Fitting in vs. Belonging: The Costs and Benefits of Conformity

TheGiftsOfImperfection-cover A while back, I wrote about Brene Brown's inspiring TEDxHouston talk on Wholeheartedness as connection through courage, vulnerability and authenticity. I have since read her most recent book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, and was so moved by her insights that I have added it to my "top 10" books on the right column of this blog. As with most of the books on that list, I won't attempt a review of the entire book in one post, but will [continue to] tap into on themes from the book in various contexts. In this post, I want to explore the distinction Brown makes between fitting in and belonging, and how that distinction relates to other themes I've read, thought and/or written about recently with respect to personal and professional growth.

On the second page of the preface in The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown shares two lists of recurring themes that emerged from the thousands of stories she's collected from people over her years of research into shame and resilience. The first list characterizes people who enjoy a strong sense of love and connection; the second list characterizes people who don't.

Do: worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude and creativity.

Don't: perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgment and scarcity.

The inclusion of belonging in the first list and the inclusion of fitting in on the second list immediately jumped out at me, as I had previously thought of these two terms as synonymous. A little further on, Brown notes that she was [also] surprised at the distinction, and offers definitions for the two terms:

Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.

She goes on to define belonging in more detail:

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance.

In one of several guideposts she shares for learning how to be more courageous, vulnerable and authentic, Brown champions the idea of letting go of comparison, which she describes as being all about conformity and competition.

The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of "fit in and stand out!" It's not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging and authenticity, it's be just like everyone else, but better.

The conflict between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out appears to be yet another manifestation of the tension between agency and communion that lies at the heart of the stories we make up about ourselves, a topic I wrote about a few weeks ago. As I reflect on those ideas in this context, it occurs to me that conformity could be defined as adhering to the stories that others make up about us.

Battle_Hymn_of_the_Tiger_Mother-cover This conflict also seems to lie at the heart of the controversy surrounding a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, excerpted from a new book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. While Brown writes about the gifts of imperfection, Chua writes about the gifts of perfection. Citing a study of American and Chinese immigrant mothers, Chua notes that

the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." ... Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you."

Chua offers three distinctions between the American and Chinese style of parenting, which reflect the expectation of [some] Chinese parents that children will conform to their parents' idea of who they should be by standing out from their peers in areas the parents deem important:

  1. Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough
  2. Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.
  3. Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences.

The article - and book - has triggered intense debate.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen responded with an article in the Huffington Post on The Question No One is Asking in the Tiger Mom Debate: Is achievement really the best measure of success? She goes on to share several examples of the high costs that conformity to parents' ideals has extracted from some famous child prodigies - including penury, profligacy and prostitution - and reports that the suicide rate among Asian-American women aged 15-24 is the highest of any race or ethnic group in that age range.

image from www.ayeletwaldman.com Ayelet Waldman, a Jewish-American mother and author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace, offered a defense of the guilty, ambivalent, preoccupied Western mom in a followup article in the Wall Street Journal. Waldman's response is well-balanced and compassionate, expressing admiration for some of the positive elements of parental perseverance, guilt and regret for not always doing the best she might have done, but also proposing a more nuanced approach in which a child's individual needs are prioritized: "our job as mothers is to be the type of tigress that each of our different cubs needs".

Chua modulates her tone a bit in her own WSJ followup article, The Tiger Mother Talks Back, acknowledging the importance of love, compassion and willingness to make individual adjustments based on children's special needs. She also emphasizes that the book was intended as a description rather than a prescription, written as a memoir rather than a how-to manual. I have not read her book, but based on others' reviews, I suspect that the excerpted chapter or section was intentionally provocative, and that the book itself offers a somewhat more balanced perspective on parenting.

PowerOfPull Turning from parenting to business leadership - roles I see as having many common themes - the issue of fitting in vs. belonging was an implicit theme in my review of the recent book by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, The Power of Pull: Institutions as Platforms for Individual Growth. As the authors note in their book:

Rather than molding individuals to fit the needs of the institution, institutions will be shaped to provide platforms to help individuals achieve their full potential by connecting with others and better addressing challenging performance needs ... Rather than individuals serving the needs of institutions, our institutions will be crafted to serve the needs of individuals.

Large organizations have traditionally tended to promote conformity, and to treat employees as standardized parts of a predictable machine, who suppress their intrinsic creative instincts in return for extrinsic rewards. Although the tactics employed by managers in most large organizations to encourage conformity are not as drastic as those employed by Amy Chua - e.g., the explosive episode of parenting pressure she describes in encouraging her daughter to play her piano piece correctly - they reflect a similar underlying premise: we know what is best [for you].

However, if one believes that innovation is more likely to occur at the edges than the core of an organization, and be practiced by people who are taking risks rather than conforming to written or unwritten rules, then the cost of conformity is to sacrifice innovation, and the benefits of innovation will accrue to those organizations that are willing to embrace non-conformity ... or perhaps even anti-conformity.

Few large organizations are willing or able to embrace - or even accept - non-conformity, much less anti-conformity. This is why many large organizations attempt to import innovation via acquisitions ... and why so few innovators stay on with their acquiring benefactors beyond the point at which their stock options vest ... and why so few imported innovations turn out to be sustainable.

Reflecting on Brene Brown's ideas, I suspect this corporate emphasis on conformity (and comparison and competition) is also why so few employees of large organizations are willing to be courageous, vulnerable and authentic in their work[places] ... and why so many employees feel so disengaged. Looking back at her "Do" and "Don't" list, I believe that the "Don't" list aligns more closely with most employees' experience in the workplace ... which may explain why wholeheartedness is more the exception than the rule in most workplaces.

John Hagel (@jhagel) recently tweeted a link to a provocative and compelling video on the topic of Conformity by YouTube video artist/scientist TheraminTrees, who weaves together a number of interesting and informative studies on our tendency to conform. One image in the video, in particular, reminded me of Brene Brown's ideas about wholeheartedness, authenticity ... and fitting in vs. belonging:


I highly recommend watching the entire video, but for the benefit of those who might not have the time or inclination to do so, I'll include a brief synopsis below the embedded video.

