Harriet Wasserstrum on Primacy of Relationships

by Harriet Wasserstrum, ALF Houston

HWI tell people all the time that ALF is in the business of building relationships among people who think differently.  Within a Core Fellows class, that might be a corporate executive and a nonprofit leader; in a Criminal Justice Sector class, it might be a district attorney and someone who has spent time in prison.  We don’t try to change values (although sometimes they do shift), but we expect that once you actually get to know someone whose perspective is very different from your own, it will change the way you think about certain issues.  My favorite image comes from a judge who said that after his ALF experience, before he rendered a decision in certain complex cases, he would think about each of his classmates and how they would react.  Even when strong differences remain, the hope is that you will think the person with an opposing view is just wrong, not evil.  We certainly could use more of that in government today.

For a Criminal Justice Sector class, we recruit people with very different roles in the criminal justice system — judge, defense attorney, prosecutor, probation, law enforcement, court services, ex-con, etc.  In a recent class, one of the judges was upset by how young offenders — who at 17 are treated as adults — often choose the easiest way out even if it has bad long-term consequences.  Because of the relationships they had built, class members were willing to stay in a difficult conversation over a long period of time, talking through why they do what they do and the implications of how the system handles young offenders.  For some, it was just useful to hear how these young adults make schools and law enforcement mad.  For others, it was important to learn about brain development and therefore scale back their expectations for rational thinking from 17 year old offenders.  They are still in that conversation, pushing for alternate diversion options for young offenders.  ALF has become a place where players from different parts of the system can really listen to each other and work together on solutions.

Government Shutdown

debtceilingRecently, U.S. national elected officials chose to shutdown the government over differences in the debt ceiling and the Affordable Care Act.  What has the shutdown taught you about leadership / lack of leadership in America, today?  Are there any ties with these issues and the themes that were addressed in the book?

The Apt Timing of Everything We Know About Leadership …

39a92232df4a0ad8956e24.L._V356385727_SX200_by Jeff Golden, lead author of “Everything We Know About Leadership”

It’s so fitting to have Everything We Know About Leadership come out against the backdrop of one of the most startling failures of national institutional leadership in memory. One has to wonder what the key players in Washington’s budget and debt drama would make of the five core values we lay out in this book. Some would scoff. Others would likely say that they seem well-intentioned, but they’re just not realistic principles of leadership. If “leadership” is about the set of dynamics we’ve been witnessing, that’s probably true. But those who hold that those dynamics no longer serve us well, and won’t again, will find valuable guideposts for a new leadership landscape in the pages of this book.

One of the “powerful questions” we serve up in part III of the book, in connection with the core value of Inner Reflection and Personal Growth, is “How do you contribute to the problem you complain about?” How much differently would the recent national drama have played out had the key players had the inner resources to deeply consider and honestly answer that question?

It’s the kind of question that my collaborators in the writing of this book are used to grappling with. That’s one reason this co-creation was a rich experience. In a world and culture changing as rapidly and dramatically as ours, it’s inspiring to work with people less focused on displaying their knowledge than they are learning what they don’t yet know about leadership. “The learners shall inherit the world,” wrote Eric Hoffer, “while the learned will be beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.”

I hope this book challenges and enriches your own sense of leadership, which you might choose to share on this blog. That would be good.

Robin Teater on Service to the Common Good

by Robin Teater, ALF Oregon

I am often reminded – and am reminding myself – that one of the key differentiating features of the ALF leadership development experience is that the bottom line of our mission is to better serve the public – or common – good. It isn’t enough for companies, organizations, agencies and other entities to enjoy the increased capacity of more capable leaders. While the cumulative effect of more knowledgeable, self-aware and deliberative leaders is considerable, ALF’s work is unfinished until we can link the talents and collective capacity of ALF senior fellows to some greater good that serves more than just a single company, organization or public sector agency.

While the need for collective action seems ever more urgent as I survey the complex landscape of interconnected issues within the borders of our small state alone, the question that persists is how to harness what is often described as a potentially powerful leadership network in service to a commonly held goal or objective.  Given the diversity of the ALF network, this can indeed seem like a tall order.

Unless, of course, it’s not about that at all.

I have lately been led to wonder if the deliberative process required for us to collectively discover what we care about is where the real service to our communities begins. Perhaps talk is cheap, as the saying goes, but action without deep understanding can be downright dangerous.

Whatever work ALF or any other leaders choose to do, its success will be dependent on their thoughtful engagement with a diverse range of other perspectives – most especially those that differ (even radically) from their own.  This kind of dialogue and engagement is a profound act of both courage and love – leadership practices in too short supply when they are perhaps most needed to address our common challenges, to truly serve the public good.

A future post co-written by myself and an ALF senior fellow will include what I think is an inspiring story of leaders in an Oregon community that did the hard but ultimately rewarding (we hope) deliberative work in addressing a regional issue of almost unimaginable complexity and volatility. In their story there is something important to be learned about service to the public good – and about the many acts of love and courage that it required.

An early review! "Everyone has a story."

ALF Senior Fellow John Doan, City Administrator for Tumwater, Washington, recently weighed in on the book:

For the 4,000 ALF Senior Fellows, “Everything We Know About Leadership” is an excellent reminder of the ALF framework and experience, and helps us see how other ALF chapters have executed on the ALF values. For students of leadership, the book outlines the proven history, work, and results of ALF as a model for leadership development and community education.

Among the many powerful reminders from my ALF experience was the seven minute talk and realizing that “everyone has a story.” As we work with potential partners, collaborators, employees, and family we need to truly pause to hear the stories. Every community is filled with many people, each with their own story that shapes who they are.

Thanks, John!

Whether you have been through the American Leadership Forum or not, you can share your thoughts about the book at Amazon.com.

Have you read “Everything We Know About Leadership” already? Share your thoughts!

EWKALhardcover_cover_finalPeople all over the country are discovering “Everything We Know About Leadership.” Maybe you are a senior fellow, maybe you are thinking your community could use an ALF chapter, maybe you are just passionate about the topic of leadership, and found this book randomly on Amazon.

However it happened, please consider telling taking a few moments to review it on Amazon or Goodreads. Your shared feedback will help others like you make a decision about the book, and it would be a real help to furthering the national conversation about leadership that ALF hopes to foster.

Thank you.