Authentic Leadership Project Report

Feedback on the Commons

Invitation from the Institute

Module Reflection

 

http://commons@shambhalainstitute.org/2003_upcoming/2003_modules.html
Note to Portfolio reviewers:
I am posting my login and password to the Commons, so you can see some of the design issues. I will be removing this information after the portfolio review.
(This login only offers access to the Margaret Wheatley module.For infromation on the other presenters, please visit the Shamhala Institute main website)
http://commons.shambhalainstitute.org/
login khansen
password hejkrctr

Feedback on the Commons;usability, promotion, and brainstorming ideas

Kim Hansen 7/6/03

Hi Susan,
Thank you for the document. It looks well thought. I’m going to add my feedback via highlighting. I apologize if this looks obnoxious. This is generally the method we use to collaborate with each other in my department. I have also included separate thoughts on the following pages.

GOING FORWARD: COMMUNITY, THE COMMONS, MEMBERSHIP
What 2003 Summer Program participants say they want:
Ongoing connection, support, and networking with each other and with the hub of the Institute.
What the Commons could be?
A resource, meeting place & collaboration space for Institute members, groups & communities.
Those groups and communities could include
temporary program communities; e.g., Summer Program 03*
special interest networks (communities of practice); e.g., business,
education, health, social justice, emergent leaders, elders
research/inquiry groups
regional learning groups
Institute planning/development group*
Institute administration*
Institute board*
These groups would be private, the rest open to everyone on the Commons
Except for program-specific communities, all of these groups represent ways that members could participate in the Institute’s activities year-round.
These all look possible, after brainstorming this list maybe we should focus it down to five or six areas, for example,
1. Open forum under topic heading
2. Resources for both online and geographic events posted within 300-mile radius areas so folks could have opportunities to meet again.
3. Presenter or participant writing posts (though I prefer an e-zine ).
4. Opportunities to reflect and, build relationships post conference,


I’m getting a lot of personal e-mail right now from participants I met at the conference, but notice that people aren’t using the forum much, which points to usability issues. I think the idea of a more attractive, intimate, and very simple online container, warm, friendly feel, elegant graphics, fewer choices or options. I would keep things as low tech as possible at first, and have included more in-depth feedback in the message below.

What the Commons isn’t?
A substitute for public website development/enrichment
A substitute for email updates, face-to-face & other more direct forms of communication I would like to understand this limitation more, especially because most of us are at a distance.
Resources could include?
module resources (w/permission of the presenters)
white papers, also participants. One of the strengths of the Conference is that the participants are often as knowledgeable in their fields as the presenters.
The following resources could be added to the public website:
Institute calendar faculty calendars & links special-interest online bookstore, through Amazon. Great idea. Could you please post the bookstore list soon?
How the Commons could support research/inquiry
Example of how this could be structured:
moderator opens an inquiry & invites participants to contribute key
questions, these questions form the basis of an interview w/several resource people the interviews are transcribed & shared discussion is invited further comments & questions are distilled & relayed back to resource people for their response. Yes, this is good, I would also recommend both synchronous, or asynchronous discussion where you could, for example, advertise an hour online discussion with Meg Wheatley and limit the size to say 15 participants with controlled topic discussion. This could be a revenue-building/pay for time event. Another interesting idea is using audio blogs to present information, and then have folks discuss it online. Also teleconferencing in small groups, and the use of video could enhance the intimacy of delivery.
Other possible people besides presenters could be sub-presenters like Francis Baldwin, Peter Senge, Juanita Brown, etc. and, of course, the participants. I would really like to see something from the Emergent Leaders as well.

Examples of current areas of inquiry:
1.Topic: structural aggression/structural enlightenment (incl. ?container?) Possible resource people: Fred Kofman, Randy Schmidt, Barry Oshry, Eva Wong, Wendy Luhabe, Mark Gerzon
2.Topic: conflict & compassion in a global community Possible resource people: members of the healing conflict dialogue
Other resources:
Transcript of plenary published on the public website with a note that this conversation continues in the members area

Six-month updates & reflections from some of healing conflict members Great idea! I really like the thought of one topic focus to be on international news. For ex how are the changes in the mid east effecting Yitzak and Zoughbi? What’s happening in Zimbabwe?
What’s it like to be an American under the current administration?

3. Topic: personal & collective practices for accessing embodied
intelligence
Resource people: Otto Scharmer, Cynthia Kneen, Kye Nelson, David Rome
Also included: module resources
Support for practice & application
online & phone support offered for continuing a practice at home:
meditation, focusing, deep listening an area for reflections, stories, & applications back home for program participants

Really great idea, I imagine Susan Skej has told you about the Naropa online meditation class. It would be so helpful for folks to have some ongoing meditation support. I can also talk with Frank Behrliner about how it went. I may be doing some instruction with students at Naropa this fall with Jane Cohn, and perhaps we can look at developing an online component.

Support for networking
separate areas for regional networking/learning groups
forums for special interest groups
How the Commons could support Institute planning & development
inquiry/research topics could support new Institute programs
(regional?)
a network of core supporters could provide input into the Institutes
ongoing planning/direction
regional networking could support regional programs
all of this community building supports the Institutes learning & forward direction. Yes this seems to be the main purpose.
Logistics: funding & maintenance
form a committee to develop & manage the Commons under the general direction of the EC w/Susan Sz as coordinator; committee members could include Mark Szpakowski, Kim Hansen, Duane Harper Grant, Alok Singh, Katie Bell & other EC members & alumni who are interested
expenses include platform fees (server, programming), web-based design (Bernadette), transcribing, editing, overhead
income is generated through memberships, with the Commons providing the primary membership benefit. Suggestions:
- to increase usability, the members area (Commons) is linked directly from the Institute website; most topics are open access (i.e., do not depend on a generated invitation); committee members commit to orienting all new members. I think you should limit Commons participation at first, simplify the interface, and generate energy and input from conference attendees. An E-zine would be a better tool for open source. Perhaps you could have “viewing rights” to the discussion, but not open it for interaction except by invitation. I think you will need to gather some feedback on this. There are confidentiality issues and community comfort levels to consider. If we are to create an online learning community then there needs to be a container. See below for suggestions.
- monthly membership fees have several tiers: e.g.Ü regular (e.g., US$20 or Cdn$25/month) this seems reasonable, people generally use and respect what they pay for.
sponsoring (e.g., US$30 or Cdn$40/month) ?pays for oneself & for a young or developing-country membership sponsored (pay what you can)
end of feedback.

Greetings again from Kim Hansen
Below are some suggestions for the Commons and thoughts about how to enhance the post conference online learning community for the Institute. I’ve been writing this over the past two weeks with help and feedback from Duane Grant. I apologize for the length of this attachment, but I had a lot of “thoughts” while in Halifax. Most of this perspective comes from my experience in instructional design. I hope it is helpful information and benefits the Institute’s goals.

