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Tap the Power – Oil and the Crow
I was running up on Mackinac and thinking of my wife/governor’s recent successes landing a bunch of cutting-edge green energy companies in Michigan. Some people get fired up talking about sports, shoes, or sex. She gets passionate talking about things like “net metering,” through which a homeowner who produces more energy than they use – through, for example, efficiencies, and wind turbine(s) or solar panels – actually can be paid by the utility for generating energy instead of being charged for using energy. As I was thinking about energy, two obnoxious Mackinac Island crows appeared on the road. I hollered at one, it flew off, cawing in response, and it hit me – it, the idea, not the crow…
We’ve depended upon oil, natural gas and coal. As we learned in school, they are essentially finite; the gifts of God – the results of fossils, pressure, heat, and a whole lot of time – likely hundreds of thousands of years. But then there’s the crow. Its main fuel supply? Horse manure. The horse’s waste, the crow’s food becomes. Enough energy to burn! To fly, if you can imagine that, with plenty of excess energy for it to caw its disdain for me.
So, here’s the connection to leadership. In the old view, THE leader was the massive coal burning power plant. Whether the leader was a school superintendent, governor, CEO, teacher or priest, he (not often she) distributed to us the knowledge and instruction and energy we needed to be good followers. We paid our respect and our dues:
- The Pope tapped the Church’s 2000 year history and distilled learning from his expert priests and his study of Greek, Roman, and ancient Aramaic.
- The President or Czar embodied our history and our laws. As Louis the 14th said “L’Etat c’est moi,” or “I am the state.”*
- The doctor studied to know things you couldn’t possibly know or understand.
- The teacher learned the content and the process to pour knowledge into you.
Each, a big power source distributed knowledge, direction, and instruction. Not any more!
In a Googly world: Sorry Father, but every parishioner can find a Greek translation. Sorry doc, but your patient can often self-diagnose and learn things you couldn’t know about her genealogy and even her DNA. And I’m loving this: my young business colleagues all understand the new tools of communication – Facebook, podcasts, internet radio, Twitter, and the ‘net and all its possibilities better than I do. My point: There is trapped energy all over the place, potentially released in brilliant flashes and breakthroughs. Our education budgets (like cheap oil) are down and may not bounce back for years, but our children and their parents and our retirees are full of energy, potential, learning every day.
On the largest scale, American dominance is no longer guaranteed. Former 3rd world countries are vaulting forward, as much by unleashing hungry minds as by offering cheap labor. But America has millions of pools of untapped energy: wondrous human biodiversity, free speech, broadband, and awesome foundations in learning. IF, if, if we tap these we will grow in amazing ways.
Your task and mine is to engage people. Get them to become energy producers, instead of passive, underutilized, and complaining users of the energy thrown off by old authorities – politics, church, and the educational monolith (whose structures and methods still resemble Cambridge of 1700 or the one-room school houses of the 1800’s). More than ever the job of the leader – whether she has the title of leadership or not – is to decentralize energy generation and get it flowing among us.
Untrap the power, before the crow has the last laugh.
* Many historians dispute this attribution to Louis XIV, but we get the point.
Great message, Dan.
Engagement is an energy source that ha unique properties: The more energy you give out through engagement, the more you create in return.
This is great insight. It really hit home. Thanks for an excellent discussion-starter!
This is what the Obama supporting ‘leadership’ in Lansing brings to you:
I was going to spam this, as it’s political diatribe which is not the focus of this blog space. But I’ve decided to leave it up. If others want to whip themselves up in an anti-Islamic frenzy they are welcome to, but they should know your link has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Find a good right-wing or even left-wing political site, Mark. That’s not with this community is about.
Have a great day.
I posted that blog site not for the purpose of supporting any ‘right wing’ agenda. In fact, I posted it only to show factual data about what happens in America when leadership becomes passive with respect to our Constitution. Dearborn is certainly real, not a hypothetical scenario of ‘what if’. On that note, I say, “Lead with your best self.”
You have a great day as well, my friend.
Great observation, Dan. People are empowered to learn and engage on their own as never before. One HUGE CAVEAT, though: There is a lot of bad advice and spurious ‘knowledge’ out there, expertly posted or available from ‘experts.’ People often get led down the wrong alleys, unknowingly. What’s that old line about being able to sort the wheat from the chaff?
