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Staking Out Reflective Territory: The Heart of Philanthropy

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

NCG's member engagement consultant Kate Seely and Heart of Philanthropy facilitator Ken Saxon talked about the tensions the Heart of Philanthropy retreat helps unwind. Take a look to learn why we think that "staking out reflective territory" is so important for philanthropic practitioners committed to change.

If you need this type of space in your work right now, join us on June 8-10 for the Heart of Philanthropy. Register before March 23 and receive and early bird discount

Kate:  

I’ve been wondering what you think about integrity, specifically as related to the Heart of Philanthropy and the Circle of Trust. I think integrity is a lot about the alignment between our internal selves – our values and beliefs, what’s really true for us – and how we engage with the world – our practices, relationships, and interactions. Does that definition ring true for you?

Ken:

I think that’s a good description.  In philanthropy, we deal with an enormous amount of complexity and ambiguity.  In our Heart of Philanthropy retreat, we provide reflective space for leaders to explore things — like our life journeys, sense of calling, values, and how we approach relationships — that provide solid ground we can stand on as we find our way in complex work.  

"Leaders who do this sort of reflective work have a kind of integrity and credibility that others know they can trust, and thus they are more willing to follow and engage with."  

People today have pretty sensitive BS detectors, with all the empty rhetoric and superficial marketing that is pervasive in our culture.  They can quickly smell out gaps in integrity.  Taking time to slow down and reconnect with ourselves in retreat allows us to breathe and reflect and recalibrate our leadership, our choices and our relationships. We emerge more committed to living and leading according to our deepest intentions.

Some may be surprised with our focus on this type of “inner work,” which is not the typical landscape of professional development.  With Heart of Philanthropy, we unapologetically stake out this reflective territory. We believe that such inner work has never been more important than in our hyper-productive, hyper-connected, hyper-distracted age.  The reality is that if we don’t do our inner work as leaders, our outer work suffers, as do all those who work alongside us.  

Kate:

I love that: “We unapologetically stake out this reflective territory.” Our quick world so often neglects the value of reflection, and it is up to us individually to make time for that. In this retreat, we are supported with the structure and content of the retreat, and a really good amount of time to delve into reflective spaces.

There is something for me in your description about authentic leadership. Given the popularity of that word, I think it’s lost some of its meaning, but at its heart, for me, it’s about alignment and courage. Do you see relationship between the two, integrity and authenticity?

Ken:

Absolutely.  When we think about the leaders we have chosen to follow over our lifetimes and why, we often see descriptions like ‘authentic’ and ‘high integrity.’  An authentic leader is passionate (they know what they are doing and more importantly, why), self-aware of their gifts and of how they impact others, relationship-oriented, and they practice their values consistently.  Why wouldn’t good people want to work with and for someone like that?

I think a fine example of this in the world of philanthropy is Ira Hirschfield, the retiring President of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.  In every communication I’ve read or heard Ira give, it’s so clear that he’s coming from a place of deep values — whether he’s trying to advance a cause the foundation cares about, invest in his nonprofit partners, or end a funding relationship.   With leaders like Ira, what you see is what you get.  You can trust that kind of leadership.

Sadly, as you mention, a backlash has emerged recently against the term “authentic leadership.”  When I read the critiques (an example is the HBR article “The Authenticity Paradox,” I see they are defining authentic leadership differently.  Authentic does not mean saying everything that’s on your mind with no filter, sharing all your insecurities, and it’s not an excuse to dismiss negative feedback (“I am what I am”) and stay in your comfort zone.  As Bill Gross writes, "Becoming authentic is a developmental state that enables leaders to progress through multiple roles, as they learn and grow from their experiences.”  One of the things our retreat programs provide is a guided framework to do just that - to learn and grow from our experiences and to integrate that learning into ourselves and our leadership.

"Becoming authentic is a developmental state that enables leaders to progress through multiple roles, as they learn and grow from their experiences.”  One of the things our retreat programs provide is a guided framework to do just that - to learn and grow from our experiences and to integrate that learning into ourselves and our leadership.

Kate:

Definitely, Ken. That’s a part of the reason I love the Center for Courage and Renewal’s (and by extension, its trained facilitators like you!) close focus on courage and integrity. For me, it's clear how, through these retreats, we learn to cultivate and activate these spaces within ourselves – as you say, creating space for reflection and meaningful conversations, learning to trust our own journeys and wisdom and align our inner lives with our outer work in the world, learning the practices of deeper listening, wholehearted decision-making, building trustworthy relationships. And from this springs renewed clarity, commitment, and courage, “to act with integrity on what matters most to you and your worthy cause.”

I’m wondering if there’s any more you’d like to share, Ken?

"Philanthropy is replete with complex tensions that must be held to do it well — for example, the pressures to be objective AND be empathetic, to be polite and nice AND to speak truth, to be efficient AND transformative.  We face great complexity in the problems we’re trying to address, and yet we must be accountable and results-oriented.  And we do it in a context where those around us — our grantees and boards and many of our colleagues — often don’t really understand the challenges we face. Where can we talk about what’s hard in our work, and how to sustain ourselves and our vision and passion along our professional journey?  Heart of Philanthropy provides a safe space among colleagues to talk about these kinds of things."

Ken:

There are so many particular challenges in philanthropy that we need to be able to talk about.  As an experienced foundation board member, I think philanthropy is replete with complex tensions that must be held to do it well — for example, the pressures to be objective AND be empathetic, to be polite and nice AND to speak truth, to be efficient AND transformative.  We face great complexity in the problems we’re trying to address, and yet we must be accountable and results-oriented.  And we do it in a context where those around us — our grantees and boards and many of our colleagues — often don’t really understand the challenges we face.

Where can we talk about what’s hard in our work, and how to sustain ourselves and our vision and passion along our professional journey?  Heart of Philanthropy provides a safe space among colleagues to talk about these kinds of things.  At our retreats, we live into the idea that “we’re all in this together” instead of walled off in our separate silos.  And this kind of experience of authentic community among professional peers can be transformational for the participants, as well as for our collective work in our communities.

 

 

Do you need this type of space in your work right now?

If so, join us on June 8-10 for the Heart of Philanthropy.

Register before March 23 and receive and early bird discount