16- Leadership in Premodern, Modern and Postmodern eras

November 10, 2008

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Leadership Styles

Leaders in the premodern era tended to be great men and women who were selected for their character and education. Great men not only led organizations, they also influenced history and established societal values. Leaders were either born to greatness or provided with an elitist program of liberal arts and mentorship. They tended to exert authority through a paternalistic concern for the welfare and proper education of those who depended on them.

By contrast, the more democratic modern era tends to emphasize structures, processes and procedures that ensure the appropriate expression of leadership and influence. Events and structures—not great people—determine the course of modern history, and values are identified as products of the system and bureaucracy rather than as products of any specific individual(s). Emphasis was thus placed not on identifying or producing a great leader (as in the premodern society), but on constructing a great system. Those who head modern organizations typically define themselves as managers rather than leaders. They were to manage and be worthy stewards of the great system that had been created by other people (the nameless and faceless designers of bureaucracies). Modern authority is expressed through the autonomy of rules, regulations, roles and organizational structures.

The postmodern world has called both the premodern and modern notions of leadership into question. The postmodern leader is neither inherently great nor is she merely a product of a great system or bureaucracy. Greatness in a postmodern society involves interaction and great alignment between potentially great people and a potentially great system.  The postmodern leader can be found at any level of an organization. Individual leadership can be effectively exerted and will be influential if applied at the right time, in the right place, in the right manner, and with regard to the right problem or goal. This contextual model of leadership requires careful consideration of both individual and organizational character and style. It also requires a tolerance for ambiguity, recognition of the need for one to learn from his or her mistakes, and a clear sense of personal aspirations. It is ultimately spiritual rather than secular in nature.

 

 

 

PREMODERN

 

 

MODERN

 

POSTMODERN

 

 

THE GREAT PERSON

[BORN TO GREATNESS AND/OR RECIPIENT OF ELITE EDUCATION]

 

 

THE GREAT SYSTEM

[MANAGER AND LEADER ARE EQUIVALENT]

 

 

 

THE GREAT

CONTEXT

[PERSON AND

SYSTEM IN

INTERACTION:

RIGHT PERSON AT RIGHT TIME IN RIGHT PLACE]

 

 

LEADERSHIP STYLE ONE

 

 

 

WISDOM

 

[MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT/MORE EXPERIENCE WITH SERVICE/PRODUCT OF ORGANIZATION THAN ANYONE ELSE IN ORGANIZATION]

 

[LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES: SUCCESSION PLANNING AND GROWING COMPETENCIES OF OTHER MEMBERS OF ORGANIZATION]

 

 

 

 

DELEGATION/

SUPERVISION

 

TEACHER/MENTOR

 

[SHARING ONE’S “WISDOM” WITH OTHERS IN ORGANIZATION]

 

 

 

 

 

LEARNER

 

[THERE IS NO ENDURING “WISDOM”/RATHER ONE MUST CONTINUE TO ACQUIRE NEW “WISDOM”]

 

 

 

LEADERSHIP STYLE TWO

 

 

BRAVERY

 

[THE “ENEMY” RESIDED OUTSIDE THE ORGANIZATION]

 

[MORE COURAGEOUS THAN AND MORE EFFECTIVE IN DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC PLANS AGAINST THE “ENEMY” THAN ANYONE ELSE IN ORGANIZATION]

 

[LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES: “ENEMY” MUST REMAIN STRONG AND MENACING AND LOYALTY MUST BE MAINTAINED AMONG ALL MEMBERS OF ORGANIZATION SO THAT “ENEMY” CAN NOT DIVIDE THE RANKS]

 

 

EMPOWERMENT

 

[THE “ENEMY” RESIDES INSIDE THE ORGANIZATION]

 

[COMMUNICATION/

CONFLICT-MGMT/

PROBLEM-SOLVING/

DECISION-MAKING]

 

 

ENTREPRENEUR

[THE “ENEMY’ RESIDES INSIDE ONESELF]

 

[PERSISTANCE AND RISK-TAKING]

 

LEADERSHIP STYLE THREE

 

VISIONARY

 

