by Pat Hughes
Mark Twain once famously said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the resistance of fear, the mastery of fear, and the ability to move into challenges despite our fears. Derived from the French word coeur, meaning heart, courage is feeling afraid and acting anyway.
Courage is a physical act, such as climbing a mountain or dashing in front of traffic to pull someone out of danger. But more importantly for today’s leaders, courage is an internal quality which enables us to stand up for what we believe is right.
Many think this second type of courage is more difficult and Twain also noted that “It is curious, that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.” We believe that it is possible to foster this type of courage in ourselves and our groups. The Center for Ethical Leadership’s new book brings this type of courage to the surface. Courageous Collaboration with Gracious Space: From Small Openings to Profound Transformation outlines the inner qualities that individuals and groups can develop in order to be more courageous together.
These qualities include creating psychological safety, building deep and trusting relationships, taking risks that matter and being in an extended state of collective creativity. Perhaps the crux move here is being open to risk. Many times groups form close bonds, but then won’t bring up the hard issues (such as “elephants” in the room or other unmentionables) because they don’t want to damage their hard-earned relationships. But in order for groups to break through areas of stuckness and be in truly generative territory, they need to take such risks. Developing this skill is what creates courageous collaboration.
Most groups are comprised of well-meaning people who nevertheless find themselves in situations of conflict with others they work with. “We wrote this book because people were contacting us for help in building relationships and having the important conversations that will move their communities and organizations forward,” said Dale Nienow, Executive Director at the Center for Ethical Leadership. “We cannot stay stuck at the level of niceness. We need to move past civility to a deeper level where we can have the challenging conversations that will make a real difference.”
Courageous Collaboration invites us to reframe and reclaim collaboration as more than simply working together on a shared project. Courageous Collaboration asks us to bring our best stuff, and be open to the mysteries, surprises and uncertainties that lie in group work and change efforts. We may need to dust off our courage and try something new. It may not go right on the first try, but one thing is for sure—if we wait until the conditions are perfect, we’ll probably never act boldly or find new territory.
So don’t be afraid to courageously collaborate. Or, more precisely, it's okay to be afraid, but go ahead and do it anyway. As A.A. Milne told us, we are braver than we believe, and stronger than we seem, and smarter than we think.
The new book "Courageous Collaboration with Gracious Space" is now available for purchase in the Publications section of our web site.
by Dale Nienow
At the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference last April, I had a conversation with a participant who was experiencing despair at the deep divide in the relationship between a prominent funder and the people they aimed to serve. This individual wanted to learn how collective leadership could help.
Collective leadership is fundamentally about building relationships of a different kind --that can accomplish different results. These relationships hold power more collectively across positions, roles, institutions, perspectives. They tap into collective wisdom that can only be gathered by including a number of different perspectives that our organizations do not automatically access. Those engaging in collective leadership realize that social change has many complexities and we need to cultivate relationships more capable of learning together and discovering appropriate actions that fit local contexts.
This is not easy work and it is seldom quick work. Fostering deep relationships, investing in time for learning, engaging in emergence are big challenges for people driven by timelines, high performance, and delivering impressive outcomes. Collective leadership asks us to open up to our own transformations in how we do our work and view our roles. It offers great promise for shifting work in communities. This is particularly true where there is tension in community created by disparities, exclusion, or alienation there. Or where an institutional policy or practice under-serves part of the community.
This requires those of us in positions of leadership to step out of our comfort zones. It asks us to share our power so the community and our organizations can collectively hold the work – the purpose, plans, and action. It also invites us to open up to uncertainty and look at different kinds of outcomes such as new partnerships, community ownership of change work, and development of local approaches to change.
Where there are divides between our institutions and communities, collective leadership can help. We don’t need to maintain current divides. Collective leadership tells us what we need to do is to take the time and create the space for developing authentic relationships. At the Center for Ethical Leadership we say, “it only takes a small opening to create the space for a profound transformation.” Are you ready to create the opening?
Einstein was once asked, “If you had an hour to solve a problem, what would you do?”
He replied, “I’d spend the first 55 minutes defining the question, after that the answer would be obvious.”
Most of the problems we are trying to solve today in our communities and organizations take longer than an hour, but Einstein’s advice still holds true. Defining the question is one of the most powerful and important leadership tools available today – and perhaps one of the least expensive. There are many ways of asking questions, so how do we distinguish the average question from one that is truly compelling – one that results in the obvious, positive action that Einstein suggests?
