Transitioning Out of Fear and into Hope with Collaborative Learning

This has been a year of fear and no wonder with an unprecedented pandemic, insurrection at the Capital, growing tribalism, global warming, economic instability. But instead of getting sucked into and trapped by our fears, “remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. 

That’s the next stanza of Margaret Wheatley’s poem, “Turning to One Another.” (To read the entire poem take a look at a previous blog.) I’ve been reflecting on this poem over the last few weeks and it finishes on a much-needed positive note.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. 

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

We are stronger together, even with or maybe even especially because of our different opinions, backgrounds, and stories. We each have goodness within us and meaningful conversations with each other can reveal the goodness, the common purpose, and the stories behind what we care about.

In order to leave fear truly behind and find new solutions to our unprecedented challenges, we need to have an entirely new approach to listening and learning. I’ve created the Center for Learning Leaders because I believe that learning never stops, especially for leaders. Even though I work at the Graduate School of Education at Touro University, a center for learning, I’ve come to believe that there’s so much more to learning than transmitting already known facts. As important as that is, I’m far more passionate about learning what is not yet known and I’ve found that often comes from openly listening to people with very different backgrounds and stories than my own.

In their latest book, Learning to Make a Difference, Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner explore “hope for people who care to make a difference, with a practical and rigorous way to get there…” Yes, please! They discuss the need we have to gather with others who care to make a difference and introduce the concept of social learning spaces.

Imagine being part of a social learning space where every participant or team player…

  • Is listened to and respected for holding their own valuable perspective about the things they care about 
  • Is personally invested in the challenge and is genuine about wanting to make a difference
  • Is a team player, fully grounded in the value of the collective focus
  • Is willing to experiment and live with uncertainty to come up with a brand new idea

I believe in this so much, that I realized I just had to create a masterclass on transforming teams into social learning spaces. By turning to one another, understanding what it is we care about, and being willing to engage in a different way than our static meetings and workflow, we can create amazing new differences in our world. 

If you want to join me for my upcoming webinar, please contact me and let me know to add you to my invite list. Or you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook where I’ll be sharing the details soon.

Stop Accepting the Unacceptable and Create a Community Committed to Change

Community committed to changeNothing ruins my day more than an encounter with someone who says, “Well, it’s been like that for as long as I’ve been here and there’s nothing anyone can do to change it.” If you hear that enough times, you begin to doubt whether change is even possible. It makes me sad to see leaders and teams fall into this pattern of disempowering acceptance. 

It’s when you feel isolated and alone with a problem that you can find yourself accepting the unacceptable. This brings me back to Margaret Wheatley’s poem, “Turning to One Another.” (To read the entire poem take a look at a previous blog.) I’ve been reflecting on this poem over the last few weeks and this next stanza I find particularly motivating when confronted with the unacceptable.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. 

Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something. 

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

I love this part of the poem. I want to work with others who care to work on what’s possible. Margaret Wheatley reminds us that each person holds expertise and, collectively, we can come up with new solutions. That’s my vibe, I’m all about collaboration and the synergy of the group that spins one idea off of another until they land on a common direction. It’s powerful.

If you’re a leader, and you’ve observed an unacceptable situation, what should you do next? 

You invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. How do you start a group of people interested in making a difference in a common purpose? I appreciated this article in the Harvard Business Review, Community-Powered Problem Solving, that shared the need for leaders to think of themselves as community organizers. Before you go out and start creating your community, here are five questions the article recommends you consider that I thought were worth sharing:

  1. What community of individuals from inside the company and across external stakeholders do we need to connect to solve this problem?
  2. What platform (physical or digital forum) does this community need to start connecting in new ways?
  3. What new interactions will community members want to engage in on the platform to design a solution?
  4. What valuable professional experiences will the members get out of these interactions?
  5. What value will this new set of experiences generate for our firm and for the other organizations involved, creating a win for all parties?

While these questions are tailored for businesses and corporations, they can be adapted to many types of organizations. Your goal should be to provide your stakeholders — whether they are employees, colleagues, students, neighbors —  with the means to connect and the freedom to invent new ways to address the problem. 

My favorite approach to working as a team to address a challenge is to create a Community of Practice. Starting your own Community of Practice might sound daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. When I think back over my career, it was when I was part of a Community of Practice that I felt like I made the biggest difference. (Read my post, 4 Reasons Why You Need to Join a Community of Practice, to learn more about the benefits.)