The narrator starts off with a definition of conformity as "behaving in accordance with real or imagined social norms, rules and expectations". He goes on to share a number of interesting studies from psychology and neurology about our tendency toward conformity in our perceptions, actions and judgments. Acknowledging that conformity can work for us - providing structure, predictability and helpful conventions - or against us - leaving us vulnerable to the tyranny of group opinion and the loss of authentic self - he warns that "we give up a lot more than we know". To guard against the costs of conformity, he offers four recommendations:

  • be aware of our vulnerability to conformity
  • actively change our behavior based on this awareness
  • cultivate healthy scepticism towards our own groups
  • be willing to disappoint people

TheInvitation This invitation to be willing to disappoint people reminds me of one of the most inspiring prose poems (and books) I've ever encountered - The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer - and so I'm going to leave the last words on conformity to her:

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

The Power of Pull: Institutions as Platforms for Promoting Individual Passions

PowerOfPull There are a number of interesting and provocative ideas in The Power of Pull, by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison. I've already tweeted about a number of articles by the authors - based on their book - that highlight the importance of physical places, the ways we can shape serendipity and the essence of leadership as connecting people with similar and complementary passions. Here I will focus primarily on what I see as one of the most radical ideas in the book:

Rather than molding individuals to fit the needs of the institution, institutions will be shaped to provide platforms to help individuals achieve their full potential by connecting with others and better addressing challenging performance need ... Rather than individuals serving the needs of institutions, our institutions will be crafted to serve the needs of individuals.

When I first read this passage (on page 8), I was excited about encountering another example of platform thinking. However, I also thought that it was extremely idealistic, and even though I tend to be extremely idealistic, I was very skeptical about applying this idea to the business world ... or at least aboiut its prospects for realization.

LifeInc-cover_small Having also recently read Douglas Rushkoff's book, Life Incorporated: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back, I came to understand the history of the corporation as an entity designed for extraction, exploitation and externalization, existing for the primary benefit of shareholders who often have no stake in the actual work done by the corporation or its employees. I believe many corporations today - as well as many other organizations (and individuals) that Rushkoff argues have adopted a corporatist perspective - exhibit these behaviors, but as many investment offerings warn: past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

In The Power of Pull, these engines of extraction are described as "push" organizations, with centralized decision-makers utilizing top-down approaches to forecast demand and supply passive consumers with products and services. Employees of such organizations are treated as standardized parts of a predictable machine, who suppress their intrinsic creative instincts in return for extrinsic rewards, resulting in a "curious combination of boredom and stress".

However, the authors argue that a Big Shift is underway, where knowledge and power is devolving from large, centralized and stable "stocks" toward smaller, decentralized and uncertain "flows". This shift is being propelled, in part, by technology, and is increasingly disrupting economics and politics and the traditional institutions that participate in these domains. Organizations that have succeeded through achieving scalable efficiency will increasingly need to promote more scalable learning, which will call for a new set of perspectives and practices.

Many of these perspectives and practices will flourish along the edges rather than at the core of organizations: 

Edges are places that become fertile ground for innovation because they spawn significant new unmet needs and unexploited capabilities and attract people who are risk takers. Edges therefore become significant drivers of knowledge creation and economic growth, challenging and ultimately transforming traditional arrangements and approaches.

This shift of focus - and prospects for value creation - from the core to the edge will require new approaches:

Rather than trying to pull the edges into the core, as many management pundits recommend, the key institutional challenge will be to develop mechanisms to pull the core out to the most promising edges.

BeyondTheEdge And the best way to pull the core of an organization toward its edges is to more fully draw the core potential within individuals to the surface(s), which can only be done by tapping into their passions and creating a trusting environment in which they are continually willing to stretch themselves toward the edge - or, ideally, beyond the edge.

To build this level of trust, we must begin the process of reintegrating ourselves, and often, in the process, rediscovering ourselves, so that we can present ourselves more fully and authentically to others around us. ... It requires us to get in touch with ourselves, to relearn how to be, in order to more effectively become.

The authors conclude with a compelling vision for integrating the personal with the professional: as institutions evolve to provide "platforms individuals to amplify the power of pull", we will have "the ability to shape a world that encourages and celebrates our efforts to become who we were meant to be". As I said at the outset, this is an incredibly idealistic perspective, but having finished the book, I'm more willing to believe in the prospect of its realization ... or as David Whyte might put it, its incarnation.

DavidWhyte-RiverFlow-cover The poetry of David Whyte - who also often writes about flows - came to mind at several times during my reading of this book, and this passage at the end reminded me of one of my favorite poems, Working Together, which he wrote to commemorate the presentation of The Collier Trophy to The Boeing Company marking the introduction of the the advanced 777 widebody twinjet. I'm not sure where Boeing stands on the push vs. pull spectrum, but their willingness to hire David Whyte, who was described by former CEO Phil Condit as "a storyteller, someone from outside our system saying that there are other ways of looking at the way we do things" - very much in the spirit of The Power of Pull - leads me to suspect that they may be more open to transformation than some other large institutions. In any case, the poem seems like an appropriate ending for this post.

We shape our self
to fit this world
and by the world
are shaped again.

The visible
and the invisible
working together
in common cause,
to produce
the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way
the intangible air
passed at speed
round a shaped wing
holds our weight.

So may we, in this life
to those elements
we have yet to see
or imagine,
and look for the true
shape of our own self
by forming it well
to the great
intangibles about us.

Contradictory ridges, self and Self

Continuing with the themes of poetry, inspiration and great friends, another great friend, Dan Oestreich, bought me a book of William Stafford's poetry, "The Way It Is", a few years ago - one of many ways he helped me navigate a dark time filled with shadows.The other night, I picked up the book - which is always at my bedside table - and randomly selected a page, which had exactly the right poem I needed at that moment, "Representing Far Places":

Representing Far Places
by William Stafford

In the canoe wilderness branches wait for winter;
every leaf concentrates; a drop from the paddle falls.
Up through water at the dip of a falling leaf
to the sky's drop of light or the smell of another star
fish in the lake leap arcs of realization,
hard fins prying out from the dark below.