First, beware the “poser questions.” These are statements or opinions that masquerade as a question simply by adding a question mark or a lift in your voice at the end, such as: “You’re not really going to do that, are you?” Poser questions betray themselves by their intent, which is usually to wield power or blame, exert opinion or lead the conversation in a particular way. “Why can’t you get this project right?” or “Does anyone else think this idea is heinous?”
There are many types of questions that are helpful, but which can also somehow be limiting. For example, we often ask questions in order to clarify information or to satisfy our own curiosity. These questions are in service to ourselves. They are useful, but typically transactional in nature – “What time does the meeting start?” “How can I learn more about the class?” “What did it feel like when your hair was on fire?” These questions serve a purpose, but do not generally guide the conversation into new territory.
Then there are questions that are in service to another person. These are usually open-ended questions to which the asker cannot know the answer, and are intended to help another person reflect or problem solve. I once had a dilemma and shared it with my boss, who asked a strangely useful question, “What color is it?” He had no investment in the answer; the question was intended to help me see the issue from a new perspective. When I reflected, the answer was “purple,” and from there I figured out which qualities of purple were evident in my dilemma and how that new information could help me see a resolution.
In our work with communities and organizations, the Center has been using Compelling Questions to foster social change. Rather than simply trying to steer the conversation or gain information for the parties involved, a Compelling Question promotes leadership and deep learning. A Compelling Question is formed by discerning the inherent (and sometimes opposing) values within the issue, and then crafting a question that incorporates, bridges and builds on those values, with enough possibility to create direction and enough specificity to create traction.
At a recent all-day Gracious Space training in Missoula, MT, participants applied their Gracious Space skills to identify and prioritize community issues. Then they crafted Compelling Questions that promoted serious dialogue on these issues. For many, it was the most difficult part of the day, since the task required using many different abilities simultaneously: hearing different viewpoints, collating and synthesizing information, and wordsmithing the values into an authentic, inviting and compelling question. Some of the examples include:
- Traffic: How can the city of Missoula develop a traffic plan that integrates safe, shared roadways with quiet and clean neighborhoods while maintaining efficient, cost-effective traffic flow for commercial and residential use?
- Medical Marijuana: How do we ensure honest access to and distribution of medications (that alleviate suffering) while protecting the safety, well being and peace of mind of the community?
- Diversity: How do we engage students, parents and administration in providing a safe, comfortable and respectful environment that honors and accepts diversity in all its forms?
- Environment: How do we improve clean air, water and land while providing jobs, economic development and vehicle recreation, allowing for private property rights?
At the end of the session, Mayor John Engen arrived to observe and hear the questions participants had formulated. The mayor complimented and endorsed Gracious Space, and said too often we create “grumpy space” which is not productive. “You’ve really gotten to how to pose the question – I don’t know how you did that – but the way you’ve asked the questions makes me want to answer. They are respectful and provoke in me the desire to care for your issue.”
In public discourse, the mayor said, “We need to tone down the rhetoric so we can each have some degree of power and a piece of the outcome. I’d like to see people be more thoughtful in their remarks; to go from being ready to defend to asking questions as if they really want answers. When you go home at the end of the day and your family asks what you did, it’s nice to answer, ‘We did honesty and inclusivity.’”
Compelling Questions can also foster storytelling that leads to relationship building. When people share stories about their lives, they connect in a deeper place and bring out more of what matters to them.
Another form of Compelling Question is to pose a progression of inquiries that offer an initial invitation and build toward taking more risk. This process is often described as “creating a relational field.” The relational field is the energy we develop when we are in a group. Asking a series of Compelling Questions can help tap into, open up and build this field of energy so it can support the work of the group.
In Gracious Space, the moments of discomfort when someone shares an experience of pain, anger, despair or accusation can be an opportunity for the group to shift to deeper work. Using a Compelling Question in this instance can help the group probe and address an underlying truth or tension.
Too often we default to the lowest common denominator for rules engaging our dialogues, and our conversations become polarized, stalled or confrontational. But across the country in a wide variety of gatherings, people are learning to use compelling questions in expansive ways to open up their thinking and learn together.
One practitioner recently told us, “Public discourse tends to spiral down, but with Gracious Space as a methodology, there is a constructive outcome that unfolds. People really listen rather than just get their say in. There is such polarization today, it’s upsetting to not be able to reach across the table. Gracious Space is a way that can happen effectively and that’s very encouraging.”
