Musings

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In a group addressing structural racism in organizational operations and programmatic work, we are reviewing proposals for action. A person of color notes some language used in otherwise sound ideas could unintentionally reinforce the separation the proposal seeks to address. The next speaker, a white person, explains what they intended the term to mean, why it was inadequate and why they settled on it for now.


Spaciousness

Posted by: heather

While we're at it, why don't we also...? Before I leave for the next meeting, let me do just one more thing. I'll skip the gym/art class/music performance/time with family and friends because I need to get these next three things done. Sure, I can do that too, it won't take that long. I can't say no at work, they are counting on me. There's just so much to do, if I stay late I can make some headway.


I moved into a new neighborhood. I thought I was moving into a new house. As with most changes, this one was fraught with anticipation, concern, comparisons to what I left behind and the ideal that no actual house will meet.


Small Changes, Big Differences

Posted by: heather

I’d been feeling swamped and adrift with too much to do and not a clear sense of accomplishment. I know I’m not alone. I know too many leaders who feel they are the ball in the pinball machine. What to do?


How shall I be a citizen? What will I do to participate in the democracy I believe in?


The second in a series of musings about what Dr. King has to say to us in this moment--Create True Community.


The inauguration of a minority president coincided with remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so I seek inspiration from the great spiritual warrior. Our times are at least as perilous as he describes in the preface to his 1963 Strength to Love: “In these turbulent days of uncertainty the evils of war and of economic and racial injustice threaten the very survival of the human race. Indeed, we live in a day of grave crisis.” Given our own grave crisis, I return to a few touchstones—deal with reality, create true community, take wise action. I discuss each in turn


Seriously, Have Fun in 2015

Posted by: heather

The calendar tells us it is 2015. Another year of striving for and realizing freedom, justice, love, sustenance, and general well being. I am fortunate to support individuals and organizations be life affirming in their ends and means.


Seriously, Have Fun in 2015

Posted by: heather

The calendar tells us it is 2015. Another year of striving for and realizing freedom, justice, love, sustenance, and general well being. I am fortunate to support individuals and organizations be life affirming in their ends and means.


Happy Valentine, 2014

Posted by: heather

Do you, like so many people and organizations, wait for things to be good—however you define it—before you’ll share love in the form of appreciation, kudos, encouragement, generosity, a smile, or even your time? Do you believe that people don’t need praise just for “doing their jobs” or that feedback is what you tell people when they are doing things wrong? Well, this Valentine is especially for you.

I know well the temptation to fix what seems broken or to improve performance by focusing on what is missing. Yet experience and research show that focusing on what is working builds effectiveness faster AND generates happier colleagues, workers, family members and friends. That’s why “success breeds success” and “what we appreciate appreciates”. The disciplines of positive psychology, Appreciative Inquiry, appreciative intelligence, and neuroscience demonstrate that focus on positive possibility and accomplishment unleashes far more energy and intrinsic motivation than does the focus on the negative, which yields fear and passivity.


Hard to believe that 2013 is already well underway yet 2012 is fast receding from view. The election seems years away—though the historic Inauguration just happened—Super Storm Sandy waters have receded yet it lives on for too many people in New Jersey and New York, and a December massacre ignites a conversation—and action—on gun violence.

2012 in Review

In 2012, Berthoud Consulting again worked with fabulous clients. For example:


It's been a couple of weeks since President Obama won reelection. As the country reflects on the meaning of the election and again projects its hopes and fears onto the President, I see the presidential election and the tone of our politics so far as symbolic of organizational changes we often confront.

The first only. For organizations that bring on a first member of a new (to them) community, the dynamics are almost always challenging. The first must often be extraordinarily qualified to blunt the inevitable criticism that difference is the only reason for the hire. Whether seen as a representative of the new constituency or transcendent of the identity (e.g. post-racial), the newcomer is rarely seen or treated as an individual informed by background rather than fully defined by it or, conversely, wholly independent of it, as in just like us.


What’s a body to do?

Posted by: heather

“My body exists to carry my head around.” I used to think this. Moreover, I acted on it. I prized what I could do mentally but didn’t give much thought to my physical self. Sadly, too many people believe the same and act accordingly. I see people who prize their strategic thinking, their people skills, their caring for others, and their activism on behalf of issues big and small with little time or attention paid to the body doing all the work. Little do they know they are far less effective than they might be.


I recently took in a performance of Cirque du Soleil, that superb and beautiful troupe of acrobats, jugglers, and other physical feats. Beyond a fabulous show and evening with friends, I wondered about the lessons for my work and that of my clients. First, the show is impeccable. I’ve seen several of their productions and each one is a gem, a complete experience of being transported to another world where people do amazing things with their bodies, sound, light, and costume. No part of the evening is a throw away. From the moment the show starts (on time!) until it ends, each step taken by each person is part of the story that is the show.


Name Your Success

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: Leadership , Group dynamics

A group I’m in starts its meetings with each person naming an accomplishment—personal or professional—since the last meeting. Sometimes there’s a big and obvious item to share. At other times, group members struggle to identify a victory. There’s no rule about how “big” a success must be. There is a rule about reporting with gusto. No diminishment of self is allowed. No “well, it’s not much but…” or “I wish I had something more substantial to report…” or “my success isn’t as big a yours….”


Giving Thanks

Posted by: heather

Each morning I have my cup of tea on my back porch and give thanks—for the porch, the tea, the house, the life I’ve lived and the prospects before me. Sometimes I see a souvenir and remember a special trip. When I hike I’m thankful for nature in all its glory and for the people who save sections of wilderness so I and others can enjoy it. I’m deeply appreciative of the support I got—and get—from family and friends. I’m thankful that people with talents very different than mine create things I use every day. The food I eat was grown by someone else. I have no idea how to fix my car or my indoor plumbing but someone else does and I’m glad. Oh yes, I have indoor plumbing AND electricity. More gratitude.


