When Does Getting Credit Matter?

“In life you must often choose between getting a job done or getting credit for it.”
– Leo Szilard, physicist

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Under what circumstances does it matter that you (individually, or your organized group) get credit during a process of creating change? When does that recognition help? When might it become a barrier to building support?

In an earlier post on evaluation, I mentioned the idea that it is often important to focus on contribution, rather than attribution. This a similar idea. Small, often very brave acts that complement, or build upon other small acts, all lead to the ultimate success of an effort to create change. When you are trying to give a variety of stakeholders a sense of ownership of an idea, or a goal, following just one “leader” can be disastrous (especially if that leader is self-proclaimed).

Generally speaking, building the level of trust that is necessary to accomplish increasingly greater goals, requires frequent recognition of everyone’s contributions. This one of the secret’s to effective leadership – the strategic leveraging of many peoples’ strengths in a manner that creates collaborative leadership.

I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating – it is relatively easy to organize people in opposition to something. It is much more difficult, however, to organize them to create the unfavorable thing’s replacement. Separate, independent stakeholders acting to get rid of an unjust, or unfair policy or program, should have a specific, fairly detailed replacement for the problematic policy or program in mind as they deliver their case for support of change.

Consider cases throughout history where people have taken to the streets to protest oppressive regimes, only to find that the overthrown despot has simply been replaced by another tyrant. Those demanding change have greater leverage if their outrage is not simply considered generalized opposition. If they can say that their collective indignation is united in its support for specific changes, then acknowledgement for their specific role as change agents is important, because they were not simply anti-status quo; they were advocating a very explicit change.

Getting credit is less important when people are organizing, and creating coalitions. It becomes considerably more important when the prospect of change becomes inevitable, and people are expecting the vision created from their shared values. When you can say, “here is the change we’ve been demanding,” it is far more powerful than saying, “the bad thing is gone, maybe the next thing will be better.”

A quick note about movements

We may repeat the awful revolutionary history of the 20th century because of the vulnerability of social movements to demagoguery.
– Todd Gitlin

There are many NGOs, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other organizations with paid staff, that are seriously interested in promoting various types of social change, or policy change. The political will to make that change happen usually requires a movement; one that becomes so broad, and so deep,that the imagined change seems inevitable.

If the only people at the table talking about how changes must occur are people being paid to be at that table, then there is not what I would describe as a movement. The ONLY way to tell if you are really involved in a movement is when there are people around that table who are there not because they are getting paid to do so, but who are there because they are so passionate about the issue in question, that it is a moral imperative for them to be there. Not acting is not an option for them.

Leadership for change is about organizing, and supporting those people. French historian, Fernand Braudel once said,”History may be divided into three movements: what moves rapidly, what moves slowly and what appears not to move at all.” Leaders must recognize that people always want rapid change, but that persevering through change’s often slow process is what will occupy most of their time. The people who will get you through those slow, often agonizingly frustrating times, are the people for whom acting on their values is not a choice.

Change Happens at the Center

We tend to think of change as something that happens at the margins. That’s why people use phrases like “the leading edge,” or “pushing the envelope.” If we are deliberately acting to make social change, however, that change happens at the center. Experienced community organizers know this. It’s why they spend time with people in the middle. Let me illustrate how this works.

us vs themTake any issue; polarizing or mundane. We are led to believe that there are two sides: for and against; us and them; red state blue state; you get the picture. Painting this less complex picture is easier for both zealous advocates, and lazy reporters. It makes for good drama. When it comes to change, you will rarely get the people deeply rooted in the “them” side to flip 180 degrees to the “us” side (or vice-versa).

twoWe know for a fact that this is not a complete picture. There are many people who are, in fact, neutral. They may simply be unaware of an issue. They may be conflicted and ambivalent,  or they could just be apathetic.

threeThere are also individuals who are passive in their support for us, and people who passively support them. The people in this category fall in a continuum of varying levels of commitment as well.

fourThe key to creating the change that you want to happen, is to spend less time where there is little return on the investment of your time — hurling verbal bombs at the folks who will never change their minds. What you want to focus on is moving people over just one position on the chart, beginning with the people who passively support your cause. The smallest of things can move pieces of the middle.

People’s personal experience guides their opinions. Their experience also defines their self-interest. If you understand this , and organize around this principle, eventually, a tipping point of sorts makes the movement toward change unstoppable.

