Maxims for Collective Leadership

Maxims are overarching statements of principle. Maxims are guidelines. They aren’t the operating plan with all of the needed detail. Maxims are what you return to before, during, and after a implementation to gut-check integrity of offering.

Yes, I’m a person that relies on maxims as some of the deep work in organizational change — that’s with teams, communities, systems. The maxims invite doing with purpose rather than doing just to fill time, or to appear busy, or to approximate accomplishment.

This weekend I was perusing materials on collective leadership, an initiative being offered in Scotland, that is impressive in its scale and in its simplicity. It’s an initiative that my dear friend Meg Wheatley is helping to shape (and who shared the materials with me).

I was also delighted to find “Myron Roger’s Maxims,” that are helping to guide the initiative. Glad in part because the maxims are good, and point to the deep work of change. Glad in part because Myron Rogers was one of my first mentors in this work, going back to the early to mid 1990s.

Enjoy these:

  • Real change happens in real work.
  • Those who do the work do the change.
  • People own what they create. (I’ve tended to say this over the years as “support” rather than “own.”)
  • Start anywhere, follow it everywhere.
  • Connect the system to more of itself.
  • The process you use to get to the future is the future you get.

What I appreciate most in these, and what I loved most in Myron those 25 years ago, is that he had a way with getting to the guts of things. And he had a way with simplicity in words.

I’m glad for the many ways that his words have carried into my work with systems, teams, and communities. To try to create an integrity of invitation.

Maxims. Guidelines. Gut check.


Systems Thinking — A Few Key Shifts in Emphasis, Part 2

OK, so after posting yesterday on Systems Thinking, encouraging shift in emphasis from parts to the whole, I laughed out loud, realizing I’d just divided a post intended as complete to Parts 1 and 2. So be it. It was a time boundary in place yesterday. Laughing at one self, or with one self, is good, right.

Here’s to continuation…

3. From Measuring to Mapping — We are living in an era that has quite obsessed over the ability to measure micro things. We have science that gives us tremendous detail. It’s pretty amazing. And, measurement through dissection doesn’t give us all of the presumed information we seek, nor fulfill a presumed ability to command and control through more precise measuring. Mapping on the other hand, gives us more of the landscape of the whole, which is what we are more likely to be missing. “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count.” — This is a pretty widely held maxim, and does have tremendous value. But the hope for many of us reclaiming an inherent mystery is to be in relation with the whole.

4. From Contents to Patterns — There are so many new approaches that have come from the study of complexity that offer a truth telling about the non-linearity of life, about the dynamic that is more than cause and effect. I continue to enjoy reading and learning about such things. These things point us to seeing patterns that won’t be replicated exactly in other circumstances, that aren’t portable as snapshot or as content. It means that many of us need to learn to develop an ability to see the patterns, the forest, not just the trees.

5. From Quantity to Quality — I come from a social science background. I studied organizational behavior and psychology. I was very interested in sociology and ethnography. Most of the research that I was involved used qualitative approaches. It was / is collecting piles of information and stories to begin to notice patterns. Or, even more commonly, to engage people in a conversation that asks them to speak some of what they know to a subjective question — so that we can all listen and learn from the words spoken and work with what is arrising. It’s less math, though seductive that remains. It’s more art gallery, though messy that remains.

Well, there’s a bit. It feels fruitful to continue to invoke and invite this awareness together. It’s part of remembering a better way of humaning and community together. And that — better ways of humaning — is the work behind the work that I would suggest we are really up to.


Systems Thinking — A Few Key Shifts in Emphasis, Part 1

Photo Credit, Margaret Wheatley

For many years, many of us have been learning to see and work with systems as groups. Many of us have been learning, or re-learning, systems thinking. Many of us have been challenging ourselves to an imagination of seeing more of the whole. Many of us have been wrestling our ways through interrupting deeply engrained societal and organizational patterns of dissect, divide, predict, command, and control.

Oy! That’s quite a sentence, these interruptions that so many of us support — no wonder it can be a bit tiring.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting some materials I have that help make some basic yet clear points of differentiation in systems thinking. These are all about shifts in emphasis that help stir us into, what I would suggest is more fruitful ways of thinking and practicing. I’m grateful to Meg Wheatley and Myron Rogers for feeding and developing such thought.

