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

July 19, 2010

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

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.

Conclusions

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.


30- The Postmodern Leader: Style One. II. The Challenge of Relativism

June 28, 2010

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

II. The Challenge of Relativism

[This blog is based in large part on a chapter I wrote with my colleague, Agnes Mura, in our 2005 book, Ten Themes and Variations for Postmodern Leaders and Their Coaches, which in turn builds on concepts I presented in my 1992 book, The Postmodern Organization]

In Blog 29 I describe several ways in which Style One leaders can become lifelong learners, noting the ways in which we are changing and expanding on our notions about adults learning. In this blog, I wish to dig deeper and explore the profound challenge that underlies virtually any new learning associated with the postmodern realities of 21st Century life. I propose that we live in a world of relativity and uncertain knowledge. In such a world how shall we make commitments and honor enduring values? How do we continue to learn when new knowledge often calls into question our most closely (and carefully) held assumptions and perspectives.

Who knows if unadulterated good and bad, right and wrong were ever appropriate perspectives on the nature of truth and reality? The postmodern world is one that demands a relativistic perspective, if we do not want to shut out what we are learning. What are the tools of thought that will help us in our willingness to take action in a world that is fluid and in which ethics are more situational and elusive? William Perry’s description of the movement from relativism to a commitment in relativism offers us some insight into this process.

From Dualism to Commitment in Relativism

Perry suggests that many mature men and women move beyond a way of thinking (dualism) in which everything is either identified as black or white, good or bad, right or wrong, clear or unclear. They move to a way of thinking (relativism) in which there are rights and wrongs, and goods and bads that exist within a specific community of belief and are not universal. Thus, within a specific scientific community, certain postulates are accepted as valid and are subject to rules of verification that have been formulated by that specific community. Yet, within another scientific community a different set of postulates are accepted and a different set of rules are followed in efforts to verify these postulates. Thus, in each of these communities there are “truths”—but in neither case can truth be claimed as universal or all encompassing. We see this dynamic played out in the field of psychology during most of the 20th Century. Three warring camps—behaviorism, humanism and psychoanalysis—and many sub-camps fought against one another, yet could never make much headways, since each camp made the argument for truth using methods and criteria of validity that neither of the other two camps accepted or even recognized as appropriate to a valid study of the human condition.

What are the responses of many leaders to this condition? The typical response is a turning to or a returning to the state of multiplicity in which we cynically conclude that since there is no one right way or moral way to do things, then any old way is acceptable as long as we don’t get caught. Such a cynical posture provides some shelter against the postmodern storm. Skepticism is another protective stance: Anyone who has grown up in a totalitarian ideological system, which has its seductive absolute truths and world-improving tenets, often spends their life in justified skepticism toward any ideology or absolute claims of truth: at least I will never be fooled or made to believe in something that is ultimately found to be inadequate or dead wrong.”

Multiplistic thinking is certainly a tempting stance for a 21st Century leader to take given the postmodern challenges this leader faces. It is based on the assumption of multiple truths and multiple realities, each of which is equally valid. Ironically, multiplicity is just another form of dualism: “if there is no one truth, then there must not be any truths!” As Foucault has so often observed, in this view truth and reality tends to be decided by less rational forces involving governments, political pressure, social-economic power, and subtle media-based coercion. We need not worry, therefore, about who is right; rather we must worry about who is in charge and what they believe or declare to be the truth and reality. A new golden rule applies for the Multiplist: “he who has the gold makes the rule [and defines reality]!”

Perry suggests another response to the problems of a relativistic world. This is the response he calls commitment in relativism. It is a response that is directly aligned with the learning-orientation of the Style One postmodern leader This response requires the willingness to make a commitment to something, despite the fact that there are alternative truths and realities that can make viable claims on our sense of the world. At this point, Perry moves beyond the line of argument that would be found among most relativists. He writes of the need for mature men and women to make decisions and take stances in the face of postmodern relativism. As postmodern leaders we must make commitments while living in a relativistic world. In order to be able to do this, Perry suggests that we need courage and the capacity for self-reflection. Dualism and relativism without commitment enable one to avoid anxiety, but courage alone enables us to transcend it.

Dualism, with its clear rights and wrongs, enables us – as Erik Fromm noted many years ago –  to escape from freedom. Relativism without commitment enables us to float above the fray, and avoid making the tough decisions or any commitments. We can be breathtaking in our clever and often cynical social analyses. We are brilliant Monday morning quarterbacks regarding politics, corporate decision-making, and our parents’ child raising strategies. Because we ourselves never have to make choices, we can successfully criticize those who do have to make decisions.

