Thursday, December 16, 2010

Leadership and the Role of the Social Architect

The Social Architect's task "is to design and bring into being organizations and communities that serve both the marketplace and the soul of the people who live and work within them. Where the architect designs physical space, the social architect designs social space."

According to author Peter Block, the role of the Social Architect is to create service-oriented space (in business, organizations, governments, schools) by giving those involved the necessary space and freedom to act on what matters most to them.

Three design criteria for Social Architects (and other leaders) as they line up the organizational structures / conditions necessary for promoting and acting on what matters:

1. Is vision, hope, idealism, energy fostered, promoted, encouraged?
2. Is intimacy, collaboration, open process made possible and held open?
3. Is there adequate space (emotional process) and allowance for depth, dialogue, exploration and a sense of adventure and risk allowed?
4. Is there room for failure in the midst of positive movement?

It seems that today's bias is toward more control rather than more freedom, more practicality than idealism, barter rather than intimacy, and greater speed rather than depth.

As responsible citizens and community members we are all called to show up and accept an invitation to participate, to create, to function as co-designers. Acting on what matters is an act of leadership that is not dependent on the response of those around us whom generally say "no we can't" rather than "yes we can try".

Leadership is about creating space for people around us to act on what matters while having the will to action, believing that it is possible to bring about change, growth and positive momentum.

Here are some of the essential capacities of the Social Architect / Leader in supporting and acting on what matters:

1. Convening: with a focus on all aspects of how people come together, the quality of the contact we make with each other, knowing the future is created as a collective act that requires attention to physically arranging the room appropriately, structuring the interaction and dialogue, allowing for open debate, focusing on capabilities (strengths) rather than on the needs (weakness) inherent in the gathering. Some key elements of convening include:

a. Leadership here is about creating an environment that knows what matters and fosters the ability to act upon it.
b. Care for the physical space of the gathering - including the aesthetic qualities of the room, making it conducive for group dialogue, for peers talking to one another in intimacy and openness.
c. Include high-interaction activities - we can't act on what matters alone and we need to make contact and encourage participation as we enter into context, content and agenda of the challenges and opportunities ahead.
d. Design airspace so that all voices can be heard - giving enough airtime is important, especially for the most doubtful and concerned...allowing for doubts to be expressed publicly, makes commitment possible for all and doubts do not have to be answered, only heard.
e. Aim at capacities and strengths - prioritize the discussion around people's strengths and gifts rather than focusing on their limitations.

2. Naming the Question: A leader (Social Architect) has the obligation to define the context, or the playing field and then help define and determine the right questions to start the conversation. Picking the right questions is a way of naming the debate. The Social Architect works within the community's requirements - including the concerns of funders, customers, and other stakeholders, opening the process by which compliance/achieving goals is measured and achieved.

a. Finding the right questions - and having them open-ended enough to engage everyone personally and organizationally while asking for ways to increase people's freedom so that better decisions can be made. How fast to grow, what are the challenges of growth...the person who names the question generally carries the outcome and we can't get bogged down answering too narrow a question.

b. Broadening the questions - Leaders job is to keep broadening the questions as this is what engages people, creating room for idealism, hope, and depth. We may need to stay with questions of purpose, feeling and relationships which require postponing the how? (Questions of methodology will never disappear and they don't need our nurturing.)

3. Initiating New Conversations for Learning: Technology can support relationships but we need to keep implementing high-contact and human being-based face to face conversations as much as possible, keeping all the voices involved over time. We foster positive change when we create the time and space for heartfelt unique conversations that discuss values, recognize doubts, and affirm feelings and intuition.

4. Sticking with Strategies of Engagement and Consent: Implied is that positive engagement is the design tool of choice. It is how social and cultural change occurs over time,

a. Complex challenges - when we face these difficulties, especially when we create systems that go against the default culture, dialogue itself is part of the solution. Productive conversation is an action step, not only a means to an end, but it is also an end in itself.

b. Chosen not mandated - keeping our intentions and will to live on the margins of culture requires that we talk through the implications and challenges of our choices with intentionally. We are looking to create a future that is chosen and not merely mandated.

c. Conversation - commitment and accountability can't be bought and sold, they have to be evoked, which happens as we dialogue over time. We become engagement managers helping decide who needs to be in the room at various stages and what questions they should confront while keeping to the ground rule that questions of intent and purpose precede questions of methodology.

