What If It Is A Bad Bet?

Trump just moved from the dollar slots to the high stakes tables in the casino of American lives. This morning I am running an updated post on collaboration I wrote and posted first in 2016 titled “How’s Your Collaborative Posture?” However, it would not seem right to run this piece without mentioning one of the most highly non-collaborative moves I have ever witnessed: Yesterday it was announced that the United States would not be joining a collaborative coalition to work on a vaccine for COVID-19 and then equitably distribute it.

What is behind such a bone headed move? Well, “who” is Trump and “why” is because it is being co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), whom Trump blames for the spread of the virus along with the Chinese.

Not only is Trump lacking a collaborative posture toward the WHO but his unforgiving, vindictive spirit is imperiling even more American lives. Is 185,000 deaths not enough for Trump? Apparently not, because he seems to have pulled up his Depend underwear to camp out on the stool at the high rollers table. Of course he is betting everything WE have (our lives) on the U.S. to find a vaccine first (probably around late October, I am guessing). That is a huge bet. And what if it fails? Since the U.S. will not be participating in the coalition, will we have access to a vaccine developed by collaborators? I cannot imagine how much higher the death toll will eventually go. Already it is projected that by election day, November 3rd, there will be over 225,000 deaths, even if universal masking is put into place. By December 1 the number is projected to be over 317,000 based on current projections.

When the autopsy of Trump’s presidency is eventually performed his absence of a collaborative spine will be one of the primary causes of its demise. He has not only failed to work collaboratively with long-standing international partners, he has failed to work collaboratively with members of his own administration who are trying to help him succeed.

Case in point…Elizabeth Neumann is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official, a Republican who voted for Trump, and an Evangelical who is White (but not necessarily a White Evangelical, such as Jerry Falwell, Jr., who, by the way, is now being investigated by the university he until recently led). Neumann has recently filmed an ad for Republican Voters Against Trump and was interviewed on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition today. The video is chilling and damning as Neumann explains how Trump failed to listen to and work collaboratively with officials at DHS when they wanted him to condemn acts of terrorism committed by White Supremacists and other Alt Right actors. It is particularly chilling to watch now, in the same week that Trump failed to condemn the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17 year old who shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin last weekend. (P.S. The White House released a statement yesterday after Neumann’s interview aired on NPR. She was called a disgruntled former employee but the White House did not deny her accusations.)

Source: Republican Voters Againts Trump YouTube Channel. This channel is featuring videos produced by Republican voters explaining why they will not be voting for Trump this year, shot on their own cell phones.

Neumann goes even further in the NPR interview, cautioning that the worst is yet to come because most, if not all the people we were counting on to restrain Trump, are now gone from his administration.

She’s also concerned that people who served as “guardrails” around the president have left the administration. Those “adults in the room,” she says, took the heat from the White House in order to allow people like her to keep carrying out their work. This fear is what prompted her to speak publicly, while many other senior administration officials have declined to do so.

Source: Morning Edition, September 2, 2020

If Trump is the poster child for the absence of a collaborative posture, what does it mean to have a collaborative posture? And that brings us, finally, to…

How’s Your Collaborative Posture?

Our collaborative posture is a critical factor in the success of any collaborative effort. 

In 2016 the Collective Impact Forum featured a piece by Sheri Brady and Jennifer Splansky Juster on the Collective Impact Principles of Practice. Those eight principles to guide efforts to put collective impact into practice were long overdue.

There is still something missing. Each of the principles help collaborative groups operationalize the five conditions of collective impact (which you can probably recite by memory now: common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support). Yet each of the principles assumes members of Collective Impact groups possess the collaborative posture to enact the eight principles.

I am wary of this assumption. I fear most people will read the CI Eight Principles of Practice and respond much in the same way they did to the CI Five Conditions: “Yep, makes a lot of sense. Got it! In fact, we’re doing those things already.” My experience in creating new collaborative efforts, and helping to repair existing efforts gone awry, has taught me that the best principles and conditions in the world will not make any difference if members have poor collaborative posture.

Much of what has been written about collective impact has focused on what people do to achieve it. This is not surprising because many people crave the comfort and certainty of formulas, recipes, and best practices – even though these are not helpful in addressing complex issues.

Underlying and supporting all the doing is being the kind of people who can do what is necessary.

I could use several of the eight principles that Brady and Splansky Juster identified to illustrate what I mean but I will focus on this one to make my point: “Include community members in the collaborative.” Specifically, the authors define community members as “those whose lives are most directly and deeply affected by the problem addressed by the initiative.” I fully agree with this principle but, realistically, it is difficult to do and often resisted.

The most common protests to doing this are typically related to logistics:

  • “We meet during the weekdays, right after lunch; can they come at that time?”
  • “How would they get here?”
  • “Could they come to where we meet?”
  • “Do they really have the experience to know how to interact with our group?”

The answers are really pretty straightforward to these barriers: “Change your meeting time, provide transportation and/or make the location more convenient to community members, educate members about the content, and orient them to, even train them in, the process of your meetings.”

I do not believe the logistics are really to blame. I believe the problem lies within the will of both individual members and the group. Remember the old saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way?”

Possessing a collaborative posture is about being the kind of people who find the will to do what it takes to engage people in the community.  

What does it take to achieve a collaborative posture? There are at least three things:

Checked Egos

Ego is fueled by the perceived right to authority. There are many things that cause us to feel like we have a right to make decisions on behalf of others. Some of these things include, but are not limited to, education, wealth, status, race, formal position, the depth of one’s personal experience, and even the honor of membership in a social change-minded collaborative group that is going to “help” others. When we humans come together in a group to make decisions that affect the lives of others, it is so easy to feel like we have been given authority over others, even if only a little.

When we “check” our egos, we willingly lay down the right to have the final word in decisions that affect the lives of others.

When we must make those decisions, we do so as inclusively as possible and, even then, with a sense of awe, respect, and care. I know. This does not sound practicable in a world that moves as fast as ours. Yet we mostly accomplish this capacity by living into an attitude of humility.

