Leadership and Unity with Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett is the Principal of Decision Resources Incorporated, a consulting firm that works with leaders and organizations to help unify the organization to achieve superior results, to earn ethical reputations, and to adopt to the changing environments.

With 25 years of experience, Mark takes on a multitude of roles when working with organizations, from facilitating workshops to strategic consulting, and many different areas including mediation and conflict resolution, decision making, wise planning, and creative collaborations.


SPEAKERS: Tony Delisle, Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett  00:00

It could happen any time. Tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen. Or sunshine, love salvation. It could you know, that’s why we wake and look out. No guarantees in this life. But some bonuses like morning, like right now. Like noon, like evening.

Tony Delisle  00:37

And welcome back to another episode of The Independent Life I am so very excited about today’s interview, we are going to be interviewing many people throughout our episodes and it is only fitting that the first person that we interview here is somebody that our center has been working with for over the last year and a half. Many people with disabilities lead organizations specifically Centers for Independent Living, which over half of the people that work at the Centers and that are on the boards have a disability. So out of the 15 centers, for example, in the state of Florida here, each one of them has an executive director that occupies the position that I do here at our center. And like myself, many of these other directors have a disability and have to lead organizations and are involved with championing the missions and visions and values of organizations and supporting staff and all these wonderful things. And certainly there’s people with disabilities and all different types of levels of organizations that are leaders. And so our guest today, Mark Bennett is an expert in helping to consult with leaders and organizations. Mark is the principal of Decision Resources Incorporated, which is a consulting firm that helps to work with leaders in organizations to help unify the organization to achieve superior results, to earn ethical reputations, and to adapt to the changing environments that organizations find themselves in. Mark has 25 years of experience in working with private businesses, non for profits, governmental agencies, in universities, international organizations, and he does many different things with them. He facilitates workshops, he helps to be a consultant, a facilitator, many different roles that he can play in working with these organizations, specifically in the areas of mediation and conflict resolution, decision making, wise planning, and creative collaborations. Mark is the author of books that are related to these topics. One book is The Art of Mediation. Another book that he has written is The Fieldguide to Good Decision Making of Values in Action. And he has a book coming out in the winter of 2021, which I’m very excited to dive into, which is Unity By Design: The Architecture of Creative Collaboration. Mark is also got his law degree at the University of Texas where he’s also got graduate experience in the field of psychology, as well. As I alluded to, Mark has worked with us for the last year and a half. And he’s helped us go through the process of creating a strategic plan in which we have strategic goals, which we’ve redesigned our mission statement, which we have created principles and vision statements. And one of the first things that he did and working with us was to ensure that everyone in our organization, 35 people, the board, which is another 10 people, so 45 people collectively participated in this experience, it was not a top down approach, which typically happens in the strategic planning process. This involved everyone throughout the whole process, the whole organization, got to give feedback, participate, and really come up with what we’re very excited about in terms of our strategic plan. And one of the first places that he started with us was in our values, what are our values, he really had us look in the mirror and reflect on who we are who we wanted to be. And that is very core to the identity that we are having been embracing as a center. And so I’m just so very excited to bring Mark here to this podcast for this interview. He’s the kind of person that every time I connect with him, have a conversation with him, I end up leaving, feeling better, wiser, perhaps, than I entered into the conversation so it’s always a treat to have conversations with you and communicate with you and now to actually be able to share this with other people Mark. I’m truly honored to have you on here and to go into conversation with you.

Mark Bennett  04:53

Thank you so much for having me, Tony. I’m looking forward to diving in.

Tony Delisle  04:57

So as we record this November 19, 2020. Here we are in the middle of a pandemic. And in fact today, the news of the day is is that we’ve eclipsed a very grave milestone. Over a quarter million people in our country have been killed due to the Coronavirus. 11 million and counting have contracted the Coronavirus. Our society has been really turned upside down because of this pandemic. There’s also 157 years ago to the date was the Gettysburg Address. In there, obviously, the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and today we still are struggling with equity across the systems that are within our society, and is on Front Street right now is a still a major issue that we’re grappling with, as a society. We are, you know, a few weeks after a very controversial election and the landscape, you know, with the politics is very divisive. And so these are this very interesting and uncertain times. So my first question to you, Mark has to do with what do these times mean, for Centers for Independent Living, and other nonprofit organizations?

