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Archive for August, 2014

For more than sixty years now many theories of management and leadership have been rooted in three different assumptions about human rationality. During the past five to ten years more and more research has indicated that we humans are primarily emotionally and intuitively rooted (i.e. we ‘lead’ with these) and that more often than not we use our rational capacities to justify or ‘rationalize’ our decisions and actions (after the fact). Even so it appears as if the rational-based theories are still quite popular. Here are three of them that you, gentle reader, have probably heard about, if not subscribed to yourself.

Humans are Rational. We humans think and act in ways that are consistent with our goals and our self-interest. If we are ‘rewarded’ for this we will repeat what was rewarded. In order to have we humans behave in a certain way then make the desired behavior clear to us and make it worth our while to engage in the desired behavior.

Humans are Limited in Their Rationality. We humans can only make sense of a small piece of the/our world at a time. Given this, we strive to act reasonably in relation to the extent that we grasp the ‘facts’ and the ‘options.’ We will, more or less, be open to change if we are actively involved in problem solving; we are less likely to be open to change if you simply tell us what to do.

Humans are Rational when Acting Together. As individuals, our ability to reason is limited. Our ability to reason increases, dramatically at times, when the wisdom of the collective is honored. We humans are more likely open to change if we are truly ‘in it together’ – we become interdependent and we tap into the wisdom of the collective (this ‘wisdom’ is rooted in diversity).

The first assumption, ‘Humans are Rational,’ is rooted in the industrial/mechanical metaphor. It served the ‘assembly line’ well. Each of the other two strive to move away from this assumption. The third assumption, often called ‘teamwork,’ is still over-shadowed by the first two in our culture (for example, even though a team is created the rewards/incentives are still rooted in the individual-focused model; we love our individual ‘stars’).

Consider that ‘rationality’ is achieved when people are able to ‘make sense’ of their/our world. The more we are able to make sense the more rational we seem to become (the more our emotive and intuitive responses will be in alignment with our rational responses). It seems that one way our sense of things increases is to have us, together, define the issue (the problem, the polarity, the paradox and/or the dilemma) and then to think about it together and then to emerge, again together, ways of engaging it. Not only does our ‘sense of it’ increase we are more likely to emotionally ‘own’ it (emotional ownership is more powerful than ‘buy-in’).

One charge of the designated leader is to help those who choose to follow to develop their capacities so they can move from the traditional independent ‘I’ to an interdependent ‘we.’ Among other things, this requires deep trust between and among all.

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Today we will explore the seventh and final ‘Basic Principle’. . .

Act with Integrity: For certain leaders a primary guiding principle is to ‘act with integrity at all times.’ Acting with integrity at all times is also one of the five most difficult things for most leaders to do. If one chooses to embrace any of the other six basic principles then moral questions (questions of integrity) will follow. Too often designated leaders advocate (if not push) an ill-fitting, rationalistic management theory. One crucial consequence of this is the constant attempt to shape human nature to fit theory. We ‘consultants’ are notorious for advocating this way – we present ‘our favorite’ theory and then seek to manipulate (some call it change or transform) the humans to fit the theory. One way we do this is to offer a metaphor that supports our theory – in our culture we have several favorite metaphors that require human nature to adjust to in order to fit: the mechanical/industrial metaphor (people are cogs in the great machine); the war metaphor, and our current favorite metaphor, the banking metaphor (people are assets, resources and commodities).

Consider that a moral and rational approach for organizational development/improvement would be to embrace and integrate a theory that fits human nature (an organic metaphor, for example – ‘community’ is one such metaphor).

No matter the approach, however, moral questions loom large; integrity is afoot. Why? Consider, gentle reader, that whenever there is an unequal distribution of power between two people, the relationship becomes a moral one. Inherent in a leader-led relationship is an unequal distribution of power (at its root, power = one’s ability to act; a leader has an ability to act that the led do not have).

The leader-led relationship is rooted in agreements (some explicit and some implicit). One of these involves ‘control.’ Because the leader has ‘power’ that the follower does not possess the follower agrees to surrender some control; the follower assumes (or is it hopes or desires) that this control will not be exploited (which involves the leader acting immorally); the integrity of the leader is now front and center. This idea also moves leadership from a ‘right’ (based upon the designated role of the leader) to a ‘responsibility.’ Also, because ‘leadership’ is a by-product of the relationship between the leader and the led both are charged with providing support to one another and are also charged with holding one another accountable.

Leaders who act with integrity are concerned with the growth and development of those who freely choose to follow (I am now thinking of Robert K. Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the ‘Servant-Leader: ‘Do those served grow as persons. . .’). For some the tests of ‘moral’ leadership (i.e. leaders acting with integrity) are whether the competence, well-being (i.e. P.I.E.S. health), and independence/inter-dependence of the led are enhanced as a consequence of the leader-led relationship and the agreements that support this relationship. Both the leader and the led are charged with supporting one another and are also charged with holding one another accountable (we know both leaders and led whose primary goal is primarily ‘self-benefit’).

