The Courage to Hold Tension in Life-Giving Ways


Today I am honored to host a guest post from author Shelly L. Francis, who is celebrating the release of her new book this week, The Courage Way

We engage in creative tension-holding every day in every dimension of our lives, seeking and finding patches of common ground.
 We do it with our partners, our children, and our friends as we work to keep our relationships healthy and whole. We do it in the workplace—in nonprofits and business and industry—as we come together to solve practical problems.  —Parker J. Palmer


As the only female manager in her department of a metropolitan county government, Jill was in charge of janitorial, landscaping, and sustainability services. That meant, in part, that she had to supervise union workers who had had a difficult history with the person in the manager’s role before Jill.


Jill knew that her predecessor had not been well liked, but now the union reps’ accounts of his tyrannical behavior revealed how bad it had been and how it had damaged relations between management and staff. Her open, honest questions allowed her to understand the situation and opened a space for her to speak from her heart and share her hopes that together they could create a workplace that would be respectful of everyone.


“I’m really new to this,” she said to the union group. “I’ve never managed in a union environment. But I don’t see any reason why we can’t talk things through. Why are we at odds when we are basically on the same side?”


Jill also extended an invitation to regard her in a fresh light: “I may do something that you really disagree with. It may be really stupid. What you have to understand is, I may not know. It’s not like I’m intentionally out to get you; it’s that I probably don’t know any better. Just come tell me; just let me know.”


Her humble stance took them off guard. They were more used to the confrontational power play voiced as “Look, I’m management and you’re not.” Within the first six months, the confrontational attitudes dissipated; relations between the union and her department were measurably improved, and stayed that way during Jill’s tenure.


“That invitation to come and talk to me instead of going to upper management really made a big difference. They educated me, and I was really open to being educated. If you’re speaking from your heart, then people open up to you more. They’re willing to have that conversation with you, because they recognize that you’re not speaking from a point of manipulation or a point of power.”


Jill recognized that each person’s inner resources should be acknowledged, honored, and cultivated. Besides asking open, honest questions, Jill was intentional about applying the “no fixing” touchstone as much as possible and encouraged her supervisors to come up with solutions to their problems.


“The deep listening without judgment is what really opens your heart to people who are different than you. Also, not thinking you have to have the answers for everybody else is import- ant. As you move up the org chart, or the hierarchy in work, you assume—and people assume—that you’re above them for some reason, because you know more than they do. The reality is you really don’t. Sometimes you have to take everything into consideration and make a hard decision, but it’s good to have the humility to understand that you don’t necessarily know better. Just because you’re the manager doesn’t mean that you know everything. You don’t have to know everything. Going into it with that humility is really helpful.”



About Shelly L. Francis

Shelly L. Francis has been the marketing and communications director at the Center for Courage & Renewal since mid-2012. Before coming to the Center, Shelly directed trade marketing and publicity for multi-media publisher Sounds True, Inc. Her career has spanned international program management, web design, corporate communications, trade journals, and software manuals.


The common thread throughout her career has been bringing to light best-kept secrets — technology, services, resources, ideas — while bringing people together to facilitate collective impact and good work. Her latest book The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity identifies key ingredients needed to cultivate courage in personal and professional aspects of life.


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