Generating ideas, connections, and action

What’s love got to do with it?

What’s love got to do with it? Catchy, isn’t it? Well I thought so when I saw this as the title for a GEO conference session (www.geofunders.org) I read on, “This session will question the current paradigm and hypothesize that we are not fully tapping the power of inner resources and human relationships for social change.” As I read this I thought about a speech I heard last summer at a national reunion for Kellogg fellows in Estes Park, Colorado. The speech by Parker Palmer made the trip worth while, and yes, of course it was fun to gather with close to 200 former Kellogg fellows in a stunningly beautiful place. (BTW, the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance is an interesting and well developed model of alumni organizing for those who would like to take a look (www.kfla.org). The speech by Parker Palmer has been reprinted as a chapter, “The Politics of the Broken Hearted” in the book, Deepening the American Dream, Reflections on the Inner Life and Spirit of Democracy, a Fetzer Institute publication.

His speech and article were devoted to the practices that open the human heart enabling us to hold tensions honestly, patiently, and persistently as part of bolstering a democratic culture. When I think about the training component that is a critical piece of most leadership development work I find myself realizing that without sharing the content of our trainings we are not in a conversation about what we believe is most fundamentally at the heart of leadership, i.e. if there are any universal tenants of leadership that cut across our various contexts. Parker Palmer suggests that “deep inner work” is so fundamental that the work we do or don’t do as individuals will be expressed in our organizational and political life. He had a lot of interesting ideas about what this would look like. I definitely recommend his article.

I wanted to share just one of his ideas about majority rule vs. consensus that stuck with me. I will start by admitting that I have been known to join in the ‘eye rolling’ at the mention of consensus building…as if it’s an idealistic indulgence that paralyzes action. Palmer talks about the “habits of the heart engendered by the two processes, different habits of listening and speaking that reflect different ways of dealing with difference.” We tend to resolve the tension of difference from which deeper understandings and solutions would grow with a quick time saving vote. Instead of resolving issues this approach often creates disenfranchised (or losers) who are driven underground or to protest. According to Parker description, I misunderstood consensus to mean that no one can move forward with a decision until everyone agrees. He describes consensus as a shared understanding that a group will not move forward if one of its members feels a deep need to oppose a decision based on the grounds of conscience. In a consensus the group seeks and listens for the synthesis that will produce a superior resolution and build community instead of warring factions and as Parker summarizes, “Consensus teaches us to be better collaborative listeners and speakers who hold tension in a generative way.”

I am not suggesting consensus in all situations. I am well versed in the criticisms and yet am drawn to an emerging theme in leadership development about the way we listen to one another, learn from each other, embrace difference, work together and do the inner work that enables generative relationships with others. I would love to hear more about these processes which are far more than process but an alignment of values in leadership practices. What are you trying to support and develop in leadership, and how are you doing it?