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As soon as I heard Margaret Wheatley start her talk by saying that there is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about, she had my full attention and heart. I had the good fortune to hear teacher, writer Margaret Wheatley twice this last week while at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA. Her topic was “The Roles of Leaders During Difficult Times” which was delivered to educational leaders from across the state.  I so appreciated her thoughtful words. When I hear a talk and feel it deeply, it’s sometimes  difficult to recreate the right words to convey the meaning. But here it goes…

We’re in the winter of discontent.  What’s going on right now all around us is a complete meltdown of life as we know it. Our structure and systems are breaking down in a huge way. Our best resource is each other, seeing everyone’s potential. We need to look reality in the eye and recreate the world.  We become more viable or we die. In order to rebuild we need to refind caring, compassion and generosity.

What do disasters teach us about human capacity and leadership?  We see the truth about the human spirit.  Neighbors and strangers always pitch in to help others.  There’s no sense in not taking a risk during a major disaster since there are not many ways to make it worse. It won’t do for us to moan and groan about the present condition.  Our nation is fighting for its survival now.  As leaders we need to evoke human goodness.

Life’s basic building blocks are relationships.  The “individual” is made up.  Nothing lives alone.  Aspen trees are a clone species. They grow through their root structure at a level we can’t see. People are likewise all connected at a level we can’t see.  We are all connected and interdependent. This world runs on collaboration and cooperation, not competition.  We are all bundles of potential that manifest only in relationship. Right now is an opportunity to explore our own and other’s potential.

It is a biological principle to create health, create more connections. We can be human only together.  I exist through you and you through me. It’s not critical mass, it’s critical relationships. The most common leadership is lead and control. This approach alienates us, disengages us.  As leaders you want everyone in the game, every brain in the game.  All organizations are networks and are interdependent.  The human spirit thrives in reality, not in denial, because it unleashes our potential.

When a leader serves as host, there is awareness of the experience you want people to have.  There are some principles for shifting from the leader-hero to the leader-host.  People support what they create.  Work done by self-managed teams increases productivity by 35%.  We know this is how people make do with much less. If we want people to create solutions, people need to be involved. People act responsibly when they care.  Discover the issues that people already care about. What are people worried about? As leaders, find out.

You can depend on diversity.  Diversity is a survival skill.  We need everyone’s eyes and ears,  We need to really listen to others.  Leaders need to keep expanding the circle of inclusion. Ask who’s perspective is missing. To change the conversation, change who’s in the conversation.  Expect that leadership emerges from anywhere, if people get connected and care.  It is through the heart that courage happens. Exhaustion comes from our hearts not being engaged.

The single most important leadership act is creating time to think together.  This needs to be regular, frequent, sacrosanct, with no preset agenda, focusing on current work and separate from staff meetings. People create trust together, solving problems together.  People dip into their own inner trust and confidence when they frequently reflect together.

It is helpful to remember why we do our work.  What are the values and principles that brought us to our work?  The conditions are different, but so what? We can together all come through this chaotic time.  As a wise person once said while reflecting back on his life, “We were together…I forget the rest”.

Margaret Wheatley’s website can be found at