34- The Postmodern Leader: Style Three. II. The Challenges

September 20, 2010

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II. The Challenges

In Blog 33 I wrote about the unique nature of Style Three Leadership—a leadership that is founded in service to the vision held by other people in the organization. This is a style of leadership that builds on humility rather than hubris. It is a style of leadership that fosters collaboration rather than competition. It is a style of leadership that builds on a foundation of generativity and generosity rather than stagnation and resentment. Perhaps most importantly, it is a style of leadership that primarily requires the work of one’s soul rather than one’s spirit.

Generativity and Soul Work

There are two forms of generativity that challenge Style Three postmodern leaders. There is first, the generativity of spirit. This generativity ensures that our presence is felt in the world. In Frank Capra’s  It’s a Wonderful Life, George was having a crisis of the spirit and was consumed by this crisis. He was unaware of and insensitive to the location of soul in his life. Soul was to be found in his loving family and friends, not in his worldly accomplishments. He had to resolve his sense of worthlessness in the world. He had to move past the generativity of the spirit before he could come to realize his deeper and more enduring worth as a loving husband, father and community servant.

Generativity of the soul concerns the discovery of that which we truly care about. It concerns caring deeply, thoughtfully and patiently for that about which we care. Generativity of the soul is about tending to sick or dying parents. It is about comforting the child in our arms. It is about protecting our child after a world-wide holocaust (as in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road) or a personal holocaust. George needed to attend to his crisis of the spirit. Then at the end of the movie, he could attend to his soul, which was so powerfully represented in the Capra myth of hearth, home and the fabled Christmas of bygone years.

The generativity of the spirit also concerns discovery of higher order truths. We soar upward, like Icarus, as we reach the highest point in our career, the highest point of status and influence in our communities. Those who hold the power define the truth and as leaders who hold power we are given the opportunity to define truth. We may foolishly think that we have “discovered” truth, when in fact we simply have the status and power to define what truth is and how it will be judged. In the movie, Network, Paddy Chayefsky offers a penetrating analysis of contemporary corporate life and communications. He portrays a world in which those in power primarily define the truth. These powerful figures are predominantly white males. Yet, Chayefsky also notes that the new power elite is increasingly likely to come from non-western nations (in particular, oil-rich countries). Icarus doesn’t soar for long. Chayefsky observes how precarious one’s position is at the top, particularly concerning a grasp of the truth. His protagonist, Howard Beale, struggles throughout the movie with what truth really is and how easily it is manufactured. Beale encourages all people to stand up against the manufactured truth, yet seems always to be swayed left and right to different versions of the reality that are presented to him by other powerful men and women, in particular the Faye Dunaway character.

In postmodern terms, the “grand narrative” has collapsed. The widely accepted, abiding truths in our society are no longer viable and there is nothing to replace them. Like Howard Beale, we are left in a vacuum and look in vain for a solid source of truth.  As postmodern leaders we are particularly vulnerable to this collapse of the grand narrative. We have reached the highest point in our career only to discover, as did Howard Beale, that those truths which do seem to endure are ugly. They are based in ego and greed rather than in any sense of rationality or community welfare.

The Losses: Freedom, Truth and Grace

As postmodern leaders we often discover in addition that we have exchanged our freedom for the achievement of high social status and power. George Orwell writes of this tradeoff in his short story “On Shooting an Elephant.” The esteemed and powerful white leader of an Indian village, during the years of the British Empire, must kill a rogue elephant that is threatening the villagers. He hates the idea of killing this magnificent beast. Yet because he is at the top of the social order in this village, he finds himself walking down a path preparing to shoot the elephant. At this moment, the white male leader discovers that he has traded his freedom (to say “no” in this instance) for social status and power. This may be one of the most important truths that postmodern leaders must learn. We gain power in exchange for freedom. We must go “mad” like Quixote in order to gain more freedom. We must defy the system that got us to the top in the first place to confront and alter this truth. This is one of Chayefsky’s most haunting images in “Network.” We witness Howard Beale go mad and become “madder than hell,” as a way of discovering his own freedom.

At other times, postmodern leaders have lost all truths as a result of social revolution or massive technological change. They are left without any foundation. My own experiences of leaders living in Estonia after the collapse of the Soviet Union have lingered with me. Many of these men and women seemed to be wandering around in a haze. They had lost their ideology or their base of opposition to the dominant ideology. Now what do they do? Where do their abstract thinking and their spirit find a new home? With the collapse of the “grand narrative” in Western culture, we may similarly find our colleagues (and perhaps ourselves) wandering about, unable to find a new source of spirit and guidance.

At the highest point in our career (maximum ego inflation and ego gratification) we are likely to fall from grace like Icarus, even if we don’t go “mad” like Howard Beale and seek out freedom. We fall from grace precisely because our success breeds envy and power plays. If we are a bit older, our age suggests vulnerability to other people. They assume that we are now on our way “out”—or soon will be—or we have already departed and like the Jack Nicholson character in About Schmidt find that our carefully prepared recommendations and succession plans have been thrown in the garbage by our successors. Our long tenure in the organization may breed impatience among those who are younger and waiting their turn to take over. We may even come to realize, painfully, that our own egos and our own internal demons (unattended voices) breed mistakes, miscalculations, and a failure to grasp reality. Like Icarus, we fall back to Earth. We are forced to grovel and to return to the mundane.

Several years ago, while licking several of my own narcissistic wounds, I read an article in a local paper about a man who formerly was a major league baseball manager. He was now living in Maine. The ex-manager talked about going fishing each day and babysitting his granddaughter. He was not sure whether he would like another tour in leading a major league team. In our ego deflation of later mid-life, we are forced to deal with the soul and the loss of status and pride. We learn to find gratification in the mundane and everyday. The wife of a colleague of mine, who went through his own traumatic ego-deflation, having been deposed as president of a major nonprofit organization, speaks about how wonderful it is to see her husband tend his garden every morning before listening to his phone messages. He similarly acknowledges the important lessons he is learning about himself through his gardening.

A wounded leader is often someone who has fallen from grace or has never attained the heights of which he or she dreamed. If this leader remains wounded, she will go on to wound other people in her organization, especially if she remains in a position of leadership. King Lear is a man gone mad as a result of confrontation with fearsome forces and a turning to the soul. He soars to the height of his power. He flaunts his power, inflates his own ego, then falls and goes mad. Jane Smiley rewrites the Lear story from a female perspective in A Thousand Acres. The father in Smiley’s novel is playing games of power, while his children are dying. How many stories concerning the fall from grace do we find among political figures in Washington? How many sad stories of ego inflation and deflation come from inside the Washington Beltway?  A few years ago several now-often forgotten men could be mentioned:  Bob Packwood? Alan Cranston? Then there are the big time figures in 20th Century and Early 21st Century American politics: Richard Nixon? Bill Clinton? George Bush? They are mostly men. But I can also identify several contemporary women in American political life. Those who are liberally-inclined might mention Sarah Palin, while those of more conservative inclinations might mention Nancy Pelosi. Other people around these powerful leaders helped elevate them and inflated their egos. These assistants and loyalists also have protected these powerful men and women from the real world. Ironically, these aides have often helped bring their bosses back down to earth. They have exposed them, shifted loyalties, and misinterpreted their aspirations and plans to subordinates or the media. These leaders (like Don Quixote) stand before the Knight of the Mirrors. They must confront their own reality and madness in order to begin the journey inward toward the soul.


In essence, the work of Style Three leaders in a postmodern setting involves moving inward as well as outward. We must return home to our family and our own inner life. We must cross the border into new worlds and new experiences. We must ultimately bridge the chasm between soul and spirit. Early in my own life I repeatedly dreamed at night of this bridging and integrating process. I now realize that this dream was preparing me for my future life, as do many repetitive dreams in our lives. I dreamed of climbing a flower-strewed mountain. This mountain rose up singularly and impressively from a plain. I now realize that it was a strong image of spirit and of achievement for me. Near the top of the mountain there was always a cave. This was a hide-away. I looked forward to reaching this cave while climbing up the mountain. The hideaway was always damp. This cave closely resembled a “clubhouse” that my brother and I built as small boys living in Illinois. We dug a big hole in the ground and covered it with plywood. The clubhouse wasn’t very pleasant. It was very dirty and offered little light. It soon was filled with water and spiders; yet, for a brief period of time this clubhouse represented safety and a respite from our schoolwork and family responsibilities. It was an enduring image for me of a soulful presence in my life. Similarly, the cave in my dream represented safety and a reprise from the climb. The dream has taught me that I need to blend the spirit of the mountain and my climb up the mountain, with the soul work of the cave and “clubhouse.” This recurring dream and my recollections of the childhood clubhouse teach me about the essential integration of spirit and soul.

33- The Postmodern Leader: Style Three. I. Leadership through Stewardship

September 13, 2010

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I. Leadership through Stewardship

In my previous blogs I have identified premodern, modern and postmodern versions of both Style One and Style Two Leadership. I have also introduced the premodern and modern versions of Style Three. In this blog I will describe the ways in which the third leadership style has been translated from its premodern and modern forms to the form found commonly in postmodern social systems.

While the third premodern leadership style focuses on creating a vision, the modern Style Three leader focus on creating a tangible vision and this is done through motivation, setting of specific goals and monitoring the ways in which (and extent to which) these goals are achieved within the organization. The modern organizational vision could come from the Style Three leader herself or it might be assigned to her by other people in the organization (the so-called “stakeholders”). When the third style of modern leadership is engaged in a postmodern setting, then leadership is exhibited when one furthers the vision created and embraced by other people in the organization—not just the stakeholders. This third model of postmodern leadership is truly democratic in that one becomes A SERVANT TO THE VISION of all people associated with the organization.

