Five Reasons to Lead Change

“Some men have thousands of reasons why they cannot do what they want to, when all they need is one reason why they can.”
– Martha Graham

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There are hundreds of reasons to take an active role in creating a better world. Here are just five of them.

You find yourself complaining a lot.
You find yourself starting too many sentences with phrases such as, “Why doesn’t somebody” or, “When are they going to.” You are that somebody.

Children depend on you.
Everyone can think of an issue where children are adversely affected through no fault of their own. The world needs to be safe for future generations.

You’re smart.
You know more about the issues that you’re passionate about than most people do. You’ve already got a head start on creating a solution.

Nobody should have to live in fear.
Whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of failing, or fear of what other people think, fear limits our choices, our options, and our opportunities. You have more courage than you know.

You need to eat, drink, and breathe in order to live.
Despite differences in political ideology, everyone has some fundamental common ground when it comes to life’s necessities. Consider starting with issues that touch these commonalities, and find some unlikely allies.

Like I said, there are hundreds more reasons. Those reasons are connected directly to your most closely held values. You care. How can you not act?

 

Some Thoughts on Arguing

Kent Brockman: Mr. Simpson, how do you respond to the charge that petty vandalism such as graffiti is down 80%, while heavy sack beatings are up a shocking 900%?

Homer: Oh people can come up with statistics to prove anything Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.

– The Simpsons, “Homer the Vigilante”

We live in a world where civil discourse has become a rare commodity. There is little productive debate on topics of great importance, because people of influence and affluence have decided to force every issue into a framework consisting of lines drawn in the sand. This presents a tremendous challenge not only to democracy, but also to anyone advocating for social change.

I am not a scholar of the art of rhetoric. Nor do I claim to understand how argument and debate manifest themselves in cultures other than the one in which I live. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on how you might, or might not want to approach arguing.

Arguing as Seed Planting

There are different definitions of “winning” an argument. An argument does not have to be a knock-down-drag-out fight. Sometimes the win simply consists of giving the other person something to think about.

Unless it is a unique situation involving instant replay enabling rules, when a coach or manager in any sport argues with a referee, they do not usually expect that a call will be immediately overturned. They are, however, planting seeds of concern or doubt in the mind of the official. If I tell you that number 12 is routinely breaking a rule, you will probably pay more attention to number 12 as the game moves forward.

Don’t Argue Values

The issues that we disagree on are laden with personal values. People have opposing views on issues because they have conflicting values. I dislike chocolate ice cream. I love vanilla ice cream. You will never convince me that chocolate ice cream is preferable to vanilla ice cream. When you argue that chocolate is better than vanilla, what is in dispute is a value. It is a preference, not a fact.

We should not fall into a trap of engaging those with whom we disagree in arguments about values. If you argue, it should be about facts. Facts still matter, and your facts should always be accompanied by evidence. In fact, next time you feel yourself being pulled into an argument, try the following approach. Don’t immediately set out trying to change the other person’s mind. Don’t tell them that they are wrong. Instead, articulate as clearly as succinctly as possible, the reasoning that supports your position. When you meet a skeptical person explain to them why you have taken your stand.

Don’t Argue – at Least Not with Everyone

There is a psychological concept known as cognitive dissonance. It suggests that people have a hard time dealing with the stress created by simultaneously holding contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. It is believed that in order to reduce the discomfort created by the conflicting ideas, people will avoid the introduction of the conflicting ideas whenever possible. There are multiple research studies that suggest that people often see attacks on their belief as attacks on their identity, thus making them dig in their heels even more, thus increasing divisiveness.

If you refer back to my piece, “Change Happens at the Center,” you will see a strategy that may be useful when you’ve identified where a person sits on the continuum of opinion of the issue in question. The idea is to avoid the line in the sand people by focusing on moving passive opposition to a neutral state; neutral people to a passively supporting state; and passively supportive people to a fully committed state.  Read that full post here.

Agree with Your Opponent

Using a type of paradoxical thinking, you might use an approach that doesn’t directly argue with a person, but rather, tells them that they are right. Then, using their assumptions, you come up with absurd examples that prove their point.  Fair warning, this technique can backfire so be sure to practice it in some friendly, inconsequential settings first.

Go Ahead and Argue

Finally, if you absolutely have to throw down the gauntlet, try to go in with some sort of strategic framework. Here is an example of some tips which you might want to use to engage with your adversary. They come from, “10 Tips On Going For An Argument Win” by Siobhan Harmer (See the full article for details).

  1. Start off pleasantly
  2. Base your arguments on facts
  3. Respect the opinions of the other side
  4. It does not hurt to admit your mistakes
  5. Exercise self-control
  6. Try to have your adversary agree with you
  7. Ignore statements that have no merit
  8. Always keep an open mind during arguments
  9. Give your adversary the time to talk
  10. Play Up Your Arguments

That’s all I’m going to say on the subject for now, so don’t argue (or do . . . it’s up to you).

