Power and Leadership

As I sat at the Health in the Hubs meeting the other night I observed that it was a room full of leaders and wondered what happens when everyone at the table is a leader with their own urgent issues?

I had been thinking about stages of leadership/power lately, which probably already exists and has a name in circles that study this sort of thing. I contemplated how we outgrow (hopefully) certain uses of power and wondered what, ultimately, we are working towards as leaders? This question collided with the previous question today and I have the beginnings of an answer.

Observations on the Stages of Power & Leadership

1 – Might is Right. I am tempted to call this Entry Level. What comes to mind are young men who feel like they can’t walk home at night without a knife. The problem is, the knife is no good if you encounter someone with actual authority, like the police, and it’s no good if you encounter someone with a bigger knife, or two knives. So it’s only good on weaker people in which case you don’t really need it. Many of the weapons in this arsenal are intangibles, like bullying and intimidation. When people boast about their weapons of choice it makes me think they don’t have other tools at their disposal. There can only be one Boss in this scenario, so conquests are perpetual until the Boss is overthrown. Sadly, even at international levels we are still playing games of “My gun is bigger than your gun.”

2 – Authority: Military, Corporate and Religious models use hierarchical authority to designate power and leadership, chiefly because it is efficient. It becomes inefficient (and a pain in the neck) when a person’s authority exceeds their intelligence. (It becomes barbaric when people use their authority to wield their Might is Right.) Authority is the most prevalent form of leadership in our society but I sometimes think that we are only ever one disaster away from falling back into a Might is Right world.

3 – Engaged: The New-School models perceive the untapped potential of people so leaders try to engage them in the quest. It is goal-oriented and favours thinking outside the box, particularly when the resources are all gone and the status-quo is threatened. It is creative and rewarding beyond monetary fulfillment. It is overthrown by Authority (Martial Law) when efficiency (often masked as security) is the priority.

Next is the exciting part – don’t you think?!

4 – Collaboration: This is about recognizing that it is a big world and there is enough pie to go around for everyone. It is about cultivating the leadership qualities in others, however they may emerge. The answer lies in working together, in using everyone’s strengths towards shared goals.

Not only would it work for Neighbourhood Planning Teams, I bet it would work for international affairs as well. I think about bodies like the United Nations perhaps representing the Authority stage and wonder what an Engaged Earth might look like, to say nothing of a world governed by International Collaboration.

I suppose first we have to recognize that many of the goals really are shared.

Rally for Code Red

What happens when our attitudes become unionized? What happens when fighting the good fight becomes more important than the outcome?

I was at the Hamilton Spectator for the Code Red 2.0 presentation on Wednesday. I was very moved by many of the speakers, by their understanding and compassion and willingness to take an unpopular stand, find answers, forge a new path.

I noticed that it wasn’t a recap of any sort. No one said “Here’s what we’ve done in the last year,” (which is plenty) and I’m ok with that, cause lots of people work tirelessly all the time.  I noticed that no one said “Here’s what we’re going to do now,” and I’m ok with that cause I think the work involves all of us, and is not about “them” fixing “us”. So while I was emotionally affected by the evening and came away feeling as if Hamilton was in good hands, my mind kept asking, “What was this?”

And I realized, this was what it needed to be: another step toward building consensus among all of our leaders and all of us that these issues are priorities and need to be addressed. It was a call for help to you and me to make sure our representatives at every level know that we care, that the health of our communities matters and that broken systems need to be fixed. And I was ok with that, because the alternative might be more of the same solutions, and more of the same problems.

On my way out, someone remarked at the irony of a panel of privileged, white, men who were addressing an issue that is, by the numbers, about women, about minorities. “And don’t you think we need to have an alternate meeting with appropriate representation?”

No. No I don’t. I think this WAS the alternate meeting. I think that sometimes we fight the good fight so long, we don’t know help when we see it. We get caught up in the how and loose sight of the goals. This IS the beginning of the future we’ve been talking about, for all of us. It is collaborative. It is caring. We don’t need to fight each other; we need to join forces and spread the word to stop this terrible trend of tragedies, no matter who is suffering them. No matter who gets credit.

I am confident that Hamilton is in good hands; yours, mine and ours.


When I was 11 I ran away from home and walked around downtown Guelph until after dark. This was pretty radical and I was sure I would get in trouble but it seems like no one noticed. Go figure, seven kids.