This concept of “servant leadership” has been portrayed in a very compelling way by Robert Greenleaf in a series of books he has written on this topic. A variant on this theme is evident in a quite different medium—the lyric of a popular song of the 1990s about “the wind beneath my wings.” This very appreciative statement offers a wonderfully poetic image of the role played by a master Style Three leader as servant to the dreams, visions and aspirations of the people with whom she works. A servant leader can provide the “wind” beneath the wings of her colleagues by first committing fully to the partnership, and then offering encouragement during difficult times.

A dedicated Style Three leader will neither hijack a colleague’s vision nor co-opt it unquestioningly, no matter one’s personal enthusiasm for the direction. While a leader may prod and provoke, she never takes over the client’s vision nor inserts her own alternative vision. As a Style Three servant leader, the value we bring is to encourage ongoing reflection on the part of our colleague regarding whether or not this is the best direction to take. We repeatedly participate with our colleague in the process of discernment—determining if the internal and external evidence that seems to be pointing our colleague in a certain direction comes from a place that is compatible with our colleague’s long-term welfare and growth. There is perhaps no more important role to play as a masterful Style Three leader than to help one’s colleague make the tough choices between the very obvious and not so obvious, between the short-term and long-term, and, in particular, between the expedient way of life and the way of personal integrity.

Clearly, this is not the “usual” form of leadership that is written about in most contemporary textbooks—even those that focus on postmodern organizations. It is a “quiet” form of leadership. It is a form of leadership that is often associated with soulfulness.

Soulfulness and Servant Leadership

Style Three postmodern leadership requires a shift from the modern proclivity to look upward and forward to attending downward and inward. This means a shift from visual to tactile modes of experience. We touch rather than look. Like the protective father in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, we embrace the people we lead and hold them safe from the storm. Movement downward is a journey through embarrassment, narcissistic wounds and loneliness. This contrasts with the journey of the spirit that is filled with inspiration, uplifting motives and great public adventures. We retreat to do soul work rather than “leaping up” to do spiritual work. In moving to soul work, we take on latrine duty or clean pots. As Style Three leaders we might even engage in the corporate equivalent to cleaning pots and latrines, namely, filling in the details, cleaning up after an event or handling a “messy” employee problem. When we are providing soulful Style Three leadership our role shifts from master to servant.

A shift from spirited (and motivating) Style Three leadership in a modern setting to soulful (and less openly demonstrative) Style Three work in a postmodern setting is difficult. We see a graphic and poetic illustration of this difficult transformation in the tale of Don Quixote. Quixote makes something special of the mundane. As an aging man he was not satisfied with the everyday. Hence he looked upward (for spiritual guidance) and backward in time (for historical guidance). He looked back to the age of chivalry and valor—a romantic era that was ending at the time Cervantes wrote his epic tale. Quixote elevates the inn’s sluttish serving girl, Aldonza, to a much higher status. She is transformed into the lady of the manor. He also restores her long-lost virginity. Quixote christens her, “Dulcinea.” Windmills become foreboding ogres. The barber’s bowl is transformed into a knight’s helmet. Don Quixote is typical of a man dominated by spiritual forces. He is moved to the spirit (“in-spiration”).

We see this dominance of spirit and the compelling nature of spirit enacted with particular force in the musical form of “The Man of La Mancha.” Don Quixote asks others to “dream the impossible dream.” Like Robert Kennedy, Quixote asks “Why not?” rather than asking “Why?” Like his older brother John, Robert Kennedy was assassinated before completing his own soul work, though clearly he was beginning the transforming journey during his short presidential campaign. Quixote was similarly denied a complete fulfillment of his own dream. This is commonly the case with modern leaders who dream great dreams. Like John and Robert Kennedy, Quixote transformed the people with whom he associated in seeking to fulfill his own dream. Quixote convinces Aldonza that her name is Dulcinea: “thy name is like a prayer an angel whispers.” Even the prisoners who hear the story of Don Quixote (as told by Cervantes, a fellow victim of the inquisition) are inspired. As the inquisitors lead Cervantes away for writing conspiratorial works, the previously depressed and downtrodden prisoners exhort him “to live with your heart striving upward.”

Reality and Narcissism

The story of Don Quixote inevitably leads to a discussion of and reflection on the role played by narcissism in the creation of leaders. To some extent, all leaders have a bit of narcissism in them. They revel to some extent in the attention they have received from other people and are pleased that other people respect, trust or at least follow the direction which they as leaders provide. The extent of narcissism will, of course, vary widely from leader to leader. At one extreme we have those leaders who can think about (or talk about) nothing other than themselves. There is the old joke (that takes many forms) regarding the narcissistic leader who spent a long time talking about himself and his many achievements. There is a pause in the conversation, at which point the narcissistic leader says “well that’s enough about me, why don’t you tell me a bit about the things that impress you most about me.” This is the extreme case of narcissism—yet it sadly is widely found in contemporary organizations. It certainly does not represent the type of generativity found in effective Style Three leaders.

There is a second type of narcissism which is somewhat less obvious. This is the “quiet” narcissism to which many of us might candidly admit. At some level we envy the accolades received by other people. We are uncomfortable being on the sidelines at events where other people are the focus of attention. We smolder a bit, though soon dismiss our resentment and join in to the celebration. This too is a form of narcissism and it can serve as a barrier to effective Style Three leadership. At these moments, we quiet narcissists can learn much about ourselves and our own leadership challenges. Like Don Quixotes, we must face our own reality.

Triumphant though Cervantes is in inspiring the other prisoners (and basking in his own theatrical glow), he ultimately requires Quixote to face reality and leave the dreams behind. Don Quixote must retreat from his narcissistic fantasy. Cervantes forced his fictional character, Don Quixote, to see himself for what he truly is. Quixote was required to look into a mirror, having lost in combat to the “Knight of the Mirrors.” This shattered his illusions and his dreams. The mirror is an instrument of vision and spirit, yet the triumphant knight is using a set of mirrors to destroy Quixote’s spirit. The knight is himself an illusion. He is actually a son-in-law of Quixote who has grown increasingly impatient with the Don’s antics.

The well-intended Knight of the Mirrors demands that the Don acknowledge he is actually an aging man of modest means. Quixote is jolted into “reality.” He has become a mad man who is dressed, not for a battle, but rather for a foolish masquerade. Like many postmodern leaders, Don Quixote is particularly vulnerable to ridicule and massive ego deflation. Ironically, we are most vulnerable precisely at the moment when we are most successful. We are balancing on a high wire and have a long way to fall. Don Quixote has gained many admirers and has won many battles against fictitious foes. He desperately wants to keep the masquerade going. His son-in-law won’t allow him to continue indulging his false spirit. When confronted with the mirrors, Don Quixote’s ego and spirit rapidly deflate. He is left an old and dying man, with neither illusion nor a will to live.


Don Quixote is thrown into depression, having suffered what psychologists call a “narcissistic wound.” He finds no support to match the challenge that he is forced to face in the mirrors. In many ways, Quixote represents the fundamental challenge of postmodern leadership. He only recovers his “sanity,” or at least his spirit, when his “support group” (consisting of Dulcinea and his sidekick Sancho Panza) come to his rescue. They offer him appreciation and encouragement. Aldonza (ne Dulcinea) is transformed, like many important people in the lives of soulful postmodern leaders. Aldonza transforms herself from the highly romanticized (and distorted) love interest and pupil of Don Quixote to the role of female guide for him. She retains her identity as Dulcinea, yet now provides the Don with a bridge between spirit and soul. Similarly, Sancho serves the critical role of male friend and companion to Don Quixote. With the assistance of Dulcinea and Sancho, Dox Quixote not only returns to his world of the spirit, he also turns inward to the world of soul. While others have learned from Don Quixote to value spirit and dreams, Quixote himself must learn about the interplay between dreams and realities. He must learn of this interplay if he is not to be the victim once again of misdirected but necessary attempts by members of his family to restore his sanity.

Like Don Quixote, we must attend to our colleagues. If we are operating in a leadership role then we must create a container for those people with whom we work. We must provide a cradle, a bowl, a chalice. Anxiety runs amuck without a container. We must become servants. We cook the meals and host the guests rather than giving the after dinner speeches. We should more often be the “power behind the throne.” As a postmodern leader we no longer have to be “the guy [or gal] in charge” with the big office and special parking place. We might concentrate on starting a modest new project. We are given the opportunity to be patient and take delight in small things. We might nurture the next generation of leadership rather than being the leaders ourselves.

32- The Postmodern Leader: Style Two. II. The Strategic Challenge

July 19, 2010

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II. The Strategic Challenge

The premodern Style II Leader builds her credibility on the foundation of courage—and typically looks to an external enemy as the focus for engaging this courage (and more generally as a generator of energy and motivation among those she is leading). The modern Style Two leader builds her credibility on the foundation of empowerment—and typically looks to her own team as the source of both difficulties and opportunities. The enemy and fundamental challenges in modern organizations reside inside the organization. What about the postmodern Style Two leader? What are the fundamental challenges facing this person. As I noted in Blog 31, the enemy is now even more intimate. It resides within the heart of the Style Two leader. The enemy force is now constituted of the “demons” that reside inside each of us. How do we take the risk? Can we learn by doing and by making mistakes? Is courage ultimately about risking our own reputation on behalf of a worthy cause?