Mark Bennett  06:15

Tony, let’s start with a simple image, I use this image in some of my presentations. It’s an image of six people on a inflatable boat river raft, and they’re moving down a river filled with boulders and whitewater. And everybody’s in the boat, everybody’s got their life jackets on, they’ve got their helmets on, they got their paddles ready to paddle. And so the first thing about these times is we’re all in the same boat. And we need each other so much. So these kinds of times have so much volatility, and difficulty and novelty, we’re all off our map. And when we’re in this boat, this river that we’re on, we don’t know what’s ahead of us on the river, we don’t know what’s around the next bend, maybe the whitewater is going to be even more dangerous and even more difficult. So so the times are really calling upon organizations and their leaders to unify. And it’s one of the reasons when I worked with your organization and I work with other organizations that I put increasing stress on coming back to the guiding values and principles. Because this is the glue for an organization that will hold it together, no matter how tough the times become. Values and principles endure. Budgets change, political landscapes change, social conditions change, values endure. They’re part of the way you rig the boat and make sure everybody’s in the boat together and is oriented, looking down river with their paddles ready, ready to do their part, you know, no matter what comes around the bend in the river. So that’s the first thing I would observe about the times that we’re in that places a premium for organizational unity, because that’s how you’re not only going to survive, but perhaps even thrive. The Times that we’re in have an acronym that emerged originally from military planners looking at the changing nature of the modern battlefield, but but it’s moved from military parlance into organization and organizational development. And it’s called a V.U.C.A environment, V-U-C-A which means volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous, volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous. So I have some news for everybody who’s listening today. And it’s not news that most of us want to think about. People like to use the phrase, the new normal, there is no new normal, there’s change. But that it’s not just the pandemic, as you mentioned, there racial equity issues, there’s climate change issues, there’s population issues that are cascading in this world, and we’re going to continue to produce change in all of our environments. And if that isn’t enough, we’ve got a layer underneath that the prospect for a level of technological change in the next 10 years. That’s the equivalent of the change in the United States between 1920 and 2020. 100 years of technological change in the next decade. It’s hard to even imagine how that is going to place challenges in front of us and some opportunities. There are some of those technologies that are going to be amazing new things that are going to help us but but just to cope with that level of time. Change has a level of stress and challenge to it as people need to retrain themselves and learn new technologies and how they’re going to affect job delivery and working together. And you now tell me that one of those technologies we’re all living through now, everybody’s got a life on something called Zoom now that many of us didn’t even know existed a little over a year ago. It was some exotic technology that a few people used. And now it’s the way we do business. And that’s all within 10 months. That’s a huge shift. So those are, those are some of my observations. I want to add one more thing in terms of the context. Part of what has helped me work with your group. And by the way, I love to work with mission driven organizations, there’s so much heart in mission driven organizations, when I get a chance to work with a group like yours, it’s a particular pleasure, because I know that people are deeply connected to wanting to do their best to help the people who were waiting for them. So 15 years ago, I had an experience in a strategic planning process that shifted the way that I did the work. I’d done it for a decade before that, and I’ve been doing it in the 15 years since there was a pivot point in my work. And I was sitting in a national laboratory here in the United States working with the senior leadership team. And one of the people on that team happened to have gone to college with someone who’d been become a lifelong friend. And his friend had become one of the leading futurists in the world. And he agreed to fly in for free and do a consultation with this leadership team. And I got to sit in the back of the room and hear somebody who thinks about the future, perhaps as much as anybody on the planet talk about the next 20 years. And this was in 2005. So now we’re 15 years into his forecasts. I still pull my notes out from that session that he did. And he has been spot on in predicting the kind of world, not the specifics, but the general trends and the things that were going to shape the future. And one of the things he said that day has forever changed the way that I think about helping organizations when I work with them. He said leaders cannot predict the future, but they can enable it. And what he meant was that leaders can help organizations prepare to adapt, prepare to be flexible, and ready to work together and shift directions as needed in an uncertain V.U.C.A environment. Because we’re going around the bend in the river and all of a sudden, we’re going to be dealing with a whole new set of conditions, we have to be adaptable and ready to work together, no matter what comes down. So that’s my essential message about the times are saying that CIL and all your sister organizations across Florida and the country, and many other organizations have to really think about how we become more adaptable together, because that’s what’s going to get us through these uncertain times.

Tony Delisle  13:14

You put a lot in there, Mark, I gotta say that, you know, when we look at all these different forces, pandemic, the racial inequities that exist the inequities of people with disabilities in the environment, the population growth, technology, it reminds me of the book by Thomas Friedman, Thank You for Being Late, where he talks about the acceleration as you’re mentioning the acceleration of these forces as they intersect with one another and impact us. And, you know, with that, I’m interested to know, how can organizations like Centers for Independent Living, like other community based organizations that serve people develop capacity during these uncertain times and be able to adapt during them?