Hosting community dialogues using inviting, Compelling Questions is greatly needed in our communities at this time. We believe Compelling Questions are a tool for social change.
by Pat Hughes and Bill Grace
The common good can mean many things, but over the past dozen years repetitive themes have emerged to define the common good, including equity, fairness and the opportunity for every person to be clothed, fed, healthy, safe and free to achieve their potential.
For many years, the Center’s definition of the common good was: liberty and justice for all, with an additional measure of mercy and compassion for the least fortunate and the most vulnerable among us. The Center’s definition has evolved to consider the broader aspects of social, environmental and economic justice. The Center now defines the common good as fostering healthy, just and inclusive communities.
One of the founding purposes of the Center for Ethical Leadership has been to promote the common good, and creating Gracious Space is central to that work. In Gracious Space, we can look at the current situation and ask ourselves: “Who is most vulnerable today?” “Who is the least fortunate?” “How do we foster healthy, just and inclusive communities?” Gracious Space brings all voices into the discussion. It provides an environment for the hard work of examining the policies, systems and realities that threaten or withhold the good for some of our citizens.
A commitment to the common good is noble and necessary work, but promoting it is difficult, since people have different ideas of what “good” looks like. Leaders and citizens need “safety zones” where they can explore difficult issues and imagine new futures. Gracious Space can be that zone. Without the graciousness in which to question and learn, we will likely conceive a more narrow interpretation of the common good. Without a spirit of compassion and curiosity, we may lack the trust and the will to commit to the remainder of the journey. In Gracious Space, we can join with others to search for shared solutions to society’s problems.
As part of the research and development of leadership development models and programs the Center named seven steps for leadership and action on behalf of the common good. 1) Create Gracious Space; 2) Gather diverse people; 3) Critique the status quo; 4) Advance systems thinking and transformational and transforming change; 5) Promote ethical leadership and knowledge of core values; 6) Foster integrity and moral courage; and 7) Recall hope.
Following is an overview of the other steps. This is an excerpt of the material which appears in the new edition of the Center’s book, Gracious Space: A Practical Guide to Working Better Together.
Gather Diverse People
Diverse people include those from a different gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religious affiliation and sexual orientation than our own. Diversity can also be by neighborhood, experience and profession. At first glance, Gracious Space could be misperceived as a vehicle for creating an emotionally antiseptic setting that seeks to avoid conflict. In fact, Gracious Space is at its most powerful and useful when difference or conflict is present, such as when diverse people come together.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Peace is not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.” When we gather diverse people in Gracious Space, it is to establish justice, trusting that real peace is a byproduct of an authentically just climate. In that gathering we may experience conflict. The good news is that conflict, when held in Gracious Space, creates an enlightened experience of dissenting views which can yield powerful results for the good. The common good asks us to gather diverse people so we can wrestle with the injustices in our midst.
For instance, a diverse community might gather to address the racial disparities in achievement in K-12 education. Instead of blaming individuals or certain racial groups, the community acknowledges that this is a shared problem, and must be addressed collectively to solve it. Through the strength of their collective wisdom, voice and power, change for the common good is much more likely to occur.
Critique the Status Quo
Once we have gathered diversity, leaders or citizens are obliged to critique the status quo. Offering critique should not be done lightly as it can unexpectedly and unnecessarily do harm. Sometimes we criticize someone – a child, athlete, friend or staff member – to help them become their best, in which case critique is intended as a gift. Other times we might criticize these people in order to do harm, feel right or superior, in which case our critique is more like a weapon. Before we offer a critique we need to check our intentions. If we are offering a gift, bring it; if we are brandishing a weapon, stow it.
A critique of the status quo is no different. We must do so in a way that is effective and does not do more harm than good. Simply complaining about the way things are is highly unlikely to advance the common good. Citizens and leaders need to ask: How and where is the system causing harm to others? Knowledge of these harmful patterns must then be articulated in public. Once an injustice is named, we can create a moral agenda for social change. The common good asks us to do this challenging work with compassion – to speak the truth, in love, to power.
Advance Systems Thinking and Transformational & Transforming Change
When we gather diverse people in Gracious Space and critique the status quo, we begin to see things we hadn’t seen before. A systems analysis aids us in understanding the complexity of the system we are seeking to change.
Systems thinking is “a discipline for seeing wholes, recognizing patterns and interrelationships, and learning how to structure those interrelationships in more effective, efficient ways.” Admittedly, trying to understand anything as a whole is difficult. Tackling something whole scale, such as how to transform a struggling school, can be a complicated and mind-boggling task.