I propose that the three strategic planning processes described in Blog 31 are each rather “safe.” We hide behind precipitous action (command model), behind vision (symbolic model) or behind data (rational model). Unfortunately, our postmodern world of complexity, unpredictability and turbulence requires that we move beyond these three models and that we effectively interweave information, intentions and ideas. There are two models of strategic planning that facilitate this interweaving and that enable a Style Two leader to take appropriate risks—and most importantly to learn from these risks and the mistakes that inevitably occur when facing the challenges of postmodern complexity, unpredictability and turbulence.

Approach Four: Transaction-Based Planning

The transactional approach to strategic planning begins with a focus on all three domains—information, intentions and ideas. When using a transactional approach, the Style Two leader can begin anywhere; however, any dialogue or exploration of any one of the three domains automatically moves a Style Two leader and his planning group over to the other two domains. It is the transactions between the three domains that lead to powerful ideas that can be translated into successful action.

This approach is also transactional in that the planning does not end with the movement to action. There is ongoing organizational learning, for any action not only provides valuable information about the quality of the idea being engaged, but also provides greater clarity regarding organizational intentions (“Oh, that’s what we really want to achieve”), as well as clarity regarding additional information that needs to be collected (“Oh, I guess we made a wrong assumption about this; we need to find out more about it”). At this moment, the Style Two leader also becomes a Style One Leader/Learner.

Transactional planning is rarely placed in the hands of the upper level executives in the organization. However, unlike the third approach, transactional planning is not housed in a planning office, planning committee, or the Management Information (or Budget) Office; rather, this fourth approach is usually housed deep in the organization and involves many players. There may be a series of ad hoc planning committees, or a series of intensive large-scale meetings involving many representatives from different areas and layers of the organization. The major outcome should be a broad based understanding of what is now happening and what is about to happen in the organization. Organizational learning takes place at all levels of the organization. Thus, there is a third way in which this approach to planning is transactional—it involves transactions between and among all levels and departments of the organization.

The transaction-based approach to planning can be very effective if used in an organization that is large and in an organization that resides in a relatively stable marketplace. The organizational must be large enough and secure enough, and the environment must be stable enough to allow for personal and organizational reflection and sustained, collaborative planning processes.  More than any of the other approaches, the transactional approach tends to increase commitment to the plans finally formulated. Given that ongoing monitoring takes place, the fourth approach (like the third approach) also tends to produce few failures. At the very least, those failures that do occur tend to have a reduced impact, given the ongoing analysis and re-planning processes.

Transaction-oriented Style Two leaders are usually inclined to assume an internal locus of control. They believe that broad based participation by parties who are internal to the organization can make a difference in addressing tough external challenges. Furthermore, by emphasizing ongoing organizational learning even after the plan is put in place, members of an organization are likely to feel that they can eventually manage and even overcome major external challenges. At times this assumption of internal control is not realistic. Transactional Style Two leaders are sometimes over-confident about their ability to control or even influence external conditions.

Turning to the MBTI profiles, we find that transactional leaders are most likely to be oriented toward the sensing function (S) when gathering information (perceiving) and to the thinking (T) processes when making a judgment (the ST configuration on MBTI). Transaction-based leaders are also much more inclined to be deliberate and diligent in the judgments they reach. From an MBTI perspective, they are more likely to be oriented toward perceiving rather than judging in their work (STP). Rational Style Two leaders (third approach) are deliberate in their work and ensure that they have the appropriate data and clarity of purpose before moving forward. They are also inclined, however, to stick with their idea and their assessments once a plan of action has been mapped out. Conversely, the transaction-based Style Two leader keeps her options open even after a plan of action has been initiated. Transactional leaders are always open to new ideas, clearer intensions and new information—they remain in a “P” mode even when engaged in action. These transactional leaders can be a source of real frustration for other leaders with a more “J” (judging) orientation. Not only are the transactional Style Two leaders slow to come to a decision, they even tinker with the decision after it has been made!

The key to effective planning for those who embrace the transactional approach is paying attention to the external environment that has an impact on their organization—these leaders must embrace an external as well as internal locus of control. Transactional leaders must fully appreciate not just the ongoing collaborative processes that occur inside their organization, but also the powerful forces that are operating in the 21st Century on their organization. They must be wary of the “group think” that can occur when building consensus—the tendency for a group to perceive what it wants to perceive and to stifle contradictory (and particularly pessimistic) perspectives. In this case, as in the case of the third approach, the “enemy” is not just an external threat, it is also internal pressures to conform on behalf of consensus. Participants in transactional planning may abide by the results of a carefully conceived collaborative process without taking a second look to be sure that the results of this transactional analysis are not just properly reached, but are also based in reality.

Before moving to the final approach to planning, I will identify the major leadership challenge associated with the transaction-based approach to planning. This challenge concerns the value inherent in the involvement of all members of the organization (or at least all members of the planning group) in reflective practice. This type of analysis and organizational learning requires a level of cognitive sophistication that may not be found in all members of an organization. Is the transactional leader simply naïve in assuming that people really want to learn from their mistakes and are willing to redo their carefully prepared action plans if the actions that are eventually taken reveal a flawed plan? In some ways the fourth (transaction-based) approach to planning is a postmodern, 21st Century version of the third approach—it pushes the envelope with regard to creation of a learning organization.

Approach Five: Generative-Based Planning

The fifth and final approach to strategic planning can be considered a 21st Century, postmodern version of a command-based approach to planning (see Blog 31). While the fourth approach requires a relatively stable environment and works best in a fairly large organization, the fifth approach is quite entrepreneurial (like the first) and works most effectively when the environment is unstable (a common phenomenon in the 21st Century) and when the organization is relatively small or at least very nimble. There is a strong emphasis in this approach, as the name implies, on generativity—producing something, learning by doing, trying it out, “letting it all hang out.” Risk-taking and pilot-testing reside at the heart of this approach. It truly challenges the internal courage of the Style Two leader. Rather than spending much time talking about or conceiving an idea, or spending much time clearly articulating desired outcomes (intentions), or conducting a needs assessment or conducting a market survey (information), generative Style Two leaders try something out in a small, controlled setting. This pilot test can produce substantial and highly tangible information for them about the real needs and interests of the market they are surveying and a much clearer sense of what they can realistically expect with regard to desired outcomes.

As in the case of the fourth approach, attention is given in the fifth approach to learning-after-implementation. An idea is tried out and careful attention is given to what occurs. Rather than devoting a substantial amount of time up front to planning, a generative Style Two leader spends time after the initial offering or pilot test in determining what worked, why it worked and what modifications need to be made in the near future to make it work more effectively, more efficiently or in a more attractive manner (given the market to which this product or service seems to appeal). It is critical when the fifth approach is engaged to create or find a safe place in which the new idea can be pilot-tested. Newly-designing airplanes are tested out in wind tunnels. Something equivalent to a wind-tunnel must be created when testing out a new product or service under generative planning guidelines.

This highly entrepreneurial approach is simultaneously action-oriented and quite reflective (after the initial action). It makes sense in a highly turbulent environment, for one must act quickly and learn quickly to keep up with the shifting conditions. It is not enough to create a learning organization (as is the case with the fourth approach), one must create a “fast-learning” organization—which is even more challenging in terms of cognitive flexibility and willingness to learn from mistakes (as well as successes). This ultimately is the major leadership challenge of the fifth approach: how to create this fast learning climate in the organization.

Broad-based participation is required if generative planning is to succeed—not just to build commitment, but also to enable the fast learning to occur. Those involved in the actual production of a pilot test are usually best informed with regard to analyzing the results from this pilot test (unless they have a vested interest in the outcomes of the pilot test—which means this is not really a safe place in which to test out a new idea). They learn fast and must then convey what they have learned to others in the organization so that broader patterns can be detected. The pilot tests can be a source of additional learning. Further modifications can be made in existing pilot products or services, or new products or services can be created. The learning demanded of generative planning is simply too much for those operating at the top of the organization to absorb; leaders need the knowledge, insights and wisdom of other members of the organization.

Generative Style Two leaders, like transactional leaders, are usually inclined to assume an internal locus of control. They believe that enough good ideas—tested and modified through continuous improvement processes—can meet the demands of any external challenges. As in the case of the fourth approach, generative learners believe that ongoing organizational learning and modification after the plan is put in place enables them to eventually manage and overcome major external challenges. At times this assumption of internal control is not realistic; generative-oriented leaders are sometimes over-confident about their ability to control or even influence external conditions. They simply are not nimble enough to keep up with the turbulence that exists in the external environment, or do not have sufficient organizational smarts to learn everything that has to be learned about the complex, unpredictable and turbulent setting in which their organization operates.

What about MBTI profiles? Generative Style Two leaders are most likely to be oriented toward the intuitive function (N) when gathering information (perceiving) and to the feeling (F) processes when making a judgment (the NF configuration on MBTI). These men and women are much more likely to be oriented toward perceiving (NFP) in their work than are those who use any of the other approaches to planning. They may move rapidly to action (as do people with strong J functions); however, they are always leaving options open and will readily try out another idea, based on their own intuitive powers. They are also very concerned with outcomes (Feeling function) and don’t really care much about how a decision is reached, as long as it leads to something that is greatly valued (even something that can’t be imagined prior to the start of the generative planning process).

If transactional Style Two leaders can be a source of real frustration for planners, leaders and organizations with a more “J” (judging) orientation, generative Style Two leaders will be even more frustrating. They move rapidly (which the “J” folks like), but keep changing their minds. They are like jugglers who keep many balls up in the air and don’t seem to worry about one or two of the balls falling. They simply pick up the balls, reflect briefly on what has been learned, and begin juggling these same balls or some new ones.