When I was fifteen I used to run away from home and sleep on the rocks at the Beach. No one noticed I was gone and though I spent the nights worrying about bugs and drunks and high tides I was pretty well hidden and enjoyed being alone.

When I was 28 and felt like I’d been looking after other people too long I took great big pieces of chalk and wrote all over the walls “How come nobody ever feeds ME?” I’m not sure this accomplished anything, though it may have spawned the chalk mural that became a feature of the apartment.

Last Thursday when I was uptomyeyeballs in unsolvable problems and ready to snap I left the cafe in the care of the neighbourhood and ran away again. I didn’t get far actually but I enjoyed being alone and able to think and sleep and relax and get a few things done. And I came back with some clarity and some direction that might lead to solutions.

And in my absence neighbours looked after the cafe and cleaned and shopped and entertained each other. We may not have a lot of staff, but we have a really big team. And somehow this feels like progress.

South Sherman Pioneer Village

About ten years ago I had this dream:

Something happened; a bomb or a war or some sort of disaster and everyone fled. I fled to some place that I knew the rest of my family would go to as well, and they did. So did many other people, friends and strangers alike. After a time of huddling in fear and wondering, we needed to make space for everyone and sort out who goes where, and then who could cook and what there was to eat. And then who could look after all the kids and when it became clear that this was going to be a long term arrangement, who could teach all the kids. Soon we had a list of everyone’s skills and how they could be useful. Everyone pitched in and a sort of pioneer village sprang up and before long no one was left huddling in fear and wondering. There was an incident with a message from another collection of people and to determine if we could collaborate with them, one question was sent to them, “What is important?” And the answer that came back? “People, people are important.”

This past Saturday the South Sherman Community Planning Team held an IMAGINE session where we got together with neighbours to imagine and describe what our neighbourhood would be like three generations from now after all of our dreams had been realized. And we ended the day with the fifty-cent question: “What are the priorities that we need to focus on now to make all of this possible later?” And the people who had come out, had given up their Saturday to help envision the future together, said that people were the priority: relationships, communication, engagement.

And today I realized that we are in the dream. That the disaster was a slow and poisonous one that sapped people’s self confidence and trust; it was an invisible, intangible disaster that left desolation in its wake instead of devastation. Devastation is so much easier to deal with than desolation.

And yet, here we are; believing that people are important, getting to know each other, finding out what each of us is good at and pitching in to make a difference. To make our own pioneer village.

Super Molly

Molly has come for crepes the last few weeks and each time she comes she draws a picture for the wall of the cafe. “I’m so good at doing art I can’t stand it!” she says. Yesterday she invented Molly Rockets Dipped in Chocolate, “It starts out chocolatey, and then the rocket takes off!”

“Community, can you watch my kid while I go to the washroom?” says her mom. I can’t tell you how moving it was to hear that. That she’s created a self-reliant trusting kid and we’ve created an environment she can trust, where kids can be themselves and know that all of the grownups are on their side.

I can’t wait for the day when all kids feel like they belong, everywhere.

Park Bench Lady

We see her almost every day, Stella and I. I say good morning just because. For ten months she didn’t answer. Then a little while ago she answered. “Good morning.”

Last week, I could see as I approached, that she was looking at me, anticipating it.

“Good morning.” “Good morning.”

And today, she said it first.

With a smile.

l don’t know what it means, but now I am looking forward to it.

Assets and the Giving Economy

On Saturday 19 year old Alex looked at the Asset Inventory on the wall at the cafe and said “Who’s Ariel?” According to the asset inventory, Ariel is a five-year old who’d like to learn to play piano. “I can teach her,” said Alex.

In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin he talks about a giving economy, where people give to their family, friends and neighbours rather than charge money, or interest. He talks about how this is the way it used to be and that this creates prosperity and abundance for the community.

When Celeste coordinates the Property Angels, when the coaches share their wisdom at the Neighbourhood Business Round Table, when Sarah teaches crafts to kids on Saturday afternoons, they give their time and they enrich their community immeasurably.

There are certainly no shortage of people outside of our community with whom to do business so if the 19 year olds get it, without explanation, without training or courses or workshops on giving, how come it’s so surprising, so novel to the rest of us? How come it isn’t normal?

Maybe it is normal for them. Maybe what this generation, much derided for their lack of work ethic is ushering in is a new-school economy, new-school community. Maybe for these children of boomers who were the centre of our economy, education, lives, from whom nothing was stinted, maybe for them giving is normal.

Maybe without even trying they are ushering in a giving economy.