Calling to You Like the Wild Geese

This post is adapted from Kate Ebner’s address to the ITL graduate community on the launch of the ITL Network.   

Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

The ITL Network is a community of graduates of our Institute’s programs, graduates from all of our certificates, cohorts and offerings.  When we finish our programs, we find that we really aren’t finished.  We reach for each other; we ask our new friends: how can we stay connected?  Can you help me think about myself in this work?  How shall we keep learning together?  What can we share about our practice of the ideas learned at ITL that will sustain us?  How might we continue the joy of being a community of learners, practicing our craft?  When we meet others who have had an ITL experience, we find wondrous diversity of perspective and many kindred spirits.  The learning doesn’t stop when we finish our cohort-work!

Again and again, I hear from so many you about the generosity of this community and what it means to be part of it, about the wealth of ideas and willingness to share without reservation, about the quality of what we offer to each other.  I believe it is our very best.

In the creation of the ITL Network itself, I see the selfless hard work of a group of committed volunteers who believe not only in our ITL mission for sustained impact, but also in you, in us, in our ever-expanding circle.

I must tell you that I know of no other self-sustaining community that shares so generously, expresses such compassion and care, and is willing to work so hard to continue to grow as human beings.  It is an honor and privilege to be part of our growing graduate network.  It is a source of pride for me to be able to say to prospective students:  when you graduate from a program, you are just beginning.  Now, you are part of a proud tradition and a network of more than 100 faculty members and 2000 graduates who come together for support, learning, and just plain fun!  (Think retreats in Maine and the southwest!)  We understand now that ITL is a truly a gateway, a threshold for a transformative journey that you may continue with the encouragement of our amazing community.   On behalf of ITL, I’d like to thank you for coming to us in the first place and for staying with us and sharing from your heart and gifts.  Every single one of us is making our vision and our mission real in the world.

The Leadership Coaching Program, founded in 2000, evolved and earned an international reputation as one of the top coach-training programs in the world.  You may already know the story of how the faculty of that program came together in the year 2011 to envision what else might be.  They knew that their knowledge and contribution was needed in the larger world; they had a desire to come together and create something with even greater impact than the Leadership Coaching Program alone.  In 2011, the vision of ITL was born at two visioning events.  Georgetown Deans Darcie Milazzo and Edwin Schmierer helped us to translate the vision into a business plan and proposal for the Dean of the School of Continuing Studies.  When we were approved in the Spring of 2012, the Institute for Transformational Leadership was born.

Today, we are an institute that features 7 extraordinary cohort-style certificate programs.  These programs share a common DNA and, together and individually, they demonstrate our core values and mission – to develop communities of leaders capable of meeting the challenges of our modern times, who work together towards a more harmonious, compassionate and sustainable future.  The seven certificate programs are:

*Leadership Coaching

*Transformational Leadership

*Health and Wellness Coaching

*Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Management

*Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership


*Polarities and Paradox

Additionally, we proudly collaborate as partners to offer the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership, an 8-month cohort-based leadership development program for university and college leaders who seek to learn how to bring innovation to higher education.

We also offer many shorter learning experiences for leaders, facilitators and coaches in the form of workshops and special events.  I would like to specifically mention the outstanding grassroots work of the New Normal Initiative, which has resulted in a superb leadership program on how to convene, and host a dialogue about race in America.  We will be rolling that out in November of this year.

The mission of ITL is operationalized by Lynn Screen, Hernando Zambrano and Tara Aldridge all with a tremendous amount of support and encouragement from Dean Cynthia Chance and special advisement by Denise Keyes.

Each of our certificates is a unique, transformative – deep – learning experience, designed thoughtfully to prepare our students for our times.

In these troubled and divisive times, our mission is evergreen.  I wonder if you, like me, feel the call to action, action that includes listening deeply, asking powerful, open-ended questions, creating safe spaces and sustaining connections even when in a difficult conversation?  The world needs leaders, coaches, facilitators and conveners who have the courage to step up and the confidence to do so in a way that calls forth the participation, engagement and gifts of others, in ways that open up the conversation, allow for many views to be expressed and for us all to keep learning from each other’s experience and wisdom.