Crossed Boundaries

To cross boundaries in collaborative work is to invite others to work with us, and especially those who are not like us and may not even trust us. Why in the world would we ever do that?

Simple; because we cannot make change happen by ourselves. It is completely human, when we form groups, to gravitate toward those most like us and whom we find most agreeable. This ensures our comfort in the group and comfort is important. You know what I am talking about; you have seen it yourself.

A coalition or collaboration forms by gathering “the usual suspects,” those individuals and groups already known to one another because they have partnered on the same or similar issues in the past. They know before they ever meet, they are all “on the same page.” This is not horrible, but it is very inadequate because it often leads to doing “business as usual.” What if a collaborative group were to form among individuals and groups who shared a similar goal but had quite different ideas for how to accomplish it? For one thing, everyone would feel a lot less comfortable.

I used to teach groups that the first step to crossing boundaries was to take a good look at their group and see who was not in it and yet should be. I have given up on that strategy. There is a stronger tendency toward group self-preservation than I ever estimated. Once it has achieved a comfort, it fights to maintain the status quo. As a result, groups often conclude most everyone who should be in the group is already in the group.

What I have found to be more effective in teaching groups about boundary crossing is to ask this question: “What individuals or groups do you feel most uncomfortable including in your collaborative group, even though they may agree with your ultimate goal?” Once they have listed those individuals or groups, I encourage them to reach out to them and begin the process of inviting them to participate.

Crossing boundaries must take us out of our comfort zone or else we have not crossed anything.

Shared Power

Power sharing is rooted in a deeply held belief in the expertise of others. A few years ago, I was in a meeting with the leadership team of a collaborative group with responsibility for implementing social service interventions in an urban community. I had just finished a day-long meeting with the full collaborative group and, during this debrief, I had observed to the leadership team that I did not meet any people in the group who actually lived in the community they were serving. The response I received was stunning in its arrogance as a team member pounded the table and said, “Why would we have them here? We are the experts!” Oh boy.

When we convene our collaborative groups, we tend to seek out experts on the issue we are trying to address. This makes sense because we want the absolute best to help us solve the difficult, complex challenges we are facing. Experts are people with extensive skills and/or knowledge of a specific field, area, or issue. Does expertise include status, wealth, connections, and even celebrity? We must believe it does because we often prioritize recruitment of members with these qualifications. While it is important to include them in our collaborative groups, no single area of expertise (including these) qualifies anyone to hold power over the lives of others.

Do we also believe in the expertise of the people who are living day-to-day with the issue our group is working to address?

  • Do we believe drug addicts understand the addictive process better than we do and can offer solutions?  
  • Do we believe the observations of people living in poverty concerning how policies and practices in our community are barriers to their getting out of poverty?
  • Do we believe people and families dealing with mental health diagnoses and challenges have insights on how to improve brain and behavioral health?
  • Do we believe gang members and victims have insights on how to stop the violence?
  • Do we believe poor people can offer solutions to their own situation?
  • Do we believe people struggling with obesity know something about eating healthier?
  • Do we believe parents of children who have been removed from the home and placed into the foster care system can also help us think of better ways to do child welfare in our communities?

Or do we merely see all of these as people who need the help only we, the experts, can give them?

If we do not believe that every person has expertise, then we will cling to power, and our community and our collaborative initiative will struggle. When we release the power and share it with others, we will not only learn from one another, but we will grow participation and ownership of the solutions.

Vu Le, also writing in the Collective Impact Forum, has observed that in many collaborations, “Equity gets shoehorned in as an afterthought…Budgets have been approved. Funding has been allocated. Agendas have been set without all the people who should have been there. The ship has sailed.”

As much as I welcome and support the implementation of the collective impact Principles of Practice, I believe they will work so much better in the hands of practitioners who possess a genuine collaborative posture. Without the collaborative posture, I fear they are little more than a new checklist of things to do.

From “Buy-In” to Ownership

But First…

Keep your eyes on Kenosha, Wisconsin today. Trump’s photo op in front of the church near the White House in DC was only a warm up for today. Today he arrives in that city with military might at his side after sending in the National Guard. Few people, mostly those surrounding Trump, think this is a good idea – either to quell the violence or for his own safety. So why is he doing it? Heather Cox Richardson explains it this way in her Letter from An American this morning:

A bird’s eye view of the country today sees a president seeming to slide off the rails. Trump is exaggerating the violence in cities to the point of caricature, while his supporters outright lie to try to advance his candidacy. On Thursday, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway tipped the president’s hand on “Fox and Friends” when she said that “the more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for” a candidate running on “law and order.”

Heather Cox Richardson, Letter from An American, September 1, 2020

Yes, folks, we are seeing American carnage before us. The man who said only he could fix it is the man lighting the fires, pointing out the targets, and sanctioning in real life something that seems too much like The Purge.

Now back to the planned blog on meaningful participation, co-creation, and ownership – all elements of a genuinely democratic society.

Let me state it as plainly as I can: I hate the phrase “buy-in.” It should never, ever be used in the context of doing community work, or even organizational work. It is, or should be, an abomination to every person who is trying to genuinely engage people in communities and to every person in a community who in being engaged.

Yeah, I feel strongly about that. My reaction is, frankly, visceral. So, what is my problem with it? Let me count the ways.

First, if “buy-in” is necessary, it means that someone else is “selling.” Usually the one who has the most to profit from the “deal” is the seller. And if they must “sell it” to get you to “buy-in” you may not get what you want or expect.

Second, “buy-in” usually means someone already has decided the solution or what is best for me, or you. I have no tolerance for “buy-in.” If anyone tries to get me to “buy-in” to something, I see that as a red-flag and immediately walk away. It tells me they already have something in mind and do not really want me to participate in any meaningful way. They just want me to say “Yes” and accept what they are selling. That is just how I roll with this.

Third, to “buy-in” is purely transactional, not transformational. We “buy-in” to something because we are expecting something in return, however, when the terms of the transaction changes (e.g., funding ends, no further perceived benefit to us, etc.) then the deal is done. The “seller” looks for the next product and a new “buyer” for it.

