EP 26: The Role of Dissent in a Learning Organization

July 13, 2023

Show Notes

“Do I make room for dissent in my organization?”

As leaders, we tend to equate harmony and collaboration with being a positive learning environment. In reality, the ability to disagree without fear of repercussion is often a stronger indicator of the health of our teams.

As nonprofit leaders, how can we cultivate an environment of continuous learning and open discourse within our organizations?

The traditional leadership model, which links authority to possessing all the answers, can inhibit growth, stifle creativity, and limit engagement. 

In this episode of THRIVERS, Tucker and Sarah navigate the rewarding yet demanding transformation from an authoritative ‘know-it-all’ to an adaptive ‘learn-it-all’ culture, through creating an environment that is open to disagreement and imperfection. They explore the dynamics of embracing vulnerability and reframing dissent, illustrating how these practices can empower teams, stimulate innovation, and drive meaningful change.

Throughout their conversation, they explore several crucial insights for nonprofit leaders:

  • Understanding the power and importance of dissent and how it can fuel growth and innovation in the organization.
  • Recognizing that vulnerability and fallibility are not signs of weak leadership, but rather an opportunity to foster trust, empathy, and openness within the team.
  • The significance of acknowledging and appreciating dissent, as it not only encourages participation but also stimulates a learning culture.
  • Exploring the benefits of a supportive environment and the necessity of communities of support for nonprofit leaders.

Tune in for an engaging discussion on reframing dissent, nurturing a culture of learning, and evolving leadership paradigms in the nonprofit sector.

Listener Links/Resources:

Peter Senge Video about Learning – “Prevailing system of management is destroying people.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fln7GnBNWmo

Behaviors That Reinforce Learning Worksheet – https://drive.google.com/open?id=1bRfiCgm5oAOTzAOy5xjwTP-RMzNLwZcj&usp=drive_copy

Want to bring Learning Organization training to your team? — set up a design call with us — https://meetings.hubspot.com/tucker-wanna/design-session-call-private-intensives-

Looking for ways to increase your impact in your communities and causes?
We’ve created a modular series of workshops focused on creating impact from the inside out. Explore details and schedule a discovery session at thriveimpact.org/insideout