Crisis and Scarcity

Posted by: heather

My clients take on big issues—homelessness, genocide, poverty, liberty, workers rights, workplace democracy, environmental and economic sustainability, and justice. In all cases, the need is great. The forces for the status quo are well-entrenched and well-heeled. The sense of enormity and urgency can be overwhelming. At the same time, these organizations typically work with budgets that are tiny relative to the challenges. There is just not enough—money, people, time, attention, skill—to address the issues.


Deal with Big Things When they are Small

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: Untagged 

If you’re like many leaders and managers you fear correcting errant behaviors. It’s likely that you don’t like dealing with difficult people or situations. How did the cases get to be difficult? Chances are you chose to ignore the early warning signs. Perhaps you saw someone working at the last minute when there had been ample time to accomplish the task and involve the appropriate people without creating a traffic jam. Perhaps you saw ineffective approaches to meeting participation, e.g. someone who talks over other participants in meetings or who doesn’t listen to suggestions, or only hears the suggestions of people he/she likes already.


Summer Reading, 2011

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: Untagged 

This summer has so far been chock full of great fiction and nonfiction, about crossing and/or understanding cultures. Here are some fun, provocative, informative, and inspiring books.


Starved for Appreciation

Posted by: heather

I showed appreciation for someone and he cried. As I told him about the qualities that make him a valued part of the team, he welled up. As I moved on to discuss acts and products that he contributed to our program, the tears spilled out. He didn’t ask me to stop but sat for more as the tears continued.


Another year has ended and the new one is hurrying along. It’s barely three weeks old and we’ve had a new Congress, the shooting in Arizona, snow across the entire country, and the iphone on Verizon. With that as an opening, there’s no telling where 2011 might go.


Leadership and Accountability

Posted by: heather

Who holds the top accountable? As a leader, whether of a unit or an organization, it’s easy to get trapped by the illusions of the office. Check the news for accounts of people who used their offices unethically. The leader’s role is fraught with many opportunities to misstep. Leader of cause organizations need to be especially vigilant as effectiveness is often measured obliquely and in the long-term, even as there’s pressure to show immediate results. The current elections


I recently read several books that you might find interesting:


What are you for?

Posted by: heather

People respond to a positive proposition with energy that’s optimistic and sustainable. That is, people will strive for something compelling even, or especially, if it’s challenging. On the other hand, identifying something wrong or objectionable and fighting against what is, gets meager results compared to pursuing a desired outcome. Analysis or critique of the current state can be useful, but a problem focus fills up the available mental and emotional space leaving little room for a positive alternative. By contrast, the desired outcome makes the challenge of now minor relative to the promise of the future.


Facilitating for Transformation

Posted by: heather

The course I taught was, finally, a success. It took a lot to reach people, to get the concepts across, to get them to take ownership of their learning, their class, and their process. My colleague and I didn’t break through until the class was about two thirds complete. The final classroom activity showed that they had learned. I sense that we set their feet on a more fruitful path. They seemed motivated to continue.


I used to study martial arts. I loved it. It was the ballast to my activist life. It was where I discovered my athletic self. Then, after about 18 years, I fell while hiking and hurt my back. There went my martial arts career. No more jumping, kicking, punching hard. After about a year of a modified schedule, I gave it up.

 

I decided to take yoga classes. For a few years, I moped. I went to yoga because I couldn’t go to karate. Yoga was just OK. I know many people love it with the enthusiasm I had for karate but for me it was a poor consolation prize. Now several years on,


When Private Apologies Don't Work

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: Leadership , Group dynamics

The meeting was interrupted by an outburst from the leader to a subordinate. Whatever the person said or did to deserve that tongue lashing was a mystery. Had she broken the leader’s train of thought? Contradicted him? Offered an idea he didn’t like? Spoken one too many times? No one knew, but the effect of the dressing down was immediate. The group was silent, exchanging furtive glances instead of potential solutions for the project. The meeting ended quickly. Later the leader realized that he’d been brusque and called the employee to apologize. By his reckoning, he’d patched things up and reset relations, right? Wrong.


Organizations use strategic plans to identify their vision, mission, outcomes, success factors, milestones, resource allocation, short-term objectives and action steps. People get excited by the destination and path they’ve set for themselves but they often postpone their future by continuing the current way they do things even though to achieve the ambitious plan they need to start now. The situation is akin to the person who has a brilliant plan for getting in shape—tomorrow.


How can we create the space for real conversation? Not what passes for conversation-crafting the witty comeback while the other person is talking; dismissing what is uncomfortable, disagreed with, or unfamiliar; categorizing those we disagree with as bad; talking louder and/or faster in the hopes of wearing down the opposition. In real conversation people are heard, validated. Their ideas are engaged. Perhaps people want safe space because they know what to expect otherwise.


Safe Space

Posted by: heather

I often get called into facilitate groups where there is tension, sometimes among peers, and sometimes with a manager or leader. People typically ask that there be safe space for the conversation. What do they mean? People generally answer with phrases like, “No repercussions,” “What I say won’t be held against me,” and “There won’t be any negative consequences.” Is this possible?


My Intentions

    • I intend to share ideas about organizational processes that support the effective functioning of justice seeking organizations.
    • I will share lessons about the life of organizations and provide tools that can support organizational performance.
    • Because I'm also committed to the issues that my clients work on, I'll discuss current events, justice, and the larger implications of news stories or community events.
    • Part of that discussion will include publicizing the issues, campaigns, and thoughtful work of clients.
    • As a colleague to other OD consultants, I hope to spark conversations among those of us who do this work.