The Multiplists and Relativists do not view themselves as similar to the Committed Relativist, but instead criticize the Committed Relativist for retreating into Dualism. Like the Dualist, they confuse commitment for uncritical acceptance. In the case of the cynical Multiplist, the retreat is either a falling back into Dualism or an expedient move to commitment (“who is paying you to come to that decision?”). For the Relativist, the retreat is viewed as either an ignoring of alternative perspectives or as a “selling out” to the forces that are forcing simplification in our society. The Multiplists project their own turn to expedience onto the Committed Relativist, while the Relativist yearn for (and try to remain in) a world that enables them to stay detached and “objective.”

In large part this misinterpretation of the motives and perspectives of the Committed Relativist relates to the emotion of grieving, which accompanies, for example, our “loss of innocence” when moving from Dualism to Multiplicity, for we must abandon our belief in one abiding truth. We also grieve when moving from Multiplicity to Relativism, for we can no longer embrace an undisciplined and cavalier attitude toward all purported “truths” in the world. Some ideas and “truths” are better than others, and expedient use of those truths that serve our own personal agendas are no longer acceptable. In the case of the move from Relativism to Committed Relativism, we grieve the loss of freedom and broad perspective that required no final judgments or commitments. We are kicked out of three different Edens, and feel devastated and betrayed when forced to leave each of these refuges.

Implications for Style One Leaders:

Commitment within the Context of Faith and Doubt

Leaders make an existential leap of faith when they face the complex, uncertain and rapidly changing conditions of postmodern life. When leaders are willing to make decisions and commitments within the context of these postmodern conditions, with insufficient and contradictory data, without absolute guidelines, then they have found what Merleau-Ponty has described as a truth within situation:

Courage and Self-knowledge in the Midst of Relativism

The movement of a Style One leader to commitment without absolute certainties—to a truth within a situation—requires courage and a willingness to encounter an unknown and unknowable world and do the best job possible with the information and perspectives that he does. At this point, the Style One leader is actually beginning to embrace a Style Two model of leadership—one that focuses on courage. She becomes courageous about her learning! Once this first courageous commitment is made by a Style One leader, a bit of increased self-knowledge often comes along. As Style One leaders, we find a new level of appreciation for our parents, our bosses and even our national leaders when we first discover how difficult it is to make good choices in a relativistic world. With increased self-knowledge, we become somewhat more comfortable about making commitments and about adopting a style of operating that leaves options open for an appropriate period of time and that moves the decision-maker to commitment.

Even after the decision is made, the committed relativist in a leadership role remains open to alternative perspectives that could lead to a modification in this decision, and follows up the decision with feedback on the effects of this decision. Chris Argyris and Donald Schon propose that the most effective decision-makers are not those who avoid making mistakes, but rather are those who learn from their mistakes and do not continue to make the same mistakes. By assuming the role of learner, the Style One committed relativist effectively confronts the ambiguity and often immobilizing anxiety associated with the postmodern, relativist view of reality.

Seeking Truth in the Midst of Relativism

What then becomes the nature of certainty and commitment for a 21st Century Style One leader in this relativistic framework? The key seems to lie in an emphasis on the process of knowing and inquiring rather than on the outcome or product of the search for knowledge or inquiry. Alfred North Whitehead first spoke of such an orientation in his portrait of a theology of process—in this sense, he was one of the first post-modernists. According to Whitehead, God is changing along with everything else—much as some scientists are now hypothesizing that the basic laws of the universe may themselves be changing over time. For Whitehead (and many contemporary feminist philosophers and psychologists), truth must always be viewed within its particular context and with regard to its purpose and use. Thus, a contemporary Style One leader must examine not only the outcomes of his deliberations, but also the methods and purposes that defined this deliberation. The postmodern deconstructionists encourage us to look at the words and sequencing of words as well as the message and intention being conveyed by the words. Whitehead and his process-oriented colleagues similarly encourage us to look past the outcomes of thought to the thought process itself.

In a world of relativity and process, how do Style One leaders grapple with the issues of faith and doubt? One answer to this question is obvious, though often ignored when talking about organizational leadership. This answer, as we have already seen, is the ingredient of courage. 21st Century leaders must find and manifest courage in order to confront the issues of faith and doubt in such a way as to lead to commitment. Courage, in turn, is to be found only when we have found some understanding of and have properly nurtured our own inner life. Courage comes when we have been successful in integrating the disparate elements of our selves. John Sanford suggests that the successful man is not someone who is able to achieve perfection (or thinks that he has achieved perfection by repressing aspects of himself). Rather, he is someone who has acknowledged and integrated all aspects of self—including those parts that are not very mature or even acceptable to our personal sense of the ideal self.

Puzzles, Problems and Mysteries

It is conventional wisdom to think of leaders as problem-solvers—as persons who along with colleagues identify problems, analyze causes, consider alternative solutions, and act on the solution that most promises desired results. Since the hey-day of logical positivism, and notably Kurt Lewin’s major contributions to organization development, we have tended to use the tools and deficit language of analysis and problem solving because we have been taught to focus on problems. And, as Cooperrider and others have so wisely and concisely observed, we have even gone so far as to see organizations (and, by extension, individuals who work within them) as “problems to be solved.”

