Last week we trained 130 change leaders in our Model for Unleashing through our partnership with the South West Academic Health Sciences Network at Dartington Hall (shown above). This week we’re at it again – this time in Wales – with 50+ change leaders brought together by the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, the Life Sciences Center and the Bevan Commission. Joe, Selena and I are so grateful for their tremendous hospitality and commitment to making big change in the world, especially throughout the UK’s National Health Service.
In addition to feeling like I had landed at Hogwarts, I’m reflecting on one of the most magical things endings to one of our workshops that I’ve ever experienced last week.
We always end our trainings with a “one word check-out” to conclude our time together. Throughout the week, I’m always on the lookout for someone who might have something special to share with the group. Last week, we were joined by Chris Lubbe, who – in addition to being an inspirational speaker and coach – was Nelson Mandela’s bodyguard for the last nine years of his life. Chris shared his own thoughts with all of us about the African philosophy of “Ubuntu” which translates into “I am because we are.” I had goosebumps and was holding back tears as Chris spoke about returning with Nelson Mandela to the prison where he had been kept all those years and watching him chip away a piece of limestone rock to remember that experience. As he was dying, Nelson Mandela gave Chris that same rock and Chris now carries it with him everywhere as a reminder of his own experience of Ubuntu. There was not a dry eye in the room.
I’m excited to see what this week will bring with the group from Wales!
If you tried to get in touch with me this past August, you got my out of office message that I would be out for the entire month. This is the first time in my adult life I’ve given myself permission to take an entire month off at once and I have to tell you – it was every bit as awesome as you can imagine!
I want to encourage everyone I know to give yourself the gift of taking a significant break from your day-to-day routine. As a result of that month away I am clearer than ever on my purpose (to deeply experience, love and respect the wholeness of the web of life) and my priorities (to assert a new paradigm of leadership, one that is authentic, bold, creative and fully embodied. Leadership that gets big things done in the world in a way that is also life-affirming and sustainable for the leader).
I spent some time working on a book that I intend to have published by the end of the year. Our working title is “How to Save the World Without Losing Yourself.” More on that soon, but one of the things I did while I was working on the book was review the feedback forms from our last couple of Skid Row School for Large-Scale Change workshops. I was struck by the huge change in thinking that people experienced over just 3 days in our workshop and wanted to share with you 13 of my favorite responses to the prompt, “I used to thing ‘x’ about leading large-scale change, now I think ‘y’….” Here they are:
It’s so hard and there’s limited place for fun, lightness and play; now I believe play lightness, and fun are essential ingredients to leading large-scale change.
I used to believe that it required political will to get started and keep momentum. Now I believe it’s started by thoughtful organizers and sustained by connection to humanity.
I used to believe it was nearly impossible without a “killer ap.” Now I believe it’s possible with good process.
I used to believe this was mostly about strategy and planning and now I believe I need to think much more about culture and leadership as well.
I used to believe leading change was largely a technical challenge but now I believe it won’t happen without intentional self-reflection over time.
I used to believe large-scale change required a 10 year timeline; now I believe you can have a 10 year vision, but have a series of 90 day plans.
I used to believe large-scale change involved replicating the identical program exactly, now i believe we identify the most essential elements needed for fidelity and move forward from there.
I used to believe it would be crushing demands on our people, now I believe it’s possible without burning out the staff who currently implement.
I used to believe that it took a charismatic leader. I now believe it’s possible to plan and execute as a team.
I used to believe it would be very difficult and now I can see the star and path(s) to get there.
I used to believe it would be an organic process that happened naturally; now I understand the importance of intentional and brave planning.
I used to believe it required a lot of resources but now I can see it is about re-alignment of the resources we already have.
I’m now more aware of the deep intersection of personal values and point of view and their impact on making the change.
What I love most about these 13 reflections is they’re so aligned with what I hope to continue to share with anyone who wants to step into a new paradigm for leading big change in the world – the authenticity, boldness, and creativity that comes from fully embodying your essence as a leader.
If as you’re reading those reflections you’re thinking, “I’ll have some of that, please!” we still have some openings for the next Skid Row School for Large-Scale Change January 28th – 31st, 2020. The next one after that won’t be until Fall 2020 so if this is on your radar, please reserve a spot before the course fills up. Remember alumni can always return for free so long as you bring somebody else who actually pays.
I’m on my flight home from two amazing weeks in Europe. The first was on Lake Constanz about two hours east of Zurich where I facilitated a retreat for the Climate Breakthrough Project. I think of the Climate Breakthrough Project as the MacArthur Genius Award (and then some) for some of the most brilliant people working on climate change today. I have to tell you – after spending three days with these folks – both the awardees and the staff and board of CBP – I am feeling more optimistic than ever that we can make a difference on what is one of the greatest challenges of our time.
I met Bruce Nilles with the Rocky Mountain Institute. Previously he led the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign that played a significant role in preventing 90% of the new coal plants that had been proposed by Cheney’s secret energy task force back in the 00’s and is now well on it’s way to shutting down half of the coal plants in the country – and going for 100%. The bottom line is that coal is bad for everyone, especially the people who live downwind from the plant.
