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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Learning Generosity and Leadership from the Poor

Blog Action Day 2008 focused on poverty. Nearly 13,000 blogs responded with an outpouring of posts on October 15. CCL's Leading Effectively blog featured two contributions:

In Reflections on Poverty,  Talula Cartwright traces her family’s history and recalls when hardship was deeply woven into the fabric of America:

"Some of my ancestors had been potato farmers from Ireland.  They lived in holes they dug out of the hills.  When the potato blight came, they starved.  The ones who were lucky came to America on ships.  A lot of them died.  Some of my other ancestors were Choctaw Indians.  When the U.S. Government computed the poverty index sometime back, they said it was anything below two-thousand-something for a family of four.  At that time, the average income for a Choctaw family was less than $700 a year.  And it was for way more than four people.  The Choctaws were very poor people.  But they were one of the five civilized tribes.  (That means they didn’t fight back.)  So back in the eighteen-hundreds, when the Irish were starving, the Choctaws sent them some money!  A hundred dollars or so.  An enormous amount of money at the time.  I have a painting on my wall that commemorates this.  The Irish hired a Choctaw to paint it, for their anniversary.  The poor, honoring the poor."

In Tragedy of the Commons, David Altman wrote about rethinking individual wellbeing in the wake of the global financial crisis:

"...we could travel down a path leading to a Tragedy of the Commons or we could take a seemingly more circuitous route down an alley called the Prosperity of the Commons. The tragedy path brings with it short-term feelings of happiness (perhaps like a cocaine-high). The prosperity route comes with much pain and sacrifice but will ultimately bring benefits that are nearly impossible to see in the short-term."

These posts speak to the value of interdependence and mutual concern in the face of hard times. They also bring to mind lessons from another recent crisis. 

During Hurricane Katrina one of most generous demonstrations of caring came from the people of Ville Platte, Louisiana, one of America's poorest communities. The town rallied together to welcome and care for some 10,000 evacuees fleeing the storm  (more on this story). This act of collective kindness is an important statement in our age of affluence and inequity . It is often the poor who can teach us best about generosity, community, and collective leadership.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Viral (and Vital) Leadership Development

Preston Yarborough, Assistant Director of Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) attended the Leadership Essentials (LE) program with a group of colleagues. He wrote to us about the impact the program has had at the university.

"UNCG wants to develop more leaders and better leaders within its campus community. This development process occurs at two levels: the student level and the faculty/staff level. These two levels are intertwined. To best develop student leaders, we strive to also develop those faculty and staff who create a learning environment for our students.

This past summer, The Center for Creative Leadership played a strategic role in this process. Eighteen UNCG employees participated in the CCL’s Leadership Essentials program. Many of these participants were Student Affairs staffers who work directly with students, or they were director-level staffers who run student-oriented departments. The program has already delivered some exciting returns.

Since participating in LE, a participating staff member has trained 20 additional staff members on social identity and leadership. Furthermore, the Executive Board for the Student Government Association (SGA) received social identity training as well. Later in September, UNCG will host over 400 college students for its Triad Leadership Academy. Once again, elements of the Leadership Essentials program will be passed on to student leaders.

Leadership Essentials has been a success for many reasons, but one of the most significant ones is its portability. Modules can be delivered very easily and there is not a great need for extensive organizational resources. The models are clear and relevant. The assessments are easy to work with, and the program can be equally effective if delivered in segments or in its entirety.

By the end of this coming semester, UNCG will have presented Leadership Essentials content to approximately 700 students. This content has been incorporated into staff trainings and faculty/staff enrichment programs. UNCG is thankful for the opportunity to partner with CCL and looks forward to continuing our relationship."

We are pleased to see this viral transfer taking place and the sharing of learning. In a similar program held at another university in India, we heard that the simple and clear representation of core leadership concepts in the LE program made them easy to understand and share.

CCL is running another Leadership Essentials program at our Greensboro campus on November 24-25, 2008 (download PDF brochure). The program, which is meant to make leadership development more affordable and accessible, is open to nonprofit, educational, and community organizations.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

“The teacher and the student create the learning.”

by Joel Wright

How often does this really happen between a parent and a teenager?

I can only guess what you might be thinking? How is this possible? I’m sure we can all remember teenage moments when our parents or an older adult sat you down for a teachable moment. I squirm even at the thought of some of these moments while simultaneously wondering how they could be more comfortable, rewarding and co-developmental for both parent and child.

Contrary to my memory, and in quest of how to enhance early leadership opportunities, this past September I witnessed an inspiring and engaging exchange between many parents and their teenagers. These interactions occurred at the Greensboro YMCA during a Black & Hispanic Achievers program orientation/open house where CCL & YMCA staff designed activities where parents and teens could share with each other where and when they learned various life lessons about leadership.

The inspiration behind creating these interactions came from CCL’s recent initiatives with early leadership development (those from their early teen years to early thirties). What we continue to hear is that the most influential leaders that young people learn from are those who are around them day in and day out. It’s these people they see who are modeling leadership in action. In particular, it’s parents, family members, teachers, and coaches. While this is no surprise in some regard it does pivot the focus from exclusive youth development programs to considering designs that engage young and adult.

With the intent of increasing the connection and intention of leadership development between teens and parents we designed a few short, quick leadership activities. Two new activities we designed for this program were: “Leadership Family Tree” and “Leadership Life-Line”. Both proved profound and engaging.

One early leadership story we heard from a 13 year old was about being on a baseball team. He shared how “my baseball coach would take me out of the game and put someone in that wasn’t as good as me but I gave them tips on how to play that position like I did and at the baseball banquet I was given the award ‘team before self’. That was my leadership role.”

Countless other stories were surfaced by both young and old. In reflecting on and processing all these stories, we kept hearing a couple of key words coming to the surface. The first was responsibility. Young and old referenced early leadership lessons taking place when they were given or assumed responsibility to do something. Examples spanned from sports, to baby-sitting or house-sitting, to various formal and informal roles in school. A few of the other key words pointed to leadership skills, traits and/or lessons that were being enforced early on. They include: respect, listening, truth telling, “think of others before yourself,” or “help those who need it”. Such simple lessons but yet so significant for the stature of a leader. Amazingly, these short, simple activities proved to be immensely profound, comfortable and inspiring for all.

In three ways, many of us at CCL found this day and these activities extraordinary. First it allowed a comfortable shared learning exchange between parent and child. Second, the interactions allowed for a mutual appreciation and respect to occur between the two that added to the depth of the discussion. And third, the exchange often left both parent and child surprised about how much each could learn from the other.

When training, I often quote an Asian proverb, “the teacher and the student create the learning.” I do this as a quick reminder that the person in the front of the classroom, the “leader”, doesn’t always have all the answers. In fact, often the learning, growth, creativity and community are only enhanced when everyone contributes. Certainly, on this Saturday in September parents and teenagers created the learning and it was leadership in action.