It’s about money and power

Watch Elizabeth Warren School the Senate on the Keystone XL Pipeline: ‘It’s About Money and Power’

The puzzling aspect of Keystone XL is the public support.  Although public support has been declining, polls seem to indicate that the majority of the public support building the pipeline.

The truth is that there is a great deal of misinformation (or lies) about the pipeline.  I certainly don’t know the TRUTH – if there is a truth.  However, here is a link to a source that I frequently check when I suspect that the two sides to an issue are both spinning the truth ( or lying). has an article with factual information.  Check it out.  It is always wise to seek independent sources on hot political issues.

The conflict over Keystone XL is about money and power – but so are most of our political conflicts.

My opinions:

  • I would not want the Keystone XL pipeline to run through my land, my town, or anywhere near anyone that I care about…  There have been a few horrible leaks/spills with devastating consequences to land and water.
  • I live in a community (and grew up in a small town) with railroad tracks running right through town.  Although I oppose the pipeline, I don’t want the tar sands oil shipped by train through Helena.  I worry about the risk of explosions and fires.
  • I also don’t want to be on a highway with the equipment to extract the tar sands, or with oil tankers.  Imagine a multiple car accident and explosion – a nightmare.
  • I would not want my son, daughter, husband, or anyone I loved and cared about to work in the fracking or tar sands industry…  We do not know for sure the long term health impact, but we can recall the deaths and suffering caused by other industrial pollutants (coal dust, asbestos/vermiculite…)

These are all my selfish concerns.

My hopes are for clean energy and clean energy jobs.  I hope we can transform our dependence on fossil fuels in time to save the planet for my grandchildren.  Keystone XL does not deliver on my hopes and dreams.

I really do not understand public opinion on this one.








Leading from the Fringe: Part five

Most days I don’t feel like a follower or a leader.  I feel more like a hermit studying transformative leadership and dabbling in contract work as a consultant, coach, and part time Executive Director.  Life is passing me by.  All around me, people are resigned and cynical, or they are in denial.

Our elected leaders are failing us — both parties.  Our democracy is bought and paid for by dark money and the average citizen is duped by sixty second sound bites and television commercials that are blatant lies.  Those with money and power use ‘fear’ to intimidate and divide us.  Rankism is rampant, and the less than 1% who pull the strings have the rest of the people pitted against each other.

Some liberals hate conservatives and vice versa.  Some working class white people hate immigrants, thinking that they are the cause of their economic woes, not the corporate CEO’s who are milking corporate coffers dry.  Some Christians are taught by their clergy to hate people who are different than they are, especially Lesbians, Gays, and Transgender people.

We cannot trust our leaders.  The old models of hierarchical leadership are not adequate to topple the power structure because the models depend on rankism as their means of organizing human effort.  Professors of Leadership refer to this kind of power as “legitimate” power (as if shared power was not).  Revolutions using violence and authoritarian leadership models simply replace one set of despots with new oppressors.

The truth is that everyone possesses power and our personal power is legitimate.  Granted we are oppressed in varying degrees.   I would never suggest that people who are experiencing abuse and injustice wait for changes to occur.  We do not need positional power in order to have influence.  We need relational connected collaborative movement power to make the world a better place.

Looking for another generation of heroic charismatic leaders is also not the solution to our problems.  Charismatic transformational leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, and others were not able to create sustained movements with networks and layers of effective leadership.  The movements floundered after the deaths of the heroes.  The heroes had followers but they did not produce sufficient numbers of leaders to maintain the momentum of their movements.  The Egyptian uprising and other mass people powered movements, including the Occupy Movement, were not able to produce the networks of leaders and followers that were necessary to sustain their movements for social change.

About a year ago I came across an appealing concept for a new language of leadership:  evolutionary co-leadership.

“What if exercising leadership meant: venturing into the unknown, into the void, with openness and trust; sensing what is about to emerge by being present to what is; participating creatively in a wider field of knowing and doing; giving voice and energy to an evolutionary impulse; inviting self and others to cross a threshold and discover new spaces where collective creativity, intelligence, and wisdom can be expressed; and thus enabling access to the leadership potential which exists in each individual?”  (Gauthier, 2013)

How do we create this kind of leadership in sufficient quantity and in enough parts of the world so that we can deal with the challenges facing all of us?  We cannot look to a handful of leaders to get us to where we need to be in time.  It needs to be a mass movement.