This is the huge risk of these times. Everyone (even including me!) purports to be an expert. Newspapers served a wonderful purpose of checking facts, at least; and tending on the news side to some objectivity. This democratized world puts more pressure on all of us to do our own thinking – whether about religion, politics, economics, culture or any other vital domain of our lives.
It is democracy’s new test. It is religion’s new test. It is a fascinating time in which to live!
Crows are interesting critters. I understand that crows are among the few animals that can perceive when a vehicle is coming at them, and know enough to move out fo the way. I used to visit Sweden on business, and found that Swedish crows sound different from American crows. Crows in the Tokyo district of Shinjuku have a different sound altogether; it actually sounds like a Japanese accent to me. A few weeks after my last visit to Japan, CBS News aired a segment showing those same crows attacking people, seemingly for no reason. Alfred Hitchcock was probably smiling down from above when he saw that.
Be that as it may … Dan, thanks for sharing this novel way of thinking about energy. Michigan is indeed getting a new infusion of energy, and we can all contribute to it.
We have systems that benefit from a frightened and/or apathetic citizenry that is all too willing to turn our power over with the hopes that they (politicians, administrators, educators, physicians, relligous leaders, bankers, etc.) will “fix it.”. So many of our political, religious, educational, financial and other systems actively work to disempower the “consumer.”
Peter Block, in his work “Community, The Structure of Belonging,” offers a wonderful explanation of this, as well as an exceptional approach to reclaiming the power of community.
The bottom line is this: when we engage each other in meaningful dialogue about possibililty, ownership, dissent, commitment and gifts, without any need to be right or to convince others of “our way or our truth,” then we truly empower an egaged citizenry.
I have used this model with many individuals and clients, as well as with myself and within my own family, and have experienced many transformative moments.
Your comment reminds me of a great scene in the movie of the making of what was to be Michael Jackson’s 2009 concert tour. At one point, Jackson is talking about people’s great frustration and alienation, and how they are waiting for “them” to fix it. He asks pointedly, “they WHO?” That said it all for me.
Your comment is beautifully put regarding the power of dialog and community.
But I want to ask you to write more about the sparks of creativity or the pools of hidden energy, too. Do you see a direct connection between community dialog and creativity? For instance, how would that occur in a school? And how do we get people who are “too tired and too busy” to make a parents’ meeting? I like where you’re heading; just say more if you have a few minutes! How do we move people in the pews, the suburbs, the cities to infuse their talents and quit waiting for “them” to fix it?
Dan–Great insights on a number of levels. As an administrator in one of those educational monoliths, it concerns me that so many students want/expect to sit passively and have knowledge poured in. Many times the efforts of instructors to get students to broaden their views and think critically are met with resistance (i.e. Will this be on the test?). It gets very discouraging at times but we as a team are committed to breaking through this passivity. Any and all suggestions would be welcomed!
Thanks for writing and the kind words.
Your question is a great one for a GROUP. I could spout off and have perhaps crazy ideas. Perhaps there’s a way to create a discussion area for this on my site. Let me noodle that.
I attend a small Church south of Kalamazoo. Between 1995 and 2005 our congregation was growing, vibrant, active . . . they felt engaged and acted accordingly. We subsequently went through several difficult years. We endured a “revolving door” of pastors, each of which was most clear on one thing – he wasn’t here to stay. We finally were assigned a long-term pastor who brought (self-admittedly) the gift of great reverence and healing, without the gift of strong community-building leadership.
Recently we embarked on a fairly assertive plan to reclaim the power of our congregation. We started by publicly acknowledging our history – both the good and the difficult. We invited EVERYONE to express their perspective, fears, frustrations, hopes, dreams, etc. We listened without trying to fix, convince, change . . . just listened. Within a couple of months we shared with every parishioner a complete list of what we had heard.
A small subgroup of parishioners undertook the arduous and invaluable role of discerning our core values, our purpose, and our vision as a parish. We knew that we had to know “who we are” before we could dig into “what we should do.” We were diligent to invite a representative cross-section of individuals into this process.