When You’re Ready To Move From Talk To Action

“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.”
–    Paulo Coelho

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “action expresses priorities.” We can be outraged and upset about something, but unless we choose to act to change it, we are telling the rest of the world that it isn’t really that important after all.  Advocacy and educating people about issues is important. It gets peoples’ attention, and may rock some boats, but advocacy alone is not enough. You need to organize.

If you have a group of people who all agree that “A” is unacceptable, and that what they really want is “Z,” you have a common vision, but there are countless paths and countless acts between that vision and realizing change. You need to organize.

Organizing can be complex. It is so dependent upon personal relationships and personal politics, that we sometimes forget about some of the other factors that are crucial in creating change.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
–    Confucius

The popular and widely-used organizing tool below is from a chapter titled “A Framework for Thinking About Systems Change” by Timothy P. Knoster, Richard A. Villa, and Jacqueline S. Thousand, in the book,  Restructuring for Caring and Effective Education: Piecing the Puzzle Together . It was adapted from the work of Delores Ambrose. The matrix serves both as prescription and as a diagnostic tool when groups seeking change meet challenges in their pursuit.

changeHaving all the pieces doesn’t mean that your work is done, that you automatically go from A to Z. They get you from A to B (then celebrate briefly, and reflect on what you learned), and then from B to C (celebrate and reflect), and so on, until you reach your long-term goal.

This chart also reinforces the importance of asset-mapping. That’s how you know if you have the required skills or resources to carry out your plans. Passionate, caring, and motivated people still need the missing pieces. Leaders find those pieces.

More on the importance of organizing to come.

Asset-Focused Leadership

“Every single person has capabilities, abilities and gifts. Living a good life depends on whether those capabilities can be used, abilities expressed and gifts given. If they are, the person will be valued, feel powerful and well-connected to the people around them. And the community around the person will be more powerful because of the contribution the person is making.”
– John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight

If you are interested in developing many of the other concepts we’ve been looking at, such as collaborative leadership, supporting more effective networks of concerned people, and helping them find their power; then Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is the organizing strategy for you. I have dedicated a good chunk of my life to helping folks discover community-building assets. I have done countless ABCD workshops, and have written about it on occasion. ABCD principles contribute many useful ideas to a re-imagined concept of leadership; therefore, I’ll dedicate multiple sections to it.

Don’t be scared off by the word phrase “community development.” Community can refer to small groups of people who are passionate about the same issue, neighborhoods, or communities of interest – including those made up of people not sharing a community of place. For our purposes, development simply means to make better. Let’s start with the fundamentals.

ABCD, is an approach described by John McKnight and John Kretzmann, in the 1993 book, Building Communities from the Inside Out. It is founded on the belief that communities and neighborhoods thrive when built upon the knowledge, interests, and capacities of their residents, groups, and institutions.  This contrasts with the typical “needs-based” approach where the starting point is based on an assessment of deficiencies.

ABCD is not a formula. Rather, it is an approach to creating positive change that has many paths, but which necessarily includes three elements. One of the roles of leaders in asset-based endeavors to be a persistent compass when it comes to these three filters.

  1. ABCD is, by definition, asset-based. It starts with what already exists in the community. ABCD requires the community to inventory the skills and talents of individuals, the assets of formal and informal associations (including relationships) and those of local institutions.
  2. ABCD is internally-focused. The community frames the issues and challenges, and designs possible plans of action. This internal focus is intended simply to stress the primacy of local definition, investment, creativity, hope and control.
  3. ABCD is relationship-driven. To be successful, communities must be deliberate about constantly building and rebuilding relationships among residents, local associations and local institutions. Relationships create the underpinnings on which trust is built. Sharing common values and goals is one thing, but when you add trust to the mix, you have the beginnings of a recipe for power.

asset vs needOne way for leaders to assess their efforts as they begin is to ask themselves these questions:

  • Who decides what will be done? – Is this the vision of a small group of individuals, or is there a shared vision across a larger group of stakeholders?
  • Who are the producers of results? – Are “interventions” being done to, or for people; or are people accomplishing things on their own behalf?
  • How will the gifts of individuals & the community be identified and mobilized? – What approaches to asset mapping and strategic planning make the most sense?
  • Whose capacity is being built? – Are you simply replacing one rigid top-down system for another?

