An Essay that examines roots & patterns of what may be keeping you, your group, team and or organization stuck.
When we set off to create change within our life, groups, teams & organizations, there are many hidden forces at play. Change management, behavioural change theories and associated psychology offers us great wisdom to integrate in our approach.
Today, I want to share some thoughts in the following essay on the process of conformity and how it may be influencing in subtle ways, changes you’re facing. Through framing conformity as a process, I will offer three patterns that may be relating to power in your personal approach to change and those with whom you work and lead. These patterns are offered as three archetypes. Three possible faces of what might be animated in your current experience of living, leading and serving through change.
Many years ago I discovered a great book called The Immunity To Change. It is based on a body of work out of Harvard co-lead by, Lisa Lahey & Robert Kegan. For more on their powerful work, checkout Minds At Work. Their work establishes an approach designed to reveal what's actually going on when we're seeking to change "X". I have found their approach to be truly helpful in getting to some blind spots of what they term, hidden assumptions and competing priorities.
Awareness of these often “underground” forces, is powerful. Awareness helps us to experience space around our thinking & to foster a better understanding of ourself and each other. It is an important first step in changing how we see something. Willingness is then required. These two forces awareness & willingness, enable us to shift perception. As a result, choice becomes a powerful lever. Once we see something differently, “how” we then make choices will shift. Even if we continue to make the same choices (“the what”), we’re armed with knowing we’re doing so.
In my coaching practice, astrology and archetypes are powerful frames to expand consideration of what is happening. They help to see a greater whole of what’s unfolding. Working through the CODE Model we’re able to unlock the intelligence of what wisdom lives within our current experience of any particular change.
Having a broad frame, a map to support being in conversation with one another, empowers a bigger picture view of growth. One that is beyond the presenting "topic/area of life and work" to be changed. Our experience of feeling stuck and at "cross-purposes" may hold more significance for our life than we think. Greater significance for our life. Greater significance in the whole of our life & work with one another.
A systems view is essential. We're not mechanistic. Neither are those with whom we relate to in our personal & professional lives.
If we're willing to entertain a broader and deeper perspective a doorway opens that highlights a new context & process for working with the “purpose of change” more fully.
This doorway invites questions that will challenge our world view. A context and process of change awakens. One that values the recognition of emergence and becoming as the reason detre for our experiences.
The opportunity: Our approach to change in our leadership & companionship cultivates greater compassion and tolerance. We’re able to appreciate & value our experience of polarities and grey zones. We meet contrast with spaciousness & curiosity.
A core paradigm that grounds my work is reflected in a WEL-Systems context. This is a context that acknowledges we’re holistic in nature. We're biologically, vibrationally complex & interdependent. This aligns beautifully with my spiritual path.
What does a spiritual path have to do with change? Well, meta-physical principles are extremely important to contemplate in our choice points of growing & becoming, together.
Today, more than ever it is important for all of us to live from a spiritual philosophy of life. For me, I am A Course in Miracles Student. Whatever you live within, nurture it. As life spins and changes beyond what you’re facing today, you’ll need something to lean into beyond stories of your past and fears of your future.
If you're unsure what will work for you today, embark on an exploration. Request to be shown what is. Be open to what appears. I would invite you to honour where you're being called to next in your learning.
Learning is a fundamental process that takes us to a new place to stand inside of ourselves and with one another.
Onwards to the exploration of conformity as a process.
Conformity as a process is often fuelled by the hidden assumptions and competing priorities that Keagan & Lahey describe in their work.
An approach to establishing, sustaining and enforcing standards of acceptance. As a process that seeks to embed patterns for creating consistency.
Consistency breeds a sense of safety and assuredness that is most helpful in many areas of "doing" in life. When seeking to create change however, we must be willing to look beyond the “what, where and who” of doing and dig deeper. Explore what’s meaningful about “why & how” we’re approaching X. This is not always required if you’re looking to change a simple or complicated issue.
Complexity is where the deep dive is most meaningful. I find it extremely valuable to remember the great work of Brenda Zimmerman. She articulated beautifully the potent need to be clear on working in simple, complicated & complex contexts. She was a pioneer in raising the level of conversation about embracing complexity. Her book Edgeware was an excellent offering around re-thinking approaches to leading in Healthcare (one system).
For example, if you’re seeking to establish how to put together a piece of furniture from IKEA, you'd be well served to follow the instructions. However, if you're facing a transition, seeking to move forward a strategic initiative at work or choosing to change a behavioural pattern to experience greater well-being in your life & relationships...I challenge you to show me the manual. Many have tried to write them. And for sure, there is a plethora of information to support us in these choice points. However, we're complex, not complicated beings. We, like biology follow different laws of growth, then putting together a piece of furniture.
