison isn't bad, but it often fails to interrogate reality; as we stand on the outside looking in at the glossy successes of other people and organisations. When we observe and compare, we do so through our own context window. A context window that is prone to skewing and manipulating what we perceive to be true.
As wonderful as our own narrative is, it is exactly that: our own. When we're looking for new ideas, inspiration or new thinking we need stories. Stories that we can only capture through meaningful connections and conversation.
This is a lesson I've learnt the hard way. Working in learning & organisational development I've often compared and benchmarked excessively. Viewing the achievements of others through a lens that tells me only what I see or hear, not what is really happening beneath the surface.
When we only observe and assume we uncover very little reality. Sometimes, we draw a conclusion based on our own context and neglect to ask a vital question. We move on before we've really asked and really listened. To quote Susan Scott, "conversations take time, but everything else takes longer."
The Fierce questions I ask myself, and sometimes ask other people:
Who am I not talking to?
How will I work out what is true and what is [politics, propaganda, marketing]?
Is my context working for me?
What assumptions could I be making here?
What else could also be possible/true ?
Lesson Three: Discomfort is not only necessary, it's powerful
Hand-in-hand with my first lesson - to become more Fierce you need to hold people able – you also need to get comfortable with the fact that sometimes, that’s going to be uncomfortable. Let’s face it, being open about reality can be hard. How many conversations about the things that really matter have we completely avoided, let alone the times we edited what we were really thinking?
Whilst mastering the courage to interrogate reality, you must also master the courage to convey your own. To speak it clearly, to those who need to hear it, at the very moment it needs to be said. Often, the greater the apprehension and discomfort before the conversation, the more powerful and valuable the conversation itself can be.
It can be hard tell your manager you disagree with strategy. It can feel like it's not your responsibility to tell a senior leader you feel the company is about to implode. It can set your heart racing when you need to tell someone that they're making you unhappy or to approach a tough subject with someone you know is going through a period of struggle.
To genuinely interrogate reality and tell our truth, we need to venture into uncharted territory; to be out of our depth. It isn't somewhere most people like to be but, in the words of T.S. Elliot, "if we're never out of our depth, how do we know how tall we are?" We'll never know the true value of interrogating reality unless we step up and give it a shot.
The Fierce questions I ask myself, and sometimes ask other people:
What are the conversations I'm avoiding?
What is the price I'm paying for putting these conversations off? [time, energy, success, health, love]
What part of that conversation did I 'edit'?
Where should I invest my time to build better relationships?
What's the content of my 'water-cooler' conversations and why am I only having them there?
To re-emphasise and re-quote Fierce founder Susan Scott:“Conversations take time, everything else takes longer”. It’s well worth creating a little space and time for the conversations you need to have with yourself.