A Radio Interview on The Heart of it ALL

Blue Spinner Greyscale Feathered flippedOn May 24, 2013, I joined radio hosts Sheri Herndon and Erik Lawyer on their weekly talk show, One Becoming One: The Heart of it ALL.

The focus of the hour long broadcast was Navigating Through Chaos and Telling a New Story. We had a fine time talking about how best to work with upheaval and chaos. I talked a bit about the upcoming workshop I’m doing, Engaging Possibilities: Appreciative Inquiry and the Art of Radical Appreciation, on July 8-10 near Jerusalem, Israel. And we talked about journalism in changing times.

For more, listen to the conversation!


Mulling Leadership Roles in Emergent Systems

As I’ve been thinking about the leadership skills that serve networks well, I remembered something I wrote in August 2007 about the roles that show up in emergent systems.

What I posited then was that should any of these roles be missing, the chance of coherence emerging – of finding the simplicity on the other side of complexity – is much lower.

Today I think of network leadership skills in terms of cultivating hubs and making links. Yet, as I re-read these roles, I discovered my thinking hasn’t changed much.  I added “inviter” to my original list and moved “disturber” up front.  Beyond that, it seems I’d ordered them in something of a temporal way – roles that support disrupting, differentiating, and cohering.  My list follows the photograph.

Image by David Kessler, www.davidkessler.biz/art_gallery.htm

Okay, leadership skills may not be obvious in the picture, but I suspect there’s a lot more going on in this ecosystem that we completely grasp!

What roles would you add or change?

Disturber – Someone who brings attention to something from outside the system (a person on act of nature) that interrupts existing assumptions or patterns.  It can also be someone/something from inside the system that is differentiating itself in a way that interrupts current assumptions and patterns.

Attractor – Someone(s) who asks a calling question (implicitly or explicitly) that draws people who care about the issue to come present.  In formal systems, we typically call this person the sponsor.

Inviter — Someone(s) who reach out to engage the diversity of the system.  Based on the intent of the calling question, who needs to be involved?  Inviters are gifted and knowing how to make the connections, particularly to those who may not quite see their stake in the situation.

Guide – Someone(s) provide hospitable space for the work.  Sometimes this includes a process that channels energy.  Other times, it is simply ensuring the gentle structures for a nutrient environment are present.  In group process work, this is the person identified as the facilitator.

The People of the System – The people who bring the varied voices of the system.  The broader the definition of the system, the more diversity is in the room.

Bridge/translator – Someone(s) who can provide a sufficient hook for others in the system to connect with the disturbance/disturber.  Without this role, rather than creative use of the disturbance, resistance or rejection by the system’s immune system goes up.  These folks are active in the conversation, helping the rest of the group connect with what the disturber is attempting to express.

Edge worker – An easy to overlook and critical role!  Edge workers generally hang at the margins.  When someone checks out because they’re disturbed, an edge worker listens, sees, and honors that participant.  Edge workers are gifted at staying present to what is happening for the other person, artfully reflecting back what they experience.  They support others to discover the nuggets hidden in their dissonance.

Organizer – As new insights emerge, someone(s) grasps the threads and starts to weave them into a new story, one from which action flows.

Artist – Different forms of expression – words, music, art, movement – matters.  Artists help us move beyond stuck places, engaging people on different channels.  Art can make meaning more visible and can amplify the effectiveness of the interactions.


The Challenge of Power

Thanks to Google Alerts, I discovered a great review of Engaging Emergence by Ron Lubensky, from the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy in Sydney, Australia.

An excerpt:

This is the sort of easy-to-read book that you want to leave lying around so others will find it accidentally. Maybe they’ll recognise, as Peggy hopes, that modern life is not a predictable, steady state that is occasionally and annoyingly disrupted. Rather, life should be celebrated as an evolution of surprises, change and adaptation. Peggy provides us with a straightforward roadmap about how to constructively steward positive change.

In the last paragraph, Ron raised an issue about power (bolding is mine):

Engaging emergence requires that we talk to one another in a civil manner with mutual commitment. Perhaps wisely she has sidestepped the thorny challenge of motivating people who exercise power to graciously and generously devolve their authority to a shared enterprise. The book presumes that a situation where the practice can be exercised poses no political barriers to emergent change. Unfortunately, this would be a rare occurrence. So just like the enterprise of deliberative democracy, which requires the practice of engaging emergence, the initial challenge is just getting to step 1.

Illustration by Steven Wright

Since the challenge Ron raises is no doubt a common one, thought I’d share my exchange with him:

Thanks for your reflections on Engaging Emergence. I’m delighted at your enthusiastic response!

And I want to comment on the challenge you raised of motivating people with power. There are virtually always political barriers! Shame on me that I wasn’t more explicit on how to address them.

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.

Essentially, these are the conditions when anyone will engage. It’s just that people with more to lose tend to wait longer. By then, the situation is really messy and they’re desperate.

I’ve experienced this shift in government agencies, like the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), and in organizations, like the Boeing Company.  As Chris Innes of NIC put it so eloquently, they stepped up to “make it up as they went along” when doing the same old thing was not worth the trouble.

Posted by Peggy Holman 05 October 2010 06:47 am | link


Peggy, thanks for your elaboration regarding motivations to stepping up. It also points our community of practice to work harder to generate opportunities using the non-instrumental language you recommend. ps, I’ve posted sections of my review to Amazon for you! Best of success!

Posted by Ron Lubensky 05 October 2010 10:18 am | link