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From the Vault: Six Insights for Systems Leadership

This blog was originally posted August 11, 2015.


In the Winter 2015 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania co-authored an incredibly valuable article: “The Dawn of System Leadership”. Leading up to Volunteer Alberta’s collective impact event, interCHANGE 2015, I have been reflecting on this article and, more generally, the world of systems thinking and leadership.

The article offers three key points regarding systems leadership:

  1. System leaders are not singular heroic figures but those who facilitate the conditions within which others can make progress toward social change.
  2. Any individual in any organization, across sectors and formal levels of authority, can be a system leader.
  3. The core capabilities necessary for system leadership are the ability to see the larger system, fostering reflection and more generative conversations, and shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.

As a follow up this article, WGBH, FSG , and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley convened and recorded their event, Catalyzing Collective Leadership, which further expanded on the concepts introduced through the original SSRI article. In addition to the three key points offered in “The Dawn of Systems Leadership,” here are my three highlights from that recording:

  1. A system leader is not full of answers. They have a clear understanding that nothing will change if others are not able to contribute. Systems leaders are skilled at asking questions that surface the ingenuity and know-how of others.
  2. Change is accomplished through teams. Systems leaders foster compelling team cultures that inspire others but aren’t solely dependent on one leader. The culture ripples through the team and is perpetuated by each team member.
  3. Letting go is a pathway to success. Systems leaders bring what is most important to them to the table and are completely willing to have others take it on. This often looks like letting go of control and ownership over decisions and solutions. Sacrifice is not a loss but rather a gift given for the sake of the larger cause.

flockAs Peter Senge puts it: “We need lots of leaders in lots of places everywhere, all kinds of people stepping forward and doing all kinds of different things. We live in an era where the effective use of hierarchical power and authority is simply inadequate for the problems we face.”

The capabilities used by systems leaders are learned and more importantly practiced, reflected on, and refined. I encourage all of us to try on the capabilities of systems leadership and explore our world through a systems lens. Through practicing the capabilities above I am sure new worlds will open, old assumptions will crumble, and access to previously unidentified levers for positive change will emerge.

Annand Ollivierre
Volunteer Alberta

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Guest Post: The Art of Disruption – A Reflection

This post originally appeared on the Tamarack Institute blog on July 25, 2016.

Join Tamarack in Toronto this September for the Community Change Institute!


Last week, Tamarack’s Liz Weaver and Paul Born hosted a webinar on Community Change: The Art of Disruption as part of a Community Change Webinar Series. In this conversation Liz and Paul discussed some emerging ideas and strategies that are disrupting how some communities today are responding to the complex issues that they face.

There were quite a few ideas that emerged from this conversation, but three in particular stood out to me:

Number 1 | The Power of Connection

Number 2 | The Power of the People

Number 3 | The Power of the BIG 5

The Power of Connection

Liz began the conversation with the acknowledgment that in today’s society people seem to be so connected, yet so disconnected at the same time. We see this in everyday life – we are constantly connected and dialed in to one another’s lives via Text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the list goes on and on. But at times it feels that despite this constant online connection, many people are experiencing less and less real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction.Diverse_Hands.jpg

The same could be said of the many organizations that are working tirelessly to create real, meaningful change in our communities and across the globe. Thanks to technology we see change-makers across the globe praising one another’s work, sharing their successes and supporting one another – we also see the criticism, the analysis of each other’s failures and at times, outright competition. Within the realm of community change, individuals and organizations alike are so much more aware of what other organizations are doing and what is happening in other communities, but we are not as involved or connected as we could be. Change-makers are often so disconnected in their work and when they do connect it is often very surface-level.

During the webinar, Liz reminded us that there are so many wonderful organizations doing incredible work but many are not achieving the big-scale change that they so desire. When you look at groups that are creating real traction in their communities you notice that there is something different going on and I think the answer circles back to this idea of connection.

To create real change, both in our individual lives and within our communities we need to connect – real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction. We need to completely disrupt the ways that we have existed and worked within the realm of community change thus far and do something different.

The Power of the People

A second aha moment that came from this recent webinar was in regards to the power of the people. As Paul explored ideas of community change and disruption he was simply overflowing with the possibilities of people. Paul reflected on the ways in which Canadian citizens have completely stepped up when it comes to positive community change, citing the example of many Canadian citizens’ support of Syrian refugees. He also mentioned incredible examples of leadership happening in the realm of poverty reduction in cities like Toronto and Edmonton. We are beginning to see a huge shift in social responsibility – where people and their cities are no longer waiting for big governments to step in and take action, but rather the people and the cities themselves are becoming the leaders in large-scale social change.