The first step in making the Commons site more usable is to decide the intended purpose, and then design accordingly. I’ve listed a few options below:

1. If the Institute wishes to use it as a loose communication open list serve tool, then the focus could just be on the forum, similar to the World Cafe. This would be the lowest maintenance approach, but would still require some administration,
pre-chosen topic headings, and a moderator.
2. If what is desired is to create a learning community with ongoing opportunities to dialogue, share resources, continue networking and build relationships, then the Commons tool narrowed down, with interface design changes is a good starting tool. The intent would then be to charge yearly dues and have a moderator and site administrator. A current working example in the e-design world is the E-Learning Guild http://www.elearningguild.com/pbuild/linkbuilder.cfm?selection=doc.15 This sounds like the direction the Institute is headed in now.
3. If the focus is to generate income and build Institute participation, then the Commons will need to be password protected with admittance for a fee as suggested above. However I also recommend publishing an E-zine to attract new users to the Institute. With this alternative resource anyone could subscribe to the e-zine, and its content would be articles from presenters and participants who write on topics of interest to the world of leadership and organizational development. Not to sound overly mercenary, but this is a huge revenue drawing topic area. The e-zine would have good quality content as a stand-alone medium, and also attract people to the institute as well. You could have a free few pages to send out as a taster to anyone on the web, (and they could also request it to be sent to friends) on the institute’s site and then charge a low fee for the subscription, and then a further fee for those who would want access to the Commons. A free scaled down version is the Center for Creative Leadership Newsletter http://www.ccl.org/index.shtml

I recommend limiting Commons access to those who have been to the conference. This would also include participants from all three years and the pre- conference workshop people too, which is already a large number. The e-zine could have articles offered by both presenters and participants given the high quality of conference attendees. Further we could tap into the Buddhist community for articles as well as the Leadership and Organizational development world. I anticipate a healthy supply of info.

Logistics would then require a web developer, graphic designer, and editor. Perhaps you could offer viewing access of the Commons, but not interactivity, from the e-zine. The key is to start small, high quality, and conference topic focused for leadership and organizational development, get feedback, and keep growing and refining.
Participant feedback on the Commons

The most persistent request I heard was to have all the module info in the Commons open for everyone to read. This make sense to me, especially in the post conference online activity, as it would give participants an opportunity to see what they missed, promote dialog, and encourage reenrolling to learn from a different presenter the following year
The other feedback was that the Commons interface was too hard to use and not as attractive as the SI site.
Commons Interface design:
Note to Portfolio reviewers:
I am posting my login and password to the Commons, so you can see some of the design issues. I will be removing this information after the portfolio review.

http://commons.shambhalainstitute.org/
login khansen
password hejkrctr

The commons should reflect the elegance and allure of the main site itself, and operate as a login extension of the SI site.
The current design feels like too big a shift from the SI site. It is not as graphically attractive and reveals too much of the technology tool, offering too many options. The side menu, top tabs and buttons don't feel intuitive, and having both the side menu bar and top tabs for each area could feel overwhelming to users. The site can still have more functionality for those that want it under an “options”, or advanced features area.
I think Mark did a wonderful job putting in jargon free directions, but the dilemma is that most people hate, and will not read directions.
I write instruction for the web, and have gotten to the point where I limit directions to one or two sentence descriptions, which I only use in anticipated areas (that I can’t redesign) in float down alt text, or drop down text windows. It is a really good idea to perform a formative evaluation on the Commons, and observe where users get stuck. I would be willing to do this at the University here with graduate students if you would like.
The best design I’ve found is to pose a question, in a known difficult area that you can’t redesign, and then answer it in a brief statement follow up.
Ex: Want to edit your quick note? Use the (?) icon.
I also found the multiple file system unwieldy, and given its low use, think it would be best to again, add that to advanced options. People would still be able to upload files; pdf, word, pict, etc. through this function.
The quick note seems to be the most user-friendly feature, with most folks using a copy/paste function, and I suggest keeping that as a main input tool (can you add a spell check feature?).
This may feel counter-intuitive, but most users don't really want to see too many options on a web page. Usability gurus like Steve Krug, author of "Don't Make me Think", suggest that most folks view web sites like magazines, or billboards where they skim pages for information. Consequently they don't want to spend much time figuring the thing out. It’s best to give them clear buttons to "press" and create topic headings that answer simple questions most people would ask of any interface:
Who are you?
What is the purpose?
What do I do?
Where do I need to go?
The use of an over riding metaphor is also helpful. For example the Commons offers a British University style meeting place of discussion, can we play off that with icons and information structure, label headings etc.?
Ex: CITT link - Center for Innovations in Teaching and Technology http://thunder1.cudenver.edu/citt

Recommendations on redesigning the Commons home page:
One recommendation would be to have a welcoming home page with a short greeting/description/intro to the Commons stating it's intended purpose with links to the different areas, and then separate the screens according to topic. You could also include links to pages for dialogue circles, ongoing special presentations, current areas of inquiry, professional/ regional groups etc. This purpose description could also be on the log in page on the SI site.
When you open the module, the user can then be given a list of options on top tabs, or drop down side menus. The tabs would be listed only for information most relevant to the purpose of that page, but common enough to the site in general so people don’t get confused.
For example, if the open forum is what we most want to emphasize on a page (by that I mean if communication is the purpose we wish to emphasize, than that should be the main feature.)
Further tabs could be for resources or a participant list, or that could be a separate screen off the main Commons home page.
Participants name could be a link to any personal info they want to add about themselves similar to the “What we bring folder.”
Networking could be divided into easy categories that participants self select according to geographic area, career background, and information needed/shared.
Most users are comfortable with things that look like e-mail and it is good that the forum follows that format. My experience with list serves is that the best ones work with good subject line codes and indent under specific threads or topics
Q-Question
R- Response to topic,
I- for information offered, etc.
Other “rules” that work well is for a weekly summary on a topic done by the online topic leader/moderator, like you suggested above, or else the history gets too long and unwieldy. A keyword search tool, to look for past topics would also be helpful. Generally the key to good usability is:
Fast
Easy
Well indexed
Attractive
Uncluttered
Intuitive and familiar, it’s best to use icons, prompts and formats that people are already comfortable with, and roll out innovations, and options further along the road as “new”, or by user request.
One thought post-conference is to ask participants to post reflections on different aspects such as:
The whole week in general
Modules
Dialog Circle
Creative Process
Meditation
Plenary Sessions
This would be a good prompt, giving energy to the Commons, and also a good resource for the institute, in their documentation and future planning. It could be introduced with the evaluation to begin conversation. I am currently writing a (long) summary of the Meg Wheatley module, as a graduate course requirement, which I could post in the Commons if you would like.(see attachment)
My final recommendations (for this e-mail) are that if you want to build this tool to create an online learning community, then you may need to introduce it to people during the conference. Most distance communities work best as hybrids, face-to-face, and online. I know the schedule already feels packed, but there are a lot of folks out there who are uncomfortable with technology, and they won’t use the Commons until they have at least been introduce to, and assisted with it. Therefore some small group presentations built in during the week to introduce the value of the Commons may be necessary to promote a larger audience. There are already folks on this committee that could lead technology groups, and I imagine we could rent/borrow some laptops and computers.
I'm sending a link on usability issues that I think is really interesting, which relates to some of my feedback on the Commons Interface. http://uiweb.com/issues/issue22.htm
I also want to clarify that the technology of the Commons is excellent. Very sophisticated, complex, and most importantly stable. This is really hard to do from a programming perspective, especially given the potential number of users, and is certainly more advanced than anything I've ever worked with.
My concerns and comments have to do with interface design, what the user sees and experiences when they come to the site. How and why they do, or do not, use the site. This has more to do with graphics, usability, accessibility etc.
It is important to stress that if a tools technology doesn't work well, or is erratic, no one will use the site at all.
So just wanted to recognize Mark's talents and hard work, and separate them from my issues with look and feel, as we brainstorm ways to enhance the online community of the Institute.
Please let me know what you think about the issues in the article.
Thank you for your time in reading all my comments. I really enjoyed the conference and am looking forward to assisting in building the on-line component to create a strong learning community. You have all done such good work, and I feel fortunate to be involved with this project. Please let me know if my feedback has been helpful.
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The evidence for value of the impact of my usability feedback is shown in the invitation that will be sent out to participants.

