The violent saviour

He was a conference speaker with an urgent message: we must change our ways or we will die. We will only save ourselves if we do what he says, what he prescribes. 

His subject matter was climate change, but the subject didn’t matter. It was his stance: I know more than you do and if you don’t do what I say, you will die, we will all die. At one point his volume went up a notch to say:

My initial reaction was that it didn’t feel good to be yelled at. I also didn’t feel that blasting a crowd who believes what has has to say was an effective strategy to have a us listen. I chose to stay in my seat to hear what he had to say because he is wise and knowledgable; there was brilliant content in his presentation and his message. AND simultaneously I understood that his delivery was both inappropriate and ineffective. 

There was brilliant content in his presentation and his message. AND simultaneously I understood that his delivery was both inappropriate and ineffective.

A week later I realize that what bothers me most is the message that I received: that I/we need to be saved and he is my/our saviour. I experienced his stance as one of superiority; only he knows how we will be saved. I experienced his stance as one of fear, and that the harsh truth–loud and fast–is the only thing that will spark us into action. And, of course, that the action we take must be the action he wants us to take, in line with his master plan. (Yes, he used the words ‘master plan’.)

On reflection, today I see: a 74-year-old white man with a master plan will save the world. His backstory (as I imagine it): a lifetime of brilliant and unacknowledged work, and rejection from all major decision makers. He’s a rare human who can see our future better than we can, but since we can’t hear it, or don’t like to hear it, we have tuned him out for decades. So does he yell to be heard? Is this why he doesn’t even notice when the crowd before him is a few hundred people he does not have to convince? Is he so used to yelling to be heard that this is the only way he knows to talk about his work? Is it because he can no longer trust or believe that he is being heard, or that we are not the right people in power so we don’t count?

These questions and any potential answers don’t actually matter. They help me humanize him and empathize with him, but at the end of the day my experience is the same: he was insensitive and violent in the delivery of his message

A stance of superiority puts him in a place where he has the answers and the audience (me/us), being inferior, has no meaningful knowledge, information, skill or insight. While this did not add up to anything physically violent, it was mentally violent: we are not smart enough. It was emotionally violent: we don’t care enough. It was spiritually violent: we, and the work we do, is insufficient. He denies, with a stance of superiority and unwavering belief in his master plan, the sovereignty of others. 

He denies, with a stance of superiority and unwavering belief in his master plan, the sovereignty of others. 

If he wants to motivate me, this is not how to do it. 

If he wants to motivate most people, this is not how to do it. 

In the end, a good reminder for me to always check in with myself to see if I believe I am better than others. I know I “see” things others do not yet see, but what I do with that information, and how I share it, is crucial. It doesn’t mean keeping things to myself so I don’t upset anyone, and it doesn’t mean overselling people my message.

The saviour stance does not undertake this discernment because the interaction is not about the audience, it is only about the saviour playing the role of saviour.

There’s a delicate balance in this about knowing ‘where’ an audience is, what it can tolerate, and what it needs to know even if it makes them uncomfortable. (Note: when it is an imminent emergency don’t hold back.) The saviour stance does not undertake this discernment because the interaction is not about the audience, it is only about the saviour playing the role of saviour. And this is the violence of dehumanizing the people ostensibly served: it is the ego of the saviour who is served. 

Under what conditions does it make sense to put the sage on the stage? 

If we let go of needing expertise on the stage, what could happen next? 


Buying a car ‘with training wheels’

My two kids are great at metaphors. The latest: that they are buying a car “with training wheels”. 

They’ve been noticing their favourite vehicle out on the roads of the city for years: the Honda CR-V, circa 2000 +/-. They love the look of it; it makes them feel good. So when family friends offered a 1999 Honda CR-V to them for one dollar, they had some thinking to do. With some research, they identified the immediate repairs needed and the cost. There was research about what insurance would cost, and if it would be more economical under my insurance policy or on their own. They came up with a budget for operating costs that include insurance, registration, planned and unplanned maintenance. They researched the sale prices for other similar cars, and the shape they were in. They thought about the purpose of having a car and their budget, and where the money would come from. Then they made a decision: take on the responsibility of an awesome, well-loved Honda CR-V that they feel great about

They’ve been thinking about this, informally, for a few years, but the opportunity was in front of them and they had to make a decision. It was like the smaller version of themselves and the decision to try out a two-wheel bike, instead of the tricycle. They could have done the whole transaction on their own, but there were some training wheels: me. 

