Author Archives: jerryjennings

Fuel – As You Contribute to the Future

Emergent_Strategy

This book: Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds was written in 2017 by adrienne maree brown, a young (in my eyes, under 40 is young) activist who has much to say about contributing and building a brighter future for all.

This book was gifted to me.  Gifted is a special way – I had many options on a table of items that meant something to the person who put them on the table.  I too had placed something I valued on the table and waited for it to find its new owner.  I chose this book because I was attracted to its subtitle – Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.  I ‘signed on’   for the mission of ‘Change’ when I was a teenager during the civil rights movement. So, this subtitle spoke to me.

The book is a journey as opposed to a straight path to some very clear predetermined destination.  And this journey was one that I found to be very meaningful.  I have so much appreciation and respect for the components of the journey that brown took me on.

Her focus is rich.  She understands that adaptation has to be intentional when you’re working for change.  She is totally respectful of the necessity of interdependence among people and the decentralization of power/control in order for progress to be significant.  She gets it, that change is not an event!  It is a process and therefore – change agents must be resilient and essentially and deeply committed to focusing on and creating possibilities. Shaping change and changing the world is the work of bringing life to possibilities.

These are all concepts that many of the established leadership resources* focus on and they focus on them in a more formal, researched based manner.  I find brown’s presentation to be conversational, situational, inspirational, developmental, and ‘possibility’ oriented.  In addition, I see her approach to be authentic and potentially valuable to those wanting to grow their leadership.

I think this book is a good read for any and all people who wish to lead, are leading and/or ready to be a significant be part of forward looking change.  As an almost 70 year old white male who has benefited from all forms of privilege to gain both an education and positions of responsibility in my of life – I found this book to be enlightening, challenging and provocative as in causing discussion, thought, even argument).  We, all of us, need books like this. This book invites a thinking reader, who is willing to become active, to enter a journey to shape and bring about change.

Brown writes, “I will admit here that even some of my closest loved ones find me naïve for holding a vision of the humanity with no enemies.  I can imagine that though, and in fact, it seems like the only viable long-term solution.  We need to transform all of the energy we currently put into war and punishment – into creating solutions for how to continue on this planet.  The time, the energy, the money – we actually have all of that in abundance.  What we lack is will.”

What an important, bold challenge!

This challenge and several others from the book – speak to me loudly.  Brown invites new leaders and established leaders to tackle that which many people avoid because they consider the task impossible.  She encourages us to create more.  She says, “At the human scale, in order to create a world that works for more people, for more life, we have to collaborate on the process of dreaming and envisioning and implementing that world.  We have to recognize that a multitude of realities have, do, and will exist.”

She’s right, from my point of view.  She gets it that we have to think bigger than we are thinking and we have to act on our determination to arrive at a preferred the future rather than settle for not having all of us move forward into a preferred state.

I recommend this book to people who want to make a difference: People who do want to shape change,  people that want to change worlds.

There is no pretense that this book has all the answers.  In the introduction she clearly states that this “book is not one that will teach you all about hard science.”  It won’t, she is right AND it will present a tapestry of observations, learnings, understandings and sincere inquiry that potentially can fuel you as you contribute to the future.

I hope you enjoy Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds as much as I did.

 

*As examples – such as: Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf 2002, The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner 2017, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, 2002, Appreciative Leadership: Focus on What Works to Drive Winning Performance and Build a Thriving Organization by Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Kae Rader, 2010, Leading Change by John P. Kotter, 2012, or The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World by Heifetz, Grashow and Linsy, 2009

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A Book About Becoming Literate: For Me It Has Been A long Journey

Hats Off! Lynda Mullaly Hunt for writing Fish in a Tree! It is engaging, serious, fun and may help others to focus on the possibilities of literacy for all.  And thank you Maria Montoya for bringing the book back into my life.

