How do you build a collaborative team that can work across difference, adapt to change and unleash their creative potential? I’m thrilled to be teaching “Building Collaborative Teams” as part of Simon Fraser University’s Executive Leadership program, part of Continuing Studies. In addition to the face-to-face offering each Fall, we’re now offering it as an online course starting March 11, 2019, and running for six weeks. Learn with other senior leaders from diverse sectors and organizations. There are still a few spaces left! Register soon to save your spot: http://at.sfu.ca/NxSWZK
Once again, Anima Leadership in Toronto is offering an outstanding line-up of trainings this Fall. Given my own focus on power, I’m really excited about participating in one of them next month: a 3-day seminar on “Coaching for Power Intelligence”, centered on developing the effective use of power by leaders using the new Diamond Power Index, developed by Dr. Julie Diamond. As the Anima team describes it, “this is an essential assessment tool for anybody wanting to correct leader’s unconscious use of power including: pulling rank, gossiping, bragging, taking credit, fostering unhealthy competition, not taking responsibility, etc. This is the Myers-Briggs of our generation.” One option is to participate in the first 1.5 days of the seminar. The entire three-day training covers the background and research underlying the instrument, how to administer the test, how to interpret scores and reports, how to coach and train leaders and leadership teams, as well as marketing support for using it in organizations. Successful completion of the seminar will result in certification for using the assessment
I’m thrilled to be an instructor and curriculum designer for this exciting new program offered by Simon Fraser University! It launches in the early Fall of 2017, and seats are expected to fill. The non-residential program, based out of SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus, is designed for working professionals. Over 9 months, through face to face gatherings, tele-conferences and coaching, the program offers a host of hands-on skills, frameworks and practice that will sharpen the skills of leaders from a range of industries and sectors, from business to not-for-profit. The program is also being offered as a series of individual modules, to make it more accessible. It’s made the news, too: here’s a great article by the Georgia Strait from an interview I did two weeks ago. Click here for more information about cost, schedule and the application process for either the individual courses or the entire 9-month certificate program.
Since first offering a one day racial equity workshop for white people in Vancouver, I’ve had a few inquiries from local folks asking more about what the impetus for the workshop was, why I’m offering it, who I am, and where the proceeds are going. I’ve done my best to answer those questions here.
Since first offering a one day racial equity workshop for white people in Vancouver, I’ve had a few inquiries from local folks asking more about who I am, what the impetus for the workshop was, why I’m offering it, and where the proceeds are going. I’ve done my best to answer those questions here. I also welcome further opportunities for dialogue about how to best advance racial equity locally, in this city that I love and call home.
Q: Who is Suzanne? I’m a white, heterosexual woman of mainly English, Scottish, and Irish descent. I grew up in a working class family in Vancouver’s West End, on the un-ceded Coast Salish territory of the sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations.
I worked in the non-profit sector for several years before becoming a freelance facilitator and leadership trainer, working across the US and Canada. Most of my work involves facilitating leadership development, strategic planning and organizational effectiveness, which I do either alone or in partnership with people of colour. Recently, I’ve begun co-facilitating local equity and inclusion trainings in partnership with a woman of colour who has done this work for many years locally and internationally. I’m also on a mixed-race team at InPartnership Consulting that co-facilitates the Racial Justice Learning Lab, a multi-day leadership training in the US.
In additional to my consulting work, I’m a trainer with the Rockwood Leadership Institute, where we lead retreats for diverse social justice leaders from across the US. There, I co-facilitate Rockwood’s flagship Art of Leadership trainings, plus fellowships for Women in Racial Justice, Racial and Gender Justice Leaders in HIV/AIDS movement, LGBTQ Advocacy, the Service Employees International Union, and the Pipeline Project’s Fellowship for LGBTQ Leaders of Colour. As a multi-racial training team deeply committed to equity, inclusion and working across difference, we are immersed in an exploration of ‘beloved community’ – reflecting, learning and strengthening our work together and with our participants.
