1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Ordinarily, this is where I would present a conclusion that might serve to put together the pieces of what you’ve read over the course of the preceding chapters. In the case of this guide, however, concluding is hard: there isn’t one overarching argument to be reiterated, and there isn’t a definite outcome to be highlighted. It’s all but impossible to conclude, in fact, when the work is just beginning.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 So what’s called for here, at the end of this book, is less a conclusion than a benediction of sorts: a blessing (if a secular one) for your path ahead. Because this is where I hand the project over to you and your collaborators. You know your on-the-ground situation far better than I ever could. You know where the opportunities for change lie, and where the resistance sits, and you know the colleagues you can work with to develop the best collection of ideas for moving forward.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 So what remains is just a few last words of advice for the road, things to bear in mind as you plan the work in front of you.

1. Start small — but think big.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The change we need in our institutions is enormous, and that enormity can be paralyzing. Melissa and Johnathan Nightingale describe being asked by a client about how to begin transforming the environment for work, post-COVID:

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 How do you know where to start? It’s such a big, interrelated problem. How do you even begin?

And he’s right. The individual boulders are enormous: the intersections of work and power and systematic oppression and burnout and isolation. We don’t fault anyone for thinking they’re hard to move. They are.

But lifting boulders isn’t about the giganticness. It’s not about moving the whole thing in one go. It’s about finding the places where movement can happen — the water flowing above, below, eroding the soil, chipping away until the entire landscape shifts.1

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The places where movement can happen can be small, and they can be located anywhere on campus, in any office, with any project designed to make conditions better. These changes can be highly local at the outset — and that scale can keep them manageable — but they can have ripple effects. 

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Even more importantly, small changes in multiple places when coordinated can gather to create something dramatic. So start with the immediate space around you and the things that most need repair. But talk with others about what you’re doing, and about the problems that they see, and think about how your projects might come together to transform the landscape.

2. Be patient — but not too patient.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Change is slow. Building coalitions is time-consuming work. Listening to those around you, really trying to understand where they are and what they need, and developing the trust necessary to working together — all of this requires deep patience, and a willingness to take the time to put together something lasting.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 On the other hand, as you no doubt know all too well, stalling is a time-honored practice of those resistant to change. Delays, slow-walking, and more and more meetings, all can serve as a means of frustrating those who are seeking to transform an institution, who are suffering under its status quo.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Finding the balance between patience and insistence can be a challenge. The goal is to maintain momentum, and to ensure that you don’t wear yourself and your colleagues out over the long haul. There will be progress, and there will be setbacks, and keeping focused throughout requires the right combination of hard work and stopping to breathe.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 So be patient with yourself most of all. Recognize that you might be learning how to navigate new systems and new relationships, and that learning can be exhausting. Taking some time to recharge in order to return to work at full strength is not a delay; it’s a necessity. 

3. Be prepared — but stay nimble.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The terrain you’re navigating has some features that are well-known. There are undoubtedly processes for getting revised policies and structures approved that you should be familiar with, such as how you get a proposal on a committee’s agenda and where it goes from there. There are also personalities involved, people who are likely to respond to proposals in ways that are more or less predictable. Preparing for both the processes and the personalities is crucial.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 However, you don’t want to prepare so thoroughly that you can’t cope with sudden changes or take advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves. A new position may open, a new grant program may be announced — or, less obviously opportune, a new crisis may draw attention to the need for change.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Remember the power involved in thinking about the need to adapt to circumstances not in terms of agility, or rapid movement for movement’s sake, than in terms of nimbleness: accurately reading the path ahead and planning a course that will be successful. And remember that nimbleness and preparation go hand-in-hand: having a clear plan will allow you to keep an eye on the changing terrain.

4. Play the long game.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 It’s easy to let short-term setbacks discourage you. It’s also easy to let short-term wins make you comfortable. In order to avoid getting too caught up in immediate gains and losses, it’s important to keep your eyes on the long term. But as Carolyn Dever noted in my conversation with her, even leaders who “understand the long game” have a tendency to “get addicted to the quick win.”2 How can you ensure that the actions you’re taking today not just helping everyone through the current crisis, but helping create a foundation for a better institution ten years from now?

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Playing the long game — recognizing that some changes you make today won’t pay off immediately, and that some immediate improvements will have long-term costs — requires thinking strategically rather than tactically. Tactics are the expedient on-the-ground moves you can make right now in fighting for a goal. Tactics can be crucial, especially for creating change that begins outside conventional power structures, that grows from the grassroots. But tactics in the absence of a strategy to guide them and build upon them can wither.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Strategic thinking requires a focus on long-term goals. Your strategy should describe the path to those goals; your tactics can then become steps leading you along that path.

5. Work in the environment you want to create.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 This one comes down to a kind of institutional “Be the Change”: if you want to build an institution that is structurally capable of living up to its duty of care, you need to ensure that you’re living up to that duty of care in the ways you go about that transformation. That is to say: everything you do in the process of creating values-based policies and processes must itself be values-based. Building a more just world requires ensuring that justice is centered in your actions.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 It sounds obvious. And yet it’s awfully easy for movements for change that are operating within at times hostile environments to get sucked into the ethos of those environments — to allow their desire for transparency and openness to be infected by the secrecy and suspicion surrounding them, for instance.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Check in with yourself and your colleagues frequently. Remind yourselves why you’re doing what you’re doing. And explore ways that you can build a local environment that works the way you’d like the institution as a whole to work.

6. Take care of yourself, as you take care of others.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 It’s all too easy for people committed to creating a better world to wear themselves out in the process. Transformational change is exhausting work, not least because of the obstacle course you’re having to run over and over. Your commitment can keep you going up to a point, but after that burn-out can set in, making even the smallest actions feel like running in knee-deep mud.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Taking time off — time to allow yourself to recuperate, time to re-center and re-ground — feels self-indulgent. It is not, however, a waste of time. In fact, attempting to power through when you’re exhausted is counter-productive: you worsen your own exhaustion, not least because everything is three times harder than it ought to be.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Finding means of self-care that can help you maintain a sustainable commitment to the change you want to create is a necessity. That might mean protecting your time away from work by shutting off your email and unplugging from the other ceaseless flows of networked demands. It might mean taking a few days off to focus on things that you find restorative. It might mean saying no to requests that don’t help you further your goals.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 The key here is to take care of yourself in the way that you would try to take care of the others around you.

7. Find — and share — other guides and sources of support.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 2 This guide and its keywords have been more conceptual than practical. I haven’t told you how to run your meetings, or given you drafts for revised policies. Rather, my approach to thinking about leadership relies heavily on your own ideas as prompted by the issues and examples I discuss. What I suggest or describe won’t work everywhere, though. You know your own situation far better than I ever could. And there are many other guides with different approaches that can help as well. The bibliography at the end of this book has some suggestions, but there are many others out there as well. I hope that you’ll consider joining the Leading Generously group at HCommons and that you’ll share your favorite resources there.

  1. 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0
  2. Nightingale and Nightingale, Unmanageable: Leadership Lessons from an Impossible Year, 147.
  3. Dever, Interview.
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