Just 1 Story – Episode 2 Is Airing!

Episode 2 of Just 1 Story is now available and airing. It is titled “The Pay-It-Forward Mentor.” This episode tells the story of a man whose career and life was transformed by a chance meeting. Just 1 Story features stories of defining moments and personal leadership in the lives of people. Do you have a story that has defined your life and work? If so, consider sharing it in the second season of Just 1 Story. Click here to learn more about how you can share your story in the Just 1 Story podcast.

An Invitation to the WWJD Redux Project

Uh…oh…my inner researcher has been awakened!!! You are invited to participate in the WWJD Redux Project.  

In addition to my consulting work at Tenacioius Change, I also do occasional research on topics related to leadership. The WWJD Redux Project is a new project related to the topic of ethical and moral leadership. I am conducting this informal study for a possible article or other publication.

If you have a clear memory of the 1990s (though there was much to forget), you may remember that the initials “WWJD” referred to the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” It entered American pop culture and “went viral” as a way to motivate Evangelical Christians, particularly youth, to “do the right thing” which was, in general, to demonstrate the love of Jesus through their actions and behaviors. As most things that make their way into American pop culture, the question became hackneyed, cliched, and even parodied. Still, it came to represent an acknowledgment of the need for a higher ethical and moral standard for people. You can find a brief, interesting article on the origins of the term here.

The WWJD Redux Project seeks to learn how people are answering that question with regard to President Donald Trump.

You can participate in four simple steps.

Decide to participate. Anyone with an opinion can participate. Feel free to share this invitation with anyone else you like. (For your convenience, use the social media 

Read John Pavlovitz’s brief blog titled, “White Evangelicals, This is Why People are Through With You.

Reflect on these two questions:

  1. After reading and thinking about Pavlovitz’s blog, where are you at in this moment?
  2. Still thinking about Pavlovitz’s blog, what WOULD Jesus do in this time?   

Respond. You have two ways to respond. You can make a private response or enter into a public dialogue with others. Of course, you can do both, if you like. 

  • To make a Private Response: Follow this link to a private response form in my Survey Monkey account.
  • To engage in Public Dialogue: Go to my posts on the Tenacious Change Facebook page (if needed search for the post titled “WWJD Redux Project Dialogue”). Then reply to the post there. If you participate in the public dialogue, please be civil and respectful. This means no cussin’, no spittin’, no name callin’, no wedgies, and no noogies – virtual or real. If you do choose the public dialogue option,  at the start of your post, please tell us how you religiously self-identify using one of these four options: 1) Evangelical Christian; 2) Christian; 3) No identification; and, 4) Other – then explain what the other is.

Finally, thanks to my friend and colleague, Mark Holmgren who inspired this project with a link to John Pavlovitz on Facebook. 

I hope you take a few minutes to read Pavlovitz’s blog and participate. 

Thanks for your consideration and remember to be greater, by doing good, everyday. Change forward!

Tom Klaus

Collective Leadership for Collective Impact

What do you do when you realize the monumental project you have undertaken will have to be finished without you? 

Sagrada Familia - Outside
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain – October, 2015

This was the question Antoni Gaudi faced when the architect realized his great work, the Sagrada Familia, would not be finished in his lifetime. Gaudi’s solution is one that is still available to us today.

This past October I traveled to Barcelona, Spain to attend the International Leadership Association global conference where I was privileged to present a paper. I also participated in a fascinating pre-conference workshop that introduced me to the life and legacy of Antoni Gaudi. It also included a tour of the Sagrada Famalia, personally guided by our workshop leader, an architectural historian who had studied the life and work of Gaudi. By no means does one become an expert in Gaudi and his work in a day-long event. I did gain from this experience, though, a deeper understanding of collective leadership and its importance for collective impact.

Nativity - Sagrada Familia
Nativity – Sagrada Familia – October, 2015

The Sagrada Familia was conceived in 1866 as a holy offering to God by the Spiritual Association of the Devotees of Saint Joseph. Antoni Gaudi, himself a devout Roman Catholic, was named the second chief architect of the Sagrada Familia in 1883, within a year after the building’s first stone was laid. The first chief architect resigned in a dispute with the Association. Gaudi took over the project when he was 31 years old and guided it until his death at age 74.

The Sagrada Familia became, for Gaudi, the greatest and most meaningful work of his life. Gaudi came from a poor family and he struggled throughout his life to make a living. From 1883 to 1914 he worked other architectural jobs to support himself and even to purchase materials and labor to build the Sagrada Familia. It is reported that he gave much of his earnings to the project and was even known to beg passersby on the street for contributions. In 1914, sensing the project required his full attention if it were to be completed, Gaudi devoted his full time and effort to it.

Crucifix over Altar - Sagrada Familia
Altar crucifix, Sagrada Familia

Still, this was not enough. Gaudi believed he would not live long enough to see the building completed, with good reason. In 1914 Gaudi was 68 years old and he had suffered from poor health all of his life. Chronically ill since childhood, during his conscripted service in the Spanish army as a young man he was often on medical leave. However, Gaudi did not die of any sickness. Only two weeks before his 75th birthday in 1926 he was accidently struck by a tram in the streets of Barcelona and died of his injuries in a pauper’s hospital only three days later.