They could have done the whole transaction on their own, but there were some training wheels: me. 

Training wheels provide stability while learning a new skill. When we move from three wheels to two, those two little extra little wheels beside the rear wheel are that stability. (Even if only mental stability!) With my kids, there was a point where the training wheels came off and there was an adult hand on the seat as they figured it out more fully on their own. Then it was bike rides together, showing them the rules of the road. I offered layers of guidance, to “train” them about how the world around them works and how to fit in it safely. (Things like stop signs, stay on the right side of the road, make eye contact with car drivers, get out of the way of pedestrians.) As kids age, the nature of the guidance provided continues. 

First times are often wobbly. 

The “training wheels” my kids needed as they bought their first car showed up this way: 

  • What is the purpose of having a car? 
  • There is no pressure to make this happen now, so go at your own speed. It will happen when the time is right. 
  • What is your budget? How much do you want to spend to buy the car, on repairs, insurance? Do you have what you need to spend on the car? 
  • What is the risk of something unexpected happening to the car, or your ability to make payments? What is the likelihood of those things happening and the consequences?
  • Is this a safe thing to do, financially and physically? 
  • Does this feel right or wrong in any way? 
  • What are the steps to buy and make repairs to a car? 

With a little stability, they determined that a car was something they wanted to spend their money on. They figured out a budget. They determined that the $1 car (plus repairs) was the perfect and simple solution that meets their purposes. They researched the paperwork needed to buy and register a new car. They did most of the work, with me as training wheels on the side. 

Whether it is kids, co-workers, students, anyone for whom we serve as training wheels, this experience has taught me a few vital things about my relationship with the sovereignty of people making decisions. 

Whether it is kids, co-workers, students, anyone for whom we serve as training wheels, this experience has taught me a few vital things about my relationship with the sovereignty of people making decisions, whether they are my kids, clients, friends (or myself!):

  1. It is their decision to make, so I have to act like it is their decision to make. This involves careful discernment about what information or guidance to share, and when, to help them with their decision-making. Is the information relevant to their situation? Am I trying to push them in a direction I want them to go? 
  2. Acting like it is their decision to make means I have to ask: “Is this something you want to do on your own, or would you like my help/support in any way?” Whatever their answer, I need to respect it. After a while, I might discern that the question needs to be asked again. Again, I must respect the answer. 
  3. Acting like it is their decision to make means I offer what will stabilize them, not what will stabilize me. I need to notice if I am panicking about my kids having their own car and not let that interfere with their decision. 
  4. I need to notice when I have opinions that are not relevant. Sharing my opinion might be more about me, and what I would like them to do, rather than be helpful for them. When I offer my opinions in this way I am inserting my values into their decision making. 
  5. Supporting them to be clear on purpose helps them and me. With clarity of purpose, clear boundaries emerge about what is helpful and what is not. It enables them to put aside unhelpful advice or information. It also helps me discern what is helpful or not. 

Training wheels do not decide where the bicycle is going, or how fast it goes. They simply provide the bit of stability for the rider to make a new range of choices.

Training wheels do not decide where the bicycle is going, or how fast it goes. They simply provide the bit of stability for the rider to make a new range of choices. When my kids were learning to ride a bicycle, or buy a car, I no longer have control of where they are going. They are the decision makers. 

And most importantly, they decide if they want to use training wheels

This “training wheels” metaphor comes with great insight about respecting and allowing the sovereignty of others, whoever they are (kids, clients, partners, family, friends, or peoples). And whatever the other decides, I have a choice to make about my relationship with their sovereignty. If I want control, power over them and their decision, I will insert myself to affect the outcome. If I am not looking for power, I will offer support in ways that they determine are helpful (not how I determine are helpful). If I insert myself, even in the form of support, if it is on my terms, I am violating their sovereignty. 

If I insert myself, even in the form of support, if it is on my terms, I am violating their sovereignty. 

