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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.

1 comment:

Pixie Stevenson said...

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?