Balancing Charitable Maintenance with Actions that Achieve Real Social Change

We are frequently challenged by issues that divide our time, resources, and energy between short-term maintenance of symptoms, and strategic organizing around a real solutions to deeper social problems. For example, soup kitchens and food shelves do not solve the problem of persistent malnutrition. They are critically important, and potentially life-saving maintenance strategies, but they do not begin to get to the core of the issue of poverty.

The temporary solution, and the permanent solution have a complex relationship. The temporary fix frequently has a charity approach. The implementation of this approach often occurs without an eye to broader social change. For instance, if you are motivated by the Bible, and Matthew 26:11 says ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ then you may simply feel that it is your Christian duty to be charitable to a permanent class of needy poor people. Further complicating matters is the fact that the short-term charity is a quick exchange that makes the benefactors feel good about themselves. The complex unraveling of causes and options that could lead to a more permanent solution, just seems like hard work – because it is.people-875379_640

The permanent solution requires a commitment to the belief that the so-called “needy” have paths out of poverty. Identifying and navigating those paths requires political will, and investment in low income people’s abilities to be productive, gainfully employed residents of the community.

So what does all of this have to do with leadership? Let’s return to the example of hunger.

Who is actively working on the issue of hunger in your community? Was your immediate response organizations that are involved solely in hunger relief? Probably. People need to eat every day. Hunger, as a phenomenon, is a daily concern. Hunger, as a social issue, however, requires a simultaneous focus on increasing the wealth of individuals and families who have less money than other people in our communities.

Leaders engage in strategic planning. They need to know who is already participating in related work, and whose intellectual, relational, natural, and financial assets have yet to be leveraged to achieve their common goal.

Malnutrition, hunger, and related concerns are all most effectively addressed when we see them as community development, workforce development, and economic development issues. It’s simple, people with more money overall, have more money to spend on food. So by all means, feed people. Treat them with dignity, and recognize their humanity. Your efforts, however, must also be complemented by plans to increase the wealth of those same people as part of a sustainable solution to the challenges to seek to overcome.

A Few Words About Vision

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
–Audre Lorde

There seems to be a frightening lack of vision in the world. People want things to be different, but they are unable, or more likely, unwilling to imagine what that different world looks like. Or maybe, they have a good understanding of their own values, and have developed a personal vision, and are simply not sharing it with other like-minded people. Nothing will ever change without a shared vision of how things could be.

shared visionImage: Minnesota Design Team

 The image above is an important concept for leaders to understand and appreciate. If you look at the number of arrows in each of the three sections, you will notice that they decrease as you move from “no vision” to “shared vision.” Movements and campaigns do not start out on a large scale. A shared vision is the result of people in small groups sharing their values with others. It is through the understanding of their common values that people begin to create a shared vision.

Your vision should be:

  • reflective of shared values;
  • explained in the least complex way possible;
  • realistically achievable;
  • and it should motivate people to act, moving them to look beyond their limitations.

A vision isn’t just a dream. It’s a dream and a plan. When stakeholders share similar values, they can begin to develop a shared vision by asking these three questions:

  1. What is?
  2. What could be?
  3. What events could affect that change?

Simply put, shared values lead to a shared vision, which leads to shared ownership of creating change, and ultimately shared benefits for all stakeholders.

(For more on values see, Narrowing The Gap Between Our Ideal And Our Real Values)

Risk-Averse Versus Risk-Taking

“The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.”
– W. E. B. Du Bois

When your goal is to create change in the world, embracing risk is the foundation of leadership. Attempting to mitigate all risk out of an action eliminates any possibility that that action will result in substantive change.

Risk-averse people naively expect that success will simply to come to them.  Risk-takers understand that success requires creative, strategic pursuit. Your goal is to get people to act, and wholeheartedly embracing risk is the only prescription for overcoming complacency, apprehension, and fear of failure.

Risk ≠ Recklessness. The desire for change is not just emotional; it is also rooted in logic. Risk is calculated. It is a carefully considered series of if/then statements that reach a conclusion that risk has a return on investment. Without risk, the logic model remains theoretical. Risk demonstrates people’s capacity to achieve a stronger, more vibrant society.

risk-averse vs risk-taking

Somewhere along the line our concept the word risk became profoundly one-sided, framed primarily in undesirable terms. Don’t get caught in that mind trap.

risk
noun
1.
exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance:
“It’s not worth the risk.”
– dictionary.com

Risk is at the Core of Leadership

Be United
The idea of strength in numbers can make risk less scary. Leaders aren’t simply assessing risk on a personal level. They have locked arms with stakeholders sharing a common vision of what change needs to take place. Risks are shared as well.