For those who engage in generative planning the key is not just fast learning but also fast execution. Cut back on the number of barriers and review procedures (which are so dear to the rational planners) that exist in the organization. Instead, “let all flowers bloom.” This means that there will be many mistakes, but a fast-learning organization is one in which one can learn from these mistakes.  It is even more appropriate that generative leaders learn from the successes that occur. This does not only mean that they keep the successes moving forward, but also that they try to extract the important lessons to be learned from these successes, so that this learning can be applied to other potential projects. While a generative Style Two leader will inevitably make mistakes and foster many failures, there will be fewer of these negative outcomes if lessons can be learned from past successes.

The generative planner does not have to be concerned in particular about a balance between an internal and external locus of control, for the pilot test will usually yield rich information about both internal and external factors that influence the outcome of the pilot test. The real challenge is not being biased toward internal or external data. The real challenge concerns ways in which all of this abundant information is processed and interpreted. It is a matter of too much information from all sources rather than too little information from any one source. All-too-often, organizational leaders escape from a generative approach to planning, and return to one of the “safer” approaches of the 20th Century (see Blog 31), or to a more systematic, but less entrepreneurial, mode of transactional planning. It takes real, personal courage (and heart) for a Style Two leader to remain engaged in a generative approach to strategic planning.


While no formula exists for the brewing of personal courage, the two approaches to strategic planning that I have just briefly described do tend to move leaders toward action, while also encouraging reflection and clarity of direction. They both discourage blind movement forward (and in this way nudge the Style Two leader toward Style One), yet also discourage non-action and the state of freeze. Perhaps most importantly, both the transactional and generative approaches to strategic planning encourage Style Two leaders to confront a profound and challenging question: on behalf of whom are we displaying courage and taking risks? Who ultimately will benefit from our brave leadership? Are we doing this work on behalf of our own career advancement or to inflate our own ego? Or are we engaged in a “bigger game” and furthering a much more noble cause? When we confront this profound challenge—which we often do in our postmodern world—we are becoming not just more effective Style Two leaders, we are also becoming leaders who embrace a third style of postmodern leadership. We are becoming “servant leaders” – a perspective on leadership to which I turn in the next two (and my final two) blogs on leadership.

31- The Postmodern Leader: Style Two. I. Courage and Strategic Planning

July 12, 2010

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I. Courage and Strategic Planning

In my previous two blogs I speculated on a postmodern version of Style One Leadership. In these blogs I postulated that the wise leader of premodern and modern societies becomes a lifelong learner rather than the source of either traditional knowledge (premodern)  or acquired (education/training) wisdom (modern). As I turn in these next two blogs to the second leadership style, I focus on new ways in which courage is manifest. In my blogs on premodern style two leadership I focused on courage as it is manifest in the bravery one exhibits in confronting an external enemy. In a modern setting, this second style is manifest in the capacity of the leader (as manager) to instill courage in those with whom this leader works – I described the process of empowerment as it is embraced by a style two leader and her team. The modern “enemy” doesn’t resides outside the organization. It resides inside the organization and takes on many forms.

What about Style Two leadership and the postmodern enemy? I propose that the postmodern enemy is much closer at hand. This enemy resides inside the heart and mind of the Style Two leader. The leader is now his or her own enemy and this enemy. As in the case of premodern and modern versions, this enemy is manifest in many forms. It can take the form of fear about specific actions. It can show up as anger that may begin as frustration or disgust with another person or group, but ends up as frustration or disgust with oneself (often leading to depression). The postmodern enemy can also be manifest in a state of “freeze” (rather than either fight or flight). A leader is faced with the challenge of paradox and polarity. She sees both sides of an issue and doesn’t know which decision to make – which path to take. Any decision will inevitably have a negative impact on some aspect of the organization. And no decision (leading to inaction) is even worse. So what does a Style Two leader do?

Planning and the Internal Enemy

In Blog 26 (Style Three/Modern) I wrote about the challenge of engendering passion and commitment to the processes of strategic planning. I mentioned in this blog that I would address the strategies of strategic planning in a later blog. Now is the time for identification of these strategies, for it is in the engagement of these strategies that a Style Two leader moves from a state of freeze to a state of action and from fear and anxiety regarding the unknown to a reasoned analysis and management of risk. It is through strategic planning that one can effectively encounter one’s own internal enemies and can truly be brave in the midst of postmodern complexity, uncertainty and turbulence.

In this blog I will specifically identify three approaches to strategic planning that I believe helps a style two leader confront the postmodern challenges. These three approaches relate directly to the three domains I have identified in previous blogs: (1) the domain of information, (2) the domain of intentions and (3) the domain of ideas. Each of these approaches begins with a different set of assumptions about the appropriate sequence for an organization to use in moving through these three domains. While each of these approaches holds some strengths, none of them fully address the unique challenges associated with the postmodern condition. In the next blog \(32) I identify two other approaches that I believe more effectively meet the challenges of our postmodern condition. Both of these approaches build on the three approaches to strategic planning that I identify in the current blog and each involves repeated movement through these three domains.

Approach One: Command-Based Planning

This first approach is probably the one most common for (in many ways) it involves no formal planning at all. The focus is on the domain of ideas—getting the flash of brilliance that launches a major new product or service line. Typically, the “boss” has an idea and then the rest of his staff scramble to find the information that supports this idea and they re-craft the intentions (mission, vision, values, purposes) of the organization so that these intentions are aligned with this idea. The organization then moves immediately to action (often before the justifying information and intentions are even fully assembled).

While, at first blush, this appears to be an inappropriate approach to strategic planning, it can be very effective if used by a small, family-owned organization or a highly entrepreneurial organization that must be responsive to a volatile market place. Certainly, there have been many instances of spectacular success in the use of this command approach in the high-tech industry, though there have also been many spectacular failures in this industry—one need only look to the failure of many dot.com startup ventures of the 1990s and early years of the 21st Century.

Obviously, one of the strengths of this approach to strategic planning is that it allows for rapid planning processes. In many ways the command approach to strategic planning does away with the distinction between strategic and tactical planning. Command based planning, whether strategic or tactical, tends to be highly contextual: an opportunity opens up and a great idea is formulated to meet an immediate customer need. The organization is “off to the races” with this idea. This approach often leads to many risks, but it also offers the possibility of a few big successes. Rather than being failure-avoidant, this approach is highly success-oriented: “we can make some mistakes, and hopefully learn from these mistakes; however, what is most important is that we have some major successes.” This approach more than any of the other approaches moves a Style Two leader out of freeze and inaction to action.

At a very practical level, this command approach is likely to be most appropriate in an organization that has substantial financial reserves or that has many programs operating that are already highly successful and are likely to product major revenues during the foreseeable future (the so-called “cash cow” of Boston Consulting Group fame). One needs this financial buffer (financial reserves from past successes or venture capital) to overcome the failures; without this buffer the success-oriented approach will be too risky. A couple of big failures will drive out the possibility of even launching a major success.

The primary weakness of the command approach is not just the potential for failure; at an even deeper level, the primary weakness concerns the treatment of information. Employees get in the habit of fashioning the data to meet the perspectives (and biases) of those who are in command—those who are producing the ideas. Once this habit is formed, the organization ceases to be a learning organization; it becomes increasingly vulnerable to repeated failures, especially in a volatile market. It is indeed ironic that the command approach is most likely to be used in an unpredictable world, yet it is also most likely to create organizational habits that block the capacity of those working in this organization to learn how to effectively respond to this unpredictable world.

We can relate this approach to strategic planning (as well as the other approaches) to several prominent models regarding ways in which people and entire organizations are likely to engage their world.  First we can turn to the model of personality type that was first offered by the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, and was later modifies and made quite popular by architects of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). We find that the command approach is most likely to be embraced by leaders and by organizations that prefer the intuitive rather than sensing mode of perception, and that prefer the processes of judgment over the processes of perception (the NJ configuration on MBTI). Put in other words, these leaders and organizations are inclined to rely on hunches, images of potential opportunities and memories of past successes, rather than on data, “cold hard facts” or present day realities. They are also likely to move rapidly to action, rather than spending much time reflecting on the current situation—in terms of either gathering more information or further clarifying the relationship between actions about to be taken and the fundamental intentions of the organization.

There is also a tendency for those leaders and organizations embracing the command approach to assume an internal locus of control, meaning that they believe that they can readily influence the setting in which they operate—both the internal operations of the organization and the marketplace in which they are situated. Assuming this internal locus of control, these leaders and organizations will tend to focus on strengths as they relate to the leader’s or group’s ideas. We see this operating successfully in the “skunk-works,” and other forms of “intra-preneurship” that are to be found in many high-tech organizations. Furthermore, we find many of these leaders and organizations leveraging their distinctive strengths (though command approaches to strategic planning) in seeking to identify their “unfair advantage” in the marketplace. The internal locus of control can also lead to an ignoring or denial of weaknesses as well as the role played by powerful external forces.

On the other hand, an effective use of the command approach can be compatible with an external locus of control. To make sense of this use of an external locus, we turn to the well-known SWOT model of planning that is usually associated with Harvard University. The “S” in SWOT refers to the strengths that exist inside an organization, while the “W” refers to internal weaknesses. We have already mentioned that command-based planners are often inclined to focus on their distinctive strengths and ignore the weaknesses that exist in their organization.  The “O” and “T” in SWOT refer to external factors—opportunities and threats—that must be taken into consideration when engaged in strategic planning. Command-based planners can be very effective in adopting an external locus of control if they focus on opportunities that emerge in the external marketplace—especially as these opportunities relate to the innovative ideas introduced by the leader or group. Command-based planners can provide an entrepreneurial response to emerging opportunities. They can “seizing the moment [of opportunity]”, though in doing so they may be ignoring or denying threats that exist in the world.

