Monday, January 12, 2009

The Answer to How? is Yes...

Last fall I read Stewardship by Peter Block for probably the fifth time in the last fifteen years. It is a book that redefines leadership and provides continued inspiration for me each day. His writing connects with the more intangible aspects of what it means to work in a mission-driven organization like MVCC. As I was revisiting Stewardship and thinking about the conversations we're having at the College, I wondered what else Peter Block had written and came across a most amazing book that he published in 2002, The Answer to how is Yes - acting on what matters.

Block's premise in this book "is that this culture, and we as members of it, have yielded too easily to what is doable and practical and popular. In the process we have sacrificed the pursuit of what is in our hearts. We find ourselves giving in to our doubts, and settling for what we know how to do, or can soon learn how to do, instead of pursuing what most matters to us and living with the adventure and anxiety that this requires" (p. 1). For all the study and experience of change I have over the years, this opening from Block speaks to me in ways that prompt reflection at the individual, community (Mohawk Valley) and organizational (MVCC) levels.

Although I haven't finished the book yet, the applications and connections I've found to our work at MVCC are interesting. Having asked the college community to "start with yes" in my remarks at fall convocation in August 2007, I am pleased with our progress. I have witnessed many examples of starting with yes and despite numerous challenges, committing to figuring out the rest as we go. For us to continue advancing our mission, we need to continue leaving our comfort zones to realize our collective potential. As Block says, we need to replace cynicism with idealism, choose intimacy over virtual experience and depth over speed whenever possible. He continues, "...when we lose idealism, intimacy, and depth, we function at a cosmetic level, pushed along by fashion, out of touch with our center, and we react as if we are the effect of the culture, rather than the cause" (p. 51).

The last line, "...we react as if we are the effect of the culture, rather than the cause" is a powerful one that speaks to our mindset in the face of uncertain times. When offered sincere questions that are intended to solicit input into new processes at the College, immediately jumping to the questions of “what”, “how” and “why” assumes that someone already knows all of the answers. Our overall success will be far greater if we embrace the idealism, intimacy and depth encouraged by Peter Block and actively listen to each other and engage in helping to create (or "cause") the culture we hope to collectively shape for the future. I'd appreciate any insights you have on this topic at presblog@mvcc.edu.