Where do we feel Incomplete? Moving into the Future through Completion

As a nation, as a community, what do we need to heal and move forward into the future? While we cannot give a simplistic answer, we may share a perspective: as we seek to shift systems, change work processes, revise policies, and move into action, we can do so mindfully and be complete with the past. For the purpose, the leadership practice of ‘completion’ can almost be a sacred one.

How can we get Unstuck?

‘Completion’, as shared by leadership practitioner Sharon Knoll, is different than ‘finished’, ‘over’ or ‘done with’.  To complete means to get back to ground zero.  Something which is complete is whole, integral and lacks no parts.  Knoll explains how ‘Everything you are stuck with you are stuck with, not because it happened, but because it is incomplete.  ‘Complete’ does not mean finished. People often ‘finish’ a project and leave a great number of items incomplete and a great number of lessons unlearned.’ I may finish a meeting but feel incomplete because I left without saying all that I had wished to. In the jargon of transformational management, this is to be complete with the past. Being complete shifts our relationship to the past. It enables us to create a new future.

Not practicing completion can leave relationships unresolved, at a personal, community, and, arguably, at a national level.

What would make completion a sacred duty? Perhaps, completing a communication, a meeting, a project can transform the communication, the meeting, the project from a mass of work, into an accomplishment upon which the future can be built.

Conversations and Actions for Completion allow for new things to emerge, and new work to be launched on a firm foundation without obstruction from previous events or projects.

Conversations that generate completion include apologizing, giving thanks, expressing upsets to be complete, sharing insights, reflecting, and sharing what has been learnt.

Practicing Completion in one’s Life

As of late, I have realized that there are areas in my life in which I have felt incomplete. Certain experiences may have been finished, but they are incomplete. To reiterate, ‘finished’ is a function of time, while complete is a function of being: things are finished when they are over. You are complete when you say you are.

Some actions I have taken to be more complete in my life have included:

  1. Speaking with an acquaintance I hadn’t spoken with for years, assuming we had a misunderstanding (I found out that there were no ill-feelings from his side),
  2. Returning items I had borrowed for a long time (I felt a sense of gratitude and relief from this action),
  3. Going through clutter and unopened boxes at home (and feeling the lightness of tidying and giving away items that took up physical, and mental, space. I have mental clarity that gives me a sense of peace now),
  4. Making quality time for family members, friends and neighbors (a matter I had felt guilty about during my busy past),
  5. Swiftly apologizing to others in instances in which I would have held back in the past (and witnessing how this action gets me closer to others),
  6. Practicing self-care without rushing (quieting the tyrannical voice in my head, which pushes me to act and ‘go, go, go’ only, keeping projects incomplete),
  7. Finishing an online course I have kept pending for years (thus keeping a promise to myself and my partners).

Through these practices, I sense that the past no longer encumbers us. As Management Consultant Joseph Friedman states, when we are complete, ‘we can clearly see that past event free of emotional reaction to it.  In this sense completion, is a state of being… it is possible to be complete with things that are not finished.’

Another powerful exercise that can enable us to move forward, beyond the concerns of the past is as follows: take time to reflect on the past year, and ask yourself: did anything happen about which you are currently disappointed, resentful, angry or upset? Then identify those events that you are willing to do something about, with a time frame. 

Generating Completion at an Organizational Level

In his work with UNDP Ethiopia’s ‘Leadership Development Programme for HIV/AIDS’, Friedman spoke about working with staff of a hospital, in which the workers felt discouraged about past events. A series of events were held to be complete from the past: a safe environment was provided for the staff to communicate resentments, disappointments, withheld communications, failed expectations, and thwarted intentions.  At the conclusion of these sessions all staff members were able either to release the past or to make a plan of action that, when finished, would allow them to be released.  Upon a critical mass of completion, the program director invited the team to join her in a new commitment, that this unit would be a regional leader in providing state of the art rehabilitation.

The unit management team, Friedman explained, was restructured on the basis of each individual’s spoken commitment to patient care, customer service, profitability, and result.  The program director implemented a clear operations plan including weekly priorities, progress reports, and visual displays for the unit.  After one month, staff performance in all target areas had improved dramatically. Customer satisfaction reports and new referrals increased.  To sustain accomplishment and continue to build this new culture committed to outcome-oriented rehabilitation, the program director integrated a process of continuous completion into her management and staff meetings.  Each week staff were encouraged to acknowledge accomplishments of the past week, as well as communicate anything else that had not yet been communicated, in order to keep the department “present,” with itself.

In general, Joseph Friedman encourages us to build this powerful skill in our teams. In his words, we can:

  • Learn to identify when individuals or teams are encumbered in present action by attitudes, opinions, and assessments about the past.
  • Learn to identify when an individual, group, or team needs a session to complete the past formally.
  • Guide meetings or individual conversations for completion.
  • Create a safe environment for communication of charged issues.

Practices Friedman encourages us to adopt include: taking time to go the extra mile for complete communication; ensure that a meeting is ‘clear’ of an incomplete past, before embarking on a new project, and ensure that in each meeting there is an acknowledgement of accomplishments and failed intentions.

Generating Completion at a National Level?

As a nation, what do we need to move forward and to create again? What can we learn from great leaders who have enabled their people to heal? On 2nd June 2019, Pope Francis, while visiting Romania, asked forgiveness in the name of the Catholic Church for the past mistreatment of the ‘Roma’ people. The Pope is known for having initiated such reconciliation processes several times.

We can also assume that Pope Francis understands that being complete, or accepting someone’s apology, does not imply that one agrees with something in the past that one didn’t like.  It simply means that one is no longer reacting to it. So this does not involve condoning the past, but transcending it: this wise way of being reminds us that to create a new future one firstly needs to release the grip of the past.

In addition, we can infer that unless we process our upset of the past, we cannot create something new. When experiencing past hurt or conflict, as communities we may need to work on our attitudes, thoughts, and feeling about the past. This requires adopting a perspective of personal responsibility for the matter under consideration.  Friedman clearly explains: ‘When an individual or group owns what has occurred then releases blame, shame, or guilt and declares that he or she is complete with the past, the next natural thing to do is create a new possibility and move forward.’

Could we say that such efforts are being made in our country Ethiopia today? We are seeing senior leaders, responsible citizens and elders wishing to create that space for forgiveness and reconciliation. During uncertain times, such acts can create new possibilities for the future. They require commitment from each and every one of us, practicing wisdom, and having an open, hopeful heart.

Therefore, my question to you is: what small act can you take to feel complete? In this way, you can contribute to the bigger picture.


Acknowledgment: I am grateful for the learning acquired during the UNDP Ethiopia Leadership Development Program for HIV AIDS, which equipped me with the distinction of ‘completion’.

Key Words in this Blog:

#Future  #Forgiveness  #Reconciliation  #Reflection  #Leadership  #Responsibility  #Ethiopia  #AWiBEthiopia