Be Committed
Willingness to risk is a measure of commitment to values and to a shared vision of the change that needs to happen.

Be Creative
Willingness to risk is also a measure of creative thinking. If you can’t imagine a better future, it will never come about.

Be Radical
Transformative change is radical change.  Ending slavery was a radical idea. A woman voting was a radical idea. Don’t be concerned about being seen as radical. Be concerned about doing what is right.

Life is a continuous risk-taking process that goes something like this: risk, success or failure, learn, and repeat. You are working to change something. Change is impossible without risk, and change is required to better people’s lives.

Emotional Intelligence

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”
– Helen Keller

Acting with others in an effort to change something, or create something is inescapably emotional. This is a good thing. Emotional connection motivates people. It feeds their passion for achieving a vision of something better. It isn’t our job as leaders to tell people how they should feel. Everyone’s unique life experience, relationships, and knowledge inform their emotional state. Navigating something this complex requires that we develop some degree of emotional intelligence.

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”
– Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence

The chart below is quite different from other tables we’ve explored. It is Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. The most intense emotions are in the inner circle. The next ring consists of Plutchik’s eight primary emotions—anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. These are the emotions that he says trigger actions that we use to survive, such as the fight-or-flight response.

Plutchik's Wheel of EmotionsImage: public domain http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plutchik-wheel.svg

How is understanding this useful in leadership? Well, for example, if you look at the annoyance/anger/rage continuum, you probably know from experience that people are less likely to act on changing things that are simply annoying. It is also best if a problem has to get to the point of outrage before people act. Knowing when folks are angry enough to act to create change is important.

You don’t need an advanced degree in Psychology to develop emotional intelligence. There are some simple things you can do. The Internet is full of free help on this front, so I won’t go too in depth here. The most important things that you can do fall into two general categories: 1) becoming more self-aware; and 2) increasing your empathy.

Self-awareness requires articulating what you believe, why you believe it, as well as what you are thinking, and feeling. I’m not talking about being in a constant state of navel-gazing. It’s more a matter of taking a second during that time when you are thinking before you speak (You do that, right?), and asking yourself if you understand why you are saying what you are saying.

There are many other things that will improve your self-awareness. Daily writing is an easy one. It can be public or private, and doesn’t need to be lengthy. Try tweeting thoughts that are important to you, not just ones that you hope will be perceived as clever or funny.

If daily writing seems too burdensome, try writing a brief bio of yourself that contains no information from your resume. If you are looking for a less direct window into yourself to begin with, write about someone you admire, and explain why you admire them. It will tell you something about your own values.

Ask good friends, and family members how they perceive your character, attitude, and the general impression that you give . If they tell you things that surprise you, then you can take that opportunity to both further develop assets that they see in you, as well as work on negative aspects of their perception of you that they identified.

The most important path to developing empathy is to listen to people, REALLY listen to them. Believe what they tell you about how they are feeling. Don’t necessarily live by the so-called golden rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Consider this instead: “do unto others as others would have done unto themselves.”

As a leader, social responsibility is perhaps the greatest manifestation of emotional intelligence. It recognizes our interconnectedness, and our realization that, as Paul Wellstone put it, “we all do better when we all do better.”

Narrowing The Gap Between Our Ideal And Our Real Values

“The whole idea of knowing who you are and what you stand for is so simple, yet also so profound and sophisticated. It’s difficult to pull off, but without it there’s no chance to institutionalize the vision and make it long-term and lasting.”
-Bob Boylan

Positive change usually happens after people have: 1) examined and understood their values; 2) articulated a shared vision after identifying their common values; and 3) strategically leveraged their own strengths toward achieving their common goals.

One big barrier to change is the fact that most people don’t spend a great deal of time analyzing their values. Your values are your principles, your personal standards of behavior. They tell people what you believe is important in life; and they indicate to others what you have in common at the deepest human level.

Examining your values is important because they become clear over time. They are not static; they change as you grow personally, establish relationships, and life experience. As you consider your values, it becomes apparent that some feel more personal than others. These might be called realized, or real values. The ones that seem like they have less to do with you personally are ideal values. They are things like freedom, democracy, and fairness.  You know that you should value them, and you don’t spend much time thinking that other people might have wildly different understanding of what they mean.

Despite these differing interpretations, ideal values are considered absolute. They are written into law. Real values help to resolve the contradictions between ideal values and people’s everyday behavior.

The Gap, the Contradictions, and the Conflicts

“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty.”
-Abraham Lincoln

If you asked any 100 people in your community if any children in your town should be going to bed hungry, I would guess (and hope) that they would all express that having no undernourished children is a community value. If everyone shares that value, why are children going to bed without enough to eat? It probably isn’t a disagreement about the definition of hunger or malnutrition that is the barrier to coming up with the political will to do something to address the problem.