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Tucker: Welcome to THRIVERS: Nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal. I’m your host, Tucker Wannamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT, and our mission is to solve the injustices happening against nonprofit leaders and to support them in reducing their burnout. Because burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we want to connect you. With impactful mission-driven leaders and ideas so that you can learn to thrive in today’s nonprofit landscape. Today with me is my co-host, Sarah Fanslau. She’s our Chief of Impact. Sarah, great to be with you again.
Sarah: Great to be here!
Tucker: And we got a show today where we’re gonna riff on something that has been pretty impactful for both of us, I think.
And particularly around a body of work that has really been a particular gentleman who’s been a teacher of ours. In terms of within our work and we’re gonna dive deep into one particular piece, which is around being an effective leader and particularly being a leader that reinforces learning.
And what are some of the behaviors around that? And the gentleman I’m referring to who’s been a teacher of ours is a guy named Peter Senge. And he coined the term many years ago, the learning organization. And there’s a whole lot of depth into that particular topic. But Sarah, before we dive deep into real granular detail around behaviors that reinforce learning, let’s talk a little bit about learning organizations just to give people a sense of what we’re even talking about.
Sarah, I know that this is, this particular work is important for you. I know that you’ve had energy around this, and I’ve noticed when we get into it, you’re like, “Ooh!” You just, you feel it almost. I’m curious your perspective on what it means to be a learning organization and a little bit about that.
Sarah: Yeah, for sure. I do have a lot of energy around this and I think it’s in part because in some ways it felt intuitive to me. And then when I really found Peter Senge—and Tucker, to your point, he’s the author of a book called The Fifth Discipline—and he really popularized this term learning organization in the early nineties.
And he defined learning organizations as, “Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results that they truly desire. Where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”
And it is… every time I read it, I’m like, “Oh my God! Yes!” Because I think, sometimes when we hear learning organization, I don’t know, maybe some people feel like that sounds boring. And then you read Peter’s quote and you’re like, oh my God, this sounds like the most dynamic, exciting thing ever.
And this piece especially where like collective aspiration is set free. Yes! That’s what we’re all trying to do, and people see the whole together again. Having worked in nonprofits for so many years, it’s like these two things. Collective aspirations and seeing the whole together that feel like… God! If we could all learn to do both of those things, we would be in such a great spot.
Tucker: And to take this even further, I love what you’re sharing, where collective aspiration is set free. How many of us don’t feel set free? And I was really digging deep into Peter Senge’s work quite a while ago. And I actually happened upon a video that he shared and it must have been 20 years ago.
But he was sharing to a group of educators… And we’ll put that in the show notes by the way, the link to this particular video, I highly recommend you watching it or listening to it. It’s on YouTube, but you can listen to it as a podcast almost. I’ve been… I think I’ve watched it like four times, or listened to it four times while I’m driving specifically, hence I have not watched it.
But one of the things he shared that really was so poignant to me is he said, “The prevailing system of management.” Which, what he’s talking about, there is this industrial-age system of management that comes from really top-down-oriented leadership. The metaphor is people are machines, and he said, “The prevailing system of management is destroying people because it’s about control and not about learning.”
And boy, when he said that, and he said it’s a particular type of control, it’s not like our bodies have an inherent sense of control. Like homeostasis as an example. Our body’s ability in which to control the functions and the organs and things like that. But he said this is a particular type of control, which is a consolidation of control.
A consolidation really, of power. And what’s been interesting too, is he dove deeper into this. He was sharing things like, we hear a lot about people talking about things like being a data-driven organization, and what was really interesting in this video that he was talking about is yes, data is important, but how you’re leveraging that data.
Is it about control? Is it about retribution? Or is it about learning? And what was fascinating when he was talking to these educators was, he said, every one of us… This all started, not from just our job, but from the very beginning when we were five or six years old and we all basically went to the same school.
