How does our power analysis impact change leadership?

photo by Katya S.

photo by Katya S.

Tuesday Ryan Hart and I were recently in the states doing some work around Social Justice and Equity in Independent Schools. Tuesday is a teacher for me on issues of difference, power and social justice and it was great to get this chance to work together. A few insights popped up over the days that I would love to share. They came out of our reflections on the hosting and design team as well as during participant conversations. It was basically a great big bubbling pot of learning! Here’s some immediate thoughts as I sit in the airport waiting for my (delayed!) flight back to my family.

When our analysis becomes an obstacle to impact

If we want to be change leaders, we have to find a way to engage and work with people who hold power and influence. It is essential piece of the puzzle that needs to be integrated into our strategies. It is dangerous not to—our work ends getting squashed, co-opted or undermined long term. Simple put, any obstacles I carry to working with power is hurdle to having impact.

One of the things I have found in my life is that how I perceive people in positions of power and influence impacts my capacity to work with them. I grew up with very few examples around me of people wielding power with integrity and as a result had a pretty inherent distrust of senior leaders. This has shifted as I have changed my relationship to my own power and authority. It is not just our experience that creates obstacles to working with power and influence though it can also be our analysis of how the world functions.

If I think I know what it is that needs to be done and my way forward is right then there is no opportunity for us to create the future together. If I cannot influence the future why should I put effort into building it with you?

Designing the future together

We have to find ways to build the voice and perspective of senior leaders and influencers into our change efforts. Whenever possible in my work we do foundational sessions with folks who hold power and influence to involve them in the design of the initiative, establish their relationship to the on-going work and clearly define the scope of the work (what can we change and what can we not). Just to be clear, power and influence could be people with a position in hierarchy or someone that if they speak everyone listens.

It is not okay to be participatory with each other but when it comes to engaging power suddenly they need to do things our way. That feels out of integrity to me.

Align around shared work

Of course, that sounds lovely but how can we find the alignment that allows for this kind of collaborative approach? I often think about this as finding a way to connect our work to shared results. What is it that we both want to achieve that we cannot get done unless we work together? Tuesday talks about the notion of “shared work”; shared work does not mean that we need to agree on how to do it or have the same analysis of the situation. It does mean that everyone involved recognizes the need of change and is committed to get on with it (not just bandy about opinions).

It is not the difference between us that is the problem it is the disconnection.

The disconnect stops us learning. If we stop learning, we stop innovating and nothing new will gets created. No learning we get more of the same and statues quo is perpetuated. The people who want to change the organisation structure have to be talking to the people who want to see a bottom up change, have to talk to the people who want to see a shift in leadership culture etc. 

The relationships of trust that we build between us change makers must also translate into relationships of trust with decision makers and power brokers or we undermine for capacity for real impact and long term influence.

Change Ahead.

Join Tuesday and Tim with Chris Corrigan and Caitlin Frost in September at the next AoH Beyond the Basics in British Columbia on the beautiful Bowen Island!

This post was originally published at Tim Merry's site.