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Notes on transformative leadership from a community organizer in El Salvador

In practicing experiential education, the question of “What is leadership?” is a kind of cornerstone. A central goal in this practice is to create a context for participants to take charge of their own learning to apply in their real live in the real world. Another word for this is leadership.

In reading notes I took on an interview with a community organizer in El Salvador in 2013, I came across some profound insights on “transformative leadership.” The clarity and organization of his thoughts appealed to me enough then to write them down, word for word, and enough now to share.

What do you think about these distinctions? Comment below.

 

What is a leader?
Someone who, wherever they are, can be identified by the people as someone who can help them in their cause, and who has the charisma or whatever it is to attract others.

3 kinds of abilities of a leader?
Human—> Capacity to work efficiently and well.
Conceptual —> a “human architect,” helping others to be their best selves. Can understand and relate to people at all levels. Capacity to think long-term, good at creating direction.
Technical—> Knowledge and attitude about whatever type of procedure or technical ability has to do with your profession.

Powers
I. Communication, persuasion, integrity, emotional intelligence, creativity, critical thought
II. Should remain in the center, creating strength- should be visible and be in contact with people, but let them work creatively.
III. Interpersonal (charisma), legitimate (position), expert (knowledge formation), political (tactical astuteness)

Personal (charisma)– Charisma can be defined as projecting trust and confidence, verbally and non-verbally, comporting oneself with strength and posture and speaking with clarity.
Legitimate authority– have a higher authority, people consider it necessary that this authority is maintained. Attentive, concentrated.
Expert power– From a specialized learning track, power that comes from knowledge and information that a person has about a theme/ specialty.
Political power- Ability of a leader to build support; exchanging and listening to followers, how to attend to different people differently.

Compare and contrast mainstream leadership // transformative leadership
Designated  // Surge spontaneously, with growing morale of support
Formal authority  // Moral authority
Sees in worker their capacity/ distress  //  Sees in the worker their potential and dream, with sympathy
Administrator of concrete results // Human architect, guiding contact and actions with empathy
Orders work to be finished  // Inspires people to complete objectives

Kinds of leaders

Benevolent and paternalistic

-> Good relations with group but provokes dependence
-> Other person doesn’t collaborate equally

Autocrat
-> exert absolute control over subordinates
-> Doesn’t consult with others
-> Organizes vertical communication style

Transformative Leader
-> Consistent with what think/ say/ do
-> Constructive criticism/ self- criticism
-> Sense of grounded optimism that maintains positivity that allows risk and failure, celebrates successes
-> Sensibility/ simplicity and humility
-> Treat all as collaborators
-> Maintain good communication, listens to their ideas and supports them
-> Healthy and vibrant shared responsibility.

Advice for leaders
Never leave halfway what you’ve begun.
Before adversity, problems and challenges demonstrate courage and audacity.
When doubts, rumors, gossip, investigate and then act firmly.

A different kind of leader is
Shameless- expresses ideas and makes proposals with firmness, bold in vision of the world and chooses which ones want to realize

Disobedient– promote rational change against anachronistic behavior
Vagabond- dream with their eyes open and spend time speaking and listening to others
Disrespectful– communicate without fear of others not liking them, express their truth with humility
Dreamers– lets their imagination fly and always puts themselves out there to try the impossible
Passionate– that maximizes every hour of life, that lives every instant, although most important is to live and learn from failure.

Transformative leadership
This leader is immersed in a transformative process capable of changing structures to transform ordinary people to extraordinary people endowed with charisma, consideration, and intellectual stimulation

Sunset chaser

Feel the feelings, Fathom the problem, Contemplate the solution

Out of many powerful take-aways from an active mindfulness practice, one of my favorite was a clear perspective on problem solving. During a daylong retreat, from her 25 years of being a Buddhist monk, Amma Thanasanti Bhikkuni shared her insight that effective problem solving, particularly for meaningful and complex problems.

We must have different processes/ rituals to:

Feel the feelings

Fathom the problem

Contemplate the solution

If expected to do the three at once, we may have fallen into a wrong view

If we create distinction between the phases and do what’s possible in each moment, we are able to show up with our best creativity, presence and faculties for what’s going on right now.

     After the opening meditation to ground us, allowing ourselves to feel the grief of climate change was surprisingly liberating. We learn not just with our heads, but with our whole bodies. There are literally neurons in our stomachs, for starters. A ball comes whizzing towards us;  without consciously processing we raise our hands to catch it, we flinch, we duck. Without consciously processing we tense our muscles, we constrict our breathing, we lift our shoulders when a complex problem is thrown our way. Without realizing it, often our bodies interlope and make more critical segways than we realize in both the process and the outcome.

Problems– and solutions– are never just “what” level. What’s the story, what is the conflict, what are the facts and figures; important. But why do we tell each other to take a deep breath, go for a walk, take a breather? Because problems are always also “how” level– how will we navigate this? And who will we be in the process- will we be trusting or untrusting, will we be open or closed, will we be relaxed or gripping?

Actively and intentionally allowing ourselves space and time to feel the feelings can  we fathom the problem and contemplate the solution. This distinction creates space for a sophisticated, grown-up way to mitigate both the “how” and the “what” levels of effective problem solving.

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The Ideals of the Highest Growth Communities

Book snippets

Grow: How Ideals Power Growth & Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies”” by Jim Stengel, the former CMO of Procter & Gamble, writes about the importance of values & vision in creating a brand that grows. Recommended to me by a colleague, this is the kind of book I might have skipped otherwise. Yet one of my favorite things is to stumble into unexpected clarity from unexpected sources. Thus, I present a favorite take away from “Grow”– The Ideals and Must-Dos of the Highest Growth Communities. As this functions for businesses, I see possibilities for application in community organizing, in teaching, in art; where humans gather for a shared intention.

 

Do you agree? Would you add/ edit/ subtract something? Let me know what ya think.

 

The Ideals of the Highest Growth Communities

Eliciting Joy: Activating experiences of happiness, wonder, and limitless possibility

Enabling connection: Enhancing the ability of people to connect with one another and the world in meaningful ways.

Inspiring Exploration: Helping people explore new horizons and new experiences.

Evoking Pride: Giving people increased confidence, strength, security and vitality.

Impacting society: Affecting society broadly, including by challenging the status quo and redefining categories.

The Five Must-Dos to Build A Community

Discover an ideal in one of give fields of fundamental human values.

Build your culture around your ideal.

Communicate your ideal to engage community internally, connect communities externally, and the greater world.

Deliver a near-ideal community experience.

Evaluate your progress and people with your ideal

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