Even if we were to look at problem solving as the cornerstone of our work, we would need to look closer. There appear to be three different kinds of issues. Some issues (puzzles) readily produce intended results through systematic analysis and action. Other issues (problems, in particular paradoxes or dilemmas) defy simple or single solutions, and often our attempts at systematic analysis and action create new, unintended consequences. Even more daunting are issues that are beyond rational comprehension, much less systematic resolution (mysteries).

With puzzles, the parameters are clear: The solution is completely in the control of those who choose to address it. The desired outcome of a puzzle-solution process can readily be identified and quantified and is often important to only a small number of organization members. Furthermore, a puzzle is unidirectional: It has only one successful solution; or, one solution tends to be unrelated to the successful solution of other aspects of the puzzle. The puzzle is clearly appealing to the Dualist. One need only apply a pre-established principle or technique to the puzzle and it will be successfully solved (as determined by a pre-established set of criteria). Examples of puzzles and their solutions abound: establishing a telephone registration system in order to make conference registration easier and more convenient; blacktopping more land in order to expand the capacity for parking in a Mall; conducting the search for a new member of the engineering staff.

Problems are complex, important, and sometimes paradoxical. There rarely is agreement on the criteria for solving a problem or even knowing when solutions are successful. By its very nature, a problem can be readily viewed from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, the outcome of the problem- solution process itself is of significant interest to multiple stakeholders—and successful resolution of one aspect of the problem tends to make resolution of other aspects more difficult or to create additional problems. Moreover, problems are set in unpredictable and turbulent environments and have a combination of internal and external locus of control; that is, factors influencing the creation of a problem and attempts to resolve it are located both within and outside the control of the individual or the organization.

We often don’t recognize problems for what they are. Rather, we tend to see them and act on them as if they are puzzles. When that happens, we dig ourselves deeper into the complexity of “the problem.” What we often get as a result is what we might call a “mess.” A “problem” of international dimension is the current “war against terrorism.” How should we define terrorism? How do we identify terrorists, let alone find them? What are we willing to do to win the war? Who will we ally with, and who will be our enemy? How do we sustain civil liberties at the same time that we provide a secure environment for law-abiding citizens? What are our criteria for defining success? When will “the war” be over?

As one might expect, Dualists don’t particularly enjoy working with problems, and seek in all ways possible to re-conceptualize problems as puzzles. Multiplists do not like problems either, and look to expedient (if short-term) solutions. Relativists often take delight in confronting a problem, though they prefer to remain on the sidelines, offering multiple suggestions regarding ways in which to interpret and address the problem, without having to come to a resolution! It is only the Committed Relativist who is willing to acknowledge that a problem—not a puzzle—is present and who is willing to live with the ambiguity and careful deliberations that attend any careful analysis of a problem and is willing to live with the inevitable emotional reactions (from multiple stakeholders) that accompany the choice of one solution to the problem over another.

Mysteries are of an entirely different order than puzzles and problems. A mystery is theological (inevitably viewed from many different perspectives that are systematic and deeply rooted in culture and tradition), profound (desired outcomes are elusive but of great importance to many stakeholders), numinostic (has no boundaries and all aspects are interrelated)—and the locus of control is external (entirely outside the control of the person, organization or constituencies seeking to deal with it).

Mysteries are beyond rational comprehension and resolution, and they are viewed with awe and respect. Depending on one’s perspective, they are the things “we take to God.” Why is there evil in the world? Why did lightning strike our building but not the one next to it? When and how am I going to die? Why did my child die before me? Mysteries also encompass many positive events and moments of reflection: Why did I fall in love with this person? Why did this remarkable person fall in love with me? How did I ever raise such an exceptional child? Why is this world blessed with such beauty in its sunrises and sunsets, in its mountains and oceans, in its many life forms?

For both Dualists and Multiplists, mysteries are much easier to comprehend than are problems—for mysteries are outside their control. The Dualists are likely to see mysteries as a confirmation of whatever “truth” they have received from an external source: The “good” have been rewarded, or the ultimate plan has not been revealed by the “ultimate” source of truth. Multiplists will view mysteries as further evidence that there is no solid base for assessing the validity of any “truth” and that therefore one should abandon all critical analysis: “It doesn’t matter what we think or believe, since what really happens in the world is a mystery beyond our control or comprehension. . . So let’s do whatever we want to do.”

Mysteries are much more challenging for the Relativist and Committed Relativist who try to place a rational frame around experiences in their lives. Mysteries defy reason and leave the Relativist in a mood to become even more detached from reality, and the Committed Relativist in a mood to join the Relativist in this detachment. Having come to a difficult decision, the Committed Relativist hates the thought of some external event, over which he has no control, intervening and throwing off the carefully deliberated course of action that he has taken. We finally decide on a candidate for this new job and she must decline because of a death in her family. We have chosen the new location for our shopping mall and we find that it is located in a seismically-active region and, hence, is not suitable for development. The Committed Relativist curses the perfidious predisposition of Nature and moves back to ground zero in order to make different, thoughtful decision.