 Mapping Assets

Simply put, asset-mapping is systematically finding out what skills, talents, knowledge, relationships, and other assets currently exist in the community. This should include unearthing the capacities of:

  • Individuals – Talk to as many people as possible. Don’t forget marginalized people, those whose presence is not frequently (if ever) recognized.
  • Associations – These are social assets. They are not always easily recognized. They are identified by the fact that people are associating with each other without getting paid. The people in associations are together because they share a common passion or interest. Associations can be formal (a church congregation), or informal (a group of friends who meet every Tuesday for coffee at the same café).
  • Institutions – All public, private, and nonprofit organizations including schools, government, and businesses.
  • Physical Assets – This includes things like public space, buildings, and natural assets.
  • Exchange – Financial transactions, including things like deliberate local purchasing or boycotting.

Don’t panic. You don’t have to map the assets of the entire community. This isn’t an exercise in database creation. This is about looking for opportunity. These opportunities reveal themselves during the process of finding out how newly discovered assets can be connected and leveraged to increase relationships and moving people to act.

Once you know what change your community seeks to make start mapping with folks who might already be working to create that change?  No special training is necessary, though there are many people who can help you get started.

Your early group of leaders will have to define your community, figure out who is available to do the work on the ground, and assess your initial resources to do the mapping. You can use any number of methods, either via surveys, or better yet through one to one conversations, or appreciative inquiry. Remember, lists of information are good, but stories are even better because they can reveal hidden social and cultural assets.

Useful Resources

More on ABCD to come

Working Together: Coordinating, Cooperating, Or Collaborating

“I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished in this country was accomplished collectively.”
—Golda Meir

Source for the table below: COLLABORATION FOR A CHANGE (revised January 2002)
Definitions, Decision-making models, Roles, and Collaboration Process Guide
By Arthur T. Himmelman

CCC_HimmelmanWhen people talk about working together the subtext for everyone at the table, whether it is said aloud or not is usually: “what’s in it for me, and what’s it gonna cost?” Arthur Himmelman’s distinctions between these three concepts are important in that they illustrate how as relationships grow and deepen, critical aspects of working together, like trust and confidence, pave the way for shared risk and resources.

Moving from coordinating, to cooperating, to collaborating isn’t a seamless, smooth evolution. People who work together successfully spend plenty of time up front not only “getting on the same page,” but also honestly sharing their expectations and commitments with their potential partners.

Another important thing to remember is that every partnership doesn’t have to be, or strive to be a collaboration. Sometimes simple coordination can achieve a goal. When that is the case, that success can serve as an underpinning for a deeper partnership.

Problem Solving Versus Appreciative Inquiry

“The only irreplaceable capital an organization possesses is the knowledge and ability of its people. The productivity of that capital depends on how effectively people share their competence with those who can use it.”
— Andrew Carnegie

The development of the practice of appreciative inquiry (AI) traces back to David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the late 1980s. They felt that problem solving was often limited by focusing only on what isn’t working, and not on further developing what was working well. (Visit the Appreciative Inquiry Commons at Case Western University). The book, A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry by Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, puts it this way:

Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.

If you have had any introduction to AI, you have probably seen the table below. I have yet to track down the original source of the table. If anyone knows please post in the comments section.

problem solving vs AIYou might look at this table and say, “that’s just semantics – appreciative inquiry is solving problems, right?” The difference, however, lies in AI’s capacity-centered approach, and its deep belief in human potential. Yes, AI solves problems, but it is deliberately constructive in its focus on keeping those same problems from reoccurring.

I plan on posting a number of ideas related to Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), an approach which uses approaches like AI to mobilize communities. More on AI when we explore the concepts of ABCD.

Groups Versus Networks

“A group is elemental, defined by mass and sameness . . . a network is diverse and changing, defined by interactions – like an ecosystem.”
– Stephen Downes

Leadership isn’t always about getting everyone “on the same page,” or speaking with one voice. Sometimes it’s most effective when we’re listening to diverse opinions and ideas, and taking advantage of the wisdom resulting from the diversity of the collective voices. Diversity is critically important, and the way to leverage its value is through networks.

You hear a lot about the importance of networking. The value of networks, however, do not simply lie in meeting or knowing increasing numbers of people.

