Leading from the Fringe: Part three

Timing is important, very important (Kellerman, 2010, 165).

Why now?  After resisting the desire to be a writer, why should I start writing this blog now?  The recognition that other women (and marginalized people) have found writing to be a tool for influencing people helped me to recognize the connection between my many attempts to exercise collaborative leadership and my nagging desire to write. 

Authentic leadership emerges from a leader’s lived experience, it is contextual.  For the past five years I have felt the impact of my choice to refuse to submit to an abusive religious authority.  I made a practical choice, to pursue a legitimate path into spiritual power (to be a professional Minister), a career with a salary and benefits, and that choice led to a dead end.

When the religious hierarchy pushed me out of my positional leadership role as a Pastor, I found myself under-employed and floundering in the depth of the economic crisis of 2009-2010. I had lost my spiritual path, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I still felt called to be a spiritual leader, to be a source of hope for the hopeless and oppressed.  There was an abundance of need and I had accumulated experience, education, and the skills to help people who had been displaced by the economic crisis. 

The world was shifting — the power and wealth was getting more and more concentrated in the hands of a few.  Our elected leaders bailed out the big banks and financial institutions and left the unemployed struggling to pay their mortgages.  Nonprofits and religious organizations were reeling from the economic crisis.  Foundations cut back their giving.  Middle class donors (more generous than the wealthy) were unable to give. 

It was a humbling time for me.  I was in Oregon and at that time one of five Oregon workers was jobless or underemployed.  The religious hierarchy blocked my attempts to create a new ministry to serve those who were displaced by the economic crisis.  I had no salary, benefits, or career track.  For the first time in my life, I felt like a nobody, so I moved back home to nowhere Montana.

In Montana, I was able to connect with meaningful work as an Executive Director for a couple of nonprofit organizations.  However, I was not using my communication gifts.  I was not speaking in public or writing, I was mostly an administrator.  I was doing what I needed to do to survive, and my continuing commitment to developing egalitarian leaders caused me to search for a connection.  I found that connection through the California Institute of Integral Studies — Masters of Arts in Transformative Leadership program.

(Continued in part four).

Leading from the fringes: Part two

[They] tied the trials and tribulations of individuals to the trials and tribulations of the society within which they were embedded (Kellerman, 2010, 157).

My personal experiences – my trials and tribulations – speak to a larger collective experience of suffering and struggle. In December 2007, as part of a United Methodist women’s spiritual leadership exchange, I traveled to El Salvador and Honduras. Afterward, I wrote and published an essay about one day on that journey. 

The day began at our Five Star Princess Hotel.  As we gathered to load into the van, I watched mostly men (and very few women) in very expensive tailored dark suits, starched white shirts, and neckties as they gathered in the lobby of the hotel’s convention hall.  It was a meeting of the World Bank and IMF with El Salvadoran elected officials.  Within thirty minutes of leaving the convention center, our women’s leadership group was at the site where Arch Bishop Oscar Romero (the Pastor of the impoverished landless peasants) was murdered in 1980.  The murder of Romero created a huge uprising and a full scale civil war that lasted for twelve years. 

The experience of being confronted with the impact of colonization and globalization on the poor people of Latin America left an indelible mark on my soul.  I was able to identify the shared challenges of rural communities in Montana (negatively impacted by multi-national corporations) and Latin America. 

Then in January 2008, I participated in another faculty and student leadership exchange with religious leaders in Uganda and Rwanda.  Again, I saw first hand evidence that Christian missionaries were complicit in creating violence between African tribes.  The process of colonization included creating false racial hierarchies — as in the Hutus and Tutsis.  The Colonizers found it necessary to rank the indigenous people into hierarchies.  They used these imposed rankings or hierarchies so that an elite minority group of privileged Africans were oppressing other Africans.  In a sense, they replicated their European class system.

I also saw the effects of crop ‘mono-cultures’ designed to efficiently replace native subsistence crops with profitable crops like coffee and sugar.  Tribal people were forced off their land, and the land is now controlled by huge multi-national agricultural conglomerates.  Starving people were surrounded by abundant fertile land that produced sugar and coffee for wealthy foreigners.  Montana has also experienced a decline in the number of family owned and operated farms, with many of the Federal farm subsidies going to the multi-national agricultural corporations. 