A Special Type of Problem: The Paradox

If choosing between left and right in a definitive way is dangerous, and if defining good and bad in absolute terms is no longer philosophically defensible, how do Style One leaders in a postmodern setting make choices and decisions? Barry Johnson gave us in his 1992 book, Polarity Management, an elegant and eminently practical solution for “identifying and managing [such] unsolvable problems.”

As I already noted, puzzles have simple solutions and lie within our control. Many problems have multiple solutions, are infinitely complex, and require multi-directional cooperation, since they are not subject to one locus of control. Another category of challenges, mysteries, can never be solved completely:”What is love?” “Why am I here?” And then there are paradoxes or dilemmas, which require action and can be moved along, but can never be resolved once and for all. Think about it:  Can there be one ultimate answer for the choice between career and family life? Can the world conclusively choose between globalization and local needs? Between freedom and security in America? Can a manager choose between driving for performance and attending to his people’s needs? In these cases, the “solution” has to be… both! Instead of choosing between these apparent alternatives, we are learning to manage, not try to “solve” these dilemmas.

Barry Johnson suggests as a first step for handling everyday dilemmas, that both the benefits and the disadvantages of the two legitimate but opposite forces be analyzed. The two opposing forces are often embodied in “camps;” For example, the comptroller’s interest in minimizing expenses is pitted against the marketing department’s need to invest in consumer research. A central government has the need to unify the nation, but the states or provinces need flexibility in running their daily affairs. Neither position is “wrong.” The Style One leader who understands polarity management will regularly bring both parties to the table and facilitate a mutual understanding of the respective benefits and possible negative consequences of exclusively holding either position. Enormous understanding and empathy result from this first step alone.

Once the strengths and risks of the two sides are understood, the discussion is directed by the Style One leader to what happens when we try to maximize the benefits of either side. It turns out that such unilateral bias to one side of a paradox or dilemma soon causes the downsides of that same force to manifest. Therefore, Barry Johnson warns that we not try to maximize but rather carefully optimize the degree to which we incline toward one side or the other and for how long. Optimizing means that we must find a reasonable and perhaps flexible set-point as we incline toward one side or another. Finding these acceptable optimum responses and redefining them again and again is the key to polarity management; and it requires a constant process of vigilance and adjustments. We want to find a dynamic, flexible balance, so that each side’s beneficial contribution can be enjoyed, without engendering serious negative consequences. It seems that as a safeguard against overshooting toward either side it would be prudent for Style One leaders to build in alarm systems that warn that we may be trying to maximize one side, and are on the verge of triggering the negative reactions.

Conclusions

The sign of a leading mind today is that it can hold opposing views without flinching. The sign of a successful Style One leader is that she can live with and manage the dilemmas she faces in real time—without questioning her identity at every turn in the road, whip-lashing her strategies, tearing and rebuilding her organization’s structures reactively, or scapegoating people within or outside her organization. Many years ago, Orson Welles was featured in a unique cartoon that showed two warring factions that were in great dispute over a minor issue that soon became major. One day, one of the members of one of the warring factions made an extraordinary (and very brave) statement. This Style One leader said: “maybe they’re right!” Everyone and everything stopped—in amazement—on both sides of the battlefield. Members of each faction began articulating reasons why the other side was, at least in some respects, correct in their assessments, in their assignment of priorities, in their priorities. This fictitious world began to change and Welles, in his magnificent voice, ends by suggesting that just perhaps the people with whom we violently disagree in the “real” world might “. . . just be right!” Such is the case for the 21st Century Style One leader, who must acknowledge, in a relativistic frame, that there is validity in the multiple perspectives, values and ideas being offered by the various stakeholders to whom this leader is accountable.


26- The Modern Leader: Style Two. II. The Challenges

December 21, 2009

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

II. The Challenges

The premodern Style Two leader builds her credibility on the foundation of courage—and typically looks to an external enemy as the focus for engaging this courage. A modern Style Two leader, who builds her credibility on the foundation of empowerment, is challenged by the nature and power of the internal enemy. In many ways, an internal enemy is much harder to engage than one that is external. The internal enemy may be constantly shifting, as new factions develop around specific policies or priorities. Furthermore, we usually have to work with the internal “enemies” rather than defeating them. As we come to appreciate the insights offered from alternative perspectives in our organization and as we seek to empower those with whom we work, then the internal enemy is likely to be transformed from a specific person, department or organizational perspective, to a pervasive ignorance in the organization or to a pervasive sense in the organization of entitlement or passivity or bureaucratic indifference.

