Sam & Kris: Intergenerational Partnership

By Sam Clayton & Kris Schaeffer

Sam Clayton, an Emerging Leader, and Kris Schaeffer, an Experienced Leader, first met at a Berrett-Koehler Foundation (BKF) workshop on Intergenerational Communications. The workshop’s goal – participants will find one person in another generation to work with. Together they select a project – from either partner – and then, while completing it, also observe how they worked together, worked out their differences, and share the experience.

Here are BKF’s steps in the Partnership Process and what Sam and I learned about working across generations.

“I bet you run with a lot of young people,” Sam said to me. “What a compliment! I may just not retire,” I replied. Sam and I were debriefing our first four months of working together and some of the key lessons we learned.

Matching / Pairing

Finding a partner takes a mix of luck and skill. The workshop was designed to match people up using a form of intergenerational speed dating. But speed dating gives you only a brief glance at a face and a business card. We didn’t have much time to explore our interests, our projects, our expertise.  There was just enough time to make an initial impression – Sam’s British accent; my name tag that said “Mindfulness.”  So we scheduled a longer meeting to see if we were a match.

Sam: “At the BK workshop, I gathered several names of potential partners and had already met with some of them before I met with you. I really didn’t know what you had to offer and how you would fit into my project.” 

Kris: “Aha! That explains why you were making me prove myself. You were asking some pretty tough questions.” 

Sam: “I had already rejected one coach who didn’t have the skill set that I needed. The situation felt somewhat unpleasant so I didn’t want to have another experience like that. I guess I made you prove that you were self-secure. And you are.”

Kris: “That’s learned from a lifetime of being a female consultant in some very male organizations. Some clients behave like truck drivers in suits.”

Sam: “Clearly you are a badass.” 

Kris: “You flatter me too much.”

Tip: Not all coaches are the right fit. Search until you have an appropriate match.

Tip: A good match may be either someone who has the content experience or who is a personality fit. A great match is when the partner has both.

Getting to Know You

To find a partner, go deep. What does the person value? What sparks joy? What they are excited about? We had more time in our first meeting to learn about each other. We talked about the work we were doing, found our common interest, and chose which project to work on.

Sam: “I began to see a connection when you told me about your project – writing about using mindfulness on your healing journey.” 

Kris: “While I was enrolled in a year-long mindfulness program for social change agents, I was injured. Mindfulness kept me sane during all the grueling physical therapy.” 

Sam: “You are involved in social action and spirituality. That’s not only key values for us Millennials, but also they are two of the elements of the future model I was working on. We were very aligned.” 

Kris: “You started with a killer model for imagining the future –a new vision that inspires deep optimism, shared purpose, and collaborative action. I’m quoting from your web site, Sam. This is beautiful.” 

Sam: “You got it right away.”

Kris: “What I loved was that your future is optimistic and interconnected. I wanted to work on your project, not mine.”

Tip: Shared values build a strong foundation for a partnership.

Tip: The Experienced Leader needs to be on the cutting edge of culture. The project moves quickly because both partners are using the same and compatible skills and information.

Setting Ground Rules

Ideally, the partners have compatible work styles. In reality, that is rare. Partners need to work out their differences in how they work. For most of the project, Sam and I worked virtually from two different locations. He’d write; I’d edit in a back-and-forth exchange. Then when Sam’s work had progressed to a point where he was ready, we got together to discuss the project face to face. Kindly, Sam came to my office so I didn’t have to commute.

Our own ground rules evolved as we continued to work together. It was a natural urge to have an agenda and outcomes for our meetings. They started and ended on time. We focused on the task at hand and had the same work-first-before-play ethic.

An important element of our partnership was telling the truth, giving honest feedback in a constructive way. Sam did shift his idea from change maker dinners to a web site.

The How you work is as important as the What you are working on.

Kris: “Sam, you made it easy for me. You came to my office; you were always on time, and you stayed only as long as needed. I felt that you respected my time.”

Sam: “Of course. I felt I owed you that.”

Kris: “Your progress on your project drove our timeline. We’d meet when you were ready. We’d talk and then you’d go away to digest it.”

Sam: “Work unfolds in fits and starts. Creativity can’t always conform to the clock or calendar. I appreciated that you were available when I needed you and that you didn’t impose a superficial structure that would not have been suited to my creative enterprise.”

Kris: “I see no reason to meet for meeting’s sake.”

Sam added: “You were pretty challenging and told me the truth. Honestly, I don’t want someone to give me praise when I haven’t earned it.”

Kris: “Well, you certainly have earned my admiration.”