As you know, Georgetown is a Jesuit institution, founded on important values that define the Georgetown experience.  We have spoken in other settings about some of those values and for the past two years, we have been committed to the value of Community in Diversity. The results of that commitment are beginning to be evidenced in growing diversity of our faculty and students and the way that we are bringing topics forward in our classrooms.  We will continue this commitment as we move forward.

At a gathering of volunteer graduates of our program, folks like you, on October 31, 2016, almost two years ago exactly, we asked you to help us think about our future.  Our commitment to diversity and inclusion emerged as vital to you and to the Institute.  We committed.  We also decided to illuminate one of Georgetown’s values every two years.  Our next area of focus will be Men and Women for Others, a clarion call to us as a community of leaders to redouble our efforts to be in service to others, not only in our nation, but around the world.  You will see this focus as we move from 2018 to 2020.  I believe that one tangible outcome of this value-focus will be specific initiatives related to putting our Institute’s work in service to those who will benefit greatly, but may not previously have been able to access our offerings, through community initiatives, practicum projects and offerings for our students and graduates that show us how to use what we know to build a more compassionate and just world.

One of the most exciting ideas that came from Ideation Day 2016 was the idea – no, the MANDATE – from our community to create a “container” for our community, post-graduation from our programs.  Everyone asks all the time:  What’s next?  What else must I learn?  What else is being offered? Where do I go to stay active with our community of practice?   Today – this very day – the ITL Network – takes shape. Our Network will be that place to go, to find out what is happening, to discover upcoming opportunities for learning – both at ITL and all over the world, to share insights and ask for ideas.  The ITL Network is one of the greatest outcomes of the past seven years – a community-led hub for continuing our learning, together as a community of leaders.  Its mission is an extension of our own here at ITL, and we are working closely with the Network as advisers, supporters and, of course, community members and graduates ourselves.  Hooray!  This endeavor allows us to be the force-multiplier that we imagined and to expand our reach to each other, as well as the world.  The ITL Network is one of our most significant and proudest achievements as a community, all thanks to our outstanding, committed board of volunteers who represent all of ITL’s program graduates.  Welcome!  Welcome!

I would like to close today with a poem or two. This is from one of my favorite poets, a Vermonter named James Hayford, who was a student of Robert Frost and a national treasure in his own right.  The poem came to him almost complete. I would like to dedicate it to the memory of my mentor, Frank Kelley, who was the first natural leadership coach I ever met.  His influence changed my life, and although he is gone now, this poem remains as a remnant of a conversation we once had in a troubled time in America. It is as timely today in our conversation as it was back in 1992.   Frank told me that he felt it best expressed his faith in the future, as it does mine now as we forge our way as a nation.  I offer it to you as a poem of hope and a reminder that the ITL mission is more vital today than ever:

“Persuaded” By James Hayford

I am persuaded
That everything will be all right
In that good night.
The power that let us love and write
And think and build
Has not been killed
Even though our faith has faded
And grown perplexed;
It will make sense for us of what comes next,
I am persuaded.

Those who know me also know that not a day passes for me without the inspiration of Mary Oliver.  Of course, this poem is seasonally appropriate as we look overhead at the wild geese making their annual migration.  I chose it for us today because of its last line which I read as a great invitation, one that our ITL Networks is making to you.  Here we go:

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

          love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountain and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


“The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”  Your place in the family of things….. I hope that you always remember that you have a place in the family of things, that you have a place with our ITL community – at Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership and as a valued and welcomed member of our ITL Network.”


New ITL Programs

 The Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL) welcomes two new certificates to its portfolio of transformational learning opportunities.   We are delighted that the Executive Certificate in Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership, Directed by Marcia Feola, and the Executive Certificate in Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management, led by Director Sukari Pinnock, have moved under the ITL umbrella.  These certificates are not new to Georgetown and have been offered for some time within the School of Continuing Studies.
Both programs are well-aligned with the ITL mission.  The Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership program teaches participants to lead change and build thriving, sustainable organizations while positioning themselves as true partners with clients and stakeholders in any organization.  Participants in the Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management program learn to apply diversity and inclusion best practices through a systems-thinking approach and learn to effectively measure the impact.  The two programs bring a long list of graduates to the ITL community of transformational leaders.
In addition, ITL is launching the brand new Executive Certificate in Polarities and Paradox.  This program kicks off in the fall and will be taught by Kelly Lewis and Brian Emerson, Phd.  It is a wonderful offering designed for coaches and leaders alike who are looking to skillfully navigate complex, paradoxical issues

Facilitating Human Connection in the “Age of Amazement”

This post shared by ITL faculty member Rae Ringel, Director of the Executive Certificate in Facilitation.   See more from Rae at her blog here.  