A child’s education requires good schools, gifted and passionate teachers, and a child ready to learn. Education also is dependent upon a home free from harm, with adult role models who support the child’s education through direct involvement. If educational reform leaves out any of these factors, or those of class size, peer culture, class and racial equity and learning styles, reform will fall short. Systems analysis therefore takes a commitment to examine the whole.
Two models of leadership offer effective strategies for change that align with the common good: transformational leadership and transforming leadership.
We define transformational leadership as “changing the status quo for the common good.” This type of leadership questions “business as usual” and seeks to advance systemic change for the benefit of the least fortunate and the most vulnerable. For example, in their transformational change efforts, civil rights leaders have changed bus ridership rules, school admission policies, and state and federal laws. Other transformational leadership examples include recent no smoking policies in restaurants and other public spaces, Child Labor Laws, Maternity and Paternity Leave policies and affirmative action.
Transforming leadership has the same end goal – the common good – but a different focus. The focal point of the transforming leader is not the status quo itself but the philosophical assumptions of the status quo. It does not seek to transform systems and institutions, but rather the hearts, minds and spirit of those who created the systems in the first place, or who are currently stewards and users of them.
Transformational and transforming leaders are similar in their desire for justice and new visions for the common good, but they differ in substance and approach. Transformational leaders seek to change systems and institutions through acts, laws and policies because these public tools create more accountability. Transforming leaders intend to move a person to a differently principled view of life or a given situation, trusting that change is more lasting when it is written on someone’s heart rather than just on the books. The common good requires both types of leadership.
Promote Ethical Leadership and Knowledge of Core Values
Ethical leadership is the essential combination of transformational and transforming leadership. Transformational leadership without a transforming strategy can lead to changes in the system but not the hearts, and the old problem is likely to simply resurrect in a new form. Conversely, engaging in transforming leadership without a transformational change agenda can easily be reduced to great prose in search of reality. What good are the most inspiring words if nothing actually changes for the good? Transforming words ring hollow in the ears of those who suffer here and now. The common good asks leaders for a two-fold commitment to change hearts and change systems, because then the possibility of moving towards the common good with sustainable results increases dramatically.
As ethical leaders seek the common good, they grow in their awareness of and commitment to their own core values. Our core values can become our core identity, our core intentions and our core mission in life. In a hectic world where we can easily forget who we are, why we are here and what we would like to do with our lives, our core values remind us of the deepest understanding of our life’s meaning and purpose.
Foster Integrity and Moral Courage
As we integrate our values into our daily lives for the sake of the common good, we find ourselves in the territory of integrity and courage. “Integrity” shares a Latin root with the word “integer.” An integer is a whole number, not divided or fractionalized, and the word integrity points to the same wholeness. Another definition of integrity comes from the textile industry. If a garment is woven from one end to the other without a seam, then is the garment said to have integrity.
As we move more deeply into a life of integrity we will naturally call those around us, both individuals and institutions, to seek the same. Integrity is infectious and one person’s commitment to integrity can move a whole institution or community to follow suit.
It also takes moral courage to gather diverse people, critique the status quo and advance change for the common good. Courage is not fearlessness – rather it is an inner quality that enables us to move into the challenges of the common good in spite of our fears.
Courage is derived from the French word “coeur,” which means heart. When a person commits to their passionate concerns for the world, that heartfelt commitment will help him or her move into courageous leadership.
Courage comes in different forms. Physical courage is necessary to become an Olympic gymnast; psychological courage is necessary to fly solo in an airplane. Yet, the form of courage most essential for leaders who aspire to advance the common good is moral courage. Moral courage is the willingness and ability to align our actions with the call of our values and the demands of conscience. Moral courage is a willingness to do the right thing when the wrong thing is easier and less costly.
It takes courage to create Gracious Space, gather diverse people, critique the status quo, advance systems thinking and transformational and transforming change, and promote ethical leadership and values-oriented behavior. Courage infuses these leadership activities with the decisive actions necessary to advance the common good.
A leader’s responsibility doesn’t end with simply pointing out what needs to be changed. Leaders need to point towards hope that change can and will occur. Hope is the final step of the Seven Steps to the Common Good, because hope can be the force that makes or breaks a change effort. Leaders must find hope within themselves and inspire others to find hope.
Asking a person to inspire hope is a lot like asking them to create fire. It can be done, but only with the right ingredients. To make fire, the right ingredients would be fuel, oxygen and a source of ignition. The three ingredients for hope are conviction, love and a transcendent vision.
