The Power of Community Conversations

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It is not news that we are living in a time of polarity, where individuals and communities are drawing lines in the sand and demonizing the other “side”.   But what if it were possible to ask different questions, that sought to understand, create a dialogue and spark a powerful vision for what community could be?

Powerful questions lead to powerful conversations that are not only meaningful but are transformational because people feel seen, heard, and acknowledged and this can lead to a shift in assumptions and create new connections that might not have existed before a meaningful conversation.

Paul Born in his book Community Conversations suggests that “Conversation is not just what is said; it is also what happens between people.  Conversation is not always about an event or time; it is part of a much larger process of change.  It leads to more conversation and is part of a journey to understand.  Community conversations area a deliberate form of listening to the people in a community in an effort to learn to agree, to become committed and engaged and to create a place in which discovering the obvious is possible.”

When I read this it, it reminded me of the importance of taking time to listen and to get curious….to find out about the story behind the story….in short to get to know the person in front of me through a meaningful conversation.  My friend Noa Baum an international storyteller has said that you don’t have to accept someone else’s beliefs and values if you listen to their story, it is their story.

Just listening to other people’s stories does not have to threaten me and in the process I can learn about myself and come to understand what matters most to them.   Stories make you listen and most importantly, they open up an exchange; a dialogue and this leads to finding areas of agreement or ways to discover how to accommodate each other’s differences.

Another friend, Gerry Lantz, President of StoriesthatWork, has said as a species, we are hard wired for story and connection.  He says all we have to do is look at our language and see how story is a fundamental part of our world.  Phrases like; “You won’t believe that story”, “You want to hear the real story behind that?”; “Have I got a story for you”; “What’s his story” are all part of our culture and cultures throughout the world.

Stories connect us and help to create community whether a geographically defined community such as a village, town or city; an assisted living community, a church community, or online communities.  They all share the same attributes of belonging, connections and the sense of being part of something larger than yourself.

This intense listening and seeking to understand is the underpinning for civic engagement where people from all backgrounds have a voice in decisions and actions that affect their lives.   In the recent report by the Knight Foundation and Gallup entitled Soul of the Community it was demonstrated that when people feel greater attachment in the communities in which they live, the communities are more successful.  In short, civic engagement is a key to achieving greater community attachment and an enhanced quality of life.

Civic engagement requires more than elected officials or organizational leaders making presentations to the public and answering questions in town hall meetings.  Civic engagement means gathering multi-sector stakeholders, providing baseline data, asking questions that are not already answered, identifying community assets, inviting diverse stories and input, identifying emerging themes and providing ways to enable positive action to take root.

As Peter Block, author of “Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community” has said “We will create a future distinct from the past when we engage in restorative conversations based on accountability and commitment. Being accountable means acting as an owner and part creator of whatever you wish to improve; to care for the well being of the whole and to act as if this well being is in our hands and hearts to create.  Being committed means we are willing to make a promise with no expectation of return; a promise void of barter and not conditional on another’s action…it is a choice made in the absence of reciprocity and this is the essence of power.”

It appears that this area will become an even stronger player in the global economy and it is increasingly clear that we are part of an interconnected world.  Now more than ever, broad based civic engagement is called for to enable citizens to imagine and co-create a thriving community for the good of the whole.

 

 

 

No Limit to the Size of a Meeting and Consensus Too!

Collective Impact is a model that means inclusion of all stakeholders that are relevant to the topic at hand and it means getting everyone into the conversation and getting tangible outcomes too. I have had the opportunity to work with CoVision on creating mulit-stakeholder conversations that are both engaging and insightful. Now we bring this combined ability to design highly creative meetings with concrete outcomes for any number of large scale meetings. Click on the link below and you will find the outline of our approach to support Collective Impact, cross-organizational initiatives, government entities and others.
Contact me if you want to know more!

