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Leadership Tip: Taking Time to Re-Think (or Remember) the Big Picture


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Getting The Basics Right

Establishing a clear sense of purpose is an essential first step when developing a community of learning and practice for participants of leadership programs. This seems like a no brainer but without this step, folks may be holding different assumptions about why they are participating in the community or what they hope to achieve together.

The thought of having 15 or 25 leadership participants wordsmithing for hours is simply discouraging, but there are ways to make it work. One lesson we can share is that starting out with a short purpose statement and then working with the participants to modify it allows the group to focus the conversation and use the time more efficiently. Here’s a concrete example of how this may work: in a recent exercise, we started with the following purpose statement: “To harvest our diverse experiences to collectively generate and share knowledge that can transform ourselves, our work and society.” We knew the statement needed some work, but it was a way to channel the conversation. The process we followed was simple:

  1. Ask participants to add words and map them
  2. Remove all the phrases and terms that make people uncomfortable, e.g. we used the phrase “mining knowledge,” and a participant pointed out it may have some negative connotations, so we crossed it out in favor of “harvesting”
  3. Encourage people to reflect on the final map. We did not try to rewrite a new purpose statement because we wanted to spend time making sense of the meaning behind the map, and not necessarily finding the “right” terms. This exercise gave participants a fuller sense of purpose as a community that they could own

Taking The Next Step

This is where many of us stop, but taking the next step and developing a clear vision can help the group “find opportunities, make decisions, and venture forth in a much more clear and purposeful way,” according to well-renowned environmentalist Donella Meadow. The goal is, as Peter Senge describes, to focus on “What you really want, not what you are willing to settle for.” We used a modification of Meadow’s visioning exercise with a learning community of health leadership programs and were inspired by the outcome. As we asked participants to share their visions of a world five years from now –if we were all successful beyond our wildest dreams– we noticed that almost all of the visions had to do with healthy lifestyles (farmers markets with access to fresh produce in every community, an abundance of green spaces with bike and walking paths, school produce gardens). As we reflected upon the vision we noticed an interesting point – most of the participants were working in treatment. Taking time to develop or revisit our visions without worrying about limitations can spur unimagined solutions.

This is just one exercise for visioning (see attachment for more information.) Please share approaches or tools you have used or your experiences with this and other visioning exercises.

VisioningTemplate_DonellaMeadows.pdf153.05 KB