Accepting and learning from criticism, making conflict constructive, staying flexible under pressure….
Why are these called soft skills when they are the hardest things to do well?
You have exceptional skills and knowledge ……
…. but can you use them when you want, under pressure, and at the point of need?
Your leadership role is public property….
How well can you navigate the social pressure, stereotypes, and expectations that come with your role?
Great teamwork comes from our differences….
A team that harnesses different but complementary strengths can exceed performance goals
When we push too hard to make change, we burnout, get disillusioned, or entangled in endless conflict...
How can you make your mission-driven work more enjoyable and sustainable?

lighthouseSomeone just asked me what I think good leadership is. There are hundreds of ways to answer that question. And they’re all correct. But what I said in that moment was this: a good leader is someone who knows how to make those around her successful.  To find a great leader, look for a great team. Look for engaged and enabled followers. Look for people who think independently, yet act for the well-being of all.

But I’d even go farther than that. I think the mark of a good leader is that they make the people around them into good leaders themselves.

The U.S. military call leader development process third generation leadership. Their program is a success not if it turns out great leaders, but if it makes great leaders who themselves develop great leaders. Think of it as teaching teachers to develop their students into great teachers, or parenting with your grandchildren in mind. (more…)

I had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Allen, the President of the Process Work Institute, and adjunct psychology professor at Portland State University for a wide-ranging discussion on learning, teaching, and how teachers use their power. Chris was interested in how teachers use power in the classroom, and what does, and doesn’t make students feel free to participate?

At the end is video with excerpts from our discussion. It’s about 8 minutes long, and not everything made it to the final cut, including some of Chris’ questions. Below are some of the main points we covered. There’s more to say, for sure. What would you add? What do you do that makes for great learning and participation?

  1. Make the game rules clear. It’s hard to participate if you don’t know what the expectations and norms are. Can you ask questions? Do you have to wait to the end, or can you interrupt? Are you expected to have some kind of prior knowledge?  If we don’t explain the game rules, it favors insiders who know the ropes, and the newcomers are left to learn by trial and error. This creates insider and outsider dynamics, which can detract from the learning atmosphere.
  2. Name diversity and different at the beginning especially the diversity of cognitive styles. And differentiating levels of experience: experience with the topic, with group learning, with the method. Everyone is a beginner at something, and everyone is also a veteran. There is also a great deal of diversity when it comes to thinking, learning and processing information: introverted, social, linear, visual, verbal, intuitive styles. Addressing that at the beginning opens the door, allowing people to be present with their difference. And remember: you too, the teacher, have a style which may come out as an unconscious preference, as I discovered.
  3. Engage with questions, don’t just answer them. Questions aren’t always easy to understand, and sometimes teachers don’t understand what participants are asking. Engaging to get at the heart of the issue is sometimes needed. Participant watch very, very closely how teachers address questions, wondering if it’s safe to think aloud, to challenge, to bring in their own thinking. Addressing questions with an open, inquisitive mind values peoples thinking and encourages inquiry. But be careful not to put the person on the spot, or dig into their motivation or feelings without their permission. It’s hard enough to venture a question in a group, and it’s easy to feel frozen if put on the spot. It’s a delicate dance, so it’s important to read the atmosphere.

What else would you add? 

conflictDriving to work last month, I was listening to the news about the start of the Syrian peace talks. I found myself imagining the room and the people involved. It was probably a large conference room or council room, and they probably sat at around a large conference table, or in tiered rows. And there must have been translators present, and security personnel, as well as assistants, staff members, and the media. And each person would have been wearing badges and name tags.

And how did the actual talks, go, I wondered? Were they really “talking?” There was a strict agenda, known ahead of time; therefore each member probably didn’t speak extemporaneously, but would have a prepared position, list of points , or a script or strategy they intend to follow. And given the size of it, there would have been a facilitator, and perhaps signaling devices that people used to indicate when they wanted to speak. I just can’t see people raising their hands to get the floor. Maybe there wasn’t even space for that; perhaps people were just assigned a time to speak, and had to simply weigh in on the proposal. (more…)

The cost of our nature

Jan 31, 2014

outerspaceMy father died on Christmas Eve. I know we all will lose a loved one eventually. And with parents, we know it’s coming. Yet, you’re never quite ready for it. I miss talking to him about politics. I missed calling him after the State of the Union address this week to hear what he thought. I miss getting his emails signed Big D. I will miss going to the gym with him when I visited, together with his two buddies, Jim and Don. They would go to MacDonald’s after the gym, and get senior discount coffees for 50 cents, teasing my Dad about being a cheapskate because he didn’t splurge for Starbucks when I was in town.

