Don’t let anyone get “too big for their boots” (and stand on our toes)!

Core theory shouldn’t mean that some people can become “too big for their boots”

The core and the essence of the organization

I learned about Art Kleiner’s core theory this week.  Organizations revolve around the ‘interests’ of a core group of people.  And so they should, because there is always a core who provide the organization with its very essence.

Recognize the core, protect the core, but don’t ‘spoil it’

Sadly though, organizations are often corrupt.  The organization isn’t protecting and nourishing the core that gives it is essence. It is simply allowing a handful of people to claim ‘protection’ money.

All organization theory is an exercise in limiting moral hazard

All organization theory is really an exercise in limiting ‘moral hazard’.  We don’t want people being so privileged that their personal privilege insulates them from the realities in the world.

So without diminishing the essence of the core, which is also the essence of the organization, we don’t allow our core to become “too big for their boots”.  It’s not good for them.  It’s not good for us.

Building an organization that nourishes the core and involves us too

Here are 5 “wicked” ideas and questions that we use to help people understand their organization in healthy terms.

1.  We make the company every day by what we do.

2.  Together we act out a story.

3.  There is more than one story we could tell.

4.  Why do I have to speak for you?  What can’t everyone speak for themselves?

5.  What does the story we have chosen say about our relationships with each other and are we willing to talk about why we have chosen this set of relationships?

Why have we chosen this set of relationships?

This is the wicked question and test whether the feet and boots fit, so to speak.

Are people able to explain why the relationships in the organization as they are? Are they able to say these things aloud and is what they say acceptable and motivating?

Why have we chosen this set of relationships?

You don’t even need an answer.  You just have to watch whether people are willing to ask the question and answer the question.

When this is an acceptable conversation, you are in healthy place.

When this conversation is taboo, it is time to look for better company (or take over and lead the organization yourself).

Enhanced by Zemanta

What do you think the world needs now . . .?

What the world needs now

What do you think the world needs now?

That was the theme of TED Global 2010.

Leadership

I don’t normally bang on about the world needing more leadership.  We are all leaders.  That was the point being made at TED.

But I think the world needs less panic.  Because we are panicking, we are “brushing things under the carpet”.  We do that when we are in a panic, but it really doesn’t help.

But we also, always, have an area of our lives where, for some reason, whatever that is, we are not scared and everyone else is a jibbering wreck.  In this area, on this one thing, we are eerily calm.

We can host the conversation because in that area of our current jumbled-up and precarious existence, where everyone else is frightened, we are not.

What do you think the world needs now?

The greatest leaders spark curiosity about the system

Our goal had gone walkabout

On my travels, I found myself teaching systems thinking in a university which broke a large course into 25 student groups. A few people determined the curriculum and an army of people taught students who wrote a common examination.

I was shocked by the examination papers. Students rambled on tossing in whatever thoughts came to mind.

We sensibly had an interim examiners meeting and I voiced my concerns. Well, it seems that I was the one to have misunderstood the curriculum.  The curriculum designers were trying to convey the idea that there are many perspectives on any issue. They didn’t see a common goal or direction as an essential part of any system.

I am cursed with an “open mind” so I hastened to the internet to double-check and the idea has hung around my mind ever since as unfinished business does.

3 misunderstandings about system goals

I’m afraid that systems do have common goals. That is entirely the point. But it seems that this is a point that is often misunderstood.

Some people think the system’s goal is their goal

No! There are still multiple perspectives. We can add the system as a virtual person and ask what is the system’s goal! We have the boss’ goal, we have the system, goal and we have each of our goals.

Some people think there is no common goal

It is true that the organization does not have a goal. An organization cannot think! When we say that the organization’s goal is X, we must ask who says that?

But we not only want to understand the multiplicity of goals but we also want to understand how the many goals come together and how the system goal morphs in response. We cannot ignore the system goal ~ or we do as a sailor might ignore the weather ~ at our peril.

Some people think goals are constant

They are ~ for a second. Goals morph as situations change. When we ignore the dynamic quality of goals, then we get mission creep. Conditions change and if we don’t stop to think about what we want, what we all want, we find ourselves doing too much of one thing and too little of another. A mess in other words. Goals are infinitely variable.

Articulating the morphing of goals in any group is what makes a leader

A leader understand the multiplicity of goals in a community and sees how are contradictions and conflicts, agreements and alliances come together to make us what we are – how the whole comes from the parts and affects them in turn.

A leader is a person who is able to articulate this dynamic mix so that we feel supported by the whole and essential to its well being. This is a tough call when a group is determined to quarrel or terrified by its destiny. The hall mark of a leader is that he or she looks for the common ground where we all belong and keeps looking.

Facilitating the agreement is the hallmark of the greatest leaders

Helping us find that common ground is the hallmark of the greatest leaders. We often doff our caps to leaders who were in the right place at the right time. They represent what is the best about ourselves and we throw them into the limelight to remind us of who we are and where we are going. In time, we choose a new leader because our direction has changed and we need new icon on our bows.