Often in society when the talk turns witty
you think of that place, and can't polarize at all:
it would be a kind of treason. The land fans in your head
canyon by canyon; steep roads diverge.
Representing far places you stand in the room,
all that you know merely a weight in the weather.

It is all right to be simply the way you have to be,
among contradictory ridges in some crescendo of knowing.

I re-read the last verse several dozen times that night, as I was struggling with a decision in which my thoughts were leading me along one contradictory ridge, and my feelings were leading me along another. As luck - or synchronicity - would have it, the previous day, I'd shared an insight with someone I'd just met about how, as I grow older, I trust my heart more than my head when it comes to decisions of great import ... and, as I grow older, I increasingly recognize that any insights or experiences I share with others - with the initial intention that they may be of benefit to them - are always things that I really need to read / hear again myself.

Anyhow, I sent Dan a quick note thanking him for the gift that keeps on giving, and he magnified the gift by turning it into a motivational poster entitled "Among Contradictory Ridges", accompanied by one of his fabulous photos:


In addition to being a great friend, Dan is also a great leadership coach (and a great photographer), and he followed up his "Among Contradictory Ridges" motivational poster with another one reflecting one of the central themes in his work (with his self, other selves and Self) - an Unfolding Leadership Poster - in which he observes "The problem is self. The answer is Self":


Around the same time, I serendipitously encountered a related source of inspiration - possibly via a chain of links starting with Dan's blog via a retweet by @merubin (who I discovered via @KathySierra) - on the blog of Pastor Brandon A. Cox, who recently posted the "10 Reasons Why Humility is Vital to Great Leadership", in which he champions the humble practice of self-oblivion. I'm including the entire post below for context:

Quickly think of five common traits of high-impact leaders… good time management, assertiveness, drive, energy, charisma, etc. Humility rarely lands in the list when it comes to our modern, top-down management systems. But Jesus (the greatest leader ever) and Moses (perhaps the second) had this one thought in mind – great leaders don’t have power over people, but power under people by way of humility.

Humility may be a forgotten virtue in conversations about leadership today, but I believe it’s absolutely essential to having long-term, broad-range impact. Here are some reasons why…

  1. Until you can be managed well, you can’t manage well, and being managed definitely requires humility.
  2. You’re not leading well until you put the needs of others before your own, which requires humility.
  3. You won’t invest time into others until you realize you’re not the center of the universe.
  4. You won’t be a learner without humility, so you’ll stagnate and die on the vine.
  5. You can’t be a listener without humility, and when you don’t listen, you’ll miss some vitally important feedback.
  6. Receiving and making the most of constructive criticism definitely demands humility.
  7. Being concerned about the personal welfare of others requires humility.
  8. You won’t improve unless you realize your need for it, which requires humility.
  9. You can’t be sensitive to what’s going on the behind the words of others unless you’re paying attention, which requires humility.
  10. The respect you think others have for you will merely be an illusion unless you’re humble enough to see the reality of your own weaknesses.

Humility isn’t feeling bad, down, or low about yourself. Rather, humility is having a realistic picture of who you are and becoming oblivious to self. This self-oblivion characterizes the greatest leaders of all time, and if you want to rise to greatness, you need to stoop.

Thinking about self-oblivion as a feature, rather than a bug, is a provocative new dimension to consider as I travel among contradictory ridges in some crescendo of knowing.

Augurs of hope, past & present: MLK, Milk, Obama & all of us's

Last week, on Martin Luther King Day, Amy and I watched the film, Milk, about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California (back in 1978). When we got to the Egyptian Theatre, Amy asked for two tickets to see "M-I-L-K", spelling out Milk's name. We laughed about this presumed priming effect (from it being MLK day), but it also primed my synchronicity radar as we headed in to see the movie.

Among the most powerful scenes in the movie was Milk's "Give Them Hope" speech:

Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there's a young gay person who all of a sudden realizes that she or he is gay, knows that if the parents find out they'dl be tossed out of the house, the classmates would taunt the child, and the Anita Bryant's and John Briggs' are doing their bit on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet, suicide. And then one day that child might open up a paper that says "Homosexual elected in San Francisco" and there are two new options: the option is to go to California, or stay in San Antonio and fight. Two days after I was elected I got a phone call and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said "Thanks". And you've got to elect gay people, so that that young child and the thousands and thousands like that child know that there is hope for a better world, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those blacks, and the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us's ... without hope the us's give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.

I really find this reference to us's positively inspiring, reflecting wisdom I've gleaned from other sources, perhaps most notably Oriah Mountain Dreamer, who suggests that we can either try to identify and empathize with others, or seek to differentiate others from ourselves; essentially choosing to view others as "us" or "them".

Turning from us's to hope, another civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about this theme in his "I Have a Dream" speech:

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

While Milk makes explicit references to the civil rights of blacks in his speech, as far as I can tell, MLK never made any explicit references to the civil rights of gays (much less lesbians, bisexuals or transgenders/transsexuals). Of course, they were from different eras - Milk was able to figuratively stand on MLK's shoulders in his crusade to win full equality for LGBT people.

Black people do not have the option of hiding their race in the closet, while LGBT people do, but the perpetration of shame or the withholding of rights based on sexual preference is no more justifiable than that based on race. And if "we're only as sick as our secrets", discrimination based on sexual preference may be even more insidious. Milk urged LGBT people to come out of their closet(s):

We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets ... We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives

The 2000 U.S. Census estimates that 12.9% of the population in this country is black; there is no official census for LGBT, but unofficial estimates range from 4% to 10%. While LGBT people have gained some civil rights in some places (nationally and internationally), for reasons I have never been able to understand, allowing people of the same sex to legally marry is opposed by a majority of people in this country - 55% according to a recent poll.