5. Designing Strategies That Support Local Choice: We want to create social systems/ communities that people want to inhabit, so their input and collaboration is necessary. At a minimum members can begin to define and describe their requirements for participation. A Social Architect/Leader enables this participative design, and it may take a bit longer, but the alternative is to choose a plan/direction that may not be supported.

Here are some design elements necessary to construct a high functioning social system:
  • What is the mission of the system? Who decides this? Who are we really here to serve?
  • How do we construct the job of leadership? Who decides this?
  • What measures have meaning to us? Can we choose these collectively and limit their number to a few high priority ones - maybe three to five?
  • What learning and training is needed? Who decides this? Can different levels learn together in order to help overcome the social distance between levels?
  • What constitutes reasonable, transparent, just rewards? Who makes these choices?
  • How do we improve quality and introduce change? Who makes these choices?
  • How do we stay connected with our marketplace and those we are here to serve? How does everyone get involved in doing this?
  • What is our belief system about people's motivation? How does it fit with the values we came here to live out?
Who decides? Who is in the room? These are key elements in answering these questions. We are promoting activism and we intend to keep technology, barter and speed in perspective. It requires faith in our own capacities and the willingness to stop focusing on our weaknesses. Our weaknesses are always hanging around while our strengths have hardly been touched.


1. Focus on strength - and we confront ourselves with our freedom and other people with theirs...which is so much more powerful than the usual deficiency-oriented view which only limits us and reminds us of imaginary boundaries.
2. Support local control and local capacity - try placing as many choices as possible as close to the work as possible helping them understand the economics of the business while becoming financially literate.
3. Be undeterred by failure - learn from it, hold steady, continue to support local choice while remaining on the side of challenge.
4. Care for the whole - all statements of purpose reinforce the lives of those in the communities served.
5. Be willing to be vulnerable - take the heat, admit failure, no rationalizations, no forced optimism, just dogged determination to move forward in the midst of doubt.
6. Value the human system first - people who do the work are the business, the community is the focus, highlight and tell their stories (not the leaders or funders).
7. Name the debate - carry optimism and idealism out in front of the institution/organization/community with faith in people as primary motivation, with a commitment to foundational ideals that transcend the daily grind of work and responsibility.

Something only has to happen once in the world, and then we know it is possible, and that it can be possible for us in our own can be translated into our own context.

Social Architecture generates an image, fostering imagination, a position and role for each of us to help co-create. Acting on what matters for one person happens in concert with those around them, as individual effort will not be enough if we don't encourage others to find their own meaning, their own voice. Without them we will not be able to sustain our own.

Adapted from the great little book, The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block

Enjoy the challenge,

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Overcoming the Darkness 23 degrees - 26' - Open Hand Winter Solstice 2010

Join us this Sunday at Sunset - 5:38pm sharp for our annual Overcoming the Darkness Winter Solstice Celebration when the Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23 degrees 26 minutes.

Reynolds home with a Yuletide Fire Liturgy, grog and chili dinner to follow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The myth of answering to our boss - stop it!

What power are you giving your boss that is interfering with your own purpose?

We tend to make the boss powerful because we falsely believe that without their support and approval we can't do our job. Our ambitions and dreams are held hostage as we become dependent on their support and approval. Here are four myths to consider:

1. They hold my future in their hands

2. They are key to my growth and I need to learn from them

3. They determine my work environment, morale and well being

4. They have the insight and wisdom I need to accomplish my job

It is actually foolish to believe that our boss will provide the keys to our future. There is no rational process guaranteeing a promotion, and despite attempts to be competent, judgments are merely subjective opinions. Their feedback has little to do with who we are and how we are actually doing our job.

Giving our boss power actually becomes an obstacle to learning. Our development and success is in our hands and it needs to stay there. They may wish to be helpful, but usually aren't.

Much of our difficulty comes from accepting the opinions of others rather than listening to our own internal guidance system. We have to light our own fire instead of placing our purpose in the hands of another.

By surrendering our functioning to others we automatically lose our freedom. And in doing so we forfeit our responsibility in creating our own culture by bringing the qualities we want into the world we inhabit.

They are not going to change. And we need to stop expecting that our boss will eventually understand us. They are not going to get it and even if they did there is no guarantee that they would want to help us get ahead.

