Global Leadership Café IX: Empowering Organizations and Communities

Asia’s Global Leadership Cafe IX started as a conversation about the difference between community and organization. And ended by questioning connections between empowerment and productivity.

If you didn’t attend…why don’t you try the first challenge of our evening now? Pick up a pen and write a number. Without thinking too much – How many organizations and communities do you belong to?

On that Friday night in April 2015, forty marker pens scribbled figures – colours filled the corners of the white sheets spread over tables. As I moved around the room – world-café-style for each round of questions that followed – I noticed numbers from 4 to 44, acronyms scrawled roughly in the process of recall. Many numbers had been erased and re-written higher: 52, even 63 communities or organizations. We helped each other discover more that we were not conscious of belonging to at first….

Questions that expanded our awareness:

  • What are different categories of community and organization?
  • What organizations would you put on a resume?
  • What are conversations you would say “Me too!” to….like communities of left-handed people!?
  • What membership cards do you have in your wallet?
  • What educational alumini do you belong to?
  • What are your social identities or interests?
  • …Shared interests lead us to lunch.

What figure of belonging has yours risen to now?(!)

The spirit of this Tokyo-based global leadership laboratory extended to facilitators’ own collaboration with each other. The event’s volunteer leaders connected improvisation with prepared pieces that threaded their existing expertise through to their learningful edges.

Our opening facilitator jolted us out of our workdays and into his own developmental and experimental zone. Impromptu, he invited one of his co-organizers to ad-lib the etymology of the difference between “community and organization.” Something that perhaps had come up inconsequentially in conversation during a planning meeting, was put to a poignant purpose in the spur of the moment. His co-facilitator gracefully responded to the request.

Other facilitators navigated personal challenges with their public persona: controlling nervous apprehension, projecting vocally in competition with the echoing architecture of Tsukiji Temple, adjusting to ever-deviating time-management of co-facilitators, warming away the perceptible chill of a late winter or harvesting and thematizing insights gleaned by participants from dozens of domiciles. My admiration for these facilitators rose each time they rose to the challenges of leadership, collaboration and facilitation.

Guidelines not rules. Invite others to speak. Listen. Be open minded. “This GL community is like a new leadership school.” Said one facilitator as she addressed us.

Collective consciousness sustained palpably in paradox with authentic autonomy.

Just one of the beautiful things that this forum offers is the chance to re-connect with likeminded people. Serendipitous rencontres with old colleagues. Acquaintances recently made at Japan’s International Coach Federation’s Japan Chapter. Fond hugs from friends; memories of coaching Salons now disbanded. The permeable continuity of faces familiar and half-remembered from previous Global Leadership Cafes.

Like minds that share a common language of leadership – whatever their native tongue. The future of leadership; a possibility that fires human aspiration and renders organizational politics ***irrelevant.***

Global Leadership Café questions:
Q1: When have you felt empowered by a community and/or organization?

Q2: What would be different if your community or organization existed to empower *you*?

Q3: What would be different if your community or organization existed to empower *all* its members?

Q4: How do we empower our communities and organizations?

[WARNING: you may find some of what you are about to read offensive]

“Love, empathy and consideration for others.”

“Slap them on the face before they fall on their face! ‘Hard? It’s your f***ing job!’ …he felt the sting, but it empowered him.”

“Empowerment comes from within. From patience. From the ability to make mistakes…and learn.”

“I called him at 10am…he was still hungover from the night before. It wasn’t even SetTai (He wasn’t with clients). What can you say…?”

“Disempowerment is not being given credit for your work. Worse is when others take credit for something they didn’t contribute to.”

“To increase the bottom line for shareholders is to cut back on employee welfare resources…Productive organization does not need empowerment but empowerment needs productivity and proactivity. Too many rules and reducing resources is disempowering. Empowered employees have a freer hand on how to do their work.”

“Synergy makes profitability sustainable” I replied in agreement.

“Sharing my positive attitude, modelling my own empowerment for others, be all that I can be! Emphasis can be infectious.”

