Posts Tagged ‘Problem-posing dialogues’

VIGDEOCS and CULTURAL CREATIVES # 8

April 13, 2010

Liberating Leadership Teams

Leadership is one of the most misunderstood terms in any language. So much so that some very well-known anti-globalisation campaigners espouse the theory that

  • A truly democratic government is not supposed to lead. It is supposed to respond to the leadership of “We the people.”
  • The most accurate answer to the question, “Who is the leader of global civil society?” is, “Every person.”

In other words, if everyone, in that amorphous fantasy, “global civil society”, regardless of their values, their capabilities, their aims, is ‘ the leader’ , then no-one really leads, and the word has no meaning any more.

If I say that everyone can be a composer or a novelist or an architect, you would want me to explain exactly what I meant by such a statement. Without such explanations, these ex-cathedra statements about leadership, are immensely dis-empowering and confusing.

Moreover they are made by people who themselves have undoubtedly claimed and performed leadership roles in many different arenas. How else can we interpret their campaigns, their access to funding from governments, corporations and major foundations, hence their institutes, and their constant presence on the platforms of international conferences, their books, their newspaper articles and interviews,?

Certainly, when we talk about the role of leaders and leadership in Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies, we do not mean a single leader or leadership group; a dictator, a messiah, a charismatic spell-binder and his/her disciples.

But, the reality is that we will never have the kinds of INNOVATIVE Democracies,  INNOVATIVE Enterprises,  INNOVATIVE Organisations, INNOVATIVE Communities and  INNOVATIVE Societies we need to become viable and Gaian, without thousands of teams of “Liberating Leaders”

Liberating leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They have many different job-titles: mayor, politician, governor, president, executive, director, professor, manager, consultant, editor, teacher, organiser, even, whisper it not, “leader”.

They will be liberating leaders because they transform their Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies by liberating the untapped potential for innovation and creativity in the people that they lead, individually and collectively. They will liberate that untapped potential through the routine use of “problem-posing dialogues” .

Problem-posing dialogues

Problem-posing dialogues can take many forms, depending on the numbers of people involved and the nature and scale of the problems being addressed.

Paulo Freire used them as a vehicle through which he could liberate groups of Brazilian peasants from the oppression and hopelessness caused by their illiteracy and powerlessness. Freire described the “monologues” in which teachers attempt to transfer the knowledge that is stored in their heads into the heads of their students as a form of oppression.

By using Problem-posing Dialogues we can think, act and learn together to initiate and sustain the processes by which our Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies can become ever-more Viable Innovative and Gaian.

To be effective, Liberating Leaders have to work as part of a leadership team whose members have shared values, theories in use, vocabulary and purposes for their Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities or Societies.

Liberating Leaders Teams nurture other teams of Liberating Leaders in every sector and every level of the systems for which they are responsible.

In small-ish groups, meeting regularly with a shared understanding of their purposes and principles, the Liberating Leadership roles can be rotated or allocated by lot. When the Problem-posing dialogues involve groups of relative strangers,  small or large or enormous, without a shared understanding of their purposes and principles, the likelihood of successful outcomes will be small unless legitimated, resourced, designed and facilitated by teams of Liberating Leaders.

If we are to produce the vast range of innovations we will need to make our Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies Viable and Gaian, we must learn how to use Problem-posing dialogues and nurture the multitude of Liberating Leaders that will be needed.

It is also important to understand that,through Problem-posing dialogues, Liberating Leadership Teams liberate their own creativity, energy, confidence, capabilities as well as those of  the people they lead.

Among many thousands of possibilities, specific examples of Problem-posing dialogues include:

The O.R.A.K.E.L. Project:

Designed by the Systems Research Study Group at Heidelberg University in collaboration with the Second West German TV channel (ZDF) in 1970. The ZDF cleared their TV schedules for two evenings and transmitted an ORAKEL programme that was designed to enable the viewers to co-create and agree upon a national policy on “Pollution” .

Holistic Management vs Desertification

Holistic Management to date is really the story of Alan Savory’s revolutionary proposal that desertification is being caused by the way that bad decisions being made about land-management. These decision stemmed from dividing the problem into “manageable parts” rather than dealing with the complexity of ‘the whole’. Savory also noted that this type of decision-making was characterised by a lack of listening, respect, and trust.

Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which ordinary residents decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects. ( Wikipedia)

The Charrette Process

Many municipalities around the world develop long term city plans or visions through multiple charrettes – both communal and professional. Notable successes include the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. (from Wikipedia)

The British Columbia Citizens Assembly

The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform is a group created by the government of British Columbia, Canada to investigate and recommend changes to the provincial electoral system. It was composed 160 members, one man and one woman from each of BC’s 79 electoral districts, plus two Aboriginal members. Assembly members were selected by a civic lottery that ensured a gender balance and a fair representation of the population’s age and geographical distribution. (from Wikipedia)

Paulo Freire on Leadership

The “liberating” part of Liberating Leadership comes from Paulo Freire’s insistence that “Dialogue is Liberating and Monologue is Oppressing”.

In the 1950s, Freire was one of many young Brazilian professionals who were searching for ways to transform the desperate circumstances that had to be endured by the oppressed majority of Brazilians. As he saw it, the main purpose of leadership was

  • To free the oppressed from twin thraldom of silence and monologue.
  • To prepare the ground for democracy and radical social transformation.
  • To recover people’s stolen humanity.
  • To increase men’s (sic) ability to perceive the challenges of their time
  • To predispose men (sic) to re-evaluate constantly, to analyse “findings”, to adopt scientific methods and processes.
  • To help men (sic) to assume an increasingly critical attitude towards the world and so to transform it.
  • To enable men (sic) to discuss courageously the problems of their context – and to intervene in that context (by) offering them the confidence and strength to confront those dangers instead of surrendering to the decisions of others.

Freire specifically rejected, for instance;

  • Forcing men to behave as machines

  • Prefabricated, technocratic approaches. Narrowly-defined, prescriptive, formulaic, once-for-all solutions to complex problems that reinforce the oppressive status quo.
  • Ideology and Sectarianism of either the left or the right
  • Monologue in all its forms: slogans: communiqués, strongly emotional communications: polemics vs dialogue. Manoevering people via propaganda to win them over to “our side” and support our goals without question.
  • The idea that ‘the leaders are the thinkers, the people are the doers’.
  • The oversimplification of problems.
  • A naïve nostalgia for the past : a taste for fanciful – magical , illogical, irrational explanations:
  • Underestimating the people:
  • Despotism via huge imbalances of power
  • Educational practices that failed to offer opportunities for the analysis and debate of problems or for genuine participation.
  • Populist manifestations (demos, marches. riots etc.) that exemplify a naïve. illogical, irrational type of behaviour by the oppressed.

Let’s take another five minute break before we end the first half of the evening.

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