Janice and her team had just finished up a weekend intensive with Jonathan. Most of their conversation had been around the way Janice’s team were showing up in terms of their leadership, identifying what was in the way, how they were creating themselves as victims rather than leaders, and shining the ugly lights on the truth.
It had been an intense conversation, with a lot of arguing, at times some yelling, but on the other side of it, it almost felt miraculous to Janice what had been created. She really felt in her heart like they had turned a corner. Tony, who had been closed, cynical and argumentative for as long as she could remember, had felt more open than she could ever remember experiencing him. She knew more about the inner workings of each of her executive team, and felt more connected with them, than had ever been the case on any of the teams she had worked with.
Janice genuinely felt excited about the prospect of taking on the next quarter — something she hadn’t felt for at least the last five years of her working as COO for her company.
Janice had asked Jonathan if he’d be up to join her for dinner as she had some things showing up in her life and was hoping to pick his brain a little bit. Jonathan, with his usual warmth, had smiled and shared that he would be delighted to have dinner with her.
Once Janice and Jonathan had sat down to a well-deserved drink and placed their orders, Janice began excitedly talking about the shifts she’d seen in the team.
“I’m really excited! I don’t think I’ve actually felt that there was anything truly possible for our group before today. I was approaching all of this work from a remedial place. Like, if we could just tighten the bolts on my CFO’s neck, we’d start working properly and then we’d be all handled. After our conversation, I feel like I’m operating in a different dimension entirely. It really feels like things can go differently.”
Jonathan swirled his scotch around in his glass and smiled at Janice while he listened to her.
Janice felt herself get emotional as she continued to share. “I really don’t know how I can thank you enough Jonathan. It’s like … before you and I met, I was considering changing careers, winding down our company, possibly even just retiring for good. The work we’ve been doing with our team has reminded me that I love people, and that’s why I got into this line of work. Before that I had honestly convinced myself I hated them. Somewhere along the line, it’s like I forgot who I am.”
Jonathan looked emotional too — Janice’s words were clearly having an impact on him.
“Janice, that is so beautiful to hear. I want you to understand how much what you just said matters to me. If a single person can remember how much they care about the people around them, and start to open their heart and create more of that in the world…”
Jonathan took a deep breath and fell silent, neglecting to wipe away the tears that fell down his face. He looked Janice in the eyes and smiled with gratitude.
Janice was present to how big the heart of the man in front of her was. She was surprised to realize how much she loved Jonathan, which was a new experience for her. Janice had always experienced love as enmeshed with sexual energy, and consequently, held it at bay around people like Jonathan. She didn’t want to get the lines crossed and start to sexualize someone she respected so much.
But Janice felt a different kind of love for Jonathan. For the first time since she could remember, she realized her love was free of any kind of sexual energy. Janice just genuinely adored who this man in front of her was committed to being — for himself, for herself, for others, for the planet.
Janice sat in the silence with Jonathan for a moment, wanting to honour how tender he felt, and noticing a desire to take care of him in this moment. Instead, she practiced what they had talked about earlier this weekend, trusting that he didn’t need taking care of, and would ask for support if that wasn’t the case.
A thought suddenly occurred to Janice.
“Wow, Jonathan… Your work must be so incredibly rewarding. That you get to have these kinds of conversations with people all the time, and support us to experience life this way… and to do the same yourself.” Janice paused for a moment while she thought about it, “Wow. That must be incredible.”
Janice looked Jonathan in the eyes again, and was caught off guard to see tears again but accompanied with the feeling of pain alongside his usual warmth.
Jonathan shared, “It really is Janice — it’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever had the privilege to do. But it isn’t free. This work really takes a toll on you; it comes with a significant cost.”
Janice thought she knew what Jonathan meant — he’d been working weekends with her, and he seemed to take calls from her whenever she reached out. It seemed like there was never a moment when he wasn’t available for her, if not physically, then certainly energetically.
But that wasn’t what Jonathan spoke to.
“May I share?” Jonathan asked, with his characteristic consideration.