Invitation from the Institute

In conversations and on the cards that were filled out after dinner
on Thursday, one theme stood out--a desire to extend the space of
community and learning that we shared in June. Many of you suggested specific ways of doing this.
We are now inspired to take action on some of these requests. To
begin with, we would like to bring the Commons more fully to life and
to help facilitate an ongoing exchange of stories, resources,
dialogue, and connections. We would like to go deeper into the areas
of inquiry that were initiated at the program. And we would like to
host collaborations that could lead to regional learning groups and
programs, special interest networks and projects, and a newsletter or
e-zine.
Some of you have already offered to put time and energy into one or
more of these areas. For example, Mark Szpakowski, Kim Hansen, Duane Harper Grant, and others have generously offered to contribute
technical and facilitation support. We are also requesting your
financial help. If you would like to support the launch and
maintenance of such an online space over the coming year, please
consider donating towards this project. A suggested amount is Cdn
$125/US $100, though contributions of all amounts are welcome and
appreciated. The more support there is, the more we will be able to
do. Donations can be made by credit card over the phone
(902-425-0492) or by cheque (see address below) and are tax
deductible in the U.S. and Canada.
Between now and the next Summer Program, the Commons will continue to be available to all 2003 participants. We are committed to assisting anyone who needs help logging on and finding their way around. We will also invite participants from previous Summer Programs to join the non-module areas of the Commons in exchange for a contribution (and this option would also become available to you after the next Summer Program, if you choose not to return in person).
Following are initial ideas for what we would like to do, based on
your requests.
- upgrade the Commons interface, to make it is easier to access and navigate
- open the module topics to all 2003 program participants and
continue to post module documents (background papers, power point
presentations, summaries, journals) from presenters and participants
- facilitate dialogue and networking among module participants
- generate ongoing areas of inquiry (e.g., conflict and compassion,
reflection and action, environmental sustainability, innovation, the
role of emerging leaders and emerging elders, the art of hosting)
- support areas of inquiry by listening for key questions,
interviewing resource people, transcribing interviews, and moderating
conversations.
- provide an ongoing forum (e.g., public newsletter) for current work
by program participants and faculty
- create a topic for input into program planning

We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Susan Szpakowski and Bob Ziegler
for the Institute staff and executive council
The Shambhala Institute
for Authentic Leadership
6029 Cunard St., Suite 5
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada B3K 1E5


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Margaret Wheatley Module on Authentic Leadership
Days 1 through 5

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5

Reflections on the Margaret Wheatley Module Shambhala Institute 2003
Authentic Leadership Conference

During the week of June 14th to the 21st I attended the Shambhala Institute’s 3rd conference on Authentic Leadership. The Institute is a nonprofit, charitable organization based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Originally inspired from Shambhala Buddhist teachings and practices of enlightened society, the program was further developed by a secular network of organizational mentors, who collaborated and prepared internally for three years before hosting the first Authentic Leadership program in 2001. The Institute has attracted well-known presenters in the world of Leadership, Organizational Development and Systems and Conflict Resolution.

The week’s schedule was full, with 12 to 15 hour days of large and small group workshops and presentations that varied from daily module work, small discussion, creative process work, meditation instruction, and plenary sessions given by participant / presenters in a variety of subjects over the week. There were 250 participants most of who held leadership positions within their own organizations and had strong backgrounds as administrators, educators and consultants.

The distribution seemed evenly divided between the corporate, academic, political, health, and government spheres with people representing every part of the world. Each participant reserved a spot for a specific topic that included 15 hours with the below listed presenters, a three-hour creative process session, and three-hour and a half small group work sessions in a dialogue circle which focused on a variety of discussion topics.
Mark Gerzon: Leading Across Borders
John Shibley: Systems Thinking and Effective Action
Fred Kofman: Transforming Organizational Culture
Toke Paludan Moller and Marianne Knuth: Convening Strategic Conversations
Barry Oshry: Engaging Hierarchy, Power, and Collaboration
Otto Scharmer, Kye Nelson, and David Rome: Accessing the Innovative Mind
Margaret Wheatley: Leadership Inquiry
Click on this link to find out more about these presenters modules and topic resources. http://commons@shambhalainstitute.org/2003_upcoming/2003_modules.html
Each of the presenters is expert, and well known in their field, and I took opportunities to observe other sessions, talk with the presenters and collect resources (if interested about any of the individuals mentioned in this report contact me).

I chose Margaret Wheatley’s module because I was drawn to her writings about working with chaos in organizations (Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley, 1992) her willingness to discuss team dynamics on the emotional level, and her vision of leadership, which she defines as “anyone willing to help at this time.” My professional interest derived from my own experience and interest in learning, specifically in creating online learning communities.

My part of the conference was to moderate the Institute’s online forum, encourage discussion, help maintain the site, assist participants with the technology platform. Further I would make recommendations regarding enhancement of the coaching platforms interactive component, to strengthen the post conference online experience. Research has suggested that deeper levels of learning require exchanging information within a learning community, and therefore demands some emotional interaction and group process. Therefore Ms. Wheatley’s system of thinking complemented my own professional interests. Turns out that I was not disappointed in my module choice.

Day 1 Module Objectives and Aspirations
Module objectives and goals
Wheatley began the first session by offering her own objectives and goals for our module, which was that it, would be:
A shared inquiry as leaders
A community of practice, to generate new practices and community
An experiment in how to do this
She chose to see herself as a shared participant/leader in our group offering her experience and views but also expecting us to offer lively participation and leadership.
Aspirations

Her aspirations for our work as a group, which she defined as her systems perspective, was that together we would become a true learning community:
To develop a rich understanding of some major dynamics effecting our own leadership
To comprehend how those impact us, our organization, community, and nation
To strengthen our own capacity to lead
To experience our true learning capacity
Core Values
Margaret Wheatley (or Meg, which she preferred) then listed her core values sharing the assumptions and perspectives she was bringing to the module. She emphasized that we all needed to identify and reflect on our own assumptions, and realize that they would most likely be different from hers or each other’s. This emphasis of questioning and reflecting upon core values, recognizing common and diverse views, would be an underlying theme through much of our groups work. Meg’s values were:
She depends on (acknowledges and sees) diversity. Which she described as the complexity of differing views, and in a broader system approach, as a recognition of natural diversity in all groups and eco systems that offer richer possibilities and promotes survival by their interaction. (A taste of Darwinian group soup, my perspective).
It is better to learn than be dead. This is a value she learned from her work with the US Army where she observed and assisted for several years in improving group systems of leadership. While she voiced ambivalence to the overall current mission of our armed forces, she feels that as a learning organization the military bring a heightened sense of immediacy and practicality to teaching and learning not usually seen in most learning communities. In the environments they train for the risks for not learning are so high. She stressed that in our current world-wide community learning system it is imperative that we all recognize the stakes of our not learning, sharing, and intervening in political, environmental, and resource issues are higher than we realize.
She relies on human goodness. Meg shared her own experience working with different cultures, from indigenous tribal peoples, to more sophisticated modern multi-cultures and corporate organizations. She has repeatedly found that people generally value community virtues of authenticity, generosity, and a willingness to sacrifice, despite common voiced cynicism of “just human nature” being an excuse for poor behavior. I personally found this view refreshing and reflected how my own assumptions about others can become an excuse for not rising to ethical challenges or assuming leadership.
She trusts life’s ability to self organize, and believes this always involves journeying through chaos. This final value was the most compelling in my view and really the heart of her teaching. She has joked that she has become known as the “queen of chaos” over the years since her book The New Leadership Science was published in 1992. While her writings have seemed conceptually provocative to me in the past, in person, her reflections seem very heartfelt, and grounded in her experience of human goodness.

