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I really like the idea of Management By Wandering Around popularized by Tom Peters. Recently I think I’ve stumbled across a corollary to that theory where I consult with leaders by going out with them for a run or walk. My friend Sven Walther coined the term “runsulting” to describe it. Much more than merely fitness multitasking; I’m finding that the conversations I’m having along trails or sidewalks is of a different quality than the usual coffee shop, restaurant, or office meeting. It seems that the combination of activity, being outdoors, and limited eye contact creates an atmosphere that lends itself to a certain kind of informal honesty and mutual openness that is refreshing. I used to joke that men coudln’t really talk until they broke a sweat, there’s something to that. I’m not saying that this is the new normal for me. It’s just another tool I keep at the ready for certain situations where if fits. It isn’t going to replace phone calls, Skype, lunch, or scheduled whiteboard sessions. But, when it’s time to go a little personally deeper with someone who would appreciate it I’m finding it both helpful and enjoyable. My favourite professor in university introduced me to the idea that Attention = Contrast. Doing something different or unexpected guarantees that you have an opportunity to bring about some kind of change. It’s a key secret of what great summer camps are doing all across the country this week. Inviting a leader of one of our partner charities out for a run is definitely atypical, but it can be valuable. Leaders: What can you do to change the context for a key conversation this week to change the type and quality of what happens? Anyone interested in heading out for a run sometime?  

About ten minutes ago the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation released this statement:
NDP Leader Jack Layton has died at age 61 after a long battle with cancer, CBC News has learned. Layton died at his home in Toronto early Monday, surrounded by family, according to a statement from his wife, Olivia Chow, and his children, Sarah and Michael Layton.
My immediate gut response was “Tragic”. As the twitterverse pours out condolences and tributes I want to add my own 2 cents. Jack Layton was (in my estimation) quite possibly the most gifted leader Canadian politics has seen since Pierre Trudeau. While I didn’t always agree with him on matters of policy I found myself drawn to his passion, charisma, and clear vision for what our country could be. He led a perennially third place party with courage and was something of a terrier at the feet of those in power; constantly calling them to consider the needs of the least and the overlooked. While many of my fellow Christians dismissed Jack (it never seemed right to call someone so earnest and grassroots by anything more formal than Jack) because he differed from their conservative take on the few issues that have sadly come to represent everything to Evangelical voters; I saw him representing a prophetic voice in many ways. Jack never left any doubt what he stood for, he persevered for years as Canadians generally didn’t support his party, he withstood criticism with humour and boldness, and he eventually reached his political apex in an all to brief role as leader of the official opposition. He was ideal for that chair. He challenged the Prime Minister on matters of social well-being, justice, and ethics. His comfort in the media was a contrast to the cautious defensiveness of the Conservatives. He sometimes went overboard, which is the privilege of knowing that you don’t have the authority to do what you are demanding. I am sad this morning, even though I don’t think I ever voted for Jack’s party. I am concerned for the next few years as our Opposition will be led by someone with less experience and far less panache. The dynamic tension that brings out the best in our parliament will be diminished. Of course, the greatest loss is for his family, but they are people I only know from news reports. RIP Jack. In a time when our country is in great need of true leadership you represented something powerful and profound. May your legacy produce more of your kind.  

Be warned, this may be more of a rant than a well balanced post. I’m frustrated by the number of leaders who are ending their marriages or in marriages that are deeply struggling. I’m not a sociologist or registered counsellor and I haven’t done a statistical analysis to determine if there’s really a trend to consider. I’m just annoyed. And sad. And asking a bunch of questions: -Are leaders uniquely vulnerable to marriage troubles? -If so, is that because of the pressures of their roles or because their personalities are more difficult to maintain a healthy committed relationship? -Does the so-called “loneliness of leadership” result in leaders being less willing to admit struggles and get marriage help? -Do contemporary expectations for work/life balance and for both parents to be actively involved in parenting make it harder today than it was when many leaders left family behind to pursue their sense of calling? -How should we understand the Biblical quotes about married people being concerned about earthly things and unmarried people being concerned about things of God? -How should we understand the Biblical quotes about marriage, divorce, and remarriage? -Are unmarried people innately better leaders because they are able to be more entirely focused on the work? -If so, is that really a good thing? -Can anyone point to real examples of organizations that have a leadership culture that nurtures marriage instead of adding strain to it? -What are the warning signs that coworkers, supervisors, or board members should see that indicate that a leader’s marriage may be in trouble? -What should they do if they see those signs? -Is there an appropriate Human Resources policy for marriage support? -Is there an appropriate Human Resources policy for divorce leave? -What should be done if coworkers divorce one another? -Is there a better resource for leaders to consider than Andy Stanley’s book “Choosing To Cheat“? -Is marital fidelity a relevant matter for supervisors to consider? -Is it even legal to ask about this stuff in an employment context? -Is it important enough to risk offending people by asking even if it’s not commonly done? -Are there any real differences between leaders who identify as Christians and those who don’t? -Is marriage difficulty contagious? And finally; are any of my friends out there secretly struggling with serious marital issues and I’ve been too busy, insensitive, polite, or cautious to ask the question and offer support? Rumour Control: This post is not a reflection on any particular leader or couple I know or hear about, and I believe my marriage is currently holding up reasonably well.

