Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, cont'd.

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September 20, 2012 Topic: Leadership Styles

Leadership Image.jpg
  • How do we grow and foster an expertise and skill individually and collectively?
  • How can people develop their own leadership capabilities?
  • How do we define leadership?

There are many types of leadership skills:

  • People skills/relationships
  • Hopefulness
  • Management skills
  • Deep expertise
  • Team and community building
  • Communications
  • Listening
  • Assessing skills around you
  • Quality of work

Importance of Relationships: Tom told the story of a program manager he once worked with who oversaw a group of programmers. He knew how to motivate them (sometime by rewards in the form of Red Wings tickets). He was great at love languages, that is, knowing how read and understand other people and communicate, in turn, with them. Although he himself was not a great programmer, he had a talent for fostering relationships which resulted in success of the program.

Is leadership something that your born with or something you grow? For the most part, it is something that you grow. You may have some innate abilities, but you still have to learn what those abilities are and how they can best be developed and used to advantage.

Because sustainability is focused on getting change to occur, that will require leadership.

Is there a difference between leading and mentoring? Sharing vs. teaching? A mentor may help someone else but it is not just a one way process.

Jeff (Mt Elliot Maker Space): As a leader, he recalls that he used to not share everything with the people he was working with, especially any areas of weakness he might have. He says that he is now experimenting with the idea of sharing everything and allowing his vulnerabilities to show. Advantages and disadvantages to both approaches?

Lead by example and offer words of encouragement. It can be more effective to invite people to do something rather than push them to do it. However, this can depend on the situation and the type of work that needs to be done.

Think about a hierarchical model of leadership; forceful leadership style vs. inspiring people, getting them excited about things - which works better for you and for those who work with you? Does it depend on the kind of work you're doing? Do you give people the time and latitude to think and be creative, or is the ship sinking and you need to get people into a lifeboat?

Does your leadership style depend on the person(s) you are leading? Does cultural background come into it? Are you working with people who, through experience, aren't used to problem solving and coming up with solutions for themselves?

Some people like to be told what to do, others prefer to figure things out for themselves.

Do you really understand the people that you are working with and can you figure out what motivates them? Good leadership inspires both confidence and trust. A leader needs to open themselves up to the qualities of a particular person and what inspires and motivates them so that they can motivate that person and learn from them at the same time.

One of the things Matt D. said that he needed to learn was how to give up total control and allow the person he hired to show what he was capable of and how he would do that job.

Communicating ultimate vision/goal: As a leader, you need to communicate clearly what you are striving for and what the end should be. You can allow people to do things their way to a point, but within the parameters of the boundaries you have set in order to achieve your goal. Your message can be, "Get to the end however you want, but the end has to look like "this"."

As a task manager/leader, you have to be able to identify which jobs are open-ended and which are not.

You have to be able to convert expertise into leadership; you may know how to do something but not necessarily how to communicate or describe that to those you work with.

When you convene people, be clear what you want from them. Only ask for ideas if you WANT ideas. Be accountable for the input you request, that is, you should be sure to use some of the ideas that people bring to a discussion. Sometimes people say they want input from others but what they really want is validation. A good leader knows what he needs people for. Figure out what the purpose of gathering people is. What decisions have already been made and what questions are still available for ideas and contributions? Define the components that are open for ideas and those that are not.

People like leadership. If you leave things too open, it could make people feel uncomfortable because they sense that there is no leadership. If you define the criteria of what you are asking of people, that might make it easier for them to participate.

The Importance of your "mental real estate:" When do you lead/ when do you relegate/ when do you follow? The more decisions you make in a day, the worse the quality of your decisions will become. Your mental real estate is important and you should be able to distinguish between soul feeding decisions and those trivial, annoying choices you need to make everyday. Be realistic about your mental limits.

There is always a mix of leaders and followers in a business. Some people do not want to be in charge. They find it more natural and relaxing to follow rather than to lead. In addition to that, individuals may like to lead in some areas and follow in others. How do you find that right mix?

Can you simplify things and make tasks less complex? What do specific people need to know? How much? Who needs to know the entire DNA of your organization? Who doesn't? Does anybody?

Leadership built on trust:

  • If group doesn't trust you, you may be their boss but you're not their leader. You have to be consistent in your leadership style. If people don't know what to expect from you, and can't predict how you'll be that day, then they can't follow you and they won't trust you.
  • Be clear in your vision - you don't have to have created that vision but you have to be the one who makes sure that vision is attained.
  • If you have a good level of trust with the people you work with, you can speak honestly about what is working and what isn't. High level of trust means that people will follow you even when you're vulnerable - they will want to help you rather than being indifferent. Will vulnerability have a negative effect? Focus on your honesty - but exposing where you are not strong give others a chance to fill in those areas for you and allows them to be honest about their weaknesses too. Take a moment to watch this TED video about the Power of Vulnerability.