Whether it was prophetic, insightful, or just plain luck, Gaudi’s realization and subsequent strategic choice in 1914 made it possible for his great work to be completed by others. Instead of continuing to focus on the actual construction of the building, Gaudi turned his attention to building the models and plans for others to follow. By the time of his death, Gaudi had finished enough that others could complete the project. Since 1926 there have been six other architects who have led the work and each has continued to build the Sagrada Familia according to Gaudi’s original concept and models. The Sagrada Familia is scheduled to be completed in 2026 in recognition of the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

There are different ways to express collective or shared leadership. A common one is the simultaneous leadership of multiple people or groups. This is often how teams and collaborations work together. An Individual or group steps up to provide leadership in an area of expertise while others do the same in their areas. Another expression of collective leadership is what Gaudi did with the Sagrada Familia. Despite his deep love, intense commitment, and nearly life-long ownership of the project, he opened and prepared the way for others to continue his work. Notably, while he created the concepts, models, and plans, he did not prescribe every decision and detail for his successors. In this way, they were free to interpret his vision and similarly own the project. Yet, the collective impact represented by the completion and overwhelming presence of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is undeniable.

Collective impact initiatives that result in durable social change need to be managed through collective leadership. While the collective leadership approach may be different for each collective impact initiative, one thing is true about each one: collective leadership begins with the individual.

This is my truth about collective leadership: it is less about techniques and tactics to help us become better at collective leadership; and mostly about individual attitude and will. Even if we had none of those tools and strategies, it would still be possible to engage in effective collective leadership. Why? Because we already have the skills. We learned them as children when we wanted to play well with others. We just need to rediscover and release that inner good playmate again.

Playing well with others is a choice. Confession: it is also part of my truth that I do not always choose to be a good playmate. Even if it is an unconscious choice, it is still a choice. When my “good child” comes out to play with others in collective leadership, it is typically because I have willfully made three personal choices:

  1. Check ego. I do not mean “check” in the sense of making sure I have an ego. Of that I have no doubt. I mean “check” in the sense of making sure it is under control. Ego is about my right to authority. To check my ego is to intentionally lay down my right to the have the final word. This is a wholly internal process that is about changing my own attitude. After all, social change is not all about me, or you, for that fact. Social change is about creating a greater good for our world that we may not be around long enough to enjoy. If we will not check our ego, we are not yet ready for collective leadership. When we do, we are ready to move on to the next two things, which are now easier to do once we have checked egos.
  2. Cross boundaries. Simply put, this means I invite others to work with me – especially those who are not very much like me. I do this because I know I cannot solve social problems by myself. I do this, too, because I know diversity of perspectives, experience, and ideas will result in an even better effort. Crossing boundaries has to take us out of our comfort zones or else we have not crossed anything. It is the only way for us to come in contact with and gather the kind of robust collective impact group members we will need to be innovative and energized. Sometimes, it even means we cross into the deep space of the conflict zone, to bring in people who are our critics and naysayers, especially when we know they share our end goal.
  3. Share power. This is where it “gets real” for my checked ego. Once the group or team has been assembled, I need to work collaboratively with them to create the kind of space where each of us has an important and meaningful role in shared decision making and collective leadership. Power sharing in collective leadership creates ownership. Remember, Gaudi could have exerted immense power, even from his grave (which is in the building’s crypt), by including instructions on every intricate detail of the Sagrada Familia. If he had, he probably would not have actually finished even the planning before his death. Even more, his successors might have grown to resent feeling compelled to finish his great work rather than develop a deep sense of ownership of their joint project.

This week (January 18, 2016) we remember and honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States. The question that opened this post is one that he seems to have been wrestling with as well just prior to his last speech in Memphis, Tennessee.

Through the collective leadership of Dr. King and those whom he gathered around him in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he found a way to ensure his great work would continue, even to this day. Today none can deny the collective impact of the civil rights movement in the United States.

I have been and remain convinced the fuel of collective impact includes collective leadership. I believe these three personal choices – check ego, cross boundaries, and share power – can and will strengthen our collective leadership efforts for collective impact.

Be greater. Do good. Every day.

Tom Klaus

A Reflection on Reflective Leadership

I have a confession to make. I attend Tamarack’s Collective Impact Summits for very selfish reasons. I have come to experience and appreciate the annual event as a personal retreat. Okay, it is a personal retreat taking place in the midst of several hundred people. Never forget the words, though, of the world famous Anonymous who said, “Even in a crowd, you are alone inside your own head.” (Kudos to the Tamarack team for another extraordinary event last month in Vancouver!)

When I attend this Tamarack event I am in a continuous state of reflection and inner dialogue. 

Filling in for Tamarack's Liz Weaver, I got to facilitate
Filling in for Tamarack’s Liz Weaver, I had the privilege of facilitating “Collective Impact from Around the World,” which featured (from my left to right): Nicola Taylor (New Zealand); Valerie Quay (Singapore); Per Holm (Denmark); and, Te Ropu Poa (New Zealand).