Finally, before moving to the second approach, we will identify the major leadership challenge associated with the command approach to planning. This challenge concerns the frequent chaos being created in an organization that relies on command-based planning. Everyone in the organization may find themselves working in an uncoordinated manner to enact unrealistic plan. There is insufficient information and no clear priorities. Under such conditions, not only are members of the organization unlikely to learn much from either their failures or successes, they are also likely to find themselves repeatedly in the business of “fire fighting” rather than producing a high quality product or providing high quality service. The Style Two leader who embraces this command approach in an uncritical manner is likely to fail.

Approach Two: Symbol-Based Planning

This second approach is probably the second most commonly found. In some ways, like the first approach, this second approach actually involves no formal planning at all. The focus is on the domain of intentions—identifying or promoting a specific vision (or mission, purpose or values) for her organization. Once again, it is typically the “boss” who starts the planning process—in this case by promoting a specific “dream” or compelling image of what the organization could be if it successfully launches a new product or service. As in the case of the command-based approach, the rest of this leader’s staff scramble, in this instance, to generate an idea that hopefully will enable the organization to achieve her vision, and find information (often from the marketplace) that does two things: (1) demonstrates that this vision is “realistic” and “achievable” and (2) provides the idea-people with guidelines and boundaries for creating their successful strategy. The organization then moves to action inspired by and motivated by the compelling image offered by the Style Two symbolic leader.

The symbolic approach to planning can be very effective if used in very large organizations where the upper-tier of leaders primarily are in the business of inspiring rather than getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. The symbolic approach also makes sense in a setting where the market place is relatively stable, but in which there must be a sustained effort for products or services to be viable. In other words, the symbolic approach makes sense when it comes to organizations that are in the business of product or service quality and must be constantly concerned with reputation and prestige. Collegiate institutions often belong in this category, as do organizations that produce high end products (such as Swiss watches or yachts) or provide high-end services (such as expensive resorts or restaurants offer).

One of the strengths associated with the symbolic approach to strategic planning is that it tends to encourage patience and persistence—an ongoing pursuit of some lofty and highly desirable outcome. Symbols inspire for the “long haul” and “keep us going when the going gets tough.” This second approach to strategic planning offers a clear distinction between strategic and tactical planning. The symbolic-based planner offers the big vision and the long-term strategy. She leaves the tactical implementation of the vision and strategy to the mid-managers and other lower-level employees in the organization. While the symbolic leader may find ways to “touch the masses” and may make a symbolic show of support for the operational managers of the organization (photographed climbing a telephone poll or serving a meal in a fast-food restaurant), this person (like the command-based leader) is often out of touch with the realities of the workplace. She fails to attend sufficiently to the domain of information—particularly information about the internal operations of the organization.

As in the case of the command approach, symbolic planning can often be risky—the dreams are often not very realistic  However, the symbolic planner and leader can be very appreciative and can provide support for a “success-oriented” approach to program development: “we have taken on a very ambitious goal and will undoubtedly make some mistakes on the way to this goal; hopefully we can learn from these mistakes; however, what is most important is that we get up, dust ourselves off, and try again to achieve a major, worthy success.”

This approach, like the command approach, is most appropriate in an organization that has substantial financial reserves or that has many programs operating that are already highly successful and are likely to product major revenues during the foreseeable future (the “cash cow”). Once again, it is a matter of building a financial buffer to overcome the failures; that is why the symbolic approach is often most appropriate in a large organization. This organization is likely to have a financial buffer if it has mounted successful programs for many years and has established a strong reputation and is prestigious. Reputation and prestige can themselves serve as financial buffers in that the symbolic leaders of this organization are more likely to get loans and additional financial backing than are leaders of organizations with less prestige and a more spotty reputation. The primary weakness of the symbolic approach concerns the treatment of information. As in the case of the command approach, employees may get in the habit of fashioning data to make the vision of their symbolic leaders seem viable. This is yet another way in which an organization ceases to be a learning organization;

If we turn once again to ways in which people and entire organizations are likely to engage their world, we find that the symbolic approach is most likely to be embraced by leaders and organizations preferring intuitive rather than sensing modes of perception, and that prefer feeling-based criteria rather than thinking-based criteria when arriving at a judgment (the NF configuration on MBTI). Symbolic leaders and organizations oriented to this approach are inclined to not only rely on hunches (as do the command-based planners), but also mistake dreams for reality. Their dreams are motivating in part because other people can see, hear and even taste these dream—thereby often mistaking the dreams for reality. Data and cold hard facts (the sensing function in MBTI) are often considered to be offensive and even a sign of disloyalty. They certainly are not welcomed. There is also a tendency for symbolic leaders and organizations to assume an internal locus of control. They believe that they can achieve anything, if there is sufficient commitment and effort. Assuming this internal locus of control, symbolic leaders and organizations (like their command counterparts) will tend to focus on strengths–especially as these strengths are aligned with the symbolic leader’s vision. The symbolic leader, like the command leader, is likely, with an internal locus of control, to ignore or deny weaknesses in their organization (especially the failure to understand or support their vision) and the role played by powerful external forces that are not aligned with their vision.

Once again, the key to effective symbolic planning by a Style Two leader is often the shift to an external locus of control. We turn again to SWOT. Symbol-based planners can be effective in adopting an external locus of control if they focus on ways in which their intentions (mission, values and purposes as well as vision) align with opportunities (O) that are emerging in the external marketplace to which their organization is responsive. A symbolic approach to strategic planning can be quite powerful if the symbolic planner’s or leader’s dreams can be connected to the dreams of stakeholders from outside their organization: “Go west young man [and woman] and seek your fortune, while fulfilling the manifest destiny of this great land.”  Furthermore, by identifying the threats (T) that exist out in the world, a symbolic planner can avoid the creation of dreams that simply can never be realized or that divert attention and resources away for those threats that can reduce or eliminate the organization’s capacity to realize its dreams.

Before moving to the third approach, I will again identify the major leadership challenge associated with this second approach to planning. This challenge concerns the ability of the symbolic planner and Style Two leader to clearly define the vision and link this vision to the personal aspirations not only of those who are leading the organization, but also other members of the organization and other stakeholders: “We will help each other out in realizing our personal dreams as well as our collective dream.”  Without this alignment between personal aspirations and organizational vision there is a lack of coordinated efforts. Like an automobile with nonaligned tires, the nonaligned organization will have to exert more energy, will find more wear-and-tear, and experience a much bumpier ride than the aligned organization.

Approach Three: Reason-Based Planning

The third approach to strategic planning is most often associated with modern, 20th Century organizational management. It begins with a focus on the domain of information—and, in particular, identifying the internal strengths and weaknesses of the organization, as well as the external opportunities and threats. Typically, this approach to planning is placed not in the hands of the upper level executives in the organization (as is the case with the command and symbolic approaches) but in the hands of a planning office, planning committee, the Management Information Systems office, or the Finance and Budgeting department of the organization.

The rational approach to planning can be very effective if used in an organization that is very large and in an organization that resides in a stable marketplace (or often a marketplace that this organization strongly influences or even controls). We are particularly likely to see this third approach embraced in an organization that is highly bureaucratized—in which change occurs slowly and with considerable deliberation. One of the strengths associated with the rational approach to strategic planning is that it tends to reduce failure—at least failure of major proportions. Failures are reduced not only because this approach emphasizes the formulation of realistic plans, but also because rational planning usually closely links the strategic and tactical planning of the organization. All of the tactics (often directed toward the achievement of specific objectives linked to specific initiatives) emerge from and are compatible with the strategic plan (often directed toward the achievement of programmatic goals).

While the command or symbolic leader may be out of touch with the reality of the workplace in their organization, the rational planner and leader is “in touch”—though this connection may be mostly in the form of numbers and statistics rather than actual, direct experience in the workplace. There is a tendency for rational planners to devote too much attention to calculations and not enough to commitment. This, in turn, points to one of the weaknesses of the rational planning approach. It too often leads to a plan that never gets implemented because it is not inspiring (the symbolic approach) or leads to results that are not very impressive given that the plan is not terribly innovative (the command approach).

The strength of the rational planning approach has already been noted—it is not very risky. More often “failure-avoidant” than either the command or symbolic approaches (which are more likely to be “success-oriented”), the rational approach makes sense if mistakes or failure would be very costly for the organization and its customers or clients. Rational planning makes sense in the design and construction of a new airplane or in the treatment of a seriously ill patient. You can’t afford any mistakes when flying 200 passengers across the Pacific Ocean or when treating a patient who might die if a mistake in diagnosis or treatment is made.

It is typically not hard for the rational planner to be practical. While large, bureaucratic organizations are likely to have substantial financial reserves, these reserves are often unnecessary if the rational planners have done a good job of preparing a SWOT analysis. On the other hand, when we turn again to the ways in which people and entire organizations are likely to engage their world, we find that the rational approach is just as “irrational” as the first two approaches. Just as many untested assumptions are likely to underlie a rational planning approach in the case of command and symbolic planning. Rational planners are usually inclined to assume an external locus of control. Though they may conduct a SWOT analysis that focuses on internal as well as external factors, attention usually is directed toward the external factors. In part, this focus on external factors is likely to occur because it is often assumed that these large, bureaucratic organizations are very hard to change internally—so why spend much time identifying internal strengths and weaknesses (especially the latter). It is often assumed, given the organization’s influence in its marketplace, that the organization is likely to be able to change external conditions more quickly than internal conditions.