“Helping people fail safely.”

“No bulshit or flakeness. Empathy and playfulness. Steadfastness & accountability.”

“Empowerment leads to self respect and fulfilment/actualization… Whether or not it leads to higher productivity or profits is another question.”

Participants included:

HR generalist, start-up entrepreneur, MBA professor & students, own-business financier, leadership coaches, business consultants, engineering manager, NPO activists, SME board member, German-Japan project manager, translators, off-the-street participants, friends, colleagues, partners in love, life and work.

Facilitators in order of appearance:

Skip, David, Yuka & Selma, Dori & Rohini, Michael.


Mark the date:
Sat 16 May 2015 “The Future of Leadership Forum” with Global Leadership Partners Asia.

Have a lovely Golden Week. Hope to see you then…

Global Leadership Café VIII: Embodied Leadership

Forty plus people gathered to deepen their understanding about what it means to be an embodied leader. After two rounds of World Café-style discussion, we shifted into more experimental mode, exploring physical ways of being more fully present as leaders. Heightening awareness of breathing and body posture, participants themselves embodied some of the leadership qualities they felt could serve them in becoming better leaders in their work and life.

We added a meta-learning loop at the end of harvest, inquiring about the process and structure of this leadership laboratory, as well as reaping personal takeaways from the activities.

Many people wanted to learn more about how to use their body to embody leadership….

Leadership qualities embodied by participants included:

Authenticity, compassion, clarity, courage, determination, focus, inspiration, intelligence, love, being non-judgmental, space-holding, trustworthiness, vision, vulnerability.

Takeaways, in the words of participants, included:

  • “To listen to your body. Remember [and] embody the quality you want to exhibit.”
  • “I chose clarity & holding space and realized I should stop making plans and just relax…”
  • “I noticed that I become too quiet among Japanese people, Oh no!”
  • “Holding space [for others].”
  • “Reflection about how body/posture/movement can support/reinforce your emotions/thoughts.”
  • “Small group work is really effective for learning. Good format. Great people.”
  • “Our body has a lot to teach us. I want to work on my breath.”
  • “Get out of my head and connect with my body more.”

Facilitators in order of appearance: Yuka Kojima, Skip Swanson, Dori Yanagi, Michael Shell, Tatsuya Yamada, Annette Karseras, David Nevin.

GLC VII Team Collaboration – A Summary

Taro art 1212Co-authored by Michael Shell and Annette Karseras

When have you experienced true Team Collaboration? How can you encourage true Team Collaboration in your organization? These were the questions that kicked off November 28, 2014 Global Leadership Cafe in Tokyo, Japan.

Instinctively, we all know something about collaboration. We are social animals after all. But why is it that some teams just jell, while others struggle? Individually we cannot solve the global scale issues of today. We need to enhance our ability to coordinate collectively – within and between organizations and, at the micro-level, as teams.

The Team Collaboration Café began by exploring teamwork as an interplay of leadership and followership. Forming first pairs and then small groups, the 40-strong participants played a mirroring game, taking turns to physically lead or follow the movements of their partners; exploring the dynamics of collaboration as the leader-follower roles moved fluidly between the players. We had fun and we learned a lot.

From bodywork, to café style discussion, small groups shared and mingled. Memories of trust and safety rediscovered on one discussion table, bled into experiences of alignment and synergy spoken on another, were refracted through lenses of shared accountability, harnessing diverse expertise, celebrating wins and scores of other perspectives.

Finally, participants took insights from these variously re-invoked pasts and distilled them into an action; one small step each person could take individually in their own organization – to move purposefully nearer to achieving true collaboration.

Some of the shared commitments include:

  • Scheduling regular meetings to share passions
  • Saying thank you every day
  • Practicing Deep Democracy – meaning listening and respecting every voice
  • Sharing self more and be more open
  • Putting myself in other people’s shoes
  • Focusing on the quality of my relationships
  • Starting conversations by asking questions, not by giving the answers

We’d love to hear from you! How can you enhance team collaboration at work?