We're biological organic beings that process multiple sources of information all of the time. I love the frame my great teacher and guide, Louise LeBrun shared often about how we process and digest information, differently than the mechanical devices on our countertop in our kitchen. If we put a banana in a blender, the blender doesn't change as a result of blending the banana, we do!
As we watch shows, engage in conversations, delight in tastes, sounds, smells and touch (all of the senses that fill up our days), we’re changing through the intake. We also are changing as we express through these senses. For example when we speak up or silence ourself. When we create something and share it with other(s). When we reach out and touch another literally and figuratively with what we say or do. These also change us. Ayurveda teaches us wisely how to work with our intake and expression of sensorial information.
So, where do we begin to explore the process of conformity. I find it helpful when embarking on this work to begin building our awareness of patterns. Patterns can be uber helpful to explore through their archetypal nature.
Archetypes in my coaching form a core foundation of my approach. Archetypes support us to soften our innate binary thinking (e.g. black/white; right/wrong; good/bad). They invite a more holistic view which cultivates less judgement and more curiosity. Archetypes are inherently personal and impersonal in my experience. Opening to their presence in our life, leadership & service creates greater awareness and fuels choices that both feel & do good.
Archetypes are impersonal patterns of influence that are both ancient and universal. They become personalized when they are part of our individual psyche. They provide the foundation for our personality, motivations, and actions.
From a meta-physical level there are no polarities. There is a field of infinite possibilities. And for me, love is the constant force of our being-ness that has no opposite. Having said that I also know, we live in a physical reality. For me this is the good news!
We’re working with contrast all of the time. I believe it is helpful to have different approaches to working with contrast, inside of ourselves and with others. Contrast is most often a thread of the process of conformity we can most struggle with.
In choosing to share these thoughts about conformity, my hope is you choose to take a closer look at your ME & WE dance of life, leadership and service.
Tribally, conformity often lives in our customs and traditions. When we gather we often seek to establish and uphold conformity through agreements (spoken or not).
Conformity is I believe a worthy archetypal pattern to explore. In systems (schools, workplaces, faith and social based communities & families) conformity expresses “her/his” pattern via many faces.
Three that often surface in my work are: the warrior, the leader & the pioneer. There are many archetypal forces at play in our relationship to change & growth, for now, these three are calling to me to explore with you regarding the process of conformity.
Archetypal faces of the process of conformity
Warrior (bold, independent, fierce defender & protector)
The archetype of the warrior presupposes a battlefield. A pattern that illuminates our dance with how we seek to defend, protect and win-lose. As we consider how this face relates to conformity, we must also explore how we relate to the battlefield of our uniqueness.
Internally, this is a ping pong experience of seeking to belong, to fit-in, to be seen and appreciated as being special. Externally, this dance is revealed often in our defence & protection of others for whom we perceive as special or living in/with unique circumstances.
This battlefield has changed significantly in our culture. Let’s have a boo @ parenting. If you’re a parent, let’s say between the ages of 45 & up, reflect on the degree to which standing out and being unique was celebrated and in fact worshipped when you were parented. Then, consider how this has changed in your experience with your own parenting. Do you hear yourself and others highlighting the unique and special nature of your child as a frequent reference point? Are you in a race to set your children up to stand out and be fully celebrated in the lime light? This is an invitation to notice a pattern. An invitation to be curious of how this relates to conformity in your system today, of family.
Now, let’s consider communities that gather for a “shared-public-purpose”. For example, workplaces, project or social groups. How does the message of innovation ring true? How many times have you experienced the call to innovate, to change, to improve, only to feel the full force of resistance pull back to the way it has always been.
In my own journey of working in and with workplace systems, I’ve seen and experienced this quite often. The face of the warrior steps up and declares the sword of change. The mandate to change or innovate is set. We gather and inspire excitement for possibilities to take flight and then before you know it, we’re on the ground, creatively strategizing about how to keep things as they always have been. Weapons drawn to defend that which most often isn’t working and in some cases, is actually harming our personal or shared intent. These reactionary weapon draws are often viewed as covert missions. Pockets of organizational resistance. I would offer these are rather intelligent responses to a pattern of relating to conformity.
The warrior face of a conformity pattern is alive for us all with change. It shows up in our “and” of wanting to express our uniqueness while simultaneously wanting to connect and belong. With our pursuit of change and innovation and our deep desire to keep things as they’ve always been. This pattern smells, feels, sounds and tastes like a battle. We speak about this implicitly often in organizational speak around change management as the “resistance”. The light aspect of the warrior in my work with clients is about empowering the spiritual warrior within and without. This expanded work with our warrior embodies an entirely new set of principles from which to live, lead and serve. We bring curiosity and compassion to the inevitable warrior pattern of change.
