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.
Click on this link to find out more about these presenters modules
and topic resources. http://email@example.com/2003_upcoming/2003_modules.html
My part of the conference was to moderate the Institute’s
online forum, encourage discussion, help maintain the site, and
assist participants with the technology platform. The problem was,
that since its introduction in 2002, the participants had underused
the platform, even though participants were requesting post conference
support, communication and resource materials. My role, as an instructional
designer, would be to; attend the conference, investigate the issues
with the platform while helping participants, and make recommendations
regarding enhancement of the coaching platforms interactive component,
to strengthen the post conference online experience.
The platform was reintroduced to participants three months
before the conference began through e-mailed invitations. People
would respond to these invitations by clicking on a sent link to
a registration page that where they would login to their modules
topic area. There they could introduce themselves, post files, graphics,
htmls, and read resource material, and talk with other participants.
Participants had varying degrees of difficulty with this first step,
and I spent time talking them through the tool via e-mails.
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 offers access
to only the Margaret Wheatley module.)
The users for this platform are all unusually intelligent, most
of whom hold leadership positions in their organizations. They came
from all over the world working in third world countries as well
as major cities. Most were technically savvy using e-mail, and had
their own computers. There were language issues, and world schedule
considerations such as time changes, as many travel for their work.
The conference 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
Rationale for Approach
While moderating the Commons I kept an informal list of
issues, and questions people were having with the site. These e-mails
were archived in the administration section of the Shambhala Institute
for future review. While at the conference, I informally interviewed
participants throughout the week, asking for their thoughts on the
Commons, their anticipated needs for post conference resources and
information. The Institute collected participant evaluations on
the last evening, which also covered specific issues around the
Commons, and post-conference support. Similar to the previous year,
people did not use the Commons post-conference. I researched usability
issues, while also looking at past lessons learned in message design,
and instructional design classes. I collected the research, notes
and feedback I had received and synthesized the information as a
feedback document to the Institute
The results of my observation are shown
in the link below.
here to see the feedback to the Institute on the Commons Usability.
The head of the Institute wrote me a letter with some ideas
collected from the evaluations. I responded by interjecting comments
to her letter, and then sent my feedback on observations, ideas,
and recommendations for how to; improve usability of the Commons,
as well as how to enhance and encourage the post-conference e-learning
Evidence of Value
After this letter, responses and e-mail flew back and forth
for a couple of weeks. Generally it was well received, though it’s
always challenging to hear feedback, and everyone offered constructive
information. The Institute met with a graphic designer, and also
scheduled a meeting with the technology platform creators to research
what control they have over the interface. They also brainstormed
further issues on creating e-learning communities, which my report
had raised, and will use these for future planning. The Institute
is currently collecting information to create a future e-zine. Lastly,
I am sending them a CD as an example of other media delivery systems.
The evidence for value of the impact of my usability feedback is
shown in the invitation that will be sent out to participants this
Click here to see the Invitation Letter
that is being prepared for Conference participants
I work with this project every couple of days, and predict
it will be an ongoing aspect of my online life and summer vacations.
I learned from the experience of working with the Institute in a
variety of roles, and it’s difficult to explore all these
different aspects in reflection.
This was my first usability review away from
the University, and I agonized for several weeks how to tactfully
say what I had observed. I tend to be fairly strait-forward, and
probably could improve my communication skills,( though if I hadn’t
been strong, people might not have listened.) Also I really like
these people and want to continue to build a relationship with the
Institute. It was like throwing a big rock in a pond and waiting
for the splash to diminish. The people at the Institute are open,
thoughtful, and intelligent and handled criticism well. They also
brought up many good points about the technology interface limitations
that taught me a lot.
Regarding reflections on the module attended;
I wrote this as a class project on Leadership with Joni Dunlap,
and also as a summary for Margaret Wheatley and the Institute, to
promote further participant conversation and reflection on Leadership.
Click here to see
reflections on the Margaret Wheatley Module
of Competency 1:
Continued improvement of professional practice that requires critical
inquiry, professional development, and reflective practice
This project met this competency by being an avenue to further my
professional pratice and development. Being associated with this
conference opens up a world of net-working possibilities, as well
as excellent future training. I am becoming more clear as to my
future goals, and believe that I will eventually do something in
the field of Instructional Design for Leadership Training and Human
Demonstration of Competency
Designs instruction or human performance strategy to meet the needs
This responsibility was met by the usability study I wrote regarding
improving the Commons as an online post-conference resource and
learning community. In the study I suggest several design changes
that I thought would facilitate its use.
Demonstration of Competency
Manages complex projects and resources in support of learning
By taking a leadership role in looking at usability issues in the
Institute I believe I have met this competency. This project required
observation of the tool and user interaction, analysis of overall
goals of the Institute, researching and reflection of successful
e-learning communities, and the ability to communicate this information
to the clients. That the clients have incorporated most of my suggestions
supports the belief in my success.
Wheatley Module Days 1 through 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
Margaret Wheatley: Leadership Inquiry
Click on this link to find out more about these presenters modules
and topic resources. http://firstname.lastname@example.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.
Her aspirations for our work as a group, which she defined as her
systems perspective, was that together we would become a true learning
To develop a rich understanding of some major dynamics effecting
our own leadership
To comprehend how those impact us, our organization, community,
To strengthen our own capacity to lead
To experience our true learning capacity
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
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
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
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
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.
Where do you have the opportunity to bring in time to reflect in
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
2. Why do you think it happened? – Your interpretation of
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
“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.