It really matters who you choose to surround yourself with: Make sure to have that conscience person near you, that person who cares about you and your mission, who is thinking at a really deep level. They will give you something to think about every once in a while, something deep and foundational. Find these people in your life, care for them, treasure them.

Topic for next week: Decision making (Hannah & Adrienne)

September 13, 2012 Topic: The First Follower

Comments from last week's conversation on Habits:

  • Incentivize new habits in order to encourage you to do them. Some believe that people respond more to disincentives in order to achieve a goal, meaning that it is more effective if you penalize yourself if you do not meet your goal in developing a new habit. Does this work?
  • Importance of having a community around you: encouragement, help with problem solving. With a social networking, you can have some pseudo-communities where your successes and failures are shared on Facebook, Twitter or so forth.
  • Do you really understand why you do what you do? Incentives can sometimes speak to an external reality rather than really helping you to understand the internal reasons you have a particular habit. Why is it hard to change? What is the intent? You might want to change a behavior but what about your thought processes?
  • Meditation can be helpful in that it trains you to look at something, observe it (your bad escalating emotions, for example) but NOT to respond. You can try to avoid the thing that stresses you out, but you need to understand WHY it affects you, and try to change your reaction - practice through meditation.
  • Smaller habit changes help to inform larger changes. The first change can be small and external, but a series of these small changes can eventually lead to a larger change (biking a mile, then 5 miles, then 15 miles, then selling your car). You discover through small changes (small bike rides) that, "hey, I really like doing this!"


The First Follower "transforms the lone nut into a leader"

Today's topic: The First Follower

Take a moment to watch this TED Talk video on the importance of the First Follower.

  • First follower changes someone from a lone nut to a leader. First follower is actually a leader. Matt (Final Five) says that he has been struggling to find that one person with whom he could share and develop ideas. If I could just get that first follower of Final Five, he feels that he could really move forward.
  • The first follower makes a free and bold choice.
  • He eliminates the psychological barrier that keeps others from joining in. He/she can be a person who can make an idea more acceptable to a wider audience. His joining in is also a form of invitation - a boundary crossing. "Its safe, you can join, too."
  • The first follower validates the original person.
  • Goal of a movement is to become a habit, the new thing, and then the "movement" is done - it's no longer innovative and new.


Jess (Food Lab) admits that she couldn't do what she's been doing without Anna and Blair, her first followers. She acknowledges that it is vital for her to keep them around. She was introduced to Anna through a mutual friend, and they built a friendship before they began working together.

Are you looking for 1st follower as a customer or as an employee?

Bryce (Detroit Recordings) got his first audience through serving youth in the city. Then some of the kids began to follow him because they liked his music. They then became ambassadors for youth media. His first follower started as one of the young people he was serving who. over time began to incorporate their corporate philosophy in a natural way. This young man then began to pass on the message to others.

There's a real power to people-choosing. The first follower has a choice: he/she can come and see if your values are good for them where they are, and then they can make a choice. It's important that it be a free choice, not something imposed on them. People that begin the journey together then, do so by choice and they all really want to be there. You invite other to just walk with you for a while, and learn about your values and how you work. Then they can choose whether or not they want to stay with you.

What you need is right around you. Believe that the right person is within your natural network. With that comes a peace - you don't really need to look hard. No need for advertising, no searching, no selling. Act out of abundance and love, not fear and scarcity.

Jess says that she let what Food Lab has become be driven by what energy comes to it naturally. She is very clear what she is about, her values, and then this attracts like-minded people. She's always putting herself out there and making her message clear in order to attract people who think the same.


Ask the person you're interviewing, "What is it that you want to help co-create? What's in it for you besides the paycheck?"

What do you want in a first follower? Where might that person already exist in your life/community? Think about the people you already know. Matt (Final Five) is looking for someone who wants not just the paycheck, but wants to be creative, grow, learn, who wants the whole package. He believes that you get from the universe what you put into it.

Hannah (Detroit Massage & Wellness) really believes that she has found her first follower(s). She feels she has something new to offer and she's finding people who believe in what she is doing. She has been able to work most effectively with people who have just graduated from school and haven't yet developed bad habits, who accept the idea that they aren't "done" yet. They realize they're just at the beginning and are ready to learn.