The ideas here come from the work of the prolific and insightful Canadian educational theorist, Stephen Downes.

groups vs networksOrganizing as networks rather than groups also helps to cultivate shared leadership. The sharing that takes place in networks is an indicator of people finding and acting on, their shared interests and values.

In the sort of network that I’m talking about, every member can find a communication connection to every other member. The network is distributed, rather than centralized. Think of the way social media facilitates communication, as opposed to the way a monthly newsletter does.

A commitment to networks requires trust in the idea that people will make the right decisions if given a variety of options or scenarios from which to choose. A distributed network is also an effective way to identify emerging leaders. Distributed networks cultivate shared leadership.

(Note: For dozens of stories of how networks of creative, sharing people are changing the world, I’d recommend Clay Shirky’s insightful book: Cognitive Surplus.)

[post updated 9/22/2016]

Authority Versus Power

“Power does not consist in striking with force or with frequency, but in striking true.”
– Honoré de Balzac

There are those who say that you can’t have authority without power. There are also those who say that you can’t have power without authority. Either way, it is inescapable to lead change without some understanding of these concepts. To me, the critical question is: Can people with authority cultivate a culture that people feel empowered to lead innovation?

authority vs powerAuthority is not always blindly obeyed. Authority is subjective; it is depends upon an our perception of its rightness. When you’re trying to lead people to create change, power is more important than authority. Leaders should embrace the idea of people feeling powerful.

 Talking About Power

Leaders think of power as ability to do or accomplish something. What is POWER? In mathematics, power refers to exponentiation. It can also mean exponential growth of the number of people on board with the change you’re trying to create.

In physics, power refers to energy, force or momentum. An action in one place can make something happen in another place. Social power is the same way. Think of any movement, and how actions in one place influenced results in other places.

I like to remind folks about these myths and insights about power from a great book, The Quickening of America:Building Our Nation, Remaking Our Lives by Frances Moore Lappé and Paul DuBois

Myth: There’s Only So Much Power to Go Around
The Empowering Insight: Relational power expands possibilities for many people at once. The more you use it, the more there is.

Myth: Power is a One-Way Force
The Empowering Insight: Power always exists in relationships, going both ways. In relationships, the actions of each affect the other, so no one is ever completely powerless.

Myth: Power is a Dirty Word
The Empowering Insight: We cannot realize our values or goals without power. Power is the capacity to act publicly and effectively, to bring about positive change.

How do you think about power?

Three Faces of Power [added 1/21/2015]

When people think about political power, they usually fall into two groups. The first sees power as an elitist concept, one where a privileged few call the shots. The other group has a pluralist view of power – that it is distributed equitably in society. This is, of course, a basic tenet of democracy.  It is also critical to the idea of organizing, and leading change.

Without getting too academic, I want to introduce just a little theoretical stuff that might help expand our practical notions of power. Political Science scholars have, for the last half century studied what are called the faces of power. Here are just three brief snapshots from this ever-expanding continuum of thought.

1) Robert Dahl’s One-Dimensional Model of Power, which says that power is exercised only in decision-making situations where parties hold opposing views. That power is exercised thusly: A has power over B, and A can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do;

2) Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz’s Two-Dimensional Model of Power, this says that in addition to this decision-making function, power is also related to the control of communication. Messaging, or silencing messages, can control the political process, and restrict it to issues that serve only to reinforce power.

3) Steven Lukes’ Three-Dimensional Model of Power says that the first dimension of power is success in decision making. The second dimension is managing the agenda. According to Lukes, the third face of power is not as overt as the first two. It is the manipulation of the wishes of others without them knowing they are being manipulated.

In an age of rapid dissemination of information it is easy to see how the second face (controlling communication) is more difficult. People acting as citizen journalists take to the streets from multiple angles to expose truths that people seeking power and control don’t want you to know. When everyone on the street has a camera and a publishing mechanism in their pocket, it is pretty hard to deny the reality they are sharing.

Similarly, manipulation is enhanced by social media. For people who want to maintain power, propaganda finds all media platforms. For example, Fox News masquerades as “fair and balanced” journalism when it has a clear agenda that has no intention of being either fair, nor balanced.

People’s access to good information is important for leadership. Leadership is not about public relations machines that spin every message your way. Real information creates real options, and real choices. When people have the power to make informed choices, they are more likely to act on behalf of that choice becoming a reality.