Archive for July, 2014

As a reminder, the ‘Basic Principles’ I have decided to briefly address are: Reverse the Rule; Understand the Differences between Causes and Consequences; Herding Cats; Emphasize ‘Meaning’; Build with Soft Clay; When Deciding, Be Humble; Act with Integrity. This morning I will continue with:

Understand the Differences between Causes and Consequences: It is common today (and has been for at least a generation) for organizations to believe that and then focus on restructuring as an antidote to what ails them. How might an organization decide whether to restructure or not? Here is a question that might help: ‘Is the restructuring a ‘cause’ or a ‘consequence’? If the ‘cause’ for restructuring is a ‘reaction’ to people, processes, policies, etc. the likelihood to make an impact – especially over time – is low. If, however, the desire to restructure is a ‘consequence’ of our efforts to create a more powerful learning-working-caring-spirit filled culture (or environment or climate) then there appears to be a greater chance that the restructuring will be embraced and over-time integrated. The restructuring needs to be a natural consequence of the organization’s efforts to improve. For example, an organization who is seeking to improve ‘team work’ and ‘cross-functional collaboration’ might well seek to develop and integrate small communities. We do know that small working communities have a better chance of developing the working relationships rooted in trust than do large groups where folks do not know one another or even have the opportunity to get to know others. It is crucial, however, that this ‘getting small’ is rooted in a natural consequence and is not simply a reaction to a ‘cause.’

Herding Cats: Developing an effective and healthy organization is akin to herding cats. The challenge of the leader is to work with others in order to help the cats move more in unison. The pace is often fast and furious and hectic and chaotic (at times it is simply confusing and anxiety producing). Ensuring that all are aware of the goal helps (this its self can be a daunting challenge for some leaders). ‘Head, Heart and Hands’ must be in alignment – powerful spirit-sustaining visions, core values and guiding principles help.

Traditionally, organizations attempt to herd cats by directing and by employing a linear model and by seeking to control the cats. Good Luck! This idea is rooted in the industrial and mechanical metaphor that organizations continue to embrace. Developing an organic metaphor can help – each of us human beings, like each cat, is unique in many ways; hence embracing diversity becomes crucial if an organization is going to successfully ‘herd cats.’

On the one hand, as the author Neil Gaiman noted: ‘I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.’ On the other hand, as the author Charles Dickens noted: ‘What greater gift than the love of a cat!’

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Leadership involves managing organizational patterns and structures; however, managing and restructuring are not the same. Consider that more important than the structure is the underlying theory of management and ‘organizational life’ which includes the values, beliefs, and norms, etc. that help support and frame the theory. How an organization looks represents its ‘external’ structure. The values, beliefs, principles, etc. that constitute its philosophy and theory constitute the ‘internal’ structure. Too often organizations put time, energy and resources into the former and ignore the latter; shifts and changes in the former but not the latter reinforce the well-known cynical adage: ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’ Ideally, internal and external changes (or transformations) will occur together. However, it is important to know (or remember) that internal changes (or transformations) do not for the most part depend on external changes.

Accessing the internal structure of an organization requires us to understand and then pay attention to some basic principles (the following list is not exhaustive). Consider the following basic principles: Reverse the rule; understand the differences between causes and consequences; herding cats; emphasize ‘meaning;’ build with soft clay; when deciding, be humble; act with integrity.

Reverse the Rule: Traditionally, organizations preach and practice ‘tight management’ and ‘loose culture.’ This is rooted in an organizational metaphor that was integrated during our industrial revolution and is still deeply rooted in our organizational psyches. The metaphor is that an organization is a clock and a clock is composed of people who are cogs, wheels, gears, drives, and pins, etc. Today, this metaphor has been replaced in many organizations by another inorganic metaphor, the banking metaphor and people are assets, resources and commodities and organizations seek a return on their investments. These metaphors give us the illusion of control and predictability. The charge of leadership is to ‘get control’ and to ‘regulate’ the clock-works or the ‘investments.’ It is assumed that if the leader gains control of the key elements all will move responsively (not necessarily responsibly) and the intent of the leader will be met. We tend to forget that this was clearly demonstrated NOT TO WORK in the 1930s (the famous Hawthorne Studies) – at least not on a sustained and continuous basis and not without continuous oversight and discipline.