[MORE INSPIRIING THAN AND CLEARER AND MORE COMPLELLING IMAGE OF POTENTIAL FUTURE THAN ANYONE ELSE IN ORGANIZATION]

 

[LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES: THE IMAGE OF FUTURE CAN NEVER BE REALIZED OR MUST ALWAYS BE NEW IMAGE OF FUTURE AS “OLD” IMAGE BECOMES REALIZED BY ORGANIZATION]

 

 

MOTIVATING/

GOAL-SETTING AND MONITORING

 

[TRANSLATING ONE’S IMAGE OF THE FUTURE INTO PRACTICAL AND ACCOUNTABILITY STEPS]

 

 

SERVANT

 

[SUPPORTING AND ASSISTING OTHERS IN THE REALIZATION OF THEIR OWN PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE IMAGES OF THE FUTURE]

 

 

   

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15- Implications of the Postmodern Condition for Leaders

November 3, 2008

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[Derived from William Bergquist and Agnes Mura, Ten Themes and Variations for Postmodern Leaders and Their Coaches. and from a forthcoming book, William Bergquist and Agnes Mura, Building an Appreciative Organization: Themes and Strategies for Effective Postmodern Leaders, Consultants and Coaches. For information on both books contact Pacific Soundings Press, P. O. Box 70, Harpswell, Maine 04079.]

Theme: The Postmodern Condition

Fundamental Question

What are the paradoxes, whip lashing contradictions and dizzying changes of which our world is made, and how might an appreciative perspective assist in responding to the challenges of this postmodern condition?

We bring this cluster of essays to a close by briefly examining a central tenet of the postmodern perspective—specifically with regard to leadership. We will look at the complex, unpredictable and turbulent contexts in which postmodern leaders have to choose, act and define themselves. This examination will continue in much greater detail throughout the future essays being offered on this blog. We will identify a series of themes that describe these postmodern conditions. We will not prescribe a specific strategy for addressing the challenges inherent in these themes, but rather offer a variety of perspectives on each theme, which in turn suggest a variety of different leadership strategies. In a postmodern world of fragmentation and troubling ambiguity, leaders must be open to experiencing and experimenting with their own variations on these fundamental themes.

Given the challenge of providing leadership in organizations that are filled with turbulence, unpredictability and complexity, many leaders have given up on finding a coherent set of answers to the questions they pose. They certainly don’t expect to discover a unified theory of leadership. Other leaders have grown cynical of any set of strategies or any theory that purports to tell them how to lead a 21st Century organization. Most postmodern leaders are inclined to dismiss any prescriptive model that identifies a right and wrong way of operating. Given the nature of the postmodern condition posed in this chapter, they turn instead to more contextually-based models that address the complex dynamics of most organizations.

Contextual Models of Postmodern Leadership

Abraham Maslow was among the first to recognize that there was no one right way to lead or manage. Unfortunately, he presented this notion in an obscurely titled book: Eupsychian Management. This book received little attention. Others (such as Woodward, Fiedler and Vroom) also tried to make the point, but were either too academic or located in an out-of-the-way location (such as England!). It really was not until the 1980s, when Hershey and Blanchard coined the term situational leadership that the notion of multiple models of successful leadership and management took hold among both the theorists and those who actually practice leadership and management on a daily basis.

At the heart of any contextual model are two concepts: ecology and relationships. The first concept relates to the relative influence which personality and situation have on the actions of all people—particularly leaders. While traditional models of leadership tend to focus on personal attributes, such as intelligence, honesty and dedication, postmodern models recognize the powerful role played by the complex ecology in which leadership is expressed. This ecology influences not only how a leader behaves, but also how those who encounter this leader interpret her behavior. As many behaviorists have suggested, the actions of any one person is more accurately predicted if information is available about the setting in which action is taking place than if information is available regarding this person’s personality or character.

In summarizing this ecological perspective, Malcolm Gladwell (in The Tipping Point) states that:

Character . . . isn’t what we think it is or, rather, what we want it to be. It isn’t a stable, easily identifiable set of closely related traits, and it only seems that way because of a glitch in the way our brains are organized. Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context. The reason that most of us seem to have a consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment.

