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2016, February: Changed Leader; Leader of Change

I just participated in the Idaho Change Leader Institute. This is a professional development program organized by the Idaho Commission on the Arts for leaders in arts administration across the state of Idaho. The concept began in Utah in 2003 (formally implemented in 2005), and is currently available in several states across the western U.S. There were twelve of us in this year's Idaho program, which took place in Boise. Executive directors, program directors, and all kinds of manager-types from arts councils, performing arts centers, and other arts orgs. Twelve strong, opinionated, passionate, sometimes-theatrical, funny, outspoken, overworked, creative leaders in one room for three days. It was interesting to say the least.
I didn't really know what to expect going in, and was mostly nervous about having to spend (i.e. waste) time participating in ridiculous ice-breakers and team-building exercises. I needn't have worried, however. While there were certainly group activities (some of which had an element of the ridiculous) there was an identifiable purpose to every component that eliminated most of my frustration or reluctance.

Day One:
I didn't experience any ground-breaking revelations on the first day, but it did give me a few things to think about:
  • Mindful Listening. I am terrible at this. I get bored, I formulate my response way before it's needed, I get distracted, I daydream, etc., etc. A couple of exercises that we did helped me realize my shortcomings here and gave me some pointers in fixing them.
  • What it means to get, have, use, and keep power. "Power is the ability to get all of what you want from the environment, given what's available." This one was a no-brainier for me. The lessons helped validate/reinforce some of my personal beliefs, but didn't really reveal anything new. I think working in the federal government for eleven years taught me a great deal about obtaining power and using it effectively to get things done.
  • The Meyers Briggs thing. I've taken the Meyers Briggs test a couple of times before. I'm an INTJ, and I've done quite a bit of research into what this means (it's pretty spot on for me). However, I've never really thought about where other people land on the scale and how I can use this knowledge to better understand their behavior. Sharing our results as a group and working together with others of the same "temperament" demonstrated the value in thinking about where someone else is coming from before judging or dismissing their point of view.
We watched The Whale Rider movie after dinner and pondered it's examples and lessons about leadership and change. I was tired and the chair was uncomfortable, but it's a pretty wonderful film with a powerful message about quiet leadership and determination. My favorite part was that the story dealt with leading change in cultural traditions and gender roles without feeling the need to scream about it. There is so much more power in calm and quiet action than in loud protests or demands.

Day 2
The second day felt like an overload of information, and by the reflection time at the end I struggled to remember everything we had done (thank goodness they gave us a binder!). But here are a few of my takeaways:
  • We watched a video with Dan Heath about why change is hard. This presented the finding that self-control is actually exhaustible. As a result, people resistant to change might be perceived as lazy when in reality, they are just tired. This is so true of staff at non-profits! Sometimes we cannot even process a new idea because we are so thoroughly exhausted from just getting our jobs done.
  • We learned the NWBE chart. Pronounced "newbie" it stands for Needs, Wants, Beliefs, and Emotions, and is helpful in finding common ground and obtaining commitment when working with other people or organizations.
  • We talked a lot about resistance: different types of resistance, how to deal with resistance, and the fact that resistance is actually a positive thing. In the diagram, both "power" and "resistance" are positive forces, while "victim" and "loser" are negative. Once you understand this, you can better surface and respond to resistance both in your organization and in yourself.
  • We practiced several different negotiation styles and facilitation tools. The facilitation exercise was... interesting. The topic was improving volunteer retention and each group had to facilitate a productive discussion using a different tool. Well, we clearly all had some personal experience of dealing with volunteer unrest and the crowd of "volunteers" got a little ... hostile toward the presenters! Nevertheless, it was a useful endeavor, though I'm not sure any of us will be using the fishbone tool any time soon. :)
The second evening we were fortunate to see Constellations at the Boise Contemporary Theater. This is a wonderful, two-person play about love, tragedy, and the multiverse theory that really makes you think about where your choices lead you.

Day 3
On the final day, we were split into two groups, assigned a (turned out to be real-world) community with a problem, tasked to take on roles within that community, and use as many change leader tools as possible to propose a solution to the problem. This was so much more fun and useful than I was anticipating, and our group had a great time strategizing and then presenting on how the desolate downtown of "Beaverton" could be revitalized through the arts.

In conclusion, I found the Change Leader Institute to be worthwhile and fun. The facilitators were knowledgable, sincere, and respectful of participants' time. The tools can be applied in almost any circumstance - both professional and personal: to help gain consensus among resistant colleagues, to have productive conversations with a challenging board, to better understand and therefore program for your community, to take steps towards that elusive work/life balance, to identify and maximize your own strengths, and so much more.

I enjoyed spending time with the staff and my fellow change leaders, and I'm greatly looking forward to continuing these new relationships. An excellent three days with many valuable lessons that I won't forget quickly.


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