Violation of sovereignty takes place in clear and subtle ways. The clear ways: colonization of peoples and nations, racism, physical and emotional abuse, dictatorships. The subtle ways are in our day-to-day exchanges, and they are insidious, under the guise of being interested or helpful. (Note: The interest is not in what the decision makers want; the interest is in having something unfold the way they want it to.)

My kids, with a clear sense of purpose and budget, skillfully batted away some unwanted invasions into their sovereignty. Here are a few things said to them, and the underlying “threat to sovereignty” message: 

“I think what you should do is…”  I know better than you

“An old car makes no sense for all these reasons… You should get a new car.”

I have better values than you
“Have you thought about this, about that, about this…”   You don’t know what you are doing
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”   You need my approval (or I want you to need my approval
“You should spend your money this way…”  You are not responsible

And my kids, how did they bat this stuff away? Their sovereignty did it. They recognized unhelpful information that did not align with their purpose and budget. They put it aside. 

And my kids, how did they bat this stuff away? Their sovereignty did it. 

It was fascinating to witness, and as I did my responsibility to be conscious of my motivation in a conversation became more clear. Offering unsolicited, or unwanted advice, is a primary indicator I can use to notice if I am trying to influence or control outcomes. If I am, I may be needing to feel more superior than the other, and there’s some exploration for me to do around that. None of this is about what the other needs; it has become about me and my needs, whether they are aware of this or not. 

It is also my responsibility to be conscious of the purpose of the conversation, with my kids or anyone else. It helps me keep track of my role in that conversation. Is the other asking for advice? Is the other needing me to hold space for them while they make their decision? Should I just step way back and leave them be? Do I have vital information the other does not have, and do they want it? And when it needs to be flipped around, what am I looking for from another? 

I feel like I’ve been using training wheels. My kids are helping me grow up, discerning more clearly power dynamics in decision making. They are helping me see questions to ask myself in my personal and professional lives:

  1. What does the other need of me? Advice, information, hold space, witness, distance, celebration? 
  2. What am I able to offer? Am I able to be what the other needs at this time — if not, say so. This is not personal; it is looking after self. 
  3. What do I need of the other? Advice, information, hold space, witness, distance, celebration?
  4. What is the other able to offer me? Are they able to play the role I need (they will do it, say yes or no, or be unavailable). Their response is not personal; they are looking after self.  

And the big metaphorical lesson for me, who supports people making decisions in a wide range of ways: training wheels may not be needed. If they are needed, it is the bicycle rider who decides for how long. To respect and allow their sovereignty, they make the decision, not me. Even if it means I tell them that it is their decision to make. 

NOTE #1: The exercise of sovereignty is disruptive. If I exercise it for myself, others may not like it. (They may be attached to feeling superior, giving advice, or attached to the way things were and don’t want things to change.) If I exercise sovereignty by NOT making decisions for others, that can also be tricky territory. This is how power works: it makes us want it, and it makes us not want it. 

NOTE #2: This post published with my kids’ permission. 


The expert/theatre trap

At the outset of summer I found myself in the expert trap: I started talking and talking and talking, not leaving any room for anyone else.

Friend A was organizing a big lecture about community connection. Friend B, Friend C and I were talking about how ironic it was to have a bigwig speaker in town to tell us about community connection, with us all sitting there in passive listening mode in a theatre and that we would not make any new connections in our community. So Friend B got in touch with Friend A to see if she would like to circle up and see what could be done. (Friend A is of our tribe of people who see this kind of conundrum.)

The conundrum is that we don’t get to know each other when we sit like this:

theatre style

Deeply embedded in this shape is expertise and the assumption that she at the front of the room has it and we do not. It is an empty vessel approach, where we, as the audience, need to be filled with all the things we do not know. Moreover, even after we have listened for ages, we are given no opportunity to notice what we know and understand differently, to consolidate what we are learning. And we are not given this opportunity as an individual, or a small groups or large groups. We drink from the firehouse then leave with a few drops of nourishment.

It’s not that this mode of information exchange is not needed–it is, under the right circumstances (see last two posts: shapes of conversation and direction or discernment). My point is this: Friend A was caught in a swirling environment of assumption that the best way to talk about connection was to disconnect ourselves from ourselves, and each other, and assume that the expert outsider has more information on the matter than we do. The ‘machinery’ of the city is caught in the assumption that we need to be told what to do, that we are not capable of figuring this thing out. Embedded in this is the further assumption that if we are simply told, we will go and do it and the problem will be fixed.