Fish in a Tree is a novel for young people. Moreover, it is a novel that would have real value for teachers and aspiring teachers. Plus, the parents of both children who learn differently and children who learn relatively normally could benefit from reading this story. The reason I think it has great value to be read by many audiences is because of the topic the author explores and the manner in which she presents it.
Fish_in_a_Tree
This is a story of a sixth-grade girl, Ally, who is not able to read in any functional manner. It is also the story of her peer relationships, family relationships and relationships to school and school people. Those human relationships and the authentic glimpse of the struggle of one nonreader are at the core of this book.

I was illiterate until I was eighteen. I learn differently than most. I am now sixty- nine and I have been a first and third grade teacher, an elementary principal, and a superintendent. I have earned a doctorate and have taught at the university level. I have some firsthand knowledge on this topic and my belief is that the ensuring that all students become literate cannot result from adopting a simple teaching method.

Helping someone to learn who learns differently requires teachers, parents and others to embrace complexity. This novel conveys the complexities of who Ally is and what makes her unique. Moreover, as this novel points out very well – helping others to learn who learn differently requires that teachers, parents, and others see possibilities and help the nonreaders to see possibilities as well. Each learner must be connected with as a unique individual and be appreciated and respected for their current strengths. It takes teachers, parents and others who can see the positive future in the learner even if the learner may not see it. Then, of course, our focus is to help the learner to see how their own, maybe highly unique, path to literacy can be built.

My path, like the paths of many others, to literacy has not been smooth. Learning to read at eighteen for me has meant that even today I am a slow, sometimes plodding reader that still stumbles as I strive for solid comprehension. Moreover, as an oral reader I am prone to skip and/or incorrectly pronounce words – my grandchildren have learned to gently correct me.

Overall, I have learned to stick with the text and reread when I am missing the message. At sixty-seven, I am still learning to write – oh my am I pleased that spell check was invented. I stick with my writing, too. Rewriting and reworking until I am comfortable sharing. Being literate did not come easy to me and it is not smooth sailing, even now. The turning point for me and Ally was seeing that it was ‘possible’!

Hats Off! Lynda’s book tells a story that can help others to see the possibilities of literacy for all.

Energizing, Appreciative and Affirmative . . . A Fulfilling Read!

The book: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle is rich in positive ripples of appreciative and affirmative framing. It is respectful, forward-looking, and abundant in love!  Gregory Boyle‘s ability to frame the life journey of the people he serves in the “positive” is beyond inspiring!

He works with ex-gang members. He is a Jesuit priest. He is not young and he has not old – he’s experienced. He is a positively piercing voice related to the goodness that can be achieved by “framing” any and all situations in a life affirming fashion.

Barking_to_the_choir

Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries. He refers to the ex-gang members as “homies”.  This book is full of stories of his interactions with homies and the many gifts that he has received by working with ex-gang members over the last three decades.

Here are some short passages from the book.

“Knowing homies has changed my life forever, altered the course of my days, reshaped my heart, and returned me to myself. They have indeed been trustworthy guides. Together we have discovered that we all are diamonds covered with dust. They have taught me not that I am somebody but that I am everybody. And so are they.”

“I don’t empower anyone at Homeboy Industries.  But if one loves boundlessly, then folks on the margins become utterly convinced of their own goodness.”

“Homeboy Industries has always been the “already and not yet”. What this place announces to the world is aspirational and not declarative of a fully formed, complete thing.”

“When life throws a knife at us, we can either catch it by then blade or by the handle. We can stare right back at the terrifying darkness of what we’ve been through in our lives and grab it by the handle.”

“We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world or savor it.  I want to propose that savoring is better, and that when we seek to “save” and “contribute” and “give back” and “rescue” folks and EVEN “make a difference,” then it is all about you . . . . and the worlds stays stuck.  The homies are not waiting to be saved. They are ready are.”

“I met a man, an ex-homie, born –again and with the best of intentions, who was now working with gang members. He asked, ‘how do you reach them?’  My response was, ‘For starters, stop trying to reach them.’”

