There is a story from the Middle East, of a man who left to his three sons, 17 camels.
To the first son, he left half the camels; to the second son, he left a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he left a ninth of the camels.
The three sons got into a negotiation — 17 doesn’t divide by two. It doesn’t divide by three. It doesn’t divide by nine. Brotherly tempers started to get strained. Finally, in desperation, they went and they consulted a wise old woman.
The wise old woman thought about their problem for a long time, and finally she came back and said, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but at least, if you want, you can have my camel.” So then, they had 18 camels.
The first son took his half–half of 18 is nine. The second son took his third — a third of 18 is six. The youngest son took his ninth — a ninth of 18 is two. You get 17. They had one camel left over. They gave it back to the wise old woman.
The story illustrates that we can, if so minded, choose to see conflict as an opportunity to harmonise and transform conflict into cooperation.
At the same time, it also illustrates the importance of how we ‘use ourselves’ in leadership practice.
How we choose to apply ourselves in a situation can’t not have an influence on team chemistry and performance of the collective unit of which we are part. We are wired to connect and as Dr Dan Siegel and others have shown, we each play a significant role in how experience unfolds as we co-create it with others.
As we enter into a situation, our intention is usually positive. We seek to be a creative catalyst, to be a rising tide where striving together with others achieves a meaningful outcome and – usually – the accomplishment of a collective goal.
We accomplish this through becoming completely present to our context, aware of ourselves, others and the system we are in. Our presence and the self-awareness that accompanies it, enables us to choose precisely how and when to extend ourselves rather than contracting or becoming rigid.
Through extension, it is possible to arrive at creative solutions that navigate a constructive path through what once seemed to be one or more intractable problems.
Extension of self takes less exertion than we might think. With the lightest of touches, we are able to blend with, rather than push against, the energies presented in a given context.
It is an invisible touch.
Much like the catalyst in a chemical reaction, we are unchanged by the experience but an undeniable transformative experience has occurred as greater rapport and harmony replace the tension of conflict.
I wonder then, with all the uncertainty and challenges we face in our collectives, how we might choose to extend ourselves in creative ways today to make better and potentially faster progress?