Now Bruce is working to accelerate our country’s transition off natural gas. We all know the dangers of fracking, but what I didn’t know is what a health hazard natural gas is in our own homes. It is not good for you. My takeaway is that we will be transitioning all of our appliances – hot water heater, stove/oven, dryer, and **gasp** our beloved firepit ASAP. We need a new hot water heater anyway, so that’s convenient. But when I asked Bruce how quickly we should prioritize the other appliances – which are rather new – Bruce said, “well, the world needed to be off fossil fuels yesterday, so now would be good.” All righty then. The good news is we went solar a few months ago so once we get off natural gas and get electric cars we will be off the grid minus my flights – which are by far the worst of everything combined.
Also there was a dear old friend, John Hepburn the co-founder of Unfriend Coal in Australia. He’s been working to strip away the social license of the big financial agencies who are insuring coal plants with tremendous success. Imagine you’re a coal company and you go to renew your business insurance – which I’m sure isn’t cheap – and the insurance company says, “oh, sorry, we don’t offer that any more.” That’s what John is up to. And he’s gotten through to all the major insurers in Europe and he’s coming to the US and Asia next. Watch out!
Then there’s May Mei, founder of GoalBlue, who is mobilizing hundreds of thousands of young people in China to eat less beef. Here’s the thing – in China as more and more people enter the middle class and become more affluent – eating beef is a status symbol. And China is doing a phenomenal job of elevating more and more people into the middle class – so watch out cows! But May is brilliantly tapping into social influencers and the youth and making it cool to eat less beef, and with more than a billion people living in China – it really adds up.
Then I met Tessa Khan who is a human rights lawyer from Bangladesh. She learned about a landmark case in Denmark where they successfully sued the government for not keeping faith with their human rights obligations by not adhering to what needs to be done to avert the worst effects of climate change. When Tessa learned about this case a couple of years ago, she decided to devote her entire life to using her expertise as a human rights lawyer to protect the people who will be most negatively impacted by climate change. When it comes to Tessa versus the government – any government- my money’s on Tessa!
Last but not least, I met Yang Fuqiang who is working with the government of China to design a consumption cap on oil, just like he helped them do a few years ago with coal. This is a really big deal and a really big bet. China’s fossil fuel emissions alone are significantly more than any other country on the planet, so their taking a voluntary step to cap it would make a big difference for all of us.
That’s just the awardees. The staff and board of the Climate Breakthrough Project were also each and every one of them extraordinary and brilliant and creative and committed unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They’re willing to make big bold bets and if their bets succeed, collectively it will account for about 10% of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that we need to realize as a planet by 2030. I mean – think about it – a small team of folks swinging for the fences to see to it that we’re 10% of the way there on averting the sixth mass extinction. What’s not to love about them? If you want to learn more check out their website.
So yeah, that was a good trip. And my takeaways were this:
(1) Get rid of our natural gas appliances asap.
(2) Try an impossible burger. Did you hear that Burger King has caused a worldwide shortage of these wonders of science? It’s happening.
(3) A question inspired by the people I met: is climate change a technical problem or a spiritual/moral problem? Or both? I think it’s both. Yes – you can look at maps and graphs and substitute this form of water/food supply/energy supply for another and the geopolitics can sort itself out and in some ways it’s almost a no-brainer. All that’s lacking is the will power to do it. It’s not like we don’t know what needs to be done or that the technology doesn’t exist. But it’s also a spiritual/moral problem because the people who need to change are not the people who are most affected by the problem – which means people like me need to really put myself in the shoes of someone from Bangladesh who with rising sea levels will probably not be met at the Indian border with rainbows and unicorns but most probably pitchforks and guns. I just read that the city of Chennai is running out of water. 5 million people. Where will they go? Without a fierce spiritual/moral grounding – a deeply internalized sense of connection to all of the web of life – it’s just way too easy for me to go back to business as usual. How can I embed this into my daily life more firmly?
On a personal note, my family flew to Europe to meet me and we spent a week vacationing in the Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany regions of Italy. I have to tell you – it was the most relaxed I have been eating a meal with our children in the five years since Huck was born. We found remote farmhouses that practice what they call agriturisimo. Everything is farm to table fresh from that farm, even the wine. The food is so ridiculously good I cannot even tell you. I ate my face off in pasta and didn’t feel bloated or gain a pound. Is that just because they don’t use pesticides in their wheat like we do? Whatever they’re doing – it’s magnificent. And the farmhouses had outdoor playgrounds so the adults could leisurely dine in peace for hours while the children played on the swings, merry-go-rounds, and see-saws, zooming back and forth for a bite when they felt hungry. I feel so grateful for a real vacation with my family and wanted to share a picture with you of happy children playing in the fields while we ate our most delicious dinner of our lives. I hope each of you is able to do something rejuvenating and relaxing this summer, too.
My wife Christine and I took last week off to play with our kids because it was their Spring Break. Oh my goodness – that was really fun and really tiring!! Whatever you are up to this spring, I hope this finds you well and thriving.
