Leadership in a Culture of Openness

by Erika Justis, ALF’s (Silicon Valley) VP of the Common Good Collaborative

Is openness necessary for an organization to succeed today? ALF welcomed Charlene Li, founder and current Managing Partner of the Altimeter Group and the author of The New York Times bestseller Open Leadership to join us for a Symposium on the subject. Charlene was in a fishbowl dialogue with Chris Block, Luther Jackson and Greg Papadopoulos.

Charlene proposed that Facebook and its fellow social media apps have changed the way we interact, and thus changed expectations in the work environment.

“For people that you’re hiring and working with this [Facebook] is their way of life.  They’re used to communicating and connecting with people in very different ways. The expectation now is to have openness and transparency and a sense of authenticity in their relationships. So what is the nature of the relationship between someone who chooses or aspires to lead, and those they want to follow them?”

Luther called it “creating the container.” It is the leader’s responsibility to create the space where openness is welcome and productive. “It’s critical to build the container where dialogue can happen, and that’s the leader’s key role—to spend a lot of time building the container and then let the magic happen.”

Greg offered that this container and culture is now critical to hiring the best talent. Any other culture is seen as outdated or undesirable. “If it’s anything short of an open environment or Facebook’s style of interaction and sharing, or ‘my voice is heard’ or making a comment, it’s like ‘Where am I?’ It’s a culture question—who do you want to attract? You certainly won’t attract anyone of this generation or anyone in their thirties at this point without it.”

A Collaborative Solution to Wolf Management in Oregon

Two state senators in Oregon share their experience reaching across the aisle to find common ground on the tricky area of wolf management.

by former State Senator Jackie Dingfelder  (D-Portland)

Jackie DingfelderAs I reflect back on my many years in the Oregon Legislature, I observed that natural resource issues were often some of the most contentious ones debated in our state capitol. Oregon’s identity remains, in many ways, tied to its natural resources.  As chair of the House and Senate Environment Committee, few bills came before my committee with strong bipartisan support.  Fortunately, we were able to buck that trend this past session when Sen. Bill Hansell (SD-29) and I co-sponsored a bill to find a bipartisan solution to a long standing dispute about wolf management in Oregon

After reintroduction to Idaho and Yellowstone in the mid-1990’s, wolves began naturally migrating back to Oregon in 1999, some fifty years after the last known wolf was extirpated through a system of bounties and intentional removal.  This first arrival was politically unwelcome and was deported, but as more wolves followed, the State realized it needed to be proactive and plan for the inevitable.  The State’s Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted Oregon’s first ever Oregon Wolf Plan in 2005, after the largest public input process in the State’s history.  The Plan sets recovery goals ensuring wolves will have a place here and also provides management assurances to address reasonable protections for livestock and other interests.  What followed was a period of growth for wolf packs and a period of conflict around one pack in particular, the Imnaha Pack of Wallowa County.

By the time I met Senator Hansell, five packs had established in northeast Oregon, and the Imnaha Pack had been confirmed to have killed or injured well over twenty domestic cattle within a home range that mixed wild lands and working ranches.  Tensions were rising, including pro- and anti-wolf billboards, threatening letters and phone calls between interest groups, and ongoing litigation that had nullified the State’s authority to lethally remove wolves to address livestock losses. When Senator Bill Hansell joined the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee in February 2013, we sat down to discuss the issues of importance to our respective districts.  Sen. Hansell raised the wolf management issue as a key concern and invited me on a fact finding trip to Eastern Oregon to learn more. During three chilly days in early April 2013—with Senator Hansell in his Oregon Ducks snow cap and me in my Patagonia puff-down jacket—we met with the Tribes, livestock producers, wolf advocates, local elected officials, and citizens in Umatilla and Wallowa counties to hear first hand their concerns and viewpoints about wolf management.  Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Governor’s office accompanied us on the trip.

After hearing concerns from both livestock producers and wolf advocates, Sen. Hansell and I vowed to work closely with the Governor’s office staff to advocate for wolf management policies that both sides could support.  This mutual commitment to work across party lines was key to ensuring success.  After many months of negotiations, both sides worked out a litigation settlement involving agreed-upon administrative rules and legislation, in part because of the pressure from the Legislature, and the good work of the Governor’s office staff.  Senator Hansell and I, along with Representative Bob Jenson of Pendleton, worked closely to move the landmark legislation forward.  After much marveling that common ground had been reached on this particular issue, and that a Portland democrat and rural eastern Oregon republicans were working together to carry it, the bill garnered unanimous support in both the House and Senate.

While I have many years of working on natural resource issues around the state, trips like my visit to Wallowa County remind me of how decisions we make in Salem, regardless of where we are from, impact a wide range of Oregonians. Sen. Hansell and I are both American Leadership Forum graduates and know the importance of finding a collaborative solution.  We are proud to have helped forged a bipartisan solution to one of Oregon’s “toothier” issues.

