Leadership, media, Pausing, politics, Reflection

Different perspectives

Have a look at the cube above. Now look again and see if you can see it from a different perspective.  Most people can – but not see both views at the same time.  It’s lucky we can still do this with the cube because as political animals Americans seem to have lost it.

It gets worse.  Presidents and newscast hosts get involved in slanging matches and start competing for the “Bully of the Year” award.  People become very self-righteous for different reasons and with different reactions.  Some of us have high expectations of appropriateness and when we don’t see it, we become outraged.  Others follow the Twitterverse for its entertainment value.  Values are clearly in play.  Some feel discouraged, others feel helpless.  It’s one thing to deal with a surly adolescent or screaming child at home.  It’s another when you’re dealing with a leader of the free world.

As Tom Friedman observed recently in a New York Times article, “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It’s more than disagreeing on facts. We seem to have graduated to disagreeing on values. How can people who have so much common history seem to be living on different planets?  The clue may lie in how we determine values as much as we do facts.  While even expertise is distrusted these days, a bit of expertise might now come in handy.  I turn to Jonathan Haidt and his book, The Righteous Mind.

Haidt’s premise – that we are intuitive first and rational second – has much in common with Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.  Haigt as a social psychologist framed this concept in an earlier book, The Happiness Hypothesis, using the analogy of the mind as a rider on an emotional and instinctive elephant.  He sees moral judgment based more on more on intuition than on conscious reasoning; it is automatic.  If we want to change other peoples’ minds, he says, we talk to their elephants.  It is through relationships with others not our arguments that different points of view have a chance of making an impact.  There is more than one way of looking at things and if you return to the original image and looks at it long enough, you can see it in two different ways.

After in-depth  research on moral thinking, Haidt has identified these moral foundations arising out of different cultures and historical traditions but now almost universal in presence – if not in emphasis:

  • Care: Ability to “feel the pain” of others, to show a nurturing kindness. The opposite is harm
  • Fairness: it can be interpreted in more than one way- equal treatment for all or proportionality.  The opposite is cheating.
  • Loyalty: our ability to form groups and put the needs of the group first. The opposite is betrayal.
  • Authority; respect for leadership and traditions. Its opposite is subversion.
  • Sanctity; respect for the physical body and the need to keep it pure and clean. Its opposite is degradation.
  • Liberty; individual freedom and hatred of bullying and domination  Its opposite is oppression.

It gets interesting when you start to apply these foundations to politics. Haidt notes that Democrats and Libertarians are strong on the first two and Libertarians especially on the last one – while Republicans value all six – giving politicians more road maps in how to appeal to voters. The “facts” may matter a good deal less to the elephant than the emotional response they arouse and we see lots of that going on right now.

I’ve also been reminded of another book whose title seems prescient – Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, published after his death.  A rabbi and psychotherapist, Friedman served as an advisor to six US presidents and it would be interesting to think what he would have to say to the current one.  Long before the current turmoil, be saw America as overcome by anxiety.  Both presidents and parents need to understand different roles as leaders.  I have zero confidence that the current leader would take Friedmans’ advice, but it might have some usefulness for the rest of us.  There’s room for more than one leader among us.

The leader’s role, Friedman says, is to be a non-anxious presence – to maintain one’s own integrity when facing sabotage – which any rise to power will automatically bring.  The real job is to maintain a sense of self while at the same time remaining connected to the opposition.  The very time one is under attack is the time not to react by hitting back in the same way.

Any emotional relationship involves a triangle. It can be three people – any parent has seen how the game plays out among mom, dad and teenager – or any two people or groups with an issue in which they disagree.  In an earlier work, Generation to Generation, Friedman explores how earlier generations become part of our triangles even after their deaths. Friedman notes that we are all part of multiple triangles simultaneously involving our jobs, our parents, our significant others, our finances, our health – and even our vacation preferences.  Three levels of government present another set.

Any triangle is a recipe for high anxiety – so the ones we are dealing with right now a perfect storm. In human terms, trying to change the relationship of the other sides of the triangle hardly ever works.  All of us, I suspect are trying to be more responsible than the other players. That doesn’t bring a solution – what it does bring is stress.  Anxiety is contagious and we are in the midst of an anxiety epidemic.

What to do?  Friedman would say –

  • Self-differentiate. The only person’s behaviour we can change is our own.
  • Maintain a sense of humor and be playful. If this were a play or a novel, the modern scene would win prizes for farce of a very high order.  The fact that it is happening isn’t so great – but life is long and things change.
  • Focus on personal strengths and do what one can to enhance them. Let other people work on theirs.
  • Stay in touch with what’s going on. There is a tendency to want to hide under a rock, but we can’t.
  • Be honest. Speak your piece but don’t fall into reciprocal slurring.
  • Question beliefs. Haidt notes that there is a difference between “What can I believe?” and “What must I believe?”
  • Live in the real world – not just the digital one – liars and cheaters are easier to spot there.

