In my first professional life, I was a singer and voice teacher in New York City. My singers appeared regularly in leading roles in many of the major opera houses of the world and on Broadway. Performing and teaching singers at that level was great preparation for my work in Transformational Presence. The process of creating art in any form is a great metaphor for life.
One of the things I used to say frequently to my singers was, “You do your work, and then you sing.” In other words, you build your technique, you learn the music, you sing the role or the song over and over until it has become a part of you and you of it, you rehearse with your colleagues. Then you walk out on stage, surrender to the power of the music, and sing. If you have truly done your work, your technical foundation and preparation will support you. What happens in the moment becomes a co-creation between the singer, the composer, the conductor and orchestra, the audience, and that moment in time. And sometimes, it feels like magic. Something incredible happens. Art happens.
The same axiom is true in my work now. “You do your work, and then you speak.” I have learned that I will be my best when I prepare thoroughly and then just walk out on the stage and speak my heart. No script. Perhaps a few note cards or a few PowerPoint slides, but that’s it. I have to trust that whatever is to be said in that moment will come through, whether it is in a coaching session, a workshop for 20 people, or a lecture for five hundred people. What happens will be a co-creation between the topic, the audience, the moment, and me. Without fail, I will hear myself say things that I didn’t know that I knew, or I will connect ideas in ways I never have before. That co-creation can happen when we have done our work and then trust and surrender to what wants to happen in that moment for the benefit of all.
When I was first training as an actor, late in every rehearsal process, my teachers consistently advised that we let go of everything we’d rehearsed and just show up. “You’ve done your work,” they’d say. “Now, let it go and trust.” Many years later when I was directing plays and teaching actors I gave the same advice. “Let go and trust. You’ve done your work. All that remains is to be present.”
From the teacher/director seat, the moment of letting go is palpable. You can literally see and feel the phase in the process when an actor needs to let go of their work to come alive. They need to get out of their own way. They need to get out of their head and give all of their focus to the relationships on the stage. The work moves from the head to the body. It is this last step that transforms their study to a living pursuit. Forgetting the work creates spaciousness and allows the art to happen. Art is always about relationship and great art happens when the relationship is clear and expansive enough for all comers.
Leadership – indeed, life – is an ongoing and never-ending journey. If we are committed to living into our greatest potential, we are always learning and growing. We are always “doing our work.” Yet when the “performance” moment arrives, whether that is leading a meeting, or sitting with a client, or standing in front of a large audience, it’s time to let all of that preparation go, trust, and surrender. And afterwards, we continue “doing our work” until the next time.
P.S. Being fully present in the moment is an important step towards being able to let go and trust. If this is something you want to learn more about, take a few minutes to watch this short introductory coaching sampler from our video library. In just 7 minutes, you can experience the “Breathing Into the Moment” exercise and learn a simple exercise that you can do every day.
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