Power of Authenticity to Change Hearts

The true force that attracts others is the force of the heart.  Inspirational presentations are heart to heart, spirit to spirit, life to life.  It’s when you share what’s in your soul that you can truly move others.--James Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations

I learned an important leadership lesson this week about why authenticity is essential. I was asked to speak briefly about a successful struggle for social justice in my community to a gathering of 275 Virginians Organized in Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) leaders and volunteers. 

At the dress rehearsal my colleagues pushed me to scrap what I had prepared and start with my personal story—how this experience changed me.  What might have been an OK bit of teaching about how to organize people to lead change turned into something altogether more powerful and moving for the audience and for me. 

Many of our story tellers in this public action were people directly affected by the injustices we work to change.  I was the story teller most like the majority of the audience—white, affluent and uncertain about how willing I was to make organizing with public housing residents my priority.  My role in this inspiring production was to run an action on all the people who could identify with me and this reluctance to step into these tough problems and learn from them.

This was just a 2-minute presentation so I was stunned to hear from many people later that it was the pivotal moment for them in the action. It was not just my words but what they could see--the very genuine bond I now have with the public housing resident leader as we stood side by side to tell our story. They could see themselves in me and experience for a moment the vision of VOICE bringing very different people together to work for change.

I’ve had enough leadership training to know that effective leaders are authentic. Now I better understand why. It’s not just to build credibility and win trust.  When we are truly authentic, as the quote above from Kouzes and Posner observes, we are speaking from our hearts to the hearts of others. When we risk sharing our soul, we can truly move others to act.

Collaborative Work in Virtual World Time

Even though our web technologies can connect us in ever more robust ways, straddling time zones remains one of the unsolved challenges of real-time collaborative learning and decision making.

When online collaboration was mostly asynchronous, you didn’t have to worry about how early or late people could participate or when they might become weak with hunger. Webinars rarely last more than an hour so finding an acceptable and humane time to hold them is do-able. Now that many organizations are offering a virtual alternative to their conferences, the live conference schedule drives when things happen. That could change if more people are participating virtually than onsite. When that happens, conference general sessions might move into late morning or early afternoon time slots.

Scheduling is far trickier when you have equal numbers of people participating onsite in different time zones connected into a collaborative experience using web technologies. I am facing this challenge in designing and facilitating a U.S. national summit that will happen somewhat simultaneously in 7 locations in 4 time zones. I had to use a spreadsheet just to visualize how and when I could schedule blocks of common time for speakers and collaborative discussion. I plan to design locally-facilitated discussions and activities that can feed into the collective learning experience when the groups cannot work in sync. 

Thank goodness none of the onsite locations are in Alaska or Hawaii or anywhere else around the globe. Something would have to give—either the amount of real-time collaboration we could have or when people would be able to sleep and eat.

This is not just one extraordinarily innovative summit. It occurs to me this is exactly the kind of anytime, anywhere world we have been driving toward for more than a decade. Global organizations regularly schedule conference calls that disadvantage someone’s body clock. Major corporations are experimenting with passing projects around the global clock in a kind of relay race. With the growth of telecommuting, outsourcing and offshoring, people are discovering how to collaborate across distances and time zones.

The next logical step in this evolution is developing something akin to virtual world time.  What will be the circadian rhythm of this future world? Will power and privilege determine who sees the sun? Or will our most important and comfortable reality be in the connections we make in our virtual world?

All I know today is that our technological capabilities to work collaboratively are outpacing our human and cultural adaptations to the possibilities. It will take much more than a spreadsheet to sort out this anytime, anywhere world.           

Using the 1-2 Punch of Provocative Forecasts and Strategic Questions

Provocative forecasts are a surefire way to help people think about how different the future might be, especially when they are followed by strategic questions the organization must answer.

Provocative forecasts test our assumptions about issues that could be important to the future direction of our organization, profession, field or industry.  They are not predictions; however, they are plausible outcomes based on an analysis of current trends and issues. Leaders and decision makers use them as tools for anticipatory learning and strategic thinking. They help jumpstart strategic conversations that help us better understand the future.

Strategic questions are designed to help us examine a critical choice about the future. Quite often they address areas of great change and uncertainty where the decisions are not simple and yet leaders must choose the best answer to set the direction for their organization.  

Writing provocative forecasts is an art form.  One or two sentences have to synthesize and crystallize several trends and issues uncovered through futures research. They have to be succinct because their power comes from using them in all kinds of learning experiences from reports to surveys to discussions.  They are the provocative headline that will draw people into deeper reflection and discussion on very complex and challenging situations.

Likewise, good strategic questions have to be tailored to probe the challenges and opportunities the organization might face. For associations, two questions might be needed for a 1-2 punch for each provocative forecast. One that probes the choices members’ organizations might face and another that probes the strategic options of the association.

Here’s an example of a forecast on resiliency and innovation that demonstrates how this 1-2 punch can work in an anticipatory learning process. This forecast is the 7th forecast in a set Signature i developed to help an association test its assumptions about the future of postsecondary education. The first six forecasts explore significant changes in the field that create increasing complexity. This forecast introduces the idea of a collaborative network of innovation. The strategic questions probe the obvious implications and potential opportunities for the members and the association to collaborate in new ways.    

Resiliency and Innovation. In the face of increasing complexity, schools and universities will collaborate with a network of innovators to identify changes, adapt to new challenges, and create resilient solutions.

  • What strategies are you using to thrive in a challenging world that requires a faster rate of change?
  • What can this association do to help members become more resilient and innovative?

The forecast can be discussed in many ways. Is it likely to happen? What evidence or examples do we see of this happening now? How significant is this change to our culture and practices? Can we describe what this change might look like?  What are the implications for us?

The strategic questions help inform an important choice.  The first question prompts association members to think about how they are identifying changes and learning to respond to them. The second question asks them what the association should do and might point to a new role or suite of programs and services the association could pursue.

As a 1-2 punch to learning about the future, provocative forecasts are a great tool for helping people see what is changing.  Strategic questions are the right tool to frame a strategic conversation to explore future opportunities.