It has been shown that organizations actually increase their likelihood of being ‘successful’ when they ‘reverse the rule.’ Rather than seeking to be managerially tight and culturally loose these organizations seek to be culturally tight and managerially loose (think Southwest Airlines, Synovus Financial, TDIndustries, Johnsonville Meats, ServiceMaster, Medtronics and Herman Miller). Employees respond significantly more positively to certain values, beliefs and principles and how they are ‘cared for’ than they do to managerial control and discipline.

Reversing the rule places emphasis on the ‘culture’ (which includes the macro and micro cultures and the sub-cultures). The ‘culture’ and the ‘relationships’ within the organization become the major tap roots that nurture the growth and development of the people and hence of the organization (the mechanical and banking metaphor is replaced by an organic, growth-developmental metaphor).

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Given that rapid shifts, changes and transformations are THE NORM, there are a number of qualities that designated leaders must develop (or develop more fully). ‘Develop’ has to do with skill building such that the skill becomes ‘second nature’ and it has to do with ‘building capacity’ for developing a skill has little to do with one’s capacity to utilize the skill. Once one has ceased to build capacity one begins to lose capacity (e.g. once a weight lifter ceases to lift he or she will lose the capacity to lift). The ideal is that the designated leader will develop the qualities AND we do not live in an ideal world; therefore a designated leader, at minimum, needs to ensure that these qualities are available via others so they can be utilized. There are a number of qualities that designated leaders need to develop and build their capacity for utilizing; I am going to offer us three to consider: the capacity to synthesize, the capacity to innovate, and the capacity to be perceptive.

The Capacity to Synthesize: Designated leaders who have developed their capacity to synthesize are able to sort through and make sense of the tsunami amounts of information that wash over them (often on a daily basis). They have the capacity to identify what is crucial and what is important. They are then able to put this together (synthesize it) in meaningful ways that can be understood by others and when needed can then be powerfully utilized.

The Capacity to Innovate: Designated leaders who have developed their capacity to innovate are able to combine known disparate and perhaps ‘conflicting’ elements in ways that enable folks to effectively solve problems, embrace paradoxes and polarities, and resolve or dissolve both ‘right-right’ and ‘harm-harm’ dilemmas (today designated leaders are faced with many more paradoxes, polarities and dilemmas than problems to be solved).

The Capacity to Be Perceptive: Designated leaders who have developed their capacity to be perceptive have developed their intuition (so that they trust it). They are able to perceive the crucial and the important. They are able to perceive the ingredients that help people and processes function in certain ways (ways that contribute, for example). They are able to perceive a diversity of styles (thinking, learning, listening, communicating, etc.) and then use their capacity to innovate so that these styles work more in harmony than in dissonance.

Capacity Building: In order for one to build his or her capacity the following ingredients – based upon my experience – are necessary. (1) A ‘need’ to do so (a ‘want’ or a ‘desire’ or a ‘wish’ will not be sufficient); (2) A skill must be developed; (3) A support system must be put into place and then utilized; (3) Certain ingredients must be in place (a swimmer, for example, who wants to develop his or her capacity to swim 20 miles without stopping will need the following ingredients: water, the right suit, a coach, certain physical and mental exercises, a certain diet, and practice); (4) Practice of the right sort is crucial for practice does not make perfect – practice makes permanent; (5) Capacity building is, in effect, never-ending – when I cease to build my capacity I begin to lose capacity.

None of this is easy; but it is doable. When the going is particularly challenging I have found the following mantra to be helpful: ‘I can’t go on! I go on!

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Recently I enjoyed a stimulating conversation with a good friend. He is near launching his blog and his newsletter; his focus will be ‘leadership’ [I will be posting a link to Jim’s blog once he has it up in August]. Our conversation was a stimulus for my taking some time these past days to reflect upon ‘leaders’ and ‘leadership’ and last night I decided to write a bit about what has (and continues) to emerge for me.

