Learning from the Elders
During the 1980’s, I also expanded my career from responsibility for public relations in one organization, to achieving a life dream of becoming CEO of another organization. Both organizations were in the non-profit health and social services sector. In my opinion, this is the most difficult sector to work in as a manager or CEO; because there are usually insufficient resources for the task at hand, a great will to do the job well, and the need to be versatile, adaptive, and yet stay on course. I believe that the private and government sectors benefit when they hire people who have mastered leadership in the non-profit sector. I brought my learning with the Medicine Wheel into the organization, including the choice to have our staff meetings sitting in a circle. I did not get the results I was looking for, and so I sought the council of native elders on the nearby Six Nations reservation. I had worked with these elders for some years in the late 70’s on matters to do with the right for self governance in relation to matters of child welfare. At the time, I assisted in setting up the first child welfare agency on a native reservation in North America, run by native people for the purpose of attending to child welfare within the laws of Canada and also within the native culture. It was an end to the era of removing these children from the reservation and placing them in non-native foster homes and boarding schools, a practice that was abusive.
So I went back to the elders. They listened to what I was wanting to achieve in terms of transforming the organization that I was now responsible for, from a charity model to a social justice model, so that it could work more with our client base, side by side, showing respect for their dignity and right to make choices. I explained how I was bringing decision making into a circle. They smiled and said, your heart and method are fine. The problem is that you hurry too much. When we have to find solutions, we take our time. We begin in a circle of chiefs, with the grandmothers standing behind. The chiefs must answer to the grandmothers and to the community they represent for their decisions. They understand that they have a lot of responsibility, not to their own egos, but to the grandmothers and to the community. And so, if it is not possible to find the right solution at one council, we wait until the next time there is a meeting. There is no shame in not finding the solution quickly. There is shame in not coming to the right solution for all who are affected. They then went on to tell stories of an annual meeting, in which a solution might be sought for ten years in a row until all could come to agreement.
I said that I needed to find solutions quickly, and that the transformation to a different way of operating by our whole organization (community) needed to be achieved in a way that the new way of working and being was sustainable. They wished me luck, with smiles and words that told me that hurrying was inadvisable and would not give me the results I was looking for. It would have been easy at that point to give up on the way I wanted to lead the organization, to give up on working with my staff, Board, volunteers, and community in a collaborative way that tapped into our collective wisdom. We needed to get to our solutions quickly and it seemed that taking the time to tap into collective wisdom was not going to work. Instead, I took myself on a journey of learning how to tap into collective wisdom in a way that could bring us to solutions quickly.
I invite you to check out our organizational consulting services in which we focus on assisting leaders get to organizational solutions…what we now offer is a result of my quest that long time ago in finding ways to tap into collective wisdom in a way that can bring solutions quickly.