Generating ideas, connections, and action

Deep Secrets, Dark Places


Did that title pique your interest?  It got my attention when it was offered as a session during open space at the Leadership Learning Community’s first national meeting, Creating Space.  You may have heard the story of that session already, because it was one of those definitive moments in LLC history, one that helped to create an ethos of openness, the word that rose to the top when many of you responded to the question about our secret sauce.

So back to open space…there were lots of great topics, I was also drawn to “Leadership Work/Life Balance” but I was intrigued and could not resist, Deep Secrets, Dark Places.  The session was called by one of LLC’s early board members and a program officer at a foundation funding a leadership program.  The conversation was instantly provocative.  He talked about the dilemma of roles.   He described a familiar situation, “as the staff of leadership programs we often encourage participants to be incredibly vulnerable, sharing deeply personal parts of themselves while we maintain a professional boundary that creates awkwardness and separation.”  The conversation was deep, challenging and …then I had to leave for a check in with the facilitators. 

I was eager for Open Space report-outs and to learn more about where the conversation had gone.  The Deep Secrets, Dark Places group was up next but I didn’t seem them anywhere.  Suddenly the back doors opened and the group slowly trudged in single file and bent over as if they were weary with heavy burdens.  The room got quieter and quieter.  As the solemn line filed by I saw that each person had a large paper cross pinned to their back on which they had written their dark secret.  I read as they passed, “I don’t know what I am doing," “I lie to funders," “I am wearing golden handcuffs," “I am scared,” “I am pissed off but I play the part of the happy go lucky Latino."  Very quietly, the line of people, still stooped over with the burden of their secrets, formed a circle.  In unison, they reached behind their necks to unpin and lift the crosses from their backs.  As they laid their crosses in the circle they had created, they stood up straight and with a barely audible collective sigh reached their arms out over their heads and smiled at each other.

Something shifted in the room and in our community.  The Deep Secrets, Dark Places group had the courage to unburden themselves of their secrets and their roles and modeled for all of us the power of connecting in a more authentic and meaningful way.


Image by: clogozm