Leading from the Fringe: Part four

Since I returned to Montana in 2012, our economy has been stronger than most states.  We are beneficiaries of the natural gas ‘fracking’ boom, and China’s demand for our cheap coal exports.  I remember the decades when communities in Eastern Montana were desperate for any kind of job.  They were recruiting factory cattle feed lots that other states were banning because of water and air quality concerns.  More than one community had fallen victim to fraudulent promises that if they would just build an industrial park, the corporations would come.  Like the rainmakers of the past, the con artists would come dancing into the town, in fancy suits driving expensive cars, and leave with tens of thousands of dollars of the community’s hard earned money.  Desperate for jobs, they were easy prey for the charlatans. 

Now the energy companies have come to deliver these rural communities from their decline with promises of high paying jobs and attractive royalty payments for land owners.  Worker shanty towns (mobile home parks) reminiscent of past boom times have popped up.  Schools are over-crowded, streets are falling apart, law enforcement is spread too thin.  Rapes, assaults, thefts, and murders have multiplied (increased by 32%).  Men (and a very few women) are commuting from hundreds of miles away, sometimes even from other states, sending their money back home to their family.  The communities got their high paying jobs, but they lost their sense of community and safety. 

Meanwhile in Western Montana, environmentalists and liberals are highly critical of the energy (fossil fuel) economy.  There are protests and demonstrations to end the massive numbers of coal trains, and to educate citizens about the dire environmental effects of fracking and burning coal (even if the coal is burned in China).  Many of the protesters are employed in the public sector, education, knowledge workers, or have retirement incomes.  They don’t understand the trials and tribulations of the unemployed, or the long term economic challenges facing rural communities.  It is hard to convince people in Eastern Montana that we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels when jobs in the energy sector are the only jobs they can find that will allow them to feed their children and pay their rent. 

The Montana Legislature reconvenes this week in Helena.  They only gather every other year for approximately 90 days.  I am constantly frustrated with the divisiveness of Montana’s politics.  I have worked with small business owners.  I have started and owned businesses, and borrowed money to make payroll for employees.  I have also felt the shame and marginalization of unemployment.  I know what it is like to watch the community that you grew up in, that you love, wither away with little or no hope for the future.  I understand the dilemma of knowing in my soul what is right and what is wrong, but feeling compelled to continue working in a place that does not align with my morals because I have to pay my mortgage and put food on the table. 

In my heart I know that we (liberals and conservatives) are more alike than we are different.  We care about our families, and our communities.  We are trying to make ends meet.  Some of us blame the government, others blame the poor, and some blame capitalism and corporations.  We all participate in the systems that are not working.  We are all responsible for working together to create new possibilities for a brighter future.  We have to learn how to disagree with respect and to treat people with dignity, regardless of their position in our social hierachy. 

I feel a sense of urgency to express myself as a leader through writing and public speaking.  I also fear the consequences of writing about injustice in the face of power.  And there are two competing voices in my head:  I am NOT a writer, and I should be a writer.  What if I write and no one wants to read what I have written?  Is that senseless, useless?  Should I be doing more productive things, like being a ‘real’ leader with positional authority? Should I be more concerned about my own retirement, how I am going to make ends meet?  Do I want a job, and a salary with benefits?  Or am I ready to take a risk again, and do something creative?  Can I create my own employment, and by doing so become a role model for others?

Leading from the Fringe: Part three

Timing is important, very important (Kellerman, 2010, 165).

Why now?  After resisting the desire to be a writer, why should I start writing this blog now?  The recognition that other women (and marginalized people) have found writing to be a tool for influencing people helped me to recognize the connection between my many attempts to exercise collaborative leadership and my nagging desire to write. 

Authentic leadership emerges from a leader’s lived experience, it is contextual.  For the past five years I have felt the impact of my choice to refuse to submit to an abusive religious authority.  I made a practical choice, to pursue a legitimate path into spiritual power (to be a professional Minister), a career with a salary and benefits, and that choice led to a dead end.