Leadership – which is rooted in the relationship between the leader and those who freely choose to follow – is, therefore, concerned with being ‘effective,’ ‘efficient,’ and ‘faithful.’ An organizational philosopher might state this as seeking the ‘good,’ support everyone’s ‘truth,’ and enhancing the ‘beauty’ of the endeavor.

When it comes to acting with integrity, questions of what is ‘right;’ what works for all; and what makes ‘sense’ (see the basic principle ‘Emphasize Meaning’) need an equal amount of time, energy and commitment as ‘being effective,’ ‘being efficient’ and ‘being faithful’ do. Polarities exist with each of these and which polarity the leader chooses to embrace reveals to what extent he or she is acting with integrity.

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We have two more ‘Basic Principles’ to explore; today we will focus on the sixth Principle:

When deciding, Be Humble: I cannot begin to count the number of times my mother admonished me to ‘be humble.’ What does this mean, this ‘be humble’? The dictionary gives us some guidance. As a transitive verb it means ‘to make meek’ and ‘meek’ means ‘to be humbly patient.’ Well, I did note that the dictionary did provide ‘some guidance’ not a clear destination. I have interpreted my mother’s admonishment to mean: ‘don’t be arrogant, or boastful, or pride-full – hold your ego in check.’ Consider if you will, gentle reader, that humble decision-making requires the leader to be intentionally and purpose-fully reflective. To be more of a gradualist than a quick-hitter when it comes to making certain decisions. This leader will not fear ‘trial and error.’ This leader seeks out and heeds a diversity of feedback; the belief is that others have experience, wisdom and insights that he/she lacks (this is where holding one’s ego in check is crucial). This leader is not afraid of being influenced by the other(s) for this leader is not wedded to ‘surety.’

This leader seeks to avoid committing to a path of action too early; this leader is more response-able than reactive (I realize that there are times when being reactive is more important than being response-able – ask any fire fighter); I am thinking again of the time taken by James Burke and his colleagues regarding the intervention they needed to make in response to the Tylenol poisonings (talk about being response-able and not reactive). Once a path is determined a commitment to being flexible is put in place; ‘things change’ is not just a pretty phrase.

For the past forty years, I have had the privilege and opportunity to be of service to many physicians and I have learned a great deal as I have observed them and as I have engaged them in searching conversations. Rarely do they have a personal stake in their treatment decisions. On the other hand, they always have a personal stake in the solutions they seek. This also means that they are flexible and will adjust treatment plans along the way.

The great physicians are ‘humble’ – they are not ego-driven. They practice, among other things, ‘reasoned procrastination and thoughtful decision-staggering.’ These might also serve all leaders well. Both of these challenge the image of the ‘powerful, decisive leader’ who stays the course (the one who, for example, values ‘efficiency, effectiveness, and surety’ to the extent that they become rigid). ‘Reasoned Procrastination’ enables the leader to gather more information which almost always surfaces from within the white-waters of change that are carrying along the leader and those who follow. ‘Reasoned Procrastination’ also provides time for some issues to resolve themselves. ‘Thoughtful Decision-Staggering’ opens pathways and options that will probably not appear if a decision is quickly taken and implemented (I cannot recall how many times I have been invited in to help folks ‘fix’ a challenge that emerged as a direct result of the quick-acting decision being made). This way of deciding also provides the leader more time to seek the wisdom of a number of others (the person who uses the broom might actually know the best type of broom to purchase); I am thinking of the Harley-Davidson turn-around during the 1980s. They were, at one time, making the worst motor cycle in the world (hard to believe); the new CEO charged the line-workers to create the system that would enable them to make the best motor cycles in the world – they took their time and they did create the system to do so; and then they did so.

Both of these require experience and reflection and learning. For the leader, who by his or her role, is charged with making decisions, my mother’s admonishment might serve them well: ‘be humble.’

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Today we will explore the fifth of seven ‘basic principles’ that powerfully impact ‘leadership.’

Build with Soft Clay: For a number of years there has been a popular concept that authors who focus on organizational development have espoused: ‘Form should follow Function.’ On the other hand if form does not follow function the dangerous corollary will emerge – ‘if form does not follow function, then function will be modified to fit the form.’ This dangerous corollary is experientially well-known. It does seem, however, that we are unable to avoid the corollary. Why? It might be that we ‘try too hard’ to be perfect or it might be that the advice itself is unrealistic – we are not able to actually develop an organization following this advice. Hence, the corollary becomes realty by default.

