RAMBLING TOWARD COHERENCY
For the last year or so, I have been working on a major paper, tentatively titled, Leadership in Complex Times: Must-Have Leadership Qualities and Abilities.
I touched on some of these qualities/abilities in the February 2012 issue of Anticipate. Since then I have continued my work and what follows are a few snippets I am in the process of weaving together.
and Disruptive Inquiry
Our organizations must embrace catalytic thinking and disruptive inquiry. Yes we need plans, policies, and orderly structures, but the pace and degree of change are such that steadfast devotion to prescriptions, formulas, and rules can blind us to the imperative to alter or dramatically change not only what we are doing, but why.
Like a substance that increases the rate of change in a chemical reaction, I suggest an effective leader in complex times like these must be able to not only facilitate conversations but also trigger ideas, ignite passion, and stir a desire for change into the organizational soup.
Often we do not even know the questions we should be asking but move forward trying to come up with new answers to old questions. Leaders need to stop themselves from asking status quo questions that elicit safe answers and at best toe dipping in the waters of transformation.
Find the Positive
All too frequently leaders in the sector are overly positional and unfortunately adversarial. We see this in government when opposition parties seem to continually lambast the government, find fault with everything, and point out that not enough is being done. It is almost an automatic reflex, and from where I sit is most often antithetical to effective leadership.
Not too long ago, Alberta’s Premier Redford announced that the Province was going to embark on a poverty reduction strategy and also undertake actions that would end child poverty in five years. Within an hour, non-profit groups were criticizing the Premier for not having sufficient details identified in the strategy announcement.
Somehow, those voices forgot that all of us who work with the poor had been calling on the Province of Alberta for many years to recognize poverty as a major issue and to make a commitment to address it. Instead of raking the Premier through the coals for not offering up a comprehensive strategy, perhaps a better strategy would have been to celebrate the announcement and to voice our willingness to work with the Province to create one.
Imagine, if you will, the criticisms that would have flowed if indeed the Province of Alberta had announced a comprehensive strategy. I wonder if the same voices would have criticized the Premier for not consulting with the community before releasing such a detailed strategy.
Operating in positional and rigid conditions typically achieve little more than lose-lose scenarios. Finding the positive does not mean ignoring differences. It does not mean collective work to create a poverty reduction strategy will produce a panacea of like-mindedness. However, if we engage one another from the viewpoint that everyone has a common or at least similar aspiration and if we focus on building positive relationships around that, we stand a better chance of creating synergy and moving forward together.
Leaders create opportunities for engagement, especially with those where they anticipate differences. They do not see advocacy as a vitriolic undertaking. They point toward areas of common interest and make invitations to address them. Effective leaders know that effective collaboration does not rise up out of a miasma of criticism and blame.
Change Leadership, Not Management
Change leadership calls for leaders to understand and accept that people identify with their work. Their mental and emotional view of self is entwined with the work they do and the accepted reasons about why they do it. As well, their work is more often than not aligned with the education and experience they bring with them and the aspirations they have as professionals. Changing those fundamental aspects of self is a huge and unnerving undertaking.
Such personal change cannot be decreed or brought about by strategy workshops. There is not a course to take that will result in personal transformation. Rather leaders must be able to give birth to and sustain an environment of inquiry and reflection, authentic dialogue, and transparent, honest communications about the challenges all individuals are facing together.
While facing challenges to personal identities, people need to be engaged in creating the processes that allow them to face these challenges. New patterns of interactions, of exploration, of values at work must emerge not be offered up as prescriptions to follow.
And yes, this takes time. This may be one of the biggest barriers we fail to recognize as leaders. Transformation takes time. It’s messy. It’s scary. It’s not a science. Organizational transformation is always sourced in human experience and struggle. Always.
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Copyright (C) 2009 Mark Holmgren @ Tamarack Institute All rights reserved.
Mark Holmgren @ Tamarack Institute
c/o 112 Village on the GreenEdmonton, Alberta T5A 1H2
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