25- The Modern Leader: Style Two. I. Managing Empowerment and Internal Organizational Conflicts

December 14, 2009

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I. Managing Empowerment and Internal Organizational Conflicts

In my previous blog I identified a modern version of Style One Leadership. This is a way of leading that is based on the assumption that leaders are (or at least should be) sources of learning for those with whom they interact. They are effective at delegating and supervising. They teach and mentor other members of their organization. In the next two blogs I will describe the second leadership style as it operates in a modern social system.

This second leadership style focuses in a premodern setting on courage. In a modern setting, this second style focuses not so much on personal bravery and courage on the part of the leader as on the capacity of the leader (as manager) to instill courage in those with whom this leader works – this is a process of EMPOWERMENT. The “enemy” no longer resides outside the organization. It now resides inside the organization and can take on many forms. The enemy might be manifest in rivalry between different departments inside the organization or in the misunderstanding that exists among individuals or groups within the organization. The Style Two leader is effective if she can manage the conflict between these departments, groups or individuals. At an even more profound level, the enemy resides within the power differentials that operate within virtually all organizations. Those who are “in power” control things and those who have little power feel as if they are pawns or victims of this power differential. The effective Style Two leader can be effective if she can help increase the sense of power among those who typically feel powerless. She EMPOWERS as a leader and manager.

Trained for Management

While modern leadership that focuses on the sharing of knowledge (Style One) usually comes with ongoing education, we are more likely to find that empowering managers receive training in the use of specific tools that enable empowerment and that help an effective Style Two manager struggle against the “enemies” that exist in the competition and misunderstanding existing within the organization. As in the case of premodern Style Two leadership, the tools for engaging in effective Style Two management are tactical more than strategic. There are essentially four sets of managerial tools that lead toward empowerment: (1) communication, (2) conflict management, (3) problem-solving and (4) decision-making. I have written extensively about these four sets of tools in other publications, but will offer a brief summary here.

The tools of communication that an effective Style Two manager can learn through an intensive training program include: paraphrase (and other active listening skills), group facilitation (with a focus on gate-keeping—the equitable distribution of time among all group members), and (in recent years) emotional intelligence (with a focus on the sharing of information about oneself and empathy for the feelings and concerns of other people). The tools of effective conflict management include negotiation (and other interpersonal facilitation tools), assertiveness (and other related communication tools, and group facilitation (with a focus on managing the difficult, self-oriented team member).

There are a wide variety of tools available in the area of problem-solving. Some are oriented toward systematic and rational problem-solving (such as the K-T tools that were so popular in the corporate world during the late 20th Century), while others are oriented toward creativity and originality (such as the tools of brain-storming, synectics and reframing). In the area of decision-making there are tools that range from the highly structured procedures for conducting meetings (building on the tradition of Roberts Rules of Order) to more humanistic tools associated with the processes of consensus building (such as those exemplified in the Future Search process).

In each of these cases, the skills needed to be effective as a tactician are assumed to be available to all managers. Specific tools and procedures can be taught that involve communications, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision making. While courage can not be taught –just as wisdom is not readily acquired—there are ways in which this second type of modern leader can prepare ahead of time for battle. Just as in the case of the premodern leader of courage it is not enough for the modern manager to be a courageous warrior. One must also be a cunning warrior—equipped with powerful managerial training.

Identifying and Engaging the Enemy

The key to wholehearted acceptance of and sustained support for a Style Two manager operating in a modern setting resides in the identification of an enemy that is both powerful and persistent. Given that the modern enemy resides within the organization, conceptual tools must be available that enable a manager to readily identify the enemy. One such tool is Bruce Tuchman’s stages of group development. This very popular conceptual tool helps a manager identify a specific sequence by which certain challenges associated with groups and teams will emerge. Furthermore, this sequence often suggests an appropriate sequence for acquiring and engaging each of the four sets of empowerment tools. Tuckman’s first stage concerns the challenges associated with forming a group or team and the tools for enhancing communication are particularly appropriate at this stage.

Stage Two concerns the movement of a group or team through a storming stage, with the tools associated with conflict-management being most appropriate. At the third stage, a group or team is focused on building the enduring norms by which it operates. The tools associated with problem-solving fit nicely with this stage, for the group or team is typically at this stage determining how it will be “thinking” about the issues it must address and about the ways in which the full capacities of the team can be engaged. Finally, the stage of performing primarily concerns the process of arriving at and implementing decisions. The tools of decision-making are obviously relevant here. Just as battles tend to move through various stages, so the dynamics of groups and teams (as well as interpersonal relationships). The effective Style Two manager will learn about these stages and engage appropriate tools at each stage.

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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.