Posts Tagged ‘Roles’

Shift Happens: Guest Post by Janet Frood

In couples, Dialogue, Family, Realtionship on November 30, 2010 at 2:14 am
Janet Frood,

Janet Frood, CPP, ORSCC, PCC

It’s official.  Our daughter has moved away to start University.  In one day our family system shifted from four to three — at least those of us living at home.  It’s making me think on a very personal level about system theory and patterns that we witness in teams experiencing change.

System theory says that every time someone leaves or joins a system (family, team or group) that the organic nature of the system changes.  There is an automatic adjustment and recalibration.  Often times the changes happen at an unconscious level.  If the system needs certain roles or relies on certain skills, inevitably those remaining on the team will step into unoccupied roles.  This assures the continuity of the system (functional and emotional).

In families, just like in teams, each person plays a formal role.  In this case our daughter is the oldest child.  As the oldest child, she has played certain roles in all of our lives.  She’s been the responsible one assuring that tasks get done on time and according to plan.  She’s also the tradition holder assuring that holidays unfold with certain reliable ceremony.  She values relationships and always spent time with each of us individually.

In our family system we have two nested systems – two parents and two kids. As parents, we are still parents of two yet the way we’ll interact with them has now changed.  It’s like we have become a virtual team as one of our members will only be connected virtually through Skype, text, FB and phone calls.  The home team of three will shift and change.  We’ll create new patterns and routines that will work for our dynamic.

When family systems change, just like with teams, it’s important to talk about the obvious changes – the ones you can anticipate.  When one member is gone and their strengths and skills leave with them, it’s important to plan for how you’ll mange the changes.  Speaking about the changes is important so that there are no assumptions.  In our case we had a gender balance – two males and two females.  Now, I’m the only female.  Who knows what that means for our family dynamic.  Who will watch the reality dance shows with me?

It’s also important to pay attention to the subtle signals that will emerge; the things that people are experiencing and not talking about.  Our son is already demonstrating more of a need to be close to us and hug us.  As Mom I know he’s giving us the hugs that were reserved for his sister.   It seems that by being the “only child” he’s already taking the opportunity to be seen and heard more as he often followed his sisters’ lead.  This phenomenon is common on teams where people will quietly assume new informal roles held by a former colleague.  If the system needs nurturing then others will start to demonstrate it in new ways.  That’s exactly what our little system is already doing.

It’s a fascinating time.  There are lots of adjustments ahead.  However, I hold a sense of confidence in knowing that we’ll calibrate to find a new balance and still be connected with each other – just in new and different ways.

For more information about Janet Frood and her work, please visit her website:

Backstage at the Olympics: Going for the Gold in Marriage (Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In business, couples, Realtionship on February 24, 2010 at 1:46 am

Aly & Jeff Pain with their sons Thomas & Kyle

It’s tough being an Olympic athlete. It’s even tougher being married to one. In fact, Aly Pain has asked her husband Jeff, Canadian Silver Medalist Skeleton racer, for a divorce more than once in the last several years.

And yet today, their marriage is stronger than ever.

“I’m a ridiculously stubborn person,” says Aly, a public speaker, trainer, and one of the first 70 systems coaches to be certified by the Center for Right Relationship. “ I don’t walk away from much. I’ll do what it takes. And there’s an essence of our marriage—something bigger and stronger than us—that wasn’t done, that said: you’re supposed to be together.”

And together, Jeff and Aly Pain have written a book, The Business of Marriage and Medals, about what they’ve learned.

“All of our messes and successes over a14 year period,” says Aly. “Everything we did wrong and what we did right—consciously or unconsciously—so we can be here today as a team.”

When I reach Aly by phone at her hotel in downtown Vancouver, she sounds tired. She has driven with their two boys from Calgary a few days earlier. They’ve come to see their Dad, a man the CBC has called “one of the most celebrated skeleton athletes in Canadian history,” make his last Olympic run. And today’s the day.

Aly has mixed feelings.

“Joy, sadness, grief—blechhh!” she says. “Sometimes it’s everything all at once. There’s a lot of me that wants it to be over. And yet winning in Italy was wonderful. How many can say they’ve been in three Olympics and finished in the top ten in all three? I’m also sad for Jeff and can’t imagine what this is like for him.

