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Reflections on Working Out Loud:  Getting started

Reflections on Working Out Loud:  Getting started

by Moyra Mackie on June 11, 2016

“It’s as if we’re teenage boys who want to ask a girl for a dance.  There are no guarantees she’ll say “yes” but we won’t know unless we try…”

So began our check in on Week Two in my Working Out Loud Circle.

It seems that we might not have been teens at the school disco this past couple of weeks, but we’ve certainly been dancing with our inner critic to the tunes of vulnerability and risk.

For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, a Working Out Loud Circle is a guided, structured process developed by John Stepper. It’s a peer support group of four or five people which meets for an hour a week for 12 weeks to address these questions:

  • What am I trying to do?
  • Who is related to my goal?
  • How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?

Simon Terry explains more in his WOL Week posts:

“Working out loud should be directed to some end.  Working out loud cannot be a random broadcast of activity. We share our work visibly and narrate our work so that others can benefit, whether through a greater understanding of our work, through opportunities to collaborate or have input or through learning about the process we take when we work.

Working out loud challenges us to think of the role these networks play in our work and the role that we play in our networks….[it] does not demand that we engage the whole world all day. Working Out Loud asks that we share with those in our networks for whom our work matters in a meaningful way.”

The power of structured purposeful discovery

I felt that three people I trusted and respected in my network – Lisa, Joy and Abigail – would all enjoy the process of being connected together and that we could all do with a structured way of thinking about our networks, our role in them and what we had to contribute.  So last month I asked them to create a circle with me.

Let’s meet the dancers (in Berlin, London and Kuala Lumpur)

First there’s me.  It’s not as if I haven’t been making my work visible or practising generosity.  I’ve been writing blog posts on leadership and coaching for two and a half years and sharing my thoughts and those of others across LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.  Although I felt awkward and self-conscious at first, I soon grew to enjoy the acts of Liking, Sharing and Commenting.  And connecting other people.  I love connecting other people.

There’s Lisa and Abigail, with long successful track records in HR in banking and law respectively. Both took the big step to leave the safety of corporate life for the riskier path of being independent change agents.  They’re looking for new ways to use their energy and experience to change the way organisations think about change, business development, innovation and leadership development.

Then there’s Joy who like Lisa, Abigail and me believes in making organisations meaningful, humane places. He works at the Global University of Islamic Finance, which wants to make its own particular dent in the universe.  He has a way with words and ideas and is looking for other ways to share what he is passionate about.

We all believed in this stuff; it was going to be fun!

This is what I have learnt so far:

Getting started is HARD

It’s that goal setting thing.  It seems simple.  Pick something we would like to discover or achieve and then identify ten people who might be relevant to this goal.  Those two things taken together seemed to induce doubt, confusion and vulnerability into our group of seemingly confident, entrepreneurial types.

Getting stuck can be a VERY useful lesson

Isabel de Clercq in her work has discovered that her circles also got stuck here so she thought creatively and starts with Week Two – making a contribution  – before circling back to the goal.

However, as a coach “stuckness” is the territory I work in.  When it gets hard, I  believe that instead of changing the rules, we should ask:

“What is it about this task that is causing me to react this way?”

For some of us it’s Imposter syndrome.  Who am I to believe I am allowed to have this kind of goal (or even worse – dream)?

For some of us it’s a fear of vulnerability. How can I have the courage to share this with other people and create a relationship list connected to this goal?

The temptation was to retreat from what seemed important, but challenging, to something easier and more recognisable as “business development.”

The tension between money and meaning

The other temptation was to be too vague, cloaking our goals in generalisations when we wanted to say:

“I’d like to earn consistently decent money for the work I do.”

I’m guessing that in larger organisations, people may well be more in search of meaning than money, whilst for those of us who have chosen to set up our own businesses we already have the meaning piece, now some money would be nice!

This is where my relationship list helped me in unexpected ways.  I discovered Chandler Bolt who helps people to write their own book; something that is key to my goal.  Chandler, like John Stepper, talks about purpose; finding our “why”:

“Most of us have a monetary motivation behind writing and publishing our first book.  There is nothing wrong with that. That being said, I encourage you to find one bigger reason, beyond money.  Writing a book for money alone is a shallow reason and just like writing a book on feelings alone, will rarely get you across the finish line.”

Generosity is not what we associate with networking

Week Two is all about generosity; how do we really feel about doing something for someone without any strings attached?

Let’s be honest, most networking advice centres around:  “be clear about what you want to achieve when you attend this event”.

Which gets translated as:  “How many people can I sell to?” 

In other words:

“What can I get out of this?”

Rather than:

“What can I offer?”

Small gifts can have a big impact

Our conversations in Week Two allowed us to see that generosity is about saying “thank you” to someone on our list, instead of just thinking it.  It is about offering information, introductions or visibility to others instead of seeking that for ourselves.

We discovered that the feeling of giving the gift was a reward in itself, and is helping us to let go of the anxiety about what the response will be.

What we have all gained

As John says in his TED talk, the world feels bigger yet less frightening.

We realise that we have been doing quite a bit of this connecting with generosity and narrating our work instinctively, yet the circle of shared accountability and support is helping us to:

  • practice unconditional generosity on a daily basis
  • procrastinate less and focus more
  • drown out the inner critic who wants to keep our world small
  • see how we can help each other by sharing our different skills
  • enjoy learning new habits and hearing different perspectives
  • dare to take constructive risks and connect more

John Stepper is a genuine change maker

He IS helping to change the way people talk to each other in their own organisations as well as how to make meaningful connections beyond them. We became friends through working out loud and I’d just like to tell him:

Thank you.


Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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