When the religious hierarchy pushed me out of my positional leadership role as a Pastor, I found myself under-employed and floundering in the depth of the economic crisis of 2009-2010. I had lost my spiritual path, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I still felt called to be a spiritual leader, to be a source of hope for the hopeless and oppressed.  There was an abundance of need and I had accumulated experience, education, and the skills to help people who had been displaced by the economic crisis. 

The world was shifting — the power and wealth was getting more and more concentrated in the hands of a few.  Our elected leaders bailed out the big banks and financial institutions and left the unemployed struggling to pay their mortgages.  Nonprofits and religious organizations were reeling from the economic crisis.  Foundations cut back their giving.  Middle class donors (more generous than the wealthy) were unable to give. 

It was a humbling time for me.  I was in Oregon and at that time one of five Oregon workers was jobless or underemployed.  The religious hierarchy blocked my attempts to create a new ministry to serve those who were displaced by the economic crisis.  I had no salary, benefits, or career track.  For the first time in my life, I felt like a nobody, so I moved back home to nowhere Montana.

In Montana, I was able to connect with meaningful work as an Executive Director for a couple of nonprofit organizations.  However, I was not using my communication gifts.  I was not speaking in public or writing, I was mostly an administrator.  I was doing what I needed to do to survive, and my continuing commitment to developing egalitarian leaders caused me to search for a connection.  I found that connection through the California Institute of Integral Studies — Masters of Arts in Transformative Leadership program.

(Continued in part four).

Leading from the fringes: Part two

[They] tied the trials and tribulations of individuals to the trials and tribulations of the society within which they were embedded (Kellerman, 2010, 157).

My personal experiences – my trials and tribulations – speak to a larger collective experience of suffering and struggle. In December 2007, as part of a United Methodist women’s spiritual leadership exchange, I traveled to El Salvador and Honduras. Afterward, I wrote and published an essay about one day on that journey. 

The day began at our Five Star Princess Hotel.  As we gathered to load into the van, I watched mostly men (and very few women) in very expensive tailored dark suits, starched white shirts, and neckties as they gathered in the lobby of the hotel’s convention hall.  It was a meeting of the World Bank and IMF with El Salvadoran elected officials.  Within thirty minutes of leaving the convention center, our women’s leadership group was at the site where Arch Bishop Oscar Romero (the Pastor of the impoverished landless peasants) was murdered in 1980.  The murder of Romero created a huge uprising and a full scale civil war that lasted for twelve years. 

The experience of being confronted with the impact of colonization and globalization on the poor people of Latin America left an indelible mark on my soul.  I was able to identify the shared challenges of rural communities in Montana (negatively impacted by multi-national corporations) and Latin America. 

Then in January 2008, I participated in another faculty and student leadership exchange with religious leaders in Uganda and Rwanda.  Again, I saw first hand evidence that Christian missionaries were complicit in creating violence between African tribes.  The process of colonization included creating false racial hierarchies — as in the Hutus and Tutsis.  The Colonizers found it necessary to rank the indigenous people into hierarchies.  They used these imposed rankings or hierarchies so that an elite minority group of privileged Africans were oppressing other Africans.  In a sense, they replicated their European class system.

I also saw the effects of crop ‘mono-cultures’ designed to efficiently replace native subsistence crops with profitable crops like coffee and sugar.  Tribal people were forced off their land, and the land is now controlled by huge multi-national agricultural conglomerates.  Starving people were surrounded by abundant fertile land that produced sugar and coffee for wealthy foreigners.  Montana has also experienced a decline in the number of family owned and operated farms, with many of the Federal farm subsidies going to the multi-national agricultural corporations. 

I discovered the need for more effective leadership was global, not just a personal experience.

Leading from the fringe: Part one

Then she began, nearly out of nowhere, to write (Barbara Kellerman, 2010, 122).

Is it possible to change the world from the margins, from nowhere, when one is lacking in positional or legitimate power?

For the next several blog posts, I will be sharing personal essays about my experience as a collaborative non-hierarchical leader. Approximately a year ago, it dawned on me that one of the more effective strategies for being a non-hierarchical person of influence (co-leader) is to position myself as a writer and thought leader. I discovered a number of historical role models in Barbara Kellerman’s book Leadership: Essential Selections on Power, Authority, and Influence. (Kellerman, 2010).