Finally, “buy-in” is change on the cheap. “Cheap” does not mean only inexpensive, it means poor quality. In this case, it means the change only lasts for as long as the exchange of something for something (“quid pro quo”) continues. Yes, this sounds a lot like my second objection but there is an important additional difference. “Cheap” change can also do lasting damage. Sometimes the damage is not immediate and acute, but accumulative and nagging. Let me give you an example of how “buy-in” can do damage.

In 2016, during the Obama Administration, I was honored to be invited to a meeting at the White House. It was a meeting of Promise Zone leaders throughout the United States with their research partners from major universities. The Promise Zone initiative emerged during President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address in which he laid out a plan to help high poverty urban, rural, and tribal communities. Promise Zones are geographic areas where the federal government partners with local leaders to do work to lift the community out of poverty. Efforts may include increased economic activity, better educational opportunities, encouraging private investment, reducing crime (particularly violent crime), increase the overall health of the community, and address other community priorities.

One of the meetings I attended that day was of researchers who were discussing the challenges of conducting research in communities within Promise Zones. Several lamented the challenge of getting community people to “buy-in” to their research and cooperate with them. Others, though, were passionately arguing that people, particularly those in communities of high poverty, were tired of helping with research and had been let down too many times. They had helped in the past, hoping their effort would result in a change in their community and lives, but they no longer trusted their “buy-in” would make a difference.

The damage? Everyone loses. People in high poverty communities may miss out on that one opportunity that does make a difference. Researcher and other stakeholders may miss out on learning how to really make a difference in those communities.

When people “buy-in” to change efforts today, they already know it is transactional – even if they do not use that word to describe it. By experience they have come to understand it will probably benefit the “seller” more than them, it will be temporary, and it probably will not be high quality.

I could rail on the concept of “buy-in” all day because I am so disgusted hearing it used in community and organizational change work. However, that would only make me feel better and do nothing to move the conversation forward. So, let me offer three ideas which are a better way: meaningful participation, co-creation, and ownership.

Meaningful Participation

Participation can mean many things. It can mean:

  • no more than just having your name on a list of stakeholders and partners,
  • showing up at occasional meetings but hanging back because you have not kept up on what is going on during your absences,
  • attending only those meetings where “big” or controversial decisions are being considered,
  • being present but remaining silent because you do not feel confident speaking up,
  • attending with the intention of contributing but not understanding the business procedure well enough to know how to contribute,
  • attending every meeting with the hope of being asked for your ideas and suggestions, but, in the end, never being asked, and
  • attending, trying to contribute to the meeting, and being ignored or blocked

These are forms of participation, but none qualify as meaningful participation.

Meaningful participation means each person has an equal and equitable opportunity to:

  • Hear and understand the same information as everyone else
  • Give voice to their opinions, ideas, and suggestions with the expectation they will be heard and considered
  • Participate in the decisions that need to be made, including those that most directly impact them

Those of who work with organizations and communities have a responsibility to do everything we can to provide meaningful participation to every member who wishes to be a part of the change effort. Yes, it can get messy when a lot of people show up to work and it can take longer to do the work. However, providing the opportunity of meaningful participation to people is the right thing to do if we want to create genuine change.

Many of us have a “default” setting we must override when we do community work. The “default” says we go first and foremost to “experts” for their help in the community. Unfortunately, we have a limited view of who the “experts” are. Our default setting causes us to look only to experts such as the formal leaders, providers, professionals, researchers, high ranking public officials, funders, and the like.

What we miss are the other community “experts” – those whose expertise is based in their lived experience with the conditions, issue, situation, or problem we are trying to change.

Years ago, while attending a Tamarack Institute conference in Canada, I heard these two types of experts described as “content experts” for the first group and “context experts” for the second. One of my clients has used a different term to describe them. The first are “experts by learned experience” and the second are “experts by lived experience.”

The key word in either framing is “experts.” We make a significant mistake when we fail to see the full range of expertise in the communities and organizations we are trying to change. Even worse is when we bias meaningful participation to “experts with learned experience,” the “content experts.” If we want to double our expertise in the work we are doing at the community or organization level, we need to at least double meaningful participation from “experts with lived experience.”


The purpose of meaningful participation is co-creation. Simply put, co-creation is collaborative innovation. Ideas are generated together, shared among one another, tested, and improved upon. You may be familiar with the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle. It is one approach to co-creation and there are many more.

Before communities and organizations can co-create, they need to engage with all the expertise in the community – lived and learned, context and content. However, the act of co-creation suggests the engagement is not merely for the purpose of consulting the experts. Co-creation requires all these experts to be brought together, whether via video conference or in person, to work together.

  • Together they need to define the problems they are trying to address.
  • Together they need to identify the range of possible solutions.
  • Together they need to consider all they have learned together and all their resources to affirm a common purpose and direction they need, want, and are willing to embrace.

There are a myriad of co-creation techniques and approaches available to organizations and communities. What is critical to each and all is the willingness for communities and organizations to bring all their experts together to collaborate.

Collaboration is more than just getting people together. It has numerous challenges – building trust and respect, are just two. Another is that context experts (by lived experience) do not always know how to engage with content experts (by learned experience), and vice versa. When we try to bring them together, we must be prepared to train them how to engage positively and productively with the other.

When we do bring them together, we need to make sure all experts have an experience of meaningful participation.


For those who like formulas, here is one:

Meaningful Participation + Co-Creation = Ownership

Rather than create “buy-in” to community and organizational change, our goal is to create ownership of that change. Ownership means that members feel they have “skin in the game,” which is to say they have intentionally been involved in bringing about the change that is or has emerged.

When people feel ownership of the change, they take pride in it, they take credit for it, and they do everything they can to protect from “snapping back” to the way things were before. “Buy-in” does not produce that same intensity of feeling and commitment.