Now before we went to school. We all knew what learning was about because we did it right. We learned how to walk, we learned how to talk, and what did that look like when we were learning how to walk? What did that look like? Learning was about mistakes. Learning was about trying. Learning was about seeing how that worked and continuing to iterate, if you will, as a young little kid.
And then we go into school and he says, we quickly learned that learning… That school was not necessarily about learning, it was about performance. It was about performing for somebody else’s approval. And he talked about who has the answers, not you, but the teacher clearly does. And then he gave this funny joke around, you know what happens when you look on somebody else’s paper?
You get in big trouble. That’s cheating. He said, “We shoot collaborators around here.” And it was just really fascinating to hear that this whole industrial age and the system of management. And this water, we’ve all been swimming in for so long and we don’t even realize we’re wet, has been destroying people.
And so when I, as we are doing this learning organization work, and then I watched this particular video or listened I realized that wow, we don’t even realize what water we’ve been swimming in, and yet here we are living in a space that has been killing us quite literally.
Sarah: Yeah. So I have an interesting kind of personal story about that.
I think what’s so challenging is that even when you realize it, if the rest of fish are still swimming in that water, it’s really hard not to be swimming in it. My eldest son, we put him in a Reggio Emilio-based Pre-K when he was young. And the whole point of that philosophy of learning, which is—comes out of Italy—is that we don’t need to have kids to sit down and learn their ABCs or 123s and that it’s a complete learning via exploration. And it’s whatever the kid is interested in. So they have all of these materials out in this school called Purple Circle. They had leaves out, they had blocks.
None of the toys were colored. None were plastic. And the idea was that young people would get a sense of the materials and the concepts they were interested in, and then teachers would craft learning journeys around each child’s area of exploration. And it really shaped how August thinks.
And then he went to a Universal Pre-K program in New York City and into regular school. And I will tell you, it was such a shift. Because it went from this idea of what fascinates you and how can we build a learning journey around your own interests? To this is how you do it and do it this way.
And I’ll tell you, he still struggles when a teacher is that kind of teacher that says, “Jump this high, and if you don’t jump this high, you’re wrong.” He can’t get with that. And it’s because in part, he was trained differently. And it’s so interesting to think about not only what would it look like to be in a different system, but then once we know better, but others don’t. What do we do with that?
Tucker: Oh my gosh, yeah. Yeah. And to your point around the school, another thing Peter said was there is no difference between—in terms of the industrial age system of management—between the teacher and the student, and the boss and the subordinate.
There’s no difference. It was ingrained in us like you were talking. I love that you’re providing that dichotomy or that contrast between August’s training initially as a four or five-year-old. And then going into the other form of management, if you will, to use that term. And whoa, wait a second. I thought this was about learning. Now it’s about something different.
Sarah: And to your point, the whole the teacher has a completely different role in the first system than the second. In the first system, it’s a guide. It’s a listener, it’s looking at the cues of the child and following them in support of the child, whereas in the classroom it’s a teller, it’s a controller.
Tucker: Who has the answers.
And a conforming like, I need to conform. I need to perform so that they’re happy with me. And then, so then we look at our existing system of management in our own work. And how many of us feel this pressure, to perform? Like I need to get it right or I’m gonna get slapped.
And that’s that water that we don’t even realize we’re swimming in until we start to realize, whoa! This has been I would say part of my own personal healing journey. We have this frame that we use that comes out of exchange—this facilitation community that we’re part of—which is leadership has historically been about the few who have the answers. But perhaps leadership is not that. It’s more being a guide from the side, not a sage from the stage. It’s more about engaging the many and the power of great questions. And you just hit that perfectly around the teacher.
That’s where it started. It started from that space of, wait, the teacher is now the… They are the sage from… They’re the ones with the answers. I don’t have the answers. They have the answers, and they have the right answers. And I have to figure out whether it’s the right and the wrong answers, and the teacher is the one who’s going to tell me whether or not that’s true.
Sarah: And not conforming to that is painful. And it’s still painful even though there’s a growing awareness that’s not the right answer. But one thing we found that I know everyone’s gonna love because I think we both love it, is, it’s hard to be that fish swimming upstream or that fish swimming in different water than everybody else. But one thing I think that’s really supportive if you are that type of leader, that’s like feeling that tension between how you wanna lead and the environment in which you’re in. And a really practical tool is this grid that we’ll put in the show notes called leadership that reinforces learning… Or behaviors that reinforce learning.
