Power and Emergent ChangeOctober 14, 2010 8 Comments
Peggy Holman is the co-author of a book that I consider to be one of the bibles for my work here at IISC – The Change Handbook. This wonderful resource was also required reading for a graduate course I taught on organizational and community change models at Antioch New England. Building on this essential tome, Peggy has recently authored another book that I look forward to diving into more deeply – Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval Into Opportunity. Her exploration of how to engage chaos in social systems and bring about greater coherence is certainly timely and in line with much of the conversation you see on this blog.
In a recent post of her own, Peggy highlights an interesting comment that appeared in a review of her newest work. Ron Lubensky, of the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy in Sydney, Australia, raises a question about “the thorny challenge of motivating people who exercise power to graciously and generously devolve their authority to a shared enterprise.” Peggy’s response is of great interest given the number of questions that come up in client engagements about how realistic it is to expect power brokers to sign on and up for collaborative and emergent endeavors that appear to threaten their standing.
She writes, “What I have found to be true is that when the issue faced is more important than their position, people in power positions will engage. In other words, they’ll step up when: the situation reaches the point that they realize that they can’t solve it alone; it is critical to their success; and they’ve found a partner to work with that they’re willing to trust.” She goes on to mention that these are really the conditions for anyone to engage. I agree, and of course there is much more to the story when we ask ourselves – HOW do we foster the conditions whereby people understand (and admit) they cannot or should not go it alone, discover that there is shared benefit in going with others, and know that they can trust others and the process?
There is not enough space here to do this compound question justice, but what I can say is that reaching out and engaging key stakeholders (including those with influence) from the start of an initiative is key, as is treating people like people, and not simply as their perceived positions. Making time for relationship-building, and using processes that give people a chance to explore and discover shared interests help to till the soil for rich an robust collaboration later on.
And surely there is much to add, dear colleagues. What do you have to say about Peggy’s response to the power challenge? And how have you dealt with this challenge in the context of emergent change?