The idea of influencing the world through writing is not new for me. In high school and college I had dreams of someday being a writer — a poet, playwright, or writer of nonfiction. It was not a practical pursuit; it was the stuff of childish dreams. A voice in my head told me, I was not really a writer.

There was some minor evidence to the contrary. In high school, I won a scholarship for writing a Voice of Democracy speech. Later, my college professors complimented me on my writing, and on my speeches. These accolades bounced off, unable to penetrate a negative self-image. I was just a small town girl, a nobody from nowhere.

In my last year of undergraduate studies I changed my major from Interpersonal Communications to Business Administration/Accounting, and I passed the rigorous exam to be a Certified Public Accountant. I was not a writer, but I was smart enough to be an accountant and that was a more practical choice.

Although I was not a writer, I did enjoy amazing opportunities for a variety of fascinating leadership roles. In my late twenties I was CFO of a $3.5 million multi-specialty medical practice, supervising over 30 employees and managing a multi-million dollar construction project. Then I became the first woman and one of the first dozen Certified Financial Planners in Montana. That led to an appointed position as Deputy Commissioner of Securities for Montana. I served on two national committees to develop the early consumer protection regulations for the Financial Planning industry.

After a few years, I moved on to a role as CEO of a nonprofit economic development finance organization and a Montana based social venture capital company. I received national and state recognition for my role as a leader in promoting financial alternatives for small businesses. A large part of my work was public presentations before small and very large groups. During the years I worked with rural entrepreneurs, I was considered a national leader in empowering rural entrepreneurs to overcome obstacles to their success.

As I traveled throughout the nation, I loved shattering the prejudices I faced from urban elites. Often their first thoughts were that powerful ideas could not originate from rural outposts like Montana. I discovered I could be a leader from the fringes — from a remote rural place like Montana.

Its a remarkable conceit: the idea of changing the world simply by sitting and writing (Kellerman, 2010, 118).

Is there any real power in communicating through the written and spoken word?

The sense that I was called to be a writer was nagging at me. In my late thirties I began a daily practice of writing in my private journal.

I went through a phase of intense and deepening spiritual growth. My leadership roles were increasingly in formal religious communities. I gradually came to believe my long-standing call to write and speak was a call to be a Christian Minister. Seeking ordination was a path to being a “legitimate” leader within the Church. My three years in seminary was a time of rediscovering my love for reading and writing. I started to dream again, this time of being a writer and a preacher.

Though he himself was without power, authority, or influence, he had the temerity to stand up to, and inveigh against, those more richly endowed (Kellerman, 2010, 131).

My first job as a Pastor (clergy) was with a small church in a conservative rural community. Every week I would put many hours into planning worship and writing my sermons. I discovered that communication is a very powerful form of leadership — both written and oral. There was an amazing amount of individual and communal transformation that occurred during my one year. And then it was over.

The higher “legitimate” authority, The Bishop, made a decision to end my career as a Pastor, and he had all the power and authority to do that. It made no difference that my ministry was producing fruits, it all came down to submitting to his absolute authority.

I discovered that real leadership is realizing when you have the power to choose your own path, regardless of legitimacy or positional authority. Followers can become leaders, and when they do, leaders loose some of their power.

(Six part essay to be continued).

One ancient model of collaborative leadership formation

Jesus has been a model of conscious compassionate and collaborative leadership for more than two thousand years. However, this model is not the predominant model within Christianity today.

By the time the movement aligned itself with the power of the Roman Empire, the compassionate egalitarian communities were either destroyed or relegated to the fringes (monastics and cloistered religious orders).  Jesus emerged as a spiritual leader in the later part of the Axial age.  According to Armstong, the essence of Axial Age was the disciplined practice of compassion, an emphasis on inner consciousness.  There was a revolution and transformation in what it meant to be human, in our ability to extend compassion beyond our immediate tribe.

Jesus used a parabolic style of teaching designed to transform rather than inform.  The developmental level of his followers was primarily a mythic worldview.  Jim Marion (2000) argued that Jesus had attained the highest level of human development, that of non dual consciousness, and that it was from this perspective that Jesus looked out upon the world.  What he saw was a reality hidden from the view of most of his contemporaries, one in which God and humanity were one, one which he frequently described as the Kingdom of God.