David says in his experience he sometimes believes in people more than they believe in themselves. He can give them the confidence that they lack.

How do you recognize those who are already in your environment?

  • Get down to the essential aspects of what you are looking for in a person, not just a pre-conceived idea of a person with a set of specific job skills. What qualities are you looking for in a person? Are they innovative? Do they like to learn? Are they passionate about what you're doing?
  • People are often looking for job skills but not necessarily for the internal qualities of the person. Sometimes a person can bring something to the job that you didn't expect.
  • The interviewer and interviewee are on a kind of "speed date." That is, they are just trying to get to the second "date" or interview. In order to do that, they may be essentially misrepresenting themselves. You can't really get to know each other well during a single interview and it is not possible to determine if you and this person will be a good fit for each other and for the work there is to do.
  • Instead, invite a person to "walk with you." You can get to the truth by simply walking with someone. Give people a safe space where honest, transparent communication is possible.


1+1=3 : Subsequent followers come not because of person 1 or the first follower, but because of what happens between the first 2 people. Something happens, a "thing", and it is that thing that makes others want to join. Sometimes you get into a collaboration with someone thinking its going to be one thing but in the end it turns out to be something else. There might not be a specific vision - you know that you're heading north, but don't know what the path that will take you there will look like. You might not understand at first what the 3rd thing is until you look back at it and say, oh, this is what it is!


Next topic:

How to grow leadership competency - Styles of leadership?

September 6, 2012 Topic: Habits

Show & Tell! Jess learns techniques to prioritize tasks at Food Lab:

Jess was used to doing everything herself but is now working with a couple other people on how to manage priorities. She realized that she was trying to do too many things at once with too little time in which to do them. So they created a dashboard on Google Docs where they made note of all projects and their time estimates for each project. This brought it all together in one place - projects, ongoing services and ongoing operations. This allowed them to figure out how much time they actually had available to work on new projects and gave them a better idea of how to allocate their available time. The phase they are in now is tracking how much time tasks actually take so that their future estimates will be more accurate. She's able to give people a better idea of when she could realistically get to a new project. She is already realizing how off some of their initial estimates were. The less you know about something, the more you will underestimate the time requirements. Being off by the order of magnitude of 10 is actually not unusual. The process of working on this dashboard project for the 1st time was very instructive for her allowing her to figure out how much time she was spending on different tasks.

By just beginning the conversation on a problem, you will begin to make progress. It gives you energy knowing that these kinds of problems can be solved.

Having the dashboard allows her to commit to projects knowing that she has a clear understanding of how many hours it will take and when she will be able to get to it.

She has also made sure to schedule in time for herself!

3 things you have to know to make a commitment to a project:

  1. scope of the project
  2. schedule
  3. the people.

All 3 things have to be in balance in order for you to make a commitment.


Small changes, big results!


Today's topic: Habits

Why did Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, have such an impact? Because habits make a huge impact. It's the way we make sense of the world around us and the way we prioritize. Habits can sneak up on us and then, that's our life.

Habits are small but hard to change. So many we do unconsciously, without them making any sense.

If you change one habit, that leads to changes in other habits.

In the world of Sustainable business, it's all about changing habits, and these changes have a huge impact. (Could our group come up with its own list of "Habits of the Successful Sustainable Business?)

What informs and develops our habits?

How do we offer a new habit to someone (through our businesses) without imposing it on them? Do we automatically react negatively to someone suggesting a habit change? People are good at doing the same thing over and over again which makes changing what we do more difficult.

You don't realize until you stop a habit how many things in your life are impacted by that particular habit.

Having friends to support you in your new habits is very important. Jess has noticed that she is in the habit of thinking and talking about sustainability issues in a positive way and sees opportunity in sustainability rather than thinking of it in a limited, negative way. This is because she surrounds herself with like-minded people who share and support her views.

Cory's bus story: For a long time, he has arrived quite early to work in order to get one of the limited good parking spaces. Every time he would leave his office to go to downtown Detroit, he would lose his prime parking space and have to deal with traffic, and then would end up having to park far away when he got back to the office. Even with all these problems, he still kept driving out of habit. Then one day he realized that there is a bus that runs between his office and downtown and back every 15 minutes. Problem solved! He's begun to change this habit. He realized that sometimes you get into a habit bubble and don't even see your options.

How do you move from one habit to a new habit? What triggers it? Habits aren't changed overnight, but it's usually a gradual process. It can be a difficult, upstream kind of process.

Telling someone else that you're going to change a habit can be the motivation to keep to the new habit. Social support for changing habits is important. Get into circles that at least resonate with you and will help you to break bad habits and develop good new ones.