The newly inaugurated president, Barack Obama, is the offspring of an interracial marriage - an institution or practice that was illegal in some states at the time of MLK's speech. The right of states to ban interracial marriages was in effect until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against such laws in the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967. And yet, despite his interracial marriage ancestry, Obama claims he is opposed to legalizing same-sex marriages (although, according to a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on "Gays, lesbians hopeful despite inaugural pastor", he supports the extension of full rights to same-sex civil unions, and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages).

Unlike some critics, I was inspired by Obama's inauguration speech - from its inclusive opening of "My fellow citizens" (not restricting his remarks to his fellow Americans), through his highlighting of the crises we face, and the "new era of responsibility" we must embark on in order to address these challenges and remake America. However, having just seen Milk the preceding day, I cringed when he got to this paragraph:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

How can he promote this "God-given" promise that "all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness" and yet oppose the legalization of same-sex marriages? Does this opposition not deny LGBT people their "full measure of happiness"? I don't know if opposition to same-sex marriage under the guise of "defending" marriage is childish, but I do believe that as we, as a nation, mature in our perceptions and judgments about homosexuality (and marriage), we will come around to supporting this civil right that has been denied to a persecuted group in our society.

I was - and am - excited and hopeful about the election of Barack Obama. And yet, that same day, voters in California voted to approve Proposition 8, adding an article to the state Constitution stating

Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California

and thereby striking down any municipal laws legalizing same-sex marriages.

Rick Warren, the tremendously influential and socially conservative pastor and best-selling author who delivered the inaugural prayer on Tuesday, supported Proposition 8. As with the aforementioned section of Obama's inaugural speech, I cringed when I heard Rev. Warren say the following:

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.

Freedom and justice for all ... except, of course, for homosexuals who want to marry.

If Harvey Milk were alive today, and were to give his Give Them Hope speech today, I suspect he would amend it to include Rick Warren along with Anita Bryant and John Briggs - who had actively campaigned in support of Proposition 6 in 1978, the so-called Briggs Initiative, that would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools. Fortunately, that measure failed, and while Milk is no longer with us - assassinated by a fellow (or formerly fellow) city supervisor - anti-gay forces are alive and well, in California and elsewhere.

Although there were many other striking and/or synchronistic aspects to the movie, I'll finish off noting that the person who came to a podium at San Francisco City Hall to announce the assassination of Harvey Milk - and then-mayor George Moscone - was then-city supervisor Dianne Feinstein ... who was also at a podium during Tuesday's inauguration, as the master of ceremonies. I'd earlier written about ignorance, incendiaries, ironies and inspiration in the 2008 presidential campaign, and my concern that the incendiary invectives uttered by McCain supporters might increase the risk of assassination for Obama. I was relieved that there was no replay of the last time I'd seen Feinstein on the big screen (having seen Milk the day before the inauguration).

I have a difficult time believing that a leader who could compose and deliver an inspiring message of moving toward a more perfect union could really oppose same-sex marriage. However, given the range of risks and challenges faced by Obama (and the rest of us's), it may be a while - perhaps another generation - before any public leader at that level can come out publicly in full support of full civil rights for all people.

[Update: Another augur of hope was unveiled this week: [Washington State] Lawmakers announce 'everything but marriage' bill: "Expanding the rights and responsibilities of state registered domestic partners" (Senate Bill 5688 and House Bill 1727). Equal Rights Washington has posted a page through which citizens can support domestic partnership expansion.]

Revenge of the Community Organizers

Obama-ProjectVote One of the low points of the recent U.S. presidential campaign for me - and there were many - was Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's contemptuous dismissal of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's earlier career chapter as a community organizer during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities.

At the time, I wondered how community organizers - on the left and on the right - and the people they work with (the community "organizees"?) felt about this perspective. There were reports the next day of how this snide remark galvanized Obama supporters, including some religious groups - my favorite response was "Jesus was a community organizer; Pontius Pilate was a governor" (heard on the Diane Rehm show). There were some compelling responses defending community organizing and noting how important this work is, in general ... and in elections:

The change voters are talking about this year builds on the shared problems community organizers have been helping people identify for decades. The change voters want builds on the solutions community organizers have been nurturing and putting into place, building the leadership of everyday Americans all across our country to demand that America work for everyone.

Scanlonplantcity It wasn't until I heard the most recent episode of NPR's On The Media - the segment entitled Net Routes, based, in part on a Wired article on Obama's Secret Weapons: Internet, Databases and Psychology - that this all came together for me, helping me understand the full irony of Palin's attack on Obama: the community organizing experience she so derisively mocked in her speech was actually a key to the success of his campaign!

The Barack Obama campaign's winning web strategy employed the latest in social networking to create a highly efficient update of old-fashioned politicking. Marshall Ganz designed the field-organizer and volunteer training systems that turned Obama's campaign volunteers into organizational leaders.

Ganz' emphasis on personal narrative as a means of empowering and engaging people was particularly poignant, given my recent reading of The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self, by Dan McAdams, in which he observes:

In order to live well, with unity and purpose, we compose a heroic narrative of the self that illustrates essential truths about ourselves.

I'm including an embedded link to the 6-minute audio for this segment, and a few quotes highlighting some of the most interesting and inspiring observations made by Marshall Ganz below.

[Ganz] helped develop a website to recruit and share information, and a weekend training program called Camp Obama, where volunteers created brief personal narratives to drive their message home.


The [community] organizing approach is that you hire full-time people, train them to be organizers, and their job is to recruit leaders from local communities, bring them together and equip them and train them to work together to reach out to their neighbors, the other people that live in the community, the voters themselves.


So there was a level of empowerment of volunteer leadership at the local level that is a theme that’s run all through this campaign. And that’s why you see the responsibility, the enthusiasm, the creativity. And that’s why when the campaign is over, as it is now, this isn't going to go away.