From a leadership perspective, the ability of systems to self organize via chaos feels antithetical to most manager/leaders perceived roles of hierarchy, control, guidance and strong leadership. But during the coming days I began to see the wealth of opportunities and challenges in appreciating, working with, and reflecting upon chaos in organizational dynamics. Meg’s own comfort level and appreciation of chaos in group process derives from her own experience, as a common and often disturbing sense of feeling overwhelmed, by the complexities of diverse views and personal agendas. She associates this emotion with the group process need to let go of rigidly held individual opinions to allow for a moment of insight to arise. While most of us may be familiar with that sense of discouragement in working with others, the moment of insight can feel less familiar and fleeting, and it was difficult for me to imagine accessing the trust involved in allowing the process of collective intelligence to work. Meg’s premise is that the experience of being confused together, combined with time, shared discussion, mutual respect and acknowledgment, allows a collective insight to arise that is greater than what could occur from an individual perspective, and will be more accessible to working through conflicting view points.
To emphasize her belief in acknowledging diverse views she quoted Francisco Varallos’ (sp?) research that “80% of perception is internal and unique, thus you cannot expect mutual objective experience.” She points out that in perceiving reality mostly folks get a little trigger of perception and then make up the rest, based on their own backgrounds.
We did a quick survey of the module’s thirty-six participants diversity. Ages ranged from early 20’s to 70’s, various religious, race, cultures, economic status and class upbringing, touched by illness, parental and child obligations and difficulties with family or individual drug or alcohol use, to first reflect that we were all coming from unique backgrounds with diverse perspectives.
Participants were then directed to split into small groups where we discussed what we felt was most important for each other, and the world to understand as an imperative “headline message” for the planet. This would be a view that seemed urgent for us to note and share, with the other members of the group. We recombined several times refining our “headlines”, tacked them up on the board to read, and then reconvened in a circle to discuss how these statements reflected our own core values.
Looking at similarities and differences I noted that there was a general concern about the current military situation in Iraq, worries about the environment, and attention drawn to the disproportionate distribution of wealth in the world. Because participants came from many countries around the world, there was a poignant dynamic about the current US leadership objectives, and I found a surprising number of people (especially Europeans and Canadians) apprehensive about voicing criticism and concerns that they feared would be impolite. It was amazing to me how much of the world takes their news from CNN, which promotes a viewpoint and experience that most of the people I know don’t share. (I told them I go to the BBC for more accurate reporting) As an American I had conversations with many people who expressed relief that not all US citizens were supportive of current administration policies.
The exercise ended with a discussion of how we reveal our core values by what concerns us, that we value a sense of equity, fairness, concern for the environment, and yearning for peace. While I believe these are very basic values the ability and means to achieve them varies with each situation.
On reflection later that afternoon I was a little concerned about such a wide perspective missing the finer points of leadership inquiry, and wondered how much this type of “Preaching to the Choir” mattered to facilitating organizational processes. I came to understand over the next few days how important it is to articulate and communicate perspectives and values in the community before beginning our work as learners.

Day 2 Developing a Learning Community
Meg began the morning by presenting information about what makes a good learning community. She first emphasized that learning, as a community, is to create both environments and relationships with others that allow us to learn. We have all experienced that good teamwork is common to healthy organizations, but Meg stresses that learning takes place as a community. By that, I assumed she meant as a dynamic system that responds to the relationships within the group.
The main question to ask, she stressed, is “do people feel disregarded and disrespected within the organization?

When we look at the knowledge that we each individually hold in our organizations, how much of it is shared? In this age of knowledge management systems our focus is on searching and archiving “how we know what we know.” However a more fundamental issue is how much do we care, about what another coworker knows, and how much do they care about what they have learned. Is it just more information, or is there a process of communication and exchange going on?

This was a provocative thought, in regards to meta tags and categories of research, to remember that the information, which I have retained (really learned) involved my noticing the information, as well as the person, method, and passion in sharing it. In this process, I was reflecting on, why it was important to them, as well as, the environment where the exchange took place. This raises some interesting issues for me regarding how to promote that sense of caring or relevance in distance education. If it is a shared human need to feel that what we say and do matters, then it implies that we build a means to communicate our appreciation and acknowledgement, of both shared and received material.

Meg asserts that learning is a fundamental experience of being alive. She comments that most organizations don’t want to deal with this, because it implies that people have to build relationships, this requires time, trust, risk, emotional response and communication. She pointed out that we’re living in an age where people walk into their work saying,” tell me what I have to do, and I’ll do it, just don’t make me work on a team”. While most of us, who have experienced the challenges of teamwork, can empathize with this sentiment, it is worrisome that things have gotten to the point where we prefer isolation to the difficulties and potential richness created by working together.
If we understand that learning is a function of community, then we have to notice how we are creating community – by caring, reflecting, and taking the time to get to know each other.
Principle of Living Systems
When a living system needs to become healthier, one should always bring in more aspects of the system (for example allow or create opportunities for more communication with parents, customers, coworkers, students etc.) to make it survive and thrive. Why? In Meg’s view adding diverse elements to the mix increases healthy stress (chaos) to a system. This demands more cooperation and competition that makes the system healthier and thus more able to survive. She stresses that in living systems there is no sense of the individual, and that the dynamic is instead always systemic, interdependent, and reveals it’s health by not using more than it needs. This raised interesting issues about the perceived needs of wealthier nations to maintain their population’s lifestyles at the expense of limited world resources.
Necessary elements of a learning community
Trust is an essential element in forming a healthy learning community.
What creates trust? When people keep their word. When there is a sense of equity, fairness, and safety in communicating bad news or diverse opinions. In many of our stressed systems we exhibit zero tolerance for mistakes, and are instantly disappointed in each other’s human frailties. This lack of trust in peoples ability to receive feedback, change, and grow, is revealed in the frequent firings and layoffs by managers, unwilling, or unable, to trust individuals to learn from mistakes. The building of relationship between learners in a community takes time, and the willingness to allow people to risk, fail, and learn from experience. Without the elements of trust, time, and risk taking, we limit our ability to learn and grow from each other.

The other element that this leads to is the emotional dynamic. Trust, risk, competition, mistakes, and cooperation all touch emotions that many corporations are unwilling to acknowledge and instead actively discourage or attempt to control by deriding them as unprofessional.

I reflected that in my experience, working within any living system (family, school, work, government) if you suppress one aspect it can, and probably will, rear its head in a more distorted way in other parts of the system. Often this is seen through gossip, hidden agendas, and unsaid ‘secrets’ or truths about a known dysfunctionality within the organization. That these secrets often reveal themselves as “scandals”, or sudden outbursts is a sign that the information and accompanying emotion is popping out from a lid.

The process that creates trust must be allowed in order for a learning community to flourish. The challenge for a leader is to say, “when do I push? How do I identify and trust these processes, and let go of the command and control that feels part and parcel of leadership. Stirring things up is fundamental to creating community, and when things feel unfocused it may be a reflection that the process of letting go of rigidly held opinions and listening is working, even though the ungroundedness of not having clear direction feels disturbing.