Sam: “But I don’t know if I would say that to any coach at the beginning of a relationship – please, be tough. That has to come from the coach.”

Tip: Create a structure and ground rules that work for both partners. Ground rules may evolve as the work moves on.

Tip: An idea blooms with skillful pruning. Keep the best parts of an idea and use that root stock for the rest of the plant to grow upon. The coach is a gardener who provides light and food for the plant.

Tip: Ask questions; don’t tell your partner what to do. In this way, the new idea remains his own.

Tip: Provide guidance and honest feedback. Provide the feedback in a style that fits the partner’s readiness to listen.

Working on the Project

Sam had a big idea – the strategic thinking should include four elements of technology, ecology, social justice, and spiritual awakenings. And Sam’s vision included engaging with other change makers and futurists. His initial idea – to have change maker dinners. His ultimate idea – to build a web site with these ideas to spread, engage, and collaborate with others.

So we worked not only on Sam’s articles but also the design of the web site. I helped by pointing him to others who had done similar work – writing and speaking. I networked him with them so he could learn his own way forward – write first and then speak? How to get speaking engagements? I’m not the subject expert myself, but I could get him lined up with others who are.

Sam: “For me, the most important part of our working together was that you never smothered my idealism. And you never told me that I was wrong.”

Kris: “I’m still an optimist. Martin Luther King said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it slowly bends towards justice.’ I admire that you quit your job to pivot your entire career toward this big idea. That takes a lot of courage and commitment.”

Sam: “Did you ever do that?”

Kris: “Yes, I took a pay cut to teach in an alternative school that taught service learning for social change. Now I’m working for corporations who believe in social change and conscious capitalism.”

Sam: “Optimism isn’t just for the young, is it?” 

Kris: “That’s exactly right, Sam.”

Tip: Use your experience and network. Share freely.

Tip: Your project may morph into another direction. Be honest about what you can and cannot do to help.

Tip: Stay alert that you are not encouraging old thinking onto a new idea.

Deepening the Relationship

Lessons learned. Debrief. The project ends. Will the relationship continue?

One of the exciting elements of working together was not only the excitement of seeing the project come to fruition, but also to reflect on the lessons learned. This was a true partnership – the Experienced Leader learned from the Emerging Leader.  We spent an entire meeting talking about the project and what we got out of the relationship.

This article is one aspect of our sharing. We hope that others in different generations are open to opportunities to work together , and that you gain some ideas about how to do that.

Kris: “You know, I wasn’t kidding when I said that I had been thinking of retiring. You have been a great help to me, Sam.” 

Sam: “That’s good. I wanted this partnership to be balanced.”

Kris: “You let me know that I have what it takes to work with Millennials, with younger people. I’m not going to retire. Not only am I going to continue working, but I also will change the focus of my consulting work. Now I’ll consult to Conscious Capitalists and social entrepreneurs. They’re trying to do good in the world.”

Sam: “That’s quite a shift.” Kris: “Well, you helped me remember that I did the same thing before. I can do it now.”

Kris: “I guess I need to change my web site.” 

Sam: “I’m glad you say that. Honestly, your site reeks . . . of an old-fashioned business model. It doesn’t appeal to Millennials.”

Kris: “Now you tell me. You’re right, Sam.”

Sam: “Let me work with you on that.”

Kris: “I see that this is leading to a long -term relationship.”

Tip: Get connected to working with Millennials. They are your next friends, customers, and confidants.

Tip: Leave your heart open to working with other generations.

Check out Sam’s new website at

Kris’s website is a work in progress. If you want to see the Before version, it’s at

Sparks of Gratitude

Sparks of Gratitude

written by Kira Lynne Allen

The invitation to the October Eighth BK Leadership Exchange that stands out in my mind said, “Be.Share.Nourish. An Intergenerational Gathering to Build Resilient Leaders . . . This is a space to meet like-minded people who care about the intersections of leadership, social justice, community and personal well-being. . . . you are invited to contribute your wisdom and curiosity.” As a poet who wants to touch people’s hearts more than their minds, everything about the description appeals to me and the day more than lived up to its goals. Our intergenerational design team: Kerline, Kim, Claude, Antonia, Todd, and Amanda, poured their hearts into each activity. From examining how we begin to see past stereotypes to nourishing both our bodies and our minds over a sacred lunch, each of us were led to add to the day in our own way.

