Archive for Collaboration

Starry Skies, Diversity, and Vision

Hi Carman,
A beautiful Sunday morning to you! I agree that Partnership does not need to answer to Paul, Plato or Shakespeare, although I do enjoy dialoging with them from time to time.

Thank you for sharing your deeply thought through and fresh thoughts on Paul. One observation I would add is that whatever was or was not the intention of people at the time, Christianity and Judaism  –or rather, as different streams of thought converge, a variety of Christianities and Judaisms  — exist today.

Because we are exploring emerging ground, we have the opportunity to consider some interesting questions, that I think have some broader applicability.  One relates to focus.

Alfred North Whitehead describes how every fact “drags around with it” a universe of assumptions in which that observation or fact is both comprehensible and true. Essentially agreeing with Whitehead on this point, feminist philosphers have long observed that the practice of using fixed and firm categories — such as the often very firm boundaries between academic disciplines — to describe reality reifies a particular worldview by obscuring other potentially useful categories and the way that categories interconnect to form the “sacred canopy” of our worldview. 

On the other hand, when changes do occur in a particular field, the process of cross-fertilization of ideas is slowed. (This is one reason, as you know, that trans-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary studies are presently such a wellspring of new thought and innovation).   Also,  being too fixed with regard to category implies a world in which all things can truly be separate and static — described by one category or model without reference to others. For example, years ago, when I was in a leadership role in organizations (before I became a coach and consultant), I was  unable to immediately see the connection between emerging ideas in scie nce and emerging ideas in leadership. I thought that it was academically interesting but had nothing to do with the “real” world. Obviously, I’ve come to change my views!

The categories we use illuminate some aspects of reality and hide others.  With left-brained thought and language, it’s often the connections amongst things that are hidden.

Because the paradigm we are discussing is holistic, we can’t assume that the whole universe of assumptions is known to the reader, or even to ourselves.  Rather Partnership recognizes that different perspectives will “see” different patterns, and that, with a conducive social dynamic, multiple perspectives can, reflect more light on a given subject. Further, a holistic perspective suggests that reality is holographic in that nothing stands alone but is shaped by its context or world.

Because this blog seeks to explore a new paradigm of leadership and organization, it consciously oversteps conventional categories in order to describe both this paradigm we call Partnership and also the views of the cosmos, including the patterns of the stars, we each see from where we sit (both physically and on the basis of our life experience).

So, in discussing a Partnership approach to leadership and organizations, we talk about the literatures of leadership, organization, sociology, psychology (so far so good), and continue on to philosophy and theology which have been held, until relatively recently, to be separate and distinct subjects. Religion in particular has been considered a separate realm best avoided because it can raise passionate differences. “Sensible” people avoid it. By virtue of where I sit under that starry expanse, I am unable to be “sensible” in this respect because ideas in all these fields shape our view of the world. Certainly, as you have pointed out, the experience of a religious conversion or mystical insight is an example of a personal transformation which yields a sometimes radically different worldview. (My sister also described motherhood this way).

On the other hand, I appreciate that some who visit here may be put off when we venture “off topic” sharing our views of the patterns we see in that sky.  In a sense, this is a microcosm of a Partnership organization. Different members sitting on the grass, looking up and being able to share what they see. And also with respect to our collective endeavors, focusing on the shared values and vision that pull us together.

As you have probably noticed, I see the coaching approach as enacting Partnership, supporting the emergence of trust, collaboration and creativity in organizations. I am very excited to mention a new project that I am becoming involved with, to bring coaching training to leaders and teams, and coaching the development of a coaching culture. I’ll write more about it in this blog, but as this is also a kind of a letter, I wanted to share it with you here.

My best,


P.S. We are having a break in the rain today. It’s cold and overcast, with the holiday lights making a nice contrast as it grows dark in the evening.

On Parallels between Paul and Eisler, and Group Mind

Carman, It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts. Thank you for highlighting the parallels between Eisler on Partnership and Paul. I hadn’t fully appreciated this aspect of Paul.  The opposition of “flesh” and “spirit” is a key theme in many theologies, so I read him more literally.  I do hear and appreciate that you interpret Paul’s words differently, with an interesting result.   

[12/8/09:  Carman, I’ve been continuing to mull your interpretation of Paul, and see some strong parallels with my own [process] train of thought. If we use the idea of “small self'” in place of “flesh,” I agree that these ideas do begin to describe a holistic, Partnership approach. I think the original metaphor is problematic in that it is too limited and freezes an occassionally conflicting relationship between different aspects (or intelligences) of ourselves into permanent opposition.  I think this core antagonism is paradigmatic, in a sense, of the ethic of opposition, domination and control towards others in a dominator system. If instead, we recognize difference rather than antagonism, we retain the possibility of a higher, creatively intelligent resolution which surpasses what we can  imagine as individuals.]