The Ambiguous Enemy

The premodern enemy is usually rather easy to identify. He is out there, threatening us at the gates of our city (or organization). The internal enemy is inherently ambiguous—unless we chose to take the destructive path of identifying a specific and tangible internally-threatening enemy. How do we go about identifying and “concretizing” the ambiguous internal enemy? Do we use the rhetoric of warfare, such as often occurs with a government agency: “the war on drugs” or “homeland security”? While this may work short term, this rhetoric carries unwanted or at least inappropriate baggage with it. We look to war-like strategies to defeat the war-like internal enemy. We question loyalty when alternative perspectives are offered. We apply coercion rather than either clarification or persuasion to bring about the “defeat” of the internal enemy.

Much as the challenge of premodern courageous leadership can be summed up in two words (“powerful enemy”), so the challenge of modern leadership/management of courage can be summed up in two other words: EMPATHETIC EMPOWERMENT. The effective Style Two leader will be open to alternative perspectives, will fully appreciate the need for flexibility in addressing the complex problems of the modern world. Furthermore, the Style Two leader will fully embrace and engage the processes of empowerment as related to patterns of communication, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision-making in her department or organization.

There are several alternative strategies that can be applied in moving toward empathetic empowerment. These strategies are much less warlike in orientation. The metaphors to be used are based on models of appreciation and collaboration. First, we can frame the internal enemy as a corrective polarity—a polarity that has gone too far or is no longer relevant. For instance, it may be important (if not critical) to honor organizational traditions and to serve the interests of continuity and predictability within an organization. Excessive and indiscriminate change can destroy an organization. Yet, an emphasis on tradition, continuity and predictability can be pushed too far, leading an organization to atrophy. The enemy becomes the over-emphasis on tradition (or an over-emphasis on change). This over-emphasis needs to be “corrected” not “defeated.” The empowering leader can show modern-day courage by pointing the way to this correction and by ensuring that the correction doesn’t shove the organization to the opposite extreme and to a whiplash swinging from extreme to extreme. This first approach to framing and managing the internal enemy is systemic in nature. There is a need for rebalancing the organization—an acknowledgement of homo-stasis (the important and adaptive tendency of healthy organizations to return to some balance point between two extremes).

The second way in which to frame the internal enemy is based on an alternative way to think of organizations as systems. This approach focuses on the dynamics of homeorhesis (the important and adaptive tendency of healthy organizations to return to some operational pattern). This approach is much more ambitious and much harder to engage. It is much easier to return an organization to homeostasis than it is to identify, address and correct an embedded organizational pattern. What do these homeorhetic patterns look like? They may involve patterns of decision-making in the organization or patterns of communication, conflict-management or problem-solving (the four building blocks of the empowerment pyramid).

Communication patterns often involve the distribution of “air-time” among members of a group (whether meeting in person or meeting virtually via email or conference call). Who is expected to (and allowed to) dominate the conversation? Who is expected to offer information and who can offer options? How is the communication managed? Does someone serve as “gatekeeper” ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak? Are there many attempts to clarify the communication that does occur? Is there much paraphrasing? Is active listening engaged? To what extent does each person who is speaking (or writing) build on the ideas being presented by the previous speaker or writer? Empowering communication typically involves candid conversations about these patterns (a process that is often described as “meta-communication” or communication-about-communication).

Once communication has been addressed successfully by a Style Two leader and her associates, attention should focus on the ways in which conflict is being managed. Typically, it is only when communication is clear and when all parties are given an opportunity to voice their own opinions and share their own assumptions, that differences among these parties become clear. We might assume that our perspectives and desired outcomes differ from those of other people—however we don’t’ really appreciative the differences that exist until such time as we can truly listen to the words being spoken or written by these other constituencies. This means that it is not unusual for conflict to increase or at least become more evident when once empowering communication has been established.

Conflict is best addressed in an empowering manner when a Style Two leader seeks a higher level of agreement between herself and the other party: we seem to agree about the need for XXX and shift our attention to finding a common path that leads to this goal. Alternatively, the Style Two leader may seek to reach an agreement with a conflicting party by reaching agreement with this party about a sequence of actions: we will first seek to achieve your goals and then seek to achieve mine. A third alternative is to shift attention from the issue of direct priority (which goal is most important) to the issue of enablement (to what extent does each goal enable other goals to be achieved).

With the resolution or at least effective management of conflict, a Style Two leader is ready to address the pattern of problem solving in her department or organization. Is there a focus on the current status (realism) or on the desired state (idealism)? Is there a tendency to move quickly to action or to spend considerable time in reflection on alternative actions (as related to the assessment of current status or desired state)? To what extent is there a focus on rational processes of problem solving and to what extent a focus on creative and divergent processes of problem solving? Empowered problem solving requires a balance between realism and idealism, a balance between reflection and action, and a balance between rational and creative processes. An empowering Style Two leader encourages and embraces multiple problem solving strategies.

