Ask people what power they have to change the world, and the answer is almost always, “Me? I’m just one person – and not an important person at that…”
At the end of February, a group of those average, ordinary people gathered to learn together about creating change “from the middle.” These were not leaders by title or position – on the contrary, some of those in attendance are embedded so deeply within a bureaucratic system, that they identify themselves simply by their level in the system. “As a 2, I only have so much authority…”
And yet, upon their return to their everyday lives, here is what they found:
I met with my new supervisor today. As she was sharing her frustration with the departments being in silos, I asked what it would make possible if that wasn’t true. Her whole tone changed!
I thought it would be difficult – that it would take some work to ‘position’ conversations, especially since I’m not a decision-maker at the organization. But it’s just fallen in my lap. It’s easy to see that “What would X make possible?” is a much more unifying line of discussion than “That’s wrong and silly and here’s why!
When we see ourselves as having no power, we have no power. When we are taught that power comes with the bequeathed authority of management levels – whether that lesson comes from Management School or from the school of hard knocks – then we give away our power before we even see we have any.
But when instead we see the power each of us has to create more effective, productive, creative conversations – conversations that change everything for everyone involved – we realize that every single conversation holds the potential to create ripples of change. When we change the questions we ask and the way we listen, and others learn by our example and change their own questions and ways of listening, we are changing the world simply by (yes, we’re really going to say it) BEING the change we want to see!
Some more re-entry thoughts…
For me, it was about understanding the part I can play in the whole process…defined not by a job description or the expectations of others, but by listening to what others are really saying, and then asking questions around shared values. This can happen anywhere, at any time, with any conversation.
What stood out for me is that anyone can listen. Anyone can ask questions that inspire. As I move into my new position, I am already asking simple questions about what is possible.
Being able to reframe problems to outcomes, and conflicts to values gives me a way to figure out what the outcome is I am looking for and what values I have around that problem. This allows me to step back from what I think might be the only solution and see a variety of ways I might accomplish the outcome.
These are everyday people, doing everyday work in everyday organizations – small grass roots groups and huge, layered government bureaucracies. Through their eyes, it becomes clear – we can choose to see ourselves as powerless, or we can choose to see the power each of us has to change a conversation, and another conversation, and another.
We can choose to see ourselves as powerless, or we can choose to see that every interaction with another person holds the seeds to creating a different future from our past.
We can lead from wherever we are if we invite others to inspire and build together. “What could we accomplish together that none of us can accomplish on our own?”
We can choose to see ourselves as powerless, or like the six people who gathered here last month, we can choose to see the raw potential in every conversation – the power to change how we see things, to be the future we want to see, right here now.
Immense gratitude to Nancy Iannone, Beth Matthias-Loghry, Karen Smith, Timalee Nevels, Kendra Davey and Erin Tierney, for contributing not only to this article, but to the wisdom in the room.