Friend A pulled off a remarkable feat. She acknowledged the desire, and in fact the need, to hear what the expert had to say (in theatre mode), then created a new shape that allowed people to meet each other, connect with each other, and figure out what this new information meant for them, for our lives and for our city. She did this:

small circles

Instead of leaving with a only a few drops from the firehouse (as is what happens with a lecture), people left having met and connected with people new to them.  They met around topics of shared interest. They took some time to notice what the lecture meant to them in practical ways that will change their lives and the city around them; they began to integrate what they learned into their being as individuals and a loose collective. Friend A delivered on connection not just by inviting an expert in, but by creating the conditions for the audience–citizens–to truly hear the expert by connecting with themselves and each other.

I almost wrecked everything for Friend A it because when Friends B, C and I met with her I fell into the expert trap. We sat at an outdoor cafe table on a sunny early summer day and missed that we were sitting in a circle. I didn’t let others speak. I said what I see, much like is written above, and then said it again and again.

Passion, impatience and my own insecurity got the better of me.

One of the reasons I most appreciate the circle as a shape for conversation is that it helps me find my place with others in a way that allows others to also have their place in the conversation. It does not diminish me: it focuses me. And most importantly, it allows us–me and the people I am with–to better see what we need to see. It does not diminish my passion, but allows it to show up more appropriately.

And, of course, the irony is not lost on me. What I was most critical of out in the world was what I was doing myself.

What I was most critical of out in the world was what I was doing myself.


What opportunities do you see in your city to shift from the one-way “expert lecture” to create the conditions for collective discernment? What is your role in this?


Conversation: direction or discernment?

In my last post on the shapes of conversation, I made the distinction between forms of meeting that facilitate direction (the board table and the theatre) and those that facilitate listening and discernment of collective action.

These two options–direction and discernment–are quite distinct from each other in terms of their usual shape, their purpose, and the assumptions made by all involved in where the expertise and leadership resides and how information flows. Further, the role of the “host” also differs, from chairing the meeting to creating the space, or a container, in which the discernment can take place.

SHAPE board table, theatreboard and theatre small circles, large circlecircles
PURPOSE tell, direct, instruct, set people up to go do something listen, share, integrate, figure things out together
EXPERTISE in one, select few in everyone
LEADERSHIP at the top shared, distributed
INFORMATION FLOW from one or few, down to others from everyone to everyone
HOST ROLE chair the meeting co-create the space, or a “container”

Both approaches are right–in the right circumstances. It is a matter of acknowledging the purpose of the gathering and designing for that purpose. (For more on these purposes, see the shapes of conversations.) But these two choices are not mutually exclusive; the circle can be at the board table and direction can be set in a circle.

These two choices are not mutually exclusive. The circle can be at the board table. Direction can be found in a circle.

We don’t have two clear-cut choices. It’s not as though there will be no discernment for collective action at a board table, or that in working in circle there will be no direction established for the group or for individuals. What we do have to recognize is that regardless of the shape we feel the strong pull of expertise, and the assumption that expertise resides only in one or a few of us.

We have a deep-rooted tendency to feel either that “I am the expert”, or to feel that “they are the experts.” There are times when this is true, like my doctor friend with expertise in infectious diseases that I described last week, who has a clear role to inform and direct other physicians about what to do when unfamiliar diseases present themselves. There are many times when we find ourselves with other people and the expertise is shared, but we operate as though expertise–mine or others’–is what rules the day. When we believe this, it dictates the shape the conversation takes, regardless of our physical form. When we find ourselves in the expert trap, looking for direction, or giving direction, we are not stepping into the shared leadership that we are called to offer.

Circle square

With the intention of collective discernment the circle shape can find its way around a table. It depends entirely on how we put ourselves in the conversation. Here are a three principles and three practices my The Circle Way Colleagues and I use, developed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.

Three Principles 

  1. Leadership rotates among all circle members
  2. Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience
  3. Reliance is on wholeness rather than any person agenda

Three Practices

  1. Speak with intention: note what has relevance to the conversation in the moment
  2. Listen with attention: respect of the learning process for all members of the group
  3. Tend to the well-being of the circle: remain aware of the impact of our contributions

These principles and practices are a simple place to start, yet challenging to implement because they embody a significant cultural shift from our automatic expertise stance, to one that welcomes, invites and accommodates the diverse expertise within and around us.

