The weeks leading up to the December Holidays are always a struggle for me. Part of me wants to call in sick after the extended turkey weekend and hide out until the new year. But the part compelled to tie a neat bow around the year always wins. So, on top of the board and advisory board meetings and end of year project meetings already on the schedule, I add in more meetings and musings to help me take stock of what we’ve accomplished and recalibrate the course of what comes next.
My wonderful colleagues not only indulged my compulsion this year but encouraged it. Knowledge to Power Catalysts is one year old this month. We’ve accomplished a lot as a small team (now four FTE, twice as big as when we started).
This hasn’t been the relaxing year of reading, writing, reflecting, remixing that I thought it would be. The pace, at times, has been frenetic. But, hands down, it has been an absolutely fabulous year for someone like me whose mind constantly insists on connecting the dots across systems, fields, and decades. This has been a year in which Katherine, Merita, Traci, and I – each from our own vantage points – have seen the catalytic power that comes with the generous sharing of curated (remixed) knowledge. Admittedly, the name Knowledge to Power Catalysts was retrofitted onto the original name of Katherine’s LLC (KP Facilitation). But it really does suit us.
Moving knowledge to power takes patience. Ironically, in my experience, the ability to integrate knowledge into others’ thinking is inversely related to the power you have to do so. This is one of the reasons I took on so many advisory roles in my first year. As an advisor, whatever your title – board member, fellow, commissioner, strategic consultant – your job starts with listening. There is an assumption that you have something to offer (that’s why they invited you). But we’ve all been in meetings where advisors talk, staff document, summary notes are shared, but the path didn’t shift because no investments were made beyond the meeting. Here are five things I do to increase the “stickiness” of ideas I’ve shared for decades:
Figure out how much change is really desired and possible.
There’s a formula I learned about decades ago from the Harvard Business School: C = D x V x P. The amount of change that occurs is dependent on the intensity of the dissatisfaction, the clarity of the vision, and the specificity of the plan. If any one of those three ingredients is weak or under contention, change won’t happen. Either dig in to help fix the problem or politely cut your losses.
Don’t assume the change will be in your direction.
If you assess change is possible, be fully prepared for it to not be exactly what you would have done. “Meet leaders where they are” is an old Ready by 21 mantra. Take the time to figure out where the organization is compared to the broader landscape. Equally important, listen carefully to figure out where they think they are. If you’re not exactly sure where you’re going, the slow scenic route gives you more time to take things in that can help you chart your course.
Assume that change will not be at your pace.
Slow and steady definitely wins the race if the race is toward clarity on the three change components. Don’t be upset if, even when you’re on retainer, you’re underutilized. Don’t get snippy if your brilliant memos aren’t read or discussed. Keep them on hand. The ideas may be useful at a future bend in the road.
Don’t lead with your own work.
Summarize, synthesize, but always reference others’ work. It is especially important to triangulate arguments if you’re considered “a giant.” As soon as people think they can completely predict what you’re going to say, you’ve lost their ear.
Never take full credit. Always say thank you.
If the ideas aren’t internalized, they won’t be implemented or institutionalized. Celebrate internally when you hear your words echoed back to you. Remember that learning is hard work, especially when it requires challenging or changing things that are a part of your reputation. It is a gift when people trust you enough to show you how the sausage is made. Thank them for their bravery and commitment to the common good.
So, as this year comes to an end, I want to thank the dozen plus organizations that have allowed me to listen and learn from their work and begin to co-lead deeper internal discussions. 2023 will be a year in which I continue to remix ideas, but with more focus and precision – due in large part to your continued trust and thought partnership.