5 Questions That Will Help You Be a Better Leader
The Two Faces of Leadership

Elizabeth and Alan


Last week I had the honor and pleasure of co-chairing the Berrett-Koehler Authors Cooperative annual retreat, attended by over 70 people – ranging in age from 25 to 83, and enriched with authors from Slovenia, Singapore and Australia.

Each year I look forward to this retreat where I gather with fellow authors and community members to exchange ideas, connect around issues, and deepen friendships.

Although we focus on many different topics and approaches, we are joined by a shared commitment to the mission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers – to create a world that works for all.John and books

I had assumed I would be working instead of participating in this year’s retreat. Although I frequently design and facilitate these kinds of large-group, interactive meetings, there’s more pressure when you are doing it for your peers; and my responsibilities during the meeting, would keep me too busy.

However, I am delighted to report that the retreat was a huge success, and contrary to my expectations, I was able to relax and enjoy myself much of the time.

What was different? It’s a lesson I am continually deepening my understanding around.

The Paradox of Leadership:  Let go of control but keep responsibility.

My ability to do this boils down to these two simple factors:

1. Have trust.

2. Don’t check out.


I had trust and confidence in my co-chair, Jeannie Coyle, our planning team (Jake Jacobs, Mila Baker and Rob Jolles), and our administrator, Brenda Price. It makes a huge difference when you know you can count on your team.

I had trust and confidence in our design. It was solid, the details had been carefully thought through and we were well-prepared.

I had trust and faith in our community – that the community had the strength and wisdom to provide what was needed. Trusting your community is essential for allowing space for the wisdom of the community to arise.

Don’t check out.

However, trust alone is not enough. The other critical factor is to maintain awareness of the environment and how things are going. Keep your antennae out – allow the community to provide what’s needed, and then if something is missing, you step in quietly. (No one noticed we moved the tables to the wall at one point. All they noticed was that things went smoothly and we stayed on schedule.)

The key to the paradox is to both fully participate AND stay aware at the same time.

Group narrow

The Building Blocks.

My sense of trust and willingness to let go of control didn’t come out of thin air. It developed as a result of our planning process, based on these principles from Real-Time Strategic Change (RTSC):

1. Strong Planning Team. Choose a planning committee that is representative of the community, so they are tuned into the needs and desires of the entire community. Create opportunity for the team to be actively involved in the design process, and support team development so there is a shared sense of ownership for the success of the event.

2. Purpose Driven. The first task of the planning team is to identify a clear purpose and desired outcomes for the event. Then throughout the design process, keep the purpose in mind at all times. Every aspect, every event, every speech must support the purpose and if it doesn’t, don’t include it. Just because activities have occurred in the past, they should not be included automatically. If someone wants to speak during the event and it doesn’t further the purpose of the meeting, you’ll need to make a tough call and tell them they can’t speak. There will be times when the desires of an individual doesn’t match the needs of the group, and you’ll need to diplomatically say “no.” When it’s someone in a power position, the support of a strong team is most important.

3. Over-Prepared. Consider every detail and determine what support is needed to make it successful. Our design notes were over five pages long and included details for every agenda item: times, location, facilitation notes, and materials and AV support needed. Plus we had a set of equally long logistics notes.

4. Flexibility in the Moment. Be prepared to respond and adjust based on what is happening in the moment. Huddle frequently and make adjustments as needed. Not enough flipchart stands for one of the activities? No problem. A quick team huddle for creative problem-solving, and simply move some tables next to walls and tape posters there! None of the participants were ever aware there was a problem.

Opening CeremonySharing ideasHaving fun

5 Questions That Will Help You Be a Better Leader
The Two Faces of Leadership

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