Category: Leadership

Leadership quotes

“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside of ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.”
~JK Rowling

“Given the right circumstances, from no more than dreams, determination and the liberty to try, quite extraordinary things consistently happen amongst ordinary citizens.”
~ Dee Hock

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
~ B. Fuller

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiation and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

~ Goethe

“Leadership: listening to what is emerging in order to bring it to reality, as it desires”
~ Otto Scharmer

“A leader these days needs to be a host – one who convenes diversity; who convenes all viewpoints in creative processes where our mutual intelligence can come forth.”
~Margaret Wheatley

“When people who are actually creating a system start to see themselves as the source of their problems, they invariably discover a new capacity to create results they truly desire.”
~ Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers, Presence

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.”
~ Peter Senge

“The leader’s responsibility is to name the debate, knowing what we need to focus on, and naming the questions.”
~Peter Block

“I’m not the Civil Rights Movement. I’m an expression of it.”
~ Martin Luther King


Word power

Perhaps it’s because 1/1/11 and New Year’s resolution setting is still relatively fresh. Maybe it’s the strange wide-eyed process of coming back to computer world after a great holiday spent largely outside and disconnected from the net, and seeing how so many words are archived online, including on all the social media sites that I use. Mostly it’s because of the reading I’ve been doing around the context of the horrific shooting of Senator Griffiths, her staff and attendees at her first Congress on the Corner gathering in Arizona, USA. All of a sudden I’m more conscious of the power of the words we use.

Hours after the Arizona shooting, Sarah Palin and other political leaders in the US scurried to remove posts from the internet that, in the light of the assassination attempt, were worthy of profound criticism. These included a target map with Senator Griffiths’ voting area under gun cross hairs, and a Tweet from Sarah Palin encouraging renewed protest against the Health Care Reform Bill that read “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Her Republican colleague Jesse Kelly in the State election had also run a campaign event offering citizens the chance to “Shoot a Fully Automatic M16″ to “Get on Target” and “Remove Gabrielle Giffords”.

More widely, our politics and the media have become increasingly filled with imagery of armed revolution and war. The recent reaction to Wikileaks’ outing of US cables included calls in different parts of the world for Julian Assange’s assassination and treatment as a terrorist (presumably with Guantanamo-style interrogation and no legal rights). Republican members have urged constituents to be “armed and dangerous”, and media commentators make jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. “These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response,” said Senator Durbin after the attacks.

It would be easy to blame individuals who made inflammatory statements for the violent actions of some. In reality, those who used words of violence were neither planning to enact violence or directly wishing for others to carry out violent acts. But words have power, and those who believe that violence is an answer to things they don’t agree with can all too easily be influenced by hate speech.

Amidst the immediate reactions, some media commentary have explained the shootings as the act of just one mentally unstable individual. Alongside these, I’ve been thankful for some great opinion pieces in The New York times that are reflecting on the wider cultural context of the shootings, and how important it is that in a climate of ‘free speech’ we don’t allow hate speech to reign.

Argument isn’t wrong. Dissenting views or different political opinions aren’t wrong. What I don’t agree with is the use of violent language that suggests that those who hold different views not only shouldn’t hold those views, but plain shouldn’t be around. I think we all have a responsibility to chose our words wisely, particularly when we’re sharing ideas in the public realm, or if we occupy positions of leadership or influence (is that everyone who talks with others?).

“The problem here doesn’t lie with the activists like most of those who populate the Tea Parties, ordinary citizens who are doing what citizens are supposed to do — engaging in a conversation about the direction of the country. Rather, the problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences.” ~ Matt Bai, The New York Times

“There’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.” ~ Paul Krugman, The New York Times

While one man is likely to go on trial for the killings and woundings at the Congress on the Corner in Arizona, I hope this tragedy isn’t buried as only one’s person isolated responsibility. Because a culture of violence isn’t confined to only those who commit violent acts. Equally, the responsibility for non-violence is with everyone.

“So will the Arizona massacre make our discourse less toxic? It’s really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric? Or will they try to dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual, and go on as before? ~ Paul Krugman, The New York Times

Let’s hope for a new era of responsibility in our leaders and media commentators, and amongst people having conversations, blogging and tweeting everywhere. (Reform of gun ownership might be helpful too?)

As people look for cause and prevention, I’m hoping that leaders won’t be shut off from those they represent by excessive security requirements that prevent them from interacting with their constituents. I’m sure for a Senator who was just beginning her first Congress on the Corner would want more conversations about the things that matter on street corners everywhere.

So what does all this mean for my New Years resolutions?

This year I’m going to pay more attention to the words I use, particularly language that blames or contrasts goodies and badies, or ‘good things’ vs ‘bad things’. I suspect that there’s a similarity between violent political language and alarmist language around climate change and other sustainability challenges, and I’m keen to move away from scare tactics that inspire fear in anything I write or share online.

With some of my significant earlier years spent designing campaigns, and such an influential culture of alarmism and hyperbole (and probably too much time spent online – another New Year’s resolution!) let’s see how I go!

