Water Finds a Way – and We Should Too

Water Finds a Way – and We Should Too

By Dr. Kathleen Allen

In May of this year I spent some time on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.  We had a wet spring in this part of the country and lots of late snowfall in higher elevations. As a result, the high volume of water coming off the mountains and into the lakes and streams were the most dynamic I’ve seen in the 29 years I have been visiting.  As I drove along the primary road that connects small towns along the shore, there were spontaneous waterfalls cascading down the rock faces bordering the road. It occurred to me that my timing was good. If I had visited later in the season the waterfalls would have dried up and I would have missed this amazing example of Nature’s power – and its capacity to adapt seamlessly from one form to another.

The experience got me thinking more about water – particularly the way it moves through the landscape.  It reminded me that water always finds a way to flow toward gravity. The forms it takes continue to change and adapt based on the changing geography and the volume of water that is flowing. Pulled by gravity, water changes its form many times as it moves from the melting snow on the mountain tops toward the sea level. On the North Shore  it moves seamlessly from trickles to streams, to falls, to rapids, to eddies, to backwaters, to slow moving currents, to filling Lake Superior.  In fact, there are profound lessons in how water finds a way to move from one form to another that both humans and organizations can learn from.

Organizational Lessons from Water

There are two primary lessons we can take from the way in which water moves and adapts to its surroundings:

  1. Within organizations  the power of purpose is synonymous with the power of gravity in nature. Water is constantly drawn toward the lowest level or sea level. Gravity shapes its direction and its adaptive capacity. Our version of organizational “gravity” would be a higher shared purpose. In other words, the purpose of the organization should shape the direction and adaptation of the organization. Without this clarity of purpose in the forefront of our thinking, human organizations tend to hang on to old forms and processes that hold us back from continually adapting and innovating as our external environment changes. Once an overall purpose is recognized it helps an organization let go of forms that no longer serve the organization.
  1. Adaptive cycles flow seamlessly from one form to another in nature AND in organizationsWater doesn’t stop to figure out if it is going to drop down a cliff and form a waterfall. It just finds the most efficient and effective way to move towards its purpose – gravity and sea level. Nature would  never hold endless leadership meetings to analyze the “right” course of action and neither should we. As organizations, we can move toward our purpose much more efficiently by losing our rigid attachment to existing forms and beliefs, and instead work to guide the organization to its next natural form.

More about the Adaptive Cycle

The Adaptive Cycle shown below  demonstrates how nature and 3.8 billion years of history have continually adapted. Just like water, the cycle continues in an infinite loop between explore, launch, sustain, and release to create an ongoing seamless flow. Nature is always moving and releasing one form to explore how a new form can serve its purpose.

This concept is a powerful lesson for human organizations and our leaders. We get into trouble when we fail to launch or when we fail to release. We need to see change as a constant flow, rather than  merely moving us from one place to another. Without the right adaptive mindset, organizations lose the capacity to innovate – and lose ground to organizations who seek to continually adapt.

Water always finds a way to move from its starting point toward sea level. It doesn’t have consciousness or emotional reactions to changing geography that cause it to stop its adaptive cycle. Instead it continuously releases one form to launch another as it moves toward its true purpose.

If we could lead our organizations like water – and use our adaptive capacity in an infinite, water-like way – we would tap into a powerful ability to innovate and seamlessly adapt to a more natural, more successful way of being.

Dr. Kathleen E. Allen writes a blog on leadership and organizations that describes a new paradigm of leadership that is based on lessons from nature and living systems. She is the author of Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World (2018) and President of Allen and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, innovation, and organizational change. You can sign up for her blog on her website: www.kathleenallen.net

Latino Identity Politics is Less of a Burden

Latino Identity Politics is Less of a Burden

By David Conde

Identity Politics is a term that has been defined “as a tendency of people sharing a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social or cultural identity to form exclusive political alliances, instead of engaging in traditional-based party politics, or promote their particular interests without regard for interests of a larger political group.” The term became important in the 1960s and 1970s as observers attempted to understand the civil rights movements and their “conscious-raising and collective action…used against cultural imperialism, violence, exploitation of labor, marginalization or powerlessness.”

It appears that this is the game being played in both the Republican and Democratic Parties as 2020 approaches. Republicans under Trump have adopted the mantra of White Nationalism as an exclusive political weapon of choice.