Encouraging people to change habits doesn't necessarily work - being the change, being the role model does work.

Mike's has begun Zen Buddhist training which has led to a new habit of meditation first thing each morning.

Jess is trying to do the same thing by writing everyday although she admits that she sometimes fails at it. But just getting started with a new habit is big. Even if it is an imperfect start - just do it. Step by step, build a chain that you can follow.. Like training a dog to do a complicated task by breaking it down into small tasks.


Next week's topic: Importance of the First Follower: Take a moment to watch this brief video, (TED talk)

August 30, 2012 Topic: Growing Community While Growing a Sustainable Business

Growing Community


Hannah's work after discussion on guilds:

Started break down the elements of what goes into a massage and has created a spreadsheet for that purpose. There are ratings for every element and her goal to get all the people who work for her to the exceptional level. She is still working on how to describe each element.

She hopes that this will help her employees to figure out what they need to do in order to achieve a higher level of skill and also to identify where they have a real talent.


Topic for today: Growing Community While Growing a Business (building businesses based on need in a community):

In Tom's view, the largest area a learning in a triple bottom line business (economics - environment - community) is the community. You ask yourself:

* What does your community need, those working for you, your clients and those living in the immediate community)?

* How do we meet real community needs and grow a business at the same time?

It's important to take into account not only community need but community assets as well. You need to have an awareness of people's ability to participate in your business.

What are your motives? To make money ? Support the needs of your community? If you're all about money, you're not dealing with the trust issues that will inevitably arise with the local community. In a depressed community, people might hear the words "corporate" or "profit" which can carry negative connotations.

How many businesses fall into the gray zone between being profit-driven and community-driven? It might be hard to identify how some businesses really benefit a community but doesn't a business have to be fulfilling some kind of need in the community anyway in order to thrive?

Tunde feels that businesses should have a specific social mission - something clear and up front - here's what Im gonna do for the community and you can hold me accountable for it.

Understanding the community:

  • You need to really take the time to learn about your business's community. If you're trying to do some good and really make a difference, don't be on such a tight timeline.
  • What community needs/problems can you take on? Detroit is a large city with many complex problems. We aren't in a position to solve all of these problems, so what if we just try to understand our immediate community and neighbors? You don't have to go far to encounter complexity and diversity. The Green Alley and the Social Club are good examples of neighborhood projects that we at the Green Garage can take on. We are not equipped or qualified, for example, to deal with the issue of illiteracy in the city. Think about what you (and your business) are truly in a position to tackle.
  • There is a sensitivity to outsiders coming into the city of Detroit (the old D vs. suburbs conflict). Hannah feels that native Detroiters should be accorded a basic respect for having lived and survived and taken care of their lives and property for so long. The hard work that they have done in their neighborhoods has allowed people like her to move there, and that work ought to be respected.
  • Who are the people in the community who are talking, making their needs and wants known? What about those whose voices aren't being heard?
  • Be present: Juan identifies opportunities by simply being present in a community; it's natural learning process. Be part of the community, living, learning, listening.
  • Help to build bridges between the suburbs and the city. We don't want to be about boundaries but about people. By being present in a community you will inevitably have some of your preconceptions dashed.

The importance of following through:

  • It is important for outsiders who come into a community to follow through with their plans and projects. There has to be real commitment - you are responsible for the project, even if it doesn't work out well. If it does, great, if it doesn't, then be there to clean it up and problem solve.
  • There are many well-intentioned people who are part of institutions that condone their coming into town to work on a project without really understanding the importance of sticking it out to the end, or understanding the real needs of a community or their ability to maintain a project once the do-gooders leave.
  • Community members become impatient with the outsiders who come in all full of energy, but leave with unrealized goals.

Jeff thinks that the best way to present yourself and your business is to say, "I've got something I can bring to the table - where does this fit into this community (if at all)?"

Juan feels that it is great to have specifics to offer folks who want to start a business (for instance, what about the historical reasons for resentment between city and suburbs?). Are there, perhaps, just 3 or 4 practical steps that you could take to begin a project or business in this city?

Topic for next week: Habits: How does something become a habit? Are we aware of all our habits - are they supporting our needs and wants? Can we develop our group's own list of habits of a successful sustainable business - unsuccessful habits?

August 23, 2012 Topic: Conflict Resolution

Comments from last week's conversation on Guilds:

  • Jeff remarks that we should stop talking about education, and talk about learning instead - because education is a process and experience that eventually ends, but learning never does.
  • Noam wonders how destructive/creative forces get into the guild process when things are always changing?
  • Adrienne realized that with her degrees in chemistry and molecular biology, she learned far fewer practical skills than her friend who went to art school.
  • What is irrelevant to students today in the school system? What needs to be dismantled?