From this ecological perspective, a leader isn’t successful because of her inherent talents or personality, or even the styles and skills she has acquired during her lifetime. Rather, she is successful because she creates or moves into ecological settings that are conducive to her display of effective leadership. An ecological analysis would conclude that Jack Welch was successful in running General Electric not because of his leadership skills, strategies or perspectives, but because of the GE ecology (market trends, financial conditions, the company’s life cycle, organizational culture, resources and history of the organization, and so forth). The ecologically oriented book to be written about the Welch success story would focus on the organization and surrounding environment, not just the person of Jack Welch.

In turning to the second concept, relationships, we begin with an analogy drawn by Margaret Wheatley between quantum physics and organizational functioning: “Nothing is independent of the relationships that occur. I am constantly creating the world—evoking it, not discovering it—as I participate in all its many interactions. This is a world of process, not a world of things.” We are always acting as leaders in relationship to the environment in which we find ourselves. There are moments and places within an organization when specific types of leaders are needed; furthermore, each of us can provide certain kinds of leadership functions in specific moments and places. 

Postmodern leadership is likely to be effective in an organization if there is a good match between the leader’s needs and style at that specific moment and place and the organization’s needs and style at that same moment and place. The context for leadership concerns this matching process. A leader may find, for instance, that he must be capable of and willing to shift his style when working with a relatively immature work group or with a group that is highly mature. Within this context, however, and in his working relationship with members of this group, he may help to promote their maturity, thereby necessitating yet another change in style (which may or may not fit with his own ability or willingness to shift). Similarly, the nature of a task or the processes of decision-making in the organization may change. Leaders must shift gears when entering varying situations. If they are effective, however, leaders will also influence these situations. As a result, leaders may be forced to shift roles precisely because they have helped to bring about a change in context. 

Expectations Regarding 21st Century Leadership:

Globalization, Localization and Coaching

Given the postmodern interplay between globalization and localization, we can expect many leaders to simultaneously play on the global stage and the local stage. We can also expect them to be deeply embedded in their own organization (as a new neighborhood) while also seeking to retain a viable family and community life. We also expect them to be national and world citizens, who are thoughtfully informed and ready to vote! The boundaries between work and home are inevitably blurred, leaving little time, in many instances, for leaders to keep their appointment with self. These postmodern conditions confront the leader with challenges that require both courage and insight.

The vertiginous rise of executive coaching in the last ten years – in its myriad variations – is a response to these challenges, both as a tool for self-development in the context of work and as a form of self-care. If leadership is situational, coaching is called upon to provide leadership development of the most customized and “just-in-time” kind.

 


11- The Nature of Appreciation in a Postmodern Context

October 6, 2008

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[Derived from William Bergquist and Agnes Mura, Ten Themes and Variations for Postmodern Leaders and Their Coaches. and from a forthcoming book, William Bergquist and Agnes Mura, Building an Appreciative Organization: Themes and Strategies for Effective Postmodern Leaders, Consultants and Coaches. For information on both books contact Pacific Soundings Press, P. O. Box 70, Harpswell, Maine 04079.]

 Theme: The Postmodern Condition

 Fundamental Question

What are the paradoxes, whip lashing contradictions and dizzying changes of which our world is made, and how might an appreciative perspective assist in responding to the challenges of this postmodern condition?

Many 21st Century societies today are faced with three challenging conditions. First, they are guided by a fragmented and often paradoxical image of their present condition and their future condition. Their present condition includes both a strong trend toward globalization and an equally strong trend toward localization. We live in a world that challenges us to be aware of and interact with other people and cultures throughout the world – Thomas Friedman’s flat world—while also challenging us to retain our local customs and loyalties (a new form of tribalism) leading to what Robert Bellah and his colleagues describe as isolating “life style enclaves.”

Second, we are faced with what Frederick Jameson identifies as the condition of “troubling ambiguity.” Boundaries of all sorts are being shattered or are shifting in unpredictable ways – boundaries between work and home, between countries, between private and public lives, between being inside an organization and being affiliated loosely with an organization.