What we helped them understand is that the first thing they need to learn is how to articulate their own story, in other words, what is it that moved them to become involved and engaged, because it’s from their own story that they're going to be able to most effectively engage others. So when people leave, they leave equipped to do that. That’s sort of the foundational piece.

And in the initial series in California, we launched 200 teams in two weekends that, with the support of four staff people, built that operation out there to the point where it could make 100,000 phone calls a day. This is like an investment in civic assets, in local communities that no political campaign has done for years.

The right benefited from being rooted in social movements, which do this because that’s what social movements do. They translate values into action; they bring people in to work together. But on the progressive side, everybody had become marketeers. Everybody’d been marketing their cause or marketing their candidates as if it was another bar of soap, transforming people from citizens into customers.

What we did was bring the citizenship back in and put the people back in charge, and then put the tools in their hands.

While relatively few people attended Camp Obama or had access to the database made available to the official community organizers, I suspect that most voters did have access to - and did utilize - the other "secret weapons" used by the Obama campaign mentioned in the Wired article referenced above: the Internet and psychology.

Anyone who consciously or unconsciously constructed a personal narrative about what Obama - or McCain - means to them was engaging in a practice of personality psychology. I suspect that many of these personal narratives were influenced by other narratives that were accessed via the Internet, and that many people used the Internet to share their personal narrative, or at least their shared narrative, via the Internet (even via the simple act of forwarding an email to family, friends or acquaintances) ... suggesting a practice of social psychology.

So, although these interviews and articles are focusing on the formal community organizers, in some sense, it seems to me that the real impact of the Internet in this campaign - which was effectively promoted by the participatory approach embraced by Obama, Ganz and a legion of others - was to empower and engage people at the edges of the network(s).

DirtySouth As Arianna Huffington noted, the winner of the 2008 election was the Internet (and its users), and the loser of the 2008 election was Rovian politics [although, having listened to another segment in the same On The Media episode, The Dirty South, which incluced an interview with Stefan Forbes, director of Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, who reviewed the dark legacy left by the "southern strategy" developed by Rove's mentor - "spin when you can, change the subject when you can’t and if all else fails, mine the voters’ resentment, and fear, usually of blacks" - I hope that what we have really witnessed is the end of Atwaterian politics.].

In any case, it seems to me that what the growing participatory affordances offered by the Internet, and Web 2.0, are ushering in an era of universal deputization of community organizers. I'm just glad that Obama, Ganz and their lieutenants had the experience and insight to ride this wave more effectively than their opponents.

The McCain campaign certainly had their own network of community organizers - as Ganz noted, the religious right had a very strong, pre-existing network ... although in my judgment, the fundamentalist and dogmatic orientation of many of these groups creates a different kind of network than one that is more open to diverse opinions and backgrounds (an "unfair" advantage, perhaps, among the differences between conservativism and liberalism I mentioned in an earlier post).

I am reminded of the classic Pogo cartoon, "we have met the enemy, and he is us" ... and thinking that perhaps this new movement represents a new twist on Pogo's observation:

We have met the community organizers, and they are us.

I hope that Obama and his community organizing lieutenants will now be able to direct the energies of this engaged citizen army - and find ways to deflect or co-opt the energies of the opposing, and often enraged, army of community organizers and organizees - in ways that will help us address the mounting challenges that we are facing.

A recent USA Today / Gallup poll suggests that a majority of us share this hope, and although I believe hope and dreams trump fears and smears, I also believe that, by itself, hope is not a strategy. Ganz noted the effectiveness with which the right has historically - at least in the Atwater / Rove era -  been able to translate values into actions ... it now remains to be seen whether / how Obama we can translate hope into post-election actions.

Principal Instigator at MyStrands: A Prospective Perspective

MyStrands This is my first week as Principal Instigator at MyStrands. I wrote last week about leaving Nokia to join MyStrands, in which I focused primarily on the leaving part. I wanted to write a little more today about the joining part, and the excitement I feel about reprising and redefining my principal instigator role in a new organization. I have meetings next week in Corvallis with some of my new colleagues in the Innovation group to discuss more generally and specifically what we'll be doing - collectively and individually - and hope to post another entry toward the end of next week regarding what the soon-to-be-established Seattle lab will look like - and do.

In a bio blurb I recently sent to Dan Oestreich to preface some of my favorite poems about leadership (The Journey, by Mary Oliver, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and Our Deepest Fear, by Marianne Williamson) in his growing collection of leadership poems, I wrote that "Joe is in the people business, serving technology" (riffing on a perspective articulated by the passionate, persevering and partnering Howard Schultz that he - and Starbucks - is in the "people business, serving coffee"). So I want to write about both the people and the technology at MyStrands that infuse me with enthusiasm for this new adventure. [Update: a variation of the blurb I sent to Dan is now on my bio page in the collection of MyStrands Management Team pages.]

I first met the Francisco Martin, CEO of MyStrands, and Atakan Cetinsoy, VP of Corporate Development, rather serendipitously at a Supernova conference pre-party in San Francisco in the summer of 2006, where they were going to be giving a presentation (I was in town for another event, and just happened to get on the party invitation list). We started chatting during the party about the work I'd done - especially an earlier group recommender system for music (MusicFX) and some more recent proactive display applications - and they told me about their social recommendation core technology (which started out with music recommendations) and their [then] new partyStrands application that combines music recommendation with large displays and mobile phones to promote social interactions in party settings. I joined Nokia Research Center Palo Alto shortly thereafter, where - among other activities - I instigated a new generation of proactive displays that promote community in a workplace environment. MyStrands, meanwhile, has continued to make great strides in areas of mutual interest.

Francisco recently contacted me about the possibility of starting up a new MyStrands lab in Seattle. MyStrands already has labs in Barcelona and New York that are developing a range of new innovations for the company (and its customers) - not that I mean to imply that innovations only arise out of the labs (at MyStrands or elsewhere) ... indeed, one of the refrains I heard from everyone I spoke with over the past month or so was [what I would call] distributed empowerment - everyone is encouraged to innovate (and feels supported in doing so). The company's recent infusion of capital has vastly increased the ability and incentive to expand, and I'm honored and delighted to have been asked to help facilitate that expansion - in people and innovations - in Seattle.

