This is the fourth in a series of Changemaker Profiles, which introduces the work of changemakers I know and admire, and offers insights into their approaches to communication and change work.
Dana Pearlman is co-founder of the Global Leadership Lab, bringing together systemic change-makers to transform our world towards a thriving ecosystem through leadership, community and project/venture acceleration. She is co-author and publisher of The Lotus: A Practice Guide for Authentic Leadership Towards Sustainability. Please see Dana’s longer bio at the end of this post.
1. Tell us about the work you are involved with:
In modern society, we have become fragmented and disconnected from many aspects of our true selves, disconnected from one another and from our deep human need for community and from our planet. My work is about reconnecting people to their true selves, to their values, to one another and to our greater global community.
I host conversations that matter and design and deliver learning experiences that enable transformation at the individual and collective levels. My work aims to support capacity building in change-makers to help them become more effective in their work through collaborative and authentic leadership development as well as venture acceleration that aims to change the world for the better.
Oftentimes, world-changing ventures do not get the support they need to make an impact. We are building an ecosystem of systemic change-makers to support these ventures and giving them the attention they need to thrive.
2. What motivated you to be doing this work?
A number of years ago I went through a period of great discontent. I was no longer satisfied with my career and life path. I felt called to do something much more meaningful and I needed to be part of the healing of our planet.
I ended up attending an amazing graduate program in Sweden, and obtained a masters degree in strategic leadership towards sustainability. I actually ignored the fact that the word leadership was in the title, and while attending the program realized the huge global deficit in the kind of leadership that is needed in our world is also at the root of our current modern day challenges.
The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.
Bill O’Brien (from the book Theory U by Otto Scharmer)
During the Swedish program my colleagues and I had a webinar with Otto Scharmer and he shared this quote. This sent a few of us into an exploration of what is the ideal interior state of the intervener?
We began speaking to a myriad of leaders working in transformational spaces and encountered a massive leverage point for change: Leaders that are authentic, and use their personal learning experiences enable vulnerability in those around them, it is these encounters that enable change. This simple yet profound realization is game changing. If you create spaces of meaning and vulnerability, healing will take place.
During this exploration we also synthesized 9 capacities authentic leaders find essential in their work (these include: being present, compassion, personal power, suspension and letting go, intention aligned with higher purpose, whole self awareness, whole system awareness, having a sense of humor and holding paradoxes, ambiguities and multiple world views).
Further, we explored the practices that enable the development of these capacities, such as yoga, meditation, dialogue, peer learning. aikido and many other practices. There is a freely downloadable guidebook here.
3. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
It is all rewarding. Even the struggles. The human experience is a complex, juicy and relentless journey and in my work I am constantly being invited to deepen my own self-awareness in order to hold space for others to do likewise. I am reminded daily of the profound beauty that exists when I am able to be present with another human being and that when I really take the time to listen to another person there is an entire new universe to understand and connect to.
The work I get to participate in in our world vastly surpasses what I could have ever hoped for.
4. What do you feel is your biggest communication challenge?
I work in human complexity. When one thing is out of alignment (in ourselves or in our relationships) it blocks movement and transformation is stunted. At any given moment, a plethora of human dynamics are at play between our relationships to ourselves, and with one another.
I am constantly building capacity in myself to recognize these blocks and to address them compassionately and fearlessly. On some days better than others!
The key is to express yourself and be with those that invite this!
5. How do you handle a situation when you find yourself in conflict with someone about your work or ideas?
The pattern is typically to react. However, the goal is to navigate these moments with grace and a heightened sense of awareness. The practice is to notice the arising reaction and to take a breath. Recognize what is happening in the present moment and really focus in on hearing their perspective, or taking some space until I am able to really hear them.
In this work, it is not about agreeing with one another, it is about the willingness to listen to another human being for the simple fact that they are a human being and deserve to be heard and recognized. That is where real transformation occurs, when we can deeply care enough to listen. That is where social trust unfolds and begins to heal ourselves and our planet. It is in these small gestures of caring for another that healing occurs.
6. What’s your best piece of advice for change-makers and activists?
Rule number 6. Don’t take yourself, others and the world so f%#$ing seriously. When we were researching authentic leaders, the capacity that was essential for this kind of work was having a sense of humor. Without lightheartedness we will forget to enjoy the journey of deeply caring for our planet. Remember to take time for yourself, to reflect and remember why you are doing this work and to source your work from your deepest values and cares.
Oh, and if you don’t already have your tribe, find them! We need to be around each other doing this work!
Dana Pearlman designs and facilitates action learning experiences. Her academic background is in clinical psychology and strategic leadership towards sustainability. She uses participatory facilitation processes, frameworks and powerful questions to enable deeper wisdom at the individual, team, community and collective levels. Her sweet spot is at the intersection of authentic leadership, tapping into other ways of knowing (beyond cognition) the world, collective healing and community building in order to accelerate the profound transformation that is needed in our world. She co-authored and published: The Lotus: A practice guide for Authentic Leadership towards Sustainability. Dana is also co-creating a start up, the Global Leadership Lab, that is bringing together systemic change-makers to transform our world towards a thriving ecosystem through leadership, community and project/venture acceleration, working with ventures that will impact 1 billion people or more.
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