I’ve spent the last two days with twenty-three people who do the concrete, sometimes humble work of convening meetings, directing resources and evaluating programs. They came from far flung places, from Ohio and Illinois to Hawai’i, to explore how the tools of Facilitative Leadership can remake our work so that it awakens and nourishes our communities’ deepest desires. Working with them was like a peek into the future of what leadership can be.
There are lots of workshops that help leaders to learn about decision making; there are few that require a decision-making process to be informed by our hearts as well as our minds. This group seized the opportunity to engage both their hearts and heads to wrestle with tough practical questions: How can you do brainstorming that includes people who value reflection and introspection more than quickly generated speech?
They made space to speak tender truths that usually cannot be said out loud: How can we help our communities hold each other more accountable for achieving results without damaging the richness of our relationships, or abandoning our traditional cultural processes?
And they practiced creating the conditions for the people they serve–the people they supervise, their clients, their coalition members–to take responsibility for learning and working through these questions together.
It was an honor to witness how they showed up for each other in the workshop, as well as what they did and what they learned. Twenty-three new and seasoned facilitative leaders reminded me that the purpose of leadership is to show up as an agent of dignity and hope.
If another world truly is possible, I think I spent the last two days with the leaders who will guide us there.
Don’t practice for perfection, practice to be present.
There comes a point in almost every IISC workshop we deliver where the answer to a particular challenge is simply, “practice, practice, practice.” This is not for the sake of having THE answer, but rather to learn how to be present to the situation that arises. As we say around the practice of facilitation, “It’s not knowing what to do that counts, it’s knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.”
Another year, more time to hone our practice as facilitators. As I’m sure has been previously mentioned in the pages of this blog, the meaning of the term “facilitation” derives from its root “facile,” or easy, so facilitation is intended to make something easy or easier. Now this is not to say that the practice of facilitation is or ever should be easy. And it is not about doing work for others (“Thank goodness you get to be the one trying to guide this group!”) so that they in some sense get off the hook.
One of the comments that often comes up in our popular workshop, Facilitative Leadership goes something like this, “It’s great that I’m learning all of these practical leadership and facilitation skills, but what happens when I’m not the one leading or facilitating?” How can we keep things rolling when we aren’t formally in charge and when formal leadership is not so skillful. My answer today: there’s always an opportunity to lead, ask good questions, facilitate from the chair! Read the rest of this entry »
It was a pleasure and privilege to return to Dallas a few weeks ago, and spend time again with Cohort 1 of the Teaching Trust, whose mission is to “prepare educators to lead the change we need for the academic success and equity of all students.” This extraordinary and committed group took a turn at “teaching back” to my colleague Kristen and me what they took away and have applied around the Facilitative Leadership practices, including “share an inspiring vision/inspire a shared vision.” Enjoy!
“Knowing about a tool is one thing. Having the guts to use it in a way that brings art to the world is another. Perhaps we need to spend less time learning new tools and more time using them.” – Seth’s Godin
Reading Seth’s post on insight vs. tools made me want to create a real workshop – a learning space that is also a creative space, a laboratory for actual application.
Last week, colleagues Andrea Nagel, Jen Willsea and I facilitated the workshop, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work for staff at the Boston Public Health Commission. One of the most powerful parts of the workshop was an exercise where participants had to listen to a view with which they disagreed without opposing, fixing or leading the speaker to another viewpoint. Challenging, to say the least! It raised a great question about not just how, but when to listen without attempting to shift anything. Like many of the workshop participants, I struggle with this practice, particularly when the speaker’s views fly in the face of realities I see and history I know, or when the very act of listening seems to give comfort to views that diminish my humanity. The struggle brought me back to a classic essay, “The Art of Listening,” by feminist author Brenda Ueland.
Talent thrives within diverse ecosystems. The straightforward and linear has given way to the complex and emergent. This is the nature of evolution. So it’s no longer about putting two and two together but about noticing patterns – it’s about sensing our way into the web of connection.
Elena Letona is the former Executive Director of Centro Presente a member-driven, state-wide Latin American immigrant organization dedicated to the self-determination and self-sufficiency of the Latin American immigrant community of Massachusetts and that works for immigrant rights and for economic and social justice.
IISC worked with Centro Presente’s staff in the year leading up to Elena’s transitioning out of her role as Executive Director. Both Elena and the staff were determined to bring the organization through this period with grace and to grow together by deepening their own capacity.
