Every member of my immediate family has different dietary needs. For many reasons, and for several years now, we tend to do our own thing at mealtime, especially breakfast. My husband eats oatmeal and fruit, one son eats a plate of eggs, another son eats a bowl of cereal, and I, the lover of variety, change it up every day, with a cup of half-caff coffee nearby. There is one exception to this: every once in a while, on a slow weekend morning, I will make homemade biscuits with ingredients that suit everyone’s food choices. While what we sandwich between the top and bottom layers might look a little different, on those mornings, we all eat biscuits.
I’ve made a particular biscuit recipe so many times that I have memorized the ingredients, measurements, and process, and the last time I made it was no different. I made the dough, cut the circular shapes, and placed them on a baking sheet to put in the oven.
When the smell from the kitchen screamed that baking time was complete, I pulled the tray out of the oven and when I set it on the counter, I noticed that the biscuits looked different. My husband and kids came, prepared theirs, and scarfed them down so fast they did not notice what I did: The biscuits were flat. I took one, split it open, topped it with jelly, and took a bite. It was good, but it was dense. Call me picky, but the only biscuit worth making is one that is light and fluffy.
I pulled up the recipe, looking for where I went wrong, what I missed. My scrolling glance through the ingredients and the processes stopped at the end where I found my oversight: “Place the biscuits beside each other so they’re touching.” Instead of crowding the dough rounds together like a fun party, I had placed them far apart, as if following social distancing rules. I had forgotten that part of what makes biscuit dough rise evenly is that it has something to hold onto.
Pardon me for comparing humans to lumpy dough, but I must, because I think it’s a helpful image. We grow better when we grow together. We rise more easily, more evenly, when we have support. It's why so many bible studies are done in groups, why mom groups are so popular, and why group coaching and leadership development is a thriving field. As a CEO, my most rapid and meaningful growth has been when I’ve sorted through my challenges in a cohort of other leaders. Three important things happen in those circles:
First, we see and experience that we are not alone. Leadership, particularly in executive or entrepreneurial roles, can be incredibly isolating. Already complex problems can appear larger than they are and almost impossible to solve when we stare at them by ourselves. When we look at them with a partner, they become smaller by comparison. When we know we're neither the first nor the only person to have ever faced this giant, we stand taller.
Second, we learn from other’s mistakes and accomplishments. Anyone with an older sibling knows of what I speak. When we witness how others handled a crisis or communicated a hard decision, we see with much more clarity than we do with our own issues. Have you ever walked into someone else’s house and thought you would have placed the furniture differently, or appreciated the way they thought to arrange pictures on the wall? We can see the impact of other people’s decisions with greater clarity - whether to critique or compliment - which allows us to quickly apply lessons to our own circumstances.
Finally, we are given a soft place to land, a place to catch us when we fall hard and need to process, and a place to share and experience affirmation when we succeed. When we can process our mistakes, make sense of our path, and acknowledge our wins in a safe environment, we reinforce the learning that happens through it all, and we grow.
During this pandemic, many of you may be missing the benefits of a trusted cohort of thoughtful leaders. If that describes you or someone you know, I invite you to check out Circle Up, a new group coaching program I'm offering in the new year. I will host a small and carefully curated group of leaders like you for after-hours virtual meetings once each month, for ninety minutes. We’ll unpack a leadership topic and share experiences to teach, support, and encourage one another.
We grow better when we grow together.
This might be the best gift you give yourself in 2021. That, or a really good biscuit.