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.

Conclusions

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.

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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.

Conclusions

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.

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.


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.

Conclusions

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.


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

June 28, 2010

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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.


27- The Modern Leader: Style Three. I. Motivating, Goal Setting and Monitoring

December 28, 2009

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I. Motivating, Goal Setting and Monitoring

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

While the third premodern leadership style focused on creating a vision, the modern Style Three leader will focus on creating a TANGIBLE VISION and this is done through focused motivation, the setting of specific goals and the monitoring of the ways in which and extent to which these goals are achieved within the organization. Thus, a person who is assigned this third form of leadership must not only be able to articulate a vision of the future that is persuasive and motivating, she must also be able to “deliver” on this vision—in other words be a good, achieving manager. The organizational vision may come from the Style Three leader herself or may be assigned to her by other people in the organization (the so-called “stakeholders”). When the third style of modern leadership is coupled with style two (empowerment), then the manager will be involved not only in the setting and monitoring of goals, but also in the creation of the organization’s vision and in the translation of this vision into tangible goals (and even more tangible objectives).

Modern Motivation

The observant reader will note that the term “motivation” is used with regard to both premodern and modern Style Three leadership. While this term is appropriate to both styles, the source of the motivation is quite different. In the case of the premodern Style One leader, the motivation is intrinsic – that is to say the realization of the vision is itself inherently valuable and exciting for all (or at least most) members of the organization. Alexander the Great inspired his troops to fight on because he helped them see the inherent value of their mission to conquer and Hellenize the outside world. Much as in the case of many other crusades and wars of later years, Alexander was able to convince the men he led to give up their families, their “fortunes” and even their lives on behalf of some greater good and some inspiring vision of a possible future (on earth or in heaven).

By contrast, the motives being engaged by the modern Style Three leader are extrinsic in nature. An employee does not necessarily believe in the inherent value of the product he is being asked to produce or the service he is being asked to provide. Furthermore, the modern employee is not necessarily inspired by the profit to be made by the owners of his company as a result of his good work. The modern employee is much more likely to be inspired and motivated by the rewards he is likely to receive related to achievement of a specific set of goals. These rewards are not necessarily monetary—though they often are. They might come in the form of public recognition, promotion to a new job or, at the very least, increased assurance of job security. While the profit to be made by his organization is not inherently motivating for the modern employee, there is comfort to be derived from knowing that one’s organization is financially solvent and is likely to open its doors again tomorrow morning (and for many morning thereafter). The motivation might also come from the exposure to frequent challenges, the opportunity to work with people who are gifted and supportive or the ability to perform work that is relatively stable over time. These are all motivators that an effective modern Style Three manager will use to encourage and “inspire” his subordinates (and colleagues).

Goal Setting

The modern Style Three leader is faced with a major challenge: how does one translate an inspiring vision into tangible goals. This is not just a matter of moving from some general, vague notion about what the world could be to some specific, even quantifiable goals. An even greater challenge for the Style Three leader concerns the magnitude of the goals: how big should they be and how ambitious should they be? Many years ago, David McClelland and his colleagues at Harvard University conducted research on the need to achieve. They discovered that people with a low need to achieve tend to set their goals either very low (making them very easy to achieve and nonchallenged) or very high (making them either impossible to achieve or achievable only with a great deal of good fortune or “luck”). Men and women with a high need to achieve will tend to set their goals at a high but realistic level. Years later, Hershey and Blanchard identified a key concept in team goal-setting that complimented the McClelland findings. Hershey and Blanchard wrote about the capacity of a mature team to set goals that are high and ambitious, but also attainable.

In much more recent times, Czikszentmihalyi has written about (and done research) on the conditions that are most amenable to high levels of concentration and learning. These conditions are those in which there is a major challenge, yet the challenge is not so great that it can’t be achieved. These results amplify the findings of McClelland, as well as Hershey and Blanchard. Goals should be set at a high but realistic level. The one major addition to be found in the work of Czikszentmihalyi returns us to the issue of motivation—and calls into question the distinction I have already drawn between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Czikszentmihalyi observers that these “threshold” experiences (when challenges can be met) are highly motivating in and of themselves (suggesting intrinsic motivation). According to Czikszentmihalyi these “flow” experiences are among the most motivating that one can experience in life. The power of “flow” would suggest that modern motivational theory and modern management practices associated with Style Three leadership need to be re-examined. In many instances, there may be little or no need for an extrinsic motivator (such as money, public recognition or job security). The task itself may provide sufficient motivation—provided that the goals that are set for the task are ambitious (“idealistic”) yet achievable (“realistic”). The challenge facing a modern Style Three leader is therefore one of translating a vision into goals that are situated in the midst of the threshold of “flow” that has been articulated by Czikszentmihalyi.

Goal Monitoring

It is not enough to set goals – as a Style Three leader operating in a modern society, it is also critical that the attempts to achieve these goals be closely monitored. This emphasis on accountability has become particularly critical in recent years, with tighter budgets and a push toward “zero-based” budgeting (starting each year with a clean budgetary slate and the requirement that each manager justify their program) and “return-on-investment” (comparing the costs associated with any new project with the outcomes of this project). The successful modern day manager must find a way to monitor goal achievement and to somehow measure this achievement (“metrics”).

In many ways, this focus on goal monitoring is not new. It can be traced back more than forty years to the era when “management by objectives” was in vogue—and the era of modern management was at its peak. This approach to the monitoring of goals directly addressed one of the major objections that was often voiced about management: how does a manager monitor goal achievement in a way that impacts on the overall performance of the organization? Does it really make any difference if an individual employee or a project team is doing an adequate job? While many 21st Century management experts are opposed to the use of management-by-objectives or more contemporary outcome measures, given that many factors other than an individual employee’s or individual team’s work influences outcomes, there is still a very strong case to be made for a focus on goal setting and goal monitoring outcomes and on the extent to which individual employees and teams are directly accountable for achieving the goals that have been set for them.

One key factor must be kept in mind by the modern Style Three leader and manager.  As I mentioned with regard to premodern Style Three leadership, goals must always be established in relationship to the organization’s mission, values and purposes. The four components of organizational intentions (mission, vision, values and purposes) are tightly interwoven and modifications in one will inevitably impact on the other three. Even at the more tactical and specific level of goal-setting and monitoring, it is critical for a leader and manager to ensure that these goals do not in any way abuse the fundamental values of the organization and that they ultimately contribute to both the mission and purposes of the organization. This broader focus on organizational intentions can easily be lost in a modern organizational setting that emphasizes short-term profitability and quantified return-on-investment.


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

December 21, 2009

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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.