The process was launched with a Facilitative Leadership program that focused on creating a culture of collaboration. No one describes the impact on the organization more eloquently than Elena in this video testimonial. Both Elena and Centro are thriving.
Our Organizing Model
Leadership development is a very important component of our mission and our work. We recognize that the members of our community bring to this country their personal experiences and capabilities and in return we provide them the space to build opportunities to develop and exercise leadership. Our leadership development model focuses on community organizing around specific themes like immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights and civic participation.
The model engages, internally, our staff, board, members, and program volunteers, and externally, allies and other community stakeholders. For example, our Board is composed of Latino immigrant workers and youth members. Through participation in our committees, the members of Centro Presente have the opportunity to be actively engaged in leading campaigns and activities that impact their own lives, as well as the lives of their families and the broader community.
In my last post I shared observations on building a leadership network and lessons from the Barr Fellowship. What is the role of a facilitator in such an effort? It is not an easy role to fill. The facilitator has to be able to design and hold a space that makes it possible for the group to move, to shift, to grow, while fully trusting the group’s capacity to do so. The facilitator must be able to rely on the passion and purpose that is already present among the leaders who are coming together.
Fundamental –noun: a basic and necessary component of something, especially an underlying rule or principle
Last week, Gibran and I led the workshop, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work. The workshop builds on IISC’s work over the years to apply the best of what we know about collaboration and group process to the specific work of advancing racial justice. We pushed ourselves to distinguish what was truly fundamental from all of many powerful concepts and skills we could have included. We settled on exploring three questions:
The following is a post that appeared on the blog of the Kansas Leadership Center. It is inspired by and based on the work of Ron Heifetz and Kristin von Donop of Cambridge Leadership Associates. One of the greatest challenges for leadership is to distinguish between technical and adaptive challenges and to what extent solutions require focus on content or process.
I’ve just about had it with the vitriol and saber-rattling lately. Our world cannot sustain much more bellowing from those on one end of a spectrum at those on the other, with no room for nuance, ambiguity or the unknown. Enough!
So much of our current day “discourse” is framed (at least in the mainstream media) by discussions of who is right/wrong, right/left, bad/good, holy/evil. As long as we are limited to these extremes, we will be doomed to the tyranny of righteousness and posturing. This will not, and cannot, sustain us.
Facilitative Leadership is foundational to everything that we do at the Interaction Institute for Social Change. We believe in collaboration, and we believe in tapping the power of participation. These powerful ideas have shaped the best of our society. These ideas are alive, and thus constantly evolving. We are living through a moment of rupture, experiencing the potential for an evolutionary leap – ours is a moment of choice. How far can we take the idea of participation? How will we collaborate to step into this moment? These guys are onto something.
The New York Times ushered in 2011 with a front page story (below the fold, at least) titled: Boomers Hit New Self Absorption Milestone: Age 65 in which the author notes that in the next 10 years 26% of the population will redefine what it means to be older. As a member of this graduating class of boomers born in 1946, I am always humbled to be swept up by the statistics and perceptions of the generation. My own experience reflects part of its story: heeding the call of JFK to service, I was one of the first VISTA volunteers, followed by years of activism and organizing and finding myself today transitioning from my role as a nonprofit executive director.
2011. A new year for us here at IISC to continue to move on the vision of ensuring that everyone engaged in social change work has some knowledge of and facility with Facilitative Leadership. Another year to restate and reframe the need for these critical skills to bring alive our goals of a more just and sustainable world. So why Facilitative Leadership? Here is my take . . . Read the rest of this entry »
In order to make the point that the sky is the limit in terms of the way in which we bring people together to collaborate and ultimately realize social change, I’ve taken to showing the video clip above and the one below back-to-back in our Facilitative Leadership trainings. The point I am trying to make is not that any one approach is necessarily better than the other, but that there are a plethora of options available to leadership between herding and hosting “the people,” and that much of this comes down to context and what we are trying to achieve. If it is true, as Barry Oshry says, that the work of leadership is to create the conditions for systems (human and otherwise) to be able to cope with threats (survive) and prospect opportunities for development (thrive), then we will understand and embrace the vital leadership role of process designer and use it wisely.
I’ve been getting into Umair Haque lately, he is among those of us concerned with this emergent paradigm shift, and he comes at it from a business perspective. I was specially appreciative of one of his manifestos – yes, he has many.