This dialogue is informed and shaped by the people I meet, the conversations I have, my observations, and my experiences at the event. I can appear to be busy on the outside and at this year’s event I was quite busy: I facilitated a daily “Learning Lab” consisting of ten other participants; led a workshop; was a late substitute facilitator for another workshop; and hosted a dinner conversation. Through all of this I was still alone inside my own head…and loving it!!!

In recent years my work has led me to a more intentional practice of reflection and a deeper appreciation for the role of reflection in leadership. For most of my life I have been a Quaker, a member of a group known for its use of meditative silence. However, only recently have I come to more fully connect reflection and leadership. The first point of connection was when I was conducting and writing up my doctoral research on leadership in the intractable conflict over sexuality education in the United States. In that study I found that leaders of sexual health organizations, who are engaged in the conflict, are quite reflective. They are involved in three interactive reflective processes that affect their leader motivations and behaviors, and, yet, contributes to perpetuating the conflict.

The second point of connection was about a year ago when a colleague and I were working together on a “mindfulness” curriculum for teachers at the Transylvania College in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. In the process of editing the material I found myself learning more about the practice of mindful reflection and how it related to leadership in the classroom. It inspired me to learn more about both mindfulness practices and reflective leadership.

The third point of connection came earlier this year when I was trying to answer the dreaded question I get from prospective clients: “How much do you charge?” I usually want to say, “Just enough,” because, in fact, it is true. When I moved into consulting work I wanted to stay to true to my personal mission of working on behalf of nonprofit organizations, especially those that can benefit from high quality leadership and organizational development assistance but usually cannot afford the rates charged by large consulting groups. To this end I did my research and I came up with a rate that meets my needs (not my “wants,” to be sure, or else I would not still be driving an eleven year old Subaru) and which rarely gets any push back from my clients.

The process of thinking through an answer to the question of “How much do you charge?” led me, not surprisingly, to a reflection on the values I bring to my work. This resulted in the creation of the TRIBE Guarantee that I offer every client.

When we intentionally embrace mindful reflection as part of our leadership approach there are two benefits that are nearly immediate. First, we are driven to think more carefully about the alignment of our values with our leadership behavior. It pushes us to consider the things we are doing as a leader in light of who we are being as a person. It calls us to look at how we treat followers, colleagues, and those whom we are trying to help or lift up. Even more, it can help us be more present to each. Overall, mindful reflection can inspire us to more authentic leadership.

The second benefit becomes apparent when we are trying to provide leadership in a collaborative effort, such as a Collective Impact initiative. Even on the best days, it can feel like we are one of those legendary cat herders of Western lore.

On more challenging days, those in which we are running severely low on patience and good humor, reflection can save us from damaging over-reactions. Edgar Schein advocates for the practice of suspension which is a reflective process of internal listening that needs to precede response. Suspension is a particularly useful skill in those circumstances when we have been in an interaction that we perceive to be negative (e.g., disagreement, challenge, attack, etc.). Schein writes, “We have to learn to listen to ourselves before we can really understand others.”

These two benefits of reflection are related. Becoming a more reflective, authentic leader will affect our efforts in collective leadership by inspiring us to build relational trust and act more ethically in all of our behaviors. Who can say these are not good things?

Be greater. Do good. Every day.

T.W.K.

Who is the Leader?

This week I’m at the 17th Annual Global Conference of the International Leadership Association in Barcelona, Spain. This morning the keynote speaker, John, Lord Alderdice, of the United Kingdom, said, “The leader is not necessarily the brightest or best person, but it is the right person for the time.” Again we are reminded that context matters in leading change, whether it is in organizations, communities, and whole societies.

image

Here’s the question we were asked to discuss and I pass it on to you for your reflection: When in your work has the situation or context required you to go beyond the typical and usual idea of leadership to arrive at a solution?

On Saturday I’ll be presenting on the Roots to Fruit (R2F), an ecosystem for sustainable community change and tool for measuring change. R2F is a model created by Dr. Ed Saunders and me, over the past several years, that first and foremost considers context in creating change. To learn more, send me an email – twklaus@nonprofitgp.com.

Be Greater. Do Good. Everyday.

T.W.K.

Muckers, Spouters, and Collaborative Leaders

Here we go again. It is the Quadrennial Quest for the next “great” leader of the United States. It is too bad we are fixated on a Presidential leadership model that has not worked well in the recent past and increasingly holds little hope for the future. Are we ready to embrace a different approach to leadership that is a better practice now and in the future?

Real Iowans by Grant Wood (1930): Notice, not flannel, Eldon, Iowa
Real Iowans by Grant Wood (1930): Notice, no plaid flannel. Eldon, Iowa
Imitation Iowan Carly Fiorina at the Iowa State Fair, 2015
Imitation Iowan: Carly Fiorina at the Iowa State Fair, 2015

It does not appear so, according to the coverage of the approximately 20 Presidential candidates mucking their way through my beloved Iowa State Fair and spouting their solutions for every issue imaginable during this past week. Yes, mucking and spouting…spouting and mucking, ad nauseam. By the way, my favorite imitation of an Iowan from this week’s coverage was performed by Republican candidate Carly Fiorina. Fiorina appeared in a photo at the Iowa State Fair in front of the famous Butter Cow dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans. Please. What idiot campaign aide told her THAT would be a good idea? Just to set the record straight, I’m including some random photos of what REAL Iowans look like and how they dress on the job. But I digress.

