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On Life & Leadership: Check In Your Baggage

Got baggage? 10 years ago, a colleague took me aside after a leadership team and SHOUTED at me for suggesting an idea that touched too closely on their area of the business – without giving them a heads up first. 20 years ago, someone accidentally sent me a spreadsheet with everyone’s annual bonus listed – my boss’s was eye-watering. And mine looked measly. 40 years ago, ten-year-old me was pressured into lending twenty pence to Christian T, the class cool kid. He never gave it back. It still bothers me. To this day, I react strongly against peer pressure and cool kids! I still carry baggage about these events – and countless more. Luckily, with the passage of time, these events don’t weigh me down. But sometimes, your baggage can be heavy, and it can even contain ‘explosive devices’. I sometimes see teams weighed down by their collective baggage, and so I like to host a conversation with teams called Check in Your Baggage. Here’s how it works.

The idea We all carry baggage, and some of it can hold us back from feeling safe within teams. It might be baggage from something specific that has happened within this team; it might be general feelings that you have about your role in the team; it might be a hangover from previous teams you’ve been it. Sometimes, we need to check this baggage in, in order that we can make a greater contribution to the team, and feel valued. First step: identify the baggage you are carrying & how it affects your contribution to the team.

  • How do you feel about your membership of the team?

  • What you believe about your role in the team & the value you add?

  • How you show up to the team meetings? And how do you contribute to the team between meetings?

  • What’s holding you back from expressing yourself in the team?

Second step: decide whether you need to dispose, defuse or declare your baggage. Try and dispose first, defuse second – and declare can be your third option.

  1. Dispose. Choose to name your baggage and just let it go forever. Ask: what impact is this belief having? What would happen if I just let go of it? You might just be able to let go of it. To put it in the bin. Forever.

  2. Defuse. Do the work to reframe the baggage and change how you think about it, and how it affects you. This often requires doing some work, for which I recommend you take a look at Byron Katie’s exercise called - appropriately - Doing the Work.

  3. Declare. Declare your baggage to the group in a way which is constructive. For more on how to do this, I like the work of the Conscious Leadership Group on speaking unarguably.

The benefits This process is aiming for a team reset, to start to build a path forward where the team can feel safe and can bring their best without fear of being judged. Each individual gets to do the work on themselves, and also gets a chance to feel seen and heard. Notice that individuals get to own their own reactions and take responsibility for the feelings. There is no blame game or finger pointing here. And no victim mindset.

Sometimes you need an expert to help defuse As a veteran of hundreds of team workshops, I have learnt the good and the bad of hosting team conversations. Occasionally I have seen them go wrong, and I write about some of those in my book. But most often, they allow for a reset, they allow for aligning on expectations, and for being fully human within your team. Do be careful though. These kind of conversations usually benefit from experienced outside facilitation so people don’t throw grenades at each other. Back to my baggage. The mere act of writing my baggage down has helped me do the work to dispose and defuse those particular items. I can finally laugh about the twenty pence. And forgive the colleague who raised their voice. I hope you can do the same, and check in your baggage.


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