When Muriel Rukeyser, American poet and political activist, wrote that “…the universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” she touched upon a particularly salient point in the enduring tension between humanity and science, and, perhaps even more pertinent, between humanity and technology.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the recent TED2018, where over 100 speakers — activists, scientists, adventurers, change-makers and more — came to Vancouver to present on different aspects of the incredible technological advances of recent years in honor of this year’s TED theme: “The Age of Amazement.”

As the facilitator of a workshop on the power of reciprocity of networks, my role at TED was almost 180 degrees from this hi-tech focus. Using nothing more than large pieces of paper and some good smelling markers, I focused not on how technology can help people, but on how people can help people.

The modality we utilized was called “Asset Mapping,” a facilitated framework that reveals the extraordinary resources (e.g. networks, expertise, ideas) of any given group and the myriad ways that participants can offer to support each other in their individual work. Asset Mapping fosters a spirit of empathy and generosity by allowing people to share their ideas, wisdom, experiences, and creative capital.

In a session that lasted 90 minutes, participants were asked to write down their adaptive challenge in a square in the middle of a large piece of paper, and then spent time circulating around the room and writing their suggestions to the questions posed by the other participants. The participants then divided into small groups to discuss the different questions and answers, and at the end of the session each participant took away at least one operable action item to implement in response to their posed question.

We live, as the saying goes, in interesting times; on the cusp of a future that we first saw as children, prefigured in TV shows such as The Jetsons, Hanna-Barbera’s space age cartoon counterpart to The Flintstones.

While the world of the Flintstones was an imagined, comical version of the far distant past, with machines powered by birds and dinosaurs, the Jetsons lived in an equally imagined comical version of the future, with robots, instant food, video phones, and flying cars. Amazingly, as TED2018 illustrated, almost all of these “far-fetched” inventions exist or are on the verge of realization. Unfortunately the creators of The Jetsons were equally sagacious in their depiction of one of the consequences of this futuristic technology – an increasing sense of isolation. Whereas the Flintstones lived in community, together with their friends the Rubbles and various other characters, the Jetsons were far more isolated, with no close friends and few sustaining human interactions outside of their nuclear family.

Robert Putnam explored this sense of isolation in his work Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. Putnam drew on evidence from some 500,000 interviews conducted over the last 25 years to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations, are less likely to know our neighbors, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. The title is a reference to the fact that while bowling has become increasingly popular, bowling leagues are in decline because most Americans prefer to “bowl alone.” Putnam sees technology as a major contributing factor to this phenomenon.

Technology enables us to accomplish incredible, miraculous things. It enables the deaf to hear and the blind to see. It enables synthetic limbs to integrate with the human nervous system so that people who are paralyzed can walk again. It connects people who are thousands of miles apart and provides solutions to intractable problems.

Yet we cannot and must not overlook the human component. At the end of the day nothing can replace the power of human capital – of building networks. Strong networks are predicated on people sharing resources – human, programmatic, intellectual, and fiscal. This was beautifully articulated by Gareth Ross, head of Digital and Customer Experience at Mass Mutual, the sponsor of the session.  He noted, “people join organizations because of people; they take risks because of people; and they buy and invest because of people. Regardless of technology, people will always need people. Regardless of technology, human beings are key in making big decisions, thinking creatively, and providing unique insights.”

