culture


by David McSpadden

by David McSpadden

We operate in a time of increasing complexity, where we frequently cannot control or predict what will effect change, where dynamic forces affect the broader movement ecosystem, and where interdependent relationships are vital to our work. To progress on the long arc of justice we need to get much smarter about how to engage the leadership of all who care about justice. We need to transcend the futile search for the one or two best leadership approaches and understand a spectrum of leadership—to know what kind of leadership is required by a particular context or task, and to create the conditions in people and systems to flex across these approaches to leadership. (Read more at MAG)

photo by Michael Thomas Alleman

Okay.  So it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve updated this space.  Six months to be exact.  In that space a lot of incredible work, fun and learning has been happening. Where to begin?  Well I’ll start with where I left off.

Doug Paxton and I c0-led the inaugural iteration of the Leadership & Values Peer Coaching Program through the Leadership Center at Saint Mary’s College with six incredible participants.  We learned a lot, were really honored to be among an extremely diverse group of people all ready to do the inner transformation work necessary to do the external transformation work, and had some fun too!  So much so that we are doing it again starting March 21st.  (There are still a few spaces available as well as partial scholarships).  Also at Saint Mary’s we launched a Social Justice concentration within the MA Leadership Program in the School of Liberal Arts.  Amy Scharf and I co-designed and taught the first Leadership and Social Movements course in the program.

I also had a great time blogging as a fellow for ArtsFwd (a project of EmcArts).  In this space I got to talk with Melanie Cervantes of the Akonadi Foundation and John Killacky of Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.  Topics included considering arts in the social justice ecosystem, applying our learning as artists to our leadership and the coach’s stance.  Check me out!

In my own art practice, Everything Indicates, the anthology I edited with Tamsin Smith and Ben Davis celebrating the Bay Bridge, was released and we had readings and parties in several places including City Lights Books and Bissap Baobab.  The audiences/co-celebrants of the Bay Bridge at these events were really quite interesting and ranged from appreciators of poetry and photography with no connection to the bridge to employees of Caltrans who were toll takers and administrative support and quite overjoyed to see people expressing reverence and appreciation for this marvel hiding in plain sight.

There are several new connections in my life as well including a new relationship with Coaching for Justice, which unfolded in the last few months.  I survived the vetting process and am now officially an affiliate coach with C4J!  I also have a new professional home base with the Network Leadership Innovation Lab as the Program Catalyst.  I have only been in this half-time role for a month and have already been able to both learn and contribute in a way that feels quite good and useful.  Stay tuned for a lot more on this project in the coming months!

All this while continuing to partner with clients on personal and organizational capacity building.  It’s been full and it’s been wonderful!  Hope to re-connect with many of you in some of these circles soon!

“If someone is trying to impact an organization or impact what’s external without having done any internal work or without being open to changing internally, we can’t do it. So transformative leadership is really the key.” 

“…being imperfect is a requirement to lead…”

Early one winter morning I was interviewed by the fabulous Rajkumari Neogy (scroll down for Raj’s bio) of the Queer Leadership Institute. Her questions were great and some of my answers still felt good and made me think or smile or say hmmm, all these months later. It’s not too cringe-worthy! A few winces and some useful points, at least for sparking more learning and conversation, if I may say so myself.  Take a listen and let me know what you think!

Dale Nienow, and Miguel and Francisco Guajardo gave a great presentation through the Leadership Learning Community on the Community Learning Exchange. The learning across community and the particular attention to story and lifting up and connecting the wisdom of a place was powerful.
Learn more on the LLC Webinars blog.

Leadership… Personal, Professional AND Political
Posted over at The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture’s “Leading Creatively” Blog Series

In reading the questions offered to shape this blog series, I was struck by the question “what are the challenges of managing the boundaries between our personal and professional stories?” Something in it – something only clear in my peripheral vision that becomes fuzzy when I look at it directly – harkens back to a particular time in my life in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Newly armed with the words of Audre Lorde, Judy Grahn, Pat Parker, and Gloria Anzaldúa, with the examples of brave honesty from Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill, and with a brand of bravada that I thought was my own, I embraced the phrase “the personal is political.”

Now the professional and the political are not exactly the same thing and yet I suspect that we are still trying to manage what is an artificial boundary. Who says that that the personal and the professional have rigid boundaries or need them? Are we drawing lines within ourselves that hamper us rather than furthering us, our organizations and our causes?

Even if we decide these boundaries do and should exist, are they feasible in today’s hyper-connected world? Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, said in his address at 2008’s Supernova conference in San Francisco in reference to transparency and social media “the loss of control you fear is already in the past.” So I ask the questions: what is it that makes these boundaries desirable? What needs to shift in our culture and in our leadership culture to allow all of us to be more fully human? What can we do in addition to modeling a different way of being in our organizations and in our relationships with one another to make that shift possible?

Thirteenth-century poet Rumi wrote that love is the way that the Great Mystery tells us things. I contend that art is the way we tell each other. Leading for art – for those sacred messages we tell each other – requires an honesty and a fullness of humanity that is not neatly divided and perhaps even actively resists being bound.

GroundSpark is offering FREE streaming this month and next to help provide critical tools to youth and adults to address bullying. Check out this “spark” which lets you see excerpts, stream, and get other resources.  Pass it on!

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Leadership-n-Race Report ImageI am happy to announce that the Leadership and Race report has been launched! I and several other folks including Sally Leiderman, Deborah Meehan, Maggie Potapchuk, Professor john a. powell, and others contributed to this collectively authored project published by Leadership Learning Community.

The report, How to Develop and Support Leadership that Contributes to Racial Justice, suggests that a large number of leadership programs associate leadership with equal opportunity and individualism. This thinking does not recognize that current systems (i.e. policy, culture and institutional practices) can cause racial identity to impact one’s access to life opportunities. It also focuses too narrowly on changing the behavior of individual leaders.  Key recommendations for leadership programs include:

  1. Make programs more accessible for people of color
  2. Help participants understand how race limits the access to opportunities
  3. Promote collective leadership

The report offers concrete recommendations and methods to help leadership programs and participants promote racial justice through their work.

I encourage you to read more about the report, download it, and join several of the authors for a free webinar on 9/28 to discuss the key findings.

We hope to have a significant impact on how leadership programs are preparing their participants to bring a more race conscious lens to all policy and service work.  I hope you join us in promoting this important work.