Elements of the Democratic Party are in the same camp as being Black and being a woman puts candidates into an exclusive club. It is so exclusive that Senator Pamela Harris of California has had to justify her “Blackness” as a qualification for her candidacy.

Latinos were generally in that mindset especially in the second part of the 20th century. The increasing diversity in the carriers of their political voice however, has caused great changes and more openness in this regard.

In its earliest form, Latinos in America identified more closely with Spain in the greater New Mexico, Florida and Louisiana and perhaps California regions and Mexico in broad areas of the Southwest. Most afflicted by Manifest Destiny in this area was the Mexican population that lost everything and over time, was marginalized to the point of becoming ignored and forgotten bodies without place or identity.

They existed in whispers of colloquial Spanish words that uttered the weight of the world. Their specialty was the agricultural fields of the countryside where they labored with their eyes pointed down to a slow-moving ground and the plants it held.

Their first real engagement with the rest of society was the life and death struggle that was World War II. Their epic bravery and struggle in defending America surely meant something.

It was those, mostly Mexican Americans that survived combat and came home that sought greater visibility and participation in the affairs of the country. The denial of the rights available to all Americans caused the whispers to become cries for justice and fair play.

Out of this marginalization came identity politics and the movements on which it was based.
What was initially an American patriotic effort led by organizations like the American GI veterans organization evolved later into the Chicano Movement and its identity politics.

It became clear from the beginning that the Chicano Movement was an exclusive set of organizations of activists and believers. In time however, the map has expanded beyond the Southwest to include a Latino presence from coast to coast and a Latino diversity that encompasses Spanish sir-named immigrants from nations in North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.

The terminology has also changed as well from Mexican American to Chicano to Latino as the community has come to represent a rich racial, ethnic, religious and cultural manifestation on the upside of history. Racially, Latinos go from Black people all the way to Whites and everything in-between.

What Latinos have in common are a language and cultural base and the notion that they are Mestizos born in the Americas and destined to be their custodians. Because diversity describes what it is to be an American, it can surely be said that Latinos represents its true face.

Serving Justice Through Leadership

Serving Justice Through Leadership

Serve. Lead.
by Shabnam Banerjee-McFarland

As we reflect on the last few years, the scale of global injustice can sometimes feel overwhelming and even paralyzing. It’s clear that the world is in desperate need of a new leadership paradigm—a model that takes an inside-out approach, giving leaders tools to better understand themselves as leaders and to develop a higher capacity for supporting passion and purpose among those they lead.

We must now ask ourselves, what kind of leader does the world need? The answer: A servant.

Servant leadership is not a new concept, but it is nevertheless revolutionary, and perhaps more importantly, enduring. A common misconception about servant leadership is that only people in traditional leadership roles can practice it. This fundamental misunderstanding about the core principles of servant leadership distracts us from what it’s about — service. When acting in the service of others, we inspire a shift in perspective that puts everyone on the same playing field, with a shared vision.

The servant leadership model, rooted in the commitment of serving first, and leading second, is a proven and effective path for aspiring leaders to begin where they are. With this model, servant leaders can enable change in their organizations, and ultimately strengthen interpersonal relationships, teams, and the organizational culture so that people come first. Putting people first, building relationships built on mutual respect, and nurturing teams that have high levels of trust are all integral values of the servant leadership model that can offer pathways toward solutions to global problems.

Revolutionizing leadership toward a just end requires centering service, each of us empowering and supporting each other with a common vision to create a world that works for all. Servant leaders are tasked with setting this visionary direction, establishing the values to guide the path, and setting goals to serve as the milestones that measure impact. Then, as servant leadership expert Ken Blanchard puts it, they get out of the way. Their roles shift to supporting the execution of the vision, serving team members who are executing the vision, and allowing them to be accountable for their own success.

Though this is definitely easier said than done, identifying the two key principles of servant leadership, vision and action, is part and parcel to enacting change; they can’t exist without each other. However, through living the key principles of servant leadership, we can make a difference in the companies, organizations, and communities that we are all part of.

Setting the Vision

Ken Blanchard, bestselling author of Servant Leadership in Action and longtime evangelist of Servant Leadership, frames how to set the vision like this. He reflects, “I love the saying, ‘a river without banks is a large puddle.’ The banks permit the river to flow; they give direction to the river. Leadership is about going somewhere; it’s not about wandering around aimlessly. If people don’t have a compelling vision to serve, the only thing they have to serve is their self-interest.”