Another area of concern for me, with regard to Paul, is his statement in Corinthians 14:34-35 which seems to promote the subordination of women to men, which would be contrary to an ethic of Partnership:  “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”  That said, I’ve also read that this is often or usually interpreted to refer to a specific situation rather than as a generalization  

I know that you have some expertise on this subject.  What are your thoughts?  

I am interested to explore the key question that you have posed: “If a Partnership group were being infiltrated by dominator tendencies, how would you address the issue, especially if dissolution were imminent?”

I am drawn to the idea that a higher wisdom can emerge in groups where there is shared intention, trust, active listening, mutual encouragement and appreciation. I’ve found that in really healthy, collaborative groups there can be a kind of ” magic” — a very satisfying experience of co-creativity in which the result is clearly better than members might achieve alone.

Two quotes from Napolean Hill seem to speak to that notion:

“When two or more people coordinate in a spirit of harmony and work toward a definite objective or purpose, they place themselves in position, through the alliance, to absorb power directly from the great storehouse of the creative mechanism of each contributing mind.”

And:  “No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.”

For me, these quotes bring together the very compatible principles of Partnership and holism.

Would you like to consider a particular concrete situation and reason together?


P.S.  I think we have your rain today!  The skys just opened up.

Creating healthy organizations

In re-reading your post, I continue to notice new levels of richness and meaning.

Freire describes some of the core insights of Partnership: “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.66).

Yes, as Freire describes, domination is system of relations, including our relation to self. We are divided beings in as much as we internalize the voice(s) of dominant, controlling others. As young children, we tend to absorb parental and cultural moods, attitudes, and perspectives. It is, therefore, so often true that children of dominating parents (or of a hostile culture) struggle with self-criticism and self-doubt. In the Dominator paradigm, this is the position of feeling “less than” others. In this psychological literature, this is sometimes called “shame.”

Psychology also describes “projection” as a psychological defense mechanism. One way of copying with our “disowned […] feeling, wishes, needs and drives […] is to attribute them to others” (Bradsahw, 109). We may also gain some temporary relief from the pain of internalized oppression through identification with the oppressor (Bradshaw 106). When we identify with dominator (our externalized notions of power, prestige), we may experience ourselves as feeling “better than.” In this state, we may project undesireable characteristics onto others and “do unto others as has been done unto us.” It is, therefore, a truism that, in the absence of healing, people who have been abused, often become abusers themselves.

In a dominator system (such as is predominant in our culture), there is a tendency to either feel less than or greater than others, and whether one feels inferior or inferior can vary depending on time and circumstance.

Judgement appears to be the mechanism by which this occurs. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is common to fear the judgement of others — particularly those we perceive to have some level of power over our lives.

One dynamic for maintaining the “upper hand” in a dominator relationship is silencing, in which one does not permit others the privilege of speaking their truths. This dynamic may be internalized as self-silencing.

Codependency has been defined in a variety of ways. One pertinent definition is, “A pattern of coping which develops because of prolonged exposure to and practice of dysfunctional family rules that make difficult the open expression of thought” (

This same dynamic has been described in organizations. In the 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen R. Covey describes the dynamics of codependency in organizations and how its negative effect on organizational effectiveness (17). For an excerpt, see:

Author John Gardner writes, “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.” The perspective of each individuals and organization (which is ultimately shaped by its members) seems natural and normal; therefore, real alternatives may not be readily seen, or when seen, may seem counter-intuitive. Seeing alternatives, including personal and organizational health, is an imaginative act.

If we can label a core problem of contemporary organizations to be co-dependence, then, what might the literature of psychology and recovery have to teach us with respect to creating healthier, more flexible, collaborative, and creative environments?

Also, what is the relationship between a Partnership relationship and perspective (based on mutual thriving), coaching and the psychological-social paradigm of recovery?

Leadership vs. Control by Guilt and Fear

In a recent post, Carman de Voer noted the distinction between leadership and management. These two different functions often converge within a particular role, but tend to draw upon different kinds of power. Management is associated with control, which is a highly reputable value and principle in most organizations. The process of management itself has been described as a feedback loop: managers “plan, organize and control” the work of the organization.

We have come to learn that the only relatively simple systems are subject to control in this sense; the interactions between the elements of more complex systems result in unpredictable outcomes. For this reason, particularly where the intelligence, creativity and committed contributions of organizational members are important to organizational outcomes, we have seen a shift from an emphasis on management to an emphasis on leadership.