I like a quote from a recent memoir Safe Passage, by Ida Cook.  She and her sister helped many Jewish families escape the ravages of the second world war before it started.  She notes that when the war began, her 70-year-old father told the family that he was going to enroll as a stretcher bearer.  His wife replied that he was more likely to be on it than carrying it.  One of the sisters was worried about her father’s silence and projected that his feelings were hurt.  She said, “We think it is fine for you to want to be a stretcher bearer, Dad, even if mother thinks it is impractical”.  His reply would have gladdened Ed Friedman’s heart. He said, “I don’t care in the least what any of you think so long as I do what I think is right”.

We can stop being outraged.  We can stop being entertained.  We can stop expecting others to change.  We can stop being tired of foolishness.  We can start working on our own integrity and acting on it. We can also recognize that there is more than one perspective on the right thing –  giving some the right to emphasize some more than others and follow our own.

 

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character, effectiveness, Leadership, Learning, Reflection

A different take on leadership

This past week I attended a meeting relating to the roll out of a strategic plan. The agenda was  to review the requirements for leadership and leadership training.  The context was for a mainline church denomination but some of the discussion could apply more broadly.

Several participants had been asked to research and bring  leadership concepts and common key words emerged for leadership roles.  Words like “mediating”, “perfecting”,  offering” and “blessing” appeared in one report.  In another the author had been fond of the letter “C” – and used nouns like “character”, “calling”, “competence” and “community”.  “Servant” leadership was also on the table.

My own contribution came from a longer paper I wrote some years earlier and I focused first on changes in  world view, vision and mission, structural change, personal characteristics and personal development.  My key words echoed some of the others – “disicipline”, “humility” and  “learner”.  I was also strong on “collaboration” rather than “hierarchy” even though we are still working within a hierarchical structure. But leader still assumes followers and someone has to take the first step.

The most interesting submission was a summary of a work by Ed Friedman entitled A Failure of Nerve. The writer of the summary had limited himself to 500 words and boiled down the role of the leader to a non-anxious presence.  We spent little time on Friedman’s idea in the meeting, but I had read his book some years before and its mention whetted my appetite to return to it.

A Failure of Nerve  was compiled after Firedman’s death in 1996 by his daughter and students and has been recently reissued.  It is timely. Friedman was a rabbi and psychotherapist by training and as well as founding a successful congregation he served as advisor to six US presidents as well as to many senior church leaders and individual clients. Even before his death he saw that America in the nineties had become a frightened society, fearing change and seeking safety as opposed to the spirit of adventure of its early explorers and founders.  He’s strongly critical of this stance and challenges us to change our mental models.

Friedman is often caustic and witty – and several readers have collected maxims that represent the substance of his thinking.  Here are some that apply to leadership:

  • Leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future.
  • ‘no good deed goes unpunished; chronic criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leader is functioning better! Vision is not enough.
  •  Leaders need “… to focus first on their own integrity and on the nature of their own presence rather than through techniques for manipulating or motivating others.”
  • Leadership through self-differentiation is not easy; learning techniques and imbibing data are far easier. Nor is striving or achieving success as a leader without pain: there is the pain of isolation, the pain of loneliness, the pain of personal attacks, the pain of losing friends. That’s what leadership is all about.here

Much of where Friedman is coming from is defining church congregations and enterprise units as  family systems, a concept developed fully by therapist Murray Bowen. It posits that we call rational  in congregations and enterprises is always framed by the emotional responses learned in our personal birth and extended families.  Those families and tribes, like all systems, seek equilibrium.  When things get tense, it’s likely that learned behavior in earlier systems are in play.  When things are going well, Friedman says, expect sabotage.

The remedy is for the leader to develop self-differentiation rather than to try to persuade or motivate others to change.If a non-anxious presence is required it assumes there is already anxiety and conflict in the room.  But it is working on one’s own development that allows others to learn by example – and take responsibility for their own development.

There is much more to  learn in Friedman’s approach – and that will be a feature of future posts.

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Benjamin Zander, Leadership, Learning, Reflection, Teamwork

Leading

The orchestral conductor, Benjamin Zander, is a frequent business speaker and famous for his TED talk. now viewed by more than eight million people.  Conductors are sometimes viewed as the last of the great dictators.  Zander is different.  He had an epiphany some years ago when he realized that the conductor of an orchestra plays a different role.

