Becoming Political


Many of us have an internally running script saying how dissatisfied we are with some political action. Every now and then I suggest to others that they should stop complaining on social media and do something more constructive. Here are some suggestions - modified from the American advocacy group, Climate Reality Project:

  • Call your elected officials’ offices, especially if a decision or vote is pending. Expect that you are talking to a staff member rather than the representative - who will nevertheless be monitoring opinions.

  • Ask for the staff person dealing with the particular issue. Leave a message if you don’t get through to a live person

  • Identify yourself as a constituent, when you are one.

  • Know your facts and state what you think the leader should do.

  • Note any expertise you have in the area.

  • Make the call short. There are likely many calls coming in.

  • Call all the leaders who have an impact on the issue - municipal, provincial and national

When using social media, share good information by linking to it rather than simply ranting..

When writing letters to the editor:

  • Keep it short (100-200 words) and note the article you are referring to. Expect even a short article to be cut - and make every sentence stand alone.

  • Check submission rules for the particular publication. Timely letters - sent almost immediately as a response are more likely to get published.

A Challenge from our Youth

A letter published in the Guardiian Today

“We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future. Humanity is currently causing the sixth mass extinction of species and the global climate system is at the brink of a catastrophic crisis. Its devastating impacts are already felt by millions of people around the globe. Yet we are far from reaching the goals of the Paris agreement.

Young people make up more than half of the global population. Our generation grew up with the climate crisis and we will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives. Despite that fact, most of us are not included in the local and global decision-making process. We are the voiceless future of humanity.

We will no longer accept this injustice. We demand justice for all past, current and future victims of the climate crisis, and so we are rising up. Thousands of us have taken to the streets in the past weeks all around the world. Now we will make our voices heard. On 15 March, we will protest on every continent.

We finally need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It is the biggest threat in human history and we will not accept the world’s decision-makers’ inaction that threatens our entire civilisation. We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes. Climate changeis already happening. People did die, are dying and will die because of it, but we can and will stop this madness.

We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not. United we will rise until we see climate justice. We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis.

You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again”..
The global coordination group of the youth-led climate strike



The orchestral conductor, Benjamin Zander, is a frequent business speaker and famous for his TED talk. now viewed by more than eight million people.  Conductors are sometimes viewed as the last of the great dictators.  Zander is different.  He had an epiphany some years ago when he realized that the conductor of an orchestra plays a different role.


The insight transformed his conducting and his orchestral musicians immediately noticed the difference.  Now he’s a leader who asks for input in the form of written comments at every rehearsal.  He understands that the musicians’ skills and experience enhance his own.

His gifts as a teacher are remarkable too and they are now shared through masterclasses for all of us on YouTube.  The students perform with technical brilliance before he enters in with a consistent message –  it is time to relax and let go of the kind of competitive excellence their preparatory training has provided and instead relate to their audience.  Transformation happens before our own shining eyes.  You can watch several of his master classes on YouTube and see him actively engaged in making the music come alive - even resorting to hair pulling - not a conventional teaching technique – but see how effectively it works in creating a totally different kind of performer).

Zander’s passion is for introducing classical music to those unfamiliar with it and he does so with incredible skill and experience in making audiences and performers connect.  It’s a worthwhile example of how a leader inspires and transforms performance.

Originally published on another site in 2017

A Different Take on Leadership

Some time ago I attended a meeting relating to the roll out of a strategic plan. The agenda was  to review the requirements for leadership and leadership training.  The context was for a mainline church denomination but some of the discussion could apply more broadly.

Several participants had been asked to research and bring  leadership concepts and common key words emerged for leadership roles.  Words like “mediating”, “perfecting”,  offering” and “blessing” appeared in one report.  In another the author had been fond of the letter “C” – and used nouns like “character”, “calling”, “competence” and “community”.  “Servant” leadership was also on the table.

My own contribution came from a longer paper I wrote some years earlier and I focused first on changes in  world view, vision and mission, structural change, personal characteristics and personal development.  My key words echoed some of the others – “discipline”, “humility” and  “learner”.  I was also strong on “collaboration” rather than “hierarchy” even though we are still working within a hierarchical structure. But leader still assumes followers and someone has to take the first step.

The most interesting submission was a summary of a work by Ed Friedman entitled A Failure of Nerve. The writer of the summary had limited himself to 500 words and boiled down the role of the leader to a non-anxious presence.  We spent little time on Friedman’s idea in the meeting, but I had read his book some years before and its mention whetted my appetite to return to it.

A Failure of Nerve  was compiled after Friedman’s death in 1996 by his daughter and students and has been recently reissued.  It is timely. Friedman was a rabbi and psychotherapist by training and as well as founding a successful congregation he served as adviser to six US presidents as well as to many senior church leaders and individual clients. Even before his death he saw that America in the nineties had become a frightened society, fearing change and seeking safety as opposed to the spirit of adventure of its early explorers and founders.  He’s strongly critical of this stance and challenges us to change our mental models.

Friedman is often caustic and witty – and several readers have collected maxims that represent the substance of his thinking.  Here are some that apply to leadership:

  • Leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future.

  • ‘no good deed goes unpunished; chronic criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leader is functioning better! Vision is not enough.

  •  Leaders need “… to focus first on their own integrity and on the nature of their own presence rather than through techniques for manipulating or motivating others.”

  • Leadership through self-differentiation is not easy; learning techniques and imbibing data are far easier. Nor is striving or achieving success as a leader without pain: there is the pain of isolation, the pain of loneliness, the pain of personal attacks, the pain of losing friends. That’s what leadership is all about.here

Much of where Friedman is coming from is defining church congregations and enterprise units as  family systems, a concept developed fully by therapist Murray Bowen. It posits that we call rational  in congregations and enterprises is always framed by the emotional responses learned in our personal birth and extended families.  Those families and tribes, like all systems, seek equilibrium.  When things get tense, it’s likely that learned behavior in earlier systems are in play.  When things are going well, Friedman says, expect sabotage.

The remedy is for the leader to develop self-differentiation rather than to try to persuade or motivate others to change.If a non-anxious presence is required it assumes there is already anxiety and conflict in the room.  But it is working on one’s own development that allows others to learn by example – and take responsibility for their own development.

There is much more to  learn in Friedman’s approach – and that will be a feature of future posts.

First published on anther site in June 2017

Culture or Trauma


Like many Canadians, I watch America with deep concern.  An article in this week's New York Times has echoes of one I read in the New Yorker about the Florida woman who has had such a profound effect on gun laws there and across many other states on behalf of the NRA.  The article is here in the April 1 magazine.

As the writer confronts gun culture as his personal culture, there is an interesting revelation.  His fear started when as a young boy he was robbed in a dark alley.  He has reacted ever since by arming himself with more and more guns.  He shares that experience with the Florida advocate who was also robbed as a teenager.

Both are suffering from post traumatic stress that this writer is starting to acknowledge.  It's something that is shared more widely by a fearful culture that finds it hard to trust anyone and has mistakenly put its trust in weapons designed to destroy.. That doesn't work. Whether this writer and his culture can heal itself is the challenge. It's not helped by its leader.  The only charitable response is that the leader might be most frightened of all - of what we are still to learn - and perhaps we never will.