The most significant impact that we can make is within organizations that have a shared vision, that considers and supports members to be in community with one another. Aimlessness and serving self-interests leads to a community, and even a world, disconnected and divided. When the banks runneth over, the puddle can make us feel like we’re drowning without a purpose. Servant leaders not only act in the service of those they lead but also encourage people to contemplate their purpose, and manifest a vision around this purpose. Setting the vision is more than the performance goals or managing relationships, but is instead, about empowering team members to use their unique skills and talents to raise the tide for all boats.

Naming this shared vision that leverages our unique purposes and talents, can lead to a groundswell of systemic change. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, has openly and boisterously committed to leading by example to close the gender pay gap. What started with acknowledging some uncomfortable yet widespread truths about pay inequity, has transformed into including the voices of the women affected across the company and moving toward action. By building the banks around the river of change, Benioff and the culture of Salesforce, communicate that sharing a vision of equal pay can lead to a revolution.

Service in Action

Benioff and Salesforce aren’t alone in acknowledging that a shared vision of equality can lead to tangible change that serves everyone. Michael C. Bush, CEO of A Great Place to Work, the organization that puts together Fortune’s annual Great Place to Work list, highlights that the primary barriers to action, are when leaders fail to acknowledge, or even worse ignore or suppress, the differences in experiences in an organization. He writes in A Great Place to Work for All, “Employees are less likely to be fully engaged or productive if they perceive an unequal playing field, one where they are less welcome to play an important role.”

When Benioff was confronted with the reality, that across the board women were getting paid less, his initial response was disbelief. It was in this shift of perspective to listening to his employees and incorporating their talents and purposes, that they were able to move toward action and bring in team members that could mitigate the problem and develop an equitable plan. Action, when framed in terms of a vision set by the servant leader, is dynamic and forward facing. When leaders choose ignorance and instead lead with their own self-interests, organizations become stagnant, toxic, and unproductive places.

Service as the antidote to self-deception

The Arbinger Institute, a global consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations make changes in mindset to drive results, addresses what can happen when leaders get in their own way and inhibit equal treatment in any organization. Their seminal and bestselling book, Leadership and Self-Deception, outlines just how calamitous a deceptive leader can be, arguing, “of all the problems in organizations, self-deception is the most common and most damaging.” When leaders can’t acknowledge their own self-deception, let alone how they may be deceiving others, they stand in opposition to servant leadership that advocates for getting out of the way so that others can shine. More than that, they tend to lean into visions that are misguided and create plans around these visions that leave their employees and members of their community without a sense of purpose or empowerment.

Should Benioff have decided that the gender pay gap was not a problem for him, and, therefore, not a problem at all, he would have rejected servant leadership and perpetuated cycles of disengagement, lack of vision, and most egregiously, inequality. Companies have the power to change the world, but in order to do so, they need to change their approach to leadership. This isn’t just fodder or fluff, as Ken Blanchard points out, many of history’s greatest leaders – Lincoln, Mandela, and MLK – all “possessed tremendous strength along with a powerful capacity for caring.” Adopting the tried-and-true concepts of servant leadership, vision, and action can lead to a future in which we are all in a community with each other and serving one another.

This post was originally published on ideas.bkconnection.com, ‘Serving Justice Through Leadership’.

There Are Conservatives, Liberals and Then There Are Latinos

There Are Conservatives, Liberals and Then There Are Latinos

By David Conde

As the political parties begin to engage for the 2020 national elections, there appears to be what may be considered, a perplexing circumstance to many that sees at least one third of Latinos still in the Republican column. This is no doubt a challenge to Democrats that are used to seeing up to 90% support from the African American community.

A national study has documented the group at the core of this tendency to be Latino evangelicals and veterans. This however, does not tell the whole story as the other two thirds can also be in play depending on the social and political circumstance.

The fundamentalist and evangelical movements have captured a large segment of the Latino population because it represents a true alternative that replaces the traditional Catholic hierarchical system with an individual and direct relationship to God. You would think that a more individually empowered worship leads to a more Liberal political attitude that permits thinking beyond the confines of traditional religious structures.

But that is not the case in America as Protestantism with evangelical tendencies are at the heart of its religious tradition. Latinos captured into that realm find themselves managed by powerful structures based on literal reading of the Bible.

So, one third of Latinos have replaced their Catholic conservative system with a Protestant one with an added understanding around the notion that God can use evil and evil people in the process of doing his will. That is why it does not bother these Latino evangelicals to politically support evil people because in the grand scheme of Heaven, they are doing God’s will.

