Further Reflections on Participatory Leadership Training In Zimbabwe

My previous blog from our late September training on the Art of Participatory Leadership told part of the story.  A week later, further reflections came clear that I want to share as well.  This is a more critical reflection on my work in Zimbabwe.

I woke in the early morning from the first night’s sleep in my own bed after returning from Zimbabwe.  Suddenly things that had been churning in my stomach all week were clearer.  I’d like to share some of my observations.

We delivered the Art of Participatory Leadership and in many ways it was excellent.  In fact, just this week I proposed to colleagues in Durban that we offer a very similar workshop to community activists in the INK townships.  However we missed some important opportunities in part, I suspect, because we got trapped within our own form.

I left our meeting last Monday disquieted.  The evaluations were a bit of a shock.  After years of teaching in formal as well as informal situations, I usually take evaluations as indicators rather than prescriptions.  But in reviewing these evaluations, my body knew that something was out of kilter – even if my head didn’t want the information!

We offered what I believe we were asked to offer.  Unfortunately it was only minimally valuable to most of the participants and didn’t justify the investment of a full week of their time.  We saw the challenges on the first day, and chose to continue with the training we were asked to deliver.  If we had been able to fully discern the field, we might have made different choices.

Participants came to the workshop for many reasons.   Most had little to do with participatory leadership – even though more participatory leadership in their organizations can open up a wealth of wisdom, capability and resources.   Some came because they wanted to better understand their work as organizational leaders.  Others came because they wanted to know more about how to manage people and teams.  Some came hoping to gain perspective on confounding issues within their organizations.  A few came hoping for conceptual engagement around issues of leadership.  We did not work well with the needs and hopes present in the room.  I’m not sure we could have – but I woke this morning with a few ideas.

I wonder if we might have broken the group into tracks?  While we wanted to get to participatory leadership, perhaps we might have gone about it quite differently.  Especially with the addition of Chiku to our team, we had both the resources and the time.  Chiku brought  indepth experience working with African proverbs and stories about leadership as a way to engage others in thinking about their leadership.  What we might have done is spent some of our time together as a single learning community about participatory leadership and some of our time in separate modules or tracks.  With our available personnel, we might have offered three; perhaps:

  • Working with Community Based Organization Issues – Marianne
  • People and Teams in Organizations – Bob
  • Hosting Conversations that Matter – Simone

We then might have offered several plenary type sessions for the whole community:

  • What is Leadership Anyway?
  • Traditional African Perspectives on Leadership
  • Creating Meaningful Change in Turbulent Times
  • Unlocking Capacity in Organizations

We could have used our Participatory Leadership Methodologies to offer these sessions and done a knowledge café giving people further information on these approaches.

I suspect this is a more major redesign than we could have done on the spot.  But I wonder, what held us back?  I suspect there were several things:

  1. Deeper conversations, beforehand, with Sabi Consulting might have revealed more, but at some point this workshop got defined as one on Participatory Leadership.  Our pre-workshop materials said what we would do, but participants came for all sorts of varied reasons.
  2. We were held back by our own knowing and preconceptions.  Based on meetings with the Program Design Team we made a commitment to offer a particular training and we stayed with the plan.
  3. We operated with a certain level of determination, convinced that we knew what the participants needed rather than really listening to them.
  4. While we know the aspiration, when working with Participatory Leadership, is to work with what is present in the room, we had our own blinders and limitations in terms of really doing so.

I’m not sure what comes next.  As I said on a number of occasions, this is a fine group of people doing important work.  I want to support them in any way possible.  I hope that what we were able to share will continue to work with and on people and will ultimately be valuable.  Some of what we were presenting contradicts models and practices of so-called modern culture and it takes a while to digest.  The methodologies we offered are sound and used successfully in a wide variety of settings.  I hope they can be of value here.

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Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan

In a week I’ll be headed back to my beloved Japan.  What will I find there?  Community.  Friends and family.  Colleagues. Grief.  Destruction. Possibility. Fear. Hope.  All those and more.  My heart quivers some.  I am almost overwhelmed by all the images and stories that have flooded in over the last two weeks since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.  And, I am going to be with my community, with my kindred.  I’m carrying with me learning from the web of The Berkana Institute as I explore questions of what is possible now that was not possible before with my many friends and colleagues.

Over the last two weeks much of my time has been focused on Japan.  Connecting and supporting people, being in many conversations via twitter, facebook, skype, e-mail and even telephone.  Some ideas have been coming into focus that I want to share.  These are written as I see them.  They are based on many conversations and they are still my formulation of what might be helpful.  They are part of my starting point as I go home to Japan.

I see four main domains of work:

Grief and Possibility in the Tohoku Region.  Much has been lost:  25,000 people dead or missing; 500,000 people without homes; businesses, schools  and infrastructure destroyed.

  • This grief must be hosted.  Spaces need to be created which support people in speaking of their grief and loss and disappointment.  A safe space of talking and of listening is needed now.
  • And Tohoku can be re-created, stronger and more resilient than it ever was before.  What is essential is that people in Tohoku are in charge of this re-creation – not government, not NGOs, not well intended forces from outside.  People in Tohoku must come together in new ways to direct this recreation.

A new effort called  Japan Dialog –  is beginning to address these needs and possibilities.

A Wide Field of Possibilities. People around Japan and around the world want to support the people in Tohoku.  Think of this as an eco-system with many parts.  Some have ideas and resources for different community engagement processes.  Others know how to work with the strengths and assets still present in the communities.  Some know of more energy efficient and durable building techniques.  Others know of better ways to grow food sustainably.  These ideas can either be another tsunami that washes over the area, or they can be a rich ecology of possibilities which can support in the rebuilding.  Work is needed which can call this eco-system together.