Jesus understood that no progress toward the kingdom could be achieved without first turning inward, away from the imperatives of dominant social convention and society.  Developmental learning was something that ‘happens within’ (Spear, 2005).  Jesus used parables and stories to facilitate transformative learning.  He used questions to engage his audience and to question uncritically assimilated cultural and social beliefs.

The commitment Jesus had to developing a non-hierarchical movement was also counter-cultural.  Jesus promulgated “new values, new assumptions, new strategies for social and personal transformation” (Wink, 1992, 135).  Jesus’ listeners were held captive by their mindsets and worldviews as much as they were by their Roman Empire and Jewish religious authorities.  Hierarchies inevitably evolve in cultures with the predominantly mythical worldview that was dominant in the time of Jesus.  Transforming perspectives, mindsets, and worldviews, is a liberating developmental process.

It may be tempting to judge Jesus’ transformative leadership development and teaching style as ancient and no longer applicable.  Although times were different, some aspects of human nature are also the same.  The Jesus movement developed in an age of increasing violence, resistance to power, and chaos.  An old order was fading away leaving space for transformation with a range of possible outcomes: a more compassionate and enlightened humanity — or the apocalypse.

We are still captive to a hierarchical leadership culture, one that is deeply enculturated albeit ineffective.  Informative teaching strategies are no more effective in transforming mindsets and worldviews of leaders, or potential leaders, now than they were 2000 years ago.

From the margins and fringes of our culture, new systems of developing the human capacity to lead are emerging.  There are a number of pioneering approaches to leading and organizing people to transform communities, and the world.  They have abandoned outdated practices of rigid hierarchies, concentrated authoritarian power, and institutions/bureaucracies.

They model communities of practice; people who engage in a process of collective learning, in a shared domain of human endeavor.   Communities of practice are not new but they have evolved as human consciousness as evolved.  They are communities with distributed leading, collaborative creativity, and compassion (for each other and for a shared purpose).

If you are interested in being a part of this kind of community of practice, please join Our Co-leader Community.  Join Here

Beyond the leader-follower dichotomy

We live in an age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.  We will not transcend the challenges of this world with the type of leaders or the leadership development strategies that led us here.  New methods are being developed to improve and expand our collective leadership capacity.  We are beginning to transcend the false and hierarchical dichotomy where the people at the top of the power pyramid are leaders, and the rest of the pyramid are expected to be followers.  We need to scale cultural and social transformation in rapid and high impact ways. We are facing the end of leadership and follower-ship and the emergence of ‘everyone leads.’

The reality of human experience is that we all lead, from time to time.  When we recognize that there is something inherent in human nature to lead, new opportunities for collective action become available.  History has been dominated by cultures of leadership that divide and rank human beings into leaders and followers.  Traditionally leadership has been associated with hierarchies and power over others.  But power is not confined to people with positions at the top of the power pyramids. Everyone has power.  The “end of leadership” (Kellerman, 2012) coincides with the emergence of democracy and the evolution of human development.  Power imbalances contribute to many of the wicked problems facing our world.  The end of authoritarian forms of leadership are, and will be, creating space for the emergence of new mindsets about leading and following.

The leadership development that we seek (where everyone leads) is emerging through trans-disciplinary explorations that include: the stages of human development, stages of spiritual transformation or consciousness, evolutionary psychology, theories of transformative education, neuroscience, and ancient transformative disciplines such as alchemy.  The next level of transformation in developing our collective capacity to lead social change is integral; weaving intellect and spirit, reasoning and intuition, secular and sacred, and individual and collective practices.

Robyn Morrison provides co-leadership development services to individuals and organizations.  She has developed tools and programs to catalyze the leadership potential throughout a work team or movement.  Contact Robyn for more information if you are looking to create a highly engaged and empowered team or movement.

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Emerging Hope: leaders rising from the margins

Bill McKibben’s article (cited in the last blog post) describes his experience of emerging leadership within the environmental movement. McKibben believes our hope resides in a massive, decentralized, grassroots, intergenerational movement.  He also believes in the possibilities of distributed power as an alternative to the multi-national energy corporations.

Most of the influential movements our time do not have a primary heroic leader at the front.  There are many leaders at many levels.  The people getting results in these movements generally lack positional power; they are not corporate executives, politicians, or government officials.  They are young people, indigenous people, retirees, small scale farmers and ranchers, and even children.