Finally, with an empowering and diverse set of problem solving strategies in place, the Style Two leader is ready to engage effective decision-making processes in the organization. The existing patterns of decision-making are often the most challenging to reform. The Style Two leader must be willing to identify and openly discuss the benefits and costs associated with current patterns of decision making in her organization and identify ways in which her specific department or organization might most successfully make decisions in specific areas. When should consensus be reached? Consensus decision making is usually only needed for very important decisions that require not only the understanding and consent of all parties, but also the active engagement of these parties in implementation of the decision. When can a small subgroup make the decision and when is it appropriate for the leader to operate in a unilateral manner? When are votes to be taken? What constitutes a “working” majority?

For empowerment to be successful, the Style Two leader must encourage ongoing reflection on the communication, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision-making patterns in her department or organization. The successful modern day Style Two leader is guided by the principle that form should follow function. The particular pattern to be engaged by members of her department or organization should be based on the specific function(s) being served by this department or organization. Does this department or organization need to respond rapidly to shifting environmental conditions? How much risk can be taken? Is there a high or low level of clarity with regard to the current challenges being faced by the department or organization? The answers to these fundamental questions will help to guide the processes of communication, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision-making that are being engaged by the Style Two leader.


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

December 14, 2009

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

I. Managing Empowerment and Internal Organizational Conflicts

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

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

Trained for Management

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

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

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

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

Identifying and Engaging the Enemy

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

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


20- The Premodern Leader: Style Two. II. The Challenges

December 8, 2008

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

II. The Challenges

In my previous blog I described some of the steps that must be taken in preparing for the “enemy” in ones’ premodern role as Courageous leader. The premodern leader who is honored and respected for his or her courage needs a viable enemy. One of the great challenges for this type of leader emerges when the enemy has been defeated. If there is no longer an enemy, then why do we need a courageous leader? We can point to Winston Churchill as a notable example of this decline in collective support for courageous leadership. While most historians agree that Churchill was a disagreeable chap, he is widely acknowledged to be a man of extraordinary courage during war time. His speeches and actions during World War II may have been critical in the failure of Nazi Germany to invade Great Britain. Yet, soon after the end of the war, Churchill was out of office. When he came back into office in the early 1950s the British Empire was in decline. While England was engaged in battles in many parts of the world (including the Mau-Mau rebellion in Africa, the war in Malaya and the Korean War), none of these wars involved England’s defense of its own homeland and, as a result, Churchill was not very successful as Prime Minister. He was the prince of War not the Prince of Peace (nor the Prince of Wars in distant lands).

From Wartime to Peacetime

I have personally witnessed this transition while working with the Taiwanese during the past twenty years. Chiang Kai Shek was identified by the citizens of Taiwan as a courageous leader—though he was “defeated” by Mao and the Chinese Communists in 1948 and had to escape from the Chinese mainland to Taiwan. Many of the native Taiwanese were not (and still are not) pleased with the “invasion” by Chiang and his followers in 1948; nevertheless, despite the defeat and the perception of unwanted invasion, Chiang Kai Shek (and his son) held a firm grip on Taiwan for many years, declaring martial law because of the threatened invasion of his sworn enemy, Mao.

With the decline in Maoist threats (or at least after many years of non-invasion), Taiwan began to look for a different kind of leadership. Martial law was dropped and multiple political parties were formed. Soon, a new government came into power and a new president was sworn in. There was major dissention in the country. Fist fights broke out in the Taiwan legislature (these fights were widely reported throughout the world). Over the years, this new Taiwanese-based party lost support and the president was not expected to be re-elected. He advocated for the independence of Taiwan and, as a result, China once again openly threatened Taiwan. The poll numbers for this unpopular president suddenly soared. Taiwan once again had an enemy and could look once again for a courageous leader. Ironically, China’s threatening behavior ensured the re-election of a man that Chinese leadership hated – or did these leaders of China at some level want Taiwan to be a threat (thereby justifying their own position as courageous leaders).

A critical point to make in this regard concerns not only the increased support for a courageous leader when an enemy is present, but also the accompanying unwillingness of this leader or the social system he or she is leading to countenance any disloyalty or dissention: “we must remain united if we are to defeat our enemy. Any dissent will be interpreted by our enemy as a weakness and will be used to defeat us!” Dissent in Taiwan exists as long as there is no viable enemy (China), but collapses when once again the enemy is threatening. I would even suggest that when the external enemy ceases to exist, we create internal enemies. The new leaders of courage are brave in battle against other factions within their own social system.

