In the Native American tradition there is the "vision quest." In pre-modern times (and even today, in some more traditional cultures), upon reaching a certain age the young men of a band or tribe would venture into the wilderness with no food or water to survive until hunger and isolation brought them a hallucinatory vision. They would then return to the tribe and share what they had learned. It was a fundamental rite of passage. In today's oft-disconnected society, this tradition has been reintroduced for modern males. Men's groups around the country engage in multi-day vision quests that are often led by counselors or spiritual leaders. Such pursuits may smack of trendy pseudo-spirituality, but they actually address serious needs of busy, troubled men: grief, purpose, reflection and the desire for connection to a tribe that extends beyond Facebook. When such modern-day vision questers venture out into the wild, one of the first things they do is create a "sacred space" where they camp or meditate. The space is usually marked by stones, a talking stick or some other talismans and frequently blessed by the leader using shamanic language from Native American culture. None of these things changes the physical nature of the dirt, rocks or trees in the sacred space. What they do is create a psychological and emotional zone of safety in which men can open up, drop their armor and be their vulnerable, authentic selves without fear of judgment. I ask you, could there be a more accurate description of the Wise Leader's role in an organization? I analogize the leader's role with that of the shaman, the keeper of the tribal story. It's his or her job to create that sacred circle-the space of safety and truth-by virtue of his or her presence, acting from a clear stream with thoughtful responses to triggering events, and reducing the distracting noise for his or her people. In such a space, the other members of the organization are free to be their true selves-to pursue their own visions for what they and the organization can be - and to perform to the fullest extent of their capabilities. When the wise leader creates that ethos and climate, any level of performance is possible. Isn't that what we're all looking to attain?
2010 was a banner year for Foster's work in developing high-performing teams... literally.