The United States, and most other countries, are locked into a mythic model of leadership known formally as the “Great Man” theory. In the 1970’s “Transformational Leadership” theory was introduced by James MacGregor Burns as an alternative way to think about leaders. Transformational Leadership became, and remains very popular, though it still retains many elements of the Great Man theory because of its dependence on a single individual to lead the way and call forth the inner leader of others.

Real Iowan: Olympic gymnast, Shawn Johnson, West Des Moines, Iowa
Real Iowan: Olympic gymnast, Shawn Johnson, West Des Moines, Iowa. No plaid flannel here.

I am convinced we will not make real progress in being greater and doing greater good until we renounce our heretical faith in the power of a single great leader. The velocity of knowledge and the complexity of our world are forcing us to consider other approaches. For me, shared leadership in a collaborative culture is more realistic and hopeful.

Recently I again observed the power of shared leadership and collaboration in action. For the past two summers I have taught “Managing for Optimal Performance” in the MBA in Economic Development program at Eastern University. It has been a small class, only three and four students, possibly because the focus on the program is on alleviating poverty which is certainly not the typical career path for many MBAs. The course is very short…barely six weeks. Yet, in that time, students are expected to design, deliver, and report out on a project that is intended to help people living at or near the poverty level. This summer’s projects included a soccer clinic for Haitian immigrant youth; distribution of nutritional information and recipes at an urban farmer’s market; a family photo project for immigrant Latin American single mothers and their children; and a “good neighbor” yard clean up and home fix-up day for a single mom recently debilitated in an accident. In all cases, the students were required to form a team of no less than four people and to use decision making processes that were inclusive and collaborative. The project reports clearly showed the depth of understanding the students’ acquired about establishing a collaborative culture and using shared leadership.

Kurt Warner, NFL MVP 1999 & 2001, Burlington, Iowa
Real Iowan: Kurt Warner, NFL MVP 1999 & 2001, Burlington, Iowa. Still no plaid flannel.

As I reflected on their project journals and reports, I found myself thinking about those things I am most likely to hear come from the mouths of leaders who really try to practice shared and collaborative leadership.

“Please.” Collaborative leaders do not just assume people will follow them because they have the title, the position, the power, or even a “mandate.” They invite others into leadership, humbly seek their expertise, and genuinely value the contribution each makes.

“How or what do you see, understand, experience, or believe about our situation?” For collaborative leaders, the perspectives of others are invaluable sources of information. They understand that many of the problems we face are so large and so complex that the better solutions are found when many eyes from diverse viewpoints are examining them.

“What options do you believe offer us the best chance of addressing the situation?” Working in collaboration means gleaning the best ideas from among the many perspectives on the situation without regard for self-interests. I know. If I had not thrown in that bit about self-interests, it would have been just fine, right? My experience has been that partners in shared or collaborative leadership often filter their ideas in order to protect self-interests. They may fear giving away proprietary information or trade secrets that can weaken their competitive advantage over competitors, who may also be their collaborators on some projects.

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
Real Iowan: Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Nope, no plaid, no flannel on Mr. Secretary.

“Thank you.” These two under-utilized words powerfully acknowledge that a single individual alone is not responsible for any good thing that happens. These are words of humility that indicate a collaborative leader’s awareness of the role of others.

“We did it.” This is a tricky thing for a collaborative leader to say because it is so tempting to say it without really meaning it. It can merely sound like an imitation of humility, if it does not come from a genuine posture of humility. Know what I listen for? Emphasis. When I hear the word “we” emphasized too strongly, I suspect leaders are trying too hard to convince themselves and others that they really mean “we” and not “I.”

Spewing from the mouths of muckers and spouters, these same five phrases can be just empty words in a crass imitation of humility. Whether the speakers are vying for the role of President, Prime Minister, or leader of a local community change effort, we must watch and wait. We need to be on the lookout for those who reveal their collaborative nature through the congruence of consistently matching these words with a posture of humility.

Be Greater. Do Good. Every Day.

Tom

Real Iowan: A guy who knows how hand-tie and wear bowtie, Morning Sun, Iowa
Real Iowan: A serious looking guy who owns no plaid flannel and knows how to hand-tie and wear bowties, Morning Sun, Iowa.

Redden Your Nose and Join In or Do Even More?

Today is Red Nose Day. “Say what?” you ask.

Red Nose Day is a big thing in the United Kingdom and it has been for 30 years where it has raised billions of British pounds to end poverty. It is a part of the United Kingdom’s Comic Relief charity. “Oh, I remember Comic Relief,” you say, “but isn’t that OUR (the American’s) thing?” Uh, not really. We stole borrowed the idea from the Brits and now we are borrowing Red Nose Day, too, but this time it only took us three decades. NBC is taking the credit for bringing Red Nose Day to the United States. The television network partnered with Walgreens to sell the red noses that I am modeling in this classy photo of myself. Tonight, May 21, NBC is featuring a 3 hour broadcast (think “mini” telethon but without Jerry Lewis) to raise awareness and money.

Hey! It's Red Nose Day! Where's Yours?
Hey! It’s Red Nose Day! Where’s Yours?

