November 7, 2012

Leading and Learning Through Dialogue


We remain a nation with divided political interests.  If we are going to successfully navigate the challenges that political leaders of all parties agree on, it is going to require leading and learning through dialogue.  And just as that is true for us as a country, so is more dialogue the appropriate pursuit for any organization looking to resolve seemingly entrenched differences or hoping to innovate and create breakthrough value and change in a complex environment.

In his book, Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, author William Isaacs explains why dialogue is indeed the competency more of us, individually and collectively, need to develop:

“You have a dialogue when you explore the uncertainties and questions that no one has answers to. In this way you begin to think together—not simply report out old thoughts. In dialogue people learn to use the energy of their differences to enhance their collective wisdom.”

"No one has answers to"

How refreshing it would be if more leaders (and I would say, political parties) acknowledged a reality that while seemingly vulnerable is also obviously true: they don't have all the answers.  We need leader who focus more on ensuring that problems get solved and opportunities are leveraged rather than those who seem themselves as the solvers and leveragers alone.  We need conveners and catalysts.  We need more leaders who embrace what Meg Wheatley so artfully asserts as their real work: "... the real role of a leader is not to control but to mid-wife-to evoke those qualities of commitment, compassion, generosity and creativity that are in all of us to start with."

"use the energy of their differences to enhance their collective wisdom"

But we cannot bring the best of who we are individually to our work with others if we do not feel we are respected for the wholeness of our being.  It is difficult to do the hard work of dialogue when your colleagues marginalize you for some aspect of your genuine self.  When we require others to check part of their identity at the door each day, we will not realize the power that comes from the energy of our differences.

So any group, any family, any nation will remain divided if its members are incapable or unwilling to engage with those whose worldviews are very different than their own.  But it only takes one person to suspend his or her certainties, to respect the coherence of others' views, to listen for the whole instead of merely advocating for our part, and to voice our own truth.  Those are the four pillars of dialogue as outlined by Isaacs.

I've written before that our belief systems can be bridge-builders. Each of us has the power to embody and invite others to experience the power of dialogue.  Today would be an ideal day to begin.

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