“There can only be one winner—the ultimate measure of one’s success is in sport. This is what he’s chosen.

“Until midnight tonight. Then he’s retired.”

The measure in sport doesn’t take into account the emotional and economic challenges Aly and Jeff Pain have faced. Only two percent of Canada’s Olympic athletes have kids.

“The Canadian Olympic Committee has never compiled statistics on mature athletes, and so have they’ve never really met their needs. The COC knew mature athletes were least pleased with funding but didn’t know why.”

When a 20-year-old gets an Olympic contract, “it’s like winning the lottery,” says Aly. “They may still be living at home with their parents. But when you’re in your 30s and have a family, it’s poverty level.”

What is it like for their children—Thomas, aged six and Kyle who is it eight—to be here in Vancouver to see their Dad compete?

“They think it’s cool. They’re proud. It’s exciting—and yet I bet they’d by-pass all that to have had Dad home. He’s been away for three and a half years of their lives. It’s a double-edged sword. Whether they grow up hating it or loving it, this is their legacy. They deserve an opportunity to be at the track—to see this.”

What’s next?

“I don’t know,’ says Aly. “I can’t even imagine it. The book is certainly part of what’s next—the game we’re playing together on the same continent on the same stage. It’s been a way of dreaming up our new identity.”

And how did the book come about?

It began with a fight, really. Jeff was home for a few months, and they argued about household tasks—who did and did not do what. So they got out a big sheet of paper. Aly wrote down everything she did around the house. Jeff wrote down everything he did.

“My list was much longer,” says Aly. “We started to renegotiate.”

The Business of Marriage and Medals is, in fact, a business book. It’s about business in marriage and relationship in business.

“It’s only when we started seeing ourselves as a business that our marriage began to work,” says Aly. “Assigning roles, and concrete goals—that’s what we had to do—stop being willy-nilly and thinking it was going to work out. We had to hammer it out and write it down.”

Out of the breaking point came the solution.

“Our marriage has a big message about relationship,” she says. Especially now. “The divorce rate is higher than it’s ever been. Marriage is like a commodity. Businesses treat people like numbers. We’re forgetting the art of relationship: seeing and experiencing another person face to face in an ebbing, flowing balance.

“It’s not a you-against-me thing. It’s a ‘we’ thing. Put the issue out front. Be a ‘we’ and handle it.”

The challenges Aly Pain has faced in her marriage have enriched and deepened her professional life as a relationship systems coach. She finds she has far more compassion for the corporations and families she works with as they go through transitions.

“What they’re saying is exactly what I’m feeling,” she says. “I ask questions I might not have asked before. I know more. It’s a rich place, transition. I don’t find it scary. I like adventure.”

In the end, she says, “This isn’t’ just about Jeff being front stage and me and the kids backstage. It’s more than that. We’re a team, and we know that now.

“Everybody who’s been behind us and supported us—that’s how every relationship succeeds, with support and lots of cheering. We have more people behind us than we can possibly fathom. We haven not gotten here alone.”

To find out more about Aly Pain and her work, visit her website: and to read excerpts from their book, The Business of Marriage and Medals, visit:

Eldership Circles (reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In communities, Realtionship, World Work on January 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm

As supportive as her women’s group has been over the years, Vicki McLeod felt a need to extend her personal work into her professional life—and beyond. She also noticed that many of her colleagues and clients “were doing everything their MBAs taught them and the consultants told them, and it still wasn’t happening—things weren’t changing. Something else was needed.”

So McLeod, a local communications consultant and coach, started an Eldership Circle.

“I realized that if I was going to hold a space for change, I needed a place where I could do my inner work and be fully supported to take it out into the world. So I decided to put out a call.”

The group’s purpose is to create a space where women can help each other in “overcoming personal barriers and prejudices, [creating] conscious awareness of rank and privilege, and resolving inner conflict—all necessary to … heal our communities.” The circle is meant to go beyond personal growth and always points to service. It’s a place where personal development and social consciousness meet.