Here is the deal. I have absolutely no tolerance for anyone who tries to get me to “buy-in” to something. I also have extremely little tolerance for people who view gaining community or organizational “buy-in” as a high goal. I have only limited tolerance for people who use the “buy-in” phrase and toss it around without understanding its implications.

Community and organizational change are slow processes because we do not want people to simply “buy-in.” We want all members of the community or organization to experience meaningful participation, work together to co-create solutions, and develop a deep sense of ownership in the change. Anything less, when we are doing community and organizational work with integrity, should be unacceptable.

Yeah, I am a little legalistic about this. And a bit inflexible. It is, after all, a core value that informs my work with organizations and communities. A few years back I heard my colleagues in Canada use the phrase “nothing about us without us” when describing a mindset that values meaningful participation, co-creation, and ownership. I like it. It speaks my mind too.

A Nod to Normalcy in the Midst of Chaos

If you have only recently begun reading this blog you probably think that much of my time is spent thinking and writing about Trump and politics. I can forgive you for that error. During this age of the COVID-19 pandemic and the incredible incompetence, perhaps even malice, of Trump, he has consumed a fair share of space in this blog. I cannot say I am happy about that. In fact, I spend as little time as possible thinking about Trump. While I am politically active, I am not an activist. However I am gravely concerned about the direction of our country under the “leadership” of Trump and those who fallen mindlessly in line with him.

Last night’s opening broadcast of the Republican National Convention only heightened my concern. At this point I am going to leave my comments at that. Perhaps as a cleansing of all the yelling and hate I heard last night, and because I could not sleep afterward anyway, I am posting at least one piece today that reflects how I really do spend my time: working to find ways to animate nonprofit organizations to achieve the greater good in their communities.

On Connection and Teamwork

Throughout my career I have led and participated in a variety of different teams. Each experience has been unique. Some have been comprised of volunteers. Some have been comprised of professionals. Some have been multi-sectoral or multi-organizational and sometimes both at once. Some have been geographically diverse and some were made diverse by age, gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. Some have been in person and some have been via telephone conference call, before the age of Zoom. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, like so many others, I have also led and participated in teams virtually.

There is something very important I have learned from my experience on teams. Regardless of how they meet it is important to make a connection with team members. This is true whether I am leading the team or participating in the team as a member. 

What do I mean by a “connection?” A connection is more than simply knowing who another person is or knowing their name. It is even more than having the ability to call them up or email them and expect a response. To have a connection is more personal, even in a professional context. 

There are three features which define a personal yet professional connection with another. 

  1. One is that you can present your ideas and opinions and know they will be thoughtfully considered. 
  2. Another is that you can be unguarded. Now that does not mean you have to be able to tell your deepest secrets but it does mean you can be open with others.
  3. Finally a genuine connection is mutual – you each experience that connection with the other.  

Team connectedness is important because it is the foundation for high-performance that gets the job done.

  • When team members are connected they more easily arrive at agreements needed to move their work forward.
  • All teams face challenges in their work. Connection helps create the camaraderie and unity which push the team through to success.
  • There are also times when team members do not agree with one another. At these times a sense of connection makes it easier to disagree productively, compromise when needed, and arrive at common solutions. 

A few years ago I was leading a team based in the same organization and housed in the same office complex. When I arrived for the day I would drop by the office of each member of the four person team. Sometimes it was to offer a quick greeting to begin the day and sometimes the dropins included brief conversations. Often they were a mixture of both personal and professional. For example, I might ask about a team member’s family member whom I knew was ill and then briefly preview a meeting we had together later in the day. I would also offer something more personal of myself, such as sharing about a movie I had recently seen, a book I was reading or a family event that was coming up. I wanted to have a connection with my team that said, “We are more than cogs in the wheel of this organization. I want to know you as a person as well as a colleague, and I want you to know me in the same way.” 

Making that kind of connection is pretty easy in an office setting of course. It is a bit more challenging when our only contact is virtual. However, it is not impossible. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw video conferencing as a poor substitute for in-person meetings. Today I see it a little differently. It is still a substitute for in-person meetings for many reasons. However, I have learned it is not as poor as I originally thought it would be. 

In fact, during the physical distancing required by the pandemic, I have belonged to at least three groups that developed deep, personal connections with one another. 

There has been research on the qualities that contribute to making effective and connected teams. Gallup, a household name in research, has conducted and published some of this work. Specifically, Gallup studied the qualities of partnership which, in turn, contribute to creating high performing teams. These qualities of partnership are the qualities of connection.

Gallup identified eight qualities. As I think about my best experiences with teams, I can easily recognize each of the qualities in them.

First of all, complementary strengths help forge connections. All of us have our strengths and our weaknesses. Connections are often formed when a team recognizes how much the members need one another. Where we are strong, others may be weak; where we are weak, others may be strong. Acknowledging that we need one another is an important first step in a connection and forming a high performing team. 

Second, connections can be built around a shared mission or purpose. Teams get in trouble when the individual members have different ideas of why the team exists. In my experience different ideas about the purpose emerge when team members assume it is already so clear it does not need to be stated. That is the time when it needs to be stated the most frequently and clearly. A shared mission or purpose can be incredibly powerful for a team. When a team’s purpose is so compelling that every member owns it personally then each member is more likely to do whatever is necessary to fulfill the purpose. That includes making connections with team members they might not otherwise be inclined to connect with for the good of the team and its mission.

Third, there is fairness, also known as equity. One of the most important lessons I have learned in teamwork is that equality is not a substitute for equity. When I first started leading teams I thought all would be good if team members were treated equally – if everyone received the same thing in the same way. I learned pretty quickly, though, that focusing on equality privileged some and shortchanged others. For example, in one case I learned some team members needed very little one-on-one time with me to build a connection and working relationship while others needed considerably more time than I had planned. If I withheld the extra time from those that needed it in the spirit of equality, I felt guilty and also found the connection was not as strong as it needed to be for effective team work. Coming to understand that equity and equality were not the same was one of the hardest lessons I learned. Today I understand that equality is important sometimes, but fairness or equity is important all of the time. 

