Generating ideas, connections, and action

What If…

I lead a session during the summer at Leadership Chautauqua that brought together funders, program staff and researchers who care deeply about community leadership.  The venue integrated arts, deep conversation, catalytic ideas from researchers, not to mention food, music, fun and even a great big tent.  It was a refreshing meeting that reminded participants that learning can be rejuvenating, fun, and peer driven.

My session was formally titled, “Changing Paradigms,” but the subtitle of this session was “What If?”  Participants were invited to come and be prepared to ask the wild “what if” questions that challenge assumptions about “what is” and expand imagination about “what could be.” The session started with a game show format -- the leadership development results version of “Three Truths and a Lie.”  Four leadership results scenarios were described to participants and they were asked to pick the one that was a lie.  There were prizes, but no one won.  Most thought the example of the ReAMP energy network stopping the production of 30 coal plants and passing some of the toughest emission standards in the Midwest was a lie. It wasn’t.  We talked about how it was accomplished and began to wonder if maybe this might not be a great example of leadership development, even though nobody called it that. After all, they convened a group of 17 people together periodically over a year and supported them with facilitation and training in systems mapping and understanding themselves in the context of a larger system.

The example launched us into a “what if” conversation.  One woman described her health work engaging and developing people in a community and wondered what if this is leadership development, even though she never thought of it that way.  The “what ifs” continued around what we might have to unlearn, change or imagine, to reach new possibilities in community development.  Some of the questions were:

·     What if we did not have to evaluate our programs and prove their worth in a year?

·     What if we just have to get out of the way?

·     What if we are holding back young people who have different ideas about leadership?

It was great to have a chance to sit with questions and not have to rush to answers.  Questions can open doors -- it’s when we think we have all the answers that the doors slam shut. I would like to invite you to sit back for a minute and think about what “what ifs” might be bubbling up for you.

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