Though my Inner Clown compelled me to buy this $1.00 red nose the last time I was in my local Walgreens, it was never very clear to me if this was more than a marketing ploy for Walgreens and a ratings push for NBC. I am still not sure. Frankly, the promotion on the U.S. version of Red Nose Day has seemed more about NBC, its stars and programs, and Walgreens products and services and far less about the cause. (Look, I do understand cause-related-marketing but you still have to highlight the cause, too.) Until you take the cellophane off the nose and read the odd “cut-out”-like information piece that is attached to it, you might not even know which charities stand to benefit from Red Nose Day. To really learn what your Red Nose purchase supports you have to go to the official Red Nose Day website where I found this explanation:

The funds raised during the Red Nose Day campaign will be given to a variety of nonprofit organizations that transform children’s lives. This year we’ve partnered with twelve amazing organizations working in the US and abroad. The great news is the half the money distributed will be spent right here in the US at projects close to home. The other half will be spent in some of the poorest communities in the world in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

However, for me, the clearest explanation of the purpose of Red Nose Day came from an NBC Entertainment promotional site:

The aim of Red Nose Day is to bring about real and lasting change by tackling the root causes of poverty and social injustice.

Now, THAT’s a cause I can really get behind.

Nonetheless, I had secretly wondered if my mild addiction to collecting red noses had led me to unwittingly add to the profits of two big businesses. My angst was increased when I read that only 50 cents of my $1.00 red nose purchase would actually go to the charities listed as beneficiaries of the effort and the remainder would be invested in nose production. Given the scale of production required to supply so many red noses to Walgreens all across the country, I find it hard to believe they really cost 50 cents each to produce. Five cents seems more realistic. Obviously, I could do far more by simply going to each charity’s website and contributing $1.00 directly to each of them. In fact, I could double my contribution by sending the same $1.00 to them that I spent on the cheap red nose at Walgreens…except I would not have the red nose for my collection.

Ouch! That pricks my conscience. It seems like I am not really different than the many others who need to get something in return for investing in a cause. Some people need their name on a building. I simply need a new red nose for my modest collection.

Last night I attended a celebration of the work of Dr. David Greenhalgh, the Director of the PhD in Organizational Development program at Eastern University where I received my doctorate. David is retiring, in his words, “on August 31 at 11:59 PM” and the PhD Summer Residency dinner included a tribute in which students and alumni were present to participate. It was a great party! The after dinner speaker was Dr. Joanne Ciulla, from the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. She is known for her work and writing on ethical leadership and she spoke briefly and engagingly on the topic of “The Ethical Peculiarities of Leadership.” She observed that ethical leaders can be ineffective and effective leaders can be unethical. If we wish to be both ethical and effective we need to examine our leadership actions with these four questions:

  • Am I doing the right thing?
  • Am I doing it the right way?
  • Am I doing it for the right reason?
  • Am I using what I have learned?

I applaud the leadership efforts of NBC and Walgreens and the followership efforts of all of us (even if we are just wanting to merely add to our red nose collections) for falling in behind Red Nose Day. I love it that the cause is “tackling the root causes of poverty and social injustice.” I wonder, though, if we might learn from our efforts this year and improve upon them next year by thoughtfully considering the first three questions from Dr. Ciulla. Perhaps NBC and Walgreens can make it more about the cause than about pushing programming, stars, and products. Perhaps I can add a red nose to my collection and still contribute directly to each of the charities.

Indeed, what more can we all do? 

Be Greater. Do Good. Every Day. (with or without a red nose)

Tom

Take a Ride on the Wild Side of Leadership

Not long ago my friend Mark Holmgren posted a blog titled Becoming a Learning Organization (Part One) that got me thinking about what it takes to provide leadership to a learning organization. As Mark points out in his post, learning organizations are more likely to address complex issues and challenges effectively. To be clear, the term “learning organization” does not refer to a specific size, configuration, purpose, or structure of a group. It can refer to a multinational corporation, public agency, small social sector or nonprofit organization, and even a project team. All of these can be learning organizations. The core idea is that it is an entity that has developed the capacity to learn, change, learn some more, and then change some more to respond effectively to its environment. Mark does a great job of explaining how this happens.

Some organizations learn and change only as much as their leaders learn and change. These groups tend to have autocratic leaders that are clearly in charge and who have the first and final say in everything. Autocratic leaders are no accident. They often arise because the organization has bought into some version of the “great man theory” of leadership. Though the “great man” theory was first challenged over 150 years ago, it remains a common approach to leadership among organizations of all kinds. British rocker Bonnie Tyler asked us “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?” in her popular 1980’s hit that seemed to give voice to our need for “great men” to lead the way. However, “great men” rarely support the creation of a learning organization because it means they have to release power and control and admit they might not be so great at all. To be fair, when I began my own leadership journey, this was the first approach I learned and I have had to systematically unlearn it in order to more effectively provide leadership to organizations and groups addressing complex issues.

The decision to lead an organization that values group learning and develops the capacity to change is also a decision to move to the wild side of leadership. Part of the appeal of “great man” leadership approaches has to be that the leader’s grasp on power and control means predictability – at least for the leader. To lead a learning organization often means a willingness to embrace and endure the chaos that usually comes with complexity.