The gap between the ideal and real value isn’t simply the fault of individuals. Many people would act if they knew what actions they could take. This is where leadership comes in. Leaders can help individuals understand how their real values, things like justice, empathy, community, etc., can inform a strategy to solve the challenges of making sure that people have enough to eat.

Democracy is a commonly expressed ideal value. If we all believe in democracy, why is voter turnout not 100%? Is it just the IDEA of the ideal value that is important, or are people willing to act on their common values? The table below begins to illustrate why narrowing the gap is not an easy task. It shows how people might have opposing ideas about something perceived as an ideal.

The tables below are based on Frances Moore Lappe’s insightful book, Rediscovering America’s Values. In the book, Lappe explores the nuances of some ideal American values. Here are just a few of the competing ideas she presents relating to freedom.

freedom1freedom2freedom3Despite differing views on these values, how do we work to find common ground? What steps can people take to help narrow the gap between ideal and real values? Dr. Greg Waddell has some ideas that you look at in more detail here. He suggests four things in particular:

  1. Reward what you value.
  2. Measure what you value.
  3. Model what you value.
  4. Design life experiences of what you value.

Think about these four actions as they relate to a personal value. How do you consciously live your values? More on values to come.

Quality Of Life Versus Standard of Living

“The quality of life is more important than life itself”
-Alexis Carrel

The terms quality of life, and standard of living, are often used interchangeably. Standard of living is for the most part, a measure of consumption. Money, however, cannot buy happiness. It can’t keep people from discriminating against you. It can’t make you as young as you used to be.

quality of life vs. standard of living

An article by Cornelia Butler Flora, published by the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, cites a NCRCRD study “relating the objective measures with subjective measures of quality of life.” Among the the findings of that study:

1. Quality of life is not related—either positively or negatively—to standard of living.
2. Having choices in the productive work that you do is the most important dimension of quality of life.
3. The respect of family and people who matter to you in your communities of place and interest is the second key dimension of quality of life.

This is important to understand if you are trying to innovate some change in the world. Even though quality of life is subjective, and means different things to different people, there are many values and dreams that are shared among many individuals, and groups in a community. One of the important things that leaders can do is to work toward achieving satisfaction with quality of life throughout their organization or community. People make up their minds on issues based on how those issues impact their own quality of life.

This does not mean that standard of living indicators are not important. It just serves as a reminder that many, many of our desires transcend money and wealth.

I once worked with a leadership group in a small, scenic community that was staring the quality of life/standard of living question smack dab in the face. This small town had a resident who was proposing to build the nation’s largest tire incineration plant. He was selling the idea primarily on the idea of job creation. His claim was that burning the nation’s used tires would improve the local economy, improving the standard of living for low level wage earners.

Of course, the opposition to this plan came from citizens whose arguments were rooted in quality of life issues. Air quality, ecosystem destruction and aesthetics,eventually won the day, but not before the community experienced considerable divisiveness, trying to reconcile their common values.

There can be no community development without economic development; and there can be no economic development without talking about quality of life concerns.

Fixed Versus Growth Mindset

“If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even it it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

We need to be aware that we have ideal mindsets, and real mindsets. Even though we like to believe that we embrace growing and learning, fixed mindsets contribute greatly to keeping us from accomplishing goals. The comparison below is based on Carol S. Dweck’s 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

mindsetLike so many of the ideas we discuss here, changing your mindset requires courage. We are afraid to fail. We are afraid of criticism. It’s pounded into us from an early age.

Leaders can help people bolster their courage. Ways that you can help others (and yourself) to overcome fear, and demonstrate more courage include:

  • Build confidence – Try to capture the feeling of confidence that you have when you are inside your “comfort zone.”
  • Wade outside the comfort zone – Know personal limits, and start small. It is always easier to face the things you fear when you are with someone else. Be there with people when they take those baby steps toward facing their fears. When you get to the uncomfortable place . . .
  • Avoid hesitation – Don’t allow for more time to come up with excuses. Accomplish something small, and then lock that success away to bolster your confidence next time.

Responsibility

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”
— George Bernard Shaw

I created the table below to illustrate a few of the ways that people think about responsibility. The first use actually address the difference between responsibility and accountability. Accountability is liability, and demands some sort of response. You can be responsible by being accountable.ResponsibilityThe “it’s not me” notion of responsibility is often used as the excuse for not doing the right thing. It often takes courage to avoid using this excuse, because it can mean risking an asset or a privilege that you currently have.

To think of responsibility as a social contract is supposedly what we are doing in a democracy. Of course, the idea that democracy is primarily about competition rather than cooperation often keeps social responsibility from being a primary consideration.