Michael McAfee presented this keynote address at the 2016 QCOSS State Conference 'Everything is possible' on 7 September 2016.

This video showcases the highlights of his talk about using the self as an instrument of change.

You can also watch the full presentation (40 minutes) or access some of the documents from his presentation.

For more information on the QCOSS State Conference 2016 visit the conference website.


So what I wanted to talk to you about today is really this notion of: do you really believe everything is possible? How many of you all really believe that, really, really believe it? I don't want you to just raise your hands or anything, just think about that for a moment, because all around the world: this is our moment.

For those of us who are in leadership positions, if we are building an institution and we don't believe it - something's wrong. And no matter where I go there are a couple of things that I have observed and that I've come to really believe and hold dear in my own leadership.

The first is this: the self is a beautiful instrument of change. The self is a beautiful instrument of change – but that assumes that you want to be that. It assumes that you want to be that - do you really want to get up every day and manifest possibility in your behavior, in your language, in the work that you really do? How do you show up and manifest possibility? How do you show up and manifest possibility - I'm going to give you a couple of ways that you can do it that are safe, and they can become more profoundly bolder as you go and you step into your leadership.

The first is to remember what do you want to see in the world - you came to this work for a reason - what do you want to see in the world? And to always be clear about what are you working for - not the job that you have, I'm not talking about the job that you have, I'm not talking about your responsibilities that you measure performance by. There's a way that I go through the world, I was telling people yesterday - my title is simply an HR function, that's for them to figure out my compensation levels and take care of that - what I've been put on this earth to do is my responsibility. Do you see the difference? I could be the Vice-President of Programs and I can act like the CEO, I could act like the President of United States, or I can act like a secretary if I wanted to. How I manifest that possibility is my job to think about that, and it actually has nothing to do with my role. My role may give me more latitude the higher up I go, and the more positional power that I get but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm sure many of you all know people who have titles and are quite ineffective.

So what I'm asking you to think about is this: show up and hold the interest of the population. Who do you serve? Who do you serve - are you holding the interest of that population in mind? For me, I'm always holding the interest of the hundred million children and families in America that live at two hundred percent of the poverty line, so no matter what conversation I'm in, I'm always in a conversation where I'm carrying the voice, wisdom and experience of that population. That's it, and the reason why that's so important is because it allows me to discern what conversations I should be in and where I should not be. It allows me to understand: am I in a results-based conversation or is this really a waste of my time? What population do you own, in service of your leadership? That's the first thing.

The second is, are you aware enough about yourself that you actually know what you're capable of? Do you know your potential? Do you see greatness in you when you look in the mirror? Do you have a heart of service, do you want to fight for the most vulnerable? I believe that's why we came to this work in the first place - to do this work! And what I'm asking you to think about right now is - it is hard because many of us in positions have forgot the ability to, we've lost the capacity to build our institutions and to dream. We've really lost it, we satisfice now, we do what is feasible. When you do what is feasible it is easy to become mediocre. Part of our problem is that many of us do not actually have a conscious, thoughtful arc of change that we want to see with our leadership. You know I was telling folks yesterday about the book "Winning Marriage" that chronicles the gay rights movement over 20 years of them setting an arc of change and actually winning on that issue. Folks, many of us have to get much more strategic than just doing stuff and hoping that that translates to change – it doesn't! It could just mean you spend 20 years and all you've done is a bunch of stuff.

So what I'm inviting you think about is this - actually declare this is the change I would like to see, I'm going to start working on that change today, and I would like to see these markers of progress in say three to five-year increments, and figure out who do I need to join to make that happen, and list those folks underneath it, and then go back and say how can I show up at work differently so that I am manifesting, leading, in a way that's going to get me there.

So I want you to think about actually believing again in possibility. I want you to be resilient in that belief, even if it's hard for you to believe it right now, I want you just to try to take a couple of steps. Just try to take a couple of steps to say - forget possibility - just try to transform something in service of the people that you care about and are privileged to serve. Just try to change one thing: figure out how you could have a different conversation with someone to shift something, figure out how you hold the space intellectually so the whole sector will begin to come to your ideas. How would you do that, how can you extend the practice of what you do by running the best programs in the nation?

There is possibility within each and every one of us. I want you to live up to it. I'm trying every day to live up to it, in spite of being scared, in spite of being uncertain, in spite of not having all the answers, in spite of not having all the skills that I need to really be able to do this work. But there's one thing that I do have that many others don't: I believe in collective impact. I believe in abandoning myself to the strengths of others and when I'm vulnerable enough to join with others, everything becomes ok and we can get great work done.

So I want you to try to believe again, I want you to try to join with others. I want you to try to abandon yourself to allowing someone else to support you. I want you to try to join with others to try to get bigger results and I want you to be able to quantify what those results are and look back in a year and see what happens. That's the work for our time - the work for our time is not to write another report, the work for our time is not to give another rousing speech, the work for this moment is to actually do the work.


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