Q: What is your background in racial equity work? I started learning about racial equity in a more concerted way about twenty years ago at the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, through staff-led conversations and peer-to-peer education. My learning deepened through several trainings, including components of a year-long fellowship offered through what is now the Social Transformation Project. I continue to seek out even more focused learning opportunities. For example, several years ago I and other white trainers realized we needed to ‘up our game’ without burdening our co-trainers of colour with constantly having to be the ones to ‘handle’ race issues that come up in the room. So we organized our own intensive anti-racist facilitator’s training with a white trainer who works across the US with groups like ours, often at the behest of their colleagues of colour. Learning about privilege and power, especially when it comes to race, has been essential to my own development and capacity to support the leadership of others. And it is ongoing.
Q: Why offer a racial equity training in an all-white space? I’ve long been taught that it is essential for white people to do this work together, sometimes in all-white spaces. That’s where we can make mistakes, ask ‘dumb questions’, share our emotions and learn together, without perpetuating harm (eg. through ignorance, unwitting micro-aggressions or inappropriate space-taking), and without constantly putting the burden of our education on people of colour.
Q: Why here? Here in Vancouver, I’ve noticed that many people talk about the value of diversity and multiculturalism, but seem unfamiliar, if not outright uncomfortable with key concepts such as “white supremacy”, “white privilege” or even the simple act of naming whiteness – much less the multiple ways that structural racism, implicit bias and colonialism pervade every aspect of our lives. All too often, friends and colleagues of colour tell me they are called to educate white people about these concepts – and that it can be tiring.
I designed the workshop to help address this gap; to pay forward the teachings I’ve received from racial justice mentors over the years on both sides of the border. I’m not an ‘expert’. I am keenly aware that the process of unlearning racism and internalized privilege, and enlarging my deepest sense of “we”, will be a lifetime journey. My intention is to offer a supportive place for white people to learn some key concepts, practice getting comfortable with discomfort, and make commitments to advancing racial equity – without burdening people of colour and indigenous people with their education.
Q: What about fees? I’m offering this public training as a volunteer, and am taking no fees for it. Any net revenue (after hard costs such as venue rental, workbooks, etc.) is being donated to organizations focused on reconciliation and racial equity. Scholarships are also available on request. For the November offering, I asked the two participants that did request scholarships to simply ‘pay it forward’ as their means allow. I set the regular fees at $125. Some people said that was too high, even with the offer of scholarships. Others said that this was too low – that white people should commit to this work and value it appropriately. Going forward, I’m going to be more explicit about a sliding scale for fees.
Q: Why now? In the summer of 2016, I offered the workshop (at no charge) to the white caucus of the Health eQT2 Collaborative, which is focused on improving health outcomes for queer, trans and two spirit people across BC. Before that training, two Indigenous leaders from the collaborative’s Indigenous and People of Colour caucuses met with me to review and vet the curriculum. They approved it, and the workshop took place several weeks later. Feedback from the workshop was positive. I was recently asked to offer this workshop again for an arts organization, and we decided to open it up more widely since others were interested. I wasn’t sure there would be demand for the workshop, but to my surprise the workshop sold out in 4 days. There is a waiting list, so at this point, pending the schedule of my paid work, I’ll offer it again in the New Year.
Q: Who ‘vetted’ the curriculum, if anyone? Several other colleagues have offered feedback on this curriculum, or variations of it in other contexts, over several years. Since I only train and facilitate with leaders of colour, where the topic of racial equity is often part of the conversation, I’m lucky to have continuous opportunities to learn from others with lived experience and expertise on working across difference. At the same time, I have no doubt that each group of participants will have different needs and strengths, so I expect a continuously steep learning curve going forward.
But I don’t feel for one second that I have the right or the luxury to stop, delay or wait until I’ve got it ‘just right’. As I’m writing this I hear the words of my colleague Clarence Patton, founder of the Pipeline Project for LGBTQ leaders of colour, in the wake of the 2016 US Election:
“Right-thinking White folks need to sing lead on this if it’s ever going to get fixed. We can sing backup, shake a tambourine, or do the triangle, but White folks fucking sing lead for the foreseeable”
I stand by that and the truth – that will be hard for a lot of White folks to take – is that the folks that voted for Trump out of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and yes, even economic anxiety or displacement are not going to be able to listen to me or people like me right now. And despite the empathy I can have for Whites I deal with in the work I do, I’m not sure I can have the same for the great red ocean of Whites out there.