Mark Bennett  13:58

Well, again, you got to think of adaptive capacity as your compass north, that’s what you’re guiding by how do we become more adaptable. And there there are three fundamental ways. I call them the robust strategies of adaptive capacity. And by robust, I mean, no matter how the environment around you  is going to change. And since you can’t predict it, any one of these strategies is going to help you. And when you put all three of them together, they have a kind of a synergy. So I’ll just name them first. So you’ve got the list in mind, and then we’ll go through them one at a time, and perhaps you can, we can have some back and forth. So the three strategies are unity, and then agility, and then force multiplication. So those are the three strategies. We’ll start with Unity. And then I know you think about this a lot inside your organization. So I want to have a back and forth with you about it. So we’ve already talked about values. An organization needs a really clear value statement because that’s, that’s your unity charter. These are this is these are the things we all agree to, and that we all commit to doing our best to actualize. That’s the first thing. The second thing is something that I’ve worked at CIL, where then I know you have been a big a big proponent of is in order to be unified, it has to be an environment where people all feel that they belong, and people will not feel they belong if the environment isn’t psychologically safe enough. So people get that sense of ownership and belonging when they feel that they can make a contribution, and they can speak up and their voice matters, that they can make a difference. So those are a couple of the major elements of unity.

Tony Delisle  16:10

So when we talk about unity, one of the things that it reminds me of is a quote that often you have in your signature line, in your emails from Helen Keller, you want to share that quote? 

Mark Bennett  16:24

Sure. Well, first of all, I’m a great fan of people who speak from a deep level of lived experience. And Helen Keller, thinking of people, you know, who’ve led the independent living movement, having some big challenges to face. Helen Keller, she’s, she’s a rock star, from my point of view. And she said, alone, we can do so little together, we can do so much.

Tony Delisle  16:51

And that’s where I really, you know, think about unity. And it just seems like even from an evolutionary perspective, people need each other. Like we wouldn’t have survived so long ago, we weren’t necessarily the strongest or the best adapted for the environment, you know, some would debate even the smartest, but what we seem to do as a species was be able to collaborate, to come together to survive. And through the 1000s of years through that collaboration, we have been able to, you know, come over out of a civilization that we have had. And now that there was more concrete, fundamental needs are met, still see collaboration, unity is a huge part of this. Back then, you know, the safety had perhaps do with more, you know, your physical well being, do you have shelter? Do you have, you know, your food, water? You know, are you safe from physical threats nowadays, it seems to be for many people, especially in organizations, is less physical threats. And more, as you mentioned, psychological threats, perhaps that are out there. And creating that safe space for people to feel welcomed psychologically, in an organization, especially as it pertains to unity and unifying the organization together is so important. So what are some of the key elements that you find that are needed to cultivate psychological safety within an organization?

Mark Bennett  18:23

Well, there are several, and one of them is that you need people in positions of leadership. And let me step back and say that I think leadership exists at many levels of organizations, it’s obvious with somebody in your position, you have a very clear leadership title, and a board of directors is hiring you to lead the organization. But there are also people who lead by example, who have no titles. And then of course, there are people who are supervisors and managers of departments, who also have leadership responsibilities along with their management title. So I like to think of leadership is distributed in the organization. And people who are leaders show other people by example, what psychological safety is. And it’s simple things like asking people what they think, and respectfully listening to them, because that draws people forward and makes them feel that their ideas matter. It also includes admitting mistakes and being open and honest with people because that makes it psychologically safer for other people to admit mistakes, and not feel defensive or ashamed. Because mistakes can teach us so much. And they can teach other people in the organization who then don’t have to make the same mistake. So you need a mistake, friendly environment to grow psychological safety. And that starts with a leader. There was a person in a leadership position in an organization that I read an interview with him in a book and he said the four most important words that any leader can say are “I screwed that up.” And then you know that that you put it on the table, other people can then see that it’s safe to put it on the table. So so those are several things that are really bread and butter, psychologically safe enhancements that can happen in organizations.

