Parting the Curtain

The writer Eudora Welty could have been speaking about Forum when she wrote:

My wish, my continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.

May you continue in your Forum to “part the curtain,” sharing your toughest challenges and highest aspirations with each other.

Bob Halperin

When a Forum works (and doesn’t)

Seth Godin recently blogged about when a conference works (and doesn’t).  With apologies to Seth, it struck me that with a few changes, his words also apply to our Forum meetings.

When we get together with others at a Forum meeting, it either works, or it doesn’t. For me, it works:

…If everything is on the line, if in any given moment, someone is going to say or do something that might just change everything. Something that happens in the moment and can’t possibly be the same if you hear about it later. It might even be you who speaks up, stands up and makes a difference. (At most other meetings and events, you can predict precisely what’s going to be said, and by whom). In the digital age, if I can get the notes or the video later, I will.

…If there’s vulnerability and openness and connection. If it’s likely you’ll connect with someone (or many someones) that will stick with you for years to come, who will share their dreams and their fears while they listen to and understand yours. (At most other meetings, people are on high alert, clenched and protective. Like a cocktail party where no one is drinking.)

…If there’s support. If the people you meet have high expectations for you and your work and your mission, but even better, if they give you a foundation and support to go even further. (At most other events and meetings, competitiveness born from insecurity trumps mutual support.)

…If it’s part of a movement. If every Forum meeting is a building block on the way to something important, and if the members are part of a tribe that goes beyond demographics or professional affiliation. (At most events, it’s just the next event).

The first law of screenwriting is that the hero of a great movie is transformed during the arc of the story. That’s the goal of a great Forum meeting, as well. But it’s difficult indeed, because there are so many heroes, all thinking they have too much to lose.

Bob Halperin

Moral Humility and Your Forum

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria has spoken eloquently about the need for executives to cultivate a sense of “moral humility.” (See his TEDx talk here)

What gets managers into trouble isn’t that that they lack knowledge of what’s right and wrong or that they have not had enough ethical training.  Instead, they go off course because of “moral arrogance.”  They think to themselves “I would never do what Jeff Skilling or Rajat Gupta or Dennis Kozlowski did.” They believe that they know better, that they would never succumb to the pressures that have lured other successful executives.

Where does your Forum come into this equation?  Forum is the confidential, safe place where you can talk about tough moral quandaries, about choosing between right and wrong, or even choosing between right and right, situations in which some stakeholders will gain and some will lose.  These are often issues that are difficult, if not impossible, to discuss with your boss, peers, or subordinates.  And close family members may not understand the business context or pressures you are facing at work.

The Wall Street Journal has written that “[business] schools should do more to ensure that the dialogue [about ethical behavior] develops into an ethical support structure after graduation.  Alumni often mention that the hardest decisions they make occur when job demands conflict with their values.  And, importantly, that they are isolated when making them.”

With Forum, you are not alone in making the toughest ethical decisions.  You have a place where you can learn from others’ experience and cultivate your personal sense of moral humility.

Bob Halperin