With regard to MBTI profiles, the rational planner, leader and organization are most likely to be oriented toward the sensing function (S) when gathering information (perceiving) and to the thinking (T) processes when making a judgment (the ST configuration on MBTI). Rational planners, leaders and organizations are inclined to rely on data from the outside world, rather than building a plan on the basis of hunches (command-based planners) or dreams (symbolic planners). While their plans may not be very inspiring or innovative, they are realistic and have been derived in a systematic and thoughtful manner.

The key to effective planning for those Style Two leaders using the rational approach is often the opposite of those from the command and symbolic planners. The rational planners need to pay more attention to the internal operations of their organization—they must embrace an internal as well as external locus of control. A rational approach to strategic planning can be quite powerful if the planner or leader can fully appreciate the distinctive strengths that exist in her organization, and if she finds ways in which to use these strengths to address the weaknesses that exist in her organization. The “enemy” is not just an external threat. It is also internal inertia and a sense of powerlessness among those working in large, bureaucratized organizations. An appreciative perspective regarding distinctive strengths—especially when these strengths are being assessed in a systematic and thoughtful manner (the strong suit of rational planners)—can make a real difference in sustaining the viability of a large (and often old) organization.

Before moving in the next blog to the final two approaches to planning, I will identify the major leadership challenge associated with the rational approach to planning. This challenge concerns the focus of a rational planner and leader: “To what should I [the planner or leader] attend?” When one starts with the domain of information, there is an immediate question: “what do I look at first (given that we have not yet clarified intentions nor have any ideas to evaluate)?” This is where rational planning isn’t very rational. That to which we attend first, tends to be more influential than that to which we attend later. Furthermore, the way in which we interpret or place a frame around specific information has a great impact on how this information is used. Many scientists have come to realize in recent years that the tool of measurement may have a greater impact on the outcome of the measurement than the phenomenon being measured. Thus, rational planners need to be very careful in formulating their initial questions regarding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and must be very careful in their selection of measurement tools and criteria when seeking to answer these questions.


In reviewing these approaches to strategic planning I would suggest that you ask yourself, as a leader, the following three questions in determining which of these approaches is most appropriate:

  1. Which of these approaches has been most commonly used by you during the past five years? Why have you used this particular approach?
  2. If you look at a project, change initiative or organizational improvement in which you are about to engage, which approach seems most appropriate? Why?
  3. Look back on your planning efforts in the past, your preferred way of doing planning (question one) and the planning challenges you now face (question two) what are the lessons learned from these past efforts that are applicable to today’s challenges? When have your planning efforts been most effective? Why do you think they have been effective? When have they been least effective? Why do you think this is the case?

You might find that none of the three approaches offered in this blog will do the trick. Perhaps one of the two more complex and often subtle approaches described in the next blog will be a better fit as you engage the personal enemy inherent in postmodern leadership.

29- The Postmodern Leader: Style One. I. Engaging Experience and Wisdom in a Postmodern Age

March 29, 2010

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I. Engaging Experience and Wisdom in a Postmodern Age

In my previous blogs I have identified both premodern and modern version of three styles of leadership. In this blog and the following five blogs I will be identifying and describing the characteristics of these three styles as they are engaged in the contemporary postmodern context –one filled with the challenges of complexity, unpredictability and turbulence. In this blog I focus again on the first style. This is a style in premodern societies that primarily concerns wisdom—using one’s wisdom to directly guide the organization. In modern societies, Style One leaders (as managers) concentrate on delegation, supervision, teaching and mentoring—the sharing of knowledge and experience with other members of the organization.

What occurs, when the Style One Leader confronts the complexity, unpredictability and turbulence of a postmodern world? I propose that this leader becomes a learner. Rather than being the primary source of wisdom, knowledge or experience, the leader becomes a lifelong learner who exemplifies the willingness and ability to absorb new information and consider alternative frameworks and perspectives when confronting these unique postmodern challenges. I further propose that the new learning can take one of four forms and that an effective leader will at various times in their career embrace each of these forms of adult learning.

The Emerging Models of Lifelong Learning

As I have mentioned in previous blogs regarding Style One leadership, it was assumed that Style One leaders have already obtained a high quality education before taking on leadership responsibilities. If they have not received an education of quality then they have acquired a sound education in the “world of hard knocks”—that is they have acquired their education through extensive experience in the field rather than by attending a formal educational institution. This assumption was challenged during the second half of the 20th Century, when increasing attention was given to management education programs for men and women who were already in positions of leadership. Yet, the model of education for these leaders was still (in most cases) built on an accompanying set of assumptions that were established in traditional educational institutions and in work with young, inexperienced learners. A revolution needed to occur with regard to these underlying assumptions and the ongoing educational and training practices that emerged from these assumptions. This revolution goes by many names. At a fundamental level, it can be called “adult education.” Yet, there is much more to this story then just the addition of the word “adult” to the word “education.” This revolution involved the move from a “pedagogical” model of education to what is often called “andragogy.”  I will briefly describe this new model—then offer two additional models that may be even more appropriate to a leader who is not only an adult, but is also facing the multiple challenges of our postmodern world of complexity, unpredictability and turbulence.

Four Models of Leadership Learning

Model One: Pedagogy Model Two: Andragogy Model Three: Transformation Model Four: Appreciation
Orientation/ Fundamental



Theory Rich/

Experience Poor


Theory Poor/

Experience Rich


Shift in Perspective or Values


Theory Rich/

Experience Rich

Nature of Learning [Kegan] 1st Order

[Concrete Operations]

2nd Order

[Formal Operations]

3rd Order

[Postformal Operations]

4th Order [Sense of Self and Others Within Context]
Desired Learning Outcomes New Knowledge/


Expanded Knowledge/


Changing Framework Articulation/


New Connections

Primary Goal Degree/


In Management/ Leadership

Graduation from Management/

Leadership Training Program

New Outlook on Leadership Masterful


Model Two: Andragogy

This new model (andragogy) was first championed by such stalwarts of continuing and adult education as Malcolm Knowles and Patricia Cross.  It stressed the unique and challenging needs of the mature learner for a different kind of educational experience that was more engaging, more flexible and, in particular, more appreciative of the existing knowledge base and experience of the mature learning. As a colleague, Elinor Greenberg, noted many years ago, the adult learner is likely to be “experience rich, but theory poor,” whereas the younger learner is likely (at least when they graduate) to be “theory rich, but experience poor.” The andragogic model of education has been and often still is very appropriate in the education and training of contemporary leaders. The andragogic model fails, however, just as the pedagogical model does, in meeting the needs of many leaders, who enter their positions of leadership with not only rich experiences, but also rich (if often implicitly held) theories about the world and their role in it. A third and fourth model of adult education are needed.

Model Three: Transformation

The third model is based on the assumption that leaders of contemporary organizations go through major transformations in their life. As Frederick Hudson (The Adult Years) has so effectively illustrated, adult development is not a linear or even curvilinear pathway from less complex to more complex development; rather, it is a series of life cycles, with mature men and women repeatedly moving through profound transformations. These transformations can be precipitated or at least energized in the Style One leader by not only the opportunities that emerge in the leader’s organization (such as a promotion, rapid organizational growth, or success of a major project) but also the threats and vicissitudes facing the organization and this person’s career (loss of job, failure of a major project, personal or organizational bankruptcy). Transformations can also be engaged by Style One leaders in a more intentional manner, through the introduction of powerful, transformative learning experiences. This is the third model for the Style One leader-as-learner.

Model Four: Appreciation

The fourth model begins with the assumption that the successful Style One leader of a contemporary organization is a person with as much experience, wisdom and insight as anyone else inside or outside the organization. The successful leader may actually be an expert—as well as a learner—in the field on which she wishes to focus.  While the first three models of adult education are all based on a set of deficit assumptions, Model Four is profoundly appreciative in nature.

Model One (Pedagogy) assumes that the leader-as-learner needs to acquire certain knowledge or master certain skills in order to become a success. In essence, the Model One leader-as-learner is an empty (or near empty) mug into which knowledge or skills is poured by an instructor, trainer, mentor or coach with superior knowledge, skills or experience.  The second model (Andragogy) is also deficit-based. While the Style One leader enters a developmental program with substantial experience (one or more mugs that are already full), there is still the need for additional education, training, mentoring or coaches. There is an awaiting mug that is not yet full, but needs to be full (or at least partially filled) so that this Style One leader-as-learner can prepare for a new role or for greater success in her leadership role.

Even Model Three (Transformation) is essentially based on a deficit perspective. Someone (the educator, trainer, mentor, coach, retreat facilitator, etc.) creates conditions for the transformation to occur. Without this assistance, the transformation is less likely to occur. Furthermore, it is assumed that the transformation is a good thing: it will enable the Style One leader-as-learner to be wiser, more compassionate, more thoughtful, more socially intelligent, etc. We are “born again” as transformed Style One leaders so that our new self can be even better than the old self. The leader now wants a new mug or set of mugs –and usually is shown where the new mug(s) can be acquired (or purchased).

Model Four (Appreciation) focuses on appreciating and giving voice to the wisdom (insights, knowledge, skills) that the Style One leader already possesses—not on new learning or growth. Furthermore, this wisdom is uncovered and appreciated within a specific context that is co-created by the leader and her colleague (mentor, coach, retreat facilitator). The leader’s current mugs are overflowing. The leader has only to become more fully aware of these “bountiful” resources and the best way in which to engage these resources on behalf of her organization.