Protest-1.jpgWe are in a wonderful time where it seems people are no longer waiting on the world to change – they are creating that change. They have decided to throw out the rule book and write their own. This is disruption at it’s finest.

Citizens want to be involved, so let’s involve them. Citizens want to be engaged, so let’s engage them. Paul reminds us that within the realm of community change it is our responsibility and our privilege to truly and deeply engage the people within our communities who are outside our organizations. There is definitely something to be said about the power of the people and their ability to disrupt and impact real change.

The Power of the BIG 5

During the webinar, Liz and Paul also touch on Tamarack’s five BIG ideas for making significant change:5.png

  1. Collective Impact
  2. Community Engagement
  3. Collaborative Leadership
  4. Community Development and Innovation
  5. Evaluating Community Impact

Our Idea Areas are key principles and techniques that help community leaders to realize the change they want to see. It doesn’t matter what issue you are facing – whether you are tackling poverty reduction, dealing with food access issues, wanting to improve health or trying to deepen the sense of community in your city – the thinking around these five areas and the application of the guiding techniques will help you to achieve impact.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: How do we use these five BIG ideas to create positive disruption within the realm of community change? And what does the future of these five key idea areas look like?

Collective Impact

Liz talks about the future of Collective Impact – Collective Impact 3.0 if you will – and the emphasis on evolving from a shared-agenda, to a community-wide agenda. In order to create real, disruptive change the goals of a Collective Impact initiative must be owned by the entire community, not just the folks doing the ground work.

*Liz and Mark Cabaj will be hosting a webinar on Collective Impact 3.0 – Register now! They will also be writing a paper on Collective Impact 3.0 so keep your eyes open for this!

Community Engagement

In our cities and communities, a new generation of community engagement is emerging. People want to be engaged in decisions, they want to work together and they want better outcomes for themselves and their neighbours.

Paul talks about how he used to look at community engagement in three stages: inform, consult, and involve. But over the years has discovered that we can no longer separate these three pieces, we must inform, consult and involve in one stride. Engaging citizens in every stage is a critical component of any work that will impact community in any way.

Collaborative Leadership

In the conversation about Collaborative Leadership a listener asked the following question How can we better engage business in Collective Impact initiatives?” To which Liz responded that there are business leaders “with heart.” The more important question, Liz suggests, is how do we engage those business leaders who have heart and how do we connect them with community change?

Liz suggests that the best tactic to address this issue is to:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Find the right fit and engage in real conversations (remember that thing I said about connection? It works – we promise;))
  3. Don’t stress about the “no” – focus on the positive outcomes

The future of collaborative leadership is a future with positive, cross-sectoral relationships that disrupt the current boundaries set in place.

Community Innovation

In their conversation, Liz and Paul stress that positive disruption can come at a systems level but also at the level of community programming. Often times innovation is happening right on the ground, centred within a community. This is the type of innovation that is key to real community change and this is the type of innovation that should be shared.

This is the kind of work that we want to highlight at Tamarack – both at the Community Change Institute this fall but also in our everyday work.

Evaluation

Liz says “evaluation is key but what can we do about learning and sense-making amidst evaluation?” – It’s time to take evaluation to the next level. We need to begin to think about what we can truly learn from the evaluation process and results and really make sense of what is discovered.

For me, the Art of Disruption is about engaged people and organizations rising up, breaking through boundaries and working together in new ways. The Art of Disruption requires flexibility and encourages the evolution and adaptation of perspective and practice.

I recently attended a one-day event with Paul Born in London, Ontario and at one point he jokingly began to sing a song that I feel sums up the Art of Disruption beautifully…

“The more we get together, together, together – the more we get together the happier we will be!”

 Continue Learning: 

Happy Learning!

Sienna Jae Taylor
Tamarack Institute

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Nonprofit Experiences: 5 Ways I Support Nonprofits

The nonprofit sector plays a pivotal role in our lives and communities, and impacts all of us in many facets of our lives.

Our interactions with the nonprofit sector are varied: we may work or volunteer for causes we care about, or donate to our favourite organizations. We are also personally impacted through school, religion, community, sports, recreation, and other supportive endeavors. Often, our nonprofit experiences are transformative.

Like everyone, Volunteer Alberta’s staff are deeply connected to the sector as volunteers, supporters, clients, and community members. We have started a series to share the personal impact nonprofits have had on us. Sam shared five of her personal experiences with the nonprofit sector and Cindy shared five key moments in her life as she has engaged with nonprofits and become the volunteer she is today.