Conflict Resolution

Today's topic: Conflict Resolution

Many people immediately feel stress when they encounter conflict. But conflict is everywhere - exists on a continuum.

People perceive conflict differently:

  • Some people love to be at high levels of conflict; it can be inspirational to them.
  • Some people can only really learn through conflict.

How does conflict get resolved? Here are the possibilities:

  1. dominant model - one person decides what the answer is
  2. compromise - every party gives up something
  3. create something totally new that transcends the conflict.
  4. do nothing.

Communities without conflict are dangerous; it's a sign that something isn't right. Conflict is necessary so that people can gain the capacity to work through problems and then deal with even larger problems the will inevitably come. Conflict is part of being human and part of being alive.

In Tunde's opinion, conflict comes from lack of or poor communication. You are trying to figure out what you want to say and what the other person is really saying back. It's important to have compassion for someone you are in conflict with so that you can better understand what they are saying.

Conflict resolution that is blame oriented is not helpful. An analytical model is perhaps better - what circumstances led to the milk being knocked over and how can this be avoided next time?

Make the conflict impersonal - don't pin the problem on yourself or on the other party. Put the problem in the middle and try to resolve the problem as a collaborative effort.

Non-violent conflict resolution: see Sitting in the Fire by Arnold Mindell. Non violent conflict resolution requires a certain amount of coolness and calm thinking and not everybody has these qualities. You have to be willing to work with others in the style of resolution that they understand.

Some people for whom a loud, in-your-face approach is necessary - they won't listen until you really get a bit confrontational. You have to yell for a bit before they will listen.

Even with Gandhi and MLK, who represent non-violent resistance, the movements themselves had a great deal of conflict within, not just on the outside. Conflict is always present.

Conflicts exist on different scales - so, do approaches to resolution change depending on the scale of the conflict?

Timing is important in addressing conflict - don't wait too long until it is almost forgotten.

Dealing with people who have different conflict resolution styles: are you equipped to deal with people who yell at you? What's the right balance between sitting in the fire and removing yourself from the conflict? Some conflicts are unavoidable, others can be stepped out of.

Listening is an important skill to develop. One of best tools for resolving conflict is to just listen to the other person's concerns. Often all the other person wants is to be heard and acknowledged.

Conflict is often not about you - what triggers someone's emotional reaction might be something completely different, but you're just the person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Gentlemen, you can't fight here. This is the War Room!"

The resolution:

  • Do all conflicts have to be resolved to come to some common ground or are there conflicts that have to be resolved so that one of the parties wins?
  • What about not resolving conflicts? Does there always have to be an answer, a resolution? Ask yourself this: from a leadership standpoint, is the conflict going to get worse/better/stay the same if you don't do anything? If you don't address it and it's going to get worse, then you're better off addressing the conflict now before it becomes a bigger problem. The longer you wait, the more people will be impacted by the conflict.
  • This is where accountability and community comes into it. Conflict is always brought to the fore. If you're in a really good accountability and community situation, your coworkers will notice if you're conflicted or having a problem. They will encourage you to talk about it and want to help you to resolve the conflict.
  • Having integrity means having integrity when no one else is around. Talking to others about your decisions, choices, etc helps you to maintain integrity.
  • Develop a process: Having a process in place for dealing with future conflict is helpful, so everyone understands how to proceed in the event a conflict arises.
  • Keep records of how individuals like to deal with conflict to refer to when a conflict arises. Write it down beforehand.
  • In your leadership role, try to identify areas where there will likely be conflict. If you know that a conflict is likely to arise, you can meet it head on or even put processes.


It's implicit in community that we are placing our values on those around us. We try to give each other space, but sometimes our values will collide and conflict.

Perhaps most worrisome are those people who are so sure that their point of view is the only correct one.

It's even possible to hold conflict viewpoints in our own heads (yikes)!

Bob believes that listening effectively means communicating back to the person what you think they are trying to say. That gets you back to the core issue which you can then deal with. Also, you can agree to disagree.

Conflict can be fruitful - creativity process, finding new ways to work together - a great opportunity.

Topic for next week: Growing community while growing a business (Suggested by Juan)

Future Topics:

  • Habits
  • The First Follower
  • How to Grow Your Leadership Competency
  • Gantt chart/project management

See Also

Sustainable Business - Learning Community Conversations Earlier Conversations