I discovered the need for more effective leadership was global, not just a personal experience.

Leading from the fringe: Part one

Then she began, nearly out of nowhere, to write (Barbara Kellerman, 2010, 122).

Is it possible to change the world from the margins, from nowhere, when one is lacking in positional or legitimate power?

For the next several blog posts, I will be sharing personal essays about my experience as a collaborative non-hierarchical leader. Approximately a year ago, it dawned on me that one of the more effective strategies for being a non-hierarchical person of influence (co-leader) is to position myself as a writer and thought leader. I discovered a number of historical role models in Barbara Kellerman’s book Leadership: Essential Selections on Power, Authority, and Influence. (Kellerman, 2010).

The idea of influencing the world through writing is not new for me. In high school and college I had dreams of someday being a writer — a poet, playwright, or writer of nonfiction. It was not a practical pursuit; it was the stuff of childish dreams. A voice in my head told me, I was not really a writer.

There was some minor evidence to the contrary. In high school, I won a scholarship for writing a Voice of Democracy speech. Later, my college professors complimented me on my writing, and on my speeches. These accolades bounced off, unable to penetrate a negative self-image. I was just a small town girl, a nobody from nowhere.

In my last year of undergraduate studies I changed my major from Interpersonal Communications to Business Administration/Accounting, and I passed the rigorous exam to be a Certified Public Accountant. I was not a writer, but I was smart enough to be an accountant and that was a more practical choice.

Although I was not a writer, I did enjoy amazing opportunities for a variety of fascinating leadership roles. In my late twenties I was CFO of a $3.5 million multi-specialty medical practice, supervising over 30 employees and managing a multi-million dollar construction project. Then I became the first woman and one of the first dozen Certified Financial Planners in Montana. That led to an appointed position as Deputy Commissioner of Securities for Montana. I served on two national committees to develop the early consumer protection regulations for the Financial Planning industry.

After a few years, I moved on to a role as CEO of a nonprofit economic development finance organization and a Montana based social venture capital company. I received national and state recognition for my role as a leader in promoting financial alternatives for small businesses. A large part of my work was public presentations before small and very large groups. During the years I worked with rural entrepreneurs, I was considered a national leader in empowering rural entrepreneurs to overcome obstacles to their success.

As I traveled throughout the nation, I loved shattering the prejudices I faced from urban elites. Often their first thoughts were that powerful ideas could not originate from rural outposts like Montana. I discovered I could be a leader from the fringes — from a remote rural place like Montana.

Its a remarkable conceit: the idea of changing the world simply by sitting and writing (Kellerman, 2010, 118).

Is there any real power in communicating through the written and spoken word?

The sense that I was called to be a writer was nagging at me. In my late thirties I began a daily practice of writing in my private journal.

I went through a phase of intense and deepening spiritual growth. My leadership roles were increasingly in formal religious communities. I gradually came to believe my long-standing call to write and speak was a call to be a Christian Minister. Seeking ordination was a path to being a “legitimate” leader within the Church. My three years in seminary was a time of rediscovering my love for reading and writing. I started to dream again, this time of being a writer and a preacher.

Though he himself was without power, authority, or influence, he had the temerity to stand up to, and inveigh against, those more richly endowed (Kellerman, 2010, 131).

My first job as a Pastor (clergy) was with a small church in a conservative rural community. Every week I would put many hours into planning worship and writing my sermons. I discovered that communication is a very powerful form of leadership — both written and oral. There was an amazing amount of individual and communal transformation that occurred during my one year. And then it was over.

The higher “legitimate” authority, The Bishop, made a decision to end my career as a Pastor, and he had all the power and authority to do that. It made no difference that my ministry was producing fruits, it all came down to submitting to his absolute authority.

I discovered that real leadership is realizing when you have the power to choose your own path, regardless of legitimacy or positional authority. Followers can become leaders, and when they do, leaders loose some of their power.