Appeal to Future Supporters

Next is Daniela with five reasons she supports local nonprofit organizations. Looking for new ways to appeal to future supporters? Consider appealing to these motivations:

1. Expand my skill sets.

When I was in university, I volunteered with the University of Alberta’s Biological Anthropology lab. It was a great way to meet like-minded people who shared my passion for human history. I gained practical experience and learned about laboratory procedures and the human body.

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Although I don’t use the majority of these skills in my daily work, they have had lasting impacts, for example:

  • I have fun stories for the lunchroom
  • I’m great at removing all kinds of stains
  • I will never get the smell of formaldehyde out of my nose
  • I’m available as a teammate for any obscure trivia team.

2. Broaden my cultural horizons and learn about the history.

My family has always been a big supporter of culture and history. Every summer we traveled around Alberta, visiting small community museums and festivals. These trips are some of my favourite memories! They were adventures, awesome family time, and a fun way to visit our amazing province. It doesn’t matter how often you visit, you can always find something new and exciting and learn something along the way!

My top five favourite cultural attractions (which happen to be nonprofits) are:

Supporting these amazing spots is as easy as visiting them or volunteering with them!

3. Grow the causes I am passionate about.

Through advocacy and donating, I am able to give back to people in my life and support organizations with a worthy cause. Every one of us has been touched by illness – our own or someone we love. Following the diagnosis of a friend, I continue to support the work of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada through financial donations and awareness.

The MS Society of Canada provides support to those with MS and their families, education about the disease, and funds research to find a cure. Together, we can be the cure!

4. It’s a great way to give back to the community.

GiftI LOVE BOOKS! Local libraries are a great place to meet people, enjoy a coffee, attend great programs, and borrow books. One of my favourite places to volunteer is the Edmonton Public Library’s Christmas Gift Wrap. It’s a great way to raise money for library programs and to support literacy in our community. Also, I love seeing all the awesome gifts people get one another for Christmas (Hello, inspiration)!

5. It has expanded my family (many times over).

The Edmonton Humane Society does great work – supporting animals who need shelter, providing them with medical care, and matching them to their fur-ever home. We adopted our dog, Bear (who I hope is enjoying the rainbow bridge), and our cat, Galileo, from the Edmonton Humane Society and they have added so much to our home and our life.

Thank you Edmonton Humane Society , for providing a safe haven for our fur babies and giving them all the love in the world before entrusting them to our care! We’ll be back for a dog in the near future!


Stay tuned for more Volunteer Alberta staff experiences with amazing nonprofit organizations, and please share your own experiences in the comment section!

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Curiosity: Make it Your Leadership Advantage

This is a guest post by Kathy Archer from Silver River Coaching.


Leaders need to be in control, in charge, and have all the answers. Right? No. That is not entirely accurate. In fact, the best leaders often don’t have all the answers.  What the greatest leaders have is a tremendous amount of curiosity. In other words, they ask a lot of questions that they don’t know the answer to.

Doesn’t asking questions make me look dumb?

Why is it important to ask questions you don’t know the answer to? I mean really, doesn’t that highlight how unwise you are? Are leaders not supposed to be intelligent, invincible, and have all of the answers?

No.

A leader has two primary jobs:

1. To grow and develop others

2. To move the organization and it’s people (the ones they are growing and developing) from where they are now towards a shared vision of the future

If a leader already knows how to achieve the desired results then they would be doing it. But they are at the beginning, not at the end point of success. That is because they don’t know how to get there, yet! Additionally, despite what some leaders might believe, they can’t do it on their own. A leader needs a team. The best way to grow that team and to move toward the future vision is to get really curious.

Do you know where you are going?

To create a vision you need a clear picture of where you want to be. Start by asking questions:

  • If we were really successful at making positive changes in the next year, what would be different?
  • Imagine a year from now we are reaching significantly improved outcomes. What processes would we be doing differently?
  • What impact would our positive changes have on our relationship with our stakeholders, clients, and funders?

mapDo you know how to get there?

To figure out how to realize your vision you need a plan. Creating a plan requires more questions:

  • Imagine we changed our intake processes to make them more streamlined. Where did we start?
  • What skills would our teams need to develop in order to achieve those desired outcomes?
  • If we were to look back a year from now, what roadblocks would we have to overcome (and how did we do it) to achieve that new vision?

When a leader is willing to ask questions, explore possibilities, and invite introspection, they can spark incredible growth in their team.  A leader’s willingness to explore the unknown may open the door to discover a whole range of possibilities that may not have existed if they had merely provided a solution.

What it takes to be more curious

Being curious requires a leader to be vulnerable and admit they don’t have all the answers. By applying curiosity in situations, there might be a bubbling up of resistance or fear in ourselves. Yes, you could be opening up a whole can of worms. Yes, you might discover something you don’t like. Curiosity requires you to let go of control and accept ambiguity and uncertainty. It requires admitting that you don’t know it all and need help.