This difference can be illustrated using the metaphor of dance.[i] The “great man” approach is like being the leader of a line dance, in which the leader stands at the front of a group of people, usually all standing in straight rows, who are all facing her or him and mimicking the steps of the leader. In this situation only the leader knows what step is coming next and she/he usually executes it flawlessly while members of the group may make missteps and stumbles as they try to keep up. As a result, the leader almost always appears to be much more competent at the dance than the followers, thereby proving her/his worthiness to be the leader. Leading a learning organization, though, is more like being the lead in a ballroom dance, such as the waltz or fox trot, which moves around the floor among many other pairs of dancers. In this situation, the leader cannot see where all the other couples are or what figures (steps) they are performing nor can the leader know when another couple will abruptly cut into their line of dance. Floor craft, the art of moving gracefully about the ballroom without crashing into another couple, becomes a primary skill that ballroom couples need to learn and hone to maximize their dancing experience. In such ballroom dance, the leader often depends upon the follower to see what she/he cannot see and relinquishes control as the lead to become the follower in order to perform certain figures.

What does it take to lead a learning organization? To be certain, there are many competencies one needs to effectively lead any organization (or to lead on the ballroom dance floor) yet there are three I believe are core competencies for leading a learning organization.

The first, sharing, is the ability to step aside from the leadership role to allow others to step up to lead. Sharing asks a leader to lay down their authority, right, position, and maybe even their title, as a leader to create space for others to emerge with their own ideas, insights, authority, and leadership. Sharing means no one in the organization or group is seen as incapable of making a contribution. Sharing also asks leaders to trust that others are as committed to the organization as they are and want the same good to be accomplished, whether that is in the form of profit or mission achievement. Recently I was reminded of the power of sharing when a friend assumed a new position in a medical school that put her in charge of the clinics. The clinics had been suffering for some time with a lack of patients and none of the directors, doctors, or nurses seemed to know why or have a solution. My friend decided it was time to talk to the front desk personnel. What she learned was that the front desk personnel were aware of the problem, had creative ideas for incentivizing patients to keep appointments, and were quick to make the suggestion, even willing to adjust their own hours, to keep the clinic open in the evenings to accommodate patients’ work schedules. Most importantly, she also learned that the front desk personnel were intentionally dissuading patients from coming to the clinic on certain days when it was being supervised by a particular doctor they did not trust to provide good care. When leaders are not willing to step aside to let others step up (share), the organization cannot grow and change to meet the present challenges.

The second, reflection, is the ability to take in information (both new and old), turn off one’s “filters” (assumptions, judgments, critiques) about it, and to consider it again to glean the fresh understanding and insights it offers. Reflection is the antidote to the “We’ve Never Done It That Way Before” syndrome that afflicts so many organizations and groups. This ability, however, means nothing if a leader is not willing to consider information, whether new or old, with clear eyes and clean filters. In the case of my friend’s medical school, however, there was no information to reflect upon until someone was willing to seek it out. Sadly, you and I both know from experience that having information is no guarantee that it is going to change anything. The universe of file cabinets is populated with needs assessments, for example, that have provided reams of information on communities which have not really contributed to our understanding of the community because there has been too little reflection on the meaning of the information. Reflection is a powerful tool for any leader of a learning organization, and yet it is a tool that must be intentionally picked up and used.

The third, in my short list of competencies for leaders of learning organizations, is adaptability. Adaptability is quite simply, as the word itself suggests, the ability to adapt or change. Adaptability requires a bit of courage on the part of leaders because it often results in the disruption of systems, interruption of plans, and the introduction of chaos as the organization is pushed into change. Adaptive leaders are, therefore, courageous leaders who are willing to experiment by letting their organization or group members experiment with the ideas that emerge from the learning process. It is adaptability that can make the ride pretty wild for leaders, as well as their organizations. Other leaders in my friend’s medical school were not too sure about trying some of the ideas offered by the front desk staff. To their credit, they agreed to test some of the ideas. The experiment is still too new to know for certain how it will work but one thing is clear: if they were not willing to experiment, nothing would change and the learning would be lost.

It is more comfortable to be a “great man” leader who has control, power, and predictability but it is not always as much fun as stepping over to the wild side of leading a truly great learning organization. Let’s get wild, okay?

Be greater, do good, every day,

T.W.K.

[i] If you would like to learn more about dance as a leadership metaphor, join me on Sunday, November 2, 2014 at 1:00 PM (Pacific) in San Diego, CA at the 16th Annual International Leadership Association Global Conference where I’ll be co-leading the workshop “Teaching Collaborative Leadership in Complex Environments with Ballroom Dance.” For more information about the conference, visit http://www.ila-net.org/.

