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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?

Bion Meets Obama

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: Leadership , Group dynamics

Why the great disappointment with President Obama and his administration’s accomplishments? There are many explanations—he’s been too timid, too bold, unfocused, focused on the wrong things, too conciliatory, too left, too right, on and on. What’s missing from the critique is the rest of us—the citizenry—and our relationship to our elected leaders.

Nature Lover

Posted by: heather

Ah! There is nothing like the feeling after exertion in nature. The day was cool, crisp even, but warm when the sun was out and I was getting myself uphill.


I am thankful for all the people over the years who had the foresight to preserve such great spaces. I benefit greatly whether from a local walk and ride path (Sligo Creek Park is my nearest greenway) or larger tracts like Catoctin Mountains or Shenandoah National Park or Red Rock Country. It’s one thing to see these spaces on National Geographic or Nature. It’s another to experience them firsthand. I am grateful that I have the wherewithal—physical, financial, time—to enjoy these places and I marvel at my luck. I feel fortunate to take advantage of them.

The Lotto

Posted by: heather

Recently, I encountered a couple on a hike. The setting was a lovely canyon in the Red Rock country outside of Sedona, AZ. The sun was out but we were in the shade as the nearby mountains cast a shadow, and a chill, into the pine forest beneath the red mountain walls. They were the only people I had encountered for hours. We stopped to chat about the marvelous scenery and other trails we had discovered as visitors to the area.

 As we were appreciating our good fortune, it happened. The woman said, “If you’re born in this country, you’ve already hit the Lotto. You have food, shelter, air to breathe.” I thought, hmm, not quite.

Welcome to 2010, already in progress and already challenging in so many ways. Now, more than ever, I feel called to engage with community for peace and justice.

Not long ago, a colleague described her four-year-old Blackberry as "ancient". In organizations, campaigns and projects come one after another and often overlap. There are changes in structure, technology, policies, and personnel, plus new demands from the environment. Leaders and managers are expected to produce results and people. It seems there's hardly time to run from one meeting to the next, let alone reflect. 

Back to School

Posted by: heather

Actually, it’s after Labor Day, which always meant back to school for me. Although it’s been a while since I was in school, my internal rhythm is still set by that calendar. So, it’s a time of new supplies including blank notebooks and sharpened pencils, new teachers, subjects, and schedules. And let’s not forget, new school clothes.

Segregation on a Bus

Posted by: heather

At an airport, on the way to a conference, I ran into a friend and her companion. My friend offered me a ride in her rental car. We three black women boarded the shuttle bus, put away our luggage and sat at the front of the bus. The remaining passengers filed in, stowed their luggage, and went to the back of the bus. Though there were open seats up front with us, the white passengers moved to the rear, including some who chose to stand. We black women exchanged knowing and perplexed looks, joked, and enjoyed getting to know each other on the short ride.

What happened? How did an airport shuttle bus become segregated?


Leadership teams often face issues that are unique to their role at the top of an organization.

Managing multiple purposes: Leadership team members have responsibility for the organization as a whole while also being accountable for specific program and operational portfolios. This can create tension as team members work to secure resources necessary to deliver their individual priorities even as they seek to steer the entire organization. At its most challenging,

What is Enough?

Posted by: heather

Tagged in: social justice

As I read accounts of overleveraged banks, executive “bonuses”, people losing homes they couldn’t afford, the rising unemployment rate, some people working two jobs to make ends meet (barely) while others count their houses, I hope that the benefit of all this suffering and uneven distribution of wealth and pain is a national recalibration of our moral compass.

The Power of Curiosity

Posted by: heather

When you find yourself disagreeing with or offended by someone, you know, you want to thoroughly convince them of the wrongness of their position-and the rightness of yours-try something else-curiosity. Allow yourself to wonder, really wonder, how in the world they came to that perspective. Or wonder, with all the indignation you are likely to have anyway, what they could have possibly meant by that stupid, offensive, off point remark or action. Allow yourself to say something like:

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.