Starting a community is one thing, but how can you ensure that you create an open space where creative solutions have the space to bloom? I’m working on a new architecture for community collaboration that will promote the kind of creative problem-solving we so desperately need right now. If you want to join me for my upcoming webinar, please contact me and let me know to add you to my invite list. Or you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook where I’ll be sharing the details soon.

Are You a Leader Who’s Brave Enough to Start a Conversation That Matters?

Unfortunately, many people shy away from conversations that matter. In the current political and social climate, it might feel too overwhelming to even try! However, if you want to be an influential leader that inspires your community, these kinds of conversations cannot and should not be avoided. This isn’t talking, tweeting, or shouting, this is conversing, and it comes from a place of vulnerability.

This subject came up for me recently when I read, Margaret Wheatley’s poem, “Turning to One Another.” (To read the entire poem take a look at my last blog, Appreciating the Power of a Collaborative Community — Now more than ever!)

The second stanza of the poem stimulated some thought-provoking questions…

 

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. 

Talk to people you know.

Talk to people you don’t know.

Talk to people you never talk to.

 

Be intrigued by the differences you hear. 

Expect to be surprised.

Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

 

So here are the questions that come to mind…

  • Who can you have a brave conversation with — can you find someone you know, don’t know, or someone you would normally never talk to? 
  • What are the brave conversations you need to have? 
  • How can you have a brave conversation? 
  • How can you create a brave space, and listen, openly, to all the differences in the conversation?
  • How can you get to know people you don’t know very well, listen for differences and commonalities, and be curious about other people’s stories?

Before you consider those questions in the context of your own life, let me share with you something helpful. In Peter Block’s book, Community, he describes the difference between conversations and talking. An important distinction, conversations produce something while talking does not. 

Conversations produce…

  • Invitation
  • Possibility
  • Ownership
  • Dissent
  • Commitment
  • Gifts

These are the doors to transformation. This is where brave conversations can begin. 

I try to have brave conversations but then I find myself drifting into talking. I reflect and wonder what is holding me back. I recognize that I simply have more investment in not changing, in keeping that door to transformation closed. Rather than “treasuring curiosity” as in the poem, I treasure the security of not knowing. Rather than expect surprise, I fear surprise. What if I don’t like the surprise? 

In one poignant conversation recently, I opened with a brave conversation starter and clearly triggered the other person. I received a slew of negative feedback about me, what an unhappy surprise! However, I had to examine the feedback and own what was truly mine. Then I had to determine what needed to be discarded as unwarranted based on the other person’s rejection of my conversation starter. Accepting that there is truth even in the negativity is a door to transformation. Accepting that there are items to be disregarded because the person was simply lashing out is also an important door to transformation. Owning what I can and discarding what I cannot, should not, or sometimes will not own.

Think of brave conversations as the opening for something to happen. As Margaret Wheatley prompts us in her poem, talk to everyone and listen for what’s there. Then, follow Peter Block’s guidance and move into a conversation. And, then, see what is possible. I would love to hear from you about a brave conversation that results from reading this post! Please feel free to reach out to me.

Appreciating the Power of a Collaborative Community — Now more than ever!

laptop computer with internet contacts projection“There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” 

That’s the first line of Margaret Wheatley’s poem entitled, “Turning to One Another.”  As I read this poem recently, I found it deeply resonated with me and inspired a bit of soul searching as I reconnected with the value of community in my own life.

The next lines are, 

Ask “What’s possible?,” not “What’s wrong?”

Keep asking.

Notice what you care about.

Assume that many others share your dreams.

2020 has had a way of bringing into the light what we care about, hasn’t it? Some of the things we previously viewed as necessary, we’ve probably discarded. Whereas, other things, we may have taken for granted before, now have much deeper value. 

For me, one big shift has been my schedule. After years of 9-5 programming, I’ve discarded these routine hours in favor of listening to my client’s needs and matching my availability to meet theirs. Truly a gift of time that allows me to delve more deeply into my focus on collaboration. Another unexpected blessing came about when I was needed to support my daughters with the distance learning needs of my grandchildren. What a fantastic opportunity to spend time with my “grands”, as I call them, and tune into their strengths and coach them through the obstacles of remote learning. 

As we find our new footing in 2021, this is what I know, I care about collaboration. That has always been a key ingredient in my professional life, and social distancing heightened rather than diminished that awareness. 