Small group exercise
At this point we broke into groups divided according to organization focus in areas of education, k-12 and University, corporate, non-profit, health, government etc. We were asked first to reflect on where learning was happening in our own organizations. Then to reflect as a group on a recent crisis that had occurred in our organization asking:
How had the organization learned from the experience?
What processes did they use?
Was there value stated by the organization showing a desire to learn?
How was the learning acquired?
What is the organizations capacity to learn?
Learning in organizations comes from the group’s ability to reflect on situations and information. But in that process you have to allow yourself to be overwhelmed, knowing that out of chaos comes the route of insight. However, how do you reflect when there are secrets and unspoken agendas that undermine the community? How do you ask uncomfortable questions? The experience of leadership is often one of “remote control”, trying to see the truth of the experience when everyone is maintaining a false image. As a leader you have to ask yourself if you are really willing to listen to your critics? Is your comfort zone an impediment to learning, and is learning the ultimate value? Meg emphasizes that it has to be if you’re going to call it learning and build a learning community. Value she stresses, not purpose.
Why is learning valuable? When you are open to information all facts are friendly, and all information is useful unless you’re trying to drive to a pre-determined conclusion. (An example of an organization actively involved with not learning, and forcing data to spin to a conclusion was Enron.) If your focus is on learning, then “good / bad” news is irrelevant. Learning gives you increased capacity to receive information without prejudice. The purpose then is toward the broader world. To encourage this, in organizations you need; inclusion and respect for people at the beginning, and a spoken intention to value learning from each other. You have to decide to engage everyone in designing how this work will contribute, to others as well as the organizations mission.

We were then given homework to reflect on for the next day.
Questions were:
Where do you have the opportunity to bring in time to reflect in your organization?
What is the quality of your relationships?
Where are you seeing changes in people’s ability to relate to one another?

Day 3 Our Role as Learners in Community
We began in the morning with the desks lined up in a traditional front- facing row classroom style. Meg asked us to write our thoughts and feelings about how this arrangement emotionally affected our learning. She then asked us to go to a large auditorium and sit in the back rows, again asking us to reflect on our learning in that environment.

While exploring how we felt in the different seating arrangements she asked us to notice when we were in roles of: passive learner, shared participant, or in dialog with others. She stressed that each arrangement was valid for varying learning formats. While many preferred the circle, she felt this often was not a good form for teaching, and when a larger group than ours, felt unwieldy for good sharing. Most people brought up descriptive statements on varying feelings of boredom, exposed, uniform, rigid, uncomfortable, student / expert hierarchy, irritations, passive, sleepy etc.

She asked us to take out paper and write down suggestions on how to improve the module. People busily took to writing with some quickly filling a page with their opinions. It is important to note here that most of the participants held high-ranking positions and were consultants, facilitators, and teachers in their own organizations. I have to say I felt kind of stupid at this point, as I couldn’t think of anything to suggest, relying on Meg to fill the module time. When done she asked us to fold the recommendations over and pass the papers to the right. Meg then collected all the notes and unsmilingly dumped them into the garbage can saying, “thank you for your input, you opinions are very important to this organization”, offering no further explanation. People laughed uncomfortably, I thought it was brilliant, having filled out enough surveys with similar results.

She then suggested that we move to the arrangement we found most comfortable to our learning style. Being a prodigious note taker I stayed were I was, another fellow behind me (who turned out to be a Catholic Priest) also stayed seated. We began to talk together about how we kind of liked getting instruction through lecture. We looked around, some people were sitting on the floor, some grouped around tables, others stood around in cocktail party style, and one fellow looked like he was sitting alone, but said he had actually rejoined the circle by himself.

We regrouped and Meg then suggested a topic discussion from the previous nights homework, asking us to list primary factors that are currently influencing people’s relationships. People began listing factors such as: time, trust, technology, travel, communication mediums, school systems, money, stress, speed, competition, authority, power, love, fear, desire, etc. She noticed that most people felt an aspiration to be better, and we voiced underlying feeling that something is wrong with many of our relationships.She then asked us to reflect on where we see these feelings in family, work, and community? Where might other be seeing this too?
People discussed feeling a sense of insecurity, transient relationships, lack of input, issues with authority, something better elsewhere/later, feeling displaced lack of family time, interdependence, problems with communication, too much media, superficiality, cynicism, increased sense of loneliness in our world, community, organizations, and families.

At this point she asked if anyone knew how to mind map. Two older (~60’s) male leadership consultants and one older female administrator volunteered their mind mapping talents. Meg handed them markers and they turned to the whiteboard to draw Venn diagramed spiders outlines, waiting to be filled in by our mutual minds. The purpose of the circles on the whiteboard was to visually show the interconnectedness between relationships and what affects them.
The dynamic changed and you could feel a sense of emotion and creative energy heighten. The two men took center stage and the woman slipped off to the side. It was very apparent that the men had slipped into roles of taking control, and I reflected that similar to many educated people, all you have to do is give them a whiteboard and a marker and they will carry the group torch. The energy became more unwieldy with people shouting out words, disagreeing over categories, and showing irritation with the two male facilitators. By this point the woman facilitator was sitting down in a chair by the side and one of the men drew a line over to her connected to the main circle inviting her to participate more, she declined, my observation being that she already felt there were enough chefs stirring the pot. Many of the women participants were uncomfortable with her lack of presence, and I too noted a sense of irritation and anger in recognition of having to “be assertive” to be noticed in many male run organizations. Points of view and emotions were flying, with prong personality styles in order to be heard and seen. I reflected on how desperate we all were to be acknowledged, and how difficult it was for us to let go of our opinions and agendas till we were. I saw that no one was really listening to the other, and everyone appeared to be competing for some nebulous recognition, but from whom, was hard to say. I caught a few people who were smiling at the chaos, some looked sad, others irritated, and still others continued to go at it on the whiteboard. I recognized myself in all these poses at one time or another, and felt an overwhelming sense of sadness at how hard it is to work as a group, a feeling I’ve hit many times in team situations, feeling that the whole thing wasn’t workable and just too hard. One person suggested that we stop and move back to a circle form, which would facilitate dialog, rather than shouting at the whiteboard. We did this, and again started trying to communicate about the dynamic in the room, each sensing that something had shifted that felt uncomfortable. I understood again why people choose isolation and was extremely grateful when someone suggested we take a coffee break.

We all rambled out into the hallway. The energy level of the group was higher than I’d seen it so far. People were laughing, arguing, and talking quickly. One of the men in the group came up and mock strangled me saying that he thought I had shoulders broad enough to handle it (he’s a very nice guy, who had liked my comments). I was standing next to Meg and asked him if he felt irritated? He said he couldn’t stand the tension. I replied that it had made me feel sad. Meg said “that’s good you should notice that,” I then noted the group and pointed out to her how much more intimate and energetic we all were with each other after getting stirred up in the room, she suggested I share that reflection with the group when we get back to the room. I looked around to see people standing closer, some with their arms round each other commiserating. A few of us looked at the other sighed, shaking heads in empathetic recognition.
Leadership Vacuum
When we assembled back in the room I looked around and noticed Meg wasn’t there, pointing it out to the group. The fellow who had strangled me issued a statement from Meg saying, ”Meg has chosen to not be here, she has suggested that you continue, and she is available if you need her”. Stunned silence met the news. A few people laughed out loud, some people looked really confused and sad. People repeatedly asked Meg’s poor friend for clarification and he kept repeating the same statement.