I love that Boyle embraces the complexity of life and living. I totally respect his absolute focus on building honest, caring relationships. This book and Boyle’s previous book, Tattoos on the Heart, are both excellent reads.  They celebrate humanity.  I find them to be energizing.  I recommend them highly.

Bringing People Together to Think Interdependently Toward a Common Good

WHAT IS A COMMUNITY OF  THOUGHT? A community of thought embraces a “process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem, can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible.” —Barbara Gray, Collaborating:  Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems

WHY COMMUNITIES OF THOUGHT? There is an established method for accomplishing this aliveness that values all voices in the room, uses the small group even in large gatherings, and recognizes that accountability grows out of co-creation. —Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

WHAT MAKES THINKING  INTERDEPENDENT?  “A strong community helps people develop a sense of true self, for only in community can the self exercise and fulfill its nature: giving and taking, listening and speaking, being and doing.” —Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life

HOW ARE CAPACITIES FOR INTERDEPENDENT THINKING DEVELOPED?  “If it is a [credible] process that is, it has integrity and a fair chance of producing results, and an open process that is an honest and receptive to dialogue – openly expressing different points of view; then people will invest the energy needed.  It can require an enormous expenditure of energy necessary to make collaboration succeed. Creating and nurturing this open and credible process is extraordinarily important for those who are initiating collaboration.” —David Chrislip & Carl Larson, Collaborative Leadership: How Citizens and Civic Leaders Can Make a Difference

HOW ARE COMMUNITIES OF THOUGHT SUSTAINED?  Because questions are intrinsically related to action, they spark and direct attention, perception, energy, and effort, and so are at the heart of the evolving forms that our lives assume. —Marilee Goldberg, The Art of the Question

~ Creating Communities of Thought Skills, Tasks, and Practices by Laura Lipton & Bruce Wellman, From The Power of the Social Brain: Teaching, Learning and Interdependent Thinking by Arthur L. Costa and Pat Wilson O’Leary, 2013, Teachers College Press

Bringing People Together

Thinking about Nonviolence as a Result of Reading Ahimsa

Being a believer in nonviolence in today’s world is perplexing. So, when I read a book that I think might help people to consider the possibility of thinking broadly about the practical human value of nonviolence, I want to recommend it. Not because this piece of fiction has answers. I recommend it because it might be provocative. I think, we as a human race, have a lot of interdependent thinking to do about how to get along.

The book Ahimsa (a·him·sa /əˈhimˌsä)by Supriya Kelkar gets us thinking about resolving conflict, how we want to be with others and the future.

Kelkar, the author, was born and still lives in the Midwest. She earned her BA at the University of Michigan. AHIMSA, is inspired by her great-grandmother’s role in the Indian freedom movement. This book is marketed as a middle-grade novel. I see it as a book for everyone. If I were a high school or college teacher teaching social studies, history, humanities or civil rights I would consider assigning it. If I were a third (I started my career as a third grade teacher) or fourth grade teacher I would consider reading it aloud.

The story is captivating. Fascinating in that the story is complex, revealing and beckons you to want to know more about the struggles of oppressed people. The issues faced by the characters are fundamental liberty and life. They include: trust across difference, power and privilege, the friendship of a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, a mother dedicating her self to a cause, India in the 1940’s, the caste system (untouchables), non violence, education in India,authoritarian British rule, Mahatma Gandhi’s deeply held view of ahimsa, well devolved characters authentically navigating the realities of complexity.

According to Wikipedia, Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues and an important tenet of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. Ahimsa has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences. While ancient scholars of Hinduism pioneered and over time perfected the principles of Ahimsa, the concept reached an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism. Most popularly, Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in the principle of ahimsa.