A recent article from CBS, “Generation X — not millennials — is changing the nature of work,” quotes a study showing that while Gen X-ers (those born between 1965 and 1981) are as tech-savvy and social media oriented as Millennials, they are also uniquely adept at maximizing human capital. “Gen X leaders’ strength for working with and through others is enabling them to shape the future of work and generate faster innovation by getting people working together to solve customers’ and their organization’s issues.”–not-millennials–is-changing-the-nature-of-work.html

What this emphasizes to me is the ongoing importance, even in the face of incredible technological advances, to focus on our human capital. To continue to build community and networks that motivate, sustain, and help us to enhance our intellectual, creative, and social resources.

The proof lies in the existence of TED itself. Although TED talks can and are easily watched anywhere, at any time, on any computer, thousands of people showed up in Vancouver to attend the conference in person. They did so because when all is said and done nothing replaces the excitement and the energy of community, of experiencing something together.

Polarities in Everyday Leadership

This post shared by ITL faculty member Brian Emerson, PhD, Director of the Executive Certificate in Polarities & Paradox. 

Have you ever known a leader, team, or organization to struggle with questions like these?

  • Do we draw a hard line in the sand or worry about being diplomatic?
  • Do we want managers to take time to focus on employees or work faster to achieve more output?
  • Do we do what’s best for the bottom line or what’s best for the environment?
  • Do we give in to our partner’s need for collaboration or do we maintain our competitive spirit?
  • Do we drive to meet our team’s goals or support another team to do what’s best for the whole?

These questions, and ones like them, are paradoxical – they require us to balance two seemingly opposite states at one time.  They can create tension and strife in groups that do not know how to navigate them effectively and they can be leveraged for higher performance and effectiveness – if we know how.

The concept of dealing with paradox in organizations and leadership has received increased focus in both the popular and academic press during the past two decades. The growing complexity of organizations, and the interconnectedness of the global marketplace, has magnified the frequency with which organizations and leaders are faced with seemingly unsolvable situations that contain two or more opposing solutions like the ones above.

The need to effectively address these paradoxical tensions has led many scholars and practitioners to say that knowing how to handle paradox is among the top skills needed by modern leaders (Collins; Cook-Greuter; Van de Ven & Poole). As a result, there is no shortage of literature that laments the difficulty of dealing with these paradoxical situations, also known as polarities, dualities, dilemmas, wicked problems, etc. (Holt & Seki; Johnson; Smith & Lewis), or that discusses the growing importance for leaders and organizations to deal with them effectively (Lewis; Petrie; Solkol).

But, unfortunately, few, if any, authors tell leaders how to develop that skill. While many talk about paradox and polarities, few demonstrate what to do with paradox or how to successfully manage it. Therein lies the need for, and purpose of, the Executive Certificate in Polarities and Paradox. It is a deep dive for leaders, coaches, and consultants into how to navigate paradox in their lives and the spaces in which they work – and to help others do the same.

One way to do this is to assist others as they develop a “both/and” mindset to supplement our natural tendency to think “either/or.” When situational paradoxes like the questions listed above are approached only from an “either/or” perspective, their inherent tensions can turn dysfunctional or even destructive (e.g., draw a hard line in the sand OR be diplomatic; focus on being collaborative OR competitive, etc.).  However, when leaders and systems are able to think and act from a “both/and” perspective, there is increased effectiveness and change efforts move forward with increased speed, less resistance, and more sustainability over time.

A “both/and” approach is necessary in these situations because the poles are not opposites, although some people see them that way.  The two poles are actually interdependent—they need each other and their benefits over time. While focusing on either pole can produce good things in the short term, choosing one pole as a “solution” to the neglect of the other pole causes the benefits to turn negative. It’s easy to imagine that dynamic at play when you consider polarities such as the examples below.

Some common polarities in organizations:




Internal Focus::External Focus

Focus on Task::Focus on Relationships

Employee Needs::Organization Needs

Local Focus::Global Focus

Some common polarities for leaders:


Big Picture::Details

Develop Bonds::Maintain Distance



Reward the Team::Reward Individuals


Unlike problems, which are typically puzzles involving independent solutions (e.g., Do we hire Vendor A or Vendor B?), polarities require solutions that are a more complex blend of both poles. Knowing how to navigate paradox by maximizing the upside benefits of both poles while minimizing the downside limitations is a competitive advantage for individuals, teams, and organizations. Unfortunately, doing so is not as easy as we would like – and some researchers say it is virtually impossible for many adults (Kegan; Cook-Greuter) until they are given different ways to make sense of the situations.