Third, leadership is being defined in new ways—the old distinction between the task-oriented leader and the people-oriented leader is no longer sufficient, given the other postmodern challenges facing contemporary organizations and societies. Leaders are successful to the extent that they can embrace a broad repertoire of strategies and serve as learners (not just sources of wisdom), risk-takers and entrepreneurs (not just fight leaders) and servants of a compelling image of the future (not just visionaries).

Given the postmodern interplay between globalization and localization, we can expect many leaders to simultaneously play on the global stage and the local stage. We can also expect them to be deeply embedded in their own organization (as a new neighborhood) while seeking to retain a viable family and community life. The boundaries between work and home are inevitably blurred, leaving little time, in many instances, for leaders to reflect or plan ahead. These postmodern conditions confront the leader with challenges that require both courage and insight. If leadership is situational, coaching and consulting programs are called upon to provide leadership development of the most customized and “just-in-time” kind.

In this essay and in the next three essays on this blog, we examine these postmodern conditions and begin to explore ways in which an appreciative perspective can help to not only illuminate some of these conditions but also provide us with preliminary strategies for dealing with the complexity, unpredictability and turbulence of postmodern life.

The Postmodern Revolution

I cannot remember exactly when I first encountered the term postmodernism. I probably reacted to it in much the same way as I did to the various other “isms” that have come and gone over the past couple of decades, hoping that it would disappear under the weight of its own incoherence or simply lose its allure as a fashionable set of ‘new ideas.’ But it seemed as if the clamour of postmodernist arguments increased rather than diminished with time. Once connected with poststructuralism, postindustrialism, and a whole arsenal of other ‘new ideas,’ postmodernism appeared more and more as a powerful configuration of new sentiments and thoughts.

 – David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity

As leaders we are entering a changing world of relationships and ideas. It is often called “the postmodern revolution.” The postmodern world is in the midst of being born. It does not yet have clear definition, other than its origins in and difference from the modern era. Hence the name postmodern. It is still defined with reference to its mother (modernism) rather than having broken off as a free and independent movement or set of ideas and images with its own distinctive name. Even though postmodernism is young and therefore still filled with superficial, facile and often internally contradictory analyses, it cannot be dismissed, for these analyses offer insightful and even essential perspectives and critiques regarding an emerging era.

In the postmodern camp there is neither the interest in the systematic building of theory, nor the interest in warfare between competing paradigms. Rather everything is pre-paradigmatic,  i.e. there is an attempt to live and function without the scaffolding of paradigms of thought. One of the reasons for such a divestiture is seemingly the sheer impossibility of “knowing.” Tom Peters acknowledges that in the early 1980s he knew something about how organizations achieved excellence. By the late 1980s, he discovered that he was mistaken. Many of the excellent organizations of the early 1980s became troubled institutions by the late 1980s.

Other theorists and social observers have been similarly humbled by the extraordinary events of the 1980s and 1990s. They just haven’t been as forthcoming (or opportunistic) as Tom Peters.

“Postmodernism at its deepest level,” notes Andreas Huyssen, “represents not just another crisis within the perpetual cycle of boom and bust, exhaustion and renewal, which has characterized the trajectory of modernist culture.” Rather, the postmodern condition “represents a new type of crisis of that modernist culture itself.” Many futurists (especially those who focus on the environment) similarly speak of a crisis-of-crises. This crisis-of-crises and the ambiguity, the paradoxes and the irony that accompany this era of grand questioning are founded in the interplay between globalization and localization and, even more fundamentally, in the interplay between order and chaos as we are beginning to understand them. We turn in our next essays to a more in-depth analysis of these crisis-of-crises.

 


08- The Tale of Three Societies: II. The Modern and Postmodern

August 25, 2008

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II. The Modern and Postmodern

Theme: Leaders are Embedded in Three Worlds

Fundamental Question

How do we lead, consult and coach in such widely differing social systems that now exist in our 21 Century world?

In my previous blog I described the fundamental nature of societies that might best be assigned the label “premodern.” In this blog I turn to two other societal structures: the modern and postmodern.