Janice was honoured and her curiosity was piqued. “Yes, please do!”
Jonathan continued, “While I was working with your team this weekend, I received e-mails from two different people, one chewing me out for what I’d said, and another swearing off our relationship for good.”
Janice was shocked. She couldn’t imagine someone feeling this way about Jonathan — his intentions and love felt so clear to her.
Jonathan nodded and seemed to read her thoughts.
“You’re thinking ‘How could anyone think or feel that way?’ — something like that?”
“Yah.” Jonathan smiled wistfully, “But you and I are on the other side of this weekend. Imagine how that weekend might feel to someone that hasn’t fully bought into the work we’re doing. Imagine how it might feel to someone whose trust I haven’t yet fully earned. They’re going to have a much different experience of the work we were doing this weekend, aren’t they?”
Janice thought about this. She remembered a moment during the weekend where she had distinctly contemplated lancing her fountain pen directly through Jonathan’s forehead, and laughed. With her laughter came some understanding though. The only thing that had carried her through had been the relationship she and Jonathan had built up to that point. Somewhere, she’d been willing to trust him enough to listen to him past her reaction. It had been one of the most challenging, and in the end, most rewarding, parts of the weekend.
Jonathan caught notice of what was going on for Janice and laughed, “The fountain pen right? I felt you contemplating that. I just wasn’t sure whether it was my forehead or my throat that was going to get the javelin.”
They laughed together, before falling back to a peaceful silence. The jazz music in the restaurant played in the background, playing a funky and melancholy tune that seemed perfect for the conversation.
Jonathan carried on, “Now add to those situations the places where I’m not as artful as I’d like to be. Places where I’m working with someone and on the skinny branches myself. Places where I may get tangled up, or scared, or judgmental, or any of the other very human characteristics I share with everyone else.”
“Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I make messes.” Jonathan looked at Janice before continuing. “And sometimes, even when I do everything perfectly, people are people, they get scared, angry, overwhelmed, frustrated, hurt and, ultimately, resistant to what’s next, and that gets put on me.”
Jonathan had always felt so spot-on to Janice, it was hard for her to imagine him making messes or not having things handled. She shared as much with him.
“Surely that happens only rarely though! You seem to have things so well handled. You always seem to be on top of things.”
Jonathan laughed and responded, “Ha, I wish. If I was only ever playing there, I wouldn’t really be modelling leadership, would I? Janice, the truth is, I’m scared regularly in the conversations I’m in. I didn’t know how this weekend was going to go. I was terrified of Tony.”
Jonathan paused and looked at Janice. “But the thing is, I’m committed to something more than my fear. My job isn’t to have everything handled. It’s to practice my best art, take a look when I make messes, and do my best to clean them up. If I want to support people to be leaders, my work is to model what it looks like to be a leader.”
Jonathan fell quiet again.
Janice picked up the thread, asking, “So… How do you deal with that? Do you just stay impervious and wear teflon and make sure you don’t get that on you?”
Jonathan smiled again, ruefully, “Actually it’s the opposite. That’s what I used to do. Be impervious, don’t let anything land on me. Don’t wear any of it. My mantra was basically ‘That’s all of your stuff and I don’t need to look at it.’ I was completely safe and the world was unable to impact me.”
He looked Janice in the eyes.
“And that’s why I was unable to impact the world. I was perfectly protected from it, but also, unable to make any real kind of difference.”
Janice’s eyes widened just a little.
“That’s what makes this work so hard. Now, when people show up that way, my job is to keep my heart open, and let them impact me. Do my best to empathize with them, and really feel the pain that they are in, without letting their reaction to that pain completely destroy me.”
The impact of what Jonathan was saying washed over Janice. She had thought his work was about having powerful conversations and saying the difficult thing to people. In this moment, she was getting a sense of just how much was going on underneath the scenes for Jonathan. Tears started to well up in her eyes as she understood who he was committed to being for her team, and the world.
Janice said softly, “Oh… wow. Jonathan. I’m so sorry.”
Jonathan looked at her with love and smiled, “Thank you.”