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Monday, October 19, 2009

Leadership 11

A comment from last week's blog “Leadership 10” from Pixie Stevenson,
“Are you saying you wish the paradigm of formal leadership would change to authentic leadership?

What I meant in my last comment is that leadership is also a part of the organic, evolutionary, and every expanding process of life.

Have there been cycles in leadership? Is the current formal leadership a relic from the past that is now suffering the labor pains and transition of birth into authentic leadership? Are you midwifing a new era of leaders?”
Pixie; thanks again for your comment – let's continue the discussion. :)
“Are you saying you wish the paradigm of formal leadership would change to authentic leadership?”
I believe we need both, and realistically it is unlikely that those in formal leadership positions would simply fade away. Nor should they. What I am advocating is that formal leaders recognize, and take advantage of, is the phenomenon of emergent and spontaneous leadership. That can occur
  • by recognizing their own passion and responsibility that might be part of their formal assignment – why they are in their current leadership assignment – or might be in addition to their formal assignment, and / or
  • by relinquishing their presumed need or task of maintaining control and being charge and letting someone else's passion and responsibility for action take over
The key is to allow both to operate as required to get the job done; i.e. move toward the shared vision.
“Have there been cycles in leadership? Is the current formal leadership a relic from the past that is now suffering the labor pains and transition of birth into authentic leadership? Are you midwifing a new era of leaders?”
I'm not qualified to speak to historical cycles; however, others have written, for example, about forms of “tribal” behaviour, and self organizing systems where leadership occurs outside of our commonly held model of organizational strata. The message here again is that while a hierarchical structure continually evolves to determine the “pecking order” - the formal leader being the one currently most dominant – that structure co-exists with spontaneous leadership emerging from any member. And the hierarchical structure is also fluid over time as the dominance of any individual ascends and wanes.

It may be that our current dependence upon the formal leader model is a carry over from the World Wars. To mobilize and direct armies, materials production, and countries, formal leaders were needed to provide clarity of purpose, consistency of message, a rallying point for focused effort. We sought out those who would carry us forward up the hill, or over the cliff, in a very directive, black and white, manner.

Similarly today, we look for those who offer to lead us out of the quagmire of difficult, unsolved problems. That makes it easier for us: follow the strong formal leader and sidestep our responsibility. If their solution works, we win by tagging along, and if not then push them aside and look for the next hopeful candidate.

So, in my view, today's focus and dependence upon the formal leader is a carry over from the recent past. Or more precisely, we have experienced success and comfort with that model and so continue to endorse it. And because we gravitate to the simple answer, the short version of the story, the sound-bite, we ignore the authentic leadership that was happening simultaneously through that history. The formal leaders – Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin – were the rallying points, but they engaged others who emerged according to their passions and desire to exercise their responsibilities.

It seems to me that both models were operational then, and continue to be today. The challenge for us is the mind shift from an exclusive “either / or” perspective to an “inclusive” perspective where both models are necessary and co-exist. And instead of the “hero worship” of the formal leader as saviour, we recognize that the norm, the natural or default model has been, and should continue to be, authentic leadership through passion and responsibility.

But, darn it! - that requires work and engagement on our part. We can't just simply leave leadership to others to do it for us. We can't just hide in our cubbyholes, and daily routines.

We have to think, expend energy, act.

We have to determine our passion and take responsibility.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leadership 10

A comment from last week's blog “Leadership 9” from Pixie Stevenson,
“Great post, Paul! My take on it is that leadership (life) is organic which to me is not mechanistic. Is that what you're saying?”
Pixie; thanks for your comment!

My answer is: Sorta. Kinda. Maybe. Perhaps. :) I'm not sure what you mean by "leadership (life)".

Certainly life itself is organic. Leadership may or may not be.

The FORMAL LEADER strives be in control and operate in a systematic way: inputs transformed into outputs by procedural activities. This person is leading by virtue of their appointment – by themselves, or conferred – to a particular position in the chain of command. In their thinking and behaviour they strive to fulfill a notion of the leader who is instrumental for success, who can't be absent, who should not make mistakes, who can't be surprised, who can't be vulnerable, without their part of the world – their business, their department, their family – falling apart.
Because they view their part of the universe as a system, then certain inputs – events, transactions, people types, etc. - can be dealt with by the appropriate activity. These inputs become “problems” that can be “solved” by the smart leadership action. In this manner the FORMAL LEADER can regain control of the system, after any disturbance, by the right move, the correct application of expertise, charisma, power, intimidation...

AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP as described by Harrison Owen, and fostered by the Shambhala Institute, and taught by the McCarthy teamwork BootCamp is not procedural, nor founded in organizational authority, but emergent and so spontaneous.
Realizing that life – and organizations – are organic, with spontaneous connections and interplay, with surprises, apparent chaos, etc. working, perhaps invisibly, with, around, underneath the formally defined structure, provides a different perspective. This perspective doesn't have to completely replace the systemic view, in my opinion, but does need to become our default, or instinctive view, in spite of all prior organizational training and conditioning.

Harrison Owen describes beautifully the confusion and consternation possible among those brought up in the framework of the Whole System Hoax when confronted with Open Space Technology (OST) leading to authentic leadership. The freewheeling, self organizing that occurs in OST just goes completely against the grain for us nurtured in command and control, firm directive behaviour, keeping the ducks in a row even when doing something as gooey as “facilitating”.

In our systematic world we may stretch our minds and take the risk of assembling a team – carefully picked, mind you – to allow some brainstorming – bounded, of course – toward a solution - already identified by the boss. But, dang, even then it could get tricky and get out of control, er... out of hand, I mean... unproductive! Someone may start going off on a tangent to our well prepared session. And what if the boss – the FORMAL LEADER – doesn't like the results? That team is now history, and our facilitator's certificate is in the dumpster.

But in an OST environment there are just four nonsensical principles and one law – and then it's everyone for themselves. Authentic leadership simply emerges. YIKES!

Of course, just like so many great ideas and experiences, if you only read about them it doesn't seem reasonable that some useful outcome can result. OST, BootCamp, etc. sound good, make interesting reading, appeal to our intellect. Aircraft and bumblebees are fascinating concepts, but they won't really fly.

But as my wise friend and associate George Abbot during my Xerox life shared with me: A mind is like a parachute – it works best when it's open.
Or even: don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

If, after 20 years of OST, 15 years of Stuart Kauffman's insight into self-organizing systems, as many years of the Core Protocols developed in teamwork BootCamps,... if we haven't yet heard of, learned about, digested, implemented, practiced Authentic Leadership, what will it take to do so?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Leadership 9

Here's a crackerjack job description of The Leader (or more precisely The Formal Leader) as provided by Harrison Owen in his book Wave Rider (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008)
  • "deals easily with massive diversity
  • comprehends mind-bending complexity
  • works simultaneously on multiple levels
  • rises above chaos, confusion, and conflict
  • tolerates tidal waves of change
  • never loses their cool
  • always in control
  • mixes all of the above to produce wholeness, health, and harmony"
Why this over-the-top description is “Mission Impossible”, even without the hyperbole, is nicely revealed as Harrison Owen works through the implications for leadership when we are knocked off track by some of the common organizational muddy thinking, such as:
  • defining every business issue as a problem we can fix
  • dealing with the unintended consequences of our fixes
  • the Closed System Hoax
  • the Whole Systems approach
  • Process Re-Engineering
  • we can control everything that is moving
If we hang onto these models and paradigms, and our common approaches to deal with them, then we truly need the Mission Impossible Leader.

But, of course, this leads us to the reductio ad absurdem dead end. There is no such Leader, and if anyone claims that they are – well, shame on you for paying any attention to them.

Happily, Harrison shares an alternative with us he has seen in action over the years of observing his brain child in operation – Open Space Technology. He has observed exactly what we have seen in our teamwork development BootCamps (ref. Leadership 1 blog, January 2009). That is, “Authentic Leadership”.

In other words, the Formal Leader (someone in charge due to their title, job grade, or the organization chart) is absent, and not only not needed but actually an impediment to productive results. But other leaders emerge as required to provide “the stimulus, direction, and focus for useful activity”.

And this type of leadership appears due to
“... Passion and Responsibility. Or more precisely, Leadership emerges from the confluence of Passion and Responsibility.”
“... passion united with responsibility create the needed sense of direction and focus that can get the job done. That is Leadership.”
How interesting that in his 20 years of observation of high performing groups he has seen the same emergent properties as we see in teamwork BootCamps. Even more delightful, Harrison recognizes these emergent properties as similar to those noted by Stuart Kauffman dealing with questions on the origin of life in his study of self-organizing biological systems. (At Home in the Universe, Oxford University Press, 1995)

How scary that we still cling to notions of the organization as a mechanistic system, and Leaders being in charge in a command and control model.