“To want to change the world is scary. One is subject to doubt and maybe even ridicule. So the Eldership Circle helps people to explore their own edges, get clarity about goals and purpose and hold space for the collective mind to emerge. There’s magic in a circle.”

And who answered the call?

Women who were “willing to stand in wisdom and fierceness to facilitate change,” says McLeod. Women in search of role models and mentorship. “Kick-ass, loving women,” as one member of the circle puts it, intent on charting new territory.

“Spiritual warriors,” says another.

“It’s hard work,” says McLeod, “particularly in dealing with system conflicts. And yet conflict is very often at the core of deep change and can offer incredible wisdom.”

What the women in the Eldership Circle seek and find in each other is, in the words of a third member, “Authenticity, friendship. Laughter. Joy. Connection. A group that will hold me to my highest self when the road gets rocky and bring me back to [my purpose] if I get lost in the mud.”

“Eldership is really about looking at transformational change through the lens of how it can impact the greater whole,” says McLeod.

“Elders ask: what does this mean for the world? If I’m suddenly afraid to speak in front of the group—that is a process for me. It may be present in the group, and it may be present in the World. We are all afraid to speak. How, then, might my crossing that edge make it possible for the World to cross that edge too?”

What is the difference between leaders and elders?

The way McLeod sees it, “leadership is often about having followers. Leaders set a direction.” Elders, on the other hand, “have faith that a direction will emerge.”

It sounds a bit like walking in the dark.

“It’s a lot like that,” says Vicki, laughing.

What, then, would be the most useful relationship between leaders and elders?

“Ideally” says McLeod, “leaders would access the wisdom of elders and eventually become elders themselves.”

This means that elders must be present and in conversation with leaders, which is not always the case today. In fact, some maintain that elders have disappeared over the last few decades into retirement communities and assisted living facilities. We do not have much access to elders. McLeod says that eldership was not really obvious in her world. Both her grandmothers died before she was 20.

“The notion of eldership circles is ancient—the bringing together of the collective wisdom of a group or tribe in service of the greater whole has been around, I would venture, as long as humanity. Certainly, aboriginal cultures consider eldership as a key component of social and community functioning.”

McLeod doesn’t want the circle to be seen as an exclusive enclave for professional women. She wants Eldership Circles to be open to anyone who feels called.

“I would love to see more circles grow, more individuals stepping into Eldership and offering their wisdom to the world. I would especially love to see men’s circles get started—or mixed circles. One of the principles of eldership is embracing diversity.

“I started my circle where I am—a middle-aged, middle-class white woman. So my circle is largely composed of the same.

“My intention for Eldership Circles is very clear. There are no fees for them, and anyone is free to create a circle and use the resources on my website to get started. While this is part of my life’s work, it is not the way I make my living. It is a contribution I want to make to the world, and then I hope that the circles will grow and become self-sustaining and self-spawning.

“It really has nothing to do with me.”

For more information about Vicki McLeod and the Eldership Circles, visit her website:

Ghost Roles in Organizations

In business, communities, organizations, Realtionship on October 6, 2009 at 12:18 am

We’ve talked about Outer and Inner Roles and a bit about the energy and skill with which roles can be occupied. In Relationship Systems work, we also talk about Ghost Roles, by which we mean people who are no longer physically present or events, which nonetheless have an impact on what’s going on in the system at present.

Not long ago I worked with an organization that hired me, to help them clarify the roles of its Executive Director and board members. In the two days that we worked together, names of people no longer on the board kept coming up. Each time that happened, I would suggest we add it to the Parking Lot, or the list of things we felt were important but were beyond the scope of our stated agenda.

In a follow-up session, we decided to get to the items on the Parking Lot. Those names of people no longer associated with the organization, for instance.

More often than not, these are people: a beloved former CEO or some trouble-maker whom nobody misses at all. Sometimes the ghost is an event. An illness, for example. Or downsizing that involved a massive lay-off. Anything outside the current team or system that continues to have an impact.

So there we were in a room full of ghosts. At first we called them by the names they share with the people associated with them. Once again: roles are not people. We were looking for the qualities of those roles that were “haunting” the system. Wicked Witch was one. She kept coming up again and again. We listed her qualities, and I asked if everyone was ready to put her out of the room—so we could decide on how they wanted to work with the ghost.