Modern Societies

The modern society is a byproduct of Western industrialization. As machine were being invented and built that enabled mass production, there was an increasing need for centralization of both capital (for the machines were very expensive) and a work force (to run the machines). Extended families from premodern communities were broken up as the younger members of the family were lured by the prospect of money and material possessions to the new urban centers of industry. Of even greater importance (especially in modern American life) was the creation of a new form of community—called the suburb. Often identified as “the sultans of sprawl,” William Levitt, James Rouse and Robert Moses led the way following World War II by creating the first large-scale housing developments (Levitttown, New York), commercial malls (Rouse) and expressways (Moses) to connect the suburbs to one another and the urban centers that employed the suburbanites.[i]

The new industrial workers discovered a new commodity: money. They soon substituted wages for the production (or bartering) of their own food or commodities. With the shift to a money-based economy came the vast expansion of financial institutions. While banks exist in premodern societies (primarily to serve the upper class), they play a much larger role in modern societies, serving not only as a safe repository for saved money, but also as a source of unearned money. The modern worker soon discovered that banks would enable them to spend money that they had not yet earned and to take out long-term loans to make major purchases (especially homes). Modern societies inevitably become communities of debt and money becomes the most valued entity in these societies.

Industrial workers also substitute employment in modern organizations for their premodern reliance on the extended family. The organization becomes their new source of security and they look to their work site for friendship and a sense of purpose and community. Increasingly, the modern worker also began to look to the government for basic social services: education, health, retirement. Thus, we find in the modern society not only expansion in the size of private industrial organizations, but also in the size and scope of public institutions. Public education, social welfare and medical services for the elderly became the givens of modern societies. Citizens no longer looked primarily to their family or to their church or other philanthropic organizations for support. Rather, government became the new guarantor of health and happiness. Government soon also entered the much more controversial arenas of organizational operations (labor law and affirmative action), family life (protection of children against abuse) and private morality (the right for women to abort an unborn child).

With mass production came a shift in focus from quality to quantity. Industrialization (and an accompanying capacity for widespread distribution of products) shifted the focus of economics to productivity. Industries (and the workers in these industries) were considered successful if they were highly productive. High levels of productivity in turn led to the need for marketing and a new emphasis on sales. Profit could only be derived from large volume sales (to make up for the initial costs associated with purchase of the mass production equipment). Productivity without sales yielded nothing but a costly surplus of goods. The modern era (in conjunction with the move to suburbia) brought about the department store, the franchise fast food industry, and the abiding concern about crab grass and lawn fertilizers. Thus, the industrial revolution became a Commercial Revolution.

While the premodern craftsman typically only made a product when it was requested and tended to custom make each item, mass production processes called for uniformity of product and for interchangeable parts. The new emphasis on uniform production and marketing and sales set the stage for new organizational roles that were not directly connected to the production process. These non-production roles in marketing, sales and production control were soon complimented by another set of organizational roles—those associated with the overall coordination of organizational functions. These roles (called “management”) soon came to dominate the culture of the modern organization and provided much of the leadership for 20th Century organizations. Thus, the industrial and commercial revolutions produced yet another revolution: the Managerial Revolution.

Postmodern Societies

The new social structures into which the more privileged people of the world are moving offers a remarkable mixture (hybrid/pastiche/mosaic) of the premodern, modern and postmodern. New communities are being formed that in some ways resemble the premodern villages of olden times—yet these new communities are formed around electronic communication systems and the new digital economies of the 21st Century. We are returning to bartering systems, but are now negotiating exchanges over the Internet rather than down at the Town Square. The big businesses of the modern era continue to exist, but are now competing or cooperating with the small e-commerce businesses of the postmodern world. We are returning to premodern rituals and spirituality, while proclaiming our modern-day independence from superstitions and dependence on science and technology. In a futuristic image offered by David Gelernter in Mirror World, the new world will be one in which the premodern sense of an intimate community is interwoven with postmodern technology:[ii]

Imagine that when you are in town, the town is aware of your presence, and of who your friends are and where they are. You may be driving along and be told that someone you haven’t seen for a while is having coffee just over there (and there is a parking space out front, too!) Simple things like this may begin to restore the human scale to our now-so-large cities.

