Six Sigma and more: If you want Six Sigma to thrive, learn to be an angel!

David SchwinnThis month’s column reflects on Angeles Arrien.

Angeles Arrien passed away on April 24, 2014. From her website:

Angeles Arrien, Ph.D. is a cultural anthropologist, award-winning author, educator, and consultant to many organizations and businesses. She lectures and conducts workshops worldwide, bridging cultural anthropology, psychology, and comparative religions. Her work is currently used in medical, academic, and corporate environments. She is the President of the Foundation for Cross-Cultural Education and Research. Her books have been translated into thirteen languages and she has received three honorary doctorate degrees in recognition of her work.

Angeles’ books include The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary; Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them, (Winner of the 1993 Benjamin Franklin Award); and The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom, (Winner of the 2007 Nautilus Award for Best Book on Aging). Her recent book, Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life is a Gold Medal Co-Winner of the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY Award) in the category of Inspiration & Spirituality.

For those who do not know Angie and her work, let me give you a personal perspective. My wife, Carole, and I, were involved as part of the learning inquiry team with the Fetzer Institute’s Fellows and Scholars Program beginning in 1998. Although the formal program expired in 2001, the community has continued to stay connected because of the deep attachments among us that resulted from the program. In addition to what you have read above, Angie came to the community with a wealth of experience in helping groups with multicultural issues, mediation, and conflict resolution all around the globe. Her role in our community was as facilitator of the program’s seminar series. Although by that time in our lives we were used to masterful facilitators, Angie was among the best. But there is more to the story.

We had a sense that Angie was providing some individual counseling and support to some of the Fellows and Scholars beyond what we observed in the large community gatherings. In our last gathering, only weeks before Angie died, we learned much more. Although we were never separate from the community, Angie, Carole, and I usually took on our specific roles in the circle at previous gatherings. We noticed that at this last gathering, we all became more fully part of the circle. Carole and I experienced firsthand what so many others of the community had experienced on an ongoing basis over the years. Upon understanding a bit about the nature of the book Carole and I are undertaking, she first publicly acknowledged and celebrated the nature of our work. She then both publically and privately strongly urged us to be sure that we publish through the best publisher available. She finally offered help with the publisher to make it all happen. In retrospect, we then more fully understood the individual counseling and support that Angie had been providing to those many Fellow and Scholars over the years since 1989. That is the work of an angel!

What she did was first facilitate the work of the group, then see the light within each and every individual within the group, name the light, and nurture the light. If your job is to make Six Sigma thrive, your job, among other things, is to be an angel! Let me be more specific.

You work with teams and probably with executives, sometimes as individuals. You must first be a facilitator by:

  • Creating an environment in which everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Paraphrasing or simply repeating and recording that voice so that the speaker knows that he or she has been heard.
  • Find the common themes.
  • Ask the group to determine how to do something positive with those themes toward our goal of continual improvement.

Then, I encourage you to continue your journey toward angel status by:

  • Seeing everyone’s light;
  • Publically naming it;
  • Nurturing it so that it will glow ever more brightly and everlastingly.

If you are already an angel, I applaud you. If you, like me, are still on the journey, keep up the good work. The people who you serve and who serve you will appreciate it.

As always, I treasure your comments and questions.