My son, as you might recall, is an artist – a ceramicist. He has taught me something about ‘constructing’ things. His advice, the advice of all good potters, ‘build with soft clay.’ First grade teachers also know about and rely upon the wisdom of this advice; so do most parents who introduce their young children to ‘clay.’ Children learn that wet mud is more fun and pliable than dry or hard dirt.

Thankfully, or is it paradoxically, organizations have multiple and frequently conflicting purposes that support the concept of building with soft clay (being fixed and rigid in design becomes counter-productive, at best); for example, the exact alignment of structure and purpose become difficult if not impossible. In organizations it appears as if three competing requirements need balancing: ‘legitimacy,’ ‘efficiency,’ and ‘effectiveness;’ they are some of the ‘soft clays’ that are needed.

When organizing for ‘legitimacy,’ organizations are seeking to be responsive (more than reactive, although this all too frequently occurs) to external ‘stakeholders’ (the folks who compose the stakeholder group varies from organization to organization). Almost always the stakeholders are a diverse lot and this complicates an organization’s desire to be ‘legitimate’ for all. Simply stated, legitimacy is rooted in competency. Each external stakeholder judges whether the organization is ‘competent’ and if it is deemed so then ‘confidence’ is built and support is offered and honors/affirmations are bestowed. Now, to complicate matters, there are also internal stakeholders and there occurs tension, if not conflict, between the ‘desires, wants, wishes and needs’ of the internal and external stakeholder groups.

Organizations also seek to be ‘efficient.’ How does an organization use its limited resources? How is it determined who has access to them? Rigidity does not serve the organization well; flexibility is necessary and ‘soft clay’ modeling provides flexibility.

Organizations also seek to be ‘effective.’ ‘We are competent.’ ‘We serve with distinction.’ We also seek to know when it is crucial to be ‘faithful’ at the cost of being ‘effective.’ This creates a powerful tension within an organization and between the organization and the external stakeholders. During the time of the Tylenol poisonings Johnson & Johnson choose ‘being faithful to their Credo’ over being ‘effective’ with their sales (by removing ALL Tylenol from every shelf in the world); a move that caused great tension among and between a number of stakeholders. Because J & J worked with soft clay a number of benefits resulted: the safety-cap for one and recapturing 90% of the market share for another and being recognized world-wide as an organization that cared about its end-user more than about short-term profit.

Building with Soft Clay has proven to work. Do the organizations you know, gentle reader, seek to build with soft clay? If you are part of an organization does your organization seek to build with soft clay?

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Today we will continue with our brief exploration of a number of ‘basic principles’ that deeply impact ‘leadership.’

Emphasize Meaning: We are ‘meaning-makers,’ we strive to make-meaning especially to what matters to us (some say we strive to ‘make sense of’). For example, if what matters are values, beliefs, guiding principles, certain patterns and norms that emerge in the organization then these are the characteristics that we strive to make-meaning of, to make sense of. These are also some of the tap roots that nurture organizational improvement (i.e. personal, team, department, division, and relationship). ‘Leadership’ is entrusted with these tap roots; leadership is charged with ensuring their development, integration and sustenance.

We know that leaders vary when it comes to leadership style, to how they communicate, to how they conceptualize (i.e. think), to how they learn, to how they respond when the pressure is increased, to how they view human beings (e.g. are humans inherently good or inherently evil or are they inherently trust-worthy or not). Given this diversity leaders are still charged with communicating their philosophy, their values, their beliefs, etc. so those who choose to follow are able to make-meaning and to make-sense of these qualities/characteristics. Leaders are also charged with helping those who choose to follow to find ‘purpose’ in the work they do. Leaders are also charged with entering into covenantal agreements (‘moral’ agreements) with those who choose to follow.

When leaders accept these challenges it is more likely that a powerful bond will emerge between the leader and those who choose to follow; this is a moral bond and it helps move ‘leadership’ from the traditional ‘leader-centered’ view to ‘leadership’ as the by-product of the relationship between the leader and those who choose to follow. The power of ‘moral involvement’ moves everyone to places that most organizations only hope of reaching (think the early years of Starbucks, think Southwest Airlines, think Medtronics, think ServiceMaster).

When an organization emphasizes ‘meaning’ it emphasizes a culture that is health-producing and health-maintaining. It emphasizes a culture that is truly diverse (age, experience, ethnicity, race, gender, etc). It emphasizes an ethic of caring. It emphasizes high achievement. It emphasizes serving all with distinction.

This is not a question of whether all of this can actually happen (again I refer you, gentle reader, back to my short list above); it is a question of whether the designated leadership is willing to embrace the challenge and to develop organizational leaders (both designated and situational) in ways that help ensure that ‘potential’ moves to being actualized.

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