Fourth, connection requires trust and trust is the “high wire act” of teamwork. What do I mean by the “high wire act”? If you have seen a circus you know that one of the acts with the highest level of risk to the performers are those that involve walking on a tight wire high off the ground or stage. It is risky and it requires the performer to trust at so many levels: trust the wire to be tight; trust that it will not break; trust that if she or he fell they would survive – with or without a net below. To connect with another person is an act of trust because it requires us to believe the other person will honor that connection and protect it. 

Fifth, acceptance is an essential part of connection. All of us are informed by our training, education, and life experiences. As a result, we have different ways of seeing the world. When we connect with someone, and they with us, acceptance makes it possible for each of us to honor and respect how the other sees things, even if our view is different. 

Sixth, forgiveness makes it possible for us to stay connected when either of us “blow it” or make a mistake. Because each of us are fallible human beings, there is always a risk each of us will do something wrong. Without the ability and willingness to forgive, the relationship can become adversarial and the connection will dissolve. 

Seventh, the most basic way to coordinate with a colleague or a whole team is by communicating. We may think others are mind readers, and we may occasionally think we are as well, but none of us are. At the start of our efforts to build a connection with another person or our team, communicating minimizes misunderstandings and builds trust. Think about that a second…it is easy to mistrust another when we do not know what is going on with them. Trustworthiness is established between two people and among whole teams through open communication. As our relationship grows, communicating consistently, continuously, and clearly makes it easier for us to work efficiently and effectively together. 

Eighth, and finally, there is unselfishness. How do we know when we have made an unselfish connection to another individual? When we celebrate their success as enthusiastically as we would celebrate our own. I know that might be oversimplified a little. Still the idea is the same…unselfishness means we want for others on the team what we want for ourselves. A spirit of unselfishness means that the team is well on its way to forming a powerful, effective collaboration which is able to do far more together than each could do on their own. That is what teamwork is about, right? 

These eight qualities of partnership and connection do not just – “poof!” – appear like magic. They take some effort and intentionality. 

Our ability to form high performing teams is related to our ability, and willingness, to build and maintain connections. This is true whether the team is able to gather in person or virtually over distance. Connection makes it easier for our team to achieve high performance and get the job done. 

What I have noticed is that the process of building and maintaining connection is the same, whether in-person or virtually. It takes time. It takes courage to risk being open with one another person. And, it takes a willingness to respond in kind – to also be open.

References: Wagner, R. & Muller, G. (2009). Power of two: How to make the most of your partnerships at work and in life. New York: Gallup Press.

A Worthy Read

I have been receiving Letters from an American everyday now for the past couple of weeks. The letters are from Heather Cox Richardson and, no, they are not personal letters. I signed up for her daily letter at the recommendation of my friend Dave. I have been enjoying them a great deal. They are politically oriented, however, they offer much more perspective than punditry. Each letter offers a summary of the political news of the day with Richardson’s perspective sometimes woven in. In this time of fast moving news, I have found it very useful to have this letter awaiting each morning when I wake up. I do wonder though when this woman sleeps? Today’s newsletter was particularly interesting and I do consider it worthy of your and my time and effort today. Here is an excerpt from today’s Letter that may tempt you to read more:

The Republicans have written no platform to outline policies and goals for the future. Instead they passed a resolution saying that “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” The party appears now to be Trump’s.

Heather Cox Richardson, August 23, 2020 – Letters from An American

You can quickly and easily see some of Richardson’s back issues at Moyers on Democracy.

A Matter of Character

Not long ago I started reading again David Brook’s The Road to Character. The more I have read it, the more I have become troubled by Trump and his alliance with White Evangelicals. After reading Mary Trump’s book about her famous uncle, I was not surprised by the content of the recordings that were released this weekend in which Trumps sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, castigated her younger brothers on his core character. I was surprised, though, that Mary Trump released the tapes. It would appear that the gloves have come off in the Trump family, which should make for a very interesting holiday dinners later this year.

This morning I came across the video featured below. I have debated whether I would share it here because I have tried to differentiate between Republicans and Trump because I do not believe, philosophically, Trump is a Republican. He is all about himself and has, in fact, changed party affiliations no less than five times since 1987. As recently as 2009 he was a member of the Democratic Party. Had he had the opening in the Democratic Party the Republicans gave him in the GOP, I have no doubt he would have run as a Democrat and today it would the Democratic Party that would have been taken over and become “Trumpist.”

This phrase come to mind for me: “There but for the grace of God…”

The video is compelling because it uses only the words of other Republicans who ran against Trump in the 2016 primaries. The assessment each one makes goes to the issue of character. It raises an important question for my Republican friends: Now that we all know very clearly the character of Trump, I respectfully ask, do you really still want this person, in the name of your party, to have so much power in our country?

Chickenman – Episode 95 – Only 2 Episodes Left!

The Winged Warrior, fresh off his defeat in the election for Police Commissioner, is called upon to quell a riot at the Saturday afternoon matinee.

July 2, 2020 – Deciders and Doers

Today I had two very interesting conversations with people. The first occurred at the end of a round of golf. The second occurred at the end of the day. Both have put me in a reflective mood.

deciders and doers

Today I was at the golf course at 5:45 AM because it is the best time for an older guy like me with underlying health conditions to play safely. At the first tee I joined up with three other men and we played together. I did not know any of the three as is often the case at the course where I play. It is one of the most interesting and diverse golf venues I’ve ever played. It is racially diverse (nearly equal part Asian, Black, and White players) and professionally diverse (auto mechanics, doctors, Secret Service and CIA agents, etc.).

Of the three men I played with today, two were twin brothers (unfortunately for me they were identical and even dressed similarly in two shade of the same blue color and have similar sounding four letter names – Kyle and Kirk). The third, Paul, lives not far from me, as it turns out. We were not the fastest people on the course so we let people play through several times. However, we were quite likely the safest. We maintained at least a six foot distance and all four of us wore masks.

The two brother had to leave early so the third guy, Paul, and I finished the round the together. Just off the 18th green we chatted for a while about the unique nature of golf.

