Leading Comments

Russ Volckmann


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> Russ Volckmann


In another departure from the pattern, this month’s summary is of a remarkable audiotape from a conference. This tape is of a presentation by Bill Isaacs and Rev. Jeffrey Brown, “Collective Leadership: Principles and Practices for Dialogue-Based Profound Change,” 2001 Systems Thinking in Action, Pegasus.

Bill Isaacs begins with Margaret Mead’s observation that “A small group of thoughtful and concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

And then explores questions like:
“What is the kind of collective leadership that is required to respond to the events of the day (asked shortly after 9/11 and the observation that unilateral action by the US or by CEOs in today’s organizations is no longer viable.)?
“What is required to handle intelligently the disturbances we are now seeing?”
He notes that inquiry and violence cannot coexist.
“How will we ever get out of the reactive response?”
“Where is the safe place to stand (not just physically)?”
“What principles and processes are required to effect the profound change that is now needed? How will we go about this?”

A member of the audience contributed, “Inquiry and answers cannot coexist.” Answers do violence to inquiry.

Another asks, “What does the transition from violence to inquiry look like?”

In many corporate settings, the demands for collective inquiry is more and more evident, more required. The principles of dialogue are principles of collective leadership.

Much of the rest of the tape is a presentation by Rev. Brown of his experience in joining with others to address the issues of juvenile violence, particularly the growing numbers (over 150 in one year) of juvenile murders. His is a story of transformation from middle class pastoral endeavors to a minister who walked the streets with like-minded ministers of other persuasions where juvenile violence was at its worst in Boston.

As a result of asking the people on the streets, youth and others, they came up with a ten point plan. The community effort became known as the Ten Point Coalition. Public and community agencies joined the dialogue that Rev. Brown and his colleagues initiated.

Juvenile murders dropped to zero for two and a half years. The essence of his story was that through the efforts initially of four ministers, leadership alliances were formed with the youth and other “marginal” people in the streets and ultimately with police and other public agencies. These efforts were transformational, not only for the youth, but for police leaders, as well.

One of the drivers for bringing together the first four leaders was the recognition that they needed the diversity of perspective and the determination for the process to go forward. They recognized that what they were undertaking was personally dangerous. If one were killed, the others would be there to keep the effort continuing.

Principles that were identified from this and other experiences include:

  • The starting point: “Have you taken a stand about something? What is your stand?” The reason people are attracted to this is “magnetic identity.” If you take a positive stand, like attracts like. Your thoughts attract others. If you put your attention on what is true in you, whatever is highest, you will go in that direction and that magnetizes your world. That is what Rev. Brown and his colleagues were doing.
  • The principle of two in agreement: discovering the reality of an already existing resonance. When you find that, you can’t ever lose it. When it is established it is very powerful and it is magnetic. It involves mind and heart. This is the seed of the collective. “Out of the one comes the two. Out of the two comes the three. And out of the three comes the 10,000 things.”
  • Resonant Containers: Differentiation: Allowing everyone to be themselves. This creates the capacity to handle pressure, to hold the “container.” This describes the capacity to hold pressure as a group of human beings in the face of challenges and threats from others.
  • Operate from Love: This is not about emotion. This is about the spirit, the quality of love, that doesn’t respect the boundaries we put up. No one is left out of love.