There is no one to blame. We tend to think our boss is the problem and we want to fix them. They are merely expressing a symptom of the work system. Once they are gone another boss will step up and continue missing the point. We need to stay focused on our own behavior and get on with acting on what matters.

Jung reminded us that acts of disobedience are the first step toward consciousness. We are not here to fear or please our bosses. But our disobedience or betrayal can be a fuller expression of our own unique humanity. By disappointing authority we may be claiming the ground we stand on as our own. By choosing adventure over safety we are living into existential guilt instead neurotic guilt.

Neurotic guilt is symptomatic of an inauthentic life and stems from our fear of disappointing the expectations of others. We end up choosing to live a life chosen for us by others.

Existential guilt propels us toward deeper levels of personal integrity and challenges us to lean into our full potential. It is the ultimate redemptive value of betrayal and often will not be appreciated by those around us.

Betrayal can be a true gift that allows bosses to work through their own transformations while bringing emotional balance into our relationship systems with those in authority. It is a powerful stimulus for change especially when we can maintain contact rather than cutoff or alienation.

When we affirm our freedom and commitment to an organization, we can look past the behavior of our boss and instead respond to their intent. Our freedom and satisfaction come from acting to create what we believe in. And we can choose this independently of whether they support or reward or even want this from us.

The next time you find yourself wavering before your boss, remember that you are putting your future in someone else's hands. So stop it!

Take charge,

Highlighted from The Answer To How Is Yes - Acting on What Matters by Peter Block

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Curb Your Anxiety Friday - A Swiss Christmas Celebration

Join our Open Hand community for a special - Curb Your Anxiety Friday Swiss Christmas Celebration at our home - Reynolds 3173 N. Delaware St - December 10th from 5:30 - 7:00pm.

Enjoy a Swiss German Christmas Liturgy around the fireplace, with a Latino twist - led by Oscar Clavel, and including a Swiss French Gruyere fondue with white wine, fresh baked Italian bread and steaming garden veggies. Amen!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ten Great Ways to Kill Your Church Staff - or just about any staff for that matter!

For those leaders who want to keep and develop talented colleagues, here are the 10 most common ways to accidentally eat them alive - and how to avoid becoming sharks. (For those leaders who want to get rid of troubling staff members, this is certainly the way to do it.)

1. Demand perfection and conformity: If you are an insecure leader you will tend to demand unrealistic expectations. Secure leaders seek out competent staff and free them to work toward their potential. Leaders can learn from them and even be challenged by them as they become vocational colleagues.

2. Overfunction and of course micromanage: Insecure leaders tend to be willful, lacking the ability to respect and establish appropriate boundaries. They take responsibility for what is not theirs and foster overfunctioning, herding and groupthink by offloading their anxiety on others and imposing it on their staff. Effective leaders treat their staff like professionals and encourage them to function at higher levels of maturity.

3. Play the game of 'divide and conquer': Ineffective leaders don't develop their staff into a team of colleagues. Instead, fearful of losing control or influence they participate in reactive secrecy, sharing information with some while purposefully withholding it from others. This results in staff member confusion and the perpetual staking out of territory. Good leaders understand that specialization doesn't have to result in compartmentalization. They encourage teamwork by developing a culture of trust through integrity.

4. Neglect a theology of calling: A key question is, "Does the church call the staff, or does the pastor "hire" the staff?" Answered one way it looks like the staff "belongs to the pastor." Answered the other way, it reframes the relationship between the congregation and staff. Mature pastors foster a theology of vocation and allow the congregation to participate in the call of staff. They also allow the staff and congregation freedom to work out these relationships.

5. Don't plan the corporate worship service together: A great way to isolate staff and fail at cultivating a shared culture is to not have a weekly worship planning time together. Staff members' participation in leading worship also validates their vocation in the eyes of the congregation. The benefits of doing so include - spending significant time together, cultivating a shared corporate theology of worship, opportunities for prayer, reflection, confession, while tapping into the various talents and expertise that each staff member can contribute. All this helps develop a diverse culture of shared values and perspectives.

6. Maintain a dysfunctional personnel committee: Ineffective leaders often don't spend enough time developing this type of committee into an asset for the staff and congregation. Smart leaders cultivate healthy congregational resources and a high functioning personnel committee encourages everyone to aim for higher standards across the board.