And it comes out of the work of Amy Edmondson adapted by the exchange community. And it’s something that we’ve taught a lot of nonprofit leaders and that I think we both use. And it’s this thing where it’s a really practical set of behaviors that even if you’re in an environment that’s not particularly supportive of learning, you can start being a leader that’s supportive of learning, if you start to embody some of these practices. So Tucker, I’m curious if you wanna just go through them and then maybe you and I can pick out some of the ones that we love the most.
Tucker: Yeah, yeah. And I’d say let’s just alternate. I can hit the first one and you can hit the second one.
We’ll just keep going. But there are six of them right now for all of you. And the first one is: acknowledge personal limits. So what this is really getting into is, A question that you might ask yourself is, “Am I willing to admit when I don’t know something?” Displaying genuine humility, going back to the few who have the answers, am I willing to admit when I don’t have the answers?
Am I willing to admit—and maybe even if I do have the answers—am I willing to admit that I’d like to not have the answers? Because I want to co-create with my team. So it’s acknowledging your personal limits, that you don’t know it all, you can’t know it all, and you have certain leadership traits, most effective leadership traits, and you also have least effective leadership traits.
Just like me and just like Sarah, we have times when we are not effective leaders. And so can we acknowledge those personal limits? That’s the first one.
Sarah: The second one is: display my own fallibility. And this is about acknowledging and even allowing others to witness my own mistakes.
It’s about saying things like, “I was wrong. I don’t like how I handled that situation. Here’s how I contributed to or caused the situation that just happened.” And this one is so tough. This one is so tough. But it’s owning and letting others see that you as a leader make mistakes.
Tucker: That’s so good.
We’re gonna go deeper into some of these. By the way, we just wanted to go through each one of them for just a minute. Third one is: reveal flexibility and openness. And a question you might reflect on is, do I both allow my perspective to be influenced by others as well as reveal openly when this happens?
One of the best things any leader of an organization can do is to share when your mind has changed. It’s a little bit of the last one, but a little bit more explicit in that, when somebody shares something with you on your team and they help you to maybe change your mind or you learn something from that is literally letting them know. It’s pretty straightforward actually if you think about it, but it’s realizing that most of what you’re thinking…
In fact, I’ve thought about this too. A lot of what I’m thinking. Many times are hypotheses. They’re not set in stone, they’re not exact. They’re really hypotheses. And sometimes I know I can come across with a lot of confidence, but yet really underneath the surface, it’s mostly hypothesis.
Sarah: Which is true for everyone.
Tucker: Which is true for everyone. Exactly. And so am I able to allow my perspective to be influenced and when somebody shares something and I realize, “Wow, I didn’t see it that way before and now I’m thinking differently.” Is like literally being able to share that in an explicit way.
Sarah: I love that one. The next and fourth one is: invite voices. And a question you might be able to ask yourself to say, “Do I do this?” is, “Do I both invite voices into the conversation as well as acknowledge contributions, and especially risk-taking contributions?” And this can be hard, but in voice inviting voices sounds like, “Hey, I’d love your perspective on this.” Or, “Can we bring this person’s voice into the conversation?” Or, “Before we move on, is there anybody else who wanted to be heard?” Really stopping and pausing to invite voices. And recognizing… and I think this is a tension sometimes that one, some voices need to be explicitly welcomed into the space in order for them to feel comfortable sharing. And sometimes inviting voices explicitly into spaces can feel scary to those voices as well.
And inviting voices in a really soft and gentle way, which is why I like some of these sentence starters because they acknowledge both of those places. Sometimes we just need to be general and say, “Hey, I wanna make sure that anyone who had something to share has an opportunity to share.”
And then sometimes it’s about explicitly calling people in to share their experiences and their thoughts.
Tucker: Yeah. Sarah, I’d like to come back to this one. I’m thinking particularly around risk-taking contributions. That is poignant. When dissent comes in or how do you invite dissent? So coming back to that one.
The fifth one is: frame mistakes or failures as learning opportunities. Do I encourage my team members to embrace failure in a productive manner? Do I seek opportunities to own and reveal my contribution to the “failure”? Going back to what we were talking about at the beginning, the prevailing system of management is destroying people.