(Six part essay to be continued).

Emerging Hope: leaders rising from the margins

Bill McKibben’s article (cited in the last blog post) describes his experience of emerging leadership within the environmental movement. McKibben believes our hope resides in a massive, decentralized, grassroots, intergenerational movement.  He also believes in the possibilities of distributed power as an alternative to the multi-national energy corporations.

Most of the influential movements our time do not have a primary heroic leader at the front.  There are many leaders at many levels.  The people getting results in these movements generally lack positional power; they are not corporate executives, politicians, or government officials.  They are young people, indigenous people, retirees, small scale farmers and ranchers, and even children.

First Nations people, the Indigenous Environmental Network, has been highly effective in disrupting the Alberta tar sands production and pipeline.  There are a group of Kids Against KXL and even a grandparents march from Camp David to the White House.

Thousands of young people from over 135 countries are being developed as “organizers”, another phrase to describe distributed or eco-egalitarian leadership.

There are a variety of gifts engaged in leading the movement:  Van Jones (charisma), Jim Hansen (the great climate scientist), Tim DeChristopher (went to jail for two years for civil disobedience), and Tom Steyer (a rare corporate billionaire who quit his hedge fund job and put his time and money into the movement).  There are also positional leaders; organizational leaders employed by a growing number of environmental nonprofits.

We need millions of co-leaders.  This is not a leaderless movement, it is a leader-full movement.

Human beings are evolving.  Creative possibilities are springing up everywhere, anywhere — often in the most surprising places.  Thanks to new forms of communication (cell phones, internet) ideas and information spread remarkably fast.

The Occupy movement was perhaps the ultimate leaderless movement.  Did it fade away? It is no longer as visible. Movements are not institutions, they rise and decline with the energy of the people involved.  Yes, some people may have dropped out due to their frustration and resignation.  However, the energy of the Occupy movement has spread, people are engaged in other ways.

Movements and communities will probably always have some kind of self-organizing system to coordinate the efforts of many people toward shared goals.  It will likely include some modified flattened less hierarchical version of leaders and followers.  That may be one of the lessons learned from the Occupiers.  Perhaps we are not ready to organize without anyone engaging in leading.  Leaders will bubble up from the energy of the community from the combined gifts of the leaders and the shared commitments of the followers to support their leaders.

This is the essence of a culture where everyone leads…  we share leadership…  we take turns.  We follow and we lead.

Hope is rising.  Leaders are emerging and they are us, we are them.

We need your support.  We are creating a co-leader community.  You can make a difference.
Please share a piece of your story in the comments below.

More Wasted Possibilities – Mother Earth

“Managing the economy to maximize profit for the benefit of a financial oligarchy is…a recipe for economic, social, and environmental disaster.”  David Korten

We are eroding the Earth’s capacity to support human life.  About forty years ago, the arc of human progress bent towards unbridled capitalism (and neoliberalism).  Although leading scientists were already exposing the environmental damage of multi-national corporations, capitalism pushed back with a vengeance.  Since the 1980s we have seen increasing concentrations of wealth and power, and increasing denial of the impact of global capitalism on the Earth and on the viability of the human species on Earth.

The first time I came across the term “eco-egalitarian leader” was when I was reading, Capitalism and Christianity, American Style, by William C. Conolly (2008, Duke University Press).  It describes an emerging egalitarian leadership culture capable of addressing our environmental threats.

Bill McKibben environmentalist author and founder of 350.org published an article, “Movements Without Leaders” (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175737/) in which he outlined his belief that the environmental movement will succeed because of it’s lack of a clearly identifiable leader.

Certainly there are many high profile individuals involved in the global movement to address our collective environmental challenges:  Bill McKibben, David Korten, Naomi Klein, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Al Gore, Wangari Maathai.  However, the movement is currently a mass movement with cells and networks of people actively engaged in widely divergent ways.

“This sprawling campaign exemplifies the only kind of movement that will ever be able to stand up to the power of the energy giants, the richest industry the planet has ever known. In fact, any movement that hopes to head off future depredations of climate change will have to get much, much larger, incorporating among other obvious allies those in the human rights and social justice arenas.

