Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General of Canada, was interviewed by Aaron Wherry for the 14Jan 2008 Maclean’s magazine: Canadians Get Their Very Own Oprah (although I was disappointed to find the article about a leading Canadian woman a bit buried on the Maclean’s site) . In this article, she shared some of her strategies for not being distressed over early public commentary and concerns about her appropriateness for the role. I was so impressed by the “psychological rightness” and positivity of what she had to say that I wanted to share it with you. Here’s what she said:
…” “This is something that you have to learn at a very young age. And especially when you are different, okay? This is something that you have to learn pretty fast. What belongs to you and what doesn’t belong to you. What you can associate with and what you can’t associate with. It’s about keeping your own dignity. Being focused on the kind of vision that you share and what you want to achieve. What is essential and what isn’t. There are things that I cannot change in this country. This debate is not mine. It does not belong to me. I prefer to stay outside the debate and this position is exactly that. You stay outside politics. And you represent a moral authority.”
Never mind how unnatural this is: to place oneself between the competing forces of servitude and leadership. “I think the difficult part of this was, in my nature, I fight back. I think in a different position I would’ve fought back. I would’ve answered back. In my position as Governor General I couldn’t. I couldn’t. Because it was not appropriate for me to jump into the arena, become part of the noise,” she says. “I sit outside the noise.”
This is a great deal of wisdom here for any woman entering the current style of politics. Here are the main themes as I see them:
1) Learn what belongs to you and what doesn’t belong to you. What you can associate with and what you can’t associate with.
This is critical for anyone entering the public eye. People seeing you will project all sorts of their own Stuff onto you. Some of it may relate to you in a relevant way, some may be a reflection of your own Stuff, but much of it will not be relevant or related to you. So let it go by, from an emotional perspective. Don’t let it become something you wonder about and fret about and feel you must defend yourself about.
2) It’s about keeping your own dignity.
If you have a clear vision of who you are, what’s important, and a comfort with yourself, you’ll find you don’t need to respond to every criticism and jab — neither externally back to them nor internally by fretting about it. If you do want to respond, does the way in which you plan to respond maintain your own dignity? Does it convey a message that matches your own view of who and how you want to be?
3) Being focused on the kind of vision that you share and what you want to achieve. And on what is essential and what isn’t.
And this is how you can let their Stuff go by. Does what they are saying have a bearing on your vision and your goals? Would acknowledging and responding to it help you keep centred on what you are wanting to achieve? Does the way in which you plan to respond bring the debate back to what you want to be in the centre of the issues?
4) You stay outside politics.
Governor-General Jean said this in light of her role as a representative of the Queen, and thus outside of the thick of Parliamentary debates. But I still think it’s good advice to be able to stay centred and focused on more positive way of living politics. If you can avoid getting caught up in the intrigue, the messiness, the “plots” of ordinary politics as it has (de-)evolved, you will find yourself less stressed, less tempted to compromise who you want to be and how you want to work, and more able to be a role model for a different way of doing way of doing things.
And, to the degree that these debates aren’t relevant to your vision, your mission, your responsibilities, they aren’t yours and you needn’t feel obligated to become involved with debates that aren’t yours. (see #1)
5) Place oneself between the competing forces of servitude and leadership.
I believe this is the biggest challenge and the biggest payoff in terms of psychologically surviving the political world. It’s the summary of being a political representative, isn’t it? The responsibility to be a Servant Leader. To recognize that your constituents have “hired” you to do a job for them — to be their voice and their collective thought in the way we live together as a larger Community (whether that’s Canada, a province, a city, a school region). You need to feel yourself poised between sharing the information they need to understand the recommended actions you propose or took and in sharing their insights and opinions and concerns to the political process of creating our collective ways of doing things. You are a Servant in so far as you have volunteered to convey their voices to the decision-making parties. You are a Leader in so far as you help to create those decisions and educate your constituents about why the decisions make sense. Michaëlle Jean again says it brilliantly: “It’s not about me. It’s about them.”
If you get caught up in Other People’s Stuff, especially if you personally are the target of that Stuff, it distracts and detracts from your ability to fulfil those two roles. It lets it become about you instead of about the people you are serving.
In the past, I often had to work with individuals with severe brain injuries that made it difficult for some of them to control their behaviour and words. They could be personally attacking (physically or verbally), demeaning, or just rude. It didn’t matter. I had to stay focused on what they needed from me as a psychologist and not get worried by whether they had hurt my feelings or whether an attack on me was personal or because I was a woman or even whether they were right about a personally derogatory comment. It didn’t matter to the bigger picture of what I was there to do.
6) Sit outside the noise.
I love this image. And I suspect it could be a useful image to actually use for re-balancing and re-centreing in the midst of “political noise”. Imagine yourself sitting in a bubble of calm and peace and quiet. Re-connect to yourself and to the excitement of why you wanted to enter politics in the first place, the hope and satisfaction of helping your constituents, and allow yourself to feel that in your heart. Bathe in that sensation as much as necessary to let the noise recede and become less and less important. Then keep that bubble around you when you go back into the World. Move within that bubble as much as possible and take a couple minutes to re-capture it if it disappears temporarily. You may even want to create a kind of “portfolio” for yourself of cards and letters and other evidence that you have been on track and achieving even small steps in your Servant Leadership role as a politician.
There is an actual technique I teach to my clients called “heart coherence” that helps to achieve this kind of stillness within the noise and it really does work to help you keep more balanced, more satisfied, and less anxious about what happens “out there”. I’m happy to share it with you, if you feel it would be useful for you.
There’s even more in the article itself — please do go and read about how an amazing woman fulfills her governmental role. Here’s one last quote that I think sums it up:
“I think really working on reasons to believe and to hope in humanity’s possibilities is something that inspires me a lot. … I believe in the power of ideas. I believe in empowering people. I like people. And I love connecting. It’s a communion of ideas. Of values. Of ideals. And it’s magic. And people crave for that.”
So — there’s what I extracted from Michaëlle Jean’s comments — how about you? What resonates with you from what she shared?