The energy at this point shifted dramatically, and statements mostly focused between, what we were going to do, how should we govern ourselves, what was the purpose of our being here, could we get Meg back right away, etc. I shared the observation that we had increased our energy and intimacy with each other, and that seemed to have been essential to building a learning community, which I thought was the purpose of being here. Nobody responded, I would have felt hurt but then realized that no one was responding to anyone. We were like dried corn in a hot pan, popping off with various disassociated comments, competing for attention, with noessential dialog or point.

The most heated issue related to why Meg had left. Many people were very concerned and felt they couldn’t continue without her. As there was still an hour left to lunch, I too wondered what we were going to do with the time. Some of the group (myself included) felt it was obvious that we were being set up to react and interrelate with each other; wanted to see what would happen, and didn’t particularly want Meg back in the room right then. A lot of chaotic conversation ensued, bickering, raised voices, a few looked overwhelmed, disturbed, some looked extremely happy and interested. A couple of people flipped through their notes reading aloud statements Meg had previously made, which one participant derisively coined, the “Gospel of Meg Wheatley.” It was apparent that people still were not listening to each other. Someone recommended taking a minute to bow (Japanese style) to each other as a group, a gesture they felt offered positive regard and intention, as well as a moment of cohesiveness. This we all agreed would be good. Consensus emerged for a second and we bowed, and were quiet for a minute.

One of the men, who had been raised in a Maori culture in New Zealand, recommended we use a talking stick. Again there was consensus that this would be good, and I noted how we revert to primitive forms because they are so basic and instinctively work in groups. Further, contrary to the mind mapping system, (which had caused strife, competition, raised authority/gender issues, and muddied communication) this more primitive system was facilitating further listening. I wondered about how many of the sophisticated systems we develop actually keep us from experiencing emotions or intimacy with each other. Do they instead control attention toward goals and objectives, which may not always be as important to the health of a learning community? The fellow from NZ put a remote control video clicker in the middle of the circle on the floor (the irony of Meg’s “remote control” was not lost to me). I liked this placement because you really had to decide if what your were saying was worth schlepping all the way to the middle of the circle and back. This simple commitment increased thoughtfulness to people’s statements, and the listening became much deeper.

The same issues were raised, but there was a greater sense of emotion and several people got choked up when they spoke. One fellow made a particularly poignant statement about how difficult it was to communicate as a group and began to cry, which seemed to touch everyone. A few people responded to emotional outpourings as being more authentic, and less conceptual, a point in which I disagreed (not usually wanting to display strong emotion publicly, or feeling that was necessarily more authentic than thoughts), still I felt admiration for people who were open enough to take public risks. Some people who had been quiet pointed out that they had been quiet, with suggestions that the more extroverted talkers do the same. This smelled a little self righteous to me, (I smugly observed, aren’t projections fun?) and it was interesting to see people using more subtle methods to gain attention via sighs, moans and active body language. People did became gentler with each other, though I noticed and pointed out to the group that every time an action was suggested, like voting on something, wanting to get Meg, or asking for consensus, the energy and chaos would rise up again and we would become frozen in lack of agreement on how to proceed.

We seemed to be stuck in a yearning for agreement and action, as well as a desire to recognize and respect individual, diverse, viewpoints. We also seemed greatly in need of a leader, and familiar confused emotions of being in meetings that lacked leadership surfaced. Some people looked to me like they were being purposely obstinate, I recognized a similar irritation with seeing that in other teams I’d worked with, and again wondered about my own projections. The minutes were ticking by, and lunchtime had begun. A couple of people had left, but we still could not reach consensus on ending the session. Feeling hungry and tired and not liking how people were dribbling out, I asked if we could just bow. There was general relief, and intuitive consensus by enough of a majority that everyone just did it. Most people then got up to leave, while a few looked stricken and hurt that the group was closing for the day. At this point my sympathy was with myself, I was tired, and felt like we would be there all day, without any sense of closure if we continued. Peoples straggled toward the main hall to eat, and continue conversations in small pairings. Everyone looked exhausted.

Day 4 Leadership Appreciation Day
We all returned the next day to greet Meg’s continued absence. Her friend delivered another message stating that she was available if we needed her. The group spent the next half hour in a do we/don’t we need her discussion. We again reached the same governing issues of wanting consensus, with several people feeling we still needed closure on what had happened the previous day. Several people became very frustrated stating that they had made an investment of time and money to learn from Meg about Leadership, and if she didn’t reappear they would leave. A suggestion was made to ask if anyone strongly disagreed with asking Meg to come back. A few hands were raised. Issues were raised again. Again people were polled as to their hesitations, now only a couple of participants raised hands and the pressure of the group was focused on those folks who replied that they would not stand in the way of the majorities feelings of wanting Meg’s presence. There was a consensus to get Meg. Several people, including myself walked out into the hallway (I needed to use the bathroom). While getting water I saw Meg seated with a couple of men and said hi. I asked her if anyone had requested her to come back yet, and she replied “no.” I said, “Well the group wants you to return” just as several participants rounded the corner. She said fine and came back to the classroom. On the way back her friend said “well you were right, it took them about a half hour.”

Back in the room, we all reconvened in a circle. Meg sat in a chair with us and nothing was said, or asked of her. Instead we all continued rehashing the same issues, but now in a more past tense way, like something was over. One of the participants mentioned this, saying that this is what they had feared, that as soon as we had a leader back in the group, the dynamic exchange would be replaced by trying to impress Meg, or slip into conceptualization. Soon a woman who had been one of the last holdouts began to cry stating that she felt very unpopular with the group now. Empathizing with the feeling of being a “Cassandra”, or bearer of sometimes unpopular viewpoints, I spoke out for how difficult a role that was to be in, especially when dealing with organizational dysfunction or hidden agendas. Sort of a, I don’t agree with your viewpoint, but I admire your courage to share it. The talk went on in a somewhat aimless mix of thoughts, emotions and responses. I wondered if we were a community. Is a community more than just a group in time and place? Did we need a shared purpose, and if the purpose was to explore leadership and learning communities were we fulfilling it, or merely wasting time? After awhile someone suggested a tea break. This seemed as good a thought as any.

We reassembled and again I noticed Meg had again left the room. This was getting to take on a surreal edge, a group game of “Where’s Waldo?” or better rephrased as where’s our leader? Meg’s friend stated, “Meg has chosen not to be here until you can tell her what role you would like her to play in this group, she will wait till 10:30, and if someone doesn’t come get her, will leave the building.”

Once again we entered into what was becoming to me a painfully boring process of debate. People shared, postured, quoted songs, sayings, and argued. The minutes ticked by and at 10:25 someone said that we needed to take action, or by not doing anything Meg would leave. The reality of going on as we had been, seemed to motivate most everyone to come to a decision, which was that we; wanted Meg to be there to teach us about leadership, and to help us process what we had been going through. Someone left to get Meg and she reappeared.
This time Meg came in and began to talk. Relief was in the air, and people looked more relaxed that something had ended. Meg stated that because she had left the group, creating a leadership vacuum, she could not return to her role as leader/facilitator without being specifically requested to do so by the group.