One of the strengths I bring to leadership is vulnerability; after all how do you ask people to pull back the veil if you are not willing do it yourself. Still, sometimes being really real in a room full of strangers is much easier said than done; and yet during our time together, it feels effortless — even when it’s embarrassing. You see, somewhere between the anxiety and the absence of basic decorum of our very contentious presidential election, the grief of multiple collective/personal/planetary losses this year and the internal demon that says, not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough to actually do anything about it all, I’m almost agoraphobic. Participating in the BK Leadership Exchange was my way of pushing through my fear to be amongst a community that can and in fact does restore my hope that there are REAL people, willing to do the work to make this world a better place.

People like Kim Clark, who taught us about how she’s marrying Critical Race Theory (outward social criticism at the intersection of identities) and spirituality (inward contemplation of what’s working) to completely shift the paradigm of social transformation. This is my shorthand version of a complex presentation that I didn’t want to end, so much so that I think should be it’s own PhD program somewhere, and if its all I got out of the day, I’d be richer for it, but I got so much more. I’m so grateful to be engaging with fellow participants, who brought brilliance, innovation, collaboration and compassion to every activity. After only six hours together I want to know how Mansi and Penny and Oscar are doing; I want to break bread again with Yi and walk the lake with Simma because I want to feel the nourishing, soul-stirring growth that comes from being together and sharing the weight of the world in order to know there are so many more possibilities than hate and hopelessness. I shared this poem at the end of the day and I want to share it again as a reminder to us all that our resiliency lies in remembering we are never alone.

Just go head n sparkle sistas
Shinin’ light on this foggy night
Don’t you go nowhere sistas
without knowin’ your posse got your back
Cause thinkin’ you alone
same as thinkin’ you dead
You gotta see ain’t no sucha thing as alone
we all in this here together
So go on ahead n shine sistas
your words be signal to the next
Cause someone else need your light
to make it home alive tonight
n just like Harriet Tubman say
We gotta Move or Die
So even when you feelin’ mighty low
n it seem like someone done stole your voice
Just go head n speak sistas
cause the poetry what flow help us all to know
We be bold beautiful sistas
n we be the sparks that burn down the house of hate

My Path to Peace


Left to right: Matthias S., Jemima G., Kent K., Janet R., Julia W., & Tuquynh T.

Over two months ago, I was invited to attend the Shinnyo-en Foundation’s (SEF) Annual Retreat to represent BK Foundation. Located in beautiful Marshall, CA overlooking Tomales Bay, this retreat brought together an intimate group of nearly 50 intergenerational participants to engage in meaningful dialogue around youth leadership and service-learning. High school, college, and graduate-level participants took on leadership roles of facilitating small group discussions. Similar to the two-way partnerships created by the BK Foundation’s Experiential Exchange, these youth also had experienced leaders cheering them on throughout the three-day event, offering encouragement, guidance, and feedback on their facilitation.

The retreat was infused with laughter and opportunities to bond through fun ice-breaker activities, a talent show, free-form dancing, and even a design-thinking workshop that provoked us to brainstorm ideas on how to encourage more young people to positively engage with their communities. This entire experience reminded me of BK Foundation’s Leadership Exchange event that happened last January, where a safe space was created for participants to tap into their own wisdom and curiosity to allow for deep connection and understanding across generations.


Through the Design Thinking Activity, my team created a prototype of an app that
provided positive incentives when young people volunteer in their communities.

The most meaningful experience for me came on Sunday morning before the retreat ended. We had a group meditation session guided by Jay Gibson, SEF’s Vice President, followed by a silent labyrinth walk. Each participant was asked to reflect on one question: What is your path to peace?


Group meditation session, led by Jay Gibson (SEF Vice President)

Tears welled up in my eyes when it was my turn to walk. I was faced with my past, present, and future as I noticed the participants who went before me, my place in the line, and those who were waiting behind me. There was no running away. There was no where to hide. In that moment of confronting my own fears and feelings of anxiety about where I am at in my life, I couldn’t help but think of my parents, my grandparents, and my ancestral lineage roots in Vietnam who have brought me into this world. More importantly, I thought about the child that I will one day have. What kind of world would I want to bring this baby into? What kind of legacy would I want to create and leave behind?

My retreat experience have led me to a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the community partnership we have with SEF. In the following Monday after the retreat had ended, I woke up feeling inspired, energized, and more dedicated to carrying forth BK Foundation’s mission. I still don’t have a clear answer to my legacy question. I trust that it will come with time. For now, all I know is that creating a world that works for all is my path to peace. It is how I want to live, work, and play.

Article is written by Tuquynh Tran. The Shinnyo-en Foundation has generously given the BK Foundation a grant to support our Experiential Exchange Program and non-profit leadership development collaboration.