The insight transformed his conducting and his orchestral musicians immediately noticed the difference.  Now he’s a leader who asks for input in the form of written comments at every rehearsal.  He understands that the musicians’ skills and experience enhance his own.

His gifts as a teacher are remarkable too and they are now shared through masterclasses for all of us on YouTube.  The students perform with technical brilliance before he enters in with a consistent message –  it is time to relax and let go of the kind of competitive excellence their preparatory training has provided and instead relate to their audience.  Transformation happens before our own shining eyes.  (This sample and others are well worth watching now or at a later time. To enjoy it to advantage if your time or tolerance is limited, listen a bit to the beginning and move the arrow to 9:00 minutes and watch some hair pulling – not a conventional teaching technique – but see how effectively it works in creating a totally different kind of performer).

Zander’s passion is for introducing classical music to those unfamiliar with it and he does so with incredible skill and experience in making audiences and performers connect.  It’s a worthwhile example of how a leader inspires and transforms performance.

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Beauty, Creating, Learning, Reflection, self realization

Pathways to Change

In the previous post I spoke of Rosamund Zander’s guidance for individual change. She also dealt with bringing change to families and organizations by recognizing that others, like ourselves are walking stories.  As the book progresses she focuses on energy.

She starts with a scientific analogy.  Energy becomes amplified, she says, when in proximity to waves of similar tone and length.  Visionary people use it that way too – though her she defines energy as commitment to something broader than our personal concerns.  And it’s not just about  getting one’s own way.  We enter relationships of collaboration and become catalysts to create a new story.

The physical world is dynamic – an ecosystem where things connect, react and change. The canopy of trees outside my window is awash with green where weeks ago there were naked limbs. Blossoms will turn to fruit, seeds will scatter, new growth will erupt and old growth with succumb to lightning or disease..

It’s a fractal universe too – in nature and in computer simulations and even in emotions when we share feelings and experiences that cross cultures and times.

When we want to change things, we traditionally  develop goals, objectives, strategies and tactics as though we are totally in charge – usually forgetting that there are other forces and energies operating around us – in a  playful universe of galaxies.

Zander suggests we try to think of ourselves less as actors and doers and more as conduits that interact with the energies of others – especially in bringing about change. That story is called possibility and it mirrors natural evolution.  Humans act and talk. How we do both has a marked effect on the bigger picture. She observes

We reconcile by acts and words; we restore through how we relate and how we grow; we inspire through what we build and the art we make; and we cure ourselves by how we care for others and what we give away. In those ways we bring our hearts into a collective resonance – and that is where the power lies.

Nations have child stories that often need a re-write. As we work on our personal maturing,  we change our habits and find new insights and truths that become more like the patterns of nature.  Rather than either/or we learn to live with ambiguity.  We lessen our need to always be right or to avoid the realities staring at us.

Our caring for the earth needs a rewrite even more.  Evolution has always favored invasive species – yet humans are the most invasive of the lot.   Urban living divorces us from the natural world. Nature embraces all systems, Zander says, while we have primarily looked after ourselves.

She has several prescriptions –  get out and walk in nature, question the child stories that place man at the center as the hero. Stop treating nature as a thing to exploit and re-frame it as an evolving system constantly becoming more complex and beautiful.  Take the same stance toward human relationships. “What would be a more compassionate or collaborative way of doing things?  Through the practice of what art may I expand my heart?”, she asks.  It’s an invitation to join an infinite story.

She closes with what she terms infinite games:

  • Take an infinite leap and find someone who has been lost to you
  • Get the love you want
  • Make a decision in a different way that you normally do – change a habit
  • Choose a guiding principle – some examples are wonder, service, courage and authenticity – and commit to making every decision based on it for a day or two.

The entire book is an entertaining reminder that I am not the center of the universe – and at the same time, there are plenty of new possibilities ahead.

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Benjamin Zander, effectiveness, Reflection

More on Possibility

seedlingHow do we make change happen?  Pathways to Possibility, a book by Rosamund Stone Zander, a family systems therapist and the wife of noted orchestral conductor Ben Zander, has some important reminders.  Transformation, in her view, involves systems or fields rather than CEOs or heroes. But behavior matters.

She focuses on being rather than doing.  While we try to do the right thing, no one has the full picture. Einstein noted that “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness around it”.  How we act relates to our past experience. Zander describes us as walking stories.

We are affected by what happens to us as children and the strong positive or negative feelings these events evoke.  Both become internalized and part of how we cope.  We bring them into the relationships in our lives, Families and organizations of all sizes become a network of tangled pasts.  We sometimes compare organizations to families and use words like warmth, caring, loyalty and belonging.  But hidden in the family metaphor, says Zander, are control, hierarchy, competition, neglect, coercion and smothering.  Groups of any size may be a living collection of child stories.