What about the United States? Did we find ourselves floundering as a nation when our long-time enemy (the Soviet Union) collapsed? Was Ronald Reagan our last warrior-king? Have we been struggling since that time to identify the new kind of leader we need—when there is no clearly identifiable enemy? Did the polarization in political parties between the Republicans and Democrats emerge because we no longer had this external enemy? While terrorist are certainly enemies, they are not easily identified (unless we wish to become bigots who identify all Muslims or all people from the Middle East and Asia as enemies). Is Barak Obama a courageous leader—or have we turned with his election to a new king of leader (perhaps the premodern leader of vision to which I turn in the next blog). What about the broad-based support for Obama’s campaign promise to promote bi-partisan search for solutions to complex problems? Is American society ready to embrace a reduction in dissent as a result not of the re-emergence of an enemy, but rather as a result of some profound shift in the nature of desired leadership for the United States? 

The Organization’s Enemy

What about the role of premodern courage on a smaller plain—in a group or organization? I would propose that the same challenge exists. The enemy must be strong and menacing. This enemy might be a competitor, in which case a win-lose mentality is likely to be prevalent. If there is no clear external enemy, then an organization can turn to internal enemies. There are many candidates: management, unions, sales, finance, or stockholders (to name a few candidates). Alternatively, the enemy can be identified in a more nuanced manner. The “enemy” can be poor quality of product or service. It can be poor management, inequitable labor policies, or ill-informed decision-making processes. If this latter perspective is embraced by an organization, then the enemy is likely to remain viable for many years—given that we can always find ignorance, injustice and poor group process in an organization!   

Just as the challenge of a wisdom-based form of premodern leadership can be summed up in two words (“succession planning”), so can premodern leadership based on courage be summed up in two words: POWERFUL ENEMY. We must retain (and never defeat) the enemy. When a courageous leader is playing a key role in an organization, then considerable discussion must occur with regard to who or what is the enemy. There can’t be multiple enemies (unless they are perceived as being part of a unified coalition), nor can the enemy be identified in some vague terms. In addition, the organization must focus on the tactical and strategic plans that will be engaged when confronting the enemy.

Perhaps the most important and difficult step involves the organization’s support for diversity of perspective and dissent. As I have already noted, a courageous style of premodern leadership often is attended by a stifling of unpopular opinions. This is unlikely to be a successful strategy.  If the enemy is truly powerful (meaning the enemy is competent and persistent), then we are best served by a tactical and strategic plan that has been carefully conceived, with all viable perspectives and opinions being considered. Otherwise, the enemy will win and we will be out of business—as seems to be the case, tragically, with many organizations during our present day economic downturn. The enemy turns out to be not an external threat, but rather our own ignorance and intolerance. We have found our enemy—and it is us!

As I did in a previous blog, I propose that we are still living in premodern organizations and are living in the back of our minds and hearts in a world that yearns for men and women of courage (and wisdom). It is important—perhaps essential—that we recognize this premodern reality and acknowledge this premodern yearning for a certain type of leadership. As I will note in future blogs, we yearn also for other types of leadership and look for other types of leaders in our hybrid world of premodern, modern and postmodern social systems.

 


19- The Premodern Leader: Style Two. I. Preparing for the Enemy

December 1, 2008

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

I. Preparing for the Enemy

In my previous two blogs I identified a premodern version of Style One Leadership. This is a way of leading that is based on the assumption that leaders are sources of great wisdom. Style One leaders in a premodern setting gain credibility by acquiring a prestigious degree from an elite college or university, or by acquiring broad and deep experience in the organization or field in which he or she is working. In the next two blogs I will describe a second leadership style that operates in a premodern social system.

This second premodern leadership style focuses on COURAGE. A person is assigned this second form of leadership because the family, clan, group or organization in which he or she lives or works is confronting a major challenge (the enemy) that is very strong (not easily conquered) and quite menacing (serious in its intention to be victorious). This person is assigned a leadership role not only because he or she has demonstrated experience as a skillful tactician and strategist against this enemy (or a similar enemy in the past), but also because he or she is brave and willing to risk his or her own welfare (even life) in order to defeat the enemy.

In the previous blog, I mentioned that Alexander the Great is a vivid personification of the first style of premodern leadership. In this blog I would propose that he also exemplifies the second style. He was truly a “courageous” leader and used much of the wisdom he had acquired as a student of Aristotle and much of his credibility as the son of Phillip of Macedonia to wage war against many enemies throughout the Mideast and Asia. Alexander apparently was physically quite impressive—as are many premodern courageous leaders. Research has shown that leaders tend to be taller than non-leaders (George Washington being an excellent example) and usually physically stronger or more skillful than other people. The original qualifications of the prestigious Rhodes scholarship illustrate this premodern focus. Recipients of the highly competitive Rhodes scholarship were to be not only academically gifted—they were also expected to be active in competitive sports. While courageous leaders are usually not actively engaged in competition against their enemy (they remain safely away from the battle zone), they should be capable of competing against the enemy.   