Conviction tells us to commit to the common good even if our efforts appear fruitless or foolish. Conviction encourages the leader to continue to labor for the good trusting that hope – and change – will arrive. Conviction kept Nelson Mandela’s hope alive while he endured nearly 28 years of imprisonment on Robben Island. His conviction for a just South Africa led him to the day when, against all odds, he was freed and elected President of his country.
Love is the second ingredient of inspiring hope. When we listen to our hearts, we remember who and what we love, and that we are loved. A leader’s love for those who are disenfranchised and for the possibility of a brighter future can keep them hopeful and moving forward even in the darkest days.
The third ingredient of hope is a transcendent vision. Hope is not bound by present realities, rather, hope transcends present reality and grants a view of the future that neither rhyme nor reason can support. As Joan Chittister so eloquently says:
“When tragedy strikes, when trouble comes, when life disappoints us, we stand at the crossroads between hope and despair, torn and hurting. Despair cements us in the present; hope sends us dancing around dark corners trusting in a tomorrow we cannot see.”
Gracious Space and the Common Good
These Seven Steps help leaders find their way to the common good. They serve as a pathway for leaders who find themselves in unfamiliar and unstable territory, and can provide a sense of what to expect and what is most needed in the midst of ambiguity or volatility.
When leaders find themselves in difficulty they can help themselves and others by creating Gracious Space, grounding themselves in their values, and recalling the promise of hope. When leaders find themselves capitulating to an unjust status quo they can fix their courage, and remember that leadership asks them to critique the status quo and advance systems thinking and change even when it is difficult.
It is our belief that the most powerful place to begin the work of leadership for the common good is with the creation of Gracious Space. Gracious Space serves as the container in which the rest of the seven steps can be practiced. Leadership often involves risk, and Gracious Space creates a setting in which leaders access the strength and support to risk leading on behalf of a better future.
Gracious Space also creates a setting where those being led are more likely to constructively engage the leader’s actions and pursue the common good together. Gracious Space shifts the public space and the space in people’s hearts and minds to create room for collective innovation and transformation.
Finally, Gracious Space transforms the pursuit of the common good into an experience of the common good itself. A friend of the Center once said, “You can’t get to a good place in a bad way.” This means that Gracious Space and the common good become one and the same. How we get there (the means) and the common good we envision (the ends) must be in alignment. When diverse people come together, welcome new ideas and perspectives, and ask questions that have the power to transform the good for all, the common good is made manifest.
As people sample a taste of the common good by working within Gracious Space, they become ready to transform the unjust systems and structures into new expressions of the common good. In this way, Gracious Space itself works as a harbinger of change and motivates people to manifest the common good in the realms where they live.
A short blog post by Karma Ruder:
Recently I had the opportunity to explore the way that Nonviolent Communication (NVC) fits with Gracious Space through a day of training by the Freedom Project. The Freedom Project brings NVC training into prisons in the State of Washington.
Developed by Marshall Rosenberg, NVC focuses on how we can be in touch with our own feelings and needs in an authentic way. This approach invites us to pay attention to the stories we tell ourselves and others about what is actually occurring. “I feel betrayed,” may really be, “I am hurt by your behavior and have a story about why you did what you did.” NVC asks us to be careful about making meaning of what we see happening around us and then treating our meaning as the truth. Rather, NVC invites us:
· to be clear about the behavior that causes us difficulty;
· to identify how the behavior makes us feel;
· to define what our needs are;
· and to request a different behavior that could meet those needs.
During the training I thought about how this approach invites one to explore the stranger within (I was surprised how hard it is for me to identify my own feelings and needs) and to learn in public by testing one’s perceptions with others. Then, last week I spoke with a woman in New York who was wondering when we would be offering a workshop in Gracious Space in her state. She teaches NVC and she particularly loved the element of spirit in Gracious Space because she saw that was critical as a way to open people up to be willing to look at their own behaviors.
She also identified Gracious Space as a foundational approach that would help her to expand how she works with groups. At the heart of both approaches is taking ownership of doing the work of becoming our best selves.
As leaders of organizations and community efforts, we know you are committed not just to survival, but to innovation and sustainability. This Gracious Space Blog and the services of the Center for Ethical leadership are intended to give you ideas and connections with other leaders and top minds focused on leadership.