Tony Delisle  20:18

Well, I tell you what, you know, I really appreciate going back to your your definition of a leader is not a position, it’s not a title, you know, we may have positions of authority. But that doesn’t mean that people are following you. And if you’re in a position of authority, and no one’s following you, you’re not a leader, you’re just out for a walk. And that resonates with me, and many of the organizations that I’ve been in. This organization as well, as far as the organizational chart is concerned, they may not be in that position, but the work that they do, other people are resonating with them, they help to elevate their skills and their abilities, just by the mere fact of their talents, their commitment, the values that they embrace, along the way, really lift other boats up, so to speak, in their work that they do. So I really appreciate you laying out the fact that, you know, leaders are in a position of authority, it’s the way you conduct yourself and the values that you have, and it’s your influence on other people. The other piece of what you said that really resonates with me is the ability to admit to mistakes, you know, I find that people in positions of authority often, and I’m not excluded from this have egos and the ego can be a very bad thing. And people that tend to be a egoic, do not like to admit mistakes, will try to either cover them up or push them off on other people and, and that can just be a real inhibitor to the organization. Again, it can be a teachable moment, it can show humility, from a leader to say, hey, like you said, I screwed this up. And this is how I screwed this up. And, and then ask other people like you were kind of saying before, you know, don’t come in there thinking you’re the know it all, the collective wisdom of the group can be very valuable. And to being a good listener and active listener, not just throwing out your opinions, but actually really hearing out what people have to say, is, is an integral part of that and recovering from mistakes where we do screw it up. I think it was Nelson Mandela that said, don’t measure me on the number of times that I’ve succeeded, but rather on the number of times that I have failed, and gotten back up again, you know, I just think that’s a that’s a huge thing is to have a mistake free environment to where those aren’t necessarily mistakes, if we learn from them, they’re lessons. So that definitely resonates with me in terms of that.

Mark Bennett  22:43

So I wanted I gave you one four word statement that any leader can say that build psychological safety, I screwed that up. And another one is, I need your help. Which is the person who’s not a no at all, but is a servant leader. And, and is working really, even though there’s a hierarchy is working on a horizontal level with people side by side. And I think that really hardens people, and shows people their value and their necessity in the organization. One other thing, before we leave psychological safety, I want to add that a that a leader can leader can do is really show a full commitment to the guiding values and principles and then be open and transparent with people about decision making. Because that’s a quality of integrity. And when people know an environment is an ethical, integrity filled environment that raises the level of psychological safety. That’s one last thing that I would add. Finally, Tony, I’m thinking about leadership, I like to say there are leaders, those are the people with the titles, and then there are those who lead. And unfortunately, there are more than a few leaders in our society and all different kinds of organizations who are not real leaders, they have the titles and the authority. They may think of themselves as leaders, but they’re not true leading us. They’re missing these other elements. And yet there are also people without any titles who show up and are good examples of being good teammates and collaborators and moral examples with the way they treat other people their reading.

Tony Delisle  24:24

You know, one of the things that you were mentioning there is the values. And this, I don’t want to you know, get lost, you know, in terms of just like, you know, it’s commonly thrown out there. But I gotta tell you for what you did, or your work with us, as I mentioned, that’s where you started. You said like, what are your values, and it was a real look in the mirror time for us. Some of them were very evident and apparent, such as caring about people, empathy in our organization and many other human service organizations. That’s a huge part of doing the work that we do is we care about people. So boom, that was a value. Integrity, you know, Another value that we had, diversity, collaboration, like going back to the unity. And for us as an organization during these uncertain times, those values when we still don’t know the future, we can really retreat and circle the wagons around those values to provide us still with a compass during these insert, which way do we go or anything else like that this is a really good place to orient an organization. So I really appreciate the work that you did with us to really surface those values that, you know, intuitively, we knew were there. But until you helped to guide us in having a conversation to really crystallize those values. You know, I’m just very thankful that we did the work with you, ahead of the pandemic, and social unrest, and political unrest, and an acceleration of technology and environment and all these other kinds of things. Because this is allowing our organization to really circle the wagons around these core values that we have, even though we might not know exactly where the boat may take us. Due to these external forces, we have those internal values to provide us that compass.

Mark Bennett  26:09

Well, your organization’s experience has been confirmed for me many other times, which is why I don’t have any lack of confidence about I can’t insist with my clients, but I can strongly encourage them before they want to jump into strategy and problem solving, to take a step back, and really make sure their underlying value structure is clear, well defined, and strong and shared by the people who are sitting around this table trying to plan for the future. One of the things I might say about that is the values are usually stated as nouns like collaboration and integrity, or quality. And they’re single words, the values will not come alive as a noun, because they may mean too many different things to different people. So each one of those nouns needs to be succinctly and carefully defined. And then you need some verbs underneath it about the kind of activities and action commitments that you’re going to follow, that are going to breathe life into those big words of caring, and excellence, and quality and integrity. They only come alive in the doing. And so one of the things I began to push my clients harder on is not just getting the list of nouns, and even getting the list of definitions, but really working with a statement of one of those action commitments that are going to help them breathe life into the nouns. How will people see it? How will they know that we really do believe this not just that we say we believe it, but what does it look like in action. And that’s why the subtitle of my second book was values in action. I was interested in decision making and how people take those values and put them into action when they have to make a tough decision. In other words, we know what the talk is, but what’s the walk? and difficult decisions really put that question to organizations because they can’t do everything they’d like to do, the choices are hard. And therefore, that’s where you want your values right there in the middle of the table, when you’re really trying to wrestle with what’s the right thing to do, our values are going to show us what the right thing to do is in this situation.