Looking back, I was fortunate to have the wonderful opportunity to work on a fully collaborative team right out of college. With collaboration as our base, we quickly became known on the national scene as a high performing team. We created space for each other, we were able to give critical feedback to each other, and we were able to flow and ideate in a powerful way. 

Once you’ve fully experienced that kind of collaboration, you never want to go without it.

This isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling. As a long time student of social learning theory, I know that we learn from and with each other. Social learning is both reciprocal and exponential. When we observe others, we learn, when we try things out in front of others, we learn. And when we engage in that together, our learning is multiplied by the number of people in the group. That’s a powerful learning model! 

A collaborative community doesn’t happen magically, or simply with the passage of time. We need to set the conditions for collaboration, set up reciprocal expectations, and maintain our team and our work in a shared, transparent environment. In order to collaborate successfully, you need a blueprint.

I’m working on that blueprint right now. In an upcoming webinar, I’ll reveal a new architecture for collaboration that can be enjoyed virtually — as that is a trend that won’t be going away any time soon! 

If you want to join me for the webinar, please contact me and let me know to add you to my invite list. Or you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook where I’ll be sharing the details soon.

I’ll be sharing more from Margaret Wheatley’s poem in upcoming blog posts. In the meantime, here’s the entire poem for you to enjoy. I hope it offers some inspiration for you as we all look towards a New Year with new opportunities to grow and learn!

“Turning to One Another” 

by Margaret Wheatley

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. 

Ask “What’s possible?,” not “What’s wrong?”

Keep asking.

Notice what you care about.

Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. 

Talk to people you know.

Talk to people you don’t know.

Talk to people you never talk to.

Be intrigued by the differences you hear. 

Expect to be surprised.

Treasure curiosity more than certainty.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. 

Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something. 

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. 

Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. 

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

Community Collaboration is Our Greatest Problem-Solving Tool

Community collaboration “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

Are you committed to any group efforts? We all are, as members of families, as coworkers, or in our involvement with various organizations. At times, we find ourselves in need of another community or group, one that gives us new opportunities to learn, grow, and explore. Recently, I found that I needed to create a safe harbor for meaningful, heartfelt conversations between women. So my colleague, Maria Connolly, and I set out to create a collaborative community for women leaders—more on that later.

As a society, we’ve been challenged like no other time in recent history. If you’re feeling frustrated, isolated, or helpless to affect real change, I challenge you to either join or create a community! You can find a wealth of information on one of my favorite structures for a collaborative community, a Community of Practice, on this website. And don’t forget, with today’s technology you can meet virtually, so your community doesn’t need to be limited geographically. 

First, let’s discuss the need we have for community collaboration, especially now. I wholeheartedly believe it’s the best strategy that humans have for solving problems and finding new solutions. 

Here are three reasons why we need community collaboration right now:

  • Communities appeal to social learners

We learn better when we interact within a community—asking questions and testing solutions on actual problems—all in real-time. Personally, I do much better when I operate as part of a community, as do many of my friends and colleagues. Psychologists have a name for this phenomenon: they call it social learning

Social learning is learner-centric, which means that it shifts the focus of instruction from the teacher to the learner. More collaboration and interaction between learners leads to a higher impact, which is partly due to social influence and can serve to reinforce memory.

  • Communities encourage creativity and innovation

A collaborative approach combines the knowledge, experience, and creativity of the entire group. While this isn’t always easy, there are some significant benefits that come from collaboration, even when it’s hard or seemingly inefficient. For example, people will often discover new insights, increase their capacity for innovation, and become more committed and passionate about community decisions.

  • Communities create leaders

Collaborative communities are a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and allowing the best ideas to surface and shine. Every group has people that are more experienced than others in various areas. By giving them channels to share their knowledge and expertise, even members who are usually reserved will begin to step up and grow as leaders.

Newave leaders great circleAs I mentioned earlier, my colleague, Maria Connolly, and I were impelled by recent events to create a collaborative space specifically for women leaders. Whether you are an emerging leader, an established leader, self-employed, or finding your leadership footing, we feel our Great Circle Community is a place where we can grow together. 

In the meetings we’ve had so far, we’ve already begun to learn much about each other and we are looking forward to a few more faces to join us! We’re inviting women from around the globe to join our circle to explore big ideas and out-of-the-box creative solutions. Let’s get inspired and nourished as we feed our leader within!

 

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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