The work of  Instituto Elos and the Oasis Game from Brazil may provide important tools for working in this area as well as the ABCD approach (Asset Based Community Development).  I’ve assembled some resources for this approach on my Resources Page

A Bridge to the Future. A third domain of work is the work of connecting Tohoku with this wide field of possibilities.  Spaces and places are needed which support this connection between the people in Tohoku and these many possibilities.  This bridge must be wide, solid and flexible, supporting robust dialogue and design which supports people in creating new future possibilities.  The work that the Knowledge Dynamics Initiative at Fuji/Xerox has done to bring Future Centers into Japan will be a foundation for this bridge.


Bridge To Future

Tohoku Tomorrow

New Relationship To Energy. The earthquake came.  The tsunami came.  What stayed was the radiation.  Perhaps there is an opportunity for a new dialogue in Japan about how much energy is needed to live happy lives.  Japan might choose to learn how to live with less.  If that choice were made in Japan, it would be put into action immediately.  Japan might provide critical leadership for the rest of the world on this important issue.  This is a deep dialogue that needs to be hosted well in the coming months.  There are no easy answers – just very important questions.

Who might help?

In many ways Japan is a large country and a very small community.  Over the last year I have had the opportunity to work with many people and organizations who might be, I believe, the key players to work in these four domains.  I know there are many others as well.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from our work together.

And many, many more.  Japan is ripe for change.  Please visit some of my blogs here from November and December, 2010 to get a sense of the possibilities

And please come visit here from time to time.  I arrive in Japan on April 5th and will be there until the first of June.  I’ll be sharing stories and learning here from time to time.  Please also visit http://bit.ly/dMALkr for a story about Resilience in Japan from the latest Fieldnotes from ALIA — Authentic Leadership in Action.

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Bootcamp is Over

Bootcamp is over. Those are the words that came to me last month when I was working  in Phoenix with people from the St. Luke’s Health Initiatives.  My trip to Phoenix came right after I returned from almost a month in southern Africa.  What I heard and saw in Phoenix fit into the same pattern as my experiences in Africa.

My sense is that I, and many others, have been in deep training for this past decade.  We’ve been learning how to see our world, our selves, our relationships and our work in new ways.  The learning didn’t start ten years ago, and it won’t stop now, but I’m feeling like this is the time when we need to move on.

On a phone call yesterday my friend Chris Corrigan used three phrases which really caught my attention.  He said we are not yet a community that practices and we are not yet a system that influences.  He went on to speak about the work that needs doing now is practical decolonization.

  • A community that practices… My friend Robert Theobald used to always talk about how we needed to listen to the music, not the words.  We’ve heard and used many words in the last decade.  And they are powerful:  presencing, hosting, healing, zero-waste, appreciation, feeding ourselves sustainably.  The list goes on and on.  Many of us have learned how to dance with words like power and love, warrior and midwife.  The dance is good.  But it is time now to practice, practice and practice.  It is time to hear the music with our bodies.  It is time to embody these practices.  It is time to practice together as if our lives depend on it.  They probably do.  No, I don’t know exactly what this means.  But I sense it means now is not the time to feel satisfied and complete in what we’ve done and learned so far.  Now is the time to push our edges more than ever before.
  • A system that influences… Together we have a chance to create a new era, a step beyond the era which is disintegrating all around us.  Many of us have been pioneers, engaging in promising experiments with new forms, processes and ventures which carry the DNA of the era we might create.  Much of this work has been powerful, rewarding and exciting.  And, it is not enough.  We must find ways which allow this work to easily and naturally spread.  I’m not talking about going to scale, I am talking about creating systems of influence.  Systems of influence require the creation of eco-systems which are larger than our individual work and which connect that work so it can GROW.  Communities of practice can create systems of infulence, indicators can create systems of influence, scenarios can create systems of influence.  In South Africa I saw a reality TV show create a system of influence.  What else?  How do we help this work grow.
  • Practical decolonization… I love the phrase, simply because it hasn’t yet been overused!  Decolonizing is the process of shrugging off the shackles of domination that have controlled our lives.  We’ve all been colonized.  Certainly the colonization and extermination of indigenous peoples all over the world has been the most obvious and most brutal.  Many of us have been victims and perpetrators of practices of power over which has separated us individually and collectively from our selves, each other and all other life on this planet of ours.  Now is the time for us to step out of our roles as colonized and colonizers — practically, clearly, irrevocably.

We know how to do this!  That’s the good news from our work of the last decade.  No, we don’t have a road map.  Hell, we don’t even really know the destination.  But we do know enough to continue, to deepen, to go to a next level.  But we have to move.  Part of this is, I am sure, learning how to be comfortable working with the Alchemy of Opposites.  All of it, I know is done collectively in community, not individually in isolation.

A lot of my own thinking about this over the last couple of months has been influenced both by Adam Kahane’s new book Power and Love and an essay from Barry Oshrey that grew out of a conversation he and Adam had, also called  Power and Love.  I’m personally a little leery of both these terms — power and love — but they have been an important doorway into my current learning.  Oshrey speaks of the need to develop robust systems which combine power and love and I think he’s got it right.  I think that I’ve spent much of the last ten years working on relationships and harmony and listening.  I think the focus of the next ten needs to be more on getting real work done.

Many blessings as we end the era of the “oughts” (aught 1, aught 2, …) and come into the era of the “tens” (inTENtion)  <grin>

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