A Magical Alchemy

by Lori Hanau

In my last blog post I promised I would share some of the descriptors of valuing and cultivating our shared humanity while relating through roles, status and expertise as we do at Marlboro College Graduate School in the MBA program, Managing for Sustainability. What does it mean to value and cultivate our humanity with each other and how do we do that within an organization? For us within the Marlboro program, it has meant designing formal time within the school day to share and consciously build relationships with each other, learning about our personal worlds  and interests. We relate to the whole person, consciously acknowledging that we are much more than our formal roles and expertise. One place we do this is in Circle. At each three day Intensive, we spend 50 minutes sitting together.


Sitting in Circle is one experience of equality instead of hierarchical order. Hierarchy order in itself is not a negative; as I stated in my last post, organizational structure is essential to understanding the roles within a system. However, too often hierarchy does not allow for relating to each other as equals, which sets up great imbalances of power and status. In my experience, this diminishes the full potential of the group’s sense of trust, meaning and contributions. At Marlboro, we have found that relating as equal learning partners, as equals in our shared humanity and as equals in our responsibility for stewarding the group culture has been significant.

A part of our time in Circle is sharing appreciations. Someone may give gratitude to their team for the work they did on a project, but there is also just as much value placed on gratitude for one’s health, the generous act of a family member or the rideshare that took place so someone could get to school. As we listen to and sometimes even receive gratitude from each other, we build trust, empathy and care for each other. This cultivates a deeper sense of meaning and connection alongside some of the transactional activities of giving and getting an education that are so essential. This creates a more integrated environment of caring connected to transaction.



Another element of Circle is sharing announcements. We consciously state that in the intention of relating to the whole person – or valuing the whole of one’s life – along with the importance of school announcements to support our engagement, we encourage the sharing of personal news – a community award received, a race just won, a death of a family member, a wedding announcement.

Many of us have expressed surprise at how these simple ways of building relationship have supported us cutting through surface “chatter” with each other. It has taken us quite gracefully into our deeper, more authentic selves. The group environment is more genuine, more emotionally, even spiritually mature. One of the many ways this has manifested more positive output is the quality and success of our professional collaborations, along with building colleagueship.

In addition to the practices of Community Circle, we have stated assumptions that support us in relating to each other through our shared humanity. These assumptions help us to break through our conditioning which so often limits us to relating through roles, status and expertise. They are:

  1. We relate as equals in our shared humanity before roles, status and expertise.

  2. Together we are all equal learning partners, trusting our diversity is our great strength, not our weakness.

  3. We lead in a more whole way, building awareness and skills that have to do not only with our whole selves but ourselves as a part of a whole group and in relationship to the purpose of why we are together (our overall mission and purpose).

  4. We care to elevate any space, situation or group we find ourselves in.

  5. We are willing to be uncomfortable, to be open to breaking down our own conditioning in order to support individual and collective transformation into our most authentic, healthiest ways of being.

  6. We practice these ways of being in the now. These are not only intellectual concepts and exercises. These are ways of being and leading that we work to embody while teaching, learning and playing together. We show up in this mindset in all of our interactions.

It was from this foundation that three years ago we created our Community Norms:

We strive to be:

  • Authentic

  • Open Minded

  • Trustworthy & Trusting

  • The Change (we want to see in the world)

  • Mindful Communicators

  • Learning Partners

  • Courageous Leaders



As faculty, we decided to relate to ourselves as faculty partners instead of calling ourselves adjunct faculty – the term traditionally used with part time faculty. We made the commitment to show up to Circle if our class is scheduled within a couple of hours of Circle time. Circle is not mandatory but all staff, faculty and students know that if we want to break down or expand our hierarchical mindset, we would need to steward valuing and cultivating our humanity together. Individually and collectively, in the way of shared leadership, we own this way of being.

Lastly, we knew it couldn’t just be in Circle that we relate and behave this way. We knew we needed to imbue this consciousness throughout the coursework, class time, meetings  – in all that we do together. This is a part of what has created the magical feel of our cultural environment. It is what has many of us feel “the Camelot” of this too rare, preciously genuine, caring community that acts so steadily from respect, honesty, goodness and generosity. It is a part of what makes us so distinctive to other MBA programs. It is what has me heartened and so confident that this can be experienced in other organizational settings. We are made for this way of being with each other. It takes consciousness, good design and steady commitment held by the group. It creates real meaning and high quality productivity, a precious and powerful combination. A magical alchemy.