Leadership starts at the bottom

Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack are hoping to get the Yukon government's deputy ministers to sit in a circle and talk about their feelings. "We need to begin a conversation," said Pollack.

Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack are hoping to get the Yukon government’s deputy ministers to sit in a circle and talk about their feelings.

“We need to begin a conversation,” said Pollack.

And sitting “knee-to-knee” is a good place to start, he said.

The two U.S. leadership experts were brought to Whitehorse this week by the Public Service Commission’s staff development branch.

And while sitting in a circle to talk about feelings may sound like a flaky place to start, it’s worked for Brafman and Pollack.

One of Brafman’s clients is the U.S. Army.

Its top general approached the peace studies major after reading one of his books, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.

Cut off a spider’s leg and it’s in trouble, said Brafman. “Cut off its head and it dies.

“But cut off a starfish’s leg and it grows a new one – while the leg grows into a whole new starfish.”

The U.S. Army is a spider, he said.

So are most governments and most corporations.

Brafman and Pollack want to change this.

They want to see organizations operate like starfish, using a decentralized, bottom-up approach, rather than like spiders, with one centralized command-and-control centre.

Look at the Arab Spring or the Occupy Movement, said Brafman.

These are bottom-up approaches that are all about networking, he said.

“So is al-Qaida and Wikipedia.”

Technology is making it much easier to create networks, but networks have always existed.

In 19th-century England, a small group of 12 people, starting with a few flyers, ended up abolishing slavery long before the U.S. did.

“And it all started with a small circle,” said Brafman.

So did the reopening of the border between India and Pakistan.

Brafman was involved in building Global Peace Networks, an organization of more than 1,000 CEOs working for peace and economic development following the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

One of these small circles of CEOs saw a tiny group of Indians and Pakistanis work together to open their borders to travel and trade, said Brafman.

And it worked.

Sitting together in a circle, truly talking to each other, “your humanity comes out,” said Pollack.

Ideally, he would like to see decision-makers and leaders sitting down with everyone from the janitors, who clean the legislature’s toilets, to the children, who go to school down the street.

“We owe it to ourselves to have those conversations,” said Brafman.

In some cases, these “open, invitational conversations” even save lives.

A few years back, Brafman was hired by an inner city Philadelphia hospital that was losing more and more patients to staph infections.

These infections are stopped by washing your hands.

So the hospital put up signs saying, “wash your hands.”

But nothing changed.

“So it put up bigger signs,” he said.

Still no change.

Next the hospital heads ran a half-day conference on hand washing.

But it had no effect.

Then it ran a two-day hand-washing workshop.

Still nothing.

That’s when the senior staff turned to Brafman, who started talking to everybody.

The answer lay with the janitor.

He’d noticed that one wing of the hospital threw away more rubber gloves than the other.

So Brafman went to the wing that wasn’t using rubber gloves and talked to the nurses.

Turns out the majority of the nurses in the hospital had extra small hands, and despite frequent requests, the hospital wasn’t stocking enough gloves in their size.

It was that simple, said Brafman.

Within a year, the hospital had cut its staph infections by 75 per cent.

And all it took was someone to listen, not just to the senior staff and leadership, but to the nurses and janitors.

“You have to have these conversations,” he said.

“The wisdom is in the system – you don’t need management consultants – you just need to have these conversations.

“I believe circles can move mountains.”

While not here to address the Peel River watershed debate, both men had heard about it.

“You should be having conversations with everyone from First Nations and environmentalists to the mechanics at the mines,” said Pollack.

“The problem is we silo up,” he said.

“But community must have been part of what has drawn people here, and if you fall and break your leg at 40 below, you count on each other.”

It shouldn’t be any different with the Peel, he said.

“You just need to discover your shared values,” added Brafman. “And once you’ve found a connection, you have traction to start a conversation.”

Brafman has started having conversation circles with U.S. Army soldiers, generals and policy-makers all sitting down together and using first names.

If the army has realized its top-down approach is no longer working and is “starting to listen to itself,” then there’s hope for governments and corporations, said Brafman.

But it takes time, he said.

“We all need to start listening to each other.

“And unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.”

In Whitehorse, Pollack and Brafman are hosting a workshop with some of the Yukon government’s deputy and assistant deputy ministers, as well as any interested middle-management employees.

They are also hosting a public talk March 21 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. It starts at 7:30 p.m.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley speak during a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on July 29. Silver urged “kindness and patience” during the weekly COVID-19 update on Oct. 21, after RCMP said they are investigating an act of vandalism against American travellers in Haines Junction.
(Alistair Maitland Photography file)
COVID-19 update urges “kindness and patience” for travellers transiting through the territory

“We need to support each other through these challenging times”

Whitehorse Correctional Centre officials have replied to a petition by inmate Charabelle Silverfox, who alleges she’s being kept in conditions mirroring separate confinement, arguing that her placement isn’t nearly as restrictive as claimed. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Inmate not being kept in restrictive confinement, WCC argues in response to petition

Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) officials have replied to a petition by an… Continue reading

wyatt
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Oct. 23, 2020

Kwanlin Dün First Nation chief Doris Bill holds up a signed copy of the KDFN <em>Lands Act</em> agreement during an announcement at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Oct. 20. Under the new act, called Nan kay sháwthän Däk’anúta ch’e (We all look after our land) in Southern Tutchone, KDFN will be able to allot citizens land to build their own houses on, for example, or to use for traditional activities. The First Nation will also be able to enforce laws around things like land access and littering. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Lands Act comes into force

The act gives the First Nation the authority to manage, protect and enforce laws on its settlement lands

Two doctors in Watson Lake say they are at risk of losing their housing due to a Yukon Housing Corporation policy that only allows one pet per family. (Wikimedia Commons)
Healthcare workers in Watson Lake say housing pet policy could force them to leave

The Yukon Housing Corporation has threatened evictions for having more than one pet

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Evan Lafreniere races downhill during the U Kon Echelon Halloweeny Cross-Country Race on Oct. 16. (Inara Barker/Submitted)
Costumed bike race marks end of season

The U Kon Echelon Bike Club hosted its final race of the… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Triple J’s Canna Space in Whitehorse on April 17, 2019, opens their first container of product. Two years after Canada legalized the sale of cannabis, Yukon leads the country in per capita legal sales. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon leads Canadian cannabis sales two years after legalization

Private retailers still asking for changes that would allow online sales

A sign greets guests near the entrance of the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 11. The city announced Oct. 16 it was moving into the next part of its phased reopening plan with spectator seating areas open at a reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CGC reopening continues

Limited spectator seating now available

During Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 19 meeting, planning manager Mélodie Simard brought forward a recommendation that a proposed Official Community Plan amendment move forward that would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend, currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
More development in Whistle Bend contemplated

OCP change would be the first of several steps to develop future area

asdf
EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Most Read