To choose to infuse our Warrior-ship with an expanded, open heart, mind and spirit. To animate its inherent boldness and uniqueness and to champion the journey of walking together. The spiritual warrior welcomes the noble force of honouring that we are each whole, unique and essential to our world. A warrior whose deep intent is the pursuit of win-wins. One who feels the truth of unity that lives in diversity. One who discovers that safety is an inside job.
Our inner and outer expression of king/queen rulership.
The second face of the process of conformity I’d like to explore with you is the archetype of the Leader. The all-knowing one who sits at the head of the table, front of the room, throne of the land. The person we all look to set the course, set the vision and hold us to account. The leader is a powerful archetype. I could share a lot about this archetype. Specifically, today, we’re exploring how the leader relates to conformity. Inside of ourselves we all feel, I believe, an awakening to lead in our lives. We secretly feel that’s what we’re here to be and do. And yet, we dance with great suffering inside and out with relationship to authority and conformity. We want it, we don't want it. We want others to join us, and yet we want to do it all ourSelves. We look to others and then we’re disappointed. We activate all sorts of projections and narratives that quite frankly don’t get us anywhere.
Just take a breath and consider how you relate to politics. The civic leaders and their role and dance with society as a whole. I can say honestly my thinking has shifted dramatically over the past couple of years since I have stepped off of the sidelines of deep frustration with civic leadership and dipped my toe into this community. In my willingness to own my ignorance of the subject, I have chosen to engage and bring my learning leader to the table. I highly recommend it. In fact, what I have been noticing with many of my clients is a great shift with their dance of authority when they choose to engage that which deeply irritates or inspires them.
In contemplating our face of leader in our relationship to conformity we must be willing to turn on the light and see how we fundamentally experience and express authority. This for many of us feels scary, unfamiliar and at times challenging. For some we love to be the cheerleader for others (another core archetype aka the caretaker/ helper face…to be explored another time). For others we crave the power of being an authority. And for many we feel a deep call to step up and out into the world with our voice, our ideas. This we can expect to upset the current blueprint of conformity in our systems.
A few questions to consider….
Do I rebel against authority?
Am I driven to hold its seat?
What drives my aversion or attachment in my dance with authority, my face of leader?
How does this motivation influence my willingness to explore and re-think conformity?
The Pioneer (Innovation, Exploration)
This takes me to the third face of conformity. That is the Pioneer. The pioneer often reveals an interesting web of patterns that drive a subconscious (shadow) belief that things can and will be/get better. This pattern, relative to conformity is fierce, at times idealistic, filled with hope and adventure. He/She is seen as fearless, impulsive and at times stubborn in conviction to carve out new pathways. At other times the pioneer can appear flighty and unfortunately if unware can throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. The experience of status quo is often intolerable for the pioneer. In fact, this face can be the one that starts to unravel the threads of a process of conformity that no longer supports well-being in ourselves or our systems. I might also add to the pioneer’s description a great willingness to experiment.
At the heart of what feels so delicious in the experience of conformity is certainty. This for many of us equals safety. Predictable a + b = c, gives us a sense of relief. I want to highlight here; this is not wrong. It's just one aspect of the whole of a pattern.
There are times in all cycles of change to weave in the familiarity of stillness. The power of a pause is an essential one to engage throughout our days. In my work with clients in our commitment to the cultivation of being ourSelves in community differently, we step into a new level of responsibility with our inner stillness work. Like a very good friend, sister and colleague of mine’s business name. It’s establishing and nurturing the eye of the storm (I of The Storm Coaching). This daily choice point establishes a new centre. We begin to seek less for certainty and stability outside of ourselves, as we discover an infinite well that lives inside. In choosing to do so, we find greater ease with relating to all of these faces of conformity.
Each archetype offers a window of wisdom for how we meet the process of conformity in the change dance of complexity.
The warrior brings the fierce light of inner fortitude to finding a win-win of change.
The leader cultivates an inner throne that feels safe, secure & powerful.
The Pioneer embraces the inner adventure of discovering new terrains of stability and centre.
There are many layers and facets of our energetic patterns, archetypal experiences. I hope today you’re inspired to step back, lift up into the balcony of your own consideration of the process of conformity in your experience.
As you have taken the time to consider the process of conformity what do you notice?
What resonates? What doesn't?
My invitation is to engage. To breathe, relax into and welcome what feels like a very next step for you in consciously choosing to be yourSelf in community differently.
Conformity and Community are powerful feedback loops.
Choice is a powerful lever to re-direct both. The question becomes are we each willing to fuel our choices from spaces and places that align with our evolving nature. Are we willing to turn the light on and come out of the shadows as we support community that both feels and does good.
I welcome the opportunity to support and walk with you.