Things can get even more complicated with Latinos, especially Latino immigrants, because the notion of hierarchical social relationships is till very strong. In this system, authority tends to flow vertically in a process that provides support for those perceived to be above one in family, social, industry and political relationships in return for protection of interests.

Latinos after World War II wanted to break with that way of thinking as they sought to create group pressure based on the empowerment of individuals. In this circumstance, people that saw themselves as key to transforming our society made Cesar Chavez and his farm worker organization powerful and successful.

The Chicano Movement especially, in the cities of America, sought to establish a new order designed to break destructive stereotypes and create identity based on history, culture, language, the land and a context in which the individual could have and take the opportunity to prosper.

To be sure, it is in the Latino heritage to be Conservative but with a Liberal bent that insists on the creation of structural space in the mainstream of American life.

There is no substitute for Latino leadership in a country that so desperately needs direction. That direction will not necessarily come from one political persuasion or another.

The reason why two thirds of Latinos are in the Democratic Party today is because Republicans have decided that this community represents an existential political threat to Conservatives. President Reagan had it right when he said that in their hearts Latinos are Conservative. However, Latinos are a long way from putting their stamp on the country and thus having something to “conserve.”

Until that moment comes, Latinos will be mostly operating in the Liberal mode that shapes the future of the United States. In the final analysis however, whether Liberal or Conservative, Latinos will be following their own political star in search of greatness.

What Can Nature Teach Us About Resilience and Diversity?

What Can Nature Teach Us About Resilience and Diversity?

By Dr. Kathleen Allen (Dr. Allen will be a part of the 2019 Lideramos Webinar Series – Stay TUNED!)

Nature banks on diversity. It is one of Nature’s design principles. Nature’s purpose is to create conditions conducive to the life of future generations.

As ecosystems move from monocultures to diverse species and plant life, they become more resilient and can recover faster from disruptions in their environment. That is why nature banks on diversity. It helps ecosystems become more resilient and helps nature achieve its purpose.

It is interesting that we understand this relationship between resilience and diversification when we think of investment strategies. As we diversify our financial portfolios, our investments are more resilient. An example in nature is a prairie that produces food at multiple times of the summer. This kind of ecosystem is more resilient to a hail storm than a neighboring corn or soybean field. The corn can be wiped out by hail and not recover because is a monocrop. A prairie can be damaged but the diverse plant life will still flourish and provide nutrients to the species that feed off it.

We Need Frame Diversity Differently in Our Organizations

Most of our organizations that want to support diversity and celebrate diverse people and points of view are trying to help people become more tolerant, open, and accepting. Nature would ask a different question and perhaps approach diversity initiatives a different way.

If we learned a lesson from nature about diversity, we might ask “what are the risks of homogeneity?” instead of how we become more welcoming to diversity. By understanding the risks to the ecosystem or organization in homogeneity, we might approach diversity as a critical business strategy to remain relevant in the future. In nature, ecological systems grow more diverse as they evolve. This helps species develop food webs to sustain their nutrients. If one species or food source collapses, others in their food web will continue to supply nutrients so the species survives.

Becoming More Diverse is a Natural Result of Evolution

Instead of asking how can we become more diverse, we should be asking what is stopping our natural evolution as an organization? Nature is a living system. The increasing diversity is how it adapts to growing complexity and evolution. If our organizations are struggling with diversity, it might help us to look for ways we are stopping the evolution of our organization and what are the risks of that behavior to the future ability for our organization to thrive?

Taylor and Wacker wrote a book titled The 500-Year Delta: What Happens After What Comes Next (1997).  In their book, they talk about institutional diversity as a critical dimension of organizations that want to thrive in the future. Their argument is that if your organization is filled with white men, they won’t see needs that emerge from the perspective and experience of women, or Latinos, or other ethnic groups. The innovations that are driven by seeing an unmet need means that people who experience that need will see it first and respond to it first. They will be first in the marketplace, not an organization whose primary focus is on the unmet needs of people just like them.

As our world continues to connect across a global economy, we hamstring our organization’s evolution when we are a monoculture, i.e. an organization led predominately by people who look the same.

Dr. Kathleen E. Allen writes a blog on leadership and organizations that describes a new paradigm of leadership that is based on lessons from nature and living systems. She is the author of Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World (2018) and President of Allen and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, innovation, and organizational change. You can sign up for her blog on her website: www.kathleenallen.net