Because it’s about control, not about learning. And in this particular case, like I’ve made mistakes. I’ve had quite a few mistakes lately, particularly around revenue. And that’s been an area that I’ve been really deeply growing personally in terms of how I approach it, how we create a culture around it.
And I realized I had mistakes and I’m incredibly grateful, Sarah, for you and for Julie and Allen and Aaron and a lot of the team members who have been very gracious in saying “Hey, we understand. What are we learning from this?” Like you almost replied in a way of reflecting back and appreciating me sharing that and then inviting me and all of us to say, what are we learning from this?
Not in a slapping my hand way. But in a way of, “Of course, you made mistakes because we all do. We all make mistakes.” There’s almost this trauma in our bodies it seems like around failure.
It’s like our body is keeping the score that when failure happens, it’s bad. And my nervous system gets… And I have to do some real deep breathing, whenever I feel that. I feel it more than I think it. I feel it. And this one in particular has been a big learning journey I think for me of just being open and explicit about, “This was a mistake and can y’all help me to learn? And what might I learn? And here’s what I’m so far learning in the process.”
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. The last one, before we deep dive into a few, is: embrace adversity. And this is really asking yourself to look for the gifts and opportunities often hidden inside our challenges. And once we were teaching on this and a nonprofit leader said, “I actually do this and I sometimes get in trouble for it because people think that I’m just putting on my rose-colored glasses and refusing to see the challenges.”
And we have come across that before, but I think that’s not the point is not to say, “Let’s not learn from what went wrong.” To what you just said, Tucker. It’s saying, “Let’s learn from what went wrong, and here’s how we might look back and appreciate this challenge. Here’s how the situation might end up helping us. Here’s what’s great about this.” And I think, sometimes we have a hard time holding both of those things together.
That there’s an opportunity for learning and that there’s potentially a plus side even out of something that maybe was deeply harmful or hurtful or caused issues.
Tucker: This one’s making me think about I was listening in a workshop with a guy named Dr. Benjamin Hardy, and he was giving a great example, and some of you probably heard this phrase before, but he’s giving a great example of his own brother and himself and thinking into the science behind when we can make the shift from something is happening to us, to something is happening for us.
That shift is a pretty important shift, psychologically speaking. And this is a little bit of that shift. And I appreciate you hitting on, it’s not acknowledging the mistake, if you will. It’s maybe even reflecting back. People reflecting on that and… So it’s like this both and. It’s not like, oh, what’s the gift?
It’s not some of that toxic positivity that sometimes people can have oh, we’re just gonna slough it under the rug. Like we gotta, definitely important to acknowledge it and in most things, and most mistakes, hence going back to learning. How did the kid, every one of us, how did we all learn how to walk?
Sarah: By falling.
Tucker: Yeah. By falling. Quite literally. And so because of the falling, we were able to then eventually learn how to walk. And so what is the walk here for any one of us when it comes to our mistake? And having an explicit section whenever you’re in that deeper learning stage to ask that question, what is the opportunity and what is the gift that this might be bringing us? And even going in that space for just a little bit.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Tucker, we’ve just went through all six. What is the one that you, that’s, lighting you on fire right now and why?
Tucker: That one you just shared was like, oh man, that’s a good one. I mean they’re all so good.
I’m particularly what I was saying a minute ago around inviting voices. Especially the risk-taking contributions. That’s tough. Because that goes into me like every one of us are facilitators. If we’re bringing anybody together in a meeting and a check-in and a gathering and a convening in anything.
And we’ve all been in that place where dissent was brought. And how the person who is facilitating whatever that meeting is. How they approach that. That’s a big deal. That’s a really big deal. So that’s one that was lighting me up a little bit.
Sarah: Yeah, I agree. And I think what’s hard… In my last job, I did a lot of bringing of staff together and we had monthly meetings where we would do a variety of different things and they’re more… We use a lot of similar techniques that we do at Thrive, but inevitably during those experiences… I was working with program managers who were, supporting young people in doing service learning.
And a lot of that time… This was right after the murder of George Floyd and so a lot of the young people we were working with were working on really challenging service projects related to racial inequality and systemic racism. And the staff were often caught in the middle of young people wanting to do all of this amazing work and the systems around them.