The cause couldn’t be more compelling.  There’s never been a clearer threat to survival, or to justice, than the rapid rise in the planet’s temperature caused by and for the profit of a microscopic percentage of its citizens. Conversely, there can be no real answer to our climate woes that doesn’t address the insane inequalities and concentrations of power that are helping to drive us toward this disaster.”  Bill McKibben (article link above).

It is precisely because environmental justice is justice for all (all people, all living beings, and all of creation) that mass movements of co-leaders or eco-egalitarian leaders is the only way to address the challenges and create possibilities that will save the Earth.

We are the leaders we have been waiting for, and now is the time we must rally together for the sake of the Earth.

More about William Connolly:

More about Bill McKibben:

Power Corrupts

It is not power that corrupts but fear.

Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and

fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Power over others is a corruptive force.  It is probably truer that power attracts the corruptible.  People, who are more conscious and more compassionate, are usually more attracted to sharing their power.  Power, fully expressed, tends to reveal the true nature of the individual. 

People have plenty of reasons to distrust their leaders. 

One of the most troubling statistics about cheating is that students and business people are beginning to argue that cheating is necessary because everyone cheats.  It has become part of the culture of capitalism; lying, cheating, and stealing are proven ways to get ahead in a culture that values competition over community and compassion. 

Among senior executives within the U.S. financial industry who were interviewed in 2012, over half believe that the rules may have to be broken in order to be successful. They believe that they have to engage in unethical or illegal activity.  Nearly half admitted to being tempted by insider trading.  Nearly one third say they feel pressured to compromise their ethical standards and even to break the law.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2012/07/10/financial-executives-sure-we-lie-and-cheat/

The 2014 political campaigns demonstrated a new level of political corruption and lying.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2014/10/30/fact-check-2014-campaign-whoppers/18081211/.  In September 2014, a federal judged overturned an Ohio law that prohibited lies in political ads, claiming it violated free speech.  Free speech = freedom to lie and produce false and misleading political ads. 

Our leaders also make promises to gain our allegiance, or our votes, and routinely break those promises. Maybe broken promises are nothing new.  We want to believe the promises.  We want to exercise our right to vote, and sometimes we have to choose between the lesser of two liars and con artists. 

Maybe it is the cumulative effect of broken promises and outright lies that has brought us historically low levels of trust and confidence in leaders, low voter turnout, and low levels of civic engagement. 

If leaders have to lie and make promises they cannot keep, then we, those of us with strong moral compasses, not only don’t want to follow those leaders, we also don’t want to be that kind of leader.  Hence we are facing the end of leadership and followership, as we have known them.

That is not necessarily bad news.  In a culture where everyone leads, trust is essential.  If we strive to be egalitarian in our leadership style, we must learn to collaborate and share power.  When we strive to exercise shared power, we are mutually dependent upon character traits like integrity, honesty, compassion, respect, and honoring our word. 

What qualities of leadership are essential for you?  What kind of people do you want to engage with, and share power with?  Are you willing to respect diversity of all kinds?  Are you willing to disagree with love and respect?  Are you willing to be accountable to your colleagues or co-leaders, while also holding them accountable? 

Please complete our brief online survey.  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/L65ZPJ6

We want to know your expectations, hopes, and ideals?  What will it take to create the trust that is needed for genuinely shared leadership?

The people will rise. Let’s pray and act for nonviolent change

Everyone leads!  When we join forces and collectively act with love and justice in our hearts, we can reclaim our power.  We are the leaders we have been waiting for.  We cannot look to heroic solitary leaders to lead us into a future where power is shared rather than used to oppress, suppress, and violate human rights.

Moral Monday nonviolent demonstration in Raleigh, North Carolina

One Billion Rising around the globe to stop violence against women

Clergy lead nonviolent march in Ferguson


The Crisis of Capitalism:  Inequality for All

There is a gathering global storm. We are experiencing the converging effects of environmental degradation, poverty, economic inequality, unprecedented greed and financial corruption, terrorism, and political instability. Those who claim that there must be an end to capitalism or the earth is doomed are responding to global environmental threats.