There are leaders – designated and situational. A leader, by definition, has at minimum one follower (no follower no leader, except perhaps by ‘title’). For many years now I define ‘leadership’ as the by-product of the leader-follower relationship; leadership is relationship centered, it is not centered in a single person. If the relationship is ‘functional’ then leadership is ‘functional’ and if the relationship is ‘dysfunctional’ then leadership is ‘dysfunctional’ – and therefore both the leader and the led are accountable and responsible for what we call ‘leadership.’

Today I will focus on the ‘designated’ leader (the person, who by title and role is considered to be a leader). I am thinking of leaders in the public and private sectors, in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. Today we also know that the rate of ‘shifts, changes, and transformations’ continue to emerge rapidly and in non-predictable ways – this combination is the ‘new norm.’

Given this, it seems that there are a number of qualities that today’s leaders must possess and develop more fully. This morning I offer you, gentle reader, three of them to consider. Currently these are the three that standout for me. They are: the capacity to synthesize, the capacity to innovate, and the capacity to be perceptive. A key word/concept in each of these statements is the word/concept ‘capacity.’

We can develop the skill or ability to synthesize and to innovate. We are born with the ability to be perceptive and as human beings we will, it seems, continue to develop our natural ability to be perceptive as we continue to mature. However, in order to develop our ‘capacity’ we must become awake and aware and intentional and purposeful and committed and disciplined. Once we stop building our capacity we begin to lose capacity (much like the weight lifter begins to lose his or her capacity for lifting weights once he or she ceases to lift; the longer the lay-off the greater the loss of capacity). Once we have integrated a skill so that it has become ‘second nature to us’ we will (all things being equal) always have access to that skill (think of ride a bike – once you have integrated the skill so that it has become second nature you can stop riding a bike for years and then get on a bike and within a minute or less you will be riding again).

So the first step for the leader is to develop his or her synthesizing and innovative skills and to discern his or her ability to be perceptive. Now the leader can begin to develop his or her capacity for each of these three qualities.

Next time we will briefly explore each of these qualities and then we will briefly explore my concept of capacity building.

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I concluded Part I with a question: ‘Does History justify revolutions?’ This is an ancient debate. Consider if you will, gentle reader, that it is well illustrated by Luther’s break from the Roman Church versus Erasmus’ plea for patient and orderly reform; or consider the Russian Revolution in 1917 which was fed by outworn and inflexible institutions (to be replaced by other inflexible institutions). Consider that the effects of the revolutions would have occurred via evolutionary processes not revolutionary processes. The United States would have become the dominant factor in the English-speaking world without her revolution. The French Revolution replaced the landowning aristocracy with the money-controlling business class as the ruling power – AND – a similar result occurred in nineteenth-century England without bloodshed and without disturbing the peace.

One of the things that revolutions do is redistribute wealth. Historically, wealth is an order and procedure of production and exchange rather than an accumulation of goods (which are mostly perishable) and is a trust in men and institutions rather than in the intrinsic value of paper money or checks; violent revolutions do not so much as redistribute this old type of wealth as destroy it.

With certain revolutions there may be a re-division of the land, but the natural inequality of men soon re-creates an inequality of possessions and privileges, and raises to power a new minority with essentially the same instincts as in the old.

Given this, gentle reader, consider another ancient take on revolutions. The only ‘real’ revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character (these can occur within three dimensions – the Individual, the Relational, the Organizational. Consider then that the ‘true’ (real?) revolutionists are philosophers, mystics and saints. Consider then that most of us have the potential to become one of these revolutionists for we have the potential and capacity to both enlighten our minds and improve our characters (Confucius and Plato believed that only a select few could achieve either; on the other hand Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad believed that we all are capable of achieving both).

History is our teacher and confirms all of the great thinkers to be correct – a paradox to be sure, perhaps a great irony, or perhaps just a bad joke that is being played on us human beings.

Is revolution necessary and does history justify revolution? The answer is ‘yes’ when it comes to the revolution that involves the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character. The answer is ‘perhaps not’ when it involves violence. If enough of us choose the former then perhaps we humans can avoid the latter. Our teacher, history, does provide us lessons for both options. Are we, the students, ready?