7. Try to make staff members responsible for other people's functioning: Take this as a sure sign of fear and reactive behavior when the pastor/leader insists on making staff members responsible for the behavior of others. (a youth leader held accountable for the actions of the church youth, or a church educator pressured to increase the numbers attending classes). Effective leaders encourage staff to be good stewards, but don't hold them accountable for the decisions or behavior of others.

8. Lower expectations and standards: Ineffective leaders settle for less. Wise leaders cultivate the perspective that their congregations deserve top quality staff. There is no good reason to settle for mediocrity, and in doing so you will actually lose the best people first. Effective leaders choose personal maturity over experience and invest in the long-term. (It takes several years to get to the top of your game and a string of short-termed staff tenures get the congregation nowhere.)

9. Neglect your own spirituality: Leaders can only enhance the spirituality of the staff and congregation to the extent that they are growing and maturing spiritually themselves. Staff knows when the leader is not studying, not spiritually centered and when they are not feeding themselves.

10. Don't invest in your staff's professional development: Effective leaders are intentional in cultivating their staff by providing vision, providing the necessary budget for individual development, providing a sabbatical leave program and by nurturing a learning environment that encourages and challenges everyone.

Finally, here are a few reminders (by church staff members) of ways that leaders can keep a good staff:

  • provide challenge, vision, courage and a spirit of mutual accountability
  • stimulate an environment of theological reflection throughout the staff
  • become an enabler - helping your staff live into their vocational callings
  • be a team leader and team player, living out your own calling to provide vision accompanied by appropriate action
  • be a true servant leader and model redemptive relationships
  • be an effective educator and keen learner, investing in the future and encouraging your staff to do likewise
  • support your staff and value their input while inspiring and encouraging their vocational activities
  • have a pastoral spirit toward the staff as they are true colleagues and not mere "hires"
  • protect and champion the staff from the willful and destructive members in the congregation (be less fearful about losing a few troubling church members than about losing good staff)
  • never ask the staff to do things you as a leader are not willing to do yourself
  • never, ever, take credit for their work!!!!!
Adapted from Israel Galindo and his great book Perspectives on Congregational Leadership - Applying systems thinking for effective leadership

Enjoy the challenge,

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I and Thou.......A lack of clarity is indispensable !

I suppose it is by no accident that I just dusted off my tattered copy of I and Thou by Martin Buber (translated by Walter Kaufmann) and reread these words:

"At that time I wrote what I wrote under the spell of an irresistible enthusiasm. And the inspirations of such enthusiasm one may not change any more, not even for the sake of exactness. For one-can only estimate what one would gain, but not what would be lost."

I find it ironic that this is the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah - that eight-day festival of light celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality. (It almost sounds like another exuberant Celtic holiday channeled by Holy lunar gravitas.)

I admit that I have never knowingly celebrated Chanukah, but will certainly do so beginning tonight.

Apparently more than 21 centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks ?) who were forcefully Hellenizing the tribe of Israel. And of course, against all odds the Jewish rag tag army defeated one of the strongest armies on earth at the time. They drove the Greeks out, reclaiming the Temple in Jerusalem and once again dedicating it to G-d.

With only a single days supply of olive oil they were miraculously able to light the Temple's candelabrum for eight days, until more sacred oil could be ritually prepared. And of course the rest is history - to commemorate this miracle the wise men instituted the festival of Chanukah.

Let me get back to Buber for a moment. He too, wrestled with a desire to get back to the roots of Judaism - back beyond the roots of Christianity. Away from the subversive Greeks.

The Greeks were profoundly visual people, glorified in visual arts. The Hebrews at the other end of the continuum entertained a strict prohibition against the visual arts. The Greeks visualized their gods in marble and intricate vase paintings. The Hebrews expressly forbade these types of images as their G-d was not to be seen.

Rather He was to be heard and obeyed. He wasn't an It but an I - or a You.

Post-modern Christians also attempt to get back to a pre-Hellenistic primal Christianity. The problem is that there never was a pre-Hellenistic Christianity. The Christian faith was nursed in Hellenism for over three centuries.