Our new postmodern world comes to us complete with new heroes (ranging between Bill Gates and Madonna) and new legends (such as the sagas of Elvis Presley and Nelson Mandella – to mention the extremes). It also comes to us with great promises (universal education, abundant food sources, new forms of energy) as well as daunting challenges (over population, environmental collapse, virulent plagues). Each of these promises and challenges is global in nature and scope. A level of cooperation between nation-states is required that has never been achieved in either the premodern or modern era. The new global village must look to new strategies and discover new answers, while also honoring the wisdom and values of past eras. Our emerging postmodern era is perhaps best described as an edgy experience: we are poised on the edge of both chaos and order. We know something about what is to come, yet don’t know exactly what form the new will take. As Salmon Rushdie queried in his very postmodern and life-threatening (for him) novel, The Satanic Verse:[iii]How does newness come into the world? How is it born? Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made? How does it survive extreme and dangerous as it is?”

Transition in Organizational

Forms and Roles

We propose that the transition from the premodern to the modern society has produced a comparable transition in the form that organizations take and the roles being played by people who work within these organizations. Furthermore, there are comparable changes in organizational forms and roles that are taking place with the transition from a modern to postmodern society. In many cases, technology is the common element in bringing about the transition from premodern to modern and from modern to postmodern in both social structures and organizational forms and roles. New machine-based technologies created the industrial era, which transformed the ways in which people lived.

These technologies also produced the organizational transformations from premodern to modern. A new machine that can produce five thousand widgets an hour replaces low wage workers who can each mold only two hundred widgets per hour. The workers are now shifted to jobs that require monitoring of machine output or to jobs requiring the packaging of the widgets to be shipped half way around the world. Other workers obtain a high school or even college education and enter the organization as marketing experts (so that potential buyers half way around the world will come to believe that their life is unfulfilled without widgets). Others enter the modern organization as accountants (since monetary exchange has replaced bartering in a world where purchasers live many miles away). The largest proportion of workers now enter the organization as managers (for all of the other functionaries in the organization need to be coordinated, motivated and assessed). Thus, from the introduction of new technologies into an organization comes a sequence of events and decisions that produce new organizational forms and new organizational roles.

A similar case can be made with regard to the transition from modern to postmodern social structures and organizational forms and roles. Technology has once again served as the primary transformer of both social and organizational structures. We are therefore in an excellent position to learn from the previous technological impacts that transformed our premodern societies. As Justin Fox noted in a special 1999 issue of Fortune (anticipating the new century):[iv]

. . . despite the prophets of the Digital Age who depict it as unprecedented, it’s not. Just take a look at business history—which really only begins about 500 years ago. That’s when the Commercial Revolution began in Western Europe, replacing eons of stagnation with global trade, sophisticated financial markets, increasing specialization of labor—and economic growth. This was a true revolution, a complete and total break with the past built around one of the essential realizations of the age, as laid out by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations in 1776: The true wealth of a nation is measured not by how much gold it possesses [the premodern emphasis on natural resources], but by what it can produce [the modern emphasis on productivity].

This laid the groundwork for a series of technology-related revolutions—of which the Internet is only the most recent. The most important of these breakthroughs made workers (and capital) more productive, and brought us to the unprecedentedly wealthy, unprecedentedly crowded, unprecedentedly connected, unprecedentedly complicated state in which we find ourselves. Once you look back at the early days of the factory, the railroad, the automobile, and especially the harnessing of electricity, a lot of what seems new about the Internet starts looking familiar. Better yet, you begin to get a sense of how this particular shakeup might play out.

References

[i] Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life in the New Frontier.

[ii] Bill Joy, “Design for the digital revolution,” Fortune, March 6, 2000, p. 15.

[iii]Quoted by Edmundson. Prophet of a New Postmodernism. Harper’s 1989.

[iv] Justin Fox, “How new is the Internet, really?” Fortune, November 22, 1999, pp. 174-175.


07- The Tale of Three Societies: I. The Premodern

August 17, 2008

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I. The Premodern

Theme: Leaders are Embedded in Three Worlds

Fundamental Question

How do we lead, consult and coach in such widely differing social systems that now exist in our 21 Century world?