Openness to vulnerability is leadership–and this kind of leadership is shared and easier to carry if we are brave enough to notice when it is needed. 

There is a cultural shift required of us to embody discernment, whether at the board table, or in a circle. We are each required, as citizens, to be self-aware in ways we are not well-practiced, and this self-awareness is a necessary precondition to collective awareness and discernment. At most board tables self-awareness is a scary proposition because it comes with vulnerability, but in this cultural shift vulnerability is not a liability, but a strength. Openness to vulnerability is leadership–and this kind of leadership is shared and easier to carry if we are brave enough to notice when it is needed.

Which principle or practice feels the most scary to you? 



The Circle Way Guidelines outline the components of circle, in addition to the principles and practices described above, that help create the conditions for collective discernment in a circle or even at a board table.

**Caveat** This form of conversation is not easily accommodated in a theatre setting for this simple reason: people can’t see each other.


The purpose of the city: create conditions for conflict

This thought just struck me – what if the purpose of the cities/towns/villages is to bring people closer together?  And the closer we get to each other, the more conflict there is.  Is the purpose of the city then to generate conflict?  What is the purpose of generating conflict?

Conflict generates dissonance, a distinct or subtle sense that things are not right.  A city, just like a person, can sit quite a while with the feeling that things are not quite right before we decide to take action.  Smoking in restaurants, idle-free parking, deciding to support active transportation are all collective decisions that have come about as a result of conflict in a community.

There is a pull in us to be closer together, but we also push each other away, to not live too close to each other.  We resist being close, because we resist being in conflict.  As a city planner and community volunteer I regularly hear people – on the public record and off – say they do not want people close to them, especially more people close to them.  I wonder if we resist the pull to be closer to people because it brings conflict with it, and we tend to either avoid conflict wherever possible, or even stir it up, neither of which takes acknowledges of the wisdom within conflict.  What are we missing as a result?

I am left with a series of questions:

  1. What if I/we let conflict teach me/us?
  2. What would happen to cities if I/we welcomed and invited conflict for the purposes of generating new understanding?
  3. What if I/we viewed conflicts as opportunities?
  4. What if I/we found ways to work through and beyond conflicts?

In the end, I notice that when I work through conflict, I arrive a new understanding.  I change.  Is that what I/we am/are afraid of when avoiding conflict?

Circle Tale – Habitat for Humanity in St. Albert

Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea,wonderful leading spirits in Circle work, asked my mom, Margaret Sanders, to share our story of our work with the City of St. Albert.  A wonderful tale of how Circle can bring community together around much more than what the conflict is about.  As I think about it, it was a wonderful experience that deepened a design charrette experience for participants.

Here it is:  PeerSpirit Circle Tale

The gift of receiving

I have missed and overlooked a lesson that my kids are offering me every year: the gift of receiving.  They are full of joy and trust and love.  They are thrilled knowing this Christmas season they will receive gifts destined just for them.  They are full of wonder and awe.

I realize I have been making an assumption my whole life that giving is hard to do.  It can be hard, particularly when I give something we are attached to.  It was hard as a kid, but as I have grown older, it gets easier to see that what I have to give is more precious to others than it is to me.  What has gotten harder is receiving gifts from others.

Back to my kids – full of joy and trust and love when it comes to asking for receiving gifts.  As an adult, I am noticing that it has become increasingly difficult to receive, let alone ask for, a gift. Receiving a gift – a compliment, a favour, a thank you, a gift – is  fraught with emotion.  A brush-off, suspicion, anxiety, fear, powerlessness, selfishness, vulnerability all take their turn.

Within me, receiving a gift feels like I am broadcasting weakness.  How dare I reveal that I don’t have everything I need, that I am all together.  I must put on a brave face no matter what.  If I am sick or hurt, it is easy to rationalize welcoming help.  But if I am physically well, then I had better not ask for anything.  But this does not serve me or others well, in the end.  Even the gifts I did not ask for, the ones that make be feel bad but are really in service to my own personal learning and growing. Those gifts that I realize much later that really were gifts, not torture.

