Tuesday, May 17

What Harmony Looks Like

We all know what harmony sounds like. But what does it look like? I recently witnessed a powerful example.

Over the last several months, I have had the opportunity to observe several Irish music sessions, where musicians gather to play music together for the sheer pleasure of it. Last week, I attended a session at a local pub, O'Connell's, where world-class fiddler Brendan Mulvihill, and guitarist Brian Gaffney were joined by six of their pals for a friendly session. It goes without saying that they sounded superb. But beyond that, watching them was a dramatic illustration of what harmony LOOKS like.

There was no official leader of the group, because none was needed. Leadership flowed from one musician to the next without a word being spoken. Nobody took more than his number of turns. When in the lead, each guided the group to a favorite tune. In the course of the evening, each musician had the chance to select tunes, to have his musical talents featured, and to support others who took the lead. Some switched instruments depending on what the song called for. Nobody hogged the spotlight, nor had a personal agenda. They spoke words of encouragement to one another and praised whatever tune had just been selected. There was joking and back-patting. They interacted warmly with the few of us who were there to listen. And the music they created was made sweeter by the fact that they were enjoying being with musicians of their own caliber, playing rare tunes they loved that may be too esoteric to play for paid performances.

Can you imagine creating this group dynamic in your own organization? Focusing on the creation of whatever it is you exist to create, for the pure joy of doing so? Developing a team that is devoid of hidden agendas and ego needs? Where leadership is shared, and members encourage one another?

If that seems like an impossible stretch, ask yourself what steps you could take to move in that direction. Does everyone agree on and support what the team exists to do? Who on your team can model shared leadership? How can you reward such behavior? Does every team member get to do what s/he is best at every day? Does someone know each team member well enough to offer encouragement regularly? Research shows these are some of the most important elements needed for a group and its members to achieve their greatest potential. It took a group of Irish musicians sitting around a table in a pub to remind me of what it really looks and feels like.

Saturday, May 14

Thoughts on Women and Power

Riham Helmy, Vital Voices participant from Egypt, with Sherry Schiller

Last week I had the pleasure of working with two amazing groups of women through Vital Voices. One group is composed of 26 dynamic entrepreneurs from developing countries, in DC for a partnership of Vital Voices, the US State Department, and Fortune the Most Powerful Women.

I had the opportunity to lead seminars with these inspiring women for two days, including a session on shaping organizational cultures and leading change. It’s always so interesting how universally applicable my work is on organizational culture and leading change. The participants came from different continents and different industries. Their organizations ranged in size and age. And yet they all had experienced connective and disconnective cultures, and were grateful to learn a model to understand and shape culture. Similarly, our work around leading change was built on strategies to create greater purpose and harmony. They found these strategies practical and insightful, whether they were going to apply them in a manufacturing company in China or a micro-enterprise in Haiti.

All of these women are multi-talented, courageous, and dedicated to improving their communities and countries. One of our participants, Thembe Sachikonye, is engaged in the first independent news reporting and commentary in her country, Zimbabwe. I think you’ll be fascinated by the newspaper article she published about her experiences here last week. Thoughts On Women and Power” by Thembe Sachikonye, News Day – Zimbabwe (excerpt). Click on the article title link for her complete story.


Thoughts on Women and Power

At the beginning of this week I sat in Washington DC, in a room with 25 emerging women leaders between the ages of 25 and 45, from countries all across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, who are participating in the Vital Voices Global Partnership.

Without exception each woman appeared in some way to be a change agent, often going where others had not gone before, and taking risks that required courage and commitment to achieve uncommon goals.

Vital Voices Global Partnership is an NGO that identifies trains and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, enabling them to make use of their potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.

By equipping women with management, business development, marketing and communication skills, the partnership helps women to expand their enterprises, provide for their families and create jobs in their communities.

Thinking about it later, I realized that the leadership potential, the resolve and the intelligence and education I witnessed in that room were not unique to this space and this time.

In each of the countries represented by these women, there are 25 others, 250 others, 2 500 others and many more who, while they may not be in one room at the same time, are still as capable and effective as the ones congregated in Washington.

They too are agents of change, pioneers, trailblazers and icons of empowerment. What do all of these women have in common?

Let me know what you think about these issues.

Tuesday, May 10

The Power of A Vision

Many thanks to former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry for joining my guests and me here at the Schiller Center for a dynamic and informative discussion about his Nuclear Tipping Point project. Along with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Senator Sam Nunn, Secretary Perry has formed a movement, Nuclear Security Project, to galvanize global action to reduce urgent nuclear dangers and to build support for reducing reliance on nuclear weapons. They believe global terrorism heightens the threats beyond what people realize. Their film, Nuclear Tipping Point, has been used by President Obama to focus his defense team on this danger and motivate them to take every step needed to dismantle nuclear weapons and safeguard existing stockpiles around the world. Secretary Perry has committed the remainder of his career to this initiative. Guests commented that his talk, followed by a lively Q&A exchange, was informative, scary, and inspiring. We all felt fortunate to be able to learn about this complex and often hidden danger, what is being done about it—and what each of us can do. For starters, consider hosting your own showing of the film followed by a group discussion.

Perry’s talk has led me to reflect on the power of a really large, seemingly impossible vision. Many people would say that it’s impossible to eliminate nuclear weapons from the planet, so why even talk about it? But who knows the obstacles better than Perry, Kissinger, Shultz, and Nunn? Yet, they have dedicated their lives to this initiative. There are even signs that some progress is being made, although way too little and too slowly to assure a nuclear-safe future. Yet, where would we be without their vision, shared through their film, writing, teaching, and activities around the globe? Perry’s compelling message is that we can and must create a positive tipping point globally which, when reached, will lead to the rapid and complete dismantling of all nuclear weaponry. Without that vision and the actions to realize it, a nuclear incident is almost certain in the not too distant future.

Can you imagine taking on as a “retirement project” the goal of ridding the planet of nuclear weapons? Yet, here are four very intelligent, dedicated people doing just that. If we are able to divert a nuclear incident, I can’t help thinking that it will be in large part due to their vision and actions. This power of a truly large vision is behind all great advances that are made, personally, organizationally, or globally. Look at the stir the book Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is creating about turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. Kristof and WuDunn point out that at the time a few abolitionists began speaking out against slavery, the majority of people around the world imagined the elimination of slavery to be impossible. Now, they ask us to tackle the oppression of women around the world so their potential can be unleashed for the benefit of all. And it seems their vision is creating a critical mass for changes in human trafficking and other practices that only a few years ago seemed intractable.

What is your vision—for your organization and for yourself? The great 20th Century theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick liked to talk about the power of ideas in the air—great positive ideas, evil ideas, even small unworthy ideas. As he spoke out against the spread of Hitler’s ideas at the time, Fosdick challenged people to pay attention to the ideas in the air which they serve. He believed that people can be measured by the ideas they choose to serve in their lives. To a great extent, the Schiller Center’s work focuses on helping people in organizations serve great, positive ideas—ideas like purpose and harmony, cooperation, trust, and benefiting all stakeholders as well as the planet. By Fosdick’s standards—and my own—Bill Perry is living a life worth living—serving a great positive idea that could not only improve the planet, but assure its existence. Thanks to Bill and his partners for taking on this monumental challenge, and encouraging us to be informed and engaged. You inspire us to ask ourselves daily what ideas we are serving in our own lives.