Next we invited the larger congregation into a series of conversations. We asked individuals to consider how the core values lived themselves out in their lives. Whenever we received any push-back (which we did, albeit minimally) we listened with gratitude for their willingness to speak their truth. We asked individuals to consider how they themselves had contributed to the current state of our congregations – not to blame themselves, but simply to acknowledge where the power lay for our current situation. We invited them to share about the kind of congregation they’d like to have – what would it be like if it were at its best. They also shared with each other the gift(s) that each of them was – this was the most difficult conversation for most to engage in.
Finally we asked for commitments. Given all that they had shared, and all that they hoped for, what were they willing to commit toward bringing about a new possibility. They were asked to share these conversations with others, and spread the positive energy that THEY created throughout these interactions.
We’re still in the process, and recently were once-again assigned new pastoral leadership. Thankfully the new leadership is familiar with this process and fully supports it. In the meantime, though we still have a long way to go, we seem to have more abundant energy, a new level of volunteerism, and an increase in shared language about possibility and each person’s ability to make a difference.
I’ve used a similar approach with a wide range of individuals and teams, from high school students to long-term professionals, from line-workers to executive leadership teams. Almost without fail, when they make the commitment to openly participate in these dialogues, they discover a new level of energy, a renewed commitment to make a difference, and not surprisingly, a new creativity with which to address the issues. They have invited new participants, found new venues and times for meetings, created new ways to communicate with each other, found new ways to celebrate and inspire each other.
We have a lot of work to do but check this out…
I want one of these on my house!
I agree with your comment that “there is trapped energy all over the place, potentially released in brilliant flashes and breakthroughs. ” And it is perhaps a side effect of the new communication paradigm, that this massive energy reserve remains unfocused, wasted perhaps more in heat released than light produced. Because of this, I believe that our task is not only to engage people, but to help them focus their energies into productive channels. At the very least, making them aware of productive channels they can use.
It seems almost a paradox that the job of the leader should be not only to decentralize energy production and generation, but also to find ways to focus said energy, centralizing its power, increasing its amplitude, and producing genuine results. Currently, however, it seems we focus on technology and we focus on programs, but we ignore people. An example: I saw something on tonight’s news that simply infuriated me. They just completed construction of a new high school in Los Angeles, I believe it’s called Robert Kennedy High School, with a price tag of more than half a billion dollars. That’s a billion with a B! It has marble floors and murals galore, but does not serve more students than many high schools which cost hundreds of millions of dollars less. It is a beautiful building, but shouldn’t we be investing in the energy and power of all those young minds, and not laying off 3000 teachers in that school district?
Perhaps we need to take a look at the lessons of history, and reinvest in our own people, and helping them generate the energy of which you speak. Families used to draw power and energy from multiple generations living together. Older workers were respected and needed, not ignored and discarded. Retirement meant handing over the reins to the next generation, so they could drive the cart, not being pushed off the cart to wander on the road, in search of a place to fade away. Not being dismissed because one’s hair is gray, but treasured for the beauty carved and weathered, like the wood of an old barn — still strong and proven through time.
Powerful and thought provocking message Dan. May we all have a little crow in us.
The massive increase in information availability and communication is a powerful force, yes, and the pope of a centruy ago, or the king, or any leader, or well educated professional of not long ago would be in awe of what the common perosn has available. The emperor had messangers and fast horse to send his dispathces and recieve information that few others had access to; today we all have telegraphs, and vaste computing power at out figer tips. This also means that people who are not ready for the information have it, and amatures think they inderstand government well enough to disassemble it; and we do self-diagnose, which drives doctors crazy. This sometimes works out for the best and sometimes causes chaos. All of us need to learn again to appreciate the persons who are leaders, and to better understand how to identify them, so we do not end up with the madness of the crowd ruining us. We need leaders.
The massive increase in information availability and communication is a powerful force, yes, and the pope of a centruy ago, or the king, or any leader, or well educated professional of not long ago would be in awe of what the common perosn has available. The emperor had messengers and fast horse to send his dispathces and receive information that few others had access to; today we all have telegraphs, and vaste computing power at our finger tips. This also means that people who are not ready for the information have it, and amatures think they understand government well enough to disassemble it; and we do self-diagnose, which drives doctors crazy. This sometimes works out for the best and sometimes causes chaos. All of us need to learn again to appreciate the persons who are leaders, and to better understand how to identify them, so we do not end up with the madness of the crowd ruining us. We need leaders.