- Read The Long Haul
- “Let Go” of Old Habits & Ways of Seeing
- Don’t Let Go Of Everything
- Practice “Urgent Patience”
- Conduct Stakeholder Interviews
1. Read The Long Haul
The Long Haul is the autobiography of Myles Horton, whose Highlander Folk School helped train civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt. In chronicling the evolution of Highlander, Horton traces his own thought process, providing a useful example of how one person struggled with an idea over time in order to allow a powerful organizational vision come into being.
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2. “Let Go” of Old Habits & Ways of Seeing
To allow new ways of thinking to emerge, we must be willing to confront, and then let go of, the mental models that no longer serve us. For some of us, this may be a traditional approach to classroom management, a particular style of interpersonal communication, or a tendency to define the origins of problems as “out there” instead of “in here.” Whatever the answers may be, the way we find them is by practicing self-reflection, intentionally and consistently, with courage, humility, and openness to the discovery of something new.
3. Don’t Let Go Of Everything
There is a key distinction between letting go of the mental models and habits that no longer serve you well – which is essential if new ideas and ways of being are to emerge – and letting go of the decision-making process entirely, which is an abdication of leadership.
Create the space that lets people develop greater clarity of themselves and the organization they are a part of. Do not stand back and wait for innovation to emerge. Self-organization does not just self-organize, after all; it needs someone to prepare the soil.
4. Practice “Urgent Patience”
Research confirms that before lasting change can take root, people must acquire the understanding, the motivation and the skills they need to see their new ideas through. By definition, this type of transformation, at both the individual and organizational levels, takes time.
A central challenge for all of us, then, is to become what leadership consultant Cile Chavez calls a “mystic” — or, someone with a distant vision and an up-close focus. We must have clarity about where our work is headed, and how we’ll know when we get there. And we must have patience, so that new ideas and behaviors can get baked into the culture of the school.
5. Conduct Stakeholder Interviews
Regularly reserve time to spend with key stakeholders and have a conversation with them in which you actively work to walk in their shoes and see your job (and behavior) from their point of view. Here are four questions you might use, derived from Otto Scharmer’s book Theory U, to frame the discussion:
- What is your most important goal here, and how can I help you achieve it?
- What criteria will you use to determine whether my contributions to your work have been successful or not?
- If I tried to change two things I’m responsible for with regard to your own work, which things would be of the greatest value and benefit for you?
- Are there any historic barriers that have traditionally made it difficult for people with my job to support you and your work? If so, what is it that keeps getting in your way?