Learning to let go of control takes time and effort. Be intentional about it. You may select an area to focus on. For example:

Rather than implementing a new hiring system myself, I am going to ask 3 staff to develop the system. I am going to work on giving them more control and autonomy because I know it will help them grow. They will have the opportunity to become more confident and feel they are valuable, contributing members of the team. I’m going to simply get curious about what they can create. 

The advantage of curiosity

The reality is there is an incredible wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience in a whole team. When that vast information becomes available, it surpasses what one leader can do on their own. This expanded potential is what sets incredible organizations way out front of average organizations. Groups are able to excel when leaders are willing to leverage everyone’s strengths, talents, and experience.

ThinkingThe way to get more curious

Ask questions. Ask lots of questions! Inquire with no judgement, no preconceived answers in your mind, and no prior expectation of a right way to respond. Probe with open-ended questions and a child-like playfulness as you search for new insights.

  • What other options have we not looked at yet?
  • What else do we need to explore?
  • What have we not thought about?
  • What would you like to try?

Use curiosity to your advantage

Many of the best leaders are curious souls. They ask a lot of questions they don’t know the answers to.  A curious leader’s inquisitiveness helps them grow and develop their team so they can achieve a shared vision, together.

Let go of control. Let go of fear. Replace it with curiosity. When you do, you may find yourself and your organization more rapidly achieving your desired results.

 

Kathy Archer
Silver River Coaching

 

Kathy is a leadership coach for women who want to strengthen their leadership and find balance in life. She mentors women as they rediscover their purpose, passion, and persistence for life while dealing with office politics, jerk bosses, and the challenges of family life. In her signature program Women with Grit: Leading with Courage & Confidence, Kathy gives her ladies the hope and inspiration they need along with a kick in the pants to makepositive change in their lives.You can find Kathy at silverrivercoaching.com

 

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Organizational Well-being Starts with Staff

A major component for organizational well-being is staff well-being. With nice weather, longer days, and often a change of gears to match the change in season, summer is a great time to experiment with new approaches to staff wellness.

At Volunteer Alberta, we strive to support staff well-being in a variety of ways. While we are always growing and improving, here are 3 ideas we have already implemented that you might want to borrow!


1. Vacation Time

Jump with JoyWe have a generous vacation / time-off policy. As a nonprofit, one way we can stay competitive is with paid time-off as part of our staff compensation package. We can provide staff with time to rest, relax, explore, and recharge and create a workplace culture that values work-life balance. After all, I want to bring my ‘whole self’ to work, and that is made much easier when I have the time to grow and develop personally, as well as professionally.

Part of our staff vacation time includes the summer bonus of extra long weekends from May until September. Anytime we have a long weekend during the summer months, we add an extra day of office closure. This works out to four extra days our staff have to enjoy away from the office and to get the most out of the season.

2. In-Office Yoga

Part of my ‘whole self’ includes my training as a yoga teacher. As a new teacher, I needed an opportunity to practice teaching. Luckily for me, many of my colleagues were willing participants! Teaching yoga at the office has the mutual benefit of supporting my personal development, giving me a chance to practice professional skills, and creating great value-add for other staff. Plus, I find it fulfilling to support the mental and physical well-being of my colleagues. It has been a great opportunity to build community and de-stress on Friday’s at lunch, and, of course, it’s optional so no one feels pressured to join in.

3. Take Advantage of our Surroundings

RestaurantOur office happens to be in the heart of downtown. We are next to restaurants and bars with great summer patios, as well as Edmonton’s river valley. Going to a patio with colleagues after work is an excellent way to end a work day – soaking up sunshine, relaxing, and building friendships. Staff also bring our meetings to our neighbourhood cafés, restaurants, and patios for a change of scenery and to embrace a casual, creative way of working together. Some staff members have even tried out walking meetings to get outside.


While these are my favourite ways Volunteer Alberta supports staff well-being, there are other ways as well. Staff benefits, flexible work hours, professional development opportunities, and sharing our lunchtime together are also positive influences on Volunteer Alberta’s well-being, individually and as an organization.

What kind of work environment would feel satisfying and promote wellness at your office?

No workplace, or office culture, is quite the same. This is especially true in our diverse sector: different peak times, staff sizes, volunteer involvement, facilities, communities, the list goes on. For this reason, activities that promote well-being for your staff need to be responsive to your nonprofit’s current reality and future goals.

What is your organization doing already to promote well-being in the summer and year-round? What ideas would you like to try out? Let me know in the comments!

 

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

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