No Limit to the Size of the Meeting

A Report on Creating A Nurturing Community with Collective Impact

The community of Coos Bay, Oregon was inspired by a well-known educator, Dr. Stephen Bavolek who when working with community leaders challenged them to create a social environment as beautiful as the natural environment. The Oregon coast is indeed an inspiring rural place and it has many social challenges and yet the spirit of the place is quite amazing. A group of leaders launched a strategic planning process, that I facilitated, and it led to increasing levels of engagement with a commitment to move forward using the Collective Impact model from Strive Together initiative launched in Cincinnati to support cradle to career education.

Click the link below to download The Nurturing Community Coalition Strategic Framework for Positive Community Change and a Plan for Moving Forward.
Contact me if you want to engage your community in a similar effort!


FINAL Strategic Framework-Implementation Plan v.2 (5-27-2014)

Seeing Possibility in Change

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Have you ever suffered from loss, regret, remorse?  Has it ever sent you into a spin, or a depression, and you wondered if you would ever pull out of the nose dive?  You know, maybe one lost sale, one screw-up at work, a failed exam, a broken relationship, a bad financial decision and you think that defines you and all of your life.  And on a larger scale, we tell community stories, you know the loss of timber and fishing and jobs and declining economy and domestic violence and drug abuse and teen pregnancy…OK the list goes on and you get the idea.  But here’s the deal, all of that can change when we pull ourselves out of our individual and collective nose dive and begin to feel new inklings of hope.

I don’t want to get all woo-woo on you but it turns out there has been a ton of research in the field of positive psychology.  Martin Seligman, Ph.D. professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, past president of the American Psychological Association, founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book, Learned Optimism; How to Change Your Mind and Your Life provides research findings that do indeed show that we can unlearn how we think about ourselves and get out of “learned helplessness” and move into “learned optimism”.

He has concluded after years of research that “the human trait of resilience in the face of defeat need not remain a mystery.  It is not an inborn trait; it can be acquired.”   He said that often when we experience a failure, we tend to generalize and feel that we are a failure in all aspects of our life and this sense of failure becomes pervasive.  We can feel that we are a failure in all that we do, nothing is working and all is lost.  But what if, we did not “snowball” it and we did not see everything as dysfunctional?

Dr. Seligman outlines how our thoughts create our feelings which then we make up stories we tell ourselves and they begin to shape our lives.  But if we think new thoughts, we can generate feelings of hope and even gratitude for a learning opportunity and this leads to imagining new possibilities and creating new stories.   What if we could live in possibility and gratitude for everything?  I know how hard that can be, but what if we could find something to be grateful for, even the smallest things?   This first step would enable us to begin to shift how we see the world, and put us on the path of imagining new possibilities and changing events in our lives, in our organizations and our community.

David Cooperrider, Ph.D., creator of Appreciative Inquiry at Case Western University outlines a philosophy and methodology for how people and organizations can make the shift from identifying how things that are not working and identifying all the things that should be fixed to identifying things that are  working and how to do more of that.  He outlines how even dysfunctional systems something(s) is/are working and that our job is to discover the positive core and grow it.  Appreciative Inquiry is based on the notion that as we discover the strengths in a system or person, and nurture them, they will grow and that over time when strengths are combined with strengths, they do more than perform; they transform.

Now imagine how you can shift your focus to what you do want (seeing the things that are working) rather than what you don’t want (seeing the things that are not working).  Next imagine joining with others who want positive change to happen in your organization and in your community; and then imagine how amazing a collective vision for a positive future might be!  This is not Polly Anna thinking or uniformed optimism, this is practical possibility and why not?  We could just as easily think a negative thought as we could think a positive thought; we could just as easily give a compliment as we could give a criticism.  (Don’t think I don’t slip on this one too, but if I continue to get back on track with the intention of seeing the world differently, I know I can bring new possibilities it into reality.) I know that without inspiration, positive change is not possible and who wants to live a life that is not vital and alive?

