3 Core Capabilities of System Leaders (an excerpt)

What follows is an excerpt from Peter Senge’s post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (winter 2015: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_dawn_of_system_leadership)
…There are three core capabilities that system leaders develop in order to foster collective leadership. The first is the ability to see the larger system. In any complex setting, people typically focus their attention on the parts of the system most visible from their own vantage point. This usually results in arguments about who has the right perspective on the problem. Helping people see the larger system is essential to building a shared understanding of complex problems. This understanding enables collaborating organizations to jointly develop solutions not evident to any of them individually and to work together for the health of the whole system rather than just pursue symptomatic fixes to individual pieces.

The second capability involves fostering reflection and more generative conversations. Reflection means thinking about our thinking, holding up the mirror to see the taken-for-granted assumptions we carry into any conversation and appreciating how our mental models may limit us. Deep, shared reflection is a critical step in enabling groups of organizations and individuals to actually “hear” a point of view different from their own, and to appreciate emotionally as well as cognitively each other’s reality. This is an essential doorway for building trust where distrust had prevailed and for fostering collective creativity.

The third capability centers on shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future. Change often starts with conditions that are undesirable, but artful system leaders help people move beyond just reacting to these problems to building positive visions for the future. This typically happens gradually as leaders help people articulate their deeper aspirations and build confidence based on tangible accomplishments achieved together. This shift involves not just building inspiring visions but facing difficult truths about the present reality and learning how to use the tension between vision and reality to inspire truly new approaches….

The Letter Carrier: Introducing the crew


Last year, my son Mike started working in the film and tv industry as it was heating up. After only a short time exploring background/extra work, he had the chance to work as a production assistant on the tv show “The Flash”, which has an amazing ensemble of actors and crew whose talents needed a further outlet, I guess.

Last spring, Jesse L. Martin (who wrote the story) and Rick Cosnett (Director) – after a very successful Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for the project – headed out to Maple Ridge to film ‘The Letter Carrier’. The video they made to introduce the campaign gives the background to the project, and I’d say overall this is a pretty good example of a successful Kickstarter Campaign.

Mike went along to help and last Sunday I attended the screening as his ‘plus-one’. It was delightful to see so many happy people, celebrating a lovely poetic and slightly disturbing short film, based on an old tale and scored with amazing original music arrangements by Carlos Valdes (another ‘Flash’ actor with Broadway roots).

The film will make the festival circuit next, aiming for an Oscar nomination, and everyone’s joy in making this film can be shared with the rest of us. I found this clip – filmed on location in Maple Ridge – on the Kickstarter page, and am posting it here because it introduces the crew who volunteered to make this happen. Because the campaign exceeded its goal, a ‘stretch’ goal was added specifically to help give each of the crew a bit of cash for their time.

My pride and joy is wearing a magical rainbow unicorn T-shirt, of course. Somehow it suits.

What about the North?

I am a ‘Friend’ of a group on Facebook called Helping Our Northern Neighbours, which works to link families in Nunavut with people in the southern latitudes of Canada to supplement the food and other supplies they need. Diapers, clothing, treats and so on, the costs are so high, but access is also completely out of reach for many folks. A recent posting from a person in the Toronto area who is just discovering a bit about the realities people live with in the North has fuelled a long discussion thread on the site which demonstrates how little people know but also how willing they are to learn.

It has been my desire during this time of outpouring of support to the refugees to find a way to link or parallel an increased understanding about folks right here in Canada who live with food security challenges among other things, particularly our first peoples, who are often living in refugee-camp-like conditions on their own land. I’ve had my own consciousness raised about Nunavut and the far North in general through the work I did over three years at Langara College, and I continue to learn about the issues and the possibilities through the ongoing friendships I was able to build despite not meeting most of these people in person nor actually being able to travel to their land.

I posted my own comment to the FB thread and am copying it here as well, for sharing and discussing and reminding…

It is wonderful to see so many people commenting and adding to the knowledge and understanding of their fellow Canadians. There is a lot more to learn about this complex environment.

There are no land routes to truck supplies to most Nunavut communities. Supplies are brought in by barge a couple of times a year and this depends on weather and ice conditions which can delay the trip for days or weeks. Shipping by air is the alternative, and you have seen the costs for that. There are cooperatives and food banks in some communities that help a bit, as do Helping Our Northern Neighbours and other programs. This all applies to building supplies, office supplies, portable classrooms, trucks and ski-doos, everything. There are no trees to build with. The permafrost on which things are build must be managed very carefully or the ground itself can cause building failure. Garbage and other waste cannot be trucked away, dug into pits or left to compost without extra help. Think how casually we deal with our own sewage in the south, and ponder.

The population of Nunavut (I think only 35,000 people) is located around a vast geography, and there are times of year when air is the only way in or out of villages. For many of these villages, the distance to the next habitation is too far for ski-doo in winter or small boat travel in summer. There are small airlines that keep the connection in much the same way that we used to rely on Greyhound. But at a greater cost, and higher risk.

Climate change – including the increased flow of fresh water into Hudson’s Bay from northern Quebec – is changing the ice pack and ability of animals to migrate and sustain themselves. Which affects the ability of Inuit people (and I mean teachers and office workers and retail store clerks, not throwbacks to an older time) to hunt caribou and seal and narwhal to supplement their diets with game. Country food is very important to Inuit people culturally but also gives much needed nutrition).

The resettlement of Inuit communities by the Canadian government to northern locations in order to maintain sovereignty over the Arctic had little regard for whether land and sea food sources existed in the area. But people have survived and are forgiving, wanting to find solutions that work to the benefit of everyone. Nunavut is self-governing, and is working hard to develop beyond the dependencies created by all these things. Corruption may exist here as anywhere, but for the majority of people who have put themselves forward, the challenges are very complex and yes, there is a lot of baggage, but there are few people more resilient than the indigenous people north of 60. Stay open to the possibilities, rather than reinforce the hopeless negatives about government, and we might be in the right frame of mind to be of help to that process, even if we don’t go there in person.

For three years I worked on a project with Inuit people, without ever being able to travel to Iqaluit with my other colleagues, but I have still learned so much from the friends I have made. I recommend watching APTN, which carries numerous documentaries and other programs by and about the artic, it’s people and issues. Lots of very creative and talented individuals have work available to see and learn from there. Instead of ‘Yes, but…’, let us be the ones who say ‘Yes, and…’