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by State Senator Bill Hansell (R-Pendleton)

Bill HansellDuring my 2013 campaign for the Oregon State Senate District 29, one of the issues for much of the district was wolf livestock predation.  This issue became a legislative priority for me.  After being elected, two things happened that proved to be very important in addressing this issue.

First was my appointment to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.  My Senate District stretches from the Snake River to rural Wasco County, including the six counties in between.  Natural resources provide the economic base for this part of the state.  Secondly, I had the opportunity to meet and work with Senator Jackie Dingfelder, the chair of this committee.

Senator Dingfelder reached out to me as soon as I became a member of her committee.  In true ALF fashion, she reached across the aisle to the Republican freshman from Athena, Oregon.  A friendship began that continues to this day.

When she asked me what priorities I might have I told her the wolf issue was critical for my district.  District 29 contains almost all of the packs in Oregon, and we needed a state policy that would work.

As the session began in early February, it became apparent to me that the probability of any kind of wolf legislation would be very remote.  No one with whom I visited gave it much of a chance.  But in true ALF fashion I wasn’t willing to give up. I reached out to my colleague from Portland, as she had done to me, and invited her to come to Wallowa County to see firsthand what was happening on the ground.

I was delighted when Jackie said I would love to make a trip as long as we did it together. In mid-April after spending a Friday night in our home in Athena, we spent much of the weekend in Wallowa County.

We saw some of the most beautiful country in Oregon; visited with some of the nicest people on both sides of the issue; and were hosted by some of the kindest individuals anywhere.  In addition we were also able to look at some other issues in the area, such as water and the Wallowa Lake Dam.

When we returned to Salem, the legislative wheels started moving.  Within a couple of months a court case was settled, and legislation was drafted.  It then worked its way through the legislative process.  I happened to mention to one of the veteran Senators that I thought we would be able to get a wolf bill passed, his reply was “Senator I’ll believe it when I see it” Well he eventually saw it.

Senator Dingfelder and I testified together at every opportunity, and when the bill came to the Senate floor, I gave the opening argument, and Jackie closed.  It passed 30-0 in the Senate.

Both of us were able to put our ALF experience into practice. We worked together across all sorts of potential differences, for the good of Oregon. I was honored to work with Senator Dingfelder, and call her not only a respected colleague, but valued friend as well.

A brief conversation with Jackie, I shall never forget occurred when, I thanked her for taking time out of her busy schedule to come to my district for a weekend.  Jackie’s response was “No one had ever invited me before, I was excited to come.”

How sad it is in this day of such partisan politics, that we don’t reach out to others and invite them to help find a solution together.  A major highlight of my first year in the Oregon Senate, was crafting a wolf bill with Senator Dingfelder.  We led a team that was very helpful including Rep. Bob Jenson, the Governor’s office, ODF&W, and the Oregon Cattleman Association.  Good public policy, which was good for all concerned, including the wolf, was signed into law due to the collaborative work of two ALF alumni.  This successful effort is, to me, what ALF’s mission is all about, and I was proud to have been a part of it.

A Great Introduction to an Organization Ahead of its Time

Dr. Terryl Ross
Dr. Terryl Ross

Book review on Amazon.com by Dr. Terryl Ross

“The strengths of this book are: it’s short, clear, and a great overview of 30-year-old organization that has been ahead of its time.  I’m a member of ALF Oregon Class 21 and I enjoyed reading this book because it gave me a greater appreciation of the ALF experiences I have in common with over 4000 Senior Fellows throughout the nation.  I personally found ALF to be a transformative experience for me and now I understand the strategy behind the activities and values.  This book has value for people inside and outside of the ALF network because it challenges all of its readers to get involved in online dialogues about themes and issues raised in the book. For a nation that is starving for effective leadership at all levels, this book is apropos.  Just like my American Leadership Forum experience, I’m getting out of this book what I’m putting into it.”

I think the ALF experience needs to be shared with more people and let’s start with our elected officials.

“I never knew.” — On walking a mile in someone else’s shoes

Photo by Allison Spurlock, used under Creative Commons license

Joe Whitworth tells a story about what it’s like to literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. For context, this story is set during the wilderness experience of an American Leadership Forum class.

Within our group of vigorous leaders was a competent professional and respected thinker in her field. She struggled with significant chronic pain. She was hoping to make the climb with us and worked hard during the week to put herself in the physical and mental space to do it. But as the week progressed, so did her difficulties. She ultimately would not make the trip.