I propose that as our society becomes more complex, unpredictably and turbulent (the postmodern condition) and as our population becomes older on average (the “graying” of society), it is likely that the third and fourth models of leadership education will become more important, more often engaged and in need of further refinements.

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.











































































































15- Implications of the Postmodern Condition for Leaders

November 3, 2008

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

[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.


14- The Interlocking Systems of Postmodern Communities

October 27, 2008

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

[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?

In our previous three essays we have explored the complex dynamics of our postmodern condition with regard to interlocking system and the simultaneous movement toward globalization and localization. We find this postmodern confusion and complexity regarding boundaries abundant inside 21st Century organizations. Probably the most dramatic instances of this blurring of boundaries are to be found in the new company towns that have sprung up in many high tech environments. Young knowledge workers seem to live-and-breathe their work in these exciting, fast-moving organizations. And the companies have accommodated their all-consuming passion for work by providing everything the knowledge worker needs right on site. Like the old company towns of the coal-mining era, the new company towns provide all the worldly goods.

New Company Towns and New Neighborhoods

Unlike the old company towns, however, no one is being forced to buy from the company store. Much more subtle forms of coercion are applied. One demonstrates loyalty to the company by working long hours, which in turn requires (for the sake of one’s sanity) the simplification of life away from work. One also finds one’s identity and sense of meaning in life and purpose in the organization; and the all-embracing company town offers a constant reminder and reinforcement of the core identity and values being proffered by the organization.

What do these company towns tell us about the diffusion of boundaries in our emerging postmodern society? First, they tell us that the traditional distinctions between work and home are crumbling. Thanks to computers, Faxes and cell phones we are bringing our work home and now, thanks to the company towns, we are also bringing our home into the workplace.

There is a second implication that may be of even greater importance: Our workplace is becoming our new neighborhood. We find our friends at work rather than on the block where we live. We don’t invite people to our home or even out for dinner. We now invite them to walk down the hall with us to the company restaurant. New life style enclaves (to use Robert Bellah’s term) are created: “clubs for chess, genealogy, gardening, model airplanes, public speaking, tennis, karate, scuba diving, charity and the like.” We even court and fall in love with our co-workers—a dangerous proposition given the potential for charges of sexual harassment: “The result [of the company towns] can be a weird sort of intimacy.”

The third implication may be even more disturbing. Work is now becoming the place where we find our own identity and sense of self-worth. One can thus live and breathe the organization without ever having to confront alternative realities or competing senses of self. We have both coached executives who behaved like compulsive workaholics: unable, even when their career and work conditions allowed it, to tear themselves away from the office or the computer. Sadly, deeper conversations often revealed how much more complicated and emotionally unpredictable life outside the office felt to them, and how scary. Do we stay at the office to avoid facing an unhealthy relationship, an aging parent or an exasperating ADHD child? Or is it because we spend so much time working (i.e. problem-solving) that we feel unable to handle the more subtle and patient interactions required outside the company town, especially when they won’t yield (as work can) immediate visible “success?”

Here is where the company town comes to our apparent rescue. It offers everything for the new knowledge worker (though at a rather substantial if subtle price). The organization in which we work has become our community of reference and the place many of us most want to be. Ilene Phillipson, a Berkeley psychologist recently noted that:

. . . none of the people I see want to spend more time at home, because work has become all sparkly and glittery, and home seems kind of empty and colorless. It’s frightening to see what their lives are like. I’m always trying to suggest that they pursue some new interest, that they get in touch with dreams they had as a kid. But they can’t think of anything! None of them. It reminds me of the women in the 50s who invested all of their identities in their husbands and then divorced. Where were they?  For many women of that era, it was really the end of their lives.

Blurring of Home and Work

Even if we are not part of the new company towns, we often still don’t know if we are inside or outside an organization. Given the proliferation of car phones, home computers, and home-based Faxes, it is often hard to determine if we are at home, on the road or at work. Automobiles become mobile offices that are equipped with cellular phone, pager, dictation machine, laptop computer (for the traffic jam), car fax machine, and cassette player (books on tapes). Given this gadget-filled vehicle, when do I begin work each day? Is my commute a time of day when I can recollect my thoughts, make the transition from home to work, and perhaps even daydream a bit, or is this the start of my busy work day?

The automobile has even become a part of our home. We find some quality time with our children as we transport them to school, or build close friendships with the men and women with whom we car pool. The automobile even becomes a setting for microwave ovens and all of those other remarkable domestic chores that we observe people do while driving—ranging from having breakfast to changing diapers to paying bills by phone, to buying gifts, to putting on their make-up or flossing their teeth.

Even when we are out of town, our motel or hotel room becomes our office—to an extent that the traveling salesman of the early Twentieth Century could not have possibly imagined:

Welcome to the world of bits, bauds, modems, laptops, taxes, E-mail, on-line data services, logon names, voice mail, pagers, cellular phones, and an electronic cornucopia of new hardware. An adventurous breed of top managers and professionals—call them the wired executives—stay on top of business wherever they are, anywhere in the world, with highly portable computers and telecommunication devices that liberate them from the constraints of the office. Universally, these peripatetic executives praise their newfound freedom. More than that, their use of electronic devices has made them enormously more productive and has saved them huge amounts of time in the office, on the road, and at home.

We must wonder about the long-term consequences of this newly found freedom and productivity. On the one hand, we can individually and collectively achieve more than any generation before us in less time. We enjoy world-wide experiences, friendships and knowledge. We can test our wildest ideas, wield enormous influence, and have great fun! Our needs for achievement and challenge are more than fulfilled, and this gives us a great sense of personal satisfaction. The community we create at work is not just a substitute. It’s a genuine crucible of interpersonal growth.

However, when does the executive relax, at the end of a hard day on the road? Not many years ago, we could all relax when we finally settled into our seat on an airplane, knowing that there was little we could do other than read, sleep or jot down a few notes. Now we can bring along our portable computer and can make use of the sky-phones and cell-phones to keep in close contact with our office. Is this a good thing? Is the edginess of the postmodern era a result of continuing confusion about what is work, what is home and what is leisure? What happens to the time that we save with our wonderful new devices? What happens to the time that we take away from our own lives and the lives of people with whom we don’t work (our friends and family)? Is the appointment that we are least likely to keep the one that we have made with ourselves? Or don’t we even bother to make this appointment, given all of the other demands on our time?

13- The Interlocking Systems of Postmodernism

October 20, 2008

  [© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

[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?

Physical scientists have suggested several different labels for the diverse—diverging, interlocking and unpredictable—systems that Peter Drucker and many postmodernists describe. Many physical scientists would consider these systems to be chaotic. These systems are justifiably identified as chaotic because behavior inside each system and between systems is neither predictable nor readily described. In recent years, however, the term chaotic has been reserved for systems that are much less coherent and structured than the world’s political and economic system described by Drucker and the postmodernists. The three-sphere world of Peter Drucker is more accurately identified as a complex or turbulent system in which domains of order (the dynamics operating within any one of the three spheres) are intermixed with domains of chaos (the dynamics operating between the three spheres). Highly complex systems are perhaps even more difficult to comprehend than chaotic systems, given that they seduce us with moments of rationality and clarity only to dart away into other moments of insanity and confusion, when their orderly subsystems collide with each other.

Dynamic Systems and Computer Modeling of the World

This recognition of complexity in the contemporary world system—and the accompanying interplay between globalization and segmentalization is perhaps most vividly represented in the attempts that have been made over the past four decades to create accurate computer-models of the economic, political and environmental dynamics of our world. Many of the high powered computer-models of our world (the models developed by Jay Forrester and his colleagues at M.I.T and Dartmouth College) have been highly successful in predicting and describing the general trends in our postmodern world.

They have not been very successful, however, when it comes to predicting the precise impact of global events (such as the availability of food or temperature changes) on specific geographic regions or societies in the world. Global computer-based models have now generally been replaced by models that acknowledge broad worldwide dynamics, while also recognizing that each of these dynamics plays out somewhat differently and at a different rate in each of several geographic regions of the world. While Forrester and his colleagues (notably Donella and Dennis Meadows) attempted to build a unified, world-based model of various ecological dynamics, Mesarovic and Pestel described and modeled a world in which subsystems offer their own distinctive, self-organizing dynamics.

We have been similarly unsuccessful in using global models to predict yet another complex and turbulent system—namely, the weather. We are not much better at making predictions that we were twenty or thirty years ago. Specific, localized aberrations or rogue events (what chaos theorists call the butterfly effect) that can neither be predicted nor adequately described apparently have a major influence on the weather that occurs in other, remote parts of the world. In North America we have seen the influence of El Niño (a small body of water off the western Central America coast), much as we recently witnessed the impact which conflicts in very small countries (Kuwait, Kosovo) or a sexual misadventure (the Monica scandal) has had on the entire world community.

Troubling Ambiguity: Shifting Boundaries and Multiple Roles

In his penetrating and controversial description and analysis of the postmodern world, Frederic Jameson speaks about the troubling ambiguities of the boundaries that exist in this new era. This troubling ambiguity exists at all levels—personal, group, organizational and societal. At the personal level, the postmodern world has helped to produce a sense of rootlessness—a pervasive sense of not quite belonging anywhere. One of the Tarot cards contains a portrait of the charioteer. This person carries his home on his back. He is always in transition and depends fully on the specific context in which he finds himself to determine what he believes and even who he is.