This month we share what Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School has to say about the new leadership lexicon. The new leadership lexicon, in her words, is all about purpose, values and partnerships. Dr. Kanter outlined five points at the Community Leadership Association Conference in April (where we also presented Gracious Space). We note with gratitude that her advice aligns elegantly with the Center’s approach to leadership and with the Gracious Space work.
1. Have a noble purpose. There is no leadership without a noble purpose. What is the big, hairy, audacious goal you and your organization are dreaming of? What innovation will improve the world? Dr. Kanter suggested that purpose, values, and partnerships will guide us in making our noble purposes real. The purpose is the reason for our work; values form the glue that holds us together; and partnerships, especially between non-profits and for-profits, make real and sustainable change happen.
Dr. Kanter shared an example of corporate leadership with a noble purpose – Proctor and Gamble’s product PUR. This innovation is a portable water purification package, about the size of a ketchup packet, that can decontaminate 2 ½ gallons of drinking water, enough to sustain a typical household for 2-3 days. It reduces pathogen-induced diarrhea — the top killer of children in much of the developing world at a rate of 4,000 kids per day.
Each packet costs a few cents and Procter & Gamble’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water program has provided them free to some countries hit hard by sudden water emergencies such as floods and earthquakes. The company has been developing the packets since 1995 in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the new leadership lexicon, boundaries blur when leaders share purpose, values and partnership with others heading in the same direction. At the Center, we also believe these three areas of leadership are vital. Our website provides a facilitator’s guide to the Core Values Exercise, and the entire Gracious Space Change Framework is built on the notion of co-constructing purpose and plans to embolden our work for the common good.
2. Find solutions collaboratively. Pick a target problem and mobilize partnerships to solve the problem collaboratively. Dr. Kanter’s second point focuses on collaboration and is relationship oriented. Partnerships mean that solutions are smarter, because they include more information from more of the system. Similarly, the Gracious Space model asks us to “invite the stranger” and “learn in public.” It asks us to be more open to relationships so that we may work better together on the issues that matter.
The Center recently facilitated a series of dialogues for the Tacoma Community Foundation around ending youth violence. Using the principles of Gracious Space, youth and adults designed and facilitated the sessions. Because the youth were present, the dialogues yielded some new information, that: 1) youth are more likely to reject violence when they have a creative outlet through which to express themselves, such as art, and 2) that these were the very programs being cut due to budget shortfalls. Working together, the foundation and its partners are restoring those programs because they will provide real and healthy alternatives to youth.
3. Convene. Hold conversations and use self-organizing tools, Dr. Kanter advised. She told the story about IBM, which in 2003 undertook the first reexamination of its values in nearly 100 years. Through "Values-Jam," an unprecedented 72-hour discussion on IBM's global intranet, IBMers came together to define the essence of the company. The result? A set of core values that shape the way they lead, decide, and act.
They followed this in 2006 with the Innovation Jam. This online brainstorm brought together more than 150,000 people from 104 countries and 67 companies. As a result, 10 new IBM businesses were launched with seed investment totaling $100 million.
Convening is also a vital way for community leaders to find each other for common purposes. The Center has hosted six Confluence events since 1999, each time bringing together 50-60 people for 2-3 days to tackle complex social issues. The Confluence creates an environment of Gracious Space and uses dialogue, systems-level thinking, and collaborative action to help people speed their work toward social and cultural change.
4. Let go. Let the people do it. Dr. Kanter quoted a leader in Brazil who started a development initiative, and later admitted, “I knew I was successful when I lost control of it.” As leaders we are good at diving in, taking charge, and fixing. Yet our noble purpose will never become a movement, nor will it be sustainable, without the dozens or hundreds of people who take it on and make it their own.
5. Persist and persevere. When we are engaged in change, middles are difficult. We run into difficulties forecasting, roadblocks distract our efforts and resources, we lose momentum, and face the critics. Dr Kanter even has a name for it – Dr. Kanter’s Law – which says: Everything can look like a failure in the middle.
“The first thing to do when something isn’t working is to say, ‘We must still be in the middle,’” says Dr. Kanter. “That’s very helpful and reflects reality. Everybody gets excited at the beginning of big efforts. In the midst of that excitement, I would say, ‘Now we're going to plan for when it all goes wrong.’ People resist doing this because it's a downer after all of that positive energy. But if you get groups working on that, they not only get very imaginative about the things that could go wrong, they also feel stronger because they've anticipated the worst.”