Other people I spoke with at MyStrands after my reconnection with Francisco reinforced many of the positive prospects I sensed during our initial discussions. Rick Hangartner, the Chief Scientist, confirmed that many of the things I'm interested in doing are very well aligned with MyStrands' vision, mission and goals, and that many of the projects already underway will help support and propel many of the new ideas we all have in mind. Jason Herskowitz, VP of Consumer Products (as well as blogger, creator of me*dia*or, a Ning social network site focused on music, and regular contributor to the Music 2.0 Directory that is charting out the future of [digital] music), shared some of his aspirations for creating ever more engaging future music experiences and assured me that he and others at MyStrands were preparing for the potential disruptions in the music industry I recently read about in the Future of Music. Peyman Faratin, Principal Scientist and director of the new MyStrands lab in New York, has some interesting ideas about economics, market mechanisms and business models that I'm looking forward to learning more about (and capitalizing on) ... and it is very reassuring to have a compadre on the east coast who will be facing many of the same opportunities and challenges that I anticipate in Seattle. Marc Torrens, Chief Innovation Officer and my (& Peyman's) direct manager, described his management style as very facilitative and connective, and hopes to help Peyman and me learn quickly about what MyStrands already has in the works, and how our ideas can help expand or extend innovations most effectively - or perhaps introduce entirely new strands to the growing range of social recommendation systems in the MyStrands family.

Mystrandsbloglogo Gabi Aldamiz-echevaria, VP of Marketing and Communications - as well as others throughout the MyStrands organization - do a great job of walking the talk of open innovation by openly communicating through the MyStrands blog (which recently posted an entry announcing my joining MyStrands). The blog manifests much of the positive energy I've felt in all my email and phone exchanges with other Stranders, and I'm really excited about tapping into and promulgating that positive energy as our paths (strands?) increasingly intertwine.

A final note on technology: MyStrands is an all-Apple shop. Although Nokia had been a Windows shop, I was one of the more than 50% of researchers at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto who had switched to Macs, so that part of the transition is going smoothly. However, I also got a brand new iPhone (which my daughter thinks is exceedingly unfair), and so I may start nonconsensually exhibiting iPhone iGloat - I have not figured how to modify the "Sent from my iPhone" signature. Nokia was kind enough to let me keep my N95 ... which, as my new colleagues recently noted on their blog, runs the MyStrands Social Player (ranked among 25 coolest mobile applications for the N95) ... so I'm not yet sure which will become my primary mobile "phone" (or, perhaps I should say my primary "mobile social media connection device").

[Oops - I forgot to add a final note on terminology. At Nokia, it became clear that "instigator" did not translate easily into Finnish, the native language of many of my former colleagues. In case the word does not translate easily into Spanish - the native language of many of my new colleagues - I wanted to include a Merriam Webster's definition of instigate:

to goad or urge forward : provoke

I also want to clarify that this title is not intended to suggest that I am the chief instigator - I am sure there are many instigators throughout the company (as there are throughout Nokia) - but rather to suggest that instigation is what I will principally be doing ... I think this better characterizes my modus operandi than "Scientist" or "Researcher", or even "Manager" or "Director", although I do like to intermingle research and science - and even some management and direction - along with design, development and deployment ... and, of course, instigation :-) ]

Complimenting and Complementing: Great Management through Praising and Partnering

Firstbreakalltherules I recently finished “First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently”, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, in which they emphasize the importance of discovering each individual’s unique constellation of talents – the things he/she cannot help but do (and do well) – and aligning those with appropriate roles – where doing those things add value – within an organization. They also emphasize the importance of offering positive feedback at frequent and regular intervals, and managing around “weaknesses” by establishing effective partnerships - within the team itself and among the management – with others who have complementary talents.

This approach emphasizes discovering, developing and capitalizing on people’s natural strengths, rather than the conventional “wisdom” of creating “well-rounded” employees (what I might call "rounding errors") by “fixing” their weaknesses or, more euphemistically, addressing their “areas for development” (I found myself ruminating on the “spay” or "castrate" meanings of "fix") and/or instituting detailed processes intended to ensure desired outcomes (rather than empowering employees to engage their talents and natural creativity to achieve those outcomes).

The book defines talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied”, and differentiates talent from skill (ability to follow steps) and knowledge (awareness of facts and practices). Talent typically involves skill and knowledge, but most importantly, it is something we are inexorably drawn toward … something we have a deep passion for (reminding me of Rumi’s maxim, and my former email signature quotation: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you truly love”). Buckingham and Coffman go on to distinguish three types of talent – striving (the why of a person), thinking (the how of a person) and relating (the who of a person) – and offer a dozen or so more specific examples of each type of talent in an appendix. I must confess that I do not appear to have a talent for understanding the specificity of these distinctions.

The authors, who are (or were?) leaders in the Gallup organization’s 25-year effort to understand attitudes, opinions and behaviors in work settings, offer 12 questions that represent “the simplest and most accurate way to measure the strength of a workplace”:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

In polling over one million employees with these questions, Gallup found that the proportions of employees who “strongly agree” (a “5” on a 5-point scale) with these statements is highly correlated with their group’s productivity, profitability, retention and customer satisfaction.

Gallup also interviewed eighty thousand managers to better understand what the great managers did differently from the good (and bad) managers. They found that great managers are able to both identify an employee’s true talents, and capitalize on them by aligning those talents with roles in the organization. The authors share a mantra that was shared with them (in various forms) by great managers:

People don’t change that much.
Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.
Try to draw out what was left in.
That is hard enough.

They also shared their view of manager as a catalyst rather than a controller, which can be summarized in three passages in the book:

The manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance … one employee at a time.
You can’t make things happen. All you can do is influence, motivate, berate, or cajole, in the hope that most of your people will do what you ask of them.
Identify a person’s strengths. Define outcomes that play to those strengths. Find a way to count, rate, or rank those outcomes. And then let the person run.