As I’ve been becoming more educated in the field of global relief and development I’ve started to form some reasonably strong opinions. The strongest is that I don’t know enough to support my strong opinions. I have become convinced by reading, site visits, and conversations with trusted, experienced professionals that effective long term improvement in lives and communities in the developing world requires leadership from within the local community. The enormous failure of foreign aid over the last decades has demonstrated that western money is not sufficient to change reality in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, or even among the poor and outcast in our own country. There is something true in the adage about teaching a man to fish. In principle I support the idea of local leadership, but if the needed leadership was in place wouldn’t things be improving? I hate to sound like a redneck but isn’t their ample evidence that leadership is one of the resources that is missing in many struggling countries? Dare I say that there is something lacking in the vision, ethics, and strategy of locals in many places that contributes to their ongoing suffering? It is apparent that much of the world has not demonstrated the ability to make critical decisions that are in the long term best interests of their people and environment. Generations of the world’s poorest have come and gone without significant improvement despite massive financial giving. That’s not to suggest that we’ve got everything figured out at home. The current debt crises in the United States and Europe make it clear that there are deep problems in our leadership as well. Two years ago I posted about an exciting project in Swaziland called Bulembu. Sadly, recent developments have created significant doubt about the future of the efforts. The Globe and Mail has done an appropriate job of describing the changes in what seem to be careful terms. Commenters have (as usual) been far less diplomatic. Professor Sugunasiri’s broad stroke condemnation of western “arrogance”, though coming off as more arrogant itself, does perhaps offer something of value. There can be no effective partnership between people, organizations, communities, or countries when either side believes the other is ignorant. Humility must become the foundation. I was pleased to see that Volker Wagner and the Bulembu International board will continue to support the Child Care Program at Bulembu even as the local leaders take over much of the operation. Perhaps they are demonstrating that there is a point when humility requires that partnerships are dissolved with as much dignity and grace as possible. What’s the lesson here? Leadership is a critical resource in development and in the long term it is best to see it centred in locals who are intimately familiar with the culture and characteristics of the people we are trying to help; but that must be balanced with a mutual humility that respects the strengths and perspectives of all involved. We must do the hard work of true partnership whenever possible. Generalizations about Africans or Westerners or the poor are inflammatory and unhelpful. We should expect that no one we deal with is entirely pure in motive or clear in expectations, and that includes ourselves. And we should keep trying. The needs are too great and the stories of success too profound for us give up hope.

If wordpress is correct, this is my 200th post on this blog. My hope is that somewhere along the way there has been some value in it for those who read here, I know there has been value for me in the process of writing. Today, a glimpse behind the curtain. As Catalyst has grown over the last 3.5 years we have come to know vastly more nonprofits that are doing good work and could benefit from some additional attention to developing leadership. There is no shortage of opportunity for us to pursue our Why. Early on our greatest challenges were defining what we want to be about and finding organizations to work with; now things are quite different. Our budget used to allow us to give much larger grants to the few groups we supported, now that same budget is stretched across many more organizations, resulting in smaller average grants. We’ve also gotten a reputation for providing a certain level of insight and valuable information to leaders through both informal conversations and some official consulting. Our scholarship to Halton students has become a week long intensive crosscultural experience through Hero Holiday. All this has meant that I have had to become a better leader myself. Not only to have credibility when encouraging other leaders to develop themselves, but also just because the demands of the role are escalating. As part of my commitment to the Arrow Executive Leadership Program I’m in the process of developing a focused plan to improve as a leader over the next year. The intensive assessment process gives me some key insights to work from, and my current situations at work and home give me a context I need to treat realistically. I’m fairly certain I know what the major theme of my plan will be, but the details will need some more attention to clarify. I’m looking forward to it. Making an effort to develop myself is nothing new to me. In fact one of the challenges of this plan is how it will interact with some of the other things I’m already doing. But the focus and high level of accountability will be powerful. What are you doing to develop yourself?