My previous blog from our late September training on the Art of Participatory Leadership told part of the story. A week later, further reflections came clear that I want to share as well. This is a more critical reflection on my work in Zimbabwe.
I woke in the early morning from the first night’s sleep in my own bed after returning from Zimbabwe. Suddenly things that had been churning in my stomach all week were clearer. I’d like to share some of my observations.
We delivered the Art of Participatory Leadership and in many ways it was excellent. In fact, just this week I proposed to colleagues in Durban that we offer a very similar workshop to community activists in the INK townships. However we missed some important opportunities in part, I suspect, because we got trapped within our own form.
I left our meeting last Monday disquieted. The evaluations were a bit of a shock. After years of teaching in formal as well as informal situations, I usually take evaluations as indicators rather than prescriptions. But in reviewing these evaluations, my body knew that something was out of kilter – even if my head didn’t want the information!
We offered what I believe we were asked to offer. Unfortunately it was only minimally valuable to most of the participants and didn’t justify the investment of a full week of their time. We saw the challenges on the first day, and chose to continue with the training we were asked to deliver. If we had been able to fully discern the field, we might have made different choices.
Participants came to the workshop for many reasons. Most had little to do with participatory leadership – even though more participatory leadership in their organizations can open up a wealth of wisdom, capability and resources. Some came because they wanted to better understand their work as organizational leaders. Others came because they wanted to know more about how to manage people and teams. Some came hoping to gain perspective on confounding issues within their organizations. A few came hoping for conceptual engagement around issues of leadership. We did not work well with the needs and hopes present in the room. I’m not sure we could have – but I woke this morning with a few ideas.
I wonder if we might have broken the group into tracks? While we wanted to get to participatory leadership, perhaps we might have gone about it quite differently. Especially with the addition of Chiku to our team, we had both the resources and the time. Chiku brought indepth experience working with African proverbs and stories about leadership as a way to engage others in thinking about their leadership. What we might have done is spent some of our time together as a single learning community about participatory leadership and some of our time in separate modules or tracks. With our available personnel, we might have offered three; perhaps:
- Working with Community Based Organization Issues – Marianne
- People and Teams in Organizations – Bob
- Hosting Conversations that Matter – Simone
We then might have offered several plenary type sessions for the whole community:
- What is Leadership Anyway?
- Traditional African Perspectives on Leadership
- Creating Meaningful Change in Turbulent Times
- Unlocking Capacity in Organizations
We could have used our Participatory Leadership Methodologies to offer these sessions and done a knowledge café giving people further information on these approaches.
I suspect this is a more major redesign than we could have done on the spot. But I wonder, what held us back? I suspect there were several things:
- Deeper conversations, beforehand, with Sabi Consulting might have revealed more, but at some point this workshop got defined as one on Participatory Leadership. Our pre-workshop materials said what we would do, but participants came for all sorts of varied reasons.
- We were held back by our own knowing and preconceptions. Based on meetings with the Program Design Team we made a commitment to offer a particular training and we stayed with the plan.
- We operated with a certain level of determination, convinced that we knew what the participants needed rather than really listening to them.
- While we know the aspiration, when working with Participatory Leadership, is to work with what is present in the room, we had our own blinders and limitations in terms of really doing so.
I’m not sure what comes next. As I said on a number of occasions, this is a fine group of people doing important work. I want to support them in any way possible. I hope that what we were able to share will continue to work with and on people and will ultimately be valuable. Some of what we were presenting contradicts models and practices of so-called modern culture and it takes a while to digest. The methodologies we offered are sound and used successfully in a wide variety of settings. I hope they can be of value here.