There are simply conversations that Whites need to have with Whites.
The problem, the challenge, the real likelihood is that there aren’t enough right-thinking White people willing to do the work. I hope there are, but understand that it’s very hard to create even positive disruption when we hold our comfort too dear.
Most of us working on social change are experts at criticism. The problem is when it becomes an unconscious habit in individuals and across entire teams. “Yes! And…” is a classic, fun improv theatre exercise that interrupts this “culture of critique” and helps groups become more adept at embracing new, creative ideas.
“I can’t believe how hard this is!” exclaimed Vince. “It took all my self-control to not to say “yes, BUT!” The group of civil rights activists, many of them trained attorneys, laughed knowingly. Several had just the same experience. We were sitting in a sunny boardroom in Los Angeles yesterday, debriefing a short exercise we’d just run called “Yes, And…”. If you’re familiar with improvisational theatre or comedy, you’ll know that it’s a powerful training tool, while being highly entertaining in its own right. “Yes! And…” is also one of the most effective, simple exercises I know to help leaders and groups disrupt long-held habits of negative collective thinking in order to generate a more creative, innovative flow of ideas.
The Culture of Critique
Most of us working on social change are experts at criticism. This is particularly true for those of us with academic training, or whose work is focused on advocacy or legal strategies. Through our work as change agents, we learn to finely hone our abilities to rebutt, refuke, counter, critique, denounce and generally point out the shortcomings of other peoples’ ideas. We become so skilled, in fact, that many of our critical tendencies become habits – unconscious, almost knee-jerk reactions to the world around us. And those habits get expressed internally, interpersonally, within organizations and across entire movements. Together, they form what I call a “culture of critique”.
Is criticism necessarily a bad thing? Of course not. The critical, free-thinking minds and imaginations of human beings are among our greatest gifts. Those gifts make it possible to talk about risks, to fight oppression, to influence human systems and behaviours so that we are more just, equitable, collectively intelligent and compassionate.
Criticism has its place. The problem is when it becomes an unconscious habit. It becomes even more of a problem when that habit starts getting routinely expressed across entire cultures.
When critique gets in the way of social change
In fact, the more we aspire to working collaboratively across difference as leaders and movements, the more the “culture of critique” becomes a liability. And it can impede collaborative leadership in several ways:
- Debate vs. dialogue: Instead of dialogue, we automatically veer toward debate. In conversation, we stop listening, often too soon. The energy becomes more focused on ‘who’s right’ than ‘how can we best move forward’.
- Missing the full picture”: As Steven Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the best leaders “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. If we’re immersed in a “culture of critique”, our unconscious habit will be to counter before hearing, or understanding, the full story of another person’s perspective, missing out on important pieces of the whole truth. That means we also miss out on the full spectrum of potential opportunities to move past sticking points into new solutions.
- Weaker relationships: In the contracted mental and emotional state of “critique”, our focus stayed narrowly confined to our own perspectives, and fails to account for the truths of others. We become less compassionate, less empathetic. The result? Weaker, less trusting partnerships with others.
- Shutting down good ideas: When others experience critique, they more likely to shut down before their own ideas can fully blossom. Worse, people can become habituated to ‘playing it safe’. They become more likely to avoid sharing risky, innovative ideas that might get shot down as being ‘inappropriate’, ‘stupid’, or befall the idea-purgatory of ‘we already tried that.’
What’s more, all of these effects are compounded when those modeling a habit of criticism hold more institutional, positional, cultural or personal power.