Guess what I have playing on my itunes on repeat right now? “What the World Needs Now is Love” from Broadway for Orlando. This was made by a bunch of broadway artists who came together after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub. They wanted to bring a little love and light to us all back in 2016. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve belted out this song while I’m driving in our red station wagon to pick up our kids from pre-school. Please tell me I’m not the only one…and feel free to play the song and sing-along as you read along here.
We launched our Unleashing 101 workshop two weeks ago and we had 24 folks spend two days exploring the overlap between what the world needs and what they’re uniquely here to do. The photo up top is from the training: one stickie per person of what they discovered when they leaned into that question. It’s worth a closer look. This photo gives me hope for our future!
In the workshop we explored areas of genius, excellence, competence, and incompetence, using the Hendricks Institute’s framework around Genius largely captured in The Big Leap. Whenever I work with folks on this topic, I have to confess I am mostly concerned with genius. What’s the thing that lights you up – that doesn’t feel like work – that you’re really awesome at? Do more of THAT!
One of the people I was thrilled to meet at that workshop was Susan X Jane. Something she said profoundly impacted me and I wanted to share it with you. As we sat in a circle and de-briefed our discoveries, Susan said, “I realized my areas of incompetence are where I need community.”
**ding ding ding ding** OMG Yes!!
I had never thought about it that way. In fact, generally I try NOT to think about my zones of incompetence and mostly I just wish they’d go away. There’s a humility to saying, “this is what I can do, and this is where I need other people.” And my goodness do we need one another.
As a result of Susan’s question, I got curious about the places where I’m over my head and realized that I would like some more help in getting really good at seeing and interrupting oppression in any of the spaces where I show up. So I reached out for help to some folks who I know and trust in this area (including Susan). My life is richer already for having faced into my own limitations and reached out to my community and I intend to continue doing so. I am feeling humble and grateful for the gifts that others bring into my life and the power of community.
So my question for you is where could you benefit from the wisdom of others? Where do you need community? Where could you be a little more humble? Are you willing to ask for help?
p.s. What the world…needs now…is love…sweet love…
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I have this persistent nagging sense that I’m not doing enough to make the world a better place. Is it just me? Or do you feel that way too, sometimes?
I feel that way a lot.
I go into a spiral worried about of all the things that are happening with global warming and then I think when you add a history of systemic violence and racism on top of that, sheesh – things are bad and they’re gonna get worse! And I want to do so much but I don’t know where to start.
It’s not particularly helpful for me to be in this state of mind. I mean, I know better. I know that this is just a “flee-forward” taking me out the present moment.
And yet…I do this all. the. time.
Last Sunday I was unusually despondent and my wife, Christine, said, “You know…maybe what you’re doing that is most helpful is through the Billions Institute – the things you love to do the most?….Maybe?”
Me: Nah. That’s not enough…it’s just not. (continues complaining about the future).
Christine (wisely) goes about doing something else around the house while I wallow in my doom and gloom.
This week a dear friend from my 100,000 Homes Campaign days, Linda Kaufman, was our house guest. Linda is an Episcopalian Priest and she told us about a time when she, too, felt despair. Her mentor told her, “Linda, as a Christian, you don’t have the luxury of despair.” Basically her mentor told her this: get your butt back to work.
You don’t have the luxury of despair.
Today I visited my acupuncturist and told her about my concerns and how I want to do something but I don’t know what. I said I’m especially worried about refugees and building my “welcoming muscles.”
Oh, she says, a friend of mine has helped settle five Syrian refugee families into Claremont over the past couple of years. Want me to put you in touch with her?
Sometimes it’s not about large-scale change. Sometimes it’s about blooming where you’re planted. That’s true for me at least.
I’ll get to my point now! This afternoon I received an email from Willemijn Keizer at the Southern Poverty Law Center. She came through our Skid Row School over a year ago. They’ve been working around the clock to help immigrants know their rights especially given the increase in ICE arrests and raids. They came up with this brilliant, creative, dare I say subversive idea: why not embed their rights into a song? And why not have a Latin Grammy award winning band, Flor de Toloache, sing that song? And maybe we should pump that song into communities where there are a lot of improper and illegal arrests being made.
How awesome is that?
Southern Poverty Law Center tells the story best here. The song is El Corrido de David y Gloiat and available on spotify and itunes. Please spread it far and wide. And great big salute to Willemijn and her colleagues at SPLC for being so stinkin’ creative!!
We like to say at the Skid Row School that when it comes to large-scale change, there are “many ways to many.” Willemijn just dropped the mic on that one. And she wrote me a note to appreciate us for our (very small) role in provoking her and her friends at the Southern Poverty Law Center to think out of the box.
Which reminds me of the purpose of this letter: it’s never enough…but sometimes you get a high five. Willemijn – thank you for that high five! I needed that this week! Now that my heart is full with that high five (and tapping to the beat of El Corrido de David y Goliat) I want to offer to everyone who gets this newsletter this provocation: reach out to somebody who has encouraged or inspired you along the way and give them a high five before the day is done. Ready, go!