Tony Delisle  28:23

I agree when you when you helped us craft our five values, and you had us work to identify three action principles that accompany each of those five values. I think that’s what really gave us had made those values come alive. Like they just weren’t a noun, that they actually had the the verb the action to follow that up. And again, a such a centerpiece for strategic planning that you did with us. So as far as leadership, we’re talking about leadership and you know, leaders, what do you see the role as leaders in supporting their staff, and organizations during moving forward during these these trying times these uncertain times? What is the what is our role in being able to support our staff and the organization in moving forward? 

Mark Bennett  29:13

Well let’s start with a with a maybe self evident word, but your role is critical. More than ever, in these times, the leader needs to be in this place where he or she can really support people and connect with people and bring them back to the values really, really help people know that you’re within this structure of values and ethics here in this organization and psychological safety, and that we need everybody now more than ever so much so. So it’s more than a cheerleader role. You know, the leader needs to instill with the force of his or her conviction of belief that I don’t know how We’re going to get through this. But I do know that we’re going to do it by sticking together, and helping choreograph the kind of collaboration in teams, helping thing your virtual teams really think about how they keep their communication, and engagement with each other strong. So that there’s enough trust and creativity in those teams to really problem solve and break through some of the challenges that are going to be on the organization’s plate. One of the things I will say, Tony, because I coach leaders individually, and then I work with leaders as I have with you, where I’m working with you, with your board or you with your leadership team. I think there’s an extra level of stress on leaders because of the amount of demand that the organization places on them to help everybody stick together. And so I’m a great believer in leaders like you making sure that your self care program is strong to get through these times. Because you know, you need to be healthy. And you need to be able to project this life force of conviction, and we’re going to figure it out together, you’ve got to be honest with people, which means we don’t know exactly how we’re going to figure this budget cut out. But we do know that the way to do it is to get collective intelligence involved and work together and make sure everybody is contributing to sacrifice of sacrifices needed, you know, with severe budget cutbacks or something like that. So that those are a few my top of my thoughts about leaders, I think they need to be able to show up wherever they’re needed in the organization and project this sense of confidence, but not out of arrogance or or overconfidence, but confidence in belief in the values in the organization and the we that are going to get us through.

Tony Delisle  31:47

That definitely resonates with me on many levels. Starting out with where you kind of were taking us there was the self care in leadership development and trainings and other areas in entrepreneurship, there’s a lot of attention on making sure that you have the energy to be able to do this work, it takes a lot of energy, whether it’s physical energy, mental energy and emotional energy, and how do we take care of those things? And how do we make sure that we have the right energy? Well, it’s you know, the the basics sometimes, you know, it’s, are we eating healthy? Are we getting enough sleep, are we being physically active enough to help go through some of the stress that we’re going through and to be able to do the work that we’re doing and, and I look forward to this podcast, and doing more in terms of really highlighting the necessity to make sure that we have the energy and physical, mental, emotional and social health to do the work that we’re doing, especially during these trying times where there is that added layer of anxiety, and stress, and those kind of things. And when things fall on the shoulders of leaders, we need to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves, so we can care for others. So that really does resonate with me on many levels of why we need to be doing that. But also, you know, I really feel, you know, one of the strategic goals that we have is providing a healthy work culture here. And certainly psychological safety is part of that. And I do really want to provide where people who are staff, I’m very concerned about their mental health, their their well being, during these times, beyond even their work productivity. But personally, that’s such an important piece of all of this, that I think that we’re all experiencing through this and that authenticity, like you were mentioning before, you know, being transparent about where we’re at, not knowing where we’re going to be very honest about some of those kinds of things, I think can be very helpful. And lastly, you started out again, talking about unity, and I don’t want to let that you know, to ring hollow on people. I’ve been recently thinking about USA, the “U” is united. And that old cliche about united we stand divided we fall. I think about that all the time now, but especially during these times where it does seem that there’s more division than ever, where can we become more united together as a collective, because we do need each other. And one of the themes of this podcast is that one of the areas where we can become more united is this space, is this part of the natural human condition called disability. The fact that everybody will experience disability in some way or shape or form in their lives, whether they have a disability, whether they if they don’t have a disability, they certainly know someone that does. If they don’t have a disability, they’re likely going to get one in their life. It’s just a natural part of the human condition. That all of us no matter where we come from, where we’re born, what race or religion, etc, that we have. This is an area that we can all come together on and I’m not saying that as a as a dark thing to come to get around but is a very important thing to come together on because of all the values and virtues that come from, you know, having a disability, the strength based parts of this we can, you know, find this is a common ground, because it is something that touches all of us. So I, you know, I want to ask you in working with our organization that is centered around serving the needs of people with disabilities and, and really empowering people with disabilities to live independently. What have you learned about people with disabilities or just disabilities in general, in your work with us or in coming into the work with us. I know you’re you’re very wise and may have some thoughts to share. And, you know, would like to know that maybe some of your thoughts on on disability?