Practicing the “Yes! And…” exercise
As facilitators and leaders, we know that both a desire to do things differently, and a commitment to practice, can help replace less helpful habits with new ones. One of the simplest, easiest exercises I know of as a facilitator is “Yes, And…”. It’s also a terrific energizer, as the results are often hilarious. At its heart, “Yes, And” is about fully accepting whatever someone else shares with you – and then building upon it. Here’s one approach to leading it:
- Form pairs. One person is the A, the other the B
- A starts by stating something about themselves or the other person… it can be anything at all. If it’s provocative, all the better.
- B responds with “Yes! And….”, adding to the statement
- A responds with “Yes! And…” and continues building on what B just said
- Run the exercise for 3-5 minutes, depending on the energy in the room
- Debrief as a large group
Watch out for any urge to counter your partner’s statement, either overtly or through sarcasm. Just keep building. Really, genuinely work with what you’re given!
Here’s an example my colleague Michael practiced with me this week. He was wicked, and we ended up laughing so hard we could barely breath. Here’s how it started:
Michael: So… I hear you’ve become a corporate weapons manufacturer! [I gasp inwardly]
Me: [gulping] Yes, and…. I’m really excited about the opportunity to become an internal agent for positive change in the industry!!
Michael: Yes, and… since I know it’s going to be challenging, I have some relaxation techniques I can recommend!
Me: Yes, and… I’m definitely looking forward to us using them together, since I know you’ve just been hired into the same weapons research division as me!”
Michael: [eyes widening] Yes! And….
And so on. Of course, it can be a lot more serious and “real” than that. The point is to practice disrupting the habit of critical thinking, and building up the habit of embracing and adding to others’ ideas, no matter how weird those ideas may feel.
Want to see a real-time example? Check out this improv theatre training video by Avish Parashar and Fred Gleek.
Applying “Yes! And…” over time
There are two keys to this being really effective in the long-run.
Debrief well: at least for the first time working with a group, make sure there’s enough time to really debrief what it’s like. Where was it hard? In what ways? Did it get easier? How did it feel? What did people notice?
Practice it often. “Yes! And..” is a short, useful energizer in it’s own right, especially during meetings after lunch or when group energy is low. It’s also extremely useful as a “drill” to use before, say, a strategy session, or any kind of collective brainstorm involving at least two people.
Last month a good friend called me up in a bit of a panic. “I’m chairing another citizen’s meeting next week”, she said, “but I’m afraid it’s going to go like all the others: we’re going to generate a big laundry list of tactics, drink a lot of bad coffee, eat too many cookies and go home feeling dissatisfied. And bloated. We’re thinking too small. We need a vision!” So we talked about the different ways she could lead her folks into bolder, more inspiring territory through a visioning process.
There are many ways to facilitate a group of people through a visioning process. Most of them are rich, often profound and always creative. The essential process is about marrying imagination and strategy – taking intuitive, creative and informed leaps into a possible, aspirational future.
One of the most powerful approaches is a “guided visualization”. I have led dozens of groups through guided visualizations as part of a visioning process over the past decade. Inspired by Inc. magazine’s list of “14 questions you need to ask when crafting a vision for your businesses success”, here’s the list that I implicitly use. These can be adjusted for individuals, small business or non-profits. In practice, I develop a script tailored to the unique needs and assets of each client group, but it usually contains these elements.
- Time frame… 3-5 years? 10 years? Collins and Porras, in Built to Last, recommend 10-30 years. Notions of “purpose” and “core ideology” are more long-term; visions change relatively more quickly to reflect the changing internal and external dynamics of organizations.
- Stories….. Start with a specific time and place, specific characters, and a setting… Where are you, in your mind’s eye? Put yourself in the picture! As I described in an earlier post about stories, scan your senses: lights, temperature, movement of the air, sound, smells… Who is there? What’s happening? This will get you into the story in a deeply personal way, unleashing more of your own creative, imaginative power.
- Major accomplishments: What are you most proud of? Get emotional, personal and specific. What are your top 1-3 major accomplishments or “big wins”? Imagine there was a feature article about your success. What did the headlines say? What difference did this make in the world?