There is a part you can play in your own world and in the community to make the shift a reality.  You can be a positive force simply by smiling and saying “Good Morning” and finding ways that  bring out the best in those that cross your path.  As a leader in an organization, you can identify the strengths in your teams and lead in new directions.
If you want to learn tools and techniques for making the shift from “problem solving” to “solution finding” in your own life and in your organizational life, I invite you to attend the upcoming Shift Happens workshop on April 12th sponsored by the Small Business Development Center.  Give them a call to register; 541-756-6866.

 

Learning the Art of Leadership and Followership Through Nature

This video of starling murmurings is so inspiring; they fly at the same speed, always turn to the center and stay equal distance apart.  They change patterns and still stay connected, flying fifty times faster together then separately with constant changing direction with organic and flexible leadership…there’s a concept!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eakKfY5aHmY

Invest in people, create an enlivened future

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It is time to redefine the word “invest.”

It is not just about money. It is about heart and it is about time as well. When we talk about investing in the people of an organization, it is particularly courageous and daring in these times because it is a strategy of hope and possibility that inspires growth and prosperity.

No one can deny that we have been and continue to be in challenging economic times with accelerating technology and global connectedness. It seems we are faced with two choices: a) The Fear Model: hunker down, get small, cut back, and disinvest in the people, or; b) The Possibility Model: embrace the new, create, innovate, expand, and invest in the most treasured resource; the people.

Organizations are faced with balancing their priorities everyday; important choices that will determine their future viability. We look around today and see the same story played out over and over again in organizations that choose to hunker down — and, in many cases, while still making profits, at the expense of already stressed employees. We see health insurance eliminated, no or reduced 401K, no or limited wage and salary increases, and reduced hours. People feel less and less valued and that they simply don’t matter. They are treated as if they can be replaced by someone else who is desperate for work.

The quality of many workplaces is in a downward spiral where low morale has settled in. And in many cases, employees still work to provide the best customer service they can under dire circumstances.

The overarching message is “Be grateful you still have a job!” But what happens in the long run? We get smaller and more fearful and try to hang on to what we have.

But what if we could make a shift and start to turn things around? What if we could move to a sense of possibility, expansion and action by thinking differently and asking different questions when it comes to supporting and developing people?

I was struck by this quote from Peter Baeklund, a leadership coach who heard this exchange between a chief financial officer and a chief executive officer:

CFO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

The power of this response cannot be missed. The CEO recognized the power of investing in people as being essential to the survival of his company. It was not just a “nice to have;” it was critical.

The value of any organization resides in its people because this is where creativity and inspiration lives.

By simply maintaining the status quo they are not just standing still, they are falling behind and will become dull, uninspired and eventually lose any forward momentum. It is just a matter of time.

Why not build an organization and re-ignite the passion that started it all in the first place? Yes, technology changes the way we work and automation has replaced massive numbers of jobs. And in all of that, we must see new and emerging opportunities and innovation. There are always new chapters to create, new needs to be filled and new innovations that build on the ones that went before. Such an approach assumes growth, expansion and vitality but only if organizations are willing to leave fear behind.

Investments in people can take many forms: •Training onsite (technical and people skills). •Paid time-off to attend relevant educational courses including leadership development. •Business training offered through the Small Business Development Center. •Job rotations within organizations and at customer sites. •Job Shadowing. •Scholarships. •Share training (pooled resources from various organizations). •Community leadership activities.

Aside from education and training, other investments in people can be simple no/low-cost activities that immediately shift the morale in workplaces and help to create an enlivened and productive environment. Something as simple as a “good morning!” might start someone’s day. Or, how about telling people you appreciate them and thank them for something they did right.

Maybe the “boss” could rotate through different functions within the organization, (not exactly “Under-cover Boss”) to gain new perspectives and appreciation for the staff. How about starting a shift or a weekly meeting with the questions such as; “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” or “What worked really well on this project last week?”