For Barbara: The Power of One

May is Barbara’s month. In the United States, May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. Since it first began in 1991 in North Carolina, National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month (NTPPM) has taken root and grown throughout the country. As a result, hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations and communities throughout the United States will seize upon the annual moment NTPPM offers to rally their communities to reduce adolescent pregnancy. Over the remaining days of NTPPM 2014, articles and editorials in support of teen pregnancy prevention will be run in newspapers; faith communities will conduct services that include a focus on sexual responsibility and the value of parent/child communication about sex; mayors, even governors, will sign proclamations; and special forums will be held, just to name a few of the many possible activities. Already this month, both Seventeen has featured an article on teen pregnancy resources and The Huffington Post has posted an editorial in recognition of NTPPM.  National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month has also inspired important offshoots. For example, in conjunction with NTPPM, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has been sponsoring the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy which is two days from now, May 7th.

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Barbara Huberman

But May is Barbara’s month. Barbara Huberman, as the CEO of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Council of North Carolina (APPCNC), created Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in 1991. When she relocated to Washington, DC in 1995 to join the staff of Advocates for Youth, with the permission of APPCNC, she brought Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month with her and launched it as a national initiative. Every year since  then, beginning in Winter, Barbara begins to get ready for the upcoming NTPPM. As recently as 2011, Barbara and her interns updated and refreshed the NTPPM planning guide which is available as a free download from Advocates for Youth.

Barbara is one of the closest friends and colleagues I’ve ever had. I met her for the first time in 1995 at a conference in Washington, DC, just as she was beginning her tenure at Advocates for Youth. I’m not sure when I really became friends with Barbara. It just seems, from the very first, that we have always been friends. In 1999, after pestering me incessantly for two years, Barbara convinced me to go on a European study tour that she had put together for people working in the field of adolescent sexual health and teen pregnancy prevention. It was a remarkable experience and the brief documentary about the timeless, revolutionary findings of the study continues to fascinate audiences fifteen years later.

Barbara is the reason that I relocated from my home state of Iowa to Washington, DC. She was instrumental in my recruitment and hiring at Advocates for Youth. I’ve never quite figured out what Barbara saw in me that told her I’d be a good bet, but I’m glad she saw it. For nearly eight years I had the most incredible experience of working side-by-side with her. Together we built stronger, more sophisticated and sustainable statewide adolescent sexual health and teen pregnancy prevention organizations throughout the United States. In that time we supported several existing organizations that Barbara had had a role in creating and together we helped bring to life several new organizations. While at Advocates for Youth, we collaborated to create the National Support Center for State Teen Pregnancy Prevention Organizations and we started the State Organization Leadership Academy and Roundtable. We loved our work and we had great fun working together.

The hours and days of travel together gave us lots of time to talk, often over dinner or in airports waiting for our flights. In these moments was when we learned the most from each other. Barbara has been a mentor to many people, including me, but she is also a lifelong learner. In 2009, when I started my doctoral program, Barbara became one of my strongest supporters and loudest cheerleaders. We would often talk about my studies and she would often ask me to share with her what I was learning through both my reading and my research. What has always been wonderful about our friendship and working relationship is that we did not always have to agree. We usually did, but not always. Though even in disagreement, our friendship thrived and created a safe space for us to remain engaged professionally until we worked out the conflict.

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Prairie Home Companion at Wolftrap – 2011

Barbara Huberman is more than a friend. She is a member of our family of choice who is often with us for birthdays, weddings, and just for fun. With my family, and many of our friends in common, we trek to Wolftrap on Memorial Day weekend each year to enjoy the Saturday night performance of A Prairie Home Companion which is also broadcast live on public radio. We spread out a blanket, unfold our chairs, enjoy a “potluck” picnic, and settle in for the show. (I’m behind the camera in the photo to the left.)

Much, however, has changed in the past year. In March, 2013, I left Advocates for Youth to complete my doctoral research and dissertation. At about the same time, Barbara received a diagnosis of leukemia. Though she has bravely fought it and has been fiercely determined to beat it, it now appears she will not. Since leaving Advocates for Youth, Barbara and I have stayed as closely in touch as her illness will allow. For several months we’d meet regularly at our favorite diner for lunch or dinner. When she began a second round of intensive chemotherapy in early January, we’d communicate via email or text. More recently, as the illness has gained ground, the messages have come less frequently. In one of the last messages I received from her, Barbara asked me to attend on her behalf an event that is honoring her role in helping to start the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. On Wednesday, May 7th, my spouse and I will be traveling to Columbia, SC to be there for Barbara. It is a sad duty for me but one that I’m deeply honored to perform.

It is my reflection on Barbara’s life and professional contributions in preparation for this event that has inspired this posting. I often use this space to write about community engagement, leadership, sustainability, and other such matters. There is much in Barbara’s life and work that speaks to these issues. One of the most important lessons I, and many others, have learned from Barbara Huberman is the difference that one person can make. There is a plenary presentation that I’ve seen her do on a few occasions that really captures the essence of that message. Her presentation always ends with this video. I hope you’ll take the one minute and 43 seconds it takes to view it; it is well worthwhile.

National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month stands as an example of the power of one person to make a difference. Barbara understands, though, the power in shared leadership as well. Barbara has always believed that she alone should not and could not “own” NTPPM if it were to be successful. She supported the efforts of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s efforts to establish the National Day within NTPPM. She has continuously made herself, her ideas, and NTPPM materials freely available to leaders of statewide teen pregnancy prevention organizations. Yet NTPPM was just one of the many innovations Barbara introduced to the field of adolescent sexual health. With each of them, she felt it was important that others embrace them and make them their own if they were to be successful.