Whereas management tends to rely on external rewards and punishments, leadership, particularly transformative leadership, seeks to align the self-actualization of organizational members with the self-actualization of the organization (the achievement of the organization’s mission and vision).

However, because leaders and managers, are still accountable for the contributions of their people, and their own jobs and careers are at stake, they usually feel some urgency around results.

The word “urgency” points to both importance and fear or anxiety. Another common term, which is used in conjunction with urgency is “edge.” (It might be useful to notice that intense focus and forward motion driven by vision and purpose, absent fear, has a very different tone).

Leaders then, very often experience some level of fear or anxiety — conscious or unacknowledged — and, the most common reaction to fear is to try to control others.

It’s useful to pause for a moment to consider: how do we, ourselves, attempt to exert control? What are the options? I once attended a workshop on power dynamics in which participants paired up on either side of a line. Each side was given the instruction that to win, they needed to get the other person to come over to their side of the line. Participants utilized a variety of strategies — including pleading, promising, guilting and dragging each other across.

In Spiritual Selling, sales and marketing expert, Joe Nunziata, describes the often unconscious strategies that people use to control others, and how these strategies are often employed in the workplace:

“Guilt [and shame] is the weapon of choice used by parents to control their children. […] In most cases, parents are not using guilt on a conscious level. They have absorbed guilt […] for generations and passed it on to their children. Innately parents know they can use this guilt to manipulate and control their children. Once the power of guilt is realized, it is then used in all areas of life. People begin to recognize the power of guilt in other situations. It can be applied to relationships, employees, coworkers, friends, and family. […]

“The desire to control and manipulate is driven by fear. The ego believes it will be safe if it can control people and the environment. This is why so-called control freaks are always micromanaging all aspects of work and the people involved with a project. There is an inherent fear that losing complete control of the situation will have disastrous results. […]”

“These same guilt and manipulation techniques are used in the business world. A sales manager may use the exact same process to motivate his or her people. Making salespeople feel they are not doing a good job can trigger similar feelings of guilt and shame. The intent is that they will start to feel bad and then have the desire to work harder. [Those who have read this blog for some time will recognize this dynamic as “The Wheel of Fear.”] The effectiveness of this approach depends on the makeup of the indiviudal. If similar techniques were used effectively by our parents they will transfer into the business world as well. You will be susceptible to the feelings of guilt you experienced as a child. […] Guilt and fear have long been viewed as the only way to motivate performance. Although the world has changed and some organizations are embracing more postiive techniques, a large majority are still trapped in this model. It is important to realize how powerful these unconscious traits are and how difficult they are to break…” (46-49).

Of course, external rewards, such as salary increases, bonuses, promotion, political capital, etc. are the “carrot” of this “carrot-and-stick” approach.

Hence, the organization tends to take on the characteristics of the family — too often, a dysfunctional one.

Transformational leadership, on the other hand, taps into a substantially different power dynamic in which the leader speaks to team members’ intrinsic motivations, to align the self-actualization of each team member with the self-actualization of the team or organization. In my opinion, coaching is a key component of transformational leadership. It cultivates the intelligent, creative energy of team members towards the achievement of overarching, meaningful goals. While recognizing distinctions in roles, it respects all organizational members, and builds the health and capability of the system…

What is the difference between healthy and unhealthy organizations?
How can we cultivate ever more healthy organizations?

Christie, L. “Getting Off Your Wheel of Fear”

Ibid. “Leaping Off the Hampster Wheel of Fear”

De Voer, C. “Promethius and Transformative Leadership.”

Nunziata, J. Spiritual Selling. Hoboken, N.J., Wiley, 2007.

Silence and speaking in organizations

Hi Carman,
I apologize that it has been taking me so long to respond to your thoughtful and insightful posts. I appreciate your ongoing contributions to this endeavor!

Thank you (first) for your discussion of cultures of silence. The quote you chose from Charles Davis was a very apt illustration of how we internalize the power structures in which we participate:

“Exterior un-freedom causes interior un-freedom. A child first learns to talk or think aloud, then afterwards to think without voicing its thought.”