Paul was a Hellenistic Jew and wrote in Greek. The gospels were also written in Greek probably sometime after Paul's epistles. Although Christianity didn't deny its roots in Judaism, it was "born of the denial that God could not possibly be seen." And as Walter Kaufmann goes on to remind us..."Christians were those who believed that God could become visible, an object of sight and experience, of knowledge and belief."

Christianity and Judaism both emphasize trust and confidence in G-d. Christian faith however, seemed to always land in the Greek territory of very specific articles of faith that had to be believed. This naturally led to ongoing disputes about what had to believed by those wanting to be saved.

As the Reformation shied away from visual images, it came to rely more firmly on the purity of doctrines that led to salvation. This eventually led to bloodbaths and further divisions as each group of splintering Protestants believed they had a corner on the particular truth necessary for salvation

Buber highlights the Jewish doctrine which holds that people can at any time return to God and be forgiven. Judaism stresses the action, the repentance, not merely the state of mind or intellectual belief in forgiveness.

Thus, the book of Jonah is read aloud on the highest Jewish holiday every year. Remember that Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrians who conquered Israel. How could God ever forgive them without demanding some conversion? "When God saw what they did, how they returned from their evil way, God repented of the evil that he had said he would do to them and did it not."

The 'return' has always been at the center of Judaism. For Buber, man stands in a direct relationship with G-d and he is not focused on what we believe as much as how we believe what we believe.

In Kaufmann's translation of I and Thou he states that, "Among the most important things that one can learn from Buber is how to read.....we must learn to feel addressed by a book, by the human being behind it, as if a person spoke directly to us. A good book or essay or poem is not primarily an object to be put to use, or an object of experience: it is the voice of You speaking to me, requiring a response."

I close with some Buber passages that encourage a return to G-d, a true Jewish celebration of faith indeed. Amen. Enjoy the challenge!

"The I of the basic word I-It, the I that is not bodily confronted by a You but surrounded by a multitude of "contents," has only a past and no present. In other words: insofar as a human being makes do with the things that he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his moment has no presence. He has nothing but objects; but objects consist in having been.

Presence is not what is evanescent and passes but what confronts us, waiting and enduring. And the object is not duration but standing still, ceasing, breaking off, becoming rigid, standing out, the lack of relation, the lack of presence. What is essential is lived in the present, objects in the past."


"Feelings accompany the metaphysical and metapsychical fact of love, but they do not constitute it; and the feelings that accompany it can be very different. Jesus' feeling for the possessed man is different from his feeling for the beloved disciple; but the love is one. Feelings one "has"; love occurs. Feelings dwell in man, but man dwells in his love. This is no metaphor but actuality: love does not cling to an I, as if the You were merely its "content" or object: it is between I and You.

Love is responsibility of an I for a You: in this consists what cannot consist in any feeling - the equality of all lovers, for the smallest to the greatest and from the blissfully secure whose life is circumscribed by the life of one beloved human being to him that is nailed his life long to the cross of the world, capable of what is immense and bold enough to risk it: to love man."


"Relation is reciprocity. My You acts on me as I act on it. Our students teach us, our works form us. The "wicked" become a revelation when they are touched by the sacred basic word. How are we educated by children, by animals! Inscrutably involved, we live in the currents of universal reciprocity."


"Hatred remains blind by its very nature; one can hate only part of a being. Whoever sees a whole being and must reject it, is no longer in the dominion of hatred but in the human limitation of the capacity to say You. It does happen to men that a human being confronts them and they are unable to address him with the basic word that always involves an affirmation of the being one addresses, and then they have to reject either the other person or themselves: when entering-into-relationship comes to this barrier, it recognizes its own relativity which disappears only when this barrier is removed. Yet whoever hates directly is closer to a relation than those who are without love and hate."


"Man becomes an I through a You. What confronts us comes and vanishes, relational events take shape and scatter, and through these changes crystallizes, more and more each time, the consciousness of the constant partner, the I-consciousness. To be sure, for a long time it appears only woven into the relation to a You, discernible as that which reaches for but is not a You; but it comes closer and closer to the bursting point until one day the bonds are broken and the I confronts its detached self for a moment like a You - and then it takes possession of itself and henceforth enters into relations in full consciousness."


Tonight I am going to light one candle and enjoy Chanukah and the celebratory Jewish traditions of eating foods friend in oil, topped off with sufganiot (doughnuts).