Paul observed, “The thing I love about golf is that every time you take a shot, you have a series of decisions you need to make – club selection, how to strike the ball, where to strike it, how to aim it, and so on. You can’t play golf without making a lot of decisions.”

Then I said, “That’s right but then the tricky part is that you have to execute the decisions. It would be great if all I had to do is make the decision and then let someone else execute the shot. So here’s an idea…if we play again, how about if I make all the decisions about your shots and you just do the shot and then you make all the decisions on my shots and I just do them?”

We both laughed.

Paul said, “You know, that’s why the pros have caddys. The caddy’s know the skills of the pro better than anyone else and know the course, too. Often they tell the pro how to hit the shot and the pro just executes it.”

That brief conversation has been stuck in my mind all day. At one level it is a fun and funny idea for a golf tournament. (Much better than playing night golf with only a glow-in-the-dark golf ball to guide you, which I’ve done once and will never do again. Too dangerous.) Here’s how it would work: You play as a team and you each make the game decisions for the other. Because you are competing as a team, each is going to make the best decision for their teammate they can. At a minimum, everyone would need to have a great sense of humor about the experiment. Now, I need to try to sell that idea to my golf course management. Hmmmm…

At another level the conversation is useful for understanding how we work with others. One way can be very hierarchical and uses heavy positional power: one person decides, the other person executes without questioning. This is the way things have been for a very long time in many organizations. The boss decides, the workers execute. Of course, if things go wrong it is usually blamed on the workers because they didn’t execute very well. Heaven forbid the decision making might have been poor, right?

Another way to see it is for understanding collaboration. Collaboration has to do with syncing up and working closely with at least one other person and usually several others. It is important for both (or all) collaborators to assume a collaborative posture. Pragmatically, even in collaboration, one person (or small group of people) may take the lead in assessing the situation, providing analysis, and offering solutions. The other person(s), with primary responsibility for “doing,” offers feedback, suggestions, and additional information the “decider” needs. In the end they actually make a decision together and the decisions are executed. In this approach, both share success and both share responsibility and accountablility.

In fact, this is actually how collaboration happens on the golf course between a caddy and their pro golfer. Ironically, the pro is often just the “doer” and the caddy is more in the “decider” role. The pro has extraordinary talents in execution and the caddy has extraordinary talents in assessment, analysis, and decision making. At the heart of the pro/caddy relationship is a phenomenal level of trust and respect. Of course, the pro gets all the accolades and the money. The really wise pro makes sure she or he pays the caddy very, very well.

Remember when we used to travel? Sometime last year when I was traveling for work, I found a film on Netflix that was delightful and very interesting. It is called Loopers: The Caddy’s Long Walk. I need to re-watch it now that this conversation is rolling around in my head. Check it out. I think you might like it too.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I like the caddy and pro golfer example as a pretty powerful illustration of collaboration. What do you think? Maybe I should spend a bit more time on the golf course developing it, eh?

missing hugs

I’ve been meeting each Thursday afternoon with a group of friends via Zoom for the purpose of simply maintaining human connection during the pandemic. Each week we have a “conversation starter” to kick things off, though, actually, we usually don’t really need one. This week the conversation starter had to do with maintaining connection during these times of social distancing. More specifically, we wondered how to respond when someone wanted to shake hands or give a hug? Or, even, if we wanted to give a hug to someone. As has become the norm for this close group, it was an interesting and wide-ranging conversation…and it is always difficult to end at just an hour.

Today I had an “aha” moment in the conversation. Since February I have not seen my son in person more than twice. Both times I dropped something off at his front door, rang his doorbell, then quickly stepped away to sthe idewalk to maintain appropriate distance. He would come outside and we’d talk from about 10 feet apart, still with masks.

The “aha” for me was the realization that both of these conversations ended in a way that they have never, ever ended before. From the time my son was born, I decided I would never let a day pass without telling him that I loved him and giving him a hug. To the best of my memory I never missed a day for as long as we shared a roof. Now that he is grown (soon to be 36), I don’t see him everyday anymore, however, each time I do see him our time together always ends with “I love you” and a hug. When we ended those conversations in front of his hous on those two times, the “I love you” was there but the hug was not. Today I figured out why it felt so strange and what was missing. I have a hole in my arms it puts one in my heart, too.

a holiday break…i think…maybe

Not that I’m obsessive or anything, but I have become a bit so with writing The Daily Drivel. I undertook this as personal therapy back on March 16 to help me manage my stress about the COVID-19 pandemic. After 109 (or is it 110?) consecutive daily blogs, I’m realizing four things:

  1. I really enjoy writing the blog. It has been an amazing exercise to try to create something each day that makes some sense and that people will actually read. The readership has grown, remained steady, and continues to grow, for which I’m really grateful.
  2. It really has helped me manage my own stress during this time. I can put down on virtual paper the things that are on my mind – whether they are rational or not. Then something magical happens: they vanish and, for the most part, are no longer stressful to me.
  3. I enjoy it so much that I don’t want it to become a chore. I don’t ever want to get to the point it it feels to me like I “have to” put out a blog. At that point it is no longer a joy but a chore.
  4. As much as I enjoy it, it is a lot of work. Plus, I also have a full-time consulting practice that takes about 8 to 10 hours each day, usually six or seven days a week and it is only getting busier. I usually take a writing break in the middle of the afternoon or I write at night when my other work is done.

To ensure that I continue to enjoy writing the blog and that it is relieving, not contributing to, my stress, I’m going to try to give myself permission to take an occasional break. “Try” is the operative word in that sentence because truly, I enjoy it.

The Independence Day long holiday weekend is a perfect time for me to experiment with trying to take a break for a few days. Therefore, I may be taking a break from writing The Daily Drivel over the Independence Day long weekend and will plan for the next one to appear on Tuesday. The operative word of this sentence is “may.” I will do my best but if I get inspired or bored or Clemencia needs me to get out of her hair for a while, you may get one on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.