Mark Bennett  35:47

Well, I appreciate the way you’re framing this. And I just want to come back to leadership for a bit. One of the things I think leaders can do for, for people, whether that’s your consumers and people in the community, who you have to engage with, or it’s your staff internally, or it’s your board, leaders can help people frame and reframe how we’re looking at situations. And this master frame that you’re offering us is to rather than to think about disability as something that separates me from you, because you Tony have a disability and I Mark don’t have a disability, we’re really in this larger frame together, which is human being. And you know, within the human, we human, the human experience, there’s this possibility for all of us to have people we love, have to come to a disability or be born with one or for, it happened to any one of us that that can change very quickly in life. So I’m appreciating this larger frame. And I have to tell you, I’m going to share a personal experience with you because I’ve been fortunate to have good health throughout my life. And after I came back from a road trip once I was playing a game with my my oldest son. And during this game, we were running around on a playground, and I was chasing a frisbee that he threw, and I ran into the end of a teeter totter. When I was chasing the Frisbee, I didn’t see it because I was looking back over my shoulder. It caught me in the Adam’s apple in the neck, and I was disabled in terms of my ability to speak. And it sent me on a course of rehabilitation that took me over about two and a half years to complete. And I was somebody who use my voice to make a living as a speaker, you know, as a teacher, a professor, and I’m, you know, mediator. So I went from being able-bodied, to being disabled and not able to work. And I had to go through a period of time where I slowly built up my capacity to speak again, and I had to relearn how to use my damaged vocal apparatus. And I had to find people to help me with that. So one of the things that I guess that’s what started me on my deeper understanding of the nature of being able bodied versus having a disability, because I went overnight from those two different categories between them. So one of the things I’ve learned is that there’s much more that unites us in human beings than divides us. That’s a principle that really informs my work. And when people talk about their differences, one of the things I learned as a professional mediator is instead of staying focused on what we disagree about, let’s not over focus on that, let’s talk about what we agree on. And then let’s look at what we disagree about, from the point of view of what unites us or what we agree about. So that that principle is a mediator is one that I use a lot and I don’t have to be in a conflict with people to know if people are getting tense and having trouble listening to each other. I try and move them back to the common ground so that they get a run of the disagreement or the tension from that place of remembering that there’s a lot really unites us far more than we think about. And that’s true with the political divides in this country. You know, these remarkably hard categories that people think that they live in, that are blue or red, you know, or conservative or liberal. And what I know is that underneath those categories, there are tremendous Li powerful bonds of commonality and shared interests. And so I’m a great believer in the power of remembering what unites us.

Tony Delisle  40:00

I love what you said about we have more in common than we do different. I don’t know if it’s a part of human nature that we want to look more towards our differences sometime and really, you know, amplified that part of it. But I do agree with you that, you know, we all know what fear feels like, we all know what love feels like, we all know what anger feels like, or joy, or sadness, and all these different states of just what it means to be a human being. And whether you have a disability, whether you come from different races, or ethnicities, whether you identify as male or female, it just seems like these, like core human, what it means to be human is really something that can really bring us together. And as you’re saying that, you know, I don’t think look into politics is the way that we come necessarily to unite ourselves, I think we’re looking at that space somehow is like a unifying space for us. And you know, as you’re speaking about organizations and organizations really working within itself together, but as organizations have Centers for Independent Living, we’re in the service business, we’re trying to, you know, help and reach out to other people. And from what I found when working to help others, I work with people that aren’t the same, you know, ethnicity or race as I am, I’m working with people that have maybe different sexual orientations, different political affiliations, but we’re getting together, and we’re working to serve the greater good. And in that process of working and service, and together, there’s this sense of unity with one another, and belongingness, and connection. And I really feel like the space of service for the greater good, the betterment of others, is a place where we can really unify. 