Training for Leadership

While premodern leadership that builds on wisdom usually comes with a prestigious education, we are more likely to find that courageous leaders receive training that prepares them to fight against the enemy. It is much harder to defeat an enemy with a carefully worded argument than to defeat an enemy with a well-fought battle. Obviously, most of the battles being fought in contemporary organizations do not require the wielding of a sword; however, we do find that the courageous leader has been taught something about tactical and strategic planning as an MBA student or as a participant in management development programs within their organization. The knowledge needed to be effective as a tactician or strategist can, apparently, be taught and there are specific planning tools and procedures that are available through management training programs. While courage can not be taught –just as wisdom is not readily acquired—there are ways in which this second type of premodern leader can prepare ahead of time for battle. It is not enough, in other words, to be a courageous warrior. One must also be a cunning warrior.

Identifying the Enemy

The key to wholehearted acceptance of and sustained support for a courageous leader resides in the identification of an enemy that is both powerful and persistent. The enemy, of course, must also be perceived as ill-intended—at least with regard to our welfare. Sometime we worry about other people with whom we relate. We also worry about other groups or organizations with which we work. We are concerned that they are not dependable or that they are foolish or incompetent. We try to avoid them, but usually do not consider them to be enemies.

What triggers the sense of “enemy”? At one level the answer to this question is obvious: someone or some group is an enemy if it is threatening—if its intentions are not honorable, if it is capable of posing a threat, and if this threat is detectable to the enemy’s opponent. At a neuropsychological level, we can say that an enemy is threatening if it triggers a strong reaction from our Amygdala (a small neuro-structure located in our mid-brain that is often identified as the seat of our emotions). Many years ago, Charles Osgood (an eminent psychologist) proposed that humans tend to categorize almost everything into three binary categories: (1) good or bad, (2) active or passive, and (3) strong or weak. Using a factor-analysis-based tool called the Semantic Differential, Osgood made a persuasive case for the impact of these three categories on the ways in which we structure our world.

Given the more recent research on the role played by the Amygdala, we might propose that it is this mid-brain neurological structure that does the categorizing of everything into these three categories. Something is viewed as threatening if it is bad (not interested in our welfare), if it is active and if it is strong. Perhaps these are also the criteria we use (via the Amygdala) in identifying an enemy. The enemy is someone or something that is bad (evil, ill-intentioned, against us) and is also strong and active. While another organization can be in opposition to us, it will probably not be very threatening if it is weak or if it is inactive. A weak enemy can readily be defeated. A passive enemy remains non-threatening as long as it is itself not provoked.

Engaging the Enemy

If an enemy does emerge, what do we do about it? Once again, the neurosciences offer an important clue. Most neurosciences for many years have suggested that human beings (like other primates) tend to react in one of three ways to threat (and the Amygdala helps to prepare the body for these three responses, through activation of the arousal/stress system). The first response is fight. Here is where the courageous leader obviously enters the picture. We mount an attack against the enemy and are led by the courageous leader.

The second response is flight. While the courageous leader would not initially seem to play an appropriate role regarding this second response, we find that courageous leaders often do play an important (if somewhat indirect) role in assisting another person, group or even entire society to escape from a very powerful enemy. At the global scale we see the emergence of great premodern leaders who have led their tribe into exile. Moses comes immediately to mind, as do the leaders of many Native American tribes who were driven into exile. There is yet another way, however, where flight leadership comes to the fore. Filmmakers produce movies of distraction during period of social unrest, while comediennes find a way to make light of the challenges that a society faces. It is not irrelevant that many filmmakers and humorists come from a background of discrimination and poverty. They know how to flee from a powerful enemy (racial bias or economic distress) and apply these flight strategies in their work as cultural leaders in a highly stressed society.

The third response if freeze. It has only recently been given sufficient attention. As several neurobiologists have noted, the human being living on the African savanna will rarely be successful in fighting against a ferocious opponent. Furthermore, as a guide in a South African game park once told me, there are very few animals that are slower than the human being. Hence, humans don’t stand much of a chance if they try to run away from their enemy. The only alternative is freeze. If we can just hide behind a tree or stand absolutely still—then maybe we won’t be detected by the enemy. Unfortunately, freeze is not very good for our body or mind. We are frightened and this triggers the neurotransmitters and hormones needed to engage in fight or flight. We are suddenly wired for action, yet decide that the best action is inaction. As a result of this freezing response, our body is boiling over but unable to dissipate the energy. We end up with ulcers, hypertension and other stress-related illnesses.

Our courageous leader doesn’t have much of a role to play when freeze is the chosen response. Furthermore, he or she is likely to experience the stress associated with inaction in a very personal manner—and probably will be even more stressed by the inaction than will other members of the group, organization or society—given expectations that the courageous leader will take action. Thus, while freeze may be the most common reaction to powerful and highly active enemies, it is least aligned with the assumptions about courageous leadership—leaving many organizations with a pervasive sense of profound disappointment in the “cowardly” inaction of their leaders.