Ahimsa’s precept of ’cause no injury’ includes one’s deeds, words, and thoughts. Classical literature of Hinduism such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as modern scholars debate principles of Ahimsa when one is faced with war and situations requiring self-defence. The historic literature from India and modern discussions have contributed to theories of Just War, and theories of appropriate self-defence. From Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahimsa

Marching Democracy into the Future

Marching_Democracy_

Those who march, write and engage in other forward looking activity exercise civic leadership. We are part of the energy that will shape the future.  We are involved.  By being involved we can influence and contribute. That is democracy!!!

Here is what we know about civic engagement from the work of Chrislip and O’Malley.

– Leadership is an activity, not a position.

– Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.

– Progress starts with you and must include engaging others.

– Your purpose must be clear.

– Make no mistake: leadership is risky, both professionally and personally.

Often, when we think about leadership our thoughts go to individuals who attempt to exercise their power and control.  Yet, as we see with the current levels of civic engagement, we can re-frame our thinking to realize that leadership is: showing up engaged and ready to connect with others to make things better.

The concepts of “better” can seem not specific. So, I suggest that in America in 2018 “better” fits the language of The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation (from researching Wikipedia) under the heading of The Great Binding Law:  “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”  A Chief of the Onondaga Nation writes: “We are looking ahead to make every decision that we make relates to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. … What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky explain that leaders who work to address challenges from an adaptive point of view will be, “required to step into unknown space and disturbing the equilibrium, it is an activity that is inherently uncertain, risky for the organization as well as for the individual, and, for these reasons, often disruptive and disorienting.”

We can’t pretend that the changes that need to happen to activate our democracy will not entail some uncertainty and potentially disruptive and disorienting experiences.  And, we must ask ourselves, would we rather hold onto the status quo?  Or, are we ready to build the future together?

You don’t start with all of the answers when you are breathing new life into our democracy. The work of today’s engaged citizen is not linear. “Doing this work requires flexibility and openness – even in defining success. The pathway is not a straight line, and because working through an adaptive challenge will always involve distributing some losses, albeit in the service of an important purpose, the systemic dynamics that ensue, the politics of change, will have many unpredictable elements.”

So, just because this kind of civic engagement isn’t predictable and some of the present preferred system won’t likely become part of the future – why not start working for dramatic improvements?  The future is a terrible thing to waste.  Now is the time to use the present to get to work toward the best for all children.  In fact, for all children seven generations from now.

Wikipedia post. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability

For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership, by David D. Chrislip and  Ed O’Malley, KLC Press, 2013, pages 159, 164, 165 and 166

Heifetz, Grashow, Linsky from their book: The Practices of Adaptive Leadership (2009) pages 28 & 31 

Leadership in Service to the Common Good

Exemplary leaders are forward-looking.  They imagine that extraordinary feats are possible and that the ordinary could be transformed into something noble.  They are able to develop an ideal and unique image of the future for the common good.

Yet, a vision can’t belong only to the leader.  It’s a shared vision.  Everyone has dreams, aspirations, and a desire that tomorrow will be better than today.  When visions are shared, they attract more people, sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges than those that are singular.  You have to make sure that what you can see – is also something others can see, and vice versa.

The key task for leaders is inspiring a shared vision, not selling their own idiosyncratic view of the world.  What this requires is finding common ground among those people who have to implement the vision.

The best leaders are great listeners.  They listen carefully to what other people have to say and how they feel.  They have to ask good (and often tough) questions, be open to ideas other than their own, and even lose arguments in favor of the common good.  Through intense listening, leaders get a sense of what people want, and what they value, and what they dream about.  This sensitivity to others is no trivial skill.  It is a truly precious human ability.

Building trust is a process that begins when someone (either you or the other party) is willing to risk being the first to open up, to show vulnerability, and to let go of control.

Leaders go first.  If you want the high levels of performance that come with trust and collaboration, you’ll have to demonstrate your trust in others before them asking them to trust you.

~ The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations Fifth edition,  by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge: A Wiley Brand, 2012, pages, 104, 116, 118 and 2

Leaders_come_in_every_size