Deconstructive postmodernists (with whom I share both agreement and disagreement) have observed that assertions of truth are acts of power. This is very evident in a court of law, where attorneys put forth a view of reality which serves them and their clients. This is also true in dominator organizations, where authority and power are often perceived to arise (in part) from being “right” and where, in a circular way, might makes right. Certain views and positions become “legitimate” and others, which question or challenge these perspectives may be viewed as heritical or a power play. (1)

In the same way that in a dominator family, a child is shusshed for “talking back” or challenging parental authority, in dominator organizations, members may be admonished for raising perspectives and positions that challenge organizational orthodoxy. (This seems to come back to your post on orgaizations as theocracies…). And what is true of families and organizations is also true with respect to our larger institutions and culture.

So, in dominator organizations, organizational members learn to silence themselves, effectively internalizing the outer controls, so as to avoid “punishment.” This self-silencing can become so automatic, that we are barely consciously aware of it.

Further, it is also taboo to discuss the silencing itself. Because it pulls back the covers on power relationships, challenges the legitimacy and absoluteness of existing truth claims, and because there is the sensibility that “that war” was already fought and won,” raising the existance of the taboo tends to both threaten and irritate people. A very successful control structure maintains both the silence and suppression of awareness or discussion of the silence itself.

Conversely, speaking in our own voice is a form of self-assertion, of “power-from-within.” And, when we share our truths an perspectives as part of a mutually-respectful dialogue or larger conversation, this sharing can become the co-creative “power-with” in which the flow of energy and ideas in the group gives rise to broader insights and more powerful ideas than would be the case of a person acting singly. Master coach Karen Capello calls this the power of authenticity:

It is the empowering, creative energy that organizations want and need. The challenge, as I see it, is that to be truly creative, many organizations need to rethink their assumptions about power and knowledge, and the role of leadership.

(1) This is not always true, of course. Alternative ideas may be considered within certain bounds, depending on both the idea and the speaker. (This speaks to the concept of rhetorical communities).

Unleashing Collaborative Power in the Workplace

If you are interested in how Partnership approaches to leadership can unleash collaborative power in the workplace, I encourage you to check out Cynthia King’s Creating Partnerships: Unleashing Collaborative Power in the Workplace (2005).   

See more at:

Organization as brain, intelligent creative energy

Carman, regarding: your post: I completely agree.

This is a good example of how our metaphors can limit our thinking. The mind-body dichotomy, in which mind is usually seen as separate from and superior to the body, has been a fundamental cultural metaphor. Related metaphors include: God-World, spirit-flesh, and the misogynist male-female dichotomy in which men were considered rational and transcendent, and women more “bodily” and immanent. According to this pattern (or guiding metaphors), the World, the organization, the body … are all viewed as machines, controlled by an intelligent external force. These ideas were also applied to social organization.

Although the machine analogy has some uses, the metaphor is based on the faulty assumption that the world (including our bodies) are machine like. To the degree that we operate with this assumption, we behave in ways that actually suppress organizational intelligence and creativity. (For an example of how perception can create reality, see Jane Elliott’s social experiment

In addition to the one you mentioned, a great source on the intelligent body is Dr. Candace Pert’s, Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind. It also supports somatic approaches to psychology.

I like your proposal to consider the entire organization as “brain”; it is more realistic and as a guiding assumption would tend to lead us towards behaving in ways that cultivate organizational intelligence and creativity.  Or a related analogy might be “body-mind.” 

I wonder what it would do for us to consider organizations as creative, intelligent energy?  Might it lead us to open up to these qualities, to the creative intelligent energy of others? (Thinking about it, this is a process view of organizations …)

Some related posts:

Cultivating strength

Especially given the turmoil in the markets in recent days, it seems to be good timing to return to the subject of how we can leap off the “hamster wheel of fear” — a self-perpetuating negative cycle — and onto our wheel of creative freedom.  Recently, I had the privilege to watch a presentation by certified hypnotherapist, Monica Justus, CHt.  Ms. Justus invited a volunteer from the audience, a local business owner with a technical background whom I would consider a skeptical person, and demonstrated the effect of thoughts and words on our physical and mental strength.

For the demonstration, she asked him to extend his arm straight out to the side, which he did. She then asked him his name, which he answered truthfully. She pressed down strongly on his extended arm, but it remained strong and in place, demonstrating strength. She then asked him to respond to the question in a way that was not true.  Strikingly, his arm weakened, and she was easily able to push it down.  I’ve since used this demonstration in a training situation — it works.

It appears that when we speak our truth, we are, in fact, stronger.

Ms. Justus went on to test the effect of positive and negative words and concepts. The words “love” and “peace” tested “strong.” The word “war” caused his arm to go weak.

We spend most of our days thinking and communicating with others. What is the quality of our thoughts? Do we think self-defeating and fearful thoughts that weaken us, or do we look for the positive in ourselves and our situation? Do we see problems or opportunities? 