An ode to active citizenship

Today I was referred to a fantastic interview with Peter Block on the content of his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging – highly recommended! Diving into Peter’s brilliant wisdom in this three part YouTube clip, I was reminded of the profound significance of citizenship and the role of leaders in engaging people to act on what matters most to them.

Reclaiming our citizenship

Much of my work around sustainability is exploring the barriers to change. As an environmental scientist, I used to believe that giving people more information – better, more targeted, engaging, simple, meaningful, practical information – would cause them to act to change their unsustainable ways of living, surely! After some years of disbelief, and thanks to some great teaching around behavior change from Doug McKenzie Mohr, I now realize that more information will not create change. If it did, most of us would have reason to be living in radically more sustainable ways. So why is it that so many people are disengaged from acting to make their lives more meaningful, as well as contributing to the wellbeing and survival of other humans, other animals, and all species into the future?

There’s probably not one simple answer ; ) But in the last few years, I’ve come to see that as well as the need to understand our interconnectedness, our understanding of ourselves as consumers rather than as citizens plays a huge role in whether or not we are impelled to act to work with others to create better ways of living.

So much of our lives are shaped around our assumed role as consumers, and this saturation becomes self-perpetuating: with the desire for more stuff driving longer work hours, making it less and less possible for people to interact, to see each other at community events, or volunteer their time. Sadly, as Peter Block points to in his interview, this cycle is dangerously addictive:

“Being a consumer is guaranteed dissatisfaction – looking to others to satisfy what you can’t satisfy yourself…This culture has become addicted to looking for things from the outside.”

So if a life as a consumer is dissatisfying as well as draining on the planet’s resources, and at hyper levels creating barriers to so many around the world being able to fulfill their basic human needs, what is the alternative?

Active citizenship

It sounds simplistic, but the shift in understanding of ourselves as citizens, as opposed to a consumer or client or customer, is profound.  To be a citizen “means that you’re capable of producing something, of diagnosing your own problems, of deciding what’s important to you (Peter Block 2009)”. To understand yourself as a citizen implies that you believe  you have the power to change your life, and to help shape the lives of others for the better.

Currently, those working on social, environmental, economic or political problems focus on creating high level solutions through science, funding, or policy creation. This macro-level work is essential. AND at the same time, I believe working on the micro scale to engage active citizenship is revolutionary, world changing and very necessary work.

“The most important contribution any of us can make now is not to solve any particular problem … What we must do is increase the proportion of humans who know that they can cause change.” ~ social entrepreneur Bill Drayton

“The idea that more programs, more money, better leadership, more expertise, is going to create a different future, it’s not – the only thing that’s going to create that is a deeper sense of connectedness, social fabric, community, citizens thinking this place is mine to create” ~ Peter Block

Leadership as hosting the conversations that matter

One of the most interesting parts of Peter’s interview, pitched towards public servants and elected local government representatives, was his challenge that the role of leaders is not to represent others. Democracy, and most leadership thinking, rests around the idea that we elect others to act on our behalf, and that those we vote for act as proxy for our best interests.

“I think the role of elected officials is not to represent citizens, but to confront citizens with their own freedom” (PB)

This is a huge challenge to our common view of leadership, that others can do public interest work for us (and if it doesn’t work, it’s the fault of that individual or political party, or the system itself!). This handover of responsibility removes us from our own sense of power and possibility, given we’re not in an official role with a mandate to ‘do good’.

Instead of representing others, or defending the city’s progress to citizens as if they were clients, Block advocates that the tole of elected officials should be to convene citizens to meet with each other and have the conversations that matter.

“The leader’s responsibility is to name the debate, knowing what we need to focus on, and naming the questions.”

“If you want to create a different future, you have to have a different conversation. And the conversation we’re having now doesn’t have the power or capacity to create a different future” (PB)

Just as importantly as offering meaningful questions, leadership is about having a “conversation about the possibilities, not the problems” – a generative lens through which positive action is much more likely.

Toasting to the profound promise of transformation through simple acts of active citizenship in service to possibility, everywhere….

Thanks to vivian Hutchinson, friend, mentor and leader in social entrepreneurship in New Zealand for sharing such an insightful piece, and for helping inspire active citizenship through the inspiring ChangeMakers platform.

ChangeMakers’ 5:10:5:10 tool for self-defined citizenship action is an inspiring but simple catalyst for supporting each other to step into more active citizenship, wherever we are and whatever we care about:

5 – spend 5% of your time on active citizenship tasks

10 – do ten actions in the next year on your personal passion for making a practical difference

5 – spend 5% of your income directly supporting the citizenship actions that inspire you

10 – join with ten other people to create a learning community to support each other’s work for change

What could your 5:10:5:10 be? And how could you help convene the conversations that help others awaken their citizenship action?