  1. From Parts to Whole — Yup, this is the basic point. Can we come to see the team (or the organization, or community, or family) as an entity itself. I’m particularly grateful for learning The Circle Way over the years with this emphasis. So many times I’ve felt that when we begin to speak into a center, depositing our insight and wonder, we are forming not just a collection of parts, but an entity in which “parts” begin to make less sense. We seem to source from something more than any of us as individuals.
  2. From Objects to Relationships — I love this emphasis because it moves us away from being “thing-oriented” to being “relationship-oriented.” In a recent conversation with a good friend and colleague we were talking about the primary purpose of some work we were doing / teaching together. We both affirmed together that we were trying help ourselves and others engage in a relationship with the material. It’s not a one time thing. It’s an ongoing curiosity. That’s around material and content. This emphasis, however, applies deeply to people in relationship also (don’t forget the whole above). It feels, increasingly, that in times of complexity, that’s when we need more relationship, not less. When we need even more to be alert to our slippery sliding back to the comfort of thinking “things.”

Well, there’s a start. More later this week.


On Identity in Self Organization

I’ve just returned from a few days with family. My adult son. My 11 year-old son. His sixth grade friend. My parents. My aunt and uncle that were so key in my pre-teens, teens, and early adult life. These few days were a lot of fun. Playing cards and games. Enjoying food together. Lots of laughter. Lots of sunshine through the palms of Palm Springs, California.

Family is a key point of identity for me. For many of us. It has defined who I am. Where I belong. There is something in me that relaxes when I enter the space of family. That feels at ease. That feels a joy of what I’ve come to know as inherent belonging. Yes to all of the values and stories and shared experience. There is deep psychology and spirituality at play here. But, mostly, it’s good to feel part of a pack.

Family, as such key identity, also creates a baseline for differentiation and departure. I’m not a carbon copy of my parents, nor should I be. They wouldn’t advise this. A little “chip off the old block” maybe — a grounding in identity — but difference is healthy. Curiosity in that difference and being able to engage it is really healthy — health spa and organic food healthy.

In my early learnings with self-organization in the 1990s, Margaret Wheatley and Myron Rogers taught about three domains of self-organization. Identity was one of them. There must be a “self” around which attraction occurs and boundaries are created. Self-organization is an alternative story to how life organizes and how people in them organize. It’s an essential contrast to a still hanging on mechanistic paradigm that often portrays merely linear connection and cogs in wheels.

In humans and human systems, identity can get really interesting. The self, the identity, can have many appearances. A quality (tenacious, kind, funny). A role (a dad, an accountant, a baker). A commitment (curiosity, edge-pushing, enduring). A collective (team, community, ecosystem). All of these are good. My point today isn’t to challenge the merits of a particular role or identity. But rather, to call attention to some of these key aspects of identity. I suppose some parts of our identity stay the same — I will always be that boy that grew up in Edmonton. But some parts of our identity change, and should — I’m a dad with kids on the move whose “home” most likely won’t be a fixed place in the way it was for my parents, aunts and uncles.

Life can’t help but organize itself. Similarities. Essential differences and diversity. In the book I’m reading, Spontaneous Evolution, there is great description about the evolution from “no life” to “single cells” to “multi-cellular life” to “communities.” Self-organization, irrepressible self-organization, is biology.

When I apply this irrepressible organizing to the self that is the “cell of an ideology” or the “multiple cells that are a quality like curiosity,” I’m filled with wow. It’s a bit hard to articulate, but, with some level of consciousness, we humans can choose identity — and set in motion irrepressible organizing around that choice of identity.

For me, this doesn’t point to a grand, scaled plan for old stories of command and control. It is an awe, and wonder about the paramount attention and importance of being aware of identity, the self. It is an awe and appreciation of being with my boys and feeling myself sandwiched in three generations of family that bring out both a comfort and difference, and awareness of how identity shapes me — shapes what I long for and what I long to change as part of being alive.