Stopping them or blocking them. And, it’s really hard work. Just straight up. And a lot of times that kind of tension around the work would come into the meeting. Not always… people bring in feelings because that’s what we do. We’re humans. And sometimes we direct those feelings in places where they’re not, they don’t always fit, but we’re feeling them.
And so dealing with that feeling of dissent was really hard for me as a leader, to be honest with you. And I would often after the meeting, if I felt like somebody was having a hard time, just do a personal check-in and just say, “How you doing?” And then they would tell me what was going on with them and why they had shown up in the meeting the way they had shown up.
It wasn’t about the thing that we had been talking about. It was what had been happening outside of that. But I raised that because so much of the time we take dissent personally. We take it personally as leaders and that is what’s hard. And I would love to figure out how to not take it personally.
And I don’t know. I don’t know. I literally don’t know. I’ve been working on it like mentally or cognitively. I now know there is probably something going on in this person’s life. It’s more about them than it is about me. But still in that moment, Not reacting with the fight-flight trigger.
It’s really hard. It’s just really hard.
Tucker: When you feel it. You like… It’s like your breathing gets shallower. For me, my shoulders go up.
Sarah: I feel it in my chest immediately. That feeling of I’m being attacked.
Tucker: Yeah. I actually have right in front of me a phenomenal book by a guy named Marshall Rosenberg—some of you may have heard of it—called Non-Violent Communication. And the reason why he uses such a poignant word around violence is if violent… It says it at the very top of the book, “If violent means acting in ways that result in harm or hurt, then much of how we communicate could indeed be called violent communication.”
And he has a story in here. Where he said… it’s titled The Most Arrogant Speaker We’ve Ever Had. And he gives a story of his own situation. He said… Here I’ll just read a little bit of this because it speaks directly to actually a very practical way of addressing of managing this.
And he said, “This dialogue occurred during our workshop. I was conducting about a half an hour into my presentation. I paused to invite reactions from the participants. One of them raised a hand and declared, ‘You’re the most arrogant speaker we’ve ever had.’ I have several options open to me when people address me this way. One option is to take the message personally. I know I’m doing this when I have a strong urge to either grovel, defend myself, or make excuses. Another option for which I am well rehearsed is to attack the other person for what I perceive as their attack upon me. On this occasion, I chose a third option by focusing on what might be going on behind this man’s statement.”
So here he goes into it, he says, “Are you reacting to my having taken 30 straight minutes to present my views before giving you a chance to talk?”
“No. You make it sound so simple.”
“Are you reacting to my not having said anything about how the process can be difficult for some to apply?”
“No. Not some people you.”
“So you’re reacting to my not having said that the process can be difficult for me at times.”
“That’s right.”
“Are you feeling annoyed because you would’ve liked some sign from me that indicated that I have some problems with the process myself?”
After a moment’s pause, he said, “That’s right.”
Then he says, “Feeling more relaxed. Now that I’m in touch with the person’s feeling and need, I direct my attention to what he might be requesting of me.” And his question was, “Would you like me to admit right now that this process can be a struggle for me to apply?”
This guy says, “Yes.”
And so his final, “Having gotten clear on his observation, his feeling, his need, and his request, I check inside myself to see if I’m willing to do as he requests.”
And then he says, “Yes, this process is often difficult for me.”—and I think he was literally teaching on nonviolent communication—”As we continue with the workshop, you’ll probably hear me describe several incidences where I’ve struggled or completely lost touch with this process, this consciousness that I’m presenting here to you, but what keeps me in the struggle are the close connections to other people that happen when I do stay in with the process.” But I just wanted to share that because it’s to exactly what you just shared, Sarah, we have three options. We defend, attack back, or explore.
And be curious. And wonder what might be underneath that. What you were saying is like either we can stay in a space of I’m being attacked and I need to do something about it. Fight or flight. Or freeze. Or how might I stay in curiosity and empathy?
I wonder what might be going on in this person’s life right now. What’s really underneath that?