The postmodern charioteer is also without permanent holdings or tangible possessions. She may be wealthy, but her wealth is often quite transitory and based to some degree on smoke and mirrors rather than on anything one can touch and hold. The massive wealth that was made from the sale of stock in new e-commerce companies that had not even turned a profit yet – or the overnight losses in companies’ value and their employees’ net worth when unexpected bad news is made public – speak to this sense of impermanence, as do the many “virtual possessions” that people can now buy which are so readily disposable.

The Unbearable Lightness of Postmodern Being

Milos Kundera is often identified as one of the leading postmodern novelists. His perhaps most famous book is titled The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It describes the new forms of anomie (loss of identity) and alienation (sense of separation from everything and everybody) that was pervasive in Eastern Europe during the Soviet occupation. Many social observers of our time suggest that this novel speaks not just to the Soviet culture, but also to the postmodern culture to be found in many contemporary societies. Projecting this into our new century, Bill Joy would seem to be in support of this conclusion. He has rather cryptically suggested a pervasive weightlessness in our postmodern society:

George Carlin observed humorously that our houses are the places where we keep all our stuff, and that if we didn’t have so much stuff we could just wander around. As digitalization [of many commodities] drives the weight of things to zero, we are becoming much more nomadic. .  .  Physical retail spaces are getting replaced with virtual e-commerce places, eliminating the physical stores between the warehouses and the customer; college campuses for continuing education are being replaced with distance learning, eliminating the classrooms; buyers and sellers can find each other in online auctions, proving much more efficient markets. The encompassing trend is that most complex systems with centralized control are giving way to simple distributed systems. . . .

Joy further suggests that the new digital revolution not only encourages us to become weightless nomads. It also invades our privacy—further disrupting the boundaries between self and other:

As the wireless network makes us more nomadic, we clearly will have the power to remove bothersome space and time constraints from our lives. Yet the same technologies that make possible wireless ubiquity and nomadism threaten our privacy. . . . We are likely to find ourselves living in a world where every action will be watched the way the actions of celebrities are scrutinized today. The vulnerability and anxiety that we feel as our lives become electronic is already the stuff of Hollywood movies like The Net. . . .

Joy is not very optimistic about our changes of successfully addressing this potential invasion of privacy given our track record during the modern era:

The tendency will be for the new digital landscape to leave its inhabitants too exposed—cell phones ring in the theater, miniaturized Web cameras and microphones observe us clandestinely, data-mining reveals our habits and predilections. Will digital design save us by restoring some sense of privacy and anonymity? History suggests we can botch it badly. The last major man-made overlay on civilization’s landscape was the automobile. Even though we love our cars, we did a horrible job with them—they pollute, they isolate, and they have changed the landscape in ways that make them both incredibly frustrating and absolutely essential. If we are to build a new digital overlap on our world, we must do better this time.


12- A Fragmented, Paradoxical Image: Globalization and Localization

October 13, 2008

 [© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

[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?

According to the postmodernists, our world is becoming progressively more global, while it is also becoming progressively more segmented and differentiated. Though many of the postmodernist theorists spoke of this contradictory trend in our world at least ten to fifteen years ago, it is remarkable how contemporary this perspective seems to be, given the developments in Europe (and elsewhere in the world) over the past decade. While European countries are moving toward a unified common market and community, we also see the movement (particularly in Eastern Europe) toward increased nationalism and factionalism among specific national, ethnic and racial groups.

Globalization is Alive and Well

From one perspective, globalism thrives. Corporate executives throughout the world share values and language more common to them than to the nations they hail from. Western business culture is studied and emulated in the remotest of regions, playing out the value systems of the first world with great commercial success. And studies show that the world by and large likes the prospects of individual prosperity that globalization seems to hold out hope for.

We are increasingly successful in saying a few things that are universal for all people. Walter Truett Anderson suggests a list of “ordinary ideas” that are held by most people in the world:

The commonality arises in part from shared experiences, which in turn are the product of the electronically-mediated global community of which Marshall McLuhan spoke prophetically over many years ago. We can create world-encompassing computer-based models that predict the flow of resources, the growth of population and the decay of our ecology with frightening accuracy. Similarly we can now trace worldwide trends in fashion, movies and other expressions of popular culture. This point is vividly confirmed in the specter of a young man in China or a young woman in Iraq, wearing a T-Shirt with a picture of an American sports hero or comic character, trying to either defy or defend a culture that is radically different from our own. We now have global life styles and many more intersect cultures that readily cross and borrow from many different societies and social values. The bohemian, international society of Paris during the 1920s was replicated in the 1990s in many urban settings, ranging from Hong Kong and Singapore to London and even Moscow.

At a much deeper level, there is even the possibility (or is it only a hope?) that countries with differing levels of economic development are drawing closer. On the one had, there is a growing awareness in at least some Western countries that “cultures, non-European, non-Western cultures, must be met by means other than conquest and domination.” In the Nonwestern world on the other hand, there is growing recognition that issues of ecology and the environment are not just capitalistic or imperialistic artifacts, nor primarily a matter of politics. There is a deepening sense that the ecological perspective itself offers a penetrating critique of the modern way of life which the developing world both wants and does not want to embrace.

Localization is Also Alive and Well!

The picture gets more complex – and fragmented. New ways to divide the world are springing up. Robert Barnett is developing a cult following both among “the flags” (generals) and C-SPAN viewers, the crowd who gets its news “straight” and doesn’t like what they perceive as the spin of other channels. Barnett sees the world breaking into “core” and “gap” countries, the first being largely democratic and not warring with each other, and the second representing countries with lower levels of education, GDP, women’s rights and overall political participation. Are these two groups inevitably fated to collide in a “war of civilizations,” as Barnett asserts and Samuel Huntington prophesied before 9/11? 

Thomas Friedman similarly described the simultaneous strengthening of a global, high technology society (symbolized by the “Lexus” car) and a resurgence of nationalism and local traditions (the “Olive Tree,” the nurturing and nourishing symbol of belonging]. He suggests that the contemporary political conflicts and threats of terrorism throughout the world can be attributed in the final analysis to the tension between these two contradictory forces, often played out within the same community and even one individual. Think of the global manager, who speaks English all day, video-conferences with colleagues all around the world,  manages resources for the profitability of the firm, and then spends his evenings and vacations speaking his native tongue, participating in religious and ethnic communities that think and judge life from a very different perspective than his day-time environment.

In recent years, Peter Drucker has tried to make sense of this interplay between globalization and segmentalization by focusing on the “growing incongruence between economic reality and political reality”:

[B]usiness—and increasingly many other institutions as well—can no longer define their scope in terms of national economies and national boundaries. They have to define their scope in terms of industries and services worldwide. But at the same time, political boundaries are not going to go away. In fact, it is doubtful that even the new regional economic units, the European Community, the North American Free Trade Zone (NAFTA) or MercoSur, the proposed economic community in South America, will actually weaken political boundaries, let alone overcome them.

Drucker pushes the image of complexity and even contradiction further by suggesting that there are actually three overlapping spheres in our contemporary postmodern world:

There is a true global economy of money and information. There are regional economies in which goods circulate freely and in which impediments to the movement of services and people are being cut back, though by no means eliminated. And then increasingly there are national and local realities, which are both economic, but above all political. And all three [spheres] are growing fast. And businesses—and other institutions, for example, universities—have no choice. They have to live and perform in all spheres, and at the same time. This is the reality on which strategy has to be based. But no management anyplace knows yet what this reality actually means. They are all still groping.

Globalization author Stephen Rhinesmith warns that to operate globally, today’s executive needs both a very high level of intellectual sophistication as well as an evolved capacity to work across cultures and in matrix structures, with reporting lines and conflict resolution processes that require continuous negotiation between remote teams and individuals.

We see the interplay between globalization and localization played out on a much smaller stage each day around the world. It is played out in the use of language. While English has become the language of global commerce and political debate, local languages have re-emerged in importance in many corners of the world. English is not the first language for most people; rather it is the third language —the first language being each person’s local language (e.g. Taiwanese in Taiwan) and the second language often being the formal, national language (Mandarin in Taiwan).

Thus, while the postmodern world is noted for its diffuse boundaries, this new World Order is also composed of a set of discrete, competing entities whose clash of values and priorities will never allow global tranquility to exist. We have seen the reemergence of small nation-states and of nationalities within countries. While efforts are being made to bring people together and to minimize differences—as in the creation of a unified European Community—there is a simultaneous movement toward articulating and even exaggerating differences in religion, politics, culture and language. At the heart of this emphasis on differences and national character is the remembering of values and social purposes at both a national and organizational level. Does this emergence of a clear sense of distinctive intention—rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of the industrial modern era—portend the return to a pre-modern emphasis on the spiritual domain of organizational life?

We find this same interplay between globalism and localism manifest throughout American society. We know of the role of the United States as the single global power in the world today and of the struggles both within the United States and within virtually all other countries in the world to come to terms with this unique global condition. By contrast, we also know of the movement back to local community and to fundamental religious and ethnic values in contemporary American life.

Robert Bellah and his colleagues write about new forms of community that are to be found in the United States. In the modern world that we are leaving behind, men, women and children lived in small, geographically contained communities (villages, towns, small cities). According to Bellah, we now find the postmodern community in “life-style enclaves.” These enclaves are constituted of people who usually don’t live near each other (except in the case of enclaves that are age-related, such as singles-oriented condos or retirement communities). Rather, members of the enclave share something that brings them together frequently or on occasion. These life style enclaves may be found in Porsche-owner clubs or among those who regularly attend specific sporting events. They are also found among churchgoers and those who attend fashionable nightclubs. Regardless of the type of enclave that someone chooses, this enclave contributes to the diversity and ultimately the unpredictability of the larger social system of which the enclave’s participants are members.