When I finished defending my dissertation, my committee chair, Beth Birmingham, gave me a card with a message she had written, using the metaphor of dance (we are both ballroom dancers) to describe the learning journey we had taken together. I share it below because it so beautifully illustrates an important aspect of shared leadership and I also believe it is a message Barbara could give to any one of us she has mentored over the years:

When this dance started…you only had a vague understanding of the overall stage…I agreed to lead. We took to the dance floor, took to our positions and began, me leading, you tentatively following and together making the way…slowly and surely, with each turn around the floor, you found your footing and soon, your expertise and ability surpassed mine, you took the lead and I became the follower. You found your feet, you gained not just experience but expertise and today you’ve established your leadership. Thank you for letting me partner with you in this wonderful dance. 

For me, Barbara’s belief in the power of one and the value of shared leadership has had a profound impact. It led her to befriend and “dance” with a teen pregnancy prevention program developer and organization leader she found in Iowa, freely sharing her insights, ideas, vision, dreams and material with him. It led her to entrust these to me with the hope and expectation that I would continue, and extend, some of her work. I have always seen this as a challenging expectation, yet I am honored to be so trusted by Barbara and have promised that I will do all I can to honor that trust in return. That includes, I believe, affirming to the next generation of leaders, that the art of social change requires the courage and power of one person to step up, and then to intuitively step back at the right time, to share leadership with others in order to achieve sustainable greater good.

Thank you for this dance, Barbara. Here’s to you, in May, a month that will always be yours.

More later,

T.W.K.

Giving Voice to the Voices in Our Head

We all have voices in our heads. They are the ideas, random thoughts, non sequiturs, and inspirations which often appear out of nowhere, even in the middle of the night, like this blog at 4:15 AM on a Saturday morning when I could be sleeping in. Fortunately, they also occur at other times of the day. I am especially good at non sequiturs at all hours.

So, there I was watching the opening ceremonies of the Sochi 2014 Olympics last night (yes, this is one of those non sequiturs but it is going to make sense in a minute). I am loving the spectacle of the show and I am enjoying it so much I pick up my tablet and start tweeting. I am blathering away on Twitter for hours when, finally, a friend sends me a note: “What are you doing?  What are you talking about?”  I reply: “Well, the opening ceremonies of the Sochi 2014 Olympics, of course.  Duh!” The show ended, I went to bed and I woke up at 2:50 AM with a startling realization: I had not been using any hashtags to give my friend, or any other of my zillions of followers, the context of the voices in my head. Okay, who is the idiot now?

And, of course, that is the point! (Yes, another non sequitur but I will connect it now.) People who have followers (aka leaders) need to remain always aware of the voices in their heads. Communicating ideas, random thoughts, and inspirations clearly to others is essential.  Even more, it is a core responsibility of leadership to communicate effectively with our followers and colleagues. Regardless of how creative, inspirational, and important the voices in our heads, if we do not make a focused effort to share them clearly and coherently, they flow out as a string of non sequiturs. Look, an occasional non sequitur is fine as it tests whether people are really paying attention to us. However, a steady string of them can cause people to seriously question our competence.

Here are a few lessons I learned, again, tonight on how all of us can avoid confusing our followers whenever we are wearing the mantle of leadership:

  1. Remember, the voices in your head are in your head only. Seems pretty basic and easy, right? It usually is until we have hit a gusher of ideas. In those moments they want out so bad we forget that others cannot hear those voices too and do not know the context out of which they flow.
  2. Slow down.  Do not go immediately for your cell phone to call a press conference or text, email, post, or tweet any of your insights to the world. Do not call for an all organization staff meeting, video conference, convocation or write a company-wide memo. Sit with it for a while. Mull over it. Have a cup of coffee or tea. Walk around the block. Whatever you do, keep it to yourself for now.
  3. Write your idea as a Haiku poem. Haiku poetry is typically only 10 to 14 syllables in length. By writing your idea as a Haiku, not only will you distill it to its very essence, you’ll also make it sound very pretty. Even more, it will help you organize your thoughts and push you to communicate them more clearly and concisely. Yes, even Twitter gives you 140 characters and it does not always seem adequate, to be sure.  Trust me, though, you can thoroughly confuse people with 140 characters.
  4. Try it out on one or two people who will not agree to any idiotic thing you say just because you are the leader.  Yes, share your Haiku poetry with them.  You do not have to tell them it is a poem, if that seems too risky to you.  You may be worried, after all, since you are the leader, that they may judge you for taking time away from your important schedule to write poetry.  You know, though, it is not such a bad idea that leaders write poetry.  It models the capacity for reflective thinking as well as the wisdom to break with the insanity of a frantic schedule.  If these one or two or more people quickly grasp the idea, seem warm to it, and are comfortable “kicking it around” with you, then you can share it with more people.

In retrospect, I really wish I had taken a few minutes to test my tweets instead of being carried away by the inspiration of the moment.  Nonetheless, it was a good reminder of how the voices in my own head can confuse my followers – whether on Twitter or in a real-time leadership role – if I do not intentionally, thoughtfully, and clearly communicate them.

I’m going back to bed.

More later…

T.W.K.