Brave Enough to Be Vulnerable

dsil_mansi_colorFall Leadership Exchange Reflection by Mansi Kakkar

I was sitting on my couch reading a book when one of my friends emailed me about the BK Foundation Leadership Exchange. “Not another leadership event!” I thought to myself. I read the email with an apprehensive predisposition and got back to my reading. However over the course of the next two weeks I had the event at the back of my mind — something about the intergenerational aspect had me curious. At the last minute, I decided to go.

As I walked into the office of Berrett-Koehler Publishing I was greeted by two very cheerful and friendly people. They signed me in and welcomed me into a spacious room lit by abundant morning light, with a mesmerizing view of the beautiful city of Oakland. I looked around the room and saw unfamiliar but friendly faces. I lingered around the snacks, giving my introvert self something legitimate to do. Then we began. We were seated in a big circle that felt welcoming, equal, natural and yet unprecedentedly intimate. From habit I put up my guard, my professional persona hiding my complete self.

But activity after activity I felt myself loosening, my authenticity feeling safe and then safe enough to surface. I started laughing louder, feeling kinship to people whose names I hardly knew. This was different then what my countless experiences had been in the Bay Area. I was starting to feel gratitude bring down my guard.

In the morning the room of forty people were engrossed in a conversation about race and spirituality through the lens of Critical Race Theory. During lunch we mindfully ate a delicious meal. Our discussion revealed the beauty of my fellow participants, who were brave enough to be vulnerable and taught me it was safe for me to be too. This was the perfect preparation for the second half of our day where we got to reflect on our needs as leaders and seek support from others. What ensued was the most deeply personal yet constructive conversation I’d had in a long time. It was truly uplifting to hear familiar words and experiences from new voices. I felt I was not alone in my struggle to do the work that I do.

I heard people sing, share stories, share joy and simply be themselves.

I felt deep human connection. I laughed, cried and even danced. Most importantly, I belonged.

By Mansi Kakkar, 28, Chief Zentrepreneur of The Social Innovation Collective, San Francisco, CA.

How Does One Unlearn Anything?

Responding to the need for deeper tools to support our intergenerational teams, BK Foundation began hosting “Unlearning For Intergenerational Collaboration” workshops last March. Former Design Team member Shirley Huey shares her experience at the July 25, 2016 workshop.


Group photo of the Unlearning participants.

Twelve of us gathered on a recent late July evening to break bread together, to create community, and to share space. What brought us together: BKF’s “Unlearning Workshop for Intergenerational Collaboration.”

What, you might ask, is “unlearning”? How does one unlearn anything? The word suggests that it is possible to undo what one has learned. It evokes an image of an unfolding of layers—peeling back an onion perhaps—to get to the heart of things. But is it possible to ever unlearn anything? And indeed, hasn’t it always been avowed that a person’s learning is the one thing that “they” (the oppressors, the aggressors, those that would take away your rights and possessions) can’t take away from you? Given that context, what the heck does unlearning mean, and why would we want that? These are the questions that flew through my mind when I responded “yes” to BKF’s invitation.

What I came away with:

  • That “unlearning” for intergenerational collaboration involves opening up to a place of deep listening, genuine curiosity, and playfulness;
  • That this process requires commitment to stretching beyond comfort zones to new places of vulnerability and authenticity;
  • That “unlearning” is as much about rejecting simplistic binary framings of the world and its problems (e.g., good vs. evil, community vs. government, love vs. anger) as it is about embracing the complexity of discomfort where those dualities, and everything in between, co-exist; and
  • That “unlearning” –and staying in the our stretch zone – starts with ourselves and how we show up in respect and love for the diverse people we meet and interact with every day.

For me, this reinforced the importance of something that I am consciously incorporating into my work these days: naming those moments in group meetings when the dynamics of power and privilege emerge and, to paraphrase bell hooks’ language, to use my privilege as facilitator “in ways that empower those who lack it.” We cannot address structural and systemic inequities without first naming them when they arise in our everyday lives, however uncomfortable it may be to do so.  


“Unlearning” for intergenerational collaboration involves opening up to a place of deep listening, genuine curiosity, and playfulness.

Thanks to BKF for bringing together such wonderful ideas and people into my life. I am excited to continue learning and unlearning with you all.

Shirley Huey, J.D., is a writer and principal at Ceanothus Consulting. Shirley specializes in facilitating transformative multi-stakeholder dialogues and planning processes within and between organizations and communities. She can be reached at