Workshop Recap | Who Do You Choose to Be? Facing Reality-Claiming Leadership-Restoring Sanity with Meg Wheatley

Reconstitute: Chocolate chip cookies and choosing who we are as leaders

I had the pleasure of attending a weekend workshop with Meg Wheatley entitled “Who Do You Choose to Be? Facing Reality-Claiming Leadership-Restoring Sanity” at Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC. The lush old campus was an ideal setting for this session. I came into the workshop without any knowledge or history of Meg’s previous works including “Leadership and the New Science.”

I understand that this new book marks a departure from the conclusions in that previous work. These new conclusions for leadership and our society that might not be satisfying for leaders, practitioners, or organizational development specialists. They formed the basis of many of our discussions throughout the two days. I appreciate that I may not have a full understanding her theory, but I will attempt to summarize:

Our current civilization is in decline and that it is not possible to fix large systems in society. We instead, must watch them fall and start anew.

It’s a tough idea, particularly for those who have committed their lives or built their careers on being fixers. It also begs the question, what do we do? Meg suggests that instead of trying to fix large-scale problems, we look to the local and community levels and create “islands of sanity” with the understanding that these sane, productive, and proactive solutions will likely indeed remain at the local level.

It is an interesting concept for all of us involved in change and organizational development to consider and perhaps try to change our expectations as well as the expectations of our colleagues and clients.

Even at this small scale, true leadership in these times is challenging. Meg offered the group ideas and more thought-provoking questions about how we wish to lead in these troubled times. It is through these questions that we may come to know and share our true leadership.

From the simple:

Can you always sit up straight and sit in your dignity?
Can you use the power of silence in times of difficulty?

To the more contemplative:

What is the difference between hope and aspiration?
What am I faithful to?
What is my most basic belief?
What do I want to keep paying attention to?

As for the chocolate chip cookie, this was my big takeaway from the weekend. Yes, a chocolate cookie.

Like an organization is made up of different ingredients. Once those ingredients come together to form the cookie, they are no longer in their original state but have taken on this new form – the cookie. You need all these particular ingredients to form the cookie, and without one, you will get something different. At the same time, if the cookie fails, there is no way to extract the original ingredients out and restore them to their original form. The flour is forever changed. And thus, if the cookie fails, you must throw out the batch and start fresh.

Sarah Muff is a creative engagement practitioner. Her current project focuses on engagement in labour relations with the Association of Administrative and Professional Staff at UBC.

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