We now live in a world that supports three different types of social structure. One of these social structures has been present for many centuries. A vast majority of the people now living reside in this type of social structure. This structure goes by many names: “traditional,” “primitive,” “developing,” “third world,” “agrarian” and “neo-feudal.” I have chosen to use the term premodern in identifying this social structure, in large part because the other terms tend to be value-laden or restricted to non Western countries. Throughout this book we will identify many positive features of premodern societies and certainly do not wish to consider it less “developed” than other social structures. Furthermore, many social structures that exist in the Western World are clearly premodern. They do not just exist in the “third world” nor are they found only in societies that are dependent on agriculture.

The second type of social structure is so prevalent in the world in which most of the readers of this book live that it is taken for granted. This is the modern society that has existed in Western Europe since the beginning of the industrial era (early 19th Century), in North America since the early years of the 20th Century, and in urban settings in other parts of the world since World War II. We would suggest that there is now a third type of social structure that (for want of a better word) I shall identify as postmodern. This social structure now exists in many parts of the world and is rapidly assuming a prominent role at the start of the 21st Century.

We propose that the profound nature of the transition that premodern societies have made in their shift to modern social structures is being matched by the profoundity of the transition that is required in the shift from modern to postmodern social structures. Furthermore, I propose that the transitions from premodern to modern and from modern to postmodern are essentially irreversible. We can never go back to a former world—though (as we have noted throughout this book) we can (and inevitably will) borrow from previous social structures as we seek to create new forms to meeting emerging needs and serve new functions. While the past fifty years might best be described as an era of adjustment (the modern day organizational pendulum), we are now entering an era of fire. In this new era, old organizational forms, structures and processes will be consumed and new forms, structures and processes will emerge, like the mythic Phoenix, from the ashes of fiery consumption. This new era will not be composed entirely of new organizational elements. Rather it will offer a hybrid of . . .

  • very old, premodern elements of our society,
  • modern day elements of our society (as exemplified in many organizations that reached their zenith during the second half of the Twentieth Century), and
  • newly emerging elements that bear little similarity to either their premodern or modern day precursors.

We will briefly describe each of the three social structures to make some initial sense of these rather sweeping generalizations and will focus on the general economic and social characteristics of each type of society. A description of the first social structure is contained in this blog. The second and third social structure will be described in my next blog.

Premodern Societies

These societies are economically based in the extraction or cultivation of natural resources: agriculture, mining, forestry, fishing, ranching and related activities. It is also founded in craftsmanship—these crafts ranging from the production of tools to the creation of artistic works. While some premodern societies are very loosely structured and formed around nomadic patterns of living (the gathering rather than extraction or cultivation of nature resources), most premodern societies that exist today are founded in small villages or other closely-knit communities. The loosely structured forms of the premodern society are most likely to exist in regions of the world where there are harsh climates and sparse natural resources (e.g. Siberia, Alaska, North Africa, Central Australia).

The premodern society is also typically dependent on strong and enduring extended family systems. This extended family (usually consisting of grandparents, parents and children) serves not only as the primary economic unit of the community, but also as the primary source of most social services (health, education, child care, and so forth). While the community (and in particular the church or other philanthropic organizations) is available to support the family in an emergency (for example, loss of property or unanticipated death of family member), family members are expected to provide most of the social support. There are no medical plans, disability plans, retirement plans or social security systems in premodern societies—family members are expected to take care of their injured relatives and aging parents.

Bartering is the primary unit of economic exchange in the premodern society. Working within the context of a trusting and norm-enforcing community, men and women exchange commodities (such as tables or seed) or services (such as home construction or plowing of a field) for other commodities or services. In such a community there is little need for money or legal institutions. One natural resource—gold—that comes from a premodern extractive process (mining) does become a medium of exchange in most premodern societies, as do certain other natural resources (such as silver, pearls, spices and art works) that are prized for their beauty or scarcity. Given the absence of any elaborate trade system or of any way in which to preserve perishable commodities (other than through a salting or drying process), the primary focus in most premodern societies has been placed on the cultivation or extraction of sufficient resources to sustain life and on high quality craftsmanship (quality rather than quantity).