We began to rehash the last session with her. People were interested in why she had left, and were curious about her motivation in setting us up for such confusion. She replied that her inspiration to leave had been unplanned, and she had simply thought that our mutual expertise would take allow us to handle, and explore the dynamic better without her. When some revealed to feeling somewhat tortured by the process it was generally done with good humor. Meg emphasized that there was a leadership vacuum, because she hadn’t really handed that role off to any other person before leaving, and as we didn’t have an authentic reason for working together besides the module participation, it would have been impossible for us to manage much of anything. She predicted that eventually people would have just walked away.

I found Meg’s presence to be reassuring; she has a powerful personality that communicates her experience and knowledge. While somewhat remote, you have the sense that she can hone in quickly when need arises, and she is a very skilled observer of group dynamics. I felt her interest in helping others, and belief in human goodness underlies her work, and it is this crucial aspect that keeps her from seeming cold, or manipulative. I think it was at that point that I felt a little in awe of how rare and valuable a good leader is, and reflected on how my confusion regarding authority has often made me ambivalent to leaders I’ve worked with in the past. I think I’ve remained distantly critical of many leaders, waiting to see their weak spots as an excuse to not follow them. The last couple of days showed me how crucial a leader was to a group’s mission. I wondered if it was necessary for one person to hold the vision for the group, so that participants could have room to experiment with ideas, get to know each other, and create new perspectives and plans. I also saw that leadership is a temporary manifestation, and that one can assume that role as needed without necessarily being caught by it permanently. This was important to me, because I really don’t like the role of managing people when I feel like it’s just telling others what to do. I questioned if instead I could view leadership as helping to create a shared idea, where I don’t have to hold the baton, and if that would feel more comfortable. Maybe feeling comfortable really wasn’t the point; however riding out chaos doesn’t seem the point either. I felt that what I was lacking was reflection and perspective. I hadn’t come to many conclusions; just further questions about what leadership could look like in action. I did feel that Meg’s showing us what leadership does, and doesn’t feel like, via a group experience was more powerful than any book I’d read, or lecture attended.

Meg pointed out to the group that to be a leader is to be opportunistic in a gentle way, and she stressed that we need to see each other for expertise. She stressed the necessity to develop a sense of where you want people to end up, and then seize the moment. This would be contrasted to being more “tool” oriented, where you keep applying a system of thought to each situation. She emphasized that if all you have is a tool you will look at the world with that view (If you have a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail). Using a theory is different, because it is a vision of where you’re heading, the discipline comes in raising it to the level of explicitness. To be able to reflect and articulate where you are headed.

Group Process in a Learning Community
In working with others in organization, Meg suggests that we have to develop agreements on how we will learn, and act together, and share our aspirations of how we will be as a learning community. We have to learn how to be learners in a group and understand common processes. She points out that in a group the first dynamic is always “please see me” so we have to develop acknowledgment and reciprocity, in order to begin any process of working together.

When looking at the process, the question that needs to be asked is, does it promote a community of learners? To do this you have to create systems that bring the whole larger system into the room – then passage through the arising chaos. Chaos is what we experience when we let go of our ideas, certainties, and feels overwhelmed and depressed by the complexity and difficulty of the issue. You have to experience giving up, and combine that with a time boundary/container. This helps you to see when enough is enough.

As a leader she looks for a sense of the group needing to move forward, and checks the energy level, to see when it looks like people are just going around again, and notice when they get stuck.

She finds that agreements about how we will be together are more helpful to define after people go through some process together. That you have to have some feeling of “we” to make the possibilities and agreements more meaningful, so people will see the value, rather than just play lip service to being reasonable. She stresses that people need to talk about the purpose of the community, in order to create a shared understanding. We need to look at what we are doing together, the reality of it, our shared interpretation rather than just people’s opinions.

Meg related her admiration for learning practices she observed in the military. The army has an exercise called “after action review” to help make the learning explicit to those who were involved in an activity. In this exercise all participants are considered equal observers and asked to share their insights into three questions:
1. What just happened? – And you expect to hear different stories.
2. Why do you think it happened? – Your interpretation of experience
3. What can we learn from this? Why is this important, and how will you apply it in the future?
She points out that for many organizations the stakes have to be high enough to do this (like dying, or losing others lives). Though it’s interesting to imagine the power of a group reflecting like this after a stressful project or period.
Meg emphasizes that if you’re using chaos to access creativity and insight, then your act of leadership, is to engage to move things to action.
The day’s session ended with a homework assignment to reflect on these areas:
1. What are you learning about authentic leadership?
2. What are you learning about leaning communities?
3. What are you learning about your own learning?

Day 5 The Creative Process
The next morning we met at a different building, within the Mount St. Vincent’s campus. Meg assembled us in a room with paper and markers. She asked us to divide into three groups based on what we viewed as our most compelling issue from the preceding days homework. Which was:
Learning about authentic leadership
Learning about leaning communities
Learning about your own learning
She asked us to brainstorm some of the aspects of learning we had experienced from these different perspectives.
Being old hands on the perils and challenges of “brainstorming” from previous days, I noticed everyone in our group was cooperative and well mannered, willing to share markers and paper. (Of course I had chosen the learning communities group, and we may have just been more community minded…). We created a list, and one more visual participant created a schematic model that illustrated our ideas. We disbanded and a member kept the lists for future work the next day.
The module participants were then asked to move to the gymnasium. In †here were two creative process instructors, Arawana Hyachi and Jerry Grinelli. Arawana is a dancer and instructor, specializing in Bughaku, a form of Japanese Imperial Court Dance. Jerry is a jazz musician who has worked on many recordings. They had us assemble in a circle and Arawana began to discuss working with body movements without sound. She did some extremely funny and revealing imitations of various walks and postures that people exhibit, asking us to experience our own walk and postures, and reflect on what it communicates to others and ourselves. We lay down on the floor amidst self-conscious laughter. She asked us to close our eyes and simply feel our bodies, then continue to subtle and larger movements, to walking around with eyes closed feeling our own and others movements in the room. There was some occasional soft collisions and laughter, but everyone seemed to be curious to try the exercise.
Jerry then led us through an exercise of incorporating a variety of sounds with our movements. We would move to the sounds we were making. From low to loud, short to long, low to high noises. As a group it was a cacophony of noise similar to what one might here at a cocktail party from a distance.
The last exercise involved working with another person in a slow improvised reflective dance. I partnered with a fellow from England that I’d had little interaction with. We began to quietly circle round and our “dance” became very tender and light hearted. We discussed later, that we both saw and appreciated much different aspects of each other in the exercise, noting that we had shared a quick experience that was both memorable and intimate. This was interesting to me, because I rely so much on speech to communicate. I often forget, or ignore the tremendous amount of communication that goes on through our bodies. In fact, speech can often become an obstacle to communication, relying on words to communicate ineffable feelings. It was ironic to both of us, that it was our words, which had depicted a different image than our bodies, and that had we just been paired up to talk, we would have never discovered further aspects to the other. I have often noticed this same experience working with others, especially children. When I want to really get to know what is going on in someone else’s mind I usually find that it’s best to do something with them that is simple, such as taking a walk, or creating something that doesn’t require total concentration. We often build intimacy with others best through not speaking, but instead by experiencing together, a shared activity. This aspect is essential to understand when managing and working with others, that it is the simple, often seemingly mundane experiences that allow us to communicate more deeply with others.
The ramifications for online learning communities would therefore require some creative interactions to access this same potential. Perhaps people could be paired to create graphics, music, or avatars that could interact in cyberspace to achieve similar processes. I have experienced writing group poetry online and found it to be a powerful way to play with words that can provide deeper sharing, and insight then mere “chat” or discussion.
When we gathered after the exercise for discussion and reflection, many people noted that it had been a tremendous relief to work quietly together getting out of our habitual talking. Everyone had experienced the limitations and frustrations of trying to communicate with words the last few days, and we were all ripe for some creative silence together. Arawana and Jerry shared humorous insights that the reason they, and many of their contemporaries in the arts, had gotten into music, movement, painting, and other mediums, is that they were frustrated, or had exhausted the limitation of spoken language, finding it more fulfilling to express themselves through other methods.
I really liked this insight and reflected again on how much of our experience is beyond language to express, that it is often the limits of language, and not our experience that binds us to mundane chatter. With the exceptions of some gifted writers and poets, what we experience with each other is far richer than most of us can name, and often, we are more articulate through the environments we create, or the music, art, or movements we make. When creating interfaces for online learning the environmental aspect often seems to get lost in technology. All of us are constantly entering each others worlds, and how you graphically present yourself online in terms of creating e-learning or community environments, can have powerful consequences for how a technology too gets used, or not. A common graphic theme in current corporate sites is to use grays and blues, as background colors to communicate a “professional/clean” appearance. However this often comes across as cold, and impersonal, (which may be what corporations view as professional) and certainly impacts the interactions of users. If we want to create places for people to share information, and work together online, then we may need to pay more attention to the cyberspace environments we create, even if at the expense of technology.
The group ended for the day in relaxed, comfortable conversation, and the sad realization that the conference would soon be ending.