And, are we living and speaking our truth or supressing our true thoughts out of fear?  (On this note, I don’t advocate reckless, controlling, or inconsiderate speech. However, if your situation does not safely permit you to express your perspective, it may be worthwhile to consider how you might alter your situation).

Choosing what makes us stronger, including our truth, and a constructive perspective is a key to shifting off the wheel of fear, and onto our wheel of creative freedom.  More on this later!

What is your organizational “wheel of fear”?

In my last post, we talked about how fear can both prompt and frustrate change. Presently, macro forces, prominently including global competition and outsourcing, are increasing fear and insecurity, while requiring organizations to become more creative, collaborative and adaptable.  However, it seems the actions we take from a perspective of fear are often maladaptive.

For example, one common response to fear is to become more controlling. It might be useful to notice two things about control that can undermine our effectiveness: First, when we attempt to “control” others, we take away some of their free will and dignity. And, second, when we are controlling, is there an implied threat of force? For example, what if people don’t comply –what action will we take then? And how does the threat of force tend to effect the quality of your relationships?

As a result, the people we would control are likely to both feel threatened and the need to re-exert some control of their own. As Hargrove (1995) points out, this tends to show up as a lack of enrollment, a lack of trust, and other subtle and not-so-subtle forms of rebellion. Although control can indeed get results, we pay a price for them. And as people become less enrolled, do we not then see the need for more control, more force? We find our selves on a “wheel of fear” (Britton, 2001) — a non-virtuous cycle that can lead to plummeting morale and, to the degree that we rely on organizational member enrollment, diminished organizational effectiveness.     

Biologically, fear invokes our “reptilian brain” which is concerned with survival, but which isn’t very smart, which helps explain why our reactions to fear tend not to be very intelligent.

In our next post, we will begin to explore some strategies for moving off our “wheel of fear” and onto our “wheel of freedom.”


Britton, Rhonda. (2001). Fearless Living. NY: Penguin.

Hargrove, Robert. Masterful Coaching: Extraordinary Results by Impacting People & the Way They Think & Work Together. SF: Pfeiffer, 1995.

Organization as Organism & Machine

In my last post we backed our way into a discussion of an emerging way of thinking about leadership and organization: the metaphor of the organization as an organsim.

As we talked about earlier, metaphors are maps of the terrain that can yield some useful insights, so we don’t need to hold on to them too tightly (as an ideology). Rather, when considering a metaphor we might ask two questions:

  1. Does it have some basis in reality?
  2. Is it useful?

Whereas the organization as a machine metaphor can be seen to have arisen out of Newtonian physics (the view of the Cosmos as machine) and the industrial revolution, the metaphor of the organization as an organism has its recent roots in new physics and biology, and the framework of systems theory, which observes that the whole has emergent properties that can’t be fully explained by examining each of the parts. Rather these properties emerge as a result of the relationship and interaction of the parts. 

I’ll apologize in advance for this: A useful but gorey example that is often given is that you sacrifice an animal and examine each of its parts, you won’t find life; life is an emergent property of the whole animal.  The same could be said of  a well-functioning team: a quality emerges in the interaction that only exists in potential in the individual team members.

 Seeing relationships vs. parts requires us to shift our vision. Are you familiar with the famous cognitive optical illusion: the figure-ground vase?

The image can be validly interpreted as two faces or as a vase. The one we see is the result of a mental interpretation, which may or may not be conscious. Once we’ve seen one view, it can be a challenge to see the other, because our current perspective is so obvious to us!  Yet, if we look for the other figure, as described by others (or the text), we can see that as well.  

And so it is with our metaphors of organization (and the cosmos). We might see the parts or we might see the relationships/interactions of the parts and the structures formed by those interactions.  As Westerners, our cultural history has attuned us to see the parts very well. However, most of us have not been trained to “see” the tangible reality of the qualities that emerge in relationship and how these materially influence what emerges as the whole.

Coming back to our earlier post on the brain analogy for organizations … Scientist Fritjof Capra (1988) observes that biological organisms often have some machine-like qualities (Turning Point, p. 266).  Our knowledge of these qualities has empowered the accomplishments of modern medicine. And, it is also true that biological organisms (and as it turns out, social organizations) also have emerging systemic properties. To “see” how relationships give rise to these properties, we need to shift our field of vision to look at relationships and patterns of relationship.  (This is where Riane Eisler’s concept of Partnership can be seen to be very relevant to leadership and organizational development).

This is just one example of how a shift in perspective can be extremely powerful in opening up a whole new set of tools and possibilities. And that is what coaching is all about…