Great managers accomplish this alignment of talents and roles through four key activities:

  • Select people for talent (not simply skills, knowledge and experience)
  • Define right outcomes (not precise steps or processes to achieve outcomes)
  • Focus on people’s strengths (not their weaknesses)
  • Help people find the right fit (possibly in another group or company)

Other insights shared by great managers include:

  • You’re always on stage (we are always modeling by example)
  • Every role performed at excellence deserves respect (reminding me of a recent Wall Street Journal article on Joie de Vivre Hospitality's practice of buying hotel housekeepers new vacuum cleaners every year)
  • Unrestrained empowerment can be a value killer (“Allowing each person to make all of his own decisions may well result in a team of fully self-actualized employees, but it may not be a very productive team”)

The authors use the analogy of sports, invoking the wisdom of a great sports coach in promoting the primacy of people over pre-defined procedures (or plays):

Bud Grant, stone-faced Hall of Fame coach of the Minnesota Vikings described it this way: "You can’t draw up plays and then just plug your players in. No matter how well you have designed your play book, it’s useless if you don’t know which plays your players can run. When I draw up my play book, I always go from the players to the play."

This, in turn, brings up an issue about which I’ve been ruminating lately – the idea of a “player / coach” in the business world. There are very few examples of people who have excelled in both roles (simultaneously). Most great coaches are / were former players … but I don’t believe most great coaches were great players. Management is a talent – or, perhaps, a collection of talents. Having skills, knowledge and experience with the types of activities, people and organizations in which great performance is to be achieved can be very helpful in practicing great management. However, the best players rarely make the best coaches. There are, of course, exceptions – after all, as the book notes, everyone is exceptional – but organizational structures in which managers are also expected to be significant individual contributors may not offer the highest probability for optimal success on any level.

The book offers insights and observations about “managing around weaknesses” that I believe apply equally well to managers and employees. Noting that “no one possesses all of the talents needed to excel in a particular role”, the authors suggest three strategies that can be used to promote performance: devise a support system, find a complementary partner or find an alternative role. The first focuses on logistics – arranging physical or procedural aspects of work so that individual weaknesses can be compensated through other dimensions. The second strategy focuses on the specific dimension of other people, and this notion of complementary partnership reminds me of Starbucks' founder Howard Schultz' insights into passion, perseverance and partnership, and that all successful teams are really partnerships [I've written before that everyone's a customer, and it appears that Starbucks already recognizes and celebrates a corollary - everyone's a partner.]

The third strategy is consonant with more poetic treatments of the issue I’ve encountered (or re-discovered) recently  –the notion that “self-discovery is the driving, guiding force for a healthy career”. The book includes several references to the metaphor of a mirror, emphasizing that great managers help guide their employees to discover – and accept – themselves and their unique talents, and to work with them to apply those talents in ways that are optimally productive for the employee and the organization. This process – or journey – unfolds through regular meetings and discussions, where mutual awareness and trust can be cultivated ... ideally amounting to at least one hour every quarter (vs. the more conventional half hour or hour ever year or half year).

Of course, it may turn out, in some cases, that a productive channeling of an employee’s talents can not be found or created within a group or organization, in which case the best course is for the employee to change jobs. The key here is not to take anything personally – the problem is simply miscasting, not a defect in the character of either the manager or employee.

The book was published in 1999. I bought it in 2004, when I actively entertained ambitions for growing and managing a high performance team for designing and deploying technologies to “help people relate” – the dream, and erstwhile business, of Interrelativity (my now-defunct start-up). After a brief burst of activity as a team of 2, we soon became a team of one, and so the book sat on my shelf for the next three years. Toward the end of a recent presentation I gave at the SDForum on our new generation of proactive displays (which I entitled “Friendsters @ Work”), someone asked me whether I thought our proactive displays – which provide large, ambient windows into personal digital media (e.g., photos from an online photo sharing service like Flickr) in a professional physical workplace (our lab) to promote awareness, interactions and community – were, in effect, manifestations of the Gallup management philosophy. I had to admit I hadn’t thought about it, but in continuing our conversation after the presentation session, he mentioned the “First Break All the Rules” book, and helped me recognize that the design of the proactive display application (the “Context, Content and Community Collage”) was, in fact, very well aligned with the Gallup management philosophy … which I recognized as also being reflected in another book I’ve read (and blogged about): “How Full Is Your Bucket: Positive Strategies for Life and Work” by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton (also with the Gallup management organization).

The Buckingham and Coffman book and has two sequels, "Now Discover Your Strengths" (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001) and "Go Put Your Strengths to Work" (Buckingham, 2007). I have not read these yet, but I have taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder test - referenced in all of the above - which suggested that my five top talents (or strengths) are:

  • Woo (Win Others Over)
    People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.
  • Connectedness
    People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
  • Relator
    People strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
  • Ideation
    People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between disparate phenomena.
  • Adaptability
    People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to "go with the flow". They tend to be "now" people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.

I like to think of myself as someone who is willing to break rules, aware of my strengths, and willing and able to put them to work ... hopefully in complimentary and complementary ways.

