What does it take to lead on purpose?

What does it take to lead on purpose and with purpose? Our organizations are hungry for resources – time, people, money, strategies, and more. As leaders we are often wakeful with critical sustainability issues. It is easy to fall into the vortex of these demands and lose connection with the ‘why’ of the work. Why do you do what you do? How can you keep THAT/THEM in the center of your work?

The past two years have been full of transition for me. When I came up for air, my life not only looked different, it was different. I was different. What is my purpose now? What had changed? Stepping back in to this transformed life, I started to feel impatient, in fact downright nudgy (read angry) with the pace of progress toward eliminating some chronic social injustice issues. It makes no sense to me that anyone in my community should be hungry – and that is with a capital “H”. Yes, access to food and sound nutrition is important, feeding hungry people is important, food security is important and there are legions of good people and savvy organizations tending to this part of the hunger problem. I am impatient with the topic being managed and massaged and politicized. I am impatient with my own filters that keep me protected, separate, and ineffective. Where can we – and that is an all-inclusive we – come together united in our efforts to really move beyond food to addressing and eliminating real hunger?

I am beginning to see my purpose as being the one to raise these questions and participate in collective action that convenes a larger dialogue; a dialogue that breaks down barriers, includes all voices, inspires hope, and moves people to truly live by their values. No one is hungry in that community.

I have enough experience to know that effective convening is an art form requiring fearlessness, grace, integrity and a long-term commitment. It can be aerobic. It can be messy. And messiness has been the demise of many well-intentioned efforts. Stories are right below the surface and that residual pain has resulted in both caution and cynicism.

Can I stand here, acknowledge my privilege, and be with what is? Can I come out of my mouth and say what I am compelled to say? I must. I will. As I move into this changed life, I look for allies, mentors, leaders, and seats at tables of action. I seek systems and processes that have a chance of moving issues from concept to compassionate action. My learning curve is steep and deep.

Here are some places where I am looking for guidance:
• Margaret Wheatley, Walk Out, Walk On
• Frances Moore Lappe’s concept of Thin Democracy vs. Living Democracy
• Robert Reich’s movie, Inequality for All
• Peggy McIntosh’s essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
Arnie Mindell’s World Work Process
Open Space Technology
Everyday Democracy, Ideas and Tools for Community Change
National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation

Let me know what you are discovering.