Making a living wage is the essential building block and all human beings need to be appreciated, valued and know that we matter. Let me know about a time you really felt valued at your job. These examples will give us all inspiration and ideas!

Deborah Maher, President DFM Consulting Inc., specializes in positive organization change and leadership coaching. She is teaching a series on Positive Change at Southwestern Oregon Community College and is currently a commissioner on the Bandon Planning Commission

When We Don’t Have the Answers

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From My Column “What if…..”  January 25, 2014 7:00 am  •  Deborah Maher,

Have you ever noticed that the contestants on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” can ask others for help and that quite often the most helpful and reliable source is the audience? The wisdom of the group demonstrates that contestants consistently get more right recommendations from the audience because the wisdom of the whole is better than the talents and abilities of just one person working alone to solve a problem.

Scott Page, Ph.D. author of the book “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Society,” has done a ton of work on the value of cognitive diversity, showing that random collections of intelligent problem-solvers can outperform collections of the best problem solvers of only one type.

Cognitive diversity comes from our DNA, background, and life experiences, and according to Page we all have different toolboxes that, when combined, enable solution-finders to create novel breakthroughs.

Of the key messages that can be taken from Page is that gaining input from diverse citizens, employees, team members and classmates when working on projects of common concern leads to greater than expected outcomes.

Individuals must strive to be their best but it is not done in a vacuum, it is done in relationship to those around us in our everyday life. Life is a team sport and we see examples of this all around us. We increasingly see the value of team accomplishments. Just look at how the Nobel Prize has evolved. Now instead of the prize going to one scientist, it goes to a team. Even when an actor is accepting an Academy award they acknowledge they did not do it alone. None of us can do it alone. We are living in a time a change where we can no longer rely on the “hero” who will save us.

The difficulty is that it is often hard to ask for help, for a number of reasons. But one that really stands out is the fear of appearing vulnerable. Somehow, we have come to believe that we must have all of the answers and if we don’t, then we are not good enough, smart enough, strong enough or worthy. These are universal fears and now, with the ever-increasing complexity we see around us, the world is calling for us to collaborate and find people with strengths that balance our strengths for the good of the whole.

Being open to ideas different than our own can be difficult because it may cause us to change, shift a perspective or even relinquish some perceived power. However, if we are open to new ideas, inputs and viewpoints, we may find our greatest insights; our “a-ha” moments.

And maybe if we are open, we might even say, “I never thought about it that way!”

The shift begins with willingness; the simple act of being willing to see different viewpoints can lead to unexpected possibilities.

Bell Hooks encourages us to go beyond our fears in her book “Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope,”  as she tells us that our “Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.”

Effective leaders are conveners who demonstrate a willingness to be open to a range of perspectives and are comfortable with not having all of the answers. They understand the importance of posing the right questions. They are inclusive, welcome new ideas and are willing to act on them.

In times of change, we must turn to each other and chart a new path together because we are going to a place we have not been before.

I wonder when you have had the opportunity to work with an inclusive leader and have experienced the power of diversity in creating a solution to a challenging problem. Drop me a line and tell me that story; what was the situation, what types of diverse people were involved, what happened?

It would be great to hear local stories of success. Thanks for your contribution!

Deborah Maher, President DFM Consulting Inc., specializes in positive organization change and leadership coaching. She is teaching a series on Positive Change at SWOCC and is currently a commissioner on the Bandon Planning Commission. You can email Maher at news@theworldlink.com.

The Present Moment

“Do not consider present time as clock time, but rather as a timeless moment when all are mutually engaged in experiencing an experience, the outcome of which is yet unknown. You’re right there. You’re connected, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s where the excitement is, and that’s where the spontaneity is, and that’s where the vitality is, and that’s where the joy is, and that’s where happiness is, and that’s the everlasting, never-ending spiral.”

Viola Spolin:  Author and Teacher; Improvisation for the Theater