In the Gracious Space Change Framework, we call this Opening to Risk. What is the turbulence, conflict or stubborn pattern that lurks alongside your change effort and could derail all your hard work if you do not pay attention to it? Leaders need to face the difficulties, have the hard conversations and plan for contingencies. Doing so will inevitably make the team and effort stronger, allowing you to move into collective, sustainable creativity.
There is an old saying, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Dr. Kanter reminded us that there is a lot of territory in between those two points! We need to add the practical steps: first dream it, then put it into noble terms, align around values, be creative and flexible, line up partners, then you can do it. The new leadership lexicon is all about finding permanent solutions to the big problems rather than just helping people deal with the problems better. Dr. Kanter’s advice and the practical approaches offered by Gracious Space can help you apply the new leadership lexicon in your own practice of leadership.
The Gracious Space Change Framework will be published in 2011.
Dr. Kanter is a professor at Harvard Business School, where she specializes in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change. She chairs the Advanced Leadership Initiative and hosts the HBR weekly blog. Professor Kanter has been named one of the "50 most powerful women in the world,” has authored or co-authored 18 books and received 23 honorary doctoral degrees.
A Cherokee elder was teaching his children about life. He said to them, "A terrible fight is occurring inside of me. It is a fight between two wolves. One is the wolf of joy, love, hope, kindness and compassion. The other is the wolf of fear, anger, cynicism, indifference and greed. The same fight is happening inside of you, and everyone else, too."
The children thought about it for a moment, and then one asked, "Which wolf will win?"
The elder replied, "Whichever one you feed.”
CEL Board President Roger Erskine shared this story at the Center’s Legacy Event in March. It was an inspiring evening where almost 200 guests came together in Gracious Space and enjoyed many sources of nourishment, including friendship, inspiration, and of course, the food from Ocean City – plate after plate of healthy vegetables swimming in delicate sauces.
The evening was a feast for the wolf of joy and love. We munched on the joyous connection with kindred spirits and filled our plates with the hope of changes we are making in the world. We gobbled up the honorees’ stories of overcoming obstacles to create happier lives and healthier communities. We swallowed their proofs that young people and passionate citizens can make positive and lasting change happen. The wolf of fear and anger left the event early, hungry and growling because it didn’t get so much as a crumb. But hardly anyone noticed it skulk off – we were too busy devouring the nourishment provided by the speakers.
- Dr. Francisco Guajardo, a teacher who lives and works in South Texas, reminded us to gather as many people as possible to make a difference. As the co-founder and director of Llano Grande Center for Research and Development, he has helped improve the graduation record from 18% to 80% at Edcouch-Elsa High School. He didn’t do it alone; he did it with hundreds of young people hungry for better opportunities. “One plus one equals three,” he said. “This is a room full of beauty and diversity where you can multiply your ability to make a difference.”
- Tanajah Mims shared how she got fed up with the violence in her hometown of Tacoma. “I used to think violence was something I had to get used to, but then I realized it’s not,” she declared. This simple but profound paradigm shift is impacting her life and her community right now. She was hired as an intern to lead the Youth Against Violence initiative, which spawned a series of dialogues sponsored by the honoree Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, and continues to work with the Community Foundation, in addition to her college coursework.
- Honoree Mary Flowers has been in the social services field for 25 years, and is much beloved by the communities she has touched. She reminded us that a Gracious Space for change can be as simple as a dinner table, open at all hours of the day, just like her mother used to provide.
- And Eric Liu, founder of the Guiding Lights Network and the third honoree this year, asked, “If not you, who? If not now, when?”
The speakers and award winners’ stories fed us all, because we are all like the Cherokee elder. The two wolves live inside each one of us. When we lose hope that justice will prevail or that our work matters, and instead stay home and watch TV, the wolf of cynicism licks his chops in greedy anticipation of our failure. Every group, community and organization hosts the two sparring wolves, too; kindness versus anger in the workplace, compassion versus indifference in our communities.
When leaders find themselves starting to lose hope, they can ground themselves in Gracious Space. Gracious Space is the container where joy, love, hope, kindness and compassion thrive. In Gracious Space, we can claim our shared values, develop strong relationships and move toward the challenges and creativity of the common good.
The National Academy of Sciences recently reported the first evidence that “cooperative behavior is contagious.” They said when people benefit from a kindness they pay it forward by helping others who were not originally involved, creating a cascade of cooperation.
This evidence affirms what we have known for a long time: Gracious Space is contagious. When you create it for yourself, you are creating it for everyone you touch. So the inspiration we received at the Legacy Event is infectious and communicable; the effects of that evening are already spreading to others who were not there.
