Paul writes – Aware of my own limitations and my need of others (while paradoxically at the same time often struggling with others), I always appreciate books that engage the subject of change, collective wisdom, collective change, and of the importance of and practices of collaboration. One book I’m looking forward to reading is The Power of Collective Wisdom: And the Trap of Collective Folly by Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott & Tom Callanan
All the better when the book receives endorsements from the likes of Margaret Wheatley and Parker J. Palmer.
“…When human beings gather together, a depth of awareness and insight, a transcendent knowing, becomes available. Based on nine years of research The Power of Collective Wisdom shows how we can tap into the extraordinary cocreative potential that exists in every group. Collective wisdom is elusive and unpredictable – it can’t be willed into being, but the authors describe six commitments people can adopt that will increase the likelihood of its appearing. Stories and historical examples throughout serve to illuminate and illustrate how collective wisdom has emerged in a range of settings and through the lives and traditions of varied cultures. Equally important, the authors describe how to recognize the pitfalls of polarization or false agreement, either of which can lead to collective folly – a phenomenon with which recent history has made us all too familiar. And they offer a set of practices to help readers maintain the key lessons of the book.”
The Power of Collective Wisdom is a foundational book for an emerging field of study and practice relevant to everyone seeking more effective and satisfying ways of working with others…”
“…Collective wisdom refers to knowledge and insight gained through group and community interaction. At a deeper level, however, it is about our living connection to each other and the interdependence we share in our neighborhoods, organizations, and world community…”
Margaret Wheatley writes - “Weaving together their diverse experiences and with beautifully blended voices, these authors re-introduce us to the joy of working together. Humans everywhere can be wise; it’s our birthright. Yet wisdom appears most readily when we are willing to be together, in patience, acceptance and curiosity. This gift of a book reacquaints us with this fundamental human experience and provides gentle, skilled guidance for how we might encourage wisdom to enter us.”
While Parker J. Palmer writes - “The Power of Collective Wisdom is an important book, not least because of the second, sotto voce part of its title: “...and the trap of collective folly.” We Americans have a long way to go in learning how to access the wisdom of community, despite example after homegrown example of how powerful it can be in everything from technical creativity to peace-making. This book, full of experience-based principles and practices, can help us do exactly that, freeing us from the cultural trap of radical individualism. Equally important, it can help us avoid the power of collective folly -- and, I might add, collective evil -- of which we have seen too much in our time. For anyone who gathers with others in hopes of finding a better way, this book is a must-read.” Parker J. Palmer.
From the same publisher, and related to the important practice of appreciative enquiry is The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair co-authored by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. Again, Wheatley and Parker Palmer are associated with it.
Both of these books, it seems to me, get at the important change happening and needed in the field of leadership and leadership practice.
I think that Len Hjalmarson, by a different route to this post, brilliantly gets at this in a recent post when he talks of the leader as a “synergist”. He quotes Lawrence Miller (author of this book): “…a leader who has escaped his or her own conditioned tendencies toward one [leadership] style and incorporated, appreciated and unified each of the styles of leadership on the life-cycle curve. The best managed companies are synergistic.”
I passionately affirm the importance of this role, and my link to a synergist (Len’s is the roles of the “Abbot” and “poet”) are the shared core competencies, values and practices/skills of a (modified) spiritual director (plus “coach”), a person who opens space (through for example, silence, questions, stories etc) and invites the “other(s)” into free speech (and response/action). They notice, and help others notice the signs of God at work, and they help direct attention to that working, while all the while helping a person/team to discover the inherent invitations to them to join in with God and what they discern God is doing. They help us make sense of our experiences and insights. They help us join the dots and make meaning. Indeed, as Len points out, quoting Roxburgh in relation to the role of a poet, a good spiritual director “[lives] reflexively in the traditions…the poet [read "spiritual director] listens to the rhythms and meanings occurring beneath the surface” (italics, mine). The Spiritual Director works with a view to integration.
And so, for example, you can see where you might take a statement like the following by John Mabry:
"Doing spiritual guidance is an exercise in humility. First, we must empty ourselves of the notion that we know what we are doing. We do our best work when we do not have an agenda. Once we feel we have our clients all figured out and know exactly what is 'wrong' with them and how to fix it, or how to 'get them' from point A to point B, then we might as well hang it up and go into some other business, because we are not going to be any help to the Divine - or our clients."
The advantage of say using an “Abbot” as an example of a synergist is that this role is a leadership role within a community. However, as noted above, in my view the underlying competencies and practices (prayer etc) of an effective abbot are the same as those of a spiritual director, albeit that an abbot is charged with overseeing the relational and social dimension of a monastic community. They have a very specific leadership role and function. The other interesting thing to note is the apparent rise of group spiritual direction. Get to that point and you can hopefully see how all the elements and themes of this post might by brought into conversation with each other.
For example, read the following paragraph by Len through the lense of a spiritual director (which Len mention in passing with reference to a Nouwen quote) / coach, especially if you’ve experienced individual and/or group spiritual direction:
“…Alan Roxburgh describes the role of the Synergist in comparison to the leaders of Celtic communities in the fifth to ninth centuries. These Abbots and Abbesses did not function as authoritative command and control personalities, but rather they were people who best embodied the living ideals of the community. They were concerned more with cultivating healthy environments rather than shaping specific actions, setting direction or developing programs. They were not managers, but spiritual elders. Joseph Myers writes in The Search to Belong that the leaders of tomorrow “shape environments as opposed to creating groups. When the environment is healthy, people will find connection on their own…”
While you won’t find the description ‘spiritual director’ explicit in the Bible, try imagining your way into the conversation opened up by Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (here). Also reflect on the ‘spiritual director’ as implicit in Jesus’ questions and invitations in the gospels.