- Breakthroughs: In the past X years, what is the most significant breakthrough that launched the organization into a whole new level of wild success? How? What happened? Who helped make it happen? What was different?
- People you serve: Whose lives is your work touching? Who are you serving? How exactly are they engaging with you? Zero in on one or two ‘representative’ individuals… Why are they choosing to engage with your messages, services or products? What’s in it for them?
- Allies: Are there new or unusual allies that contributed to your success as an organization? As an individual?
- Your niche: Notice other groups similar to your own… How is yours specifically unique and different?
- No-go zones: What are some services or approaches that your organization does NOT offer or do?
- Internal collaboration: How are people working together internally? What is the feeling/tone of that work? How are teams working with one another ‘across silos’? What’s new and different? Why is it working so well? What are the specific structures and practices that are making this new level of collaboration so successful?
- People in the organization: Who is working in the organization – what do they look like, demographically? What is the collective culture like? What practices or group norms do you notice?
- Leadership: Who is leading the organization? How are they leading? What’s it like? Is it different? If so, how?
- Resources: What kind of abundance is the organization enjoying? What does that look like, specifically?
- Geographic scope: Where are you working, and not working – are there specific communities? Regions? How focused are you?
- What else… What else do you notice that’s different, or the same, in this successful, deeply satisfying future?
Afterword: So I whipped up a script based pretty well on all these questions and emailed it off to my friend, and she used it to lead the group through a closed-eye visualization process. She did an amazing job – it was by all accounts a fantastic success. After the visualization, she helped everyone share their individual insights and arrive at a few core themes that resonated for the whole group. They left feeling energized, inspired, and aligned around a whole new level of collective work. And it’s entirely possible that they didn’t scarf down quite so many cookies.
“Wow,” said Robert, looking over at me with a big smile. “They are REALLY loving this!” Robert Gass, master facilitator and co-founder of the Rockwood Leadership Institute, sat beside co-trainer Gibran Rivera and I in the sunlit meeting room at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, high in the mountains of Colorado. The three of us were watching our hilarious, brilliant colleague, Jose Acevedo, exuberantly leading a group of 24 leaders through a half-day training on Interpersonal Leadership Styles. It is one of the most popular modules in Rockwood’s year-long Leading from the Inside Out program for national non-profit leaders. Four groups of participants were clustered around flipcharts in in each corner of the room. The energy of each group was remarkably different: some were laughing and punching one another on the shoulders, others were fiercely debating, some pondering silently and gently offering suggestions to one another, as they reflected on their different working styles. And they were, indeed, loving it.
In fact, I have heard back now from dozens of leaders about the power and impact of having gone through a team-wide training in Interpersonal Leadership styles. Why? People walk away with a keener sense of their blind spots and their strengths as leaders – and of their team-mates’. Rather than feeling judged for those differences, or limited by narrow definitions (something I had feared), it turns out that participants become vastly more appreciative, not just tolerant, of one another’s differences.
The ability to work across difference and to harvest the gifts those differences bring is an essential skill for today’s leaders. Leaders simply must become adept at recognizing and working with not only differences of power and rank as expressed through race, sexual orientation, class, and ability, but differences in style. Interpersonal Leadership Styles, or ILS, is an accessible tool that supports this kind of learning. And it offers immediate take-aways in terms of how to flex, even in periods of stress, to make the most of one anothers’ unique perspectives.
Interpersonal Leadership Styles is one of several typologies over the past several decades based on the work of Jung and others, to help map out the different leadership styles individuals tend to bring to their teams. Other typologies you may have heard of include Myers-Briggs, Colby, or DISC. It turns out they are all based on largely the same body of Jungian-based social science research – just packaged differently. But the concept isn’t new. In fact, the Chinese first invented work-related typologies over 4,000 years ago, to help assign civil servants to appropriate roles based on their unique styles and aptitudes.
I and most of my other fellow leadership trainers at Rockwood chose to get certified in ILS because, compared to other systems, we found it simpler to grasp and apply immediately. Most of the sessions I facilitate are between 2.5 and 3 hours, although full-day versions are also offered by many of Stratton Consultants’ licensees. And while at first I resisted pursuing certification in any such system, I became convinced after repeatedly observing the power of teams who embrace their stylistic differences.