Death takes away something you love and leaves you with a reminder of your own mortality. And it’s especially true now, for me, because I’m closest to my father in temperament and life choices. Which is why, as a teenager, we butted heads so often. But I came to see over time that my Dad was his own toughest critic. He was tough on us kids, but toughest on himself. I spoke at his funeral, and said: “I bet my father died with a to-do list, perhaps an idea for his next column, for the next revision of his memoirs that he was writing.” (more…)


Huffington Post decided to bring more civility to online discourse by preventing anonymous posting. By doing so, they wade into quite the controversy, as seen in the comments following the article. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But they, like other sites, felt a need to do something about the rampant rudeness and hostility in the comments. The evidence is overwhelming: anonymity fosters abusive and rude behavior. Just look at the comments section on some sites. (Youtube is a good place to start, an observation made recently by Macklemore) The internet provides an un-chaperoned space for every adolescent impulse we’ve ever repressed. The comments rapidly devolve into nastiness and name-calling. Actually, it’s not a devolution, not conflict gone awry. The comments sections have become are playgrounds for “trolls,” people who deliberately seek to provoke, inflame, and go off-topic to entrap people, create emotional responses, and simply disrupt the discussion. (more…)

melting clockA new year is such an arbitrary thing

It’s a starting line for new beginnings and a yardstick to measure things: progress, success, relationships, goals, etc.  But there’s nothing inherent in New Year’s for us to use it this way. The only reason we do is simply because others do it, and there’s strength in numbers.

Goals, fresh starts, new beginnings, goals and resolutions are human nature. The tendency to mark off the passage of time ritualistically, to collectively bury the past and usher in a future is hardwired and ancient. But what’s not human nature is determining the timing of change. We can time our attempts; we can decide to focus; we can do what needs to be done to put the wheels in motion, but in the end, change and growth are uniquely unpredictable. (more…)

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country danceAfter moving back to the States in 1990, when I first started working in my practice, I was miserable. I was a beginning therapist and I knew I was too much of a novice to draw any conclusions about my misery. I didn’t know whether I hated my work or whether I just hated being a beginner at it. So I told myself I had to stick it out for 5 years until I knew enough to know the source of my unhappiness.

That was a wise move because it turns out, I love my work. But I hated being a beginner. More specifically, I hated having no freedom. I was intimidated by people, and didn’t feel connected to my own thinking enough. I felt pressured to be smart, to have answers, to be liked and keep clients. And so I didn’t have enough muscle power to speak up, intervene, risk saying things, and possibly be wrong. I didn’t hate my work, I hated being disengaged from my core purpose, creativity, and thinking process. (more…)

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tough guyI’ve been working with my colleagues at Anima Leadership, planning for the next year-long Deep Democracy facilitation program in Toronto. So I’m thinking a lot these days about facilitation. What works? What doesn’t? And mostly, what are the biggest challenges facilitators face? If you work with groups, what are the toughest things you have to tackle?

From my experiences working with facilitators over the years, here’s what I see as the most common challenges facilitators face:


1. Issues you are unprepared for: you don’t know enough about the topic, or it hits very close to home.


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Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

So said Abraham Lincoln.

He’s right. Power is hard to get right. And most of us don’t grow up learning how to use it wisely and well. And one reason for that, is that it’s a taboo. Like with any taboo –sex or death for instance – we have a truly irrational relationship with it. We hate power yet crave it. We criticize those in power, while staying unaware of how we use it ourselves. We overestimate the power of others, while underestimating that of ourselves. We try to do away with hierarchy and replace it with consensus but fail to see that it just pushes power underground, where it thrives in the endless rounds of arguing and debating, gossip and alliances.

But the taboo against power is most evident in how we pathologize its misuse. We talk about it like a medical condition: people who do so are ‘psychopaths,’ ‘narcissists,’ and ‘deviants.’ We analyze the perpetrator’s personality, wondering if he was abused or bullied as a child. (more…)

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It is truly strange how long it takes to get to know oneself. I am now 62 years old, yet just one moment ago I realized that I love lightly toasted bread and loath bread when it is heavily toasted. For over 60 years, and quite unconsciously, I have been experiencing inner joy or total despair at my relationship with grilled bread. - Ludwig Wittgenstein

Did Wittgenstein really not know he liked lightly toasted bread? He must have. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have experienced such joy and despair. Which begs the question: how could he experience such joy and despair daily without acting upon it? (more…)

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