Erich Jarvis is a neurobiologist at Duke University and a specialist in bird songs and calls. He was raised in New York City, attended the School for the Performing Arts (where he was an accomplished dancer), and went on to study birds while a student at Hunter College and Rockefeller University. His ongoing research suggests that birds are more intelligent than we give them credit for, and Jarvis hopes that his focus on the complexity behind bird songs will lead to therapies for human beings with speech problems.
There are those in the scientific community who have objected to Jarvis’ and others’ assertions about avian intelligence, in part because the terminology used to describe a bird’s brain had long emphasized its primitiveness. This is precisely what Jarvis set out to change a few years ago. He took it upon himself to pull together colleagues from around the country and across disciplines to collaboratively rename parts of the avian brain. Read the rest of this entry »
I have been struck by how much guidance an enlightened parenting concept I recently learned offers to the work of leadership and facilitation. The concept comes from a book that a neighbor lent to my wife and me as we were beginning to think more about how best to address some our 4 year old daughter’s testing of limits.
A couple of weeks ago, during a training with early childhood advocates from around Connecticut, an interesting conversation ensued about vision. This was prompted by one participant’s comment that in this day and age, “There is no such thing as vision. There is no such thing as magic or miracles. People are cynical. People just don’t respond to vision anymore.” There was some immediate push back to this comment, and also some acknowledgment that vision may not be what it used to be, thinking of the old standards a la MLK and JFK.
Science has confirmed what many of us feel, that we are each more than one person. We are minds and bodies, left brains and right brains, controlled and automatic responders. This last division is due in part to the fact that we each have more than one brain. Our old reptilian brain is what we can depend on to keep us safe from physical harm most of the time. Our newest brain is what gives birth to the wonders of critical thought and creativity. The amazement I feel about the evolution of our higher thinking is dampened somewhat by my understanding and experience that my multiple brains are not often well coordinated. I walk into a meeting on the one hand (or brain) excited to facilitate, while on the other I am anxious, my more primitive wiring believing there’s a saber toothed tiger in the corner). Welcome to what Seth Godin calls “the lizard” inside.
In a post of a few weeks ago I explored the different dimensions of social space we might be called to attend to as leaders and change agents in creating environments for people to collaborate. I suggested that these dimensions exist in dynamic tension and together form a holistic picture of how we can leverage the potential of groups by respecting the values of autonomy, community, and divinity. In recently reading a book by Tim Kasser and Tom Crompton, I was reminded that how we frame these dimensions matters in terms of what ends we seek and ultimately serve.
Sharing an inspiring vision is one of the seven practices of Facilitative Leadership. Here at the Interaction Institute for Social Change we are fond of saying that “a leader must share an inspiring vision in order to inspire a shared vision.” If you are reading this blog you probably have a vision. You are interested in social change, you want to believe that indeed another world is possible – and you have a role in making it happen. You have a vision of the world you want to see. Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to our colleague, Susan DeGenring of Alchemy Learning, for bringing this a blessing about leadership to our attention. It is the work of John O’Donohue, the late Irish teacher and poet, from his last book, To Bless the Space Between Us. Please read and share your thoughts, as I share mine below: Read the rest of this entry »
One of my favorite poetry finds this year comes from Judy Sorum Brown, whose piece “Fire” ties in nicely with a theme that has been developing for me over the past twelve months. In addition to Judy’s work, I am grateful for the writings of Larry Dressler, which have helped me to embrace the metaphor of “fire tending” (not firefighting) as part of the work we do as leaders, facilitators, consultants, teachers, and perhaps as parents.
Larry’s book Standing in the Fire points out that when we work with groups of people we are to some extent always playing with fire. Fire can burn, of course, but it can also purify and renew, it can serve as fuel, it can warm us, and it can make us uncomfortable enough to get moving. The key is first not to be afraid of the heat. From there it all comes down to the choices we make about how to build and feed the flames in light of what it is we are trying to collectively accomplish.
Yesterday, I was honored to lead a workshop on Facilitative Leadership for 500 women at the 5th Annual Massachusetts Conference for Women. Hosted by the MA Commission on the Status of Women, this mega-gathering attracted over 5,000 diverse women from corporate, government, non-profit, and social change sectors. The vibe was electric and eclectic – with a mix of executives, teachers, job-seekers, entrepreneurs, students, philanthropists, stay-at-home moms and many others. It was a day of focus on issues “that matter most to women, including personal finance, business, entrepreneurship, health and work/life balance”.
