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3 simple ideas for leading in today’s turbulent workplaces

Walk-this-way-by-garryknight-via-Flickr.jpgDespite waves of change, life stood still

We were at war

I went to university at a time of radical social change.  Not to put too fine a point on it, we were in the middle of a revolutionary war.

But psychology was cruising a plateau

My nation might have been at war with itself, but profession was not undergoing great change.  Being a student was a matter of learning about behaviorism and functionalism and Marxism and   .  .  . and  .  .  .

And psychology continued to cruise even when real change had happened

It was only later that cognition made sufficient impact to affect professional life and one look at textbooks will tell you that psychologists were so complacent about the permanency of their approach that they simply edited cognition out of the applied text books.

An astonishing number of people have been left behind

Wave after wave of students have graduated without knowing how to do cognitive task analysis and if they have a glimmer, they do cognitive task analysis without agency.

If you believe the typical psychologist, people do work without knowing what they are doing or caring about what they do.

Mindfulness means the story of here & now

Students don’t even study management because organizations “just are”.    It doesn’t even seem to occur to psychologists that context is king.  Mindfulness does not seem to suggest that paying attention to the moment may be important because the moment is important.  We look for generalizations because we believe that generalizations hold and following perfect recipes is the formula for the good life.

How deadening.  How certain to create depression and ill health.  How certain to lead to economic and financial disaster.

How odd.

From paying attention to action in the moment

If

  • Context
  • Attention
  • Visualizing (not planning) and getting feedback (not making assumptions)

are both better descriptions and prescriptions of life at work, then what are the actions?

Last night, I read Gail Fairhurst’s paper on new ways of understanding leadership.  She describes new ways of thinking about work.

  1. “Delve deep into context” and be content with understanding all the different ways that the people present understand and talk about the issues.
  2. “carve out room for maneuver while others remain stymied by disparate or oppositional Discourses (Huspek, 2000)”
  3. “draw upon alternative Discourses” to have fun

OK, the have fun bit was mine.  But, the remainder of the 3 points are from Gail T. Fairhurst.

This is very different from the psychology and management of my youth which assumed:

  • There is a good way to do this
  • The old guard know best
  • This is what you have to do (and please leave mind, spirit and sense of humour at the door!)

To recap: The action of  here & now

  1. The truth is in the wide range of realities described by people who are present.
  2. Some views  will be mind-hoovering, locked in old conflicts and defining the world as impossible.  Find the way forward.  There always is one.
  3. Present (and act out) alternatives in a spirit of fun.

In thirty years’ time, people may think differently again. And so they should.  What counts are the views of people who are there at the time!

 

Resources

Fairhust, G. T. (2009).  Considering context in discursive leadership research. Human Relations, 62(11), 1607-1633.

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Published in POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY, WELLBEING & POETRY

One Comment

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