See you Tuesday…or maybe before…we’ll see.

chickenman – episode 75

Chickenman attaches himself to the passing airliner and tries to make pitstop on the plane.

This is that day

Today is July 2, 2020 and World UFO Day. Oh, wow, I love this kind of stuff! I grew up under the dark starry skies of the American Midwest. Each summer my friends and I, through 7th or 8th grade, would sleep out under the stars as often as we could to watch for UFOs. It was the era of the Bomb and UFO’s so anything was possible. We stay awake as long as we could hoping to see one. Never happened but we did, one night, cause an explosion so loud that it brought out the local fire department. But that’s a story for another day. Keep watching the skies!

Day 73 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

For every Stupid Person who ignores the rules that keep all of us safe, another person cannot enjoy the freedom that Stupid Person feels they alone are entitled.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under a Sunny Cloud of Disappointment

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Clemencia threw me out of the house today. Well, it wasn’t THAT dramatic! Actually, she invited me out of the house to go golfing. The golf course I play has been open since May 15th but I’ve been reluctant to venture out because of our risk level and the incredible spread of the pandemic in our community. However, with her encouragement I decided go play golf.

Join Liz Weaver and Me for Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership on June 2nd

I’m honored to be joining my good friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, on a Tamarack Institute webinar titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership. The webinar will be on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! All you need to do is sign up here.

Liz is the Co-CEO of the Tamarack Institute, an amazing social and community change organization based in Waterloo, Ontario. Their work on poverty reduction in Canada is extraordinary and if you don’t know them, you need to know them. Liz and I have collaborated on articles and projects in the recent past, but this is the first time we’ve done a webinar together. Anytime I get with Liz by phone or on Zoom, I always learn something new and come away with a stronger “can do” spirit. I’m honored and excited to be doing this webinar with her. Please check it out and please plan to join us. (P.S. Liz told me today that there are currently over 400 signed up. Come on in! The more the merrier!)

The Golf Outing That Wasn’t

When the golf course reopened on the 15th of this month I drove over to see how they were handling the re-opening. I was really impressed. No one was allowed in the club house. Golfers with memberships checked in on one side through a window and those who paid by the round signed in and paid at a window on the opposite side of the building. Everyone was required to wear a mask and everyone did. Distancing was practiced quite well by everyone. You could share a cart only if the person you were sharing with was someone who lived with you (e.g., spouse, child, family guinea pig, etc.). They were carefully following the protocols established by the state and the county. Remember, the golf course is in Prince George’s County which is the hottest COVID-19 hotspot in the hotspot that is all of the Metro DC area. Ironically, it is located less than a half-mile from the state’s COVID-19 temporary morgue, which you’d think would be a powerful reminder.

From that experience I decided it would be okay for me to try to play when the weather was warmer and I had a free day. That day was today. Early this morning Clemencia asked if I planned to go golfing. I was a bit non-committal because even though I did, I have been concerned about the risk and, even worse, bringing the virus home to her. When I got dressed, though, it was in golf shorts and shirt. By noon I was strongly leaning toward giving it a try. By 1:30 PM, after I had finished the “must do” work items for the day, I was actually anxious to go. Sensing that (well, actually, she caught me wearing my golf shoes in the house), Clemencia invited me to get out of the house. After I asked her “But are you sure?” about seven times, I finally left.

The parking was nearly full at the golf course, which was surprising for a Wednesday afternoon when most people are working. But, then, I realized many people were not yet back to work. In all, I was glad the golf course was getting the business.

However, as I got my equipment out of the car and started walking to the club house I began to notice the absence of masks, the absence of distancing, and the abundance of really Stupid People. I saw people whom I strongly suspected were not related sharing golf carts. I saw people standing and sitting around the club house in groups and without masks. To get to the check-in window I would have had be in the midst of them.

Then there was the straw – you know, the one that broke the camel’s back? One of the golf course maintenance workers was disinfecting the cars (which was good) but his mask was at or under his chin. It made for a lovely decoration but it was non-functional as a mask.

Without hesitation, I walked back to my car, loaded my golf bag, and drove back home. It was a deeply disappointing experience. I’m happy to report, I didn’t cry like a baby and pitch a tantrum. But a tear did trickle silently down my cheek.

What’s really amazing and which really infuriates me about this time we are in is not just that there are Stupid People – but that many are also selfish, self-centered, and seemingly entitled. For every Stupid Person who ignores the rules that keep all of us safe, another person cannot enjoy the freedom that Stupid People feel is their entitlement alone. Golf is not the only sport with Stupid People though. Tennis, pickleball, and basketball all have people who find ways around the rules to get on the court and play their games. This makes the also prime candidates for the Stupid People Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, while Stupid People think only of themselves…

Today, at about 5:00 PM Eastern, the death toll in the United States from COVID-19 hit 100,000.

After all the Stupid People I saw last weekend in the news who were on the beaches and at parties, after all the Stupid People I saw at the golf course today, and after all the Stupid People I heard about this week, I am losing hope that we will get out of this without a death toll rivaling the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 (which was 675,000 by the way).

God help us? Maybe. But maybe we could help God out by being less stupid.

The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 41 – Join Chickenman as he christens the new Midland City Hall…kind of.

Song Parody Wednesday!

Cheryl from Pennsylvania, and avid reader of this blog (or so she says…oh, wait, maybe I paid her to say that?) wrote me to say how much she likes the song parodies. So, Cheryl, this is for you and everyone else that likes these as much as you and I do.

Let’s kick it off kids with Chris Mann, whose song parodies I’ve featured before, a singer and musician who came in 4th in the 2012 season of “The Voice” (another reality TV show I’ve never watched). Mann is originally from Wichita, Kansas where he turned down a really great offer to be a lineman.

This is a first time in the Fabulous Five for the Holderness Family. They are, well, a family that specializes in making music and music parodies and a bunch of other stuff. Strangely, they seem to make a living at it. More power to ’em!

The Kiffness, from South Africa, is no stranger to this blog though he does seem to be a little “stranger” than some of the other performers featured here. But then, they are all just a bit strange in their own way. This a fun one gang!