Mark Bennett  41:37

I really am appreciating the sound of that. And once again, you’re reframing for our audience, you help other people see things perhaps a little bit differently, or help them see more clearly. And what you described as services, as a powerful mission force that can unite people is really important, because in the wise planning work that I did was CIL,  after you get the values, then you turn to the mission statement. What is our fundamental purpose for existence that unites us in this common cause? And the CIL mission is deeply connected to the service imperative. There are people there who need our help, our job is to serve them, to really help them and empower them and encourage them and and help them be adequately resourced so that they can live independent lives. And so they’re not there’s nothing like a noble mission to be a galvanizing force to pull people together. And then the other thing that comes from that, that I did work with your organization also is then you want a vision out there on the horizon that everybody can point towards together that like the mission sort of pushes you forward, you know, you know, you want to go there, and the vision pulls you to a particular place that you want to get to together. And then you have to create the goals and objectives and the hard work to close that gap between where you are now and where you end up in a couple of years. 

Tony Delisle  42:25

And that’s what’s really helped our organization out with the planning that you did with us the wise planning was that we tend to have a vision that there is no finish line to, you know, we want to empower all people with disabilities everywhere to live independently. And that is a noble mission, as our other missions, for instance, Dr. Martin Luther King who basically saw a world where all people, no matter what race, where you came from, coming together, peacefully collectively together. I’m not sure there’s a finish line to that kind of work and when you helped us create these, what you call horizon visions, that we could actually see perhaps, you know, achieving, getting to a place but it’s very helpful to chunk that out because I think sometimes, you know, it can be disheartening when we have these no finish line visions that are out there that will go on and on this work long after we’re here on this planet.

Mark Bennett  44:12

Right, I have found out early in my work that is important is those powerful, what I call permanent visions or enduring visions are about making the world a different place more peaceful, more fair, more just that I found that this horizon vision where people could get line of sight from where they are now imagine even if it’s a stretch, we could get there together you know, we need we need more money than we have now. Or you know, we were going to need some resources. We don’t know where we’re going to get those resources but but it’s a stretch worth making. And that in that horizon vision lies on a line of sight over the horizon to the permanent vision that’s far over a few more mountain ranges down you know, down in the future. So yes, I I’ve come to be a deep believer in people’s ability to imagine together and, and that that that has a power that will pull the organization forward to that point. And I want to quote here, the apple founder Steve Jobs, he said, if you really care about what you do, if you’re passionate about what you do, you don’t have to be pushed forward, the vision, will pull you forward. But that vision needs to be clear enough and vivid enough that it’s meaningful to pull us towards it. And the permanent Big Vision perhaps never get there vision doesn’t have that same pulling forward as, as a horizon vision.

Tony Delisle  45:40

You’re right, it could feel almost overwhelming, it can almost be disheartening, you know, in a way like, like, Oh my gosh, the work is never done, which it never is. But at the same time, if we, if we can have like it chunked out into these more digestible spaces, you know, it allows I think, us as human beings to get our brain around, okay, that is achievable. And it’s going to give me the inertia and momentum to get there. So one of the areas that I think the key part of what you did with the work with us, is that you involved, everyone in our organization, like I said, we nearly have 35 staff, and members of our board at the time, when you work with us, everyone participated in this strategic planning process, nearly, I gotta say, 100% of the time, when I’ve been involved with strategic planning, it was so top down that process of planning and involving everybody in the organization from start to finish, and it was not finished, it’s still ongoing, there’s such a key piece of it, and it reminds me of the Eisenhower quote that you gave to us was that, you know, plans are worthless, it’s the planning, that is everything. And I gotta say that in the planning, and in working with, you know, staff, and talking through it, and getting everyone’s feedback, creating a safe space for people to give feedback, I gotta say, was one of the most unifying things that has really stuck with our organization where people feel more included. So I wanted to acknowledge you for the technique that you have in working with organizations, and allowing everybody that safe space to feel included, and to have this as a multi level approach to creating by design these things. And so that’s why I’m so eager for your next book to come out. And to dive into it, you know, Unity By Design: The Architecture of Creative Collaborations, I know it hasn’t come out yet. It’s winter 2021. But I didn’t know if you were able, or if it was top secret, or anything else like that, if you would want to give us any kind of teasers about the book, and anything that you would want to share about this book that’s coming out that really does have to do with the heart of our conversation here. Unity, collaboration.