At the bottom of all of this is my sense of self worth. The biggest gift I can give is to myself – the gift of receiving.  I will be honest and reveal when my soul feels bad and ask for what I need.  When I receive the gift of hard-to-hear feedback, I will receive it as a gift to be in better relationship with those around me.  When the world says “no” I will take that as a sign that I am not needed there yet.  When the world says “yes” I will take that as a sign to jump in the canoe and head down the stream.

Receiving gifts is tough, perhaps because it is closer to my heart and my sense of well-being.  Far more personal, even threatening.  But also far more rewarding.  And more giving.

A parting note to self (via my friend Chris Corrigan) – it is hard to give if the gift is not received.

Stirring Titles

I am cleaning my office and noticing the magazines sitting here before I put them away.  The titles, from Plan Canada and AACIP Planning Journals in the last several months, cause a stir in me…

  • Planners’ perspectives on art and culture
  • Rethinking infrastructure: going green
  • Planning for the homeless
  • Aging in place
  • Planning for changing demographics
  • Okotoks: staying within its limits
  • Welcoming communities: planning for diverse populations
  • Making it work: making it last; making it home
  • Food security: a growing concern
  • Planning without a net: the international experience
  • Looking to our past to plan our future

The stir?

Planners’ work covers a range of questions and matters that are deliberated widely in our communities – art, infrastructure, homeless, aging, sustainability, cultural diversity, food – and all of this on the home and international fronts.  And then there is the conversation about how to accomplish what we are aiming for.

But who is the “we”?  The perspectives offered are about how planners contribute to these questions, and these perspectives are offered to planners.  It is tempting to drift toward an assumption that it is the planners who are going to make the difference and that others get in the way.  What, however, if the “we” is planners along with the various stakeholders in our communities.  What if our technical expertise is not where our power of influence lies?

This spring I had an opportunity to run APPI’s Professional Practitioners Course with Gary Buchanan, an alternative written examination format for prospective professional planners where candidates demonstrate their mastery through conversation and writing.  The surprise at this particular gathering was the responses of planners in response to a question about the scope of planning today.  The candidates did not reveal technical aspects, but rather interpersonal.  To be able to do our jobs well these days, we need to be good communicators, negotiators, conflict resolvers, facilitators, coaches, and synthesizers.  All this with a bold courage to take leadership roles in unconventional ways.

Reflecting then on the titles above, I recognize the value of planners.  We offer technical skills to make contributions to our communities’ dreams.  Our value is no longer just  conventional technical skills.  Our value is in cultivating the conditions for all the players and stakeholders involved in these complex issues to clearly articulate where they are going, why and how they will get there.

From time to time we’ll employ our technical know-how, but these are not front-seat skills by default any longer.  Not if we want to make a difference.

Elect a President

There is an election for my professional association, the Alberta Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners.  I have put my name forward as candidate for the position of president-elect. The successful candidate will serve one year as president elect, 2 years as president, and 2 years as past president serving as AACIP’s representative to the Canadian Institute of Planners.  This is a significant commitment to the profession, one that asks me to consider completely why I would wish to take this role on for the profession.

As I look back at what really interests me about the planning profession, it is about how we as a collective are in a position to support our communities as they strive to thrive.  We are in service to something far larger than our individual jobs, or even the planning profession.  Collectively, we work in service to the fullness of community.  To best do that, we need to continue the evolution of our professional association while holding two distinct priorities: the development of our profession as technicians and effective practitioners, and the development of the health of our communities.  This involves a new era of professional practice where we acknowledge that we offer so much more than technical services to communities, or technical learning opportunities for ourselves.

The October 2010 AACIP conference is focusing on 2 questions:  What if we are not planning to survive? And who is planning our future anyway?  These questions can relate to both our professional membership, as well as our communities.  As a profession, we need to explore these questions – among ourselves and with our communities – in order to fully respond to what we are called to do.  It is time for us to notice what we, ourselves, are planning for and what we need to do to get there.

