Group Dynamic Primer Conclusion: Art’s Triangle and the Handwritten Matrix

WARNING:  This post is nothing but a story, though you will find usable content at the end.  Also, it’s over 700 words.  If you’re a long-time loyal reader, though, it’s required reading.  (If you’re new to this blog, this is really the last thing you ought to read. I suggest starting here.)

As mentioned at the outset of this series, many in my life performed an “informal intervention” in 1996, and I started reading anything I could get my hands on.  From weighty, original source material to popular repacked wisdom, I devoured the literature on leadership and organizational dynamics.

I took notes, outlined, highlighted, and made charts to track what the commonalities were between all of these thoughts.  Rigorous in some ways, and nerdy as all get-out. Regardless, those notes, and charts, and scribbles evolved into a model that saved “my people” from me.

Passionate, motivated, and cheered by the success of that model, it became the curriculum that I started sharing with others, and have summarized here over the last eight posts.

For the last 2 months, I’ve been searching for the handwritten matrix I used as my crude research guide, so I could post a picture of it.  I’m bummed that I can’t find it.

I remember having a “top 4” and a “top 8” — that is, four items that were basically undisputed were Service, Vision, Integrity, and Communication.  The other four that had wide support, but weren’t universal, were Modeling, Stretching and Growing [often called other things, like Sharpening the Saw, or Constant Self-Improvement], Positivity, and Passion.  Then there were more, that weren’t universally identified as primary traits, but other behaviors, that seemed worthy of inclusion, like “sharing the credit,” “risk-taking,” and “celebrating and encouraging.”

But the curriculum started to get unwieldy, and I realized I needed to get it organized.  I needed help.

So I called Art.

It’s good to have someone in your life to talk sense into you – to keep you humble while giving you support, to balance motivation with caution, and to stand above you on the balcony to give you the big picture.

For much of college, that was Art. He was caution to my impulse, calm to my hyper, and always let me make mix tapes from his eclectic CD collection.  He was also our campaign manager when his girlfriend, Amy, and I ran for Student Body President/Vice-President. (We lost the election, but the two of them are now married with three awesome kids.)

Art was one of the absolute best “people” people I’ve ever known — and still is, by the way.  His path led him to higher education, working in student life.  He’s a Dean of Students now.

He was, and is, a great leader.  So, when I was getting all impulsive and hyper and motivated to cram this curriculum together into a “leadership feast” that was so content-laden that it threatened to become indigestible, I knew that Art could help me make it make sense. Art knows people, knows education, and knows leadership.

Art said something like this:

“Scale it down to 6 elements, and make it a triangle. Three on the points, three on the sides. Six.  Easy to picture, easy to remember, easier for you to focus it.”

“But I have ELEVEN!” I argued.

“Scale it down to six.”

“Can’t do it.”

“Yes you can.”

“Fine.  Eight.  Service, Vision, Integrity, Communication, Modeling, Stretching and Growing, Positivity, and Passion.”

“Nope.  Too many. You could make it seven, and put one in the middle.”

“I’ll combine positivity and passion, and stick ‘positive passion’ in the middle.”

“Fine. That’s seven.”



Art is a great friend, and an amazing man.  And over the last 13 years, thousands of people have experienced this curriculum, and filled in their triangle in their handout booklet.  But they don’t know Art’s role.

Without Art, people might be filling in a confusing, unwieldy matrix instead of a tidy, memorable, meaningful triangle.  And he’s never gotten the credit he deserves.

That’s okay with him; he is the picture of humility and lives to serve, not get kudos.  But isn’t that the way it always is with folks like Art?  One of the many, many reasons I admire- and have always – admired the man.

So – credit where credit is due:

I don’t know where Group Dynamic and this leadership curriculum would be if it weren’t for Art Sunleaf.  Thank you, Art.

Is there someone in your life who has changed your course in this way?  Who would that be?   Idea (man, I can’t help but find SOME way to put actionable content in here): write a tribute to that person.  Or, at least, handwrite a thank you note.  So they know. Because they deserve to.

[Next week – back to normal – a simple technique to organize and act on your learnings from a conference.]

  1. Sameer
    | Reply

    Love, Art. The kind that hangs on walls. And the Sunleaf variety.

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