Playing with Power in the World of Not-for-Profits

Power.  A loaded word if you’re working for a fairer or greener world. Often seen as synonymous with repression, greed, exploitation – something to be worried about or fought against.

Do you crave power? Do you respect those who exert power? Do you feel comfortable when you have power over someone? Do you have days where you feel powerless?

For many of us who work in social change movements, the idea of power can make us feel uneasy.  Uneasy, because if we’re honest, most of us enjoy feeling powerful and many of us have been taught that’s wrong.  We’ve all experienced the abuse of power at some point in our lives – whether it’s been through a bad boss or teacher, a racially profiling police officer, or even just an older sibling trying to get their way.

Generally speaking, those who work in social change movements come to this important work because we’ve experienced or seen unfair abuses of power at a level that compels us to action. Because of this we tend to have a heightened awareness of the dangers that come with power.  For many, this holds us back from stepping into our own full strength.

I’d like you to consider the notion that our discomfort with embracing power is actually undermining our potential to truly do our best work, and that it undermines our ability to really succeed in making the changes we want to see in the world.

Power doesn’t have to be authoritarian, though at a certain point when a decision has to be made this type of power can be critical.  Power doesn’t just come in the form of hierarchy.

Real power comes from Continue reading

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Building vibrant communities: Sean Meagher leads from behind

In every community there is untapped potential: People with ideas, skills and talents, looking for ways to contribute – often not knowing where or how to begin. Vibrant and healthy communities find ways to reach out and engage people, creating space for those ideas, skills and talents to flourish. Sean Meagher, President of Public Interest, excels at doing just this.

Recognized most prominently for his groundbreaking community engagement work in the redevelopment of Toronto’s Regent Park, Sean’s career has been an evolution in empowering others. Continue reading

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Success in Leadership: Bring it back to Why.

Leadership comes with power, but attaining and wielding power does not necessarily translate into success – at least not if you measure it beyond instant gratification.

To become an effective leader you need to be knowledgeable – in your area of expertise, in your ability to persuade people to your point of view and in your ability to inspire people to action. Where many get lost is in believing they have all the answers, thus closing themselves off to valuable input.

Ego comes with the territory – to be a leader you have to believe in yourself, but true leaders recognize the contribution of others is intrinsic to success. This does not mean simply surrounding yourself with minions eager to follow top down direction. It means being open to having your ideas challenged and tested – it’s only through this process that you grow and improve. Continue reading

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Trish Hennessy: Traveler on the Path of Authentic Leadership

They say some people are born to lead – Trish Hennessy would not put herself in that category. For the woman who has worked with some of Canada’s top thought leaders, helping them frame their arguments to get social issues back in the public discourse, stepping into a leadership role has not come naturally.

Not heard of Trish Hennessy?  Perhaps you’ve heard of the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us? Perhaps you’ve heard the issue of income inequality discussed as one of the major challenges facing Canada today? That is Trish Hennessy – though she would deflect all credit to the great “cast of characters” she has had the fortune to work with over the years.  She would describe herself as a storyteller that hooked up with smart economists.

Trish has always felt more comfortable in a supporting role – taking a step back, looking at the big picture. Her purpose has been to help leaders working for social change move beyond reacting to problems and to create the necessary space to plan longer term. She recognized our need to change the narrative and become proactive if we are going to succeed in protecting and building a socially inclusive country that meets the needs of our citizens. Her blog Framed in Canada is a must read for a better understanding how to advance your cause. Continue reading

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Alex's Blog

Great Depression: Volunteers of America soup kitchen (Wikipedia Commons)

A somewhat abridged version of this post first appeared in The Toronto Star here


Governments here and elsewhere are increasingly preoccupied with cutting even as evidence piles up of its harmful consequences on people and the economy. Austerity is not even delivering the balanced budgets its advocates promise. Even the IMF is now preaching balance rather than a single-minded focus on cuts. Yet, austerity’s adherents hold fast, deny the evidence or double down. Why is that?

Of course a few at the top benefit from austerity, at least in the short term, and though few, they exert considerable influence. And some pundits are so invested in this agenda that they would have to swallow themselves to alter course. But the imperviousness to evidence is about more than that.

What makes a theory “scientific” is that it’s falsifiable – if contrary evidence is found, the theory is modified or thrown out. …

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Quest for a new kind of leadership: Uncuffing the shackles of spin

Forget the slow food movement – if we really want to fix things in our world, it’s time to embrace the slow talk movement.

Across the country talented and dedicated people are working to build a better future for all Canadians. Whether they’re working to improve the growing income gap, climate change, youth unemployment, public transit expansion or aboriginal rights – their success requires government action.

The question is: Are substantive improvements possible in Canada’s spin driven political culture? Continue reading

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Is Kathleen Wynne’s victory the dawn of a new kind of politics for Ontario?

Genuine. Responsive. Thoughtful. Pragmatic. Cooperative. Everything voters have been craving in their political leadership came through in Kathleen Wynne’s speech to the Liberal leadership convention.

As more and more voters tune out with every election, sick of disingenuous political spin, partisan brinksmanship, and governments more interested in their own agendas than they are in serving the people, Wynne offered up a fountain of fresh water in a vast desert.

Post victory, Wynne has committed to putting an end to the “rancour and viciousness” of debate in the Legislature and to working with the opposition leaders for the good of the province.

Will those around her rise to the occasion? Perhaps more importantly, will we? Continue reading

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