Meg Wheatley at AoH Karlskrona

I really appreciate the voice Meg Wheatley has on the importance of conversational leadership and learning together. We were lucky enough to have her join us by web conference at the Art of Hosting Karlskrona training last week. I was struck by Meg’s contributions on perseverance, hope and a leader as host. Here’s some of  her key notes:


  • There is only one kind of leadership that works – leadership that respects and develops others.
  • Always work in the spirit of ‘I know what you are capable of’. Similarly, WE can be much more than we are, as humanity.
  • What we need is already here. The leadership we need is here.
  • How a leader evolves is dependant on whether they trust others
  • Authoritative leadership turns people into robots, where they begin to be asked to be told, and not to think or respond personally.
  • Chaos is our most sustainable resource


  • There are not enough people on the planet thinking more deeply

Leader as host

  • Collaborative processes bring us together with others’ skills and knowledge that will be required for the change we need in the world
  • How much time do we put into making people feel comfortable with the meaning of our lives? Not much compared to the time we put into hosting people physically.
  • In chaotic times the world reverts to heroic leadership. In uncertain times we need more than ever to turn to the community.


  • Who amongst us knows the answer? No one! Collaboration will save our lives.
  • Collaborating, we all grow smarter, and we grow closer
  • Collaborating creates the conditions for sustainable lives
  • We must make a decision to work together


  • Begin with passion. But passion does not give us the ability to persevere.
  • The world is calling for great perseverance.
  • “Every day I have to decide not to give up”
  • Urgency acts to fracture our relationships and drive us apart from one another. Ugency pushes people away who’re not focusing on the same issues, or have a different idea from mine. Urgency exhausts us. Urgency is a trap.
  • Anger also doesn’t give us the capacity to continue working. Anger is a parasite that destroys the host. There’s more than enough to be angry about, but what do we chose to do with our anger?
  • We must pay attention to our inner state – need to be grounded in the long term.
  • Notice what motivates you – this will directly affect your results. And chose a motivation that allows you to persevere, from which you can say “This is my work no matter what, I can’t not do this work.”
  • Focus on the work I want to be doing no matter what. This takes discipline.


  • Work without hope because it automatically brings in fear and despair, the shadow sides of hope.
  • The place beyond hope and fear is where we need to work

For a fantastic article on the power of conversational leadership, the ‘leader as host’ idea that Meg refers to, see Conversational Leadership – Thinking together for a change

On the 20th February we were lucky enough to have Peter Senge join us at Art of Hosting Karlskrona, a facilitation training I co-organised for 90 young leaders collaboration for change.

Peter Senge has always been a leading thinker and leadership guide for me, so it was hugely inspiring to talk with him by web conference and to have him sound so many valuable notes around  leadership, intergenerational dialogue, community and collective change.

Here are some of my highlights:

Youth leadership, the future and intergenerational dialogue

  • We have a long-term loss of connection with the future. This is enhanced by modern society excluding the voices of children and young people. An emotional connection with the future is so critical to the profound changes that are required in the world.
  • People are predisposed to listen to young people’s voices – they hit us in the heart and have an unexpected authority and influence from young people’s voices. Just think of the contrast between hearing about an issue and looking at a trendline, and looking into the face of a child.
  • Young people doing community building are agents for profound change
  • “I know of no quicker way to bring the future into the present than to bring in children and young people.”
  • We need networks of mentors that span generations.
  • Look for commonality – there is so much! But commonality is not revealed when you focus on one controversial issue – this puts people into opposition mode and simplistic polarisation.


  • ‘Change’ is a problematic idea
  • People don’t resist change, they resist being changed!
  • How do you evoke wanting to change? How do we create spaces where people can connect to their aspirations?
  • Don’t get caught up in opposing the status quo. Be a force for the future without reinforcing polarisation.
  • Span the issues. Suspend the rigidity of your views, which is an expression of our fears.
  • Speak to our potential and the possibility of the future
  • Start with the people who are most predisposed and invite others who are less disposed in to join you
  • So many of our views and assumptions are informed by a view of humanity at our worst. Let’s work from the basis of humans at our best, and use the natural energy of our desire to be who we really are and can be, and our genuine desire to help one another.
  • We don’t need to solve all the problems, or have a plan in place, we just need to make some progress and use this momentum to drive further changes. Do one of two things and the momentum will grow!
  • There is no ‘answer’. Let go of their being an answer, and don’t worry about solving all the big problems. Focus on the quality of relationships, small steps, and gain momentum.

Collective leadership

  • Leadership must be catalytic, rather than an end unto itself
  • Respect is a cornerstone of effective process – people need to feel respected
  • A powerful act is simply to get people (including children, young people and older people) together, host them well, and reveal collective wisdom.
  • Collaboration is the human face of systems thinking.


  • Everything we do is to build networks of relationships
  • Communities are a synonym for microcosms of the world
  • Community forces you to embrace diversity
  • Communities must be geographic or at least able to meet face to face. Web-based communities are a compliment for face-to-face communities.


  • Find your deepest source of aspiration
  • See with your heart – this is literally the meaning of ‘courage’
  • ‘Enlightenment’ = open heart
  • The oldest Chinese symbol for mind is heart
  • As humans we have a knowing of the heart
  • Let go of the attachment to the mind and intelligence. Pay much more attention to your deepest feelings.
  • Just keep doing the work!