For more information about ILS, contact Stratton Consulting.
The incredibly talented, results-driven team at Anima Leadership has a brand-new workshop offering: Measuring Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Practices, on May 23rd, 2013 in downtown Toronto. Wish I could be there!
The talented, results-driven team at Anima Leadership has a brand-new workshop offering: Measuring Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Practices, on May 23rd, 2013 in downtown Toronto. I frequently work with organizations that struggling to become more inclusive, diverse and reflective of the communities they serve. The team at Anima Leadership is simply brilliant at this work, fusing the latest research from neuroscience, psychology, prejudice reduction, organizational development and mindfulness with proven practices for sustaining organizational performance. Now they’ve surveyed the latest smart practices research on recruitment, retention and advancement in order to develop unique diversity instruments for measuring inclusion in the workplace. Assess where your organization is at and where it wants to go using the Anima Inclusive Workplace Toolkit.
In this workshop you will learn:
- What gets in the way of establishing a diverse and inclusive organization.
- Leadership competencies for developing Diversity Champions including emotional intelligence, mindfulness and authentic connection.
- How unconscious bias results in “blind spots” within all individuals and organizations and the importance of developing bias detection and management skills.
- How to apply the Anima Inclusive Organizational Practices Continuum using seven factors for measuring organizational change with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion.
For anyone on the East Coast and/or in the Toronto area (or beyond), this will be a fantastic workshop. Click here for more information.
Anima Leadership is offering two 1-day facilitation trainings, June 10 and 11th, at Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation.
Anima Leadership, one of Canada’s most insightful, intelligent and experienced transformational leadership teams, is offering two back-to-back facilitation trainings at Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation. Authentic Facilitation 1: Learning to facilitate with presence of ease is on June 10th, followed by Authentic Facilitation 2: Learning to sit in the fire of conflict on June 11th. Check here for registration and details.
The good news: I’m lucky enough to work with amazing clients all over the continent who change the world on a daily basis. And I’m one of those freaky people that actually love travel, airports and all – which is good, since most training and facilitation requires face-time. The bad news: While I’m off helping others ‘save the world’, I’m also helping pump tonnes of nasty fossil fuel emissions into our beleaguered atmosphere.
Oh, the irony. Especially on Earth Day!
Nowadays, many airlines offer ‘offsetting’ options for a small donation when you purchase your ticket. But I admit, I’m skeptical. Are they investing in companies that plant trees for biofuel – but only after clear-cutting entire stands of 300-year old cedars? In other words, are the projects actually not resulting in “additional” CO2 reductions? Or are they contributing to other negative non-carbon impacts, like investing in run-of-river hydro-electric projects that produce ‘green energy’ by trashing salmon spawning streams, or that undercut the conservation-economy efforts of First Nations in their territories?
It all comes down to trusting the offsetting supplier or broker. So, I asked another frequent-flyer, longtime business leader and environmental activist Joel Solomon, of Renewal Partners what he does. He suggested “Offsetters”, a Canadian organization with 25 staff based out of Vancouver. According to their site, they have one of the lowest overhead rates in the industry. As well, they say they’re “verified by third parties as generating additional, permanent reductions in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.”
So I checked out their handy calculator, and learned that, on a recent trip from Vancouver to Philadelphia and back, I alone was responsible for spewing another 1.8917 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Tonnes, people! Blerg! But wait – for $47.29 I can invest in permanent, additional CO2 reductions that will counter most of that, and alleviate at least some of my chronic guilt.
Now, not for one minute do I believe that we can, or should, buy our way out of our collective planet-trashing lifestyles. But, until we can all sit together as faux-embodied beings, reading one another’s body language and doing our small-group breakouts in Star Trek’s much-awaited Holadeck, supporting Offsetters, or something like it (BTW, recommendations welcome!) looks like the best interim solution for frequent travelers like me. It’s certainly better than doing nothing at all.