“Yes!” everyone shouted.

And not a minute later, she was in the room again.

So I said, “Look. This high-back chair is the Wicked Witch. She’s in the middle of the room. What do you notice?”

“I can’t see the people on the other side of the room,” said one.

“She’s in the way,” said another. “We can’t move forward!”

“OK then. Are you ready to have her in the other room?” I asked.

“Yes! Yes!” said everyone. And I carried the chair out of the room.

And 3 minutes later, there she was again, so I carried the chair back into the middle of the room.

“No. No. No.” said everyone.

“Well what’s it going to be?”

“We can’t seem to get rid of her ….”

“It’s ‘witchy-ness’ you can’t get rid of. That’ll always come back. It happens; it’s normal. How do you want to be when that happens?”

And so we designed an alliance around that.

There were other ghosts in their system. The ghost of an aggressive young know-it-all, the ghost of a greedy landlord. And since ghosts are not people, we set about describing the qualities of each figure as we removed the ghost from the room. Then the group could better see how they wanted to behave with each other when those qualities re-emerged. Because they will come back. Not the people. The qualities: witchy-ness, or know-it-all, or greed, or disrespect.

Those are the qualities you want to become conscious of and be prepared to deal with in the future.

And it could be as simple as saying: “There she is again—the Wicked Witch. Remember what we agreed to do when ‘witchy-ness’ shows up.”

What about fierceness on the job?

In business, communities, organizations, Realtionship on September 2, 2009 at 5:13 pm

We certainly don’t want any fierceness there.

Or do we?

I love working with start up companies. There’s a freedom and wild abandon that is thrilling. New ideas, disagreements, counter ideas fly across the table fast and furiously. There’s often a sense of nothing to lose and everything to gain. Creativity is the only way out because it was the only way in. Everything is up to question, re-examine, challenge, improve, or toss out …. At this stage of the game, change is exciting and energizing. Everything seems urgent. No one knows exactly what she’s doing, and yet everyone is willing to try—and fail. Curiosity is the driver, not fear. There’s nothing quite like this kind of camaraderie. Each day is a leap of faith, and with each successful leap, trust deepens, bonds grow strong, and in this way the new venture moves forward, sometimes like a leopard, stealthy and deliberate; other times like a mouse, running in circles, close to the ground.

No one is walking around on eggshells. Not yet. That comes later.

Think about it—the company has proven itself and now has a track record. Then it attracts bigger and bigger investors. The company is established, a known quantity. It has a recognizable brand. The public trusts it. And something inside the organization changes. People grow more cautious, tactful (and tactical). Meetings lose their creative edge. Things are running more smoothly because there is less and less difference of opinion. We’re all on the same page. Or we appear to be. This slowing down and deepening is a natural stage in a company’s development. But at some point the growing cautiousness begins to serve not only the status quo but certain patterns and power dynamics which have emerged—also natural. What’s new is the emotional field in meetings. More harmonious, perhaps, but also a bit duller, flatter. With more restless boredom under the surface. People say less in meetings and more at the water cooler, and leadership hears what people think they want to hear, not what they need to hear.

There’s a radical truth-telling I associate with fierceness. I think of my friend Agnes back East. We could always depend upon her to stir things up at faculty meetings in the college where we both taught. People referred to her as The Contrarian. She opposed almost every plan of the Administration—on principle. That was her role. And as often as we clenched our teeth when she started to speak, we were grateful. Nervous, but grateful. For she performed an important duty. She raised the hard questions that most of us were too chicken to ask. And she kept on asking them during a time when we were under the leadership of a petty tyrant who would brook no “insubordination.” (Think Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter books.) Didn’t phase Agnes for a moment. She went right on asking hard questions and naming oppression and any other kind of jackass foolishness she saw. In the end she managed to resurrect the defunct Faculty Forum and call us to govern ourselves as we had said we’d intended to in the beginning.

She was heroic. And a pain in the ass.