We remember these leaders because these were times that we felt great. The greatest leaders, though, help us identify the right questions. They know how to “bound” the group. They know how to focus our attention on the question that we must answer if we are to find the way forward and the place where we feel great.

That’s why it seems as if great leaders set goals. They set a boundary which focuses our attention on question-asking.

It is not the goal that is important, but our compulsion to find out how we should reach the goal.

Colin Powell once said “Leadership is about ‘Follow Me!. Even if it is only out of curiosity.”

Leadership is the art of engaging the imagination in the search for collective answers.

The system is important. With good leadership, we accept the system as a virtual person ~ a popular virtual person who we all want to look after and please.

Executive pornography

Did that catch your attention?  I thought it would.

Executive pornography is not my phrase.  Shocker of all shockers, it is a Canadian phrase and a Canadian metal industry phrase at that.

As I reviewed my first day at Xoozya, I pondered the difficulty we have with a blank canvas.  When we can live a life we choose with no constraint, its quite disorienting.

Yes, without being told to start, I don’t have a ready idea where to start.  So I hit the internet and media – what else?

David Whyte

First, I listened to David Whyte‘s Midlife and the Great Unknown.  He didn’t disppoint.  He describes a time when he was working for a non-profit and ‘burnt out’ rather spectacularly, as we do.  Fortunately for him, he had a working partnership with fellow scholar, Brother David, who encouraged him to step-up into the role of a full-time poet.

David Whyte discusses this incidence with snippets of poetry and as ever one from the poet, Rainer Rilke.  Rilke talks about the importance of reaping the harvest of summer.  When it is time to reap, we must reap or not have the harvest to see us through the winter.

While this seems obvious, in reality, we are often unwilling to harvest the fruits of summer.  Sometimes we are unwilling to grasp with two hands what we want so badly, even though it is all around us.

We are even unwilling to give up burdensome occupations.  Do you remember dilly-dallying over finishing your thesis?  We often think we are procrastinating out of anxiety or fatigue, but after many years supervising students, I’ve come to believe the real reason delay writing up is that we are don’t know what our lives would be like without the thesis.  When the thesis is done, what will we do?  We are deeply scared by the unknowability of the future.

So, tick from David Whyte.  Yes, we find it hard to write our own job description.  But this fear is just a class of a common dilemma.  We catch ourselves betwixt-and-between.  Desperate for a new life, we focus on all the things that will not happen so that we don’t take the small steps well within our ability, hereby trapping ourselves in a past whose use-by-date has come and gone.

Wicked Questions

Then I googled Wicked Questions to get me to the Plexus Institute which is full of case studies, theory and technique for using complexity theory in consulting.

Within seconds, I was looking at the work of Ralph Stacey of the University of Hertfordshire.  He is well ahead of the curve on new organizations and from a quick scan I was remined of two heurisitcs.  The first is not to live in the future.  He talks about having plans that respond to the here-and-now. David Whyte makes the same point.  We often frame a plan so that activity will begin after something else has happened – fueling procrastination or living contingently, as Whyte calls it.  Otto Scharmer makes a similar point about ideas that emerging from current conditions.  Strategy needs to come from what is happening now and what is emerging from current conditions.

Another phrase also caught my eye: Strength grows from contact with the environment, not from existing strengths.

The key is to look at my interactions with people and interactions between other people to develop a sense of what is possible and where we are going.  I think my heuristic is to think of five genuinely curious and exploratory questions about  Xoozya and take those to work in the morning.

As I focused on this idea I read on.

Executive pornography

The Plexus Institute has many case studies on its site.  One is of a Canadian firm, Federal metals, who regarded typical ‘strategy-speak’ as obscene – as executive pornorgraphy.  They object to the language of setting goals, communicating intent, maneovuring the organization and if they heard the term today, in all probability, employee engagement.

The important heuristic I gleaned at this stop is that strategy is concerned with making sense of the past.  Strategy is doing what I am doing now. It is reflecting on the normal stressors of the first day at work in a new place.

So I have three tasks:

  1. Master the communication system
  2. Consider why I am at Xoozya in terms of my broader life’s purpose
  3. List the skills I find essential and the skills I must develop as I look ahead.

My emotional state is considerable panic induced by the breadth and depth of freedom I have to pursue goals I believe are important.

Bringing these ideas together

So how did I get to a place that is quite so nervewracking?

  • Well, I want to work in a place that respects emergence. Of course, as Ralph Stacey says, not everything is emergent. Some tasks are programmatic and simple. I want my computer to fire up when I switch it on, of course.
  • I bring to the situation a familiarity with management literature and to that I returned for structure. What an insight! I wonder what other people use for structure?
  • In my case I dipped into the corporate poetry of David Whyte and was reminded of the anxiety we feel when we are about to step into a life that is very important to us. I looked at the theory and was reminded of the work of Ralph Stacey of the University of Hertfordshire – which is just down the road from me. From this, I invented a good heuristic. What are five genuinely curious and exploratory questions I can ask about my interaction with the environment – probably within Xoozya or as a representative of Xoozya?

Strength grows from contact with the environment.  What the five questions you would ask about your contact with the enviroment?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]