As I reflect about why I put myself forward in this way, the answer I keep coming back to is about my passion for the development of our professional practice that is in tune with what our communities need from us.  I see I have a role to play in this.  So, for your consideration:

The skills I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:

  • Executive leadership – senior leader in municipal/regional government, University Board of Governors, numerous community boards
  • Effective resource management – $17 M operating and $250M capital budgets
  • Strategic leadership focus amidst competing demands
  • Strategic alliances and relationships with government, stakeholders, and other professions
  • Appropriate balance between confrontation, cooperation, and collaboration
  • Meaningful processes for conversation – between ourselves, our professional colleagues and our communities

The platform I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:

A leader these days needs to be a host – one who convenes diversity; who convenes all viewpoints in creative processes where our mutual intelligence can come forth. ~ Margaret Wheatley

Without collective intelligence and wise, effective action, the future of our organizations, our communities, and our planet remain imperiled. ~ Thomas J. Hurley and Juanita Brown

After 50 years, AACIP is transitioning into something new: the Alberta Professional Planners Institute (APPI). Along with the name, the planning landscape has changed as well: now over 800 members, a diverse collective practice, and communities facing complex economic, social, ecological and governance challenges. Under the legislation creating APPI, the profession now has an explicit relationship with the public interest.

For the next 50 years, the world will continue to change.  To be effectively in service to our communities, it is time to engage with each other and the larger community to ponder the following questions:

  1. What is the public interest?  What is APPI’s relationship with the public?  What could it be?
  2. How can the collective voice of APPI serve the public interest?
  3. What skills do APPI members need to support the communities we serve?
  4. How can APPI collaborate with other organizations to serve both its members and the public?
  5. What values are at the core of our work?
  6. What is our unique service to the public?
  7. What are the emerging qualities of a new standard of professional practice?

Please cast your ballot.

Brake a Leg [sic]


Our Celebratory CakeLast night was the last night of my acting class, so it was “performance night.”  We put our scenes on stage at the Citadel.  Four things jump out at me as I reflect on the evening:

  1. “You look like you want to do something with the gloves.  Follow your impulse.” These were our instructor’s words to one of my mates as we were going through our scenes one last time before we hit the stage.  It can be a big leap to trust our instincts in this rational world, but it is our instincts that take us to a creative place where new possibilities arise.  We have a choice to make about where and when we let our impulse out.

I’ve got a hunger

Twisting my stomach into knots

That my tongue has tied off

My brain’s repeating

‘If you’ve got an impulse let it out’

But they never make it past my mouth.

“The Sound of Settling,” Death Cab for Cutie

Perhaps it isn’t my brain that keeps me back – it may well know I should let my impulse out, but there is something deeper within that I need to pay attention to.  As I contemplate my work in conversational leadership, I will ponder these questions for a while:

  • What am I hungry for?
  • If I truly notice that, what is my impulse about how to let it out?
  • What keeps me back from what I truly offer our craft and the world?


  1. No matter how well you know your lines, you need to grasp the plot or you’re sunk.And your mate with you. There was a moment in my scene last night when I lost my line.  Stuck. I drew a blank.  It didn’t matter that my mate and I had nailed them many times before.  Somehow I just lost track, and when I look back I can’t quite explain why.  It just happened.  We tossed a few lines in that “went with the plot” for a bit.  It was shakey for a bit, for both of us sitting there in the bright lights, but my mate didn’t panic, neither did I, and we trusted we would find our way.  We did.  He threw me a word that got me back on track and all was good.Even when you know something well, you know it works, the recipe is never the same every time.  Everytime the circumstances are different.  In conversation or theatre, there is no silver bullet/cookie cutter. 
  2. There are people rooting for you, even if you can’t see them.Often on the theatre stage, the lights are in your eyes and you can’t see the audience.  You can’t tell if they are legion or few – except for the sounds they make.  Even if you could see them, by and large to don’t know who they are.In the case of last night, it was a modest audience: our class mates, our instructor/director, the lighting guy, Citadel staff and a few people class mates brought to the event.Out front, I have a choice to make about how to proceed: trust that everyone is critically watching your every move, or trust that they want you to play a part in something wonderful happening.  My choice about what I trust has an impact on what I will do and how I go about doing it.  Do I believe in the worst or do I believe in the best?  If I lose my lines, which plot do I want to draw on to carry me through? 
  3. Brake a leg. Even the Safeway cake writer can’t get everything right.  Nobody can.  And the cake tastes just fine. How much of what I worry about is just icing on the cake? (Like the numbering in this blog…)