Sarah: And that goes to the fallibility point, what you just shared is he was willing to display his own fallibility and that is what folks were looking for from him. We were talking about this earlier, but this is where the whole world has asked us to show up and have the answers. All the time as leaders, even if we didn’t, we’re supposed to show that we do. Fake it until you make it. And that has caused us to have a really hard time in these circumstances. Because we’re supposed to have the answer, and if we don’t and somebody points out that we don’t have the answer or are wrong, then what do we do?
We have to prove we are right. And so it gets into this circle where instead there’s an off-ramp. But I think to that, to the person in the audience, like it’s not an easy off-ramp. It’s not an intuitive off-ramp. You have to know it’s there and choose it very consciously. And it’s still really hard.
Tucker: I’m also reflecting, I have a story, I’ve shared this in some of our workshops before. And this reminds me of our podcast. A podcast where we shared about where Brene Brown… Was a podcast that we were reflecting on a Brene Brown podcast, in which she was talking about that willpower is not enough.
And one of our typical experience… We do a lot of facilitating and we also train on facilitating. But we also say never facilitate alone. Now, that’s not always true. Sometimes I’ll go facilitate alone or Sarah you will or whatever. But generally speaking, we do it as a team. And we had this one particular situation where I was literally training on how to create impactful gatherings and meetings and we were doing this live word cloud in the room.
It was the very beginning of this experience, and we had this live word cloud in the room. Hey, what was that last experience like? Because I took them through an experiential what we call an active learning cycle with a question, and reflection, and a small group. And then a… And this is all on Zoom.
And so I invited them to share what word came up for them and we put up the word cloud that was going up live in the room. And it was like connective, inspiring, loved it. And then this big word right in the middle, uninclusive. So here I am as a facilitator, facilitating a training on creating impactful facilitation, or meetings, and trainings, or workshops, and somebody puts uninclusive up there.
And I have to admit I was like, I paralyzed, I froze for a moment because I was like, “What do I..? How do I..?” And I just kinda like lightly kept going. And then more words came up and then I had a co-facilitator, her name was Monica, for that particular experience. And I’m so grateful for her because she was pinging me, in our back channel, pinging me like, “Hey Tucker, let’s bring that up. Let’s talk about that.” And honestly and I can’t say, I don’t know if I would’ve done this differently if she had not been there if I had just been facilitating by myself. But her prompts were really helpful for me to more quickly get out. Because I felt it.
I felt my shoulders go up. I felt this… I’m supposed to be doing this training and then here somebody puts uninclusive. And because of Monica’s prompts to me, it was really helpful for me to get out of my own way. And then I realized, I had just trained on, leaders don’t need to be the few who have the answers.
They need to be the ones who engage the many and the power of great questions. I literally just trained on that before that experience. And I thought, “I don’t have the answer to this. I don’t even know how to address it.” I literally didn’t know. I was completely blanking, and Monica was pinging me very gently. And so I was like, “Hey everybody, we all saw there were a lot of great words and there was another great word that was also a dissent. And it was the word uninclusive, and I don’t wanna call out whoever’s there. You’re welcome to… Would love for you to share, just for us to create a space of learning. But I actually don’t know how to address this. What do you all think? What do you all think?” And it ended up turning into, and again, credit Monica for pinging me on this and we do a lot of pinging in our back channels and all kinds of experiences to support one another in this.
And we ended up having this beautiful learning experience. That was like crowdsourcing the wisdom of the group already around how do we manage this. It ended up being a woman who shared that she works with a lot of people who are seniors and they can’t see very well. And my visuals were not very inclusive because she said, “I can’t really read them. I couldn’t really see them.”
And so that was a really great learning experience for me. Then it turned into how might we create more inclusive experiences? And so it totally went off the agenda for the workshop, but yet turned into this beautiful learning experience. And for me, I was able to because I had support, frankly. I don’t know if I would’ve gone down that path if I hadn’t had somebody supporting me.
And so anyway, just as a story of how might we lean into each other as well? Because willpower’s not enough. We need support in getting out of the water that we’ve been swimming in for so long.
Sarah: For sure. Yeah, I think, this piece around support is so important for nonprofit leaders. Because at least for me, and I think for you too, part of it’s just the been, in past work experiences, the isolation when you’re the person who’s in charge of needing to have the answers and you feel like, you’re isolated from others.