Yeah, I’d be happy to Tony, by the way, the title is a little bit different than then you mentioned I the first word is “Uniting”. It’s not unity. And I chose that I started, I started with the book being called united by design. And then I thought, well, the United States says it’s united, but it isn’t very united. So calling something united doesn’t really cut it, because it’s a, it’s a fixed state. And uniting is an ongoing process. So I like the the verb form, to convey the ongoing work that uniting is always in process. And it’s that attention to it, by design that is going to make make an organization more effective together. So the book at its heart is about the adaptive capacity principle that goes back to that national laboratory and what the future is said that you can’t predict the future, but you can enable it. And so leaders need to be catalysts for this adapting capacity in adaptive capacity inside the organization. And what I do in the book is I break it down into seven things that are part of the architecture of uniting by design, and four of them are core practices. The first core practice is dialogue, which is this deep learning based conversation that happens throughout the organization. It’s not top down. It’s like it’s including everybody, and that’s what I did with the planning process was create a dialogue to get everybody engaged and nobody knows the answer, we’re gonna learn together. So dialogue is the foundation of everything else. So that’s what you want inside the organization is the healthy multiple sided conversations. The second is wise planning, which we’ve talked about quite a bit. The third we haven’t spoken about, but it comes out of my deep work in mediation and conflict resolution, which is a way of negotiation that’s principled, so I call it principled negotiation. We still have to hammer out disagreements and work on, you know, sometimes compromising and coming to understandings that maybe are not as satisfying for everybody as they might be. But if it’s done in a principled way, not based on power, but based on trying to make sure everybody can come out of this in a way that’s acceptable, that’s a very important Cornerstone skill. So and then the fourth is my value space decision making work where the values are in the center of the table, as I talked about, and you really use the value statement and the guiding principles to make the hard decision. So those are the four Cornerstone practices. And then the three characteristics of the organization to make the seven elements are psychological safety, which we’ve talked about, integrity, which we have talked about, because that’s the leader making value space decisions, and being honest and open. And the third, a growth mindset. And so that’s this attitude towards mistakes, that mistakes help us. We don’t, we’re not afraid of mistakes, we use mistakes for learning, not for punishment, and you know, blame, but but for learning and growth. And when people share that attitude towards mistake making, you put your foot on the accelerator of the learning velocity of the organization, you move into high gear, and everything is something that can be learned from, and I’ll come back to a Nelson Mandela quote, I like. Nelson Mandela said, I never lose, I either win, or I learn. So there’s no losses than in an organization. You know, if there’s learning that we get out of it, then we’ve got a new asset. And so you keep reframing, picking yourself up.

Tony Delisle  51:47

Well, as I mentioned earlier, every time I entered in a conversation with you, I learned and become a better version of myself, Mark, it’s, it’s amazing. And the mistake I made in the title of your book being united versus uniting, what a great springboard to really help orient myself in any of the other listeners to the very important differences between united. Oh, we’ve arrived. No, uniting, ever present ever ongoing process that we always go through. So I appreciate that. Last thing, before we leave here, one thing that has been a pleasure in getting to know you through the work that you’ve done with our organization, is that you are what I consider to be a master poet. And I didn’t know and I hate, you know, well, I don’t hate to put you on the spot. I’d love to put you on the spot. Do you have any poetry that you would want to, you know, leave us with that we could chew on either related to what we’ve been talking about or not, that you would want to share with us? And no worries? If not, but is there anything that comes to mind? 

Mark Bennett  52:52

Yeah, and I think the best poems, for most of us are very short poems. But they’re poems that go deep, and leave us with something that feels universal. So this is a poem by man named William Stafford, who’s one of my favorite poets. And his poem is called Yes. It could happen any time. Tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen. Or sunshine, love, salvation. It could you know, that’s why we wake and look out. No guarantees in this life. But some bonuses, like morning, like right now, like noon, like evening.

Tony Delisle  53:49

Mark Bennett. This is in resources incorporated facilitator, Master poet, my friend. Thank you so much. I am honored that you are our first interview for this series that we’re doing that explores people’s perspectives, and allows us to be empowered to be the best version of ourselves imaginable so that we can go onward and upward in the service to others. Thank you, my friend.

Mark Bennett  54:20

Thank you sir.

Amy Feutz  54:23

Thanks for listening to The Independent Life podcast brought to you by the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. If you like what you hear, please rate review and subscribe. And if you know anyone who might benefit from listening, share this podcast and invite them to subscribe to for questions, suggestions, or if you have a story you’d like to share, please email us at cilncf@gmail.com or call us at 352-378-7474. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, support, advocate and empower each other to live The independent life.