Posted in Facilitative Leadership

September 24, 2015

Networks for Change: Generosity is Key to Generativity

“A generous heart is always open, always ready to receive our going and coming.”

– bell hooks

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For the past month I’ve been in conversation with David Nee, former Executive Director of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, to reflect on some of our shared experiences in advancing the Memorial Fund’s collaborative work for equity in the early childhood system in Connecticut. The impetus for these reflections was an invitation to co-author a blog post for a series on “network entrepreneurship” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The introductory post, written by Jane Wei-Skillern, David Ehrlichman and David Sawyer, is entitled “The Most Impactful Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of.” While it is true that many of the leaders featured are not necessarily household names, this does not preclude focus on those with formal authority who are visible in their own respective domains. That said, emphasis is on what people often don’t see or appreciate about what these “network entrepreneurs” do, including making space for others (see this post for some of the key network and collaborative leadership roles that are not always appreciated). Read More

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September 10, 2015

Networks for Change: Skill, Will, Attitude and Structure

A couple of weeks ago I joined a panel of presenters on a webinar hosted by Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future focused on collective impact and network building for food policy councils. Other panelists included Ellen Kahler from Vermont Farm to Plate Network, Jennifer Obadia from Health Care Without Harm, and Whitney Fields from Indianapolis Food Council. My role was to provide an overview of collective impact, giving credit to FSG and the Collective Impact Forum for codifying and advancing research and practice in this arena, as well as network building principles as applied to collaborative efforts to realize more local, just and sustainable food production, distribution and access. Read More

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June 4, 2015

Facilitative Leadership and Fueling the Fire of Change

“What is to give light must endure burning.”

Viktor Frankl


Photo by Soreen D

I sometimes use the metaphor of “fire tending” when talking about Facilitative Leadership, the approach to leadership and social change we here at IISC practice, model and teach. Facilitative Leadership is grounded in the ethic of “creating and inspiring conditions for self-empowerment so that people can work together on a common goal.” It is a form of leadership, rooted in a series of connected and reinforcing practices, that increasing numbers of people, organizations and networks seem to be drawn to in this ever more complex, uncertain and dynamically interconnected world.

Thanks in part to the following inspiration from poet and professor Judy Sorum Brown, I invoke “playing with fire” as a way to think about ways of creating optimal conditions for collaborative change. Read More

March 20, 2015

Networks: Balancing Acts for … Life


I have had many conversations recently about network form and transition, all of which have me thinking of what we often talk about in our practice at IISC: balancing acts. The core approach that informs our work in the world is Facilitative Leadership, which strives to create and inspire the conditions for collaborative and net work that yields greater, more sustainable and equitable changeIn co-creating these conditions, as process designers, facilitators, trainers and coaches, we invoke a variety of practices and frameworks, each of which has its own dynamic range of considerations. Read More

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February 19, 2015

Lessons From Snow

I live in New England, where everything is under a thick blanket of snow, and the temperatures are in the single digits. Many forms of transportation have come to a full halt. And I still needed to get to New York to lead a Facilitative Leadership training! My train was very late, and I realized, I could fume and panic, but that isn’t likely to change the situation.  (Tried that. Didn’t work.) Since leadership often means noticing and naming what is really happening right now, I decided to take a few moments to notice what this weather can teach me about leadership.

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January 29, 2015

Facilitative Leadership for Net Impact

“Our world is, to a very real extent, based on dialogue. Every action taken that involves more than one person arises from conversation that generates, coordinates and reflects those actions. Those actions have impact. If our human world is based on conversations, then the work of creating and supporting those conversations is central to shaping a world that works. Designing and conducting meetings and other groups sessions well is vital to determining our common future.”

Group Works

Just recently in work with a national network, we turned the corner to start creating a structure to channel the alignment it has achieved around core goals for system change and ultimately to realize “collective impact” in a particular domain. As we were kicking off some of the early discussions, someone asked what I thought were the keys to creating a successful network structure. That’s a huge question that merits a complex answer, and I’ll admit that in reflecting on the dozen or so large scale change efforts I’ve been a part of the past 7 or 8 years, the first thing that came to mind was – “really good facilitation.”

Simplistic as this response may sound I was thinking of lessons learned from numerous efforts that no beautiful or well thought out network/collaborative structure stands up to a lack of strong facilitative capacity (skillset, mindset, and heartset). To be more nuanced, it is not just facilitation that ultimately came to mind, but what we at IISC call facilitative leadership.

For over 20 years, IISC has been teaching, preaching and practicing Facilitative Leadership (FL), and in many ways it seems that this approach has never been riper in light of the burgeoning call to collaborate and cooperate across boundaries of all kinds. At its base, FL is about creating and inspiring the conditions for self-organization so that people can successfully achieve a common (and often evolving) goal. The logical question that follows is, “How does one ‘create and inspire’ these conditions?” The answer is found in a variety of practices derived from successful group work and that have indeed shown promise across different networks and large scale change efforts to create solid foundations and momentum for social change. Among them are these: Read More

July 15, 2014

Leadership as Network Weaving

Thanks to Deborah McLaren for putting this slide show together that references the good work of June Holley, Chris Brogan, and Beth Kanter.  I find that there are many people out there who naturally get the concept of “network weaving” and many others still who are still learning to understand its value, and to see it as a function of leadership in a networked world.

At IISC, we like to talk about “Facilitative Leadership” as a practice of “creating and inspiring conditions” that deliver on the promise of collaboration (innovation, rapid diffusion, equity, resilience, adaptation, etc.).  In this vein, I particularly like what Chris Brogan suggests as the following leadership practice related to network weaving:

  • Spend 20 minutes every day thinking about your network
  • Spend 10 minutes every day cultivating your network
  • Deliver 2 or 3 times as much value as you ask from your network


July 9, 2014

Living Cities Takes Facilitative Leadership to Heart


Two recent graduates of a Facilitative Leadership for Social Change workshop Mistinguette Smith and I led in New York, Alison Gold and Juan Sebastian Arias from Living Cities, recently wrote to us about a creative way they are bringing the frameworks and tools they learned back to their organization. So many of you ask us for advice about how to apply this stuff that we thought you’d want to know about it too! Read More

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May 20, 2014

Say Go


I’ve been thinking a lot about process.  What is the best way to get things done?  What is the most collaborative and inclusive way to move forward?  Our bias towards inclusion, towards a process that is truly democratic, can often seem at odds with the idea that “action trumps everything.” Read More

March 27, 2014

Process IS Where Change Happens


Photo by Crunchy Footsteps


Process can sometimes get a bum rap in our work, as in: “I’m not a process person.  I’m action-oriented.” This attitude can become a source of considerable frustration, and yet, I get it.  Some people are tired of what seems like endless talk that gets them no where.  And yet to translate this kind of seemingly circular conversation (what Chris Thompson has referred to as co-blaboration) as “process,” as opposed to action, does a disservice to what is essential to the work of social change.  No, I’m not talking (only) about talking.  I’m talking about how it is precisely at the level of process that we can make truly profound change. Read More

March 18, 2014

Engaging Hearts and Heads

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.

Please register today for the Facilitative Leadership for Social Change  workshop Mistinguette Smith will co-facilitate April 22-23 in New York City.