Because you shouldn’t be asking for help. And even if you do ask for help, you still have to go it alone. And this is why, communities of support are so important for nonprofit leaders. And it’s so important for us as leaders to invite voices in and constantly repeat that message of, maybe we don’t know and that’s okay. And maybe you don’t know either, and that’s okay too.
Tucker: The last thing I was thinking about with this was when dissent comes in… I’ve thought about like leaning into the, what is a reaction that I can do? And I was thinking about when dissent comes in… And that took a lot of courage for somebody to do that, by the way.
That’s a massive amount of courage to be able to bring dissent in. When everybody else is saying one thing and then they say, “Eh, not so much.” Like it took a lot of courage even in that was anonymous. But it took a lot of courage for them to put that word up there.
Uninclusive. And so one way of a tactic here is not just some of those sentence starters that you shared around, can we bring people’s voices in before we move on? Is there anyone else that wants to be heard? But when dissent does come in, is leaning on the side of appreciation immediately.
Like, “Thank you for bringing that up. I appreciate that. And take a pause for yourself if you’re feeling that, what do I do about that?” You might take a pause or you might even invite people to say, “What might we do with this?” What I did of, “I’m not sure how do I address this. What do you all think?”
And just staying in that space of curiosity. But a good reaction I’ve noticed is when you can lean on the side of appreciation right off the bat because it took a lot of courage for that person to do that.
Sarah: Yes. Yeah. And I think recognizing that. Because I think it’s easy to go to that place and I certainly do of feeling attacked.
But then if you can say to yourself, “That took a lot of courage for that person.” It opens up empathy. Which then, instead of seeing that other person as the enemy or the bad guy, you see them as somebody hoping to help, ultimately. What was it in Dr. Danny’s book, the reframing of self-stress and self-doubt is turning it from seeing it as a negative thing to seeing it as something that we care about. And it’s flipping it to see the side of empathy. And so when people are bringing up dissent it means they care. It means they care.
And while it may not come up or have come out that way. Reframing it that way mentally for yourself, I think helped make that bridge to the appreciation side so that it feels genuine and authentic.
Tucker: Yeah. This has been a great podcast, Sarah. Man, there’s so much to dive into.
I know we focused a little bit more on the inviting voices. We’ll put this particular worksheet that we have around these behaviors that reinforce learning. We’ll put this up in the show notes as well for you all to take a look at. It has a self-assessment question for each one of the six behaviors that we talked about, has some sentence starters as well.
So like real practical. And these are all just practices. You’re learning a new muscle because you’re learning how to swim in totally different water. It’s like a whole other operating system. It’s like going from a PC to a Mac. It’s a totally different operating system.
And so it’s gonna feel clunky. It’s gonna feel awkward. But it really does lead to, I think, what most of us want, which is going back to that sentence that you said at the very beginning around a learning organization, which is where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.
Awesome. Any other final words of wisdom before we go, Sarah?
Sarah: Oh, just one. That makes me think of one of my favorite poems by a guy named Jack Gilbert. And it’s called, Failing and Falling. But the part of the poem that I love is that is about a marriage ending, but he said, we have to remember that Icarus also flew.
So often when things end, we think of them as failures instead of something coming to the end of its triumph or learning through it. And so you just made me think of that poem. We’ll put it in the show notes, but let’s see what we’ve gone through as a triumph that might be coming to an end and we’re learning into something new.
And remember to see that we also flew and not just fell.
Tucker: Well. I just pulled it up, Sarah. What if I just read it real quick? It’s not that long.
Sarah: Yeah. Read it. Read it.
Tucker: All right. Here’s the end. Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert.
“Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew. It’s the same when love comes to an end, or the marriage fails and people say they knew it was a mistake, that everybody said it would never work. That she was old enough to know better. But anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean on the other side of the island while love was fading out of her, the stars burning so extravagantly those nights that anyone could tell you they would never last. Every morning she was asleep in my bed like a visitation, the gentleness in her like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back through the hot stony field after swimming, the sea light behind her and the huge sky on the other side of that. Listened to her while we ate lunch. How can they say the marriage failed? Like the people who came back from Provence and said it was pretty but the food was greasy. I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph.”
Awesome. Thanks, everyone. Go out there and be learners. Bye.