When Good Leaders with Good Intentions Make Bad Decisions

Jun 22, 2021
When Good Leaders with Good Intentions Make Bad Decisions_Conversations Worth Having

I am continuously dumbfounded and frustrated when community leaders, who are good people with good intentions, make bad decisions for their community. It seems we are electing leaders at every level of society who believe we can solve today’s problems using the same thought processes that created those problems. However, we live in times that call for new ways of thinking if we are going to solve the complex challenges communities face. Such thinking emerges when diverse groups of people ask generative questions that help them move toward shared and desired outcomes.

In every community there are people with creative ideas, the willingness to be involved, and a commitment to their community. In addition, there are futurists, academicians, creatives, and disruptive thinkers working locally and globally to design new systems, new ways of living and working together where good decisions are being made for the right reasons and without the dollar overly influencing the outcome. What if leadership invited these people into the conversations that lead up to decision making?

I don’t profess to have answers. However, I do know that our conversations have GOT to change and who is having those conversations must expand. “Never do anything about me without me” should guide every conversation that precedes a community decision (unless it’s an emergency requiring immediate action). My community leaders will tell me they do their best to engage the public—surveys and the occasional charette. Those are not real engagement strategies. They are just enough to check off the list: “community input”.  Real engagement requires collaborative processes that foster thinking together so that novel ideas can emerge.  It requires thoughtfully designing and ensuring all stakeholders are included. It requires skillful facilitators that know how to meaningfully engage diverse thinkers. And it requires an openness to allow the public to influence policy and decision-making.

The future of this country depends upon our willingness to think differently, to plan for an eventual crisis in climate, food, water, and relationships. If we begin now to co-create communities of connection and reinvention, we stand a much better chance of surviving and possibly thriving. If we continue to make decisions based on past thinking, money, and fear—that is what will drive our response to the impending crises.

Dear Community Leaders, please:

  1. Identify the facilitators in your community that know how to bring diverse groups of people together in meaningful ways to think about highly complex issues. Look for individuals with knowledge of Appreciative Inquiry, World Café, and the Art of Hosting.
  2. Frame the conversations you have around desired outcomes the community wants. Flip your thinking from problem-solving to creative solution-finding. In creating your frame, move beyond the positive opposite of the problem and instead be bold. What are the outcomes from the positive opposite? That’s what you are truly after. For example:
    • Name it (the problem): Insufficient jobs that pay a livable wage.
    • Flip it (positive opposite): Sufficient number of businesses paying a livable wage.
      • If you stop here, you’ve narrowed the possibilities to one solution: recruit businesses that promise jobs and a decent wage. That usually comes with compromised community values and a big price tag: free property, lower taxes, and other carrots to entice them.  Go further in what you want, don’t stop at the flip.
    • Frame it (the desired outcome): Community members engaged in meaningful work that supports quality of life for all families and our environment.
      • Now you’re in a completely different conversation.

  • Ask generative questions of all stakeholders? Don’t make assumptions that you know the answer to any question; what is true for you is not necessarily true for anyone else. Get curious about community members and ask generative questions. Generative questions change the way people think and create new images of the future. They beg us to engage the broad spectrum of community members and even outside experts who have already begun to find 22nd century solutions. Generative questions make the invisible visible, create shared understanding, generate new knowledge, and inspire possibilities. Here are just a couple questions you might ask about the above desired outcome:
    • When have you been engaged in meaningful work and what made it meaningful for you? What did you value about yourself and others?
    • Where do you currently experience happiness and a sense of quality in your life? What factors support happiness and quality of living for you?
    • How might we create an environment that facilitates quality of life for everyone?
    • What ideas do you have for meaningful work that would meet our community needs while generating greater quality of life?
    • In addition to money as an exchange of value, what other methods might be used as an exchange of value? How have other communities done this successfully? What can we learn from them?
    • How might we adjust government policy to support alternative solutions? What experiments might we try?

Whether it is leading communities or leading organizations, we live in times that demand we think differently and collectively. For more on how to host such conversations seek out your local facilitators; ask them about Appreciative Inquiry, World Café, and the Art of Hosting. Visit ConversationsWorthHaving.today and download a free conversation toolkit. Be willing to open your mind, your heart, and your will. Entertain the idea that you can’t know the answers to todays’ problems, but a group of diverse people, focused on a desired outcome and prompted by great questions just might.


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