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Gentle reader, you might well be familiar with the ancient Chinese proverb: ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’ More recently a wise person noted that if we do not learn from history we are bound to repeat it. Are we, the students, ready to learn from history, our teacher? I wonder.

These past few weeks I have been thinking about ‘government’ and ‘history.’ There are lessons to be learned. Since we humans have ‘recorded’ history most governments have been oligarchies – ruled by a minority, chosen either by birth, as in aristocracies, or by a religious organization, as in theocracies, or by wealth, as in democracies. Rousseau noted that it is ‘unnatural’ for a majority to rule, for a majority can seldom be organized for united and specific action – whereas a minority can (in the United States we have two major political parties and both are controlled by a minority within the party and our elected officials receive a minority of the votes possible).

If the majority of abilities is contained in a minority of folks (traditionally men), minority government is as inevitable as the concentration of wealth; the majority can do no more than periodically throw out one minority and set up another (in the United States the established ‘Party’ that can woo the ‘Independents’ wins the National Election; the Independents are mostly ignored for two to three years and then catered to during an election year).

Historically, the aristocrat holds that political selection by birth is the sanest alternative to selection by money or theology or violence. At its best, Aristocracy selects a few (mostly men) and trains them from birth, through example and experience (e.g. holding minor offices) for the tasks of government; these tasks require a special preparation that no ordinary family or background can provide (as contrasted in a democracy where folks are not consciously prepared for government service).

Historically, Aristocracy not only nurtured statesmanship, it was also a repository and guardian of culture and served as a stabilizing influence. Note what happened to morals, manner and art during and since the French Revolution. The French Revolution emerged because the aristocracy monopolized privilege and power too narrowly, because it oppressed the people with selfish and ego-centric exploitation, because it retarded the growth of the nation by becoming addicted to ancestral ways, because it consumed the people and the resources of the state, because it relished ‘territorial wars’ (think: ‘build an empire’). The majority finally had enough and the excluded banded together in a violent revolt. The ‘new rich’ joined with the ‘old poor’ and the guillotine cut off a thousand noble heads. Then, democracy took its turn in the misgovernment of mankind.

As an alternative, does history justify revolutions? We will explore this question next time.

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We all have expectations – ask any optimist or pessimist. Expectations are rooted in our ability to imagine (some would say ‘visualize’), in our past experiences, in our hopes and fears, in our perceptions and in the metaphors we use to make sense of the/our world. Given these roots – and others that I have not mentioned – it is easy for us to move our expectations into the land of fantasy. I remember that more than forty year ago I participated in a ‘Creative Writing’ course. The professor was attempting us to focus on our craft and yet a number in the room kept moving us to a discussion about ‘publishing our work.’ Their imagination had shifted to a, then, fantasy land. Their expectations shifted from ‘writing’ to ‘royalties.’ Consider, gentle reader, that expectations rooted in illusion tend lead to an experience rooted in disillusionment.

On the other hand, expectations rooted in the work itself become the useful tools the art-maker possesses. In other words, what we need to know about our next work is contained within our past work. For example, for the writer the place to learn about your execution is in your execution; the best information about what you love is rooted in your last contact with the work you love. Our work itself is our guide, our teacher, our mentor. As long as we work our work we have a never-ending reference book to help us.

This reference book is ours alone. Think about it. We have at our disposal a great reference book and no one else has access to it; it is ours alone. Our work teaches us about our work; it teaches us about our methods; it teaches about our disciplines (or lack of them); it teaches us about our potentials; it teaches us about our strengths and it informs us as to our growing edges. The questions of course: Are we open to perceiving? Are we open to learning? Are we truly educable? Are we committed searchers, seekers and learners?

The lessons I am meant to learn are contained within my work. Am I willing to look closely and clearly – without the judgment that cripples and without the fear that stifles and blocks and without wishes and hopes. Try asking your work what it needs – not what you need. Then stop, step-back and listen. Listen intently and receptively. Listen as you want to be listened to. Listen as the good parent does to the searching and seeking child. With this type of listening the teacher will speak; our inner guide will step forth onto the stage and speak.

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