Governmental institutions are typically minimal in size or scope—usually focusing exclusively on the protection of national boundaries against invasion. While there may be a rudimentary community government system (village council or town hall meetings), the primary authority resides within the family and in the informal control exerted by the most economically powerful families in the community. Even today, we find that many premodern societies are essential feudal in nature, with power residing with a few members of the community who, in turn, assume overall responsibility for the welfare of the community and all of its residents.

While most premodern societies are established in small communities, relatively large cities obviously existed throughout the world long before the 19th Century advent of industrialization in Western Europe. Premodern cities such as Paris, Rome, London, Cairo, Istanbul, Bombay and Peking were usually not much more than very large (and often quite unwieldy) extensions of the small village. Minimal government existed in these urban centers and tightly knit ethnic neighborhoods took the place of the village community. Extended families still played a dominant role and bartering was prevalent. The premodern city played a critical role in supporting limited international trade and the more sophisticated crafts (such as printing and the construction of large buildings). They also typically housed the central administrative offices of the only two organizations of any significant size in the premodern world—namely, the military and church. A large cathedral or temple usually dominated the central core of the premodern city, while the military typically provided protection at the outskirts of the city: the gates to the city, and/or the towers and walls surrounding the city.


01- Introduction

July 6, 2008

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This blog provides a venue where I can share with my colleagues some ongoing reflections regarding three fundamental themes that I have written about or spoken about in many different organizations and many different countries over the past forty years:

  • The Postmodern Condition in the lives of individuals, leaders, organizations and societies as this condition leads to increasing complexity, unpredictability and turbulence in our world. [I will also be sharing my thoughts about the emergence of a profound new societal trend that I describe as “an age of irony.”]
  • An Appreciative Perspective that can be applied with great success by 21st Century leaders, consultants, coaches and other people who are engaged in the challenging task of influencing rather than controlling other people, and understanding rather than predicting the dynamic nature and outcomes of interpersonal relationships.
  • Radically Shifting Knowledge regarding the human psyche, based on the cognitive and neurobiological revolutions that are occurring simultaneously and interactively in the various biological and behavioral sciences.

A central tenet of my postmodern perspective regarding leadership concerns the complex, unpredictable and turbulent context in which postmodern leaders, consultants and coaches have to choose, act and define themselves. A central tenet of my reflections on the cognitive and neurobiological revolutions concerns the multi-dimensional nature of human thought and feeling, and the profound challenges being faced by 21st Century leaders, consultants and coaches who must make sense of these various dimensions when navigating through the complexity, unpredictability and turbulence of postmodernity.

I intend that this blog will provide brief weekly essays and tools which relate to themes that describe postmodern conditions and build on what we are learning from the biological and behavioral sciences. I also prescribe a specific set of strategies for addressing the challenges inherent in these themes—strategies that reside in the process of appreciation and that lead to the creation and maintenance of a culture of appreciation. Many of these essays and tools will be co-authored with one of my colleagues and provide previews of a book that I am authoring or co-authoring. These essay and tools will also, in many instances, include a consulting or coaching case study based on my own experiences—or the experiences of my co-author—that exemplify the use of an appreciative approach with regard to one or more of three dimensions of organizational transformation: structural change, change in process and change in attitude.

This blog is intended to provide insight and direction for leaders and for those who consult to or coach these leaders. I sketch out some thought-provoking themes from philosophy, psychology and the sciences that underlie our life-and-work experience, and invite leaders and their coaches and consultants to become familiar with these themes—so that they can then invent their own responses and variations. This is also a “how-to” blog. It provides reflections about living in flux and guidelines for engaging, through appreciation, in this postmodern world of flux. This blog is about making choices and decisions—creative and courageous acts in the face of complexity, uncertainty and turbulence. The essays and tools contained on this blog are about finding multiple ways to apply powerful appreciative perspectives as leaders, consultants and coaches. I hope that you find what I write to be distinctive and perhaps a source of insight for you in your own engagement with our postmodern world.