My 60 minute session, “The Practice of Facilitative Leadership”, was what we at IISC would call an “experience” of our flagship, 3-day, course. Up front, we acknowledged that, in this shifting socio-historical global context — anyone who claims to lead is merely improvising her way through unprecedented waters along with the rest of us.
On Wednesday, August 26, 2009, a great public servant and leader died. Massachusetts Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy’s legacy of service, championing the under-served and working class of our country, had come to an end in one form, now to transition to a legacy of another sort. It was the second day of the Facilitative Leadership course I was co-training, and of course, that morning, we paused to mourn, reflect, reminisce and examine our study of leadership in the brilliant, shining light of his life long leadership practice.
Later in the day, I came across this blog piece published by the Harvard Business Review, entitled, “How Ted Kennedy Got Things Done,” and couldn’t help but notice how much the observations of his distinguished service track so well with several of the attributes and principles of Facilitative Leadership: Read the rest of this entry »
Maeda embodies and articulates facilitative leadership and has embarked on building the collaborative organization which he calls an “open source administration”. Web2ExpoSF 09: John Maeda, “Open Source Administration“ Interestingly, even today, the idea of an accessible, communicative and transparent leader is seen as unusual and breakthrough telegraphing just how hard it is to move from the old to the new.
What is so unique to John Maeda is his combination of talents that are so apt for this moment in time. He is an artist, a designer, a techie; an educator and an MBA not to mention young and hip with a “genuine ability to distill, simplify and inspire”. Like President Obama he models what it means to lead today from a place of thoughtful creativity, wholeness and…..joy.
While John Maeda and Barack Obama are among the famous there are so many leaders across the generations, the sectors and the world that are showing the way simultaneously changing the world one individual, one family, one organization and one community at a time.
We deliver a powerful (by all accounts) leadership development program at IISC called Facilitative Leadership. It is our flagship training program because it directly speaks to the mindset, heartset and skillset needed to lead in the Age of Connectivity. Facilitative Leadership starts, ironically, with the notion that we must radically change our perception and thinking about leaders and leadership, itself. Originally based in a Newtonian, mechanistic understanding of how the world works, our ideas about leadership have evolved over the last fifty years. We’ve gone from a heroic, command and control approach to a more participative, collaborative approach that involved teams, less hierarchy, and a much higher level of engagement and input, to now — a time when ourunderstanding of the world is informed by quantum physics and complexity theory…a world described byTom Freidman as flat, where all of knowledge, not to mention finances, has been connected and democratized. We are defining and understanding leadership at a time when our systems breakdowns and global crisis demands that we create a future that is so radically different from the past
Several thought leaders with whom we are familiar have themselves been struggling with this concept: Peter Senge in his new book The Necessary Revolution introduces us to the idea of the animateur, the French word for people who seek to create systemic change. He says that an animateur is someone who brings to life a new way of thinking, seeing or interacting that creates focus and energy.” And, in Peter Block’s new book, Community – The Structure of Belonging, he renames leaders as “social architects” defined by their ability to set intention, convene, value relatedness and present choices. The animateur and the social architect seem to be getting us closer to the kind of leadership we need for these times.
As we embrace leadership as being first and foremost about shared responsibility, as a leveraging and unleashing of much needed collective intelligence and commitment; we see in fact that the central task of leadership today is to create the conditions for others to flourish and to thrive, to step into their own power. We see that the roles that leaders play in these times are more aptly described as catalysts, champions, connectors. We see that these leaders are strategic, collaborative, and flexible and they are most often rooted in real authenticity, service and love.
We are daunted in our sector by the demographic reality of baby boomer leaders exiting in the next five to ten years, leaving a massive leadership gap. Or, now, because of their disappearing 403(b)’s, postponing retirement and causing another set problems. I am wondering if this conversation – while important and real – may also be taking us off course or at least maybe taking up too much of our time.
My belief, particularly in these most troubled times, is that we are being called to boldly invest in and develop networked, boundary-crossing social architects….multi-cultural, multi-generational social architects. We need to build their capacity in collaboration, design, facilitation, network building and the uses of new social media in service of real change. It is our collective capacity that will lead us into a future that is so very different from the past.