White Space Leadership—Key to Transformational Change
As Californians and residents in other states continue to grapple with fiscal constraints, enormous challenges and faltering institutions, the importance of focusing on the opportunity side cannot be overemphasized. The postindustrial perspective, one that recognizes the importance of customization, innovation and interdependence, needs to find its way into every sector if we are to capitalize on the opportunities of the 21st century. As always, pioneers went out early, signaling the way yet the crisis wasn’t stark enough to get enough people’s attention, particularly those that succeeded in the hierarchical framework. Times have changed.
In 1997, national leaders in the movement toward regional solutions, Neil Pierce and Curtis Johnson, and their inspiration—John W. Gardner—wrote a book to capture lessons learned across the country. They titled it Boundary Crossers: Community Leadership for a Global Age. In Fresno, we have learned many of the same lessons. A book can explain a concept, but you don’t “know” it until you live it. As the rhetoric of the poles gets uglier and louder, it’s important to remember we are all citizens first—responsible to the whole. A self-absorbed, single interest’s agenda is “more for me” typically without regard to the impact on the whole. Think of a cancer cell or a suicidal personality within someone suffering from a dissociative disorder. This is why steward leadership of the whole—white space leadership-- is essential to charting the path forward. This is the level of thinking Einstein spoke of—higher than the level of thinking that created the problem.
Lesson 8 is particularly timely. In the forward to the book, John Gardner explained, “What we need, and what seems to be emerging in some of our communities, is something new—networks of responsibility drawn from all segments, coming together to create a wholeness that incorporates diversity. The participants are at home with change and exhibit a measure of shared values, a sense of mutual obligation and trust. Above all, they have a sense of responsibility for the future of the whole city and region.”
Lesson 8: Government always needs reforming, but all the reforms need government.
“Ever since Revolutionary times, we Americans have distrusted and consistently disparaged government. But our healthy skepticism has turned into dangerous cynicism that makes it difficult for our government to play an effective role in the new global economy. If we shackle government, starve it for truly needed funds, we may get just what we deserve—government mired in the management methods of 20th century. Since government is at least 15 to 20 percent of any local economy, the entire economy is then shackled and pulled down. It is a fact that no matter how much business or philanthropies or other civic forces seek to lead, at the end of the day government is needed almost invariably, as a partner at the table. Any major undertaking runs up against rules, regulations, funding priorities, land use plans or some other domain of government. Local government is needed as a funding partner in major enterprises. It is needed to provide quality services, especially in poor and struggling neighborhoods, and to start the tough task of tying social services for families to school programs in a time of serious family breakdown. It is needed to protect the air and water, and to assure environmental equity to low-income neighborhoods often the scene of landfills and toxic dumping. In addition, a community that tries to operate independently of government may easily find itself paralyzed when it tries to work collaboratively.”