Fino, Finis, Finnish: Jukka Soikkeli's Farewell Party (and the Power of Passion)

Jukkaatfino We celebrated Jukka Soikkeli's 20+ years at Nokia Research Center at Cafe Fino in Palo Alto last night. Besides learning about Jukka's penchant for Corvettes, and some of his tangible and intangible contributions to (and through) Nokia, it was noted that Jukka is a prototypical Finn: a man of few words, the wisdom of which often becomes evident well after they are uttered. In keeping with this tradition, Jukka gave a rather short speech, although the wisdom (for me) was immediately apparent. One of the things he emphasized was the importance of passion as the key ingredient behind successes he'd witnessed (and promoted) in his years at Nokia. He encouraged those of us who will be continuing on with the firm to not pay so much attention to what people further up the chain are saying [I'm suddenly struck by the multiple interpretations one might associate with the "chains of command(s)"], but to follow our instincts when we're on to something we truly believe is important. [I've posted a separate entry on following my instincts in sharing my passion for Amarone last night on my wine blog]

The topic(s) of passion, instincts and authority provided an undercurrent to many of the discussions I had throughout the rest of the evening with several of my colleagues here at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto. I believe everyone believes in the power of passion, but some of the people who have been with NRC for a long period of time have experienced or witnessed changes that I've heard variously described with terms ranging from gentle breezes to earthquakes. While we are regularly encouraged to take risks here, it's very challenging to take risks in an environment that is not perceived as offering a high level of trust and support. NRC Palo Alto is a new lab, and as such we are co-creating a new culture; as we develop and apply our skills in technical areas, we need to consciously cultivate the kinds of social and community support that will offer the scaffolding needed for bold[er] actions ... and to recognize that we are all leaders in this effort.

I wrote recently about how I feel I'm really coming alive again, after having lived and worked through some winds of change and groundshaking experiences myself (in both the personal and professional dimensions). I still feel very much the new kid on the block, having been here just over 6 months, and coupled with my natural naivete and unbridled optimism, I have high hopes about our prospects for creating a high trust environment that will encourage the kinds of risks we'll need to take in order to succeed.

Mashing up the wisdom of Jukka with a quote often attributed to Harold Thurman Whitman:

Don’t ask yourself what the world Nokia needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world Nokia needs is people who have come alive.

John Shen: New Head of Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto

John Shen, former DIrector of the Micro-architecture Lab at Intel, became the new head of Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto, on Friday.  John comes to NRCPA after 6.5 years at Intel, and 18 years before that as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. In his welcome welcoming remarks, John stressed his intention to cultivate a culture of risk-taking and innovation, embrace the lab's mission of renewal and redefinition, and achieve a balance between research reach and recognizable relevance to Nokia's business groups. 

I particularly liked John's allusion to the convergence between computing and communicating devices in characterizing his move from Intel to Nokia: it is increasingly possible to insert a phone capability into a laptop, but the prospects for inserting computing capabilities into phones are even more exciting.

John's arrival capped a busy week for me. I just started my new job as Principal Scientist (or, as Anne so nicely, if inadvertantly put it, Principle Scientist) at NRCPA on Monday, attended UbiComp 2006 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and returned to NRCPA for my second day on Friday. With John's arrival, I suppose I'm no longer the "new kid on the block" ... nor the only Intel alumnus. I had been a bit concerned about joining NRCPA before the new head was announced, but I really wanted to take advantage of the timing of UbiComp 2006, both to reconnect with my colleagues in the ubiquitous computing research community and to help spread the word that there is an exciting and ambitious new technology research lab in the heart of Silicon Valley.  I'm glad I took the risk: UbiComp was all I hoped for (and more), and I am confident that John will provide strong chaordic leadership in growing a research culture that seeks to foster emergent and participatory leadership -- what might even be characterized as a dance of leadership -- across all stakeholders of the organization.

The Dance of Leadership

A healthy community is like a dance, with different dancers stepping forward to take the lead at different times, and others following those leads.  Even followers are leaders, as we lead ourselves along paths or sequences illuminated by those who we consciously or unconsciously agree to allow lead us.  A leader creates a safe space within which others can more effectively recognize and express their magnificence.

These are some of the insights that emerged for me over the weekend, as I participated in a leadership training course (LT1) offered by the Mankind Project.  As with other MKP trainings in which I've participated, I don't want to reveal the specifics of any of the exercises -- as that may diminish the impact for any future trainees -- but will elaborate further on some of the results (for me).

The notion of leadership as a dance arose as I noticed that all of the participants are leaders[-in-training], and recognized that if none of us was willing to step back at times -- and allow others to step forward -- little would be accomplished.  As I became more conscious of this dance, and who was stepping forward in different contexts, I ruminated on what distinguishes a leader, and wanted to be able to encompass a range of leaders from Ghandi to Hitler. I arrived at the following definition of leadership:

Leadership is the modeling and communication of passionate commitment to an inspiring goal, principle or path.

Throughout the weekend, I was reminded of related wisdom shared by others, including Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Dee Hock and Dan Oestreich

In the Prelude to Oriah's book, The Dance, she asks some provocative and insightful questions, including:

What if it truly doesn't matter what you do but how you do whatever you do?

What if you knew that the impulse to move in a way that creates beauty in
the world will arise from deep within and guide you every time you simply
pay attention and wait?

These help me remember that it doesn't necessarily matter whether I am leading others, but that in leading my self, I stay fully conscious and true to my self, and that it is in trusting my own instincts that I can lead my self -- and others -- most authentically.

I've written about Dee Hock's inspiring principles on Chaordic Leadership before.  His insights into power, listening and judgment repeatedly came to mind over the weekend, and his prescription for leadership was resonating deeply for me:

Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

I also had occasion to practice his advice for recognizing, admitting, correcting, learning from and rising above mistakes over the weekend, as I became painfully aware of how much of my father's patterns of leadership in marriage and parenthood I have adopted.  Although my father had many wonderful and admirable qualities -- many of which I hope I am perpetuating -- there are other characteristic that I have unconsciously adopted.  I renewed my commitment to making mistakes wakefully.

Dan Oestreich, an inspiring leadership coach (and friend), has shared many insights into the gold and shadows of leadership in his Unfolding Leadership blog.  Many of them were reverberating through me during the weekend.  Perhaps most poignantly, I was ever more aware of the path on which he has helped me embark toward my unfolding radiance.  I will invoke yet another element of Oestreichian inspiration, and apply the representation of a möbius strip, which I first used in ruminating on preaching what I want to practice, to the paradox of leadership (and followership):


There were other sources of wisdom invoked by the leaders of the leadership training, including

A quick search of Amazon reveals that there are other books related to the dance of leadership, including

For the moment, however, I am content to follow the beat of my own, inner drummer, dancing with the shadows and gold that were illuminated for me over the course of the weekend.