2020 Courageously Holding Space for Change

Courageously Holding Space for Change

Cynthia Cherrey
By Cynthia Cherrey, President & CEO, International Leadership Association

Nancy Adler, ILA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, presented to the International Leadership Association a beautiful piece of art that she had designed and created to embody the ILA. The beauty of the piece was complemented by the beauty of the words she wrote, including “ILA is not one color. It is a community of color. ILA courageously creates beauty by daring to paint in contrasts.”

Those words speak to me about the ILA mission in creating a trusted space for leadership learning. Since its inception the ILA has embraced contrast — the full and colorful spectrum of contrasting views, beliefs, and perspectives. We courageously hold the space for all to share ideas, to explore, to challenge, and to change.

Eliane Ubalijoro, Cynthia Cherrey, and Nancy Adler on the plenary stage at #ILA2019Ottawa

Éliane Ubalijoro, Cynthia Cherrey, and Nancy Adler (L-R) on plenary stage at #ILA2019Ottawa after presentation of the Leading Beautifully Award

We realize the importance of connecting with those who are like us and those who are different from us to broaden our worldview. Because in this interdependent world of ours:

Political realities are unfolding in countries around the globe: and we struggle to ensure the abnormal does not become normal.

Violence and terrorism continue to fester and grow, and we are challenged not to become numb to the relentless violence around us.

The global pandemic has amplified the strengths and weakness of our core systems and we strive not to become immune to the inequities and inadequacies that are manifested throughout these systems.

We are navigating the uncertain waters of migration and mobility: global trends in finance and big data; technology driven job loss and job growth; climate change; and governments facing huge declines in trust. All these areas are intertwined — political, social, environmental, technological, and economic — like a huge ball of string that could so easily unravel.

So how do we courageously hold space for leadership learning and change? How do we live with the questions rather than rushing forward for a quick fix or worse rigidly holding onto old ways?

Using old mental models while mapping out new territory can result in getting terribly lost! It is like using the old paper map you have stashed in the glove compartment of your car to navigate a city that has changed drastically since you were there fifteen years ago.

Eliane Ubalijoro, Cynthia Cherrey, and Nancy Adler on the plenary stage at #ILA2019Ottawa

Nancy Adler presents ILA with the Leading Beautifully award from the plenary stage at #ILA2019Ottawa with ILA Board Member Éliane Ubalijoro watching. 

It is important in this precarious and precious world that we continue to do the hard leadership work for a better future. We must compassionately collaborate to create change by listening to each other and to ideas that are different from our own. We all have cognitive biases and gravitate toward ideas that reinforce our beliefs. But to listen, genuinely and truly listen to others we must engage in discourse — ask thoughtful questions, and challenge ideas with intellectual curiosity and respect.

We enrich our learning by embracing this colorful spectrum of ideas and people. Welcoming different voices and exploring diverse ideas allows many people from many walks of life, all committed to leadership, to expand their body of knowledge and take action for a better world. Because maybe, just maybe, if we take the time to understand “the other,” we can tear down the fractured walls of society, we can challenge the status quo, and create change.

There is no time like the present to work toward our collective future. Time does not pause. “Its petals unfold as always, only now we have the time — yes, the time — to notice what flourishes around us” (Dan Berry, 21 April 2020, "Still Lives," The New York Times)

Take the time to practice leading courageously. Reach out to someone who has a different ideology than you, write a blog that reflects opposing viewpoints, listen to a different genre of music or other form of artistic expression. And yes, take the time to watch and observe; to listen and learn from Nancy Adler’s video on “Leading Beautifully.” It is worthy of your time.