Is capitalism to blame for the world’s problems? Some argue that capitalism can save the world. Which is the truth?  The answer is not simple.

Global capitalism is constantly evolving.  Like most of our major challenges, capitalism and the effects of capitalism are extremely complex.  The dominant form of capitalism is a dangerous hegemonic patrimonial political capitalism.  Wealth and power are concentrated in less than 1% of the population, the ultra-wealthy political industrialists.

Although some may publicly espouse free markets, in reality there are no markets that are free and unimpeded by the financial and political influence of the wealthiest individuals and largest corporations.  Those with the money and power make the rules of the market.  They have also gained increasing political power which they use to intentionally undermine democracies and nation states.  In the United States, wealthy capitalist (like the Koch brothers) are able to use their wealth to influence elections, restrict voting rights, and gerrymander elections. 

Yet, there is hope.  There are also emerging expressions of compassionate or conscious capitalism.  Hybrid organizations (a diverse and complex continuum that blurs the for-profit/nonprofit duality) pursue social and environmental missions like nonprofits, but generate income to accomplish their mission like for-profits). Hybridity is a process that involves a mixture of two or more different elements, which results in a new element that is distinct from the prior elements.  Examining 21st century capitalism through the lens of hybridity subverts the dominant capitalist narratives.

For the past week the most visible sign of hope is the emergence of people powered movements that are intentionally connecting economic and social justice with the market place.  Wal-mart exemplifies the crisis of our dominant form of capitalism – the unbridled greed and excessive exploitation of markets by the wealthiest 1%.  Wal-mart is also a great example because it represents our participation in the systems that oppress us.  Walmart grew to become the world’s largest retailer in large part because middle class and low income people were attracted to the promise of low prices. 

Now we understand the cost of low prices in terms of the destruction of locally owned retail businesses, poverty wages for employees, and corporate tax benefits (corporate welfare).  Wal-mart is a major contributor to the decline of the middle class and the growth of poverty and hunger — all under the promise of lower prices.  The reality is that the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have become wealthy and powerful at the sake of their workers and customers. 

The recent boycotts and strikes (including the Black Friday boycotts) are great examples of people-powered movements rallying to use capitalist principles to subvert the narrative of dominance.  If we, as employees and customers, exercise our right to work and shop at more responsible and compassionate retailers, Wal-mart will not continue to dominate the market place. 

We may not be able to stop the influence of Walton and Koch money in our political system, but we can refuse to work for the companies that exploit their workers.  We can refuse to shop at Wal-mart and creatively band together to create markets that work for all people, not just the top 1%. 

Coercive Control and the Abuse of Power

Unfortunately the domination culture far too often begins at home in our most intimate relationships; the insidious coercive control used by men to force women to submit to their power, the oppressive use of physical and emotional violence used by parents to suppress and coerce children.  An aspect of coercive control is that women and children who are subjected to it become captives in their own homes.  The symptoms are not unlike prisoners of war and hostages, except with domestic violence their captor is their intimate partner or parent.

Domestic abuse is a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. These are behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. Abuse includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of abuse can be going on at any one time.  The Power and Control Wheel is a useful illustration of the complexity of power and control issues involved in intimate partner violence.


One of my friends works as a dispatcher for the local emergency and law enforcement agencies; he dubbed Thanksgiving as National Domestic Violence Day.  On Thanksgiving morning (11/27/2014), my Facebook news feed included a report of two shooting deaths in Sherwood, Oregon.  My first thought was domestic violence, a suspicion that ended up being confirmed later in the day.


Two days later my morning news feed contained a news report that at first sounded like an incident of Black Friday shopping frenzied greed at a Nordstrom store in Chicago, but it was another intimate partner murder.


Each minute – Twenty-four people are victims of intimate partner violence (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Each day – Three or more women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands (according to the American Psychology Association).

Overall – Almost one out of five or 16.3% of murder victims were killed by an intimate partner (from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics). 