The good news is that there are ways to help individuals and organizations develop a “both/and” mindset. One of the most effective ways is by using a polarity map, created by Barry Johnson.  A map is an easy way for individuals and teams to capture the paradoxical tension in a way that allows them to make sense of it and take action to navigate it more effectively. When this happens, instead of the paradoxical tension turning destructive, results actually improve, communication in the group is strengthened, morale increases, and relationships deepen.

The Executive Certificate in Polarities and Paradox at Georgetown University helps leaders, coaches, and consultants deepen their own capacity to navigate paradoxical situations and provides practical applications for helping organizations and clients develop a both/and mindset.

Your One Wild and Precious Life

This post is adapted from Kate Ebner’s graduation address to ITL program graduates.  

In her beautiful poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Tell me, what is it that you plan to do next?

This week, we celebrate our graduates in the Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL). At ITL, our mission is to develop and sustain worldwide communities of transformational leaders, facilitators, consultants and coaches who are dedicated to awakening and supporting the leadership required for a more sustainable, harmonious and compassionate future.   Our mission is ever green.  This week, America has watched families seeking asylum being separated at our border, children, including infants, taken from parents and placed in detention centers.  We look around us and see daily evidence that our planet is suffering due to climate change caused by human activity, that there is great unrest around the world as countries struggle to determine the balance between compassionate policies and protecting their economies and ways of life.  We see great work that needs to be done in order to for us to learn how to communicate, relate and respect one another, respecting the full range of human experience in a way that includes people of every race, gender and sexuality.  We see that our generation of leaders is grappling with 21st century complexity – from new ways of working enabled by technology to changing expectations about the very nature of work in the global workplace.  Leadership today looks and must be different than ever before.  Our context calls for us to recognize and step up in a new era.

And so, our mission to engage in the work of awakening and supporting the leadership needed for a more sustainable, harmonious and compassionate future is right here, right now for us to do.   And, through our programs and learning events at ITL, we are doing it.

Sometimes, when I talk like this, people say, “But, Kate, it is not all bad.”  And that is absolutely true.  In fact, life – our lives – always present the dynamic polarities that give us hope and help us to envision a future that we want and can believe in even as we grapple with inevitable challenges. Here at ITL, our work is an investment in a positive future, a buddy jump if you will to create that positive future.  That harmonious, compassionate and sustainable future.  We see evidence every day of the goodness of humanity, our willingness to be stewards of the future.

This brings me back to you.  You have taken time and put in much effort to complete your certificates.  Congratulations!!  Leadership Coaching.  Transformational Leadership.  Facilitation.  Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Management.  Organization Consulting and Change Leadership. Health and Wellness Coaching.  You are the vanguard of the future.  Through your experiences here, you have created the kind of communities within your cohorts that model the transformational values that we teach in our classrooms.  You have learned to “set yourself aside” in order to open up to the possibilities of life, of work and of what you can do in this world.  We celebrate your achievement joyfully!

Choosing to go back to school, to learn more at this stage of your life is a courageous act.  We know that you have made sacrifices to achieve this certification, that you have put in many hours and that, most likely, along the way, you’ve asked yourself, “Is this right for me?”  Despite those moments and challenges, you stuck with it.  You practiced.  You shared.  You probably journaled!  You worked on it.   Congratulations on your outstanding achievement.  In making this choice, you have opened a door and walked across the threshold into new experiences that can change your life and open up the field of possibilities for you.  Now, it is up to you to decide how you will travel forward, how you will continue to embrace the discomfort and excitement of working at your learning edge, your own frontier.  This frontier is the place where leaders live.  As edgy as it is, it is familiar territory to you.

I’d like to close by reading Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, in its entirety to you.  Before I do that, I want you to know how proud and excited we are to welcome you into our community of compassionate leaders.  You are part of a proud tradition and now belong to a community of ~2000 graduates of ITL’s programs.  Together, we are awakening the world to be stewards of the future.

Here is The Summer Day:

Summer Day

By Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Please, stay connected with us.  Thank you and congratulations!