Day 6 Final Performance and summation

We met the next morning and gathered in a circle to talk. Meg began by circulating an advertisement from the military that promoted a sense of certainty and threat to destroy those who disagreed. She shared that she felt increasingly unnerved by the “political adolescent male posturing” of our current administration, and affirmed her dedication to getting politically involved to work for change. She asked us all to reflect on what we were going to take back from this experience, for ourselves and other communities. Asking, “what have you learned that would be a gift for others to use?” “How are you going to bring Authentic Leadership into your own lives, and to the greater political community?”
She talked about the early settlers who when reaching the foothills of the Rockies, had to assess what they needed to leave behind, and what would be necessary for the journey ahead. What was essential to take for creating a new community on the other side of the continental divide? Faced with hauling excess weight and risking the journey was the: piano, and china, art, or tools essential? What of the weak and old, and young? What place did compassion, and appreciation for intangibles have on future community survival? Some recognized potential value, and their diligence in caring for others, and items of meaning made them more precious. When we look at our own paths, what can we leave behind? What is our own personal baggage and what is our lack of self-confidence to make the journey? What aspects of ourselves, our lives, and values must we preserve at all costs? What do we leave behind, and what is worth dragging over the mountains?
Meg believes in the transformative power of social action. She has made her living viewing trends, and changes in how communities interact. Currently she feels a great deal of apprehension about the world’s directions towards further, militarism, fundamentalism, blind certainty, and unwillingness to listen and communicate. She also feels that Western Civilizations general assumptions about “human nature” need to be questioned, as they are being used as excuses for lowered expectations, and distrust of each other’s motivations. She points out that contrary to many assumptions, the groups that are most generous are those who live within poverty. Their shared struggle develops empathy and shared humanness. It is harder to ignore others suffering when you live beside it. In her journeys through third world cultures she has observed acts of courageous generosity between people, who give to each other through famine and disasters. She notes the experience of people stopping and risking their lives to help others on September 11th I reflected on the times I had been in emergency situations, the instinctive need to want to help, and how that innate instinct becomes frustrated and overwhelmed when at a distance, wondering where, or how to begin. Her definition of leadership is, “just anyone who wants to help at this time” so in developing our own leadership we have to ask:
Where can I be of help?
Where am I acting from fear?
We have to have recognition of universal human experience, especially fear- and be willing to acknowledge and hold it as the starting place to open our hearts. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the common emotion of feeling afraid, or overwhelmed, builds empathy for similar feelings in others, this empathy can transform your heart, making you more available to be of help.
She quoted writings from Thomas Merton from a letter where he shares the difficulties of leading others, and trying to effect change. In this letter, he contemplates his life and the contribution he wants to make, the ongoing dance of hope and hopelessness in challenging situations, he asks, where will we find our strength if thing don’t work out the way we would like? Meg also recited the poem “Counting to Twelve” by Pablo Neruda emphasizing the line of “Needing to interrupt that terrible sadness”
When I reflect on this last part of her talk, I think about how she had previously stressed the need to feel overwhelmed and sad within chaos, in order to let go, and allow insight to arise. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the tragedies of this world, getting stuck in sadness, depression, or frozen into inaction by the difficulties of dealing with seemingly impossible situations. True leadership seems to come about by manifesting energy and action through a vision of what things could, and should be.
Coincidently, I was reading Ghandhi’s biography while in Nova Scotia, and was touched by the power of this seemingly ineffective man, a poor student, failed lawyer in his thirties, unremarkable in every way except for his view that Indians where being unfairly treated in South Africa. Despite that, he was able to take this simple observation, and start a movement, which eventually led to the overthrow of British colonization in India. That he is still viewed, as one of the greatest 20th C leaders, affirms Meg’s vision of Leadership. We do not need to be prepared or credentialed to be a leader; we do need to be passionate, committed and opportunistic in the methods with which we achieve our objectives. If it is a shared vision, needed and helpful to others, then we may find voice in improving our organizations, communities, and the larger world.
We paused for a break and then reconvened to go over the previous days brainstorming results. Meg shared that there was an open invitation from the Institute, for all of the modules to create a group summary of the weeks learning and reflection. She asked if this was something we wanted to do. Everyone thought this would be fun; I think we were all yearning for less talk and more activity. We again split up into the three groups with our previous days notes. In the learning community grouping, we decided to create an imitation in mime, with sign placards labeling what aspect we were manifesting within the group. We labeled paper with essential elements of a learning community, such as:
Container and boundary
Silence and Space
Chaos and order
Love and Fear
Sharing and Competition
Safety and tension
Stillness and action

We then each took a label and walked around, comically bumping into each other, to eventually form a circle (This was a definitely a “had to be there” performance.) But from my perspective it was funny, touching and symbolic of our week long process. The leadership group then performed a simulated flock of geese, changing positions as each person assumed the “head goose” spot, they then formed a circle where each member went out to the audience to acknowledge the others presence. Lastly the “individual learners” group stood in a circle, while one member read their summary out loud.

It was time to say our module goodbyes; Meg thanked us, leaving evaluations for us to fill out.

We left for lunch. Later that afternoon, the entire conference gathered in the auditorium, which was a large room with a raised stage. Each module presented their performance summaries. They were all wonderful, funny, intelligent, creative showcases of lessons learned, and were similar in being performed through movements, as well as words. As the largest module, with thirty-six participants, our group had to stand in rows on the stage. Meg came out in a Styrofoam lobster hat, took the mike and said “in building a learning community blah, blah, blah, turn to each other, blah, blah, leadership, ya, da, ya, da, turn to each other,” and handed the mike to one of the participants. He then took her hat, sweater, and purse, and said,
“Meg left, and we became – Being Margaret Wheatley”.

Our groups displayed their various routines, amid much laughter and delight from the audience. I think we had developed a reputation as a somewhat outrageous and edgy group over the week, so folks were curious as to how we would manifest.

The afternoon turned to evening, the cash bar opened, and people changed into more formal wear for the last night’s banquet. Food, drink, toasts, poems, and heartfelt goodbyes ended the night, and the conference.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

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