As we mature, we may discover on our own that the stories are not valid or universal and no longer apply. Sometimes it takes therapy or life changing events to bring them to the surface.  Zander suggests two strategies to overcome the hurtful experiences – to recognize them as memories located in the past or look at them as stages in our personal development. We don’t have to be stuck in them and entrap others in the process.  We can tell our stories and move on.  She says:

We reconcile by facts and words, we restore through how we relate and how we grow; we inspire through what we build and the art we make; and we cure ourselves by how we care for others and what we give away. In these ways, we bring our hearts into collective resonance and that is where our power lies.

Having dealt with individuals, Zander moves on to larger groupings and the ways we try to change people.  Her list includes management, patience, do as I say, exclusion loving manipulation, bribery and ultimatums.  As a parent and grandparent, I’ve used all of them consciously, if not wisely. It might be less obvious how all of us use them to organizations – but we do.  At a recent meeting, I watched people offer suggestions of what we might do to fix people we thought were less effective in defined roles.  But we excluded ourselves from the picture.

Zander’s insight is no surprise.  If we wish to shift change in an organization, it has to start with ourselves. She calls the process walking into a new story.  It is our being – not our doing – that will make the difference.

Offering good advice is out.  What we need to look for in others is what she terms the infinite self – we know this possibility in ourselves and our task is to see it in someone else.  rather than just look through the lens of our own story.  The task is to see possibility. The result is more likely to be collaboration.

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effectiveness, Innovation, Technology

Disruption and Governance

Former Clerk of the Privy Council of the Government of Canada has written an interesting article published today in The Globe and Mail on the effect that the speed of technological change has on governance.  He focuses on government, but the changes and his recommendations have application to other enterprises of all sizes as well.

Technological Change Necessary Governance Responses
Speed up of pace of change Move from hindsight to foresight
Scope of change: vast and shifting Structures need flexibility
Disruptive change involves risk taking Become more innovative and tolerant of risk
Innovation crosses borders Crowd source public insights
Platform-based technologies with non-linear scalability and low marginal costs Think long term and anticipate the effects of the changes
Changes evolve through trial and error Look ahead to both benefits and costs to the wider society
Creation of virtual communities of interest with unfiltered commentary Use social media well;

When technologies disrupt and cause social problems, distrust of institutions follows.  Not only do we need to grow through innovation, Page says, but we must respond with new policies to meet the present and coming disruption.

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board orientation, effectiveness, Leadership, Reflection

Circles

I attended two meetings on the same day last week – one in the morning and another in the early evening.  There were some common participants – though most were not.  I was struck by how the space and configuration of both gatherings differed and affected how things went.  The key issue was how the space was used.

The first meeting is a regular gathering that assembles around a round table.  There are now so many attendees that we have to move back from the table in order to let everyone in and the circular table functions only as a place to hold coffee cups and refreshments. The meeting has a chair and a common discussion agenda known in advance. Participants can see one another well. The leader starts informally with a question and invites responses.  These are varied and certainly not unanimous, but what marks them is intelligent  speaking and deep listening.  We retain our own points of view but grow by learning from others.  There is high trust developed over years of regular meeting – but it is also possible to invite new members without appearing to be a closed shop.  In fact a newcomer joined us this week, participated, and remarked at the end, “I’ve been looking for a group like this for some time.”

The second meeting was in an a room resembling a rectangular parlor – filled with random furnishings – some sofas and wing chairs and a few dining chairs.  The meeting chair was at one end of the room. There was a small topic list on a display board.  Participants could not see each other well though hearing was not a problem. The dynamic was quite different, partly because it was a newer group, but also because the shape didn’t support the common purpose of moving forward and collaborating.  The shape of the room also didn’t allow participants to see others’ faces.

Others who attend  might have different observations than mine.  But circles go way back in how people gather.  First nations people meet in sacred circles and use symbols like a talking stick to signify respect for and attention to the speaker.  I’ve sat at many rectangular meeting tables through the years as well as being in many classrooms.  What these room shapes share is a different dynamic in the relationship between the leader and the participants. One year on the first day of teaching, I asked the back row of the high school class (all boys, naturally) to come up and take the front row while everyone else was to move one place back.  I then said – “Just, kidding, – but I’ve got your number”.  Similarly even on a small board, the not-so-loyal opposition sat as far away from the chair as possible and made her life difficult in every meeting by opposing pretty much everything  even when the all had a common purpose.

Space and setting matter.  Both are worth consideration before you convene your next meeting.  As a colleague observed recently,  when people say that meetings are a waste of time, they really mean Bad Meetings.

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