When we raise children to submit to authoritarian/dominating power systems, their lives may be at risk.  It is reported that more than 2,000 children in the U.S. die of child abuse each year, and the actual number of abuse and neglect deaths is estimated to be much higher than that reported by vital statistics data.

While the domination culture teaches, “spare the rod and spoil the child,”  there are alternatives. Here is a resource for parents and other interested adults – for raising caring and connected children.   http://saiv.org/parenting-guide/

What is your experience as a child?  Did you grow up in a dominator home?  Was your childhood caring and nurturing or violent and scary?  What relationship do you see between corporal punishment (beating or spanking children) and larger issues of abuse of power?

I look forward to your comments.

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Racism, Rankism, and Nonviolence

It’s not only about Michael Brown, and Darren Wilson.  It’s not only about Ferguson, Missouri, St. Louis County, or the State of Missouri.  It is about a culture of extreme rankism.  Rankism is abusive, discriminatory, or exploitive behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy.

Once you have a name for it, you see rankism at the heart of many infringements of human rights, far away, or close to home. Rankism is the root cause of indignity, injustice, and unfairness. Choosing the term rankism, places the goal of universal human dignity in the context of contemporary movements for civil rights. Identifying rankism in all its guises and overcoming it is the next step in human evolution. 

Human beings are evolving towards democracy, partnership, and egalitarianism.  Unfortunately, we are also experiencing a time of tremendous pushback as those who have more power in our hierarchical culture use that power to protect their power and gain even more power.  Yet, people are finding and exploring their power within mass movements.  Gradually human beings are coming to a deeper realization of their innate power, and the ways that they give up that power to their leaders.  As mentioned in earlier posts, people are becoming less willing to give their power to their leaders, to be obedient followers. 

One lesson that can be gleaned from the recent shootings of young black men by police officers is that violence begets violence.  Violence does not contribute to peace with justice.  Although police officers think they are using violence to keep the peace in their communities, they are really just participating in escalating cycles of violence. 

Our inability to enact sensible gun controls = increasing use of guns by criminals.  When criminals can easily obtain military assault style weapons, then law enforcement justifiably feel the need to acquire military assault style vehicles and weapons.  Once they have those weapons, they feel justified in using them against their own neighbors and within their own communities.  Now we see images that evoke feelings that our government is literally at war with our own citizens. 

As a practitioner of nonviolence, and a conscientious objector to war, I have never had any desire to possess firearms.  However, as a person who believes passionately in our right to nonviolent assembly, seeing the police show up to a demonstration for racial justice with assault rifles and armored vehicles helps me to understand how my libertarian neighbors think they need absolute rights to own firearms (to protect themselves from our government).  It is a vicious, costly, and very sad cycle of violence leading to tragic deaths and increased violence.

Rankism supports the use of violence by those with more power against those with less power; the culture of might makes right. 

Racism is our most visible rankism.  People of color cannot blend in. Even when they excel and achieve positional power within a hierarchical culture, the color of their skin is always visible. 

Rankism depends on underlying beliefs that the lives of some people are more important or valuable than the lives of other classes of people.  #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackoutBlackFriday are movements (primarily nonviolent) that are actively and creatively taking collective action to raise awareness of the impact of racism in our communities. 

Yes, there are also violent uprisings occurring in Ferguson and other cities.  Young black men are outraged.  Violence is used to keep them oppressed, and much of what they know is violence.  They do not understand the power of nonviolence.  Yet, there are people of color and white people coming together in loosely organized leader-ful movements throughout our country.  We are experiencing the end of authoritarian leadership and the emergence of people powered movements. (At least that is my hope).

We want your stories!  How does rankism contribute to racism?  Have you felt like the hierarchical system treats you as a human being of “lesser value” because you are a person of color, and immigrant, gay/lesbian/transgender/or queer, a woman, a person who lives in extreme poverty (resource deprived)?  In what ways do you fit into a category of people with some privilege that has been granted by a culture of rankism?  Do you ever feel trapped within that system, unable to break down the hierarchy of rank and privilege?  What actions are you taking to create a world of partnership, collaboration, and shared-power?

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