Whoa, look at that, the Holderness Family has another in this week’s Fabulous Five. I’m not really a fan of Disney music but this was fun to watch. I loved the costume changes midsong!

Finally, rounding out our Fabulous Five for this week is Raúl Irabién, from Mexico, who does one of the best COVID-19 parodies of Bohemian Rhapsody (my favorite song) that I’ve seen. Irabién has a terrific acapella group Invoca you can check out as well.

Why stop at five? Here’s a bonus parody from Randy Rainbow, perhaps the most prolific and political of the song parody-ists. (Is that a word?) And remember, DO NOT ingest household chemicals!

Stay safe, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep an eye on the numbers as they go up. They aren’t stopping anytime soon.


Day 52 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

She found one student, let’s call him Pirate Juan, who knew the game and was willing to participate in an hour long tutorial. Clemencia and Pirate Juan would play, the others would observe, and then give it try. That was weeks ago now.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020 – Live to Blog from a Battle Zone


Today is the day it always happens. My loving, caring, pacifist spouse turns into the commander of a fleet of battleships. She takes no prisoners in a fiercely contested battle that rages over Zoom.

The Saga of Battleship Wednesday

As the dawn breaks Admiral Clemencia Vargas stands on the deck looking up into a foreboding sky. She shrugs, turns away, and steels herself for the calamity that lies ahead. In only a few hours she will launch her Zoom meeting controls, take command of a novice but dedicated crew, and lead them into the fray. Who will emerge victorious? What will be the toll on ships… and language?

Battleship (Batalla Naval) game board image by Marco Verch.

Yes, it’s Battleship Wednesday in our house! Each Wednesday, at 4:00 PM Eastern, Clemencia gathers a group of her students to play Batalla Naval (Battleship) in Spanish via Zoom. You know how it’s played, right?

Well, if you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. It all started because Clemencia was using occasional Batalla Naval exercises to teach her students vocabulary. However, there were several students who had never played Battleship. They just couldn’t seem to grasp the concept – even when the classes were still meeting in person way, way back in February. When the classes moved to Zoom, Clemencia wanted to still find a way to use Batalla Naval activities. She decided to have a Battleship tutorial.

She found one student, let’s call him Pirate Juan, who knew the game and was willing to participate in an hour long tutorial. Clemencia and Pirate Juan would play, the others would observe, and then give it try. That was weeks ago now.

Batalla Naval has turned into its own thing. Each week Clemencia produces a battleship grid on paper and distributes it to the students. As the Zoom meeting begins, the students take sides with her against Pirate Juan. (This week, though, for the first time, Pirate Juan had two students who defected to his team.) As the battle begins, so does the noise. I’m two rooms away and still I know when Clemencia’s fleet takes a hit and when they have a successful strike. There are roars of laughter, groans of dismay, and incesssant chatter with and among the students. Last week there were 14 who played. Even veterans of Batalla Naval are showing up now and re-enlisting to play.

Batalla Naval – Clothing & Colors

The grids Clemencia creates have Spanish terms on the left side and across the top. (See two of her recent game grids in the images.) First, the students and Pirate Juan place (draw) their ships on the top part of the grid (Mi ropa or Mis verbos). Each team, in turn, gets to “bomb” the others ships. They do this by indicating, in Spanish, where their bombs are being dropped on their opponents grid by calling out an item and a color (e.g, “La camisa es azul” – the shirt is blue). Where those two items intersect on the grid is where their bomb lands. Teams keep track of where their opponent’s bombs hit on their grid (top) and where they are dropping bombs on the other’s grid (bottom).

Batalla naval – Pronouns & Irregular Verbs

While the game etiquette does not suppress the noise of war, it does require opponents to truthfully report out to the other the result of their bombing – agua (water), tocado (hit), or, finally, hundido (sink).

In addition, Pirate Juan has to agree not to look at the other team’s collaborative Batalla Naval grid on Zoom. At first he didn’t have to. He was cleaning up each week. Recently, though, the tide has turned and now Pirate Juan has been getting thrashed. Perhaps this is why he has lured away a couple of others to be his crew. Dastardly Pirate Juan! You will pay for this treachery!

Batalla Naval Wednesday has taken on a life of its own now. It is the 7th Spanish class of the week for Clemencia. It is so popular I can only imagine – and fear – it will grow into other days and times of the week. So be it! I’ll just steer clear. Bert Left, Ernie Right, Winthrop Dijkstra-Baum and I will enjoy it from afar. Beto and Enrique prefer to be near the action.

Nonprofits in Crisis: A Wide Angle View

Madeleine McGee is the President of TogetherSC, South Carolina’s association for nonprofit organizations which is 800 members strong. Madeleine and TogetherSC inspired Forrest Alton, Cayci Banks, Charles Weathers, Patrick Jinks, and me to collaborate to produce the Leading Through Crisis blog and video series. In this video, Madeleine, while addressing some specific issues in South Carolina, also takes a wide-angle lens to the challenge of leading through crisis.

Getting to Transformational Change

My friend Elayne Greeley, whom I met through our common affiliation with Tamarack Institute, has a very unique gift. She is able to translate high level concepts into easy to understand, sensemaking graphics and images. Here is one of her pieces that breaks down challenges often facing community partnership efforts. It reminds us that transformational change is not something we can do all at once. When it is broken down into smaller manageable pieces, we get there faster than we could have ever imagined possible. Thanks Elayne for your good thinking, your good work, and for allowing me to share some of it here!

By Elayne Greeley, with appreciation to the Partnership Brokers Association

The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: As an introvert the idea of being stuck in my home for the foreseeable future wasn’t entirely unwelcome – I had great plans for how to use this time! Sadly it is not going as planned…

The Adventures of Chickenman

Now that he has exited the Chicken Cave, Chickenman (Benton Harbor) finds himself locked in the dark, official looking halls of Midland City City Hall. How is he to get out?

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing you mask, and keep using your imagination for good!


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