The point is somebody’s got to do it. Somebody has to occupy the role of trouble maker. That energy has to go somewhere and more often than not, that energy is fierce. Fierceness has truth in it—often a truth most of the organization doesn’t want to hear. The energy of fierceness gets more and more marginalized as an organization matures. The disturber can become a scapegoat. And even if that person leaves the organization or the team, someone else steps in to occupy the role. The Disturber, the Contrarian, the Squeaky Wheel—whatever name you give the role and however skillfully it is occupied—it is often the doorway in a system through which something new and essential is trying to emerge.

On Being Fierce

In couples, Friemdship, Realtionship on August 28, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Invigorating, yes. Skillful? Not yet.

So there I am, feeling the thrill of this new Inner Role, the One Who Claims Things for Himself. I am driving back from seeing friends on the North Shore, a lovely evening. I drive slowly up my street, in search of a parking spot. I see one up ahead, just behind a car that is parking. But wait! The lady stops. She hasn’t left me room. She could pull up. So I honk and wave and urge her to move forward. She does, but only a tiny bit. I tap my horn again and motion her forward, and then call out: “Go ahead. Move forward. You have plenty of room.” She is getting out of her car and locking the door. I roll down my window and shout, “MOVE FORWARD!” I notice a rush of heat. I notice I am yelling. She looks at me and says I’m being hysterical. She’s right. I know she’s right, and somehow I cannot stop. I start to back into a space I know is too small. I bump the bumper of the car in back of me. I give up, pull out and screech my tires as I round the corner, looking for a bigger parking space. For quite some time afterwards, I am shaking with anger.

It’s one thing to throw that kind of tantrum when you’re a two year old. It’s quite another when you’re well into middle age and run the risk of a massive coronary or a stroke.

What can I say? Apparently I have a lot to learn about occupying the role of The One Who Claims Things for Himself. What I exhibited wasn’t fierceness at all. It was temper; there’s a difference. And chances are what I had in mind to claim as I was discovering this role a week earlier was something more important than a parking spot. The point is it takes time to learn how to occupy an unfamiliar role skillfully. The one yelling was more like the one who never remembers to ask for what he wants—and so has to take it out on a perfect stranger over a parking space. A dodge. A sidestep.

Where might I invite fierceness into my life in such a way as to not act out in a fit of temper? How might I recognize it in myself and appreciate its proper expression? To call myself forward. To decry real injustice. To engage someone else in an idea that excites me. To say, for example, that I care enough about something to speak up—fiercely.

Inner & Outer Roles

In Realtionship, Uncategorized on August 18, 2009 at 3:24 pm

At the Center for Right Relationship, we talk about Outer and Inner Roles as essential structures in relationship. The former describes an executive function and usually has a job description: CEO, Mother, Piano Tuner. The latter refers to the emotional functions in relationship: nurturer, initiator, peace-maker.

Recently I was doing some work around my own Inner Roles with a colleague. At supper, I’d described a way in which I am always accommodating in relationship. This is so natural to me, I rarely notice it is happening, until I begin to feel ripped off somehow, as though I never quite get my turn. It simply doesn’t occur to me to say what I want or even voice my opinion about a matter until so much tension has built up inside that I’m making a speech with wild gestures in the restaurant. Sometimes on an unrelated topic.

Or I walk away dissatisfied because I never said what was on my mind.

This role can make me tired.

So I began to play with other roles, less familiar to me, and came up with The One Who Claims Things for Himself. The gesture I came up with to express that had me step forward and reach out to grab something in front of me. There was a fierceness about the gesture that I found invigorating.

My colleague had me go back to explore the gesture of accommodation, and I came up with hands moving out from the heart, and then I bowed. When I slowed it down, I discovered a great deal of generosity and honoring in it. Not all bad, this accommodation, but too much too often, and I grow bone weary and resentful.

Then it occurred to me to combine the two gestures: the one of claming and the one of accommodation, and in doing so, I found out something about sinking in to scoop it up (attention, new ideas, acknowledgement) and draw it into my heart. It was out of this new energy that I could then offer to others. A workable compromise.

Some of the people we passed on the way back to my colleague’s hotel gave us curious looks, for I kept sinking and scooping and filling my heart and then opening it to offer the World.

But what of the fierceness that I found so invigorating?

In what way does that want to be given expression in my relationships?