Every day you will have opportunities to feed the wolf of joy and love. If we each do this as a daily practice, the wolf of fear and anger and cynicism will slowly fade, and finally become a distant memory.
(“Two Wolves” story from a little book titled, How many people does it take to make a difference? Published by Compendium, Incorporated. No author indicated)
Welcome to the Blog on Gracious Space!
In this space we will share latest thinking on Gracious Space and examples of how people are using it, experimenting with it, thinking differently about it and making it real in their lives and workplaces. We want to have fun with Gracious Space and welcome it more deeply into our day-to-day practices. Our hope is that in these spaces you will find inspiration, knowledge, courage and tools to pursue your own good work in the world.
To begin, we will share the genesis of Gracious Space. We are often asked how Gracious Space came to be. Because we love stories, and because we are well-trained by our friends at Jet City Improv in Seattle, we’re going to use their classic seven-line story telling format.
The Story of Gracious Space
Once upon a time, in the early 1990s, Dr. William J. Grace (Bill) founded the Center for Ethical Leadership. Bill believed that people were good, that they wanted to do the right thing and be ethical, and that ethical leadership could be learned. He believed we needed more ethical leaders who could work together on issues to advance the common good. The Center’s definition of ethical leadership is simple – knowing your core values and having the courage to live them in all parts of your life in service of the common good.
And every day, Bill and the Center staff created programs and events to nurture ethical leaders. They crafted programs for business, government, neighborhood, religious and youth leaders who shared a vision of a common good.
Until one day, Bill encountered his friend Jim Emrich, who used the term ‘gracious space’ at a conference where he wanted to create a sense of hospitality for his college students. Jim defined it as “a place where the stranger feels welcome,” and attributed the language to his friend Charlie Olsen. Bill latched onto the term as a critical and accessible door into the common good arena.
Because of this, Bill returned to the Center and told Pat Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development, about the new term. Pat, ever vigilant for cutting-edge leadership concepts that could advance the common good, got very excited. She and Bill assembled the Seven Steps to the Common Good, a framework to describe the pathway of a leader in service of the common good. The steps were:
1. Create Gracious Space
2. Gather Diverse People
3. Critique the Status Quo
4. Promote Ethical Leadership and Core Values
5. Promote Transformational Change and Systems Thinking
6. Foster Integrity and Moral Courage
7. Promote Hope
Bill and Pat translated this architecture into one of the Center’s most successful programs, the Citizen Leaders Institute. CLI was a nine-month program that brought together leaders from the business, government, education, human service, and religious sectors, all committed to furthering their ability to promote the common good. The Center used Gracious Space as a way to create norms for being together and to set a tone for open and honest exchange, where the ‘stranger’ would feel welcome.
Following the success of CLI, the Center offered stand-alone workshops on some of the core elements of the Seven Steps framework. We offered half-day classes on Ethical Leadership, Ethical Decision Making, Creating Gracious Space, Creating a Culture of Integrity, and Moral Courage.
And because of this, the curriculum supporting Gracious Space began to grow. The first element of spirit was derived from action research of leaders using Gracious Space, as well as Bill’s passion for the “spirit” of leadership. The element of setting became clear as we sought out physical spaces conducive to dialogue and learning. The term invite the stranger came from Jim Emrich and Parker Palmer (who said that a community is dependent upon our willingness to invite the stranger), and Pat coined the term learning in public as the culmination of the practice of Gracious Space for the purposes of learning together.
The Center started using Gracious Space all over the place: at the Confluence (an innovative program that increases community capacity to tackle complex social issues), in the Boeing executive leadership program, and as a foundation for the Kellogg Leadership for Community Change work.
CEL then embarked on the book-writing project. Gracious Space was originally intended as a chapter in a larger book on the Seven Steps of the Common Good, but was developed instead into the Gracious Space monograph. Pat, Bill and the staff used an iterative process of writing, then testing the curriculum with groups, getting feedback, then re-writing and testing again. This process was repeated for several years.
Until finally, the Center was ready to put all the ideas about Gracious Space down on paper, and the monograph was published in May of 2004. It has now sold over 7,500 copies. A second edition with a new section on how Gracious Space contributes to the common good will be printed by summer of 2010.
The rest of the story is unfolding now. You are part of it! Each person who reads the book, attends a training, teaches or facilitates or applies an aspect of Gracious Space, contributes to the evolution of Gracious Space. Stay tuned for more exciting plot developments and twists of fate as we continue to co-create gracious space.
The End. For now.