Striving both to understand the physical challenges among us and make good on bagging the peak, we split into two groups. Those who were feeling strong would climb the mountain, and the remaining small contingent would set up camp with intentional encumbrances. One classmate duct-taped dumbbells to various appendages and one took no food or water. I chose to put handfuls of gravel in each of my shoes.

From a physical perspective, I have had it pretty good, a lifetime of sports played at high competitive levels. But those rocks lifted a veil of understanding for me. I was immediately reduced to nausea as the sharp objects shifted in my shoes while I gathered firewood and set up the guylines for the tarp. By mid-morning I could hardly tie a simple knot, and by noon I could barely finish my sentences. Things that would normally take seconds to do with my hands now took multiple attempts over many minutes.

I never knew.

A year later I received news that my sister, who had been managing pain from an old accident, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Inoperable. She faced it directly, without medication, in hospice. Resolute courage.

I got home and stayed with her for much of the time before she departed on New Year’s Day. Time enough to say everything that needed saying between us. But having that glimpse of the pain, and knowing the relief she must have gained after dealing with it for so long, was key to my dealing with that loss.

I still have those rocks in a jar by my desk.

Joe Whitworth is president of The Freshwater Trust and lives in Portland, Oregon.

This story, and many more like it, are in the American Leadership Forum’s recent book Everything We Know About Leadership, available now.

What if creativity is really just seeing possibilities that already exist in order to create a future distinct from the past?

by Chris Block, Silicon Valley

Recently, I led a daylong training at a company in San Jose for younger managers with great potential. I planned on taking the group on a daylong experience of Theory U (see blog post “How many gorillas am I missing?” by John Hollar).

We began by intentionally getting into deep relationship with one another through sitting in a circle and telling each other about ourselves—a lighter version of the 7-minute talks (see the very first post on this blog, “How can seven minutes change the world?”). We then did some simple mindfulness exercises to deepen our ability to listen to ourselves and to each other.

By noon, I was going down in flames, no doubt about it. Whatever I was selling, they weren’t buying!! I thought I might try and change what I was doing—pull a rabbit out of the hat, be more entertaining so that I could leave sure that people really liked me.

I fought that temptation and decided to carry on as planned.

After lunch, I showed two “Invisible Gorilla” videos, the actual exercise followed by the award winning mini-documentary that explains what’s going on (see blog post “How many gorillas am I missing?” by John Hollar).

Directly after this, we did a mindful eating exercise where everyone ate or drank something that was a regular part of their diet, really paying attention while doing it for two full minutes. This awareness exercise was followed by a deep listening practice in pairs—each person listening to the other for two minutes as they talked about the experience.

We got back together for a large group dialogue. The third person who spoke appeared a bit shaken up. He had chosen to mindfully drink a can of Diet Coke. He said that he drinks a lot of Diet Coke and has been doing so for some time. In the two minutes, he had come to the realization that the Diet Coke he was drinking did not taste good. I got the impression that the experience had even called into question whether or not he had ever liked Diet Coke! The next person who spoke related the same feelings about the coffee he had been drinking.

The combined experience of missing the gorilla and the group’s experience with mindful eating was more than enough to collectively shake the group up and cause them to ask:

What else are we missing and why?

This led to a great afternoon in which people were much more receptive and open to working on achieving greater awareness, because they realized that all too often the answer to what we are missing is actually quite a bit.

I believe the answer to the question “Why?” is that we are rewarded for simplifying everything into a series of time-limited tasks that can be effectively completed, no matter the complexity. Over time this reactive focus stands in the way of the creative process. We are blinded by our habits, past experiences and fossilized world view, especially in stressful or high-risk situations when it’s especially important to see clearly, understand fully and to generate as many possibilities as possible—the key to innovation and creativity.

In the next blog I will look at the ALF process and talk about what we do in order to significantly increase awareness and put leaders in a place of limitless possibility.

Awareness + Possibility + Future Distinct From Past = Creativity

2by Chris Block, ALF Silicon Valley

What if seeing the unlimited possibilities that already exist is the essence of creativity?

The answer to every question and the solution to every problem already exist. The question, then, is not are you smart enough or savvy enough to solve the problem, but are you aware enough to discover the answers and uncover the possibilities?

I find this very reassuring because this is a human-scale challenge. To create possibilities feels god-like; to become aware of possibilities that already exist seems very doable indeed.

But there are a number of obstacles that stand in the way of meeting the challenge:

Extreme busyness causes us to react and take shortcuts.

Lots of stress causes us to take the limited view.

General isolation separates us from those that could help us most.

Individual isolation disconnects us from our being.

Lack of relationship leads to extreme cautiousness.

It is precisely because of these reasons and more that the American Leadership Forum uses different tools—from 7-minute talks to dialogue to mindfulness to powerful questions—to help people see with fresh eyes the possibilities that already exist.