Tuesday, August 07, 2007

How was your trip to Sri Lanka?

“Are you having fun?” a US friend asked me via email on one of the last days of my month long stay in Sri Lanka. The words “arduous,” “intense,” “joyful,” and “self reflective” are those that come to mind, this morning.

My task in Colombo was to ease the transition to a vibrant, passionately committed new leader of the center where I serve as a board member, the International Centre for Ethnic Studies. Her selection ended a full or partial leadership vacuum spanning several years, and marked the transition to a new leadership generation. She was the first non-Sri Lankan to be chosen for a leadership position

Her appointment evoked many reactions. One, not unsurprisingly was sabotage. My counselor, Peggy Treadwell, defines sabotage as the actions of individuals in an organization who experience a visceral reaction to the uncertainties and anxieties that change poses. They manifest that reaction through resistance and attacks directed at the change agent. That the change may be in their own self-interest makes no difference.

When I first came to American University committed to building an exciting new organization at the nexus of information technology, management science and public affairs, I experienced sabotage. Over a three year period, it destroyed my organization and nearly destroyed me. Thus I could empathize with the anguish the new ICES leader was experiencing and vowed to do what I could to support her. I did my best, but must wonder if it was good enough.

Thirty-years later I have learned something about fighting sabotage. With the help of may, I have fought off the saboteurs and built an organization that produces great results while affirming empowering those who work within it. But such experiences are not easily transferable, in the space of a month, where ones only powers are the powers to persuade, empathize and exemplify.

How was my trip? The words arduous, intense, joyful and self-reflective are those that come to mind.


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