First Nations people, the Indigenous Environmental Network, has been highly effective in disrupting the Alberta tar sands production and pipeline.  There are a group of Kids Against KXL and even a grandparents march from Camp David to the White House.

Thousands of young people from over 135 countries are being developed as “organizers”, another phrase to describe distributed or eco-egalitarian leadership.

There are a variety of gifts engaged in leading the movement:  Van Jones (charisma), Jim Hansen (the great climate scientist), Tim DeChristopher (went to jail for two years for civil disobedience), and Tom Steyer (a rare corporate billionaire who quit his hedge fund job and put his time and money into the movement).  There are also positional leaders; organizational leaders employed by a growing number of environmental nonprofits.

We need millions of co-leaders.  This is not a leaderless movement, it is a leader-full movement.

Human beings are evolving.  Creative possibilities are springing up everywhere, anywhere — often in the most surprising places.  Thanks to new forms of communication (cell phones, internet) ideas and information spread remarkably fast.

The Occupy movement was perhaps the ultimate leaderless movement.  Did it fade away? It is no longer as visible. Movements are not institutions, they rise and decline with the energy of the people involved.  Yes, some people may have dropped out due to their frustration and resignation.  However, the energy of the Occupy movement has spread, people are engaged in other ways.

Movements and communities will probably always have some kind of self-organizing system to coordinate the efforts of many people toward shared goals.  It will likely include some modified flattened less hierarchical version of leaders and followers.  That may be one of the lessons learned from the Occupiers.  Perhaps we are not ready to organize without anyone engaging in leading.  Leaders will bubble up from the energy of the community from the combined gifts of the leaders and the shared commitments of the followers to support their leaders.

This is the essence of a culture where everyone leads…  we share leadership…  we take turns.  We follow and we lead.

Hope is rising.  Leaders are emerging and they are us, we are them.

We need your support.  We are creating a co-leader community.  You can make a difference.
Please share a piece of your story in the comments below.

More Wasted Possibilities – Mother Earth

“Managing the economy to maximize profit for the benefit of a financial oligarchy is…a recipe for economic, social, and environmental disaster.”  David Korten

We are eroding the Earth’s capacity to support human life.  About forty years ago, the arc of human progress bent towards unbridled capitalism (and neoliberalism).  Although leading scientists were already exposing the environmental damage of multi-national corporations, capitalism pushed back with a vengeance.  Since the 1980s we have seen increasing concentrations of wealth and power, and increasing denial of the impact of global capitalism on the Earth and on the viability of the human species on Earth.

The first time I came across the term “eco-egalitarian leader” was when I was reading, Capitalism and Christianity, American Style, by William C. Conolly (2008, Duke University Press).  It describes an emerging egalitarian leadership culture capable of addressing our environmental threats.

Bill McKibben environmentalist author and founder of published an article, “Movements Without Leaders” ( in which he outlined his belief that the environmental movement will succeed because of it’s lack of a clearly identifiable leader.

Certainly there are many high profile individuals involved in the global movement to address our collective environmental challenges:  Bill McKibben, David Korten, Naomi Klein, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Al Gore, Wangari Maathai.  However, the movement is currently a mass movement with cells and networks of people actively engaged in widely divergent ways.

“This sprawling campaign exemplifies the only kind of movement that will ever be able to stand up to the power of the energy giants, the richest industry the planet has ever known. In fact, any movement that hopes to head off future depredations of climate change will have to get much, much larger, incorporating among other obvious allies those in the human rights and social justice arenas.

The cause couldn’t be more compelling.  There’s never been a clearer threat to survival, or to justice, than the rapid rise in the planet’s temperature caused by and for the profit of a microscopic percentage of its citizens. Conversely, there can be no real answer to our climate woes that doesn’t address the insane inequalities and concentrations of power that are helping to drive us toward this disaster.”  Bill McKibben (article link above).

It is precisely because environmental justice is justice for all (all people, all living beings, and all of creation) that mass movements of co-leaders or eco-egalitarian leaders is the only way to address the challenges and create possibilities that will save the Earth.

We are the leaders we have been waiting for, and now is the time we must rally together for the sake of the Earth.

More about William Connolly:

More about Bill McKibben: