Saturday, December 20, 2008

Vision and Motivation

There are probably hundreds of authors who have talked about the importance of vision in leadership. Vision is, without a doubt, one of the essential elements that goes into separating the average top manager from the successful leader.

Here are a few examples of what some of the thought-leaders of our day have had to say about the importance of leadership in our organizations:
  • The Leadership Diamond, developed by Dr. Peter Koestenbaum, incorporates vision as one of the four foundational components of leadership.
  • Kouzes and Posner's book, The Leadership Challenge, lists "inspiring a shared vision" as one of five essential steps to being a successful leader.
  • Kevin Cashman shows that before you can help others reach their potential, you must define yourself, and get clear on your vision. In his view, vision forms the cornerstone of personal success and fulfillment.
  • Daniel Goleman, and his co-authors of Primal Leadership, define six leadership styles, with visionary leadership being at the top of the list.
In every case, the wizards of leadership thought agree that to be motivated and successful an organization must have a clear and compelling vision of what it is they are trying to create as a result of their effort.

The relationship between having a clear vision and a motivated workforce is illustrated by the often retold story (perhaps apocryphal) about the architect Christopher Wren. Wren lived in London in the mid 1600s, and was known as an accomplished architect who's designs included the Royal Observatory, Trinity College at Cambridge, and St. Paul's Cathedral.

As the story goes, St. Paul's Cathedral, as well as the majority of London, burned to the ground in the great fire of 1666. During the rebuilding of the cathedral, Wren was visiting the construction site, watching his design take shape, when he noticed two workers laboring side by side laying bricks in one of the outer walls of the new cathedral. One of the workers seemed dull and slow, and clearly not engaged in his work. The other was laboring hard, with enthusiasm, doing fine work at an impressive pace.

Wren approached the first bricklayer and asked him what he was doing. The bricklayer replied, "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm laying bricks." Wren then went to the second bricklayer and asked the same question, "What are you doing?" The second bricklayer looked up and greeted Wren with a smile and a nod, and replied "I am building a beautiful cathedral, sir."

The difference between these two workers was that one saw only meaningless labor, while the other had a vision of what he was trying to create as a result of his effort.

Koestenbaum describes vision as the crowning achievement of human evolution. Vision is the means by which we see the future. German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said "The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens." Koestenbaum adds, "It is not just the future that transforms itself. It is the future in us that transforms us now so that the future itself can happen to us." (P. 277-278, The Philosophic Consultant).

Kouzes and Posner define vision as "... an ideal and unique image of the future." (P. 95, The Leadership Challenge) This image of the future is not limited to improving on what exists. It can be a leap from "what is" to "what can be" without any knowledge of how to get from where we are to where we are going.

Peter Block, in his book The Answer to How is Yes, would agree that knowing how to move from today into the future is not a requirement. What is required is a commitment to the future, and the "how" will become evident.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Cashman's Leadership from the Inside Out shows how important it is to align actions and persona with the deeply seated values that drive the individual. When an individual's values are aligned with the organization's values and vision, there can be a partnership that leads to success for both. When there is alignment, the individuals within the organization are like the second bricklayer in the Christopher Wren story.

And finally, in Goleman's Primal Leadership, visionary leadership is one of six essential leadership styles. Visionary leadership helps "...people to see how their work fits into the big picture, lending people a clear sense not just that what they do matters, but why." (P. 57, Primal Leadership)

There is agreement among the great thinkers of the leadership world on the subject of vision. It is a magnet into the future; it inspires personal commitment; it is essential to moving forward together. And, when it is missing, organizations wander in the wilderness.

If you see yourself as a leader, you need to ask yourself if you have inspired a shared vision within your organization. You may be amazed at the answers you find, and the possibilities that present themselves when the answer is Yes.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dealing with Resistance

In the last blog entry we took a very quick look at some of the forms of resistance that you might encounter as you embark on a change effort. This topic seems to hit home with many of you, and has raised the natural question of how to deal with resistance when it is encountered in its various forms. Therefore, this blog entry contains a few thoughts about what to do when you find yourself face to face with resistance.

Peter Block says that “there is no way you can talk {someone} out of their resistance because resistance is an emotional process. You cannot talk people out of how they are feeling.” He goes on to say that “the basic strategy is to help the resistance blow itself out, like a storm.” (Flawless Consulting, P. 161)

Block suggests that there are three steps to dealing with resistance:
  • Identify in your own mind the form of the resistance (see the description of the types of resistance in the previous blog entry.)
  • Name the resistance – use neutral language to describe the form that the resistance is taking.
  • Be quiet – let the person respond to your statement about the resistance. Don’t keep talking. Live with the silence and tension.

Use open ended questions or statements, instead of questions or statements that can be replied to with yes or no answers.

If you encounter a situation where the person or group you are working with is avoiding responsibility for the problem or solution, you might say "You don't see yourself as part of the problem." Then, be quiet, and listen.

If you are working with someone who is giving you very little, and one word answers, you might say "You are giving me very short answers. Could you say more?

If you are working with someone who is silent, you might say "You are very quiet. I don't know how to read your silence."

You are probably beginning to get the idea. Your statement begins with a description of the behavior (You are very quiet.) which is followed by a question or statement about what is needed (can you say more?) or how this affects the work you are trying to do (I don't know how to read your silence.).

(Flawless Consulting, P. 163-166)

This process of identifying, naming and being quiet provides a mechanism for getting the resistance out on the table so it can be addressed.

It might also be helpful to think about resistance in terms of the Leadership Diamond model that has been covered a number of times in this blog. This model is based on the importance of vision, ethics, reality and courage. Peter Koestenbaum writes that resistance to vision is blindness. Resistance to reality is denial. Resistance to ethics is indifference. Resistance to courage is fear. (Leadership – The Inner Side of Greatness – P. 29)

Being aware of these concepts may help you identify the form of resistance that you are encountering. For example, someone who is constantly asking for more and more detail may be expressing a lack of confidence, or their fear. Your statement to this person might be "Your need for lots of detail tells me that you are uncomfortable with this project (or change effort). Tell me what is making you uncomfortable." Or more directly, "What are your fears?"

And finally, as you work with change efforts it is helpful to keep in mind the fact that organizations are not mechanical devices that can be changed by removing one part and replacing it with another. Change is an organic process. It starts small with seeds of ideas, a few people with a new vision, or a spark of brilliance, and grows over time into something that will change the organization forever. Resistance to the growth of new ideas, processes, and structures is normal even in nature. But, just as in nature, growth is difficult to stop. Leaders who are unafraid to identify and name resistance can clear the path for healthy growth that will bear the fruits of success.

(See the April 1999 FastCompany Magazine for an article by Peter Senge on this subject.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I have wanted to post a blog entry on the subject of resistance for some time, but for some reason have not gotten around to it. So the question is: “What have I been resisting?”

Resistance is a subtle and interesting thing within each individual and group. Unless you are aware and observant you may not readily identify resistance in one of its many forms. And, you may find that you unwittingly participate in the process of resisting while thinking that you are helping move a project or change effort along.

Edgar Schein, one of the leading experts on culture says that individuals and organizations resist change when there is a lack of psychological safety. Schein defines psychological safety as the ability to see the possibility of solving a problem without loss of identity or integrity. Without psychological safety individuals or groups will deny data that creates discomfort; in other words, people will resist. This denial of discomforting data is called strategic myopia. (Organizational Culture and Leadership p. 298-300)

According to Peter Block, this denial of data or pushing back against the proposed change or project is a reaction to an emotional process taking place within the individual (or group). It is a natural reaction when faced with change, or the prospect of having to address difficult organizational problems.

Block provides an interesting list of what he calls The Faces of Resistance that may help you in identifying when you are working with someone or a group that is using resistance as a tool to avoid change. Keep in mind that some of these forms of resistance are very subtle and elusive:
  • Give me more detail – The person (organization) keeps asking for finer and finer bits of information.
  • Flood you with detail – The person (organization) gives you too much detail.
  • Time – The person (organization) says that he/she/they would really like to change but the timing is off.
  • Impracticality – The person (organization) says that he/she/they live in the “Real World” and are facing “Real Problems”, and can find practical problems with any change or solution.
  • Attack – The person (organization) adopts the most direct form of resistance – attack the change agent directly.
  • Confusion – The person (organization), after hearing the explanation or description of the suggested change several times, continues to be confused, and resists concepts necessary to understand a situation or idea.
  • Silence – The person (organization) remains stoically silent and passive in the face of the need for change.
  • Intellectualizing – The person (organization) “…starts exploring theory after theory about why things are the way they are…” “Spending a lot of energy spinning theories is a way of taking the pain out of a situation.”
  • Moralizing – The person (organization) "...makes great use of certain words and phrases: ‘those people’ and ‘should’ and ‘they need to understand.’ It is all about those other people, not me."
  • Compliance – Even when the person (organization) complies with a recommended change with no negative reaction at all, you may find that you have a low-energy agreement that will result in initial compliance, with gradual return to the old systems.

(Flawless Consulting – Peter Block, Chapter 8 Understanding Resistance, P. 140-148)

Not every question or push-back is a form of resistance. But, with these thoughts in mind, maybe you will be a little better prepared to identify when you or people you are working with are resisting rather than working together to change things for the better.

I suggest reading the chapter on resistance in Peter Block’s book Flawless Consulting for a better description of how to identify and deal with resistance in its many forms.

One final note; Schein points out that in dealing with resistance that grows from a lack of psychological safety the visionary leader becomes essential because “…the vision sometimes serves the function of providing the psychological safety that permits the organization to move forward.” (Organizational Culture and Leadership, p. 301)

If you are leading a change effort and feel significant amounts of resistance (which you can now identify), you might ask yourself whether you have provided the individuals or groups that are resisting with sufficient ability to see the possibility of solving a problem without loss of identity or integrity.

So, why are you putting off that important project or change effort? What are you resisting?

Sunday, October 26, 2008


The entries in this blog over the past year hopefully have made it clear that there is more to leadership than sitting down in an office with your name on the door and giving orders. We have all worked with people who approached leadership from this perspective, but I doubt that many of us would consider these people good role models, or the kind of leaders we would want at the helm when crossing the unknown sea.

There are also leaders who inspire in us a willingness to tackle the most difficult problems, or to go where no one has gone before. And, they are able to do this without having to raise their voice or demand our compliance.

What is the difference between these two types of leaders? Why are we bored and demotivated by one, and inspired to reach for the stars by the other?

There are probably many reasons, but I want to suggest one answer that deserves your consideration.

When we believe that we have a leader who truly cares for us and our success, who believes in our abilities, who listens and considers our suggestions, who supports us in success and failure, and who communicates his or her thoughts and feelings; in short, when we have a leader who is authentic in every way, we feel valued, and are willing to invest ourselves in the success of that leader and our organization.

In August of 2001, Peter Koestenbaum described Authenticity in the following way:

Authenticity includes:
  1. Underscoring the centrality of both caring and integrity in helping people to feel valued and treated fairly. This is ethics.

  2. Supporting people in mastering the anxiety of grave uncertainty, the insecurity of frequent failures, and equip them to rely on their inner resources to maintain their dignity as well as their obligations to the future of the whole organization. This is courage.

  3. Strengthening people to survive amidst the chilling environment of a harsh economy, bitter competition, political infighting, and unforgiving stock exchanges. This is reality.

  4. Lighting up the intellect to fashion new, creative and imaginative solutions to intractable problems. This is Vision.
(Peter Koestenbaum - August 6, 2001)
Peter Block, an organizational development consultant who has spent many years working with leaders, describes authenticity in the following way:

Deeply understanding the other person's point of view gives feeling of authenticity. The first order of business is to understand the situation rather than correct the other person's perception. (The Flawless Consulting Fieldbook and Companion, p. 168-169)

Authentic behavior... means you put into words what you are experiencing... as you work. (Flawless Consulting, second edition, p.37)

Authentic leaders listen, support others, express their feelings and thoughts, make visible what is going on inside their heads,

Also, authentic leaders help others move from dependency (the theory that the leader or manager is totally responsible) to an understanding that each person is responsible for exercising their own free will and choice.

Paternalistic behavior on the part of a leader removes power, choice, and freedom from the employee. Authentic behavior leads to empowerment, and an understanding that the individual must exercise his or her free will to affect the work environment.

It must be noted that authentic behavior on the part of a leader can create anxiety in those who follow. Anxiety should not be seen as a negative emotion. In fact, growth cannot happen without anxiety. Every time you enter a new situation you experience some level of anxiety. The important thing is how you deal with the anxiety. Do you try to remove yourself from the situation that is causing the anxiety, or do you embrace the anxiety and allow it to give you the energy and courage to face the new situation? Removing yourself assures that the anxiety will go away. But, facing the anxiety and leaning into your discomfort assures that you will grow and develop new skills and abilities.

This entry is a work in progress. For me, authenticity remains one of those things that we all know when we see it, but is hard to describe in words. Your suggestions and thoughts on how to improve this description of authenticity would be appreciated.

Regarding: The Polarity of Leading in Social Systems vs. Political Systems

The following story was posted as a comment to the blog entry titled "The Polarity of Leading in Social Systems vs. Political Systems". I thought this was a good example of trying to lead within social and political systems, so I have moved it from the comment section to a full blog entry. I hope you find this story interesting.

Bob, thanks for taking the time to share this experience with us.


I read with great interest, your posting of 9/27 on "The Polarity of Leading in Social Systems vs. Political Systems" in the Leadership Diamond Blog.

You posed the following question:

"Do any of you have opinions about how a leader who finds him or herself within a "political system" can succeed using the leadership concepts and models we have discussed in this blog?".

The definition of success in such an environment, may differ from more traditional definitions. If you will indulge some personal history, I will attempt to explain how success turned out for me. Perhaps it will be helpful to others.

I held a middle-management position in a "political system"-driven organization for about seven years. For the first five years, the company was privately held, owned and headed by an idividual and later acquired by a publicly held company who owned and operated it for the last two years I was there. No matter who owned it, it remained a very political system.

For the vast majority of those seven years, the company grew about 30% each year and experienced an employee turnover rate of 33-40% per year, a good percentage of those being terminated by the organization.

The turnover rate among my staff, I consider to be near zero. We lost one young staff member to a tragic automobile accident, and one other because her spouse was transferred to another city due to a reorganization at his company. None left by choice or by force.

My mission, with regard to my staff, was to provide an environment for them to succeed by insulating them as much as possible from the negative environment of the larger organization. I placed myself in between to channel "the bad stuff" to me and "the good stuff" directly to them.

The examples you cite contrasting social systems with political systems rang true for me. You quote:

"Within Political Systems:

Feedback: Never trust positive feedback from immediate boss, there will always be a “price tag” included. Trust third-party feedback but not from direct supervisor."

I was fortunate in that I could trust my boss to a greater degree as he was a person of good character. But only so far, as his own survival was at stake as well. For survival, it was imperative to develop a trusted peer network for information. The more data points, the better. Those relationships were developed incrementally over time as you learned who was trustworthy and who was not. It amazes me to this day how quickly information could flow in the event a storm was brewing.

"Decision Making: Never make decisions until the last possible moment. Keep your options open."

Yes. And I would further add, make no decision unless you're forced to. Things that stick out, tend to get chopped off.

I was not familiar with Dr. Koestenbaum's work then. Having more knowledge of it now, I believe that by applying the principles of the Leadership Diamond, one can be "successful" doing the right things in one's sphere of influence.

If these principles are not valued at the management level of the organization, though, I am not convinced that one can accomplish this long-term. Unless the "top" is willing to change, you'll eventually be plowed under by the organization's true values.


Friday, October 10, 2008 1:07:00 PM

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Appreciative Inquiry

There is an expectation within many organizations that leaders know where an organization is going, and how the organization will get there. Certainly in some cases this is correct - there are leaders with clear vision who know what they want to achieve, and how to achieve the desired result.

It is also true that many (perhaps most) organizations don't always work like well oiled machines. Leaders find themselves mired in cultures that no longer serve the needs of the customers, employees, or other constituents; or the leader finds that he or she must deal with systems that do not create the desired result even though, from a technical perspective, everything appears to be working as designed.

When faced with these types of issues, leaders have a number of choices. If we assume that there is the will (free will, choice, courage) to change the culture or systems in question, the leader can use one of a number of problem-solving models. However, problem-solving models have been applied to organizations for years with very mixed results.

Perhaps it is time for leaders to consider a new (or at least relatively new) approach to changing cultures, systems and behaviors. Perhaps it is time for leaders to consider Appreciative Inquiry, or AI. (click here for a definition provided by Wikipedia)

According to the the Appreciative Inquiry Commons (sponsored by Case Western Reserve University):
Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. (Emphasis added)

In the AI Process the conversation shifts from what is wrong with the organization or system to a description of what works, what is right, and finding ways to build on the strengths that already exist.

The value of choosing to follow an AI process over the usual problem solving approaches is that the organization avoids slogging through the negative energy created by the typical problem solving model, and instead finds that it is engaged in a fast, energetic, positive, and inspiring dialogue about what "can be":
In AI the arduous task of intervention gives way to the speed of imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis, there is discovery, dream, and design. AI seeks, fundamentally, to build a constructive union between a whole people and the massive entirety of what people talk about as past and present capacities: achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, stories, expressions of wisdom, insights into the deeper corporate spirit or soul-- and visions of valued and possible futures. (From the Appreciative Inquiry Commons - What is AI)

At the risk of oversimplifying things, in general, the AI process takes the participants through four steps (The lis below is from the Wikipedia entry on AI):
  1. DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
  2. DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  3. DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
  4. DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.
AI is not a miracle drug, or a once-size-fits-all model. But if you are a leader looking for a way to draw the culture of your organization to a new place, or change systems that are steeped in tradition, AI may be that answer to your prayers.

If you are interested in some additional reading on this subject, here are a few sources:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Polarity of Leading in Social Systems vs. Political Systems

All of the entries in this blog to date have assumed that the target audience (our readers and leaders) live and work within a system that values people who are open, communicative, care about the human element in the organization, and are proactive and energetic. However, Richard Beckhard and Reuben Harris, in their book Organizational Transitions – Managing Complex Change, Second Edition, point out that not all organizations are based on the values typical of what they call "social systems" (systems that are concerned with the social order of the organization).

Some organizations will form around "political systems" that may have vastly different "reasons for being" than systems that take on the values of "social systems". Beckhard and Harris point out that “Political behavior is behavior designed to further the goals of a person or group, more or less regardless of the effect on others. Some rules of political-system behavior are vastly different from rules of social-system behavior.” (P. 25)

They include an example that contrasts the feedback and decision making structures within political and social systems to illustrate their point:

Within Social Systems:
  • Feedback: Always provide open feedback on positive and negative aspects of behavior. Emphasize the positive, support and reinforce.
  • Decision Making: Get facts quickly, make decisions, take risks.

Within Political Systems:
  • Feedback: Never trust positive feedback from immediate boss, there will always be a “price tag” included. Trust third-party feedback but not from direct supervisor.
  • Decision Making: Never make decisions until the last possible moment. Keep your options open.

(From Figure 3-1 System Norms – P. 25)

If it is true that some systems have political values that are inconsistent with the values of social systems, then perhaps leaders in "political systems" as defined by Beckhard and Harris should behave differently from those who exist within social systems.

Do any of you have opinions about how a leader who finds him or herself within a "political system" can succeed using the leadership concepts and models we have discussed in this blog?

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dee Hock on Leadership

I have been rereading a book titled Birth of the Chaordic Age by Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of VISA, in which Hock describes his experiences in pulling together one of the largest (if not the largest) credit card company in the world in 90 days. His story of finding order in chaos (living in a chaordic world) is both fascinating and inspiring.

But it is his philosophy about leadership, people, and management that draws me back to his work today. In this time of chaos in our world, our work, and our lives, his thoughts on leadership speak of character, trust, caring, and power – not power over people, but power that takes the organization to a higher level of dedication to service and ethics.

Here are a few quotes from Birth of the Chaordic Age (1999), published by Berrett-Koehler, Inc.:
Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes choice. One who is coerced to the purposes, objectives, or preferences of another is not a follower in any true sense of the word, but an object of manipulation. Nor is the relationship materially altered if both parties accept dominance and coercion. True leading and following presume perpetual liberty of both… (p. 67)

A true leader cannot be bound to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. (p. 67)

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self; one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. (p. 69)

The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors (p. 69)

The third responsibility is to manage one’s peers – those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us – associates, competitors, suppliers, customers – the entire environment. (p. 69)

…[I]f one has attended to self, superiors, and peers, there is little else left. The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority. The common response is that all one’s time will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but see they are properly recognized, rewarded, and stay out of their way? It is not making better people of others that management is about. It’s about making a better person of self. Income, power, and titles have nothing to do with that. (p. 70)

This does not mean that the leader has nothing to do. On the contrary, a leader’s job is complex and requires the dedication of mind, body and soul.

First and foremost it requires that a leader select decent people. These people must be ready to work in an environment where they are responsible for their own actions – they must manage “self”. They must choose accountability, and be ready to take on the challenge of being leaders within the organization from whatever position they may hold. They must have the courage to be part of a system, however chaotic it may be, where they are as responsible as their “leader” is for success.

Once these “decent” people have joined the organization and have accepted the mantle of leadership as described by Hock, the leader’s role becomes one of making space for the work to happen, (more on the concept of “making space” in a future blog entry). This involves not only getting out of the way, but also providing time, resources, information, and removing barriers so that the important work of the organization can get done.

Perhaps you have noted the connection between Hock’s approach to leadership and Koestenbaum’s theory of the Leadership Diamond. Hock is heavily invested in ethics – the caring for how your actions, or lack of action, affects others, character, and authenticity; and courage – the free will and choice involved in being a leader, choosing to start with managing “self”, and playing a leadership role regardless of your place in the hierarchy.

There is a great deal in his writing that any leader might find helpful and inspiring in times when chaos threatens to engulf the world.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Seeds of Change

Just before the turn of the century (the 21st century) a number of leadership-gurus started turning heads by talking about the organic nature of organizations, and how traditional theories of organizational change were proving to be wrong. One of these leaders was Margaret Wheatley who, in her book Leadership and the New Science, said:
The dominant world view of Western culture – the world as machine – doesn’t help us to live well in this world any longer. We have to see the world differently if we are to live in it more harmoniously. Leadership and the New Science, (p. 172), Margaret Wheatley, 1999
She went on to say that an organization’s “…behaviors don’t change just by announcing new values. We move only gradually into being able to act congruently with those values.” (p 130-131)

This view of organizations as something other than machines was also expressed by Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and the Dance of Change.

In an article (Learning for a Change) published by Fast Company Magazine in May 1999, Senge brought his view of the organic nature of companies to the casual reader. He said:
We need to think less like managers and more like biologists. …Companies are actually living organisms, not machines. …Perhaps treating companies like machines keeps them from changing… We keep bringing in mechanics – when what we need are gardeners. We keep trying to drive change – when what we need to do is cultivate change.
If we approach our organizations as mechanical systems we develop high level leaders who drive change through formal, top-down change programs. If we approach our organizations as living systems we develop leaders at all levels who approach change as a natural part of the growth of the company.

Senge goes on to point out that in nature “nothing that grows starts large; it always starts small." In his view, in the natural world, “…no one is in charge making the growth occur. Instead, growth occurs as a result of the interplay of diverse forces.”

These forces are not under the control of any one person including the person at the top of the organizational structure, the “leader.” They are the natural forces that exist within every organization.

In Senge’s opinion, we often “use the word 'leader' to mean 'executive': The leader is the person at the top. That definition says that leadership is synonymous with a position. And if leadership is synonymous with a position, then it doesn’t matter what a leader does. All that matters is where a leader sits.”

Historically we have assigned to the leader the power to make organizational changes, to take an organization in a certain direction, or to know what changes are needed even when the people within the organization can’t see the need for change. The leader was seen as all-powerful and all-knowing. Change efforts were directed from the top, handed down from on-high and, more often than not, doomed to failure.

If all that matters is where a leader sits, there is little hope that strong leadership will be found at the line level, where leadership is most important.

The Wheatley and Senge research tells us a number of important things about organizations:
  • We must view organizations as organic rather than mechanical structures.
  • Change comes about through growth from inside the organization rather than through a mechanical repair of existing systems.
  • To quote Senge, “Just as nothing in nature starts big; the way to start creating changes is with a pilot group – a growth seed.” Start small.
  • For these seeds of change to survive and grow, organizations must have line leaders (people at the heart of the value-generating process – who design, produce, and sell products; who provide services; who talk to customers) who will nurture and care for the change efforts.
  • Meaningful and lasting change comes from inside the organization.
  • The planting of seeds in areas that are surrounded by gardeners in the form of committed and motivated people is much more likely to result in lasting change than programs that are the result of top down efforts.
Those of us who are trying to bring new ways of thinking into an organization will do well to bear in mind the organic nature of change. Whether your goal is to bring the Leadership Diamond into the decision making process of your organization, or to change a process or service that results in improved customer satisfaction and a better bottom line, every change effort should consider the value of planting seeds, and developing line leaders who act as gardeners.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Good Society

During the last few thousand years, philosophers and authors have tried to define the role of government in creating The Good Society. These great thinkers struggled to define the perfect social system and the quality of life experienced by the people that lived within the systems they envisioned. Their approaches differed, and the quality of the resulting societies changed based on the values held by each of the philosophers.

In his book The Executive's Compass – Business and the Good Society, James O’Toole provides an interesting overview of several thousand years of philosophical thinking about The Good Society, and which of those societies might be best for humanity. O’Toole says:

  • To Aristotle, it [the good society] permits some of its members to live “the good life.”
  • To Hobbes, it provides sufficient order to allow material progress.
  • To Locke, it guarantees life, liberty and property.
  • To Rousseau, it preserves as much as possible of the conditions of liberty and equality that humankind enjoyed in “the state of nature.”
  • To Adam Smith, it has nearly absolute economic freedom.
  • To Thomas Jefferson, it consists of people who live in small-scale, rural communities characterized by a high quality of life.
  • To Alexander Hamilton, it consists of people who live in modern industrial cities characterized by a high standard of living.
  • To Marx, it has nearly absolute economic equality.
  • To J.S. Mill, it allows nearly absolute social freedom.
  • To Harriet Taylor Mill, it allows women to enjoy the equality of opportunity with men.
  • To Weber, it is governed by laws, so that no citizen is treated arbitrarily.
  • To Martin Luther King, it guarantees the “natural rights” of all its members, without regard to their race, sex, religion, or class.

(p. 19-20, The Executive's Compass – Business and the Good Society, James O’Toole, 1993)

How can there be so many different definitions of what constitutes The Good Society?

Perhaps the answer can be found by applying some of the principles of the Leadership Diamond.

The Ethics point on the Diamond gives us some insight into this question. From an ethical perspective, every philosopher defined The Good Society based on an underlying set of values and assumptions about how people within a society should be treated and live. Their underlying ethics and values shaped their thoughts about the quality of life people within the society should experience. Their underlying ethics and values also helped each philosopher clarify his or her thoughts about equity and justice.

When we see that it is possible for so many thought leaders to differ widely on the definition of what constitutes The Good Society, it should come as no surprise that governments across the country, and around the world, have difficulty agreeing on exactly how government should behave to create what is best of the community.

Perhaps the answer is that there is no single Good Society, and to recognize that there are many societies that may be chosen by a community to serve its needs. Perhaps what is necessary is for the community to invest the time and effort to first define its values, and to use those value statements to help define the vision of what it is they want to create as a result of their efforts. Once defined, perhaps the role of government is to reflect the ethics and values of the community in its effort to live within The Good Society.

What are your thoughts on The Good Society, and the role of government in its creation?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

LPV: Leadership Point of View

(The following was contributed by Mark S. Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to share your thoughts with the group. The "Pizza Lunch" that Mark refers to is a monthly lunchtime gathering of people who want to share ideas and thoughts about leadership.)


I brought up the topic of the importance of a “leadership point of view” (LPV) at one of our recent Dr. K. pizza lunches. This is a concept/phrase I learned in my Masters of Executive Leadership program at the USD School of Business and was coined by Ken Blanchard. Jim suggested I explain this idea further in this blog.

Developing a LPV is just another way of saying what do you really believe in, where did it come from, and how will you enact it in your business and personal lives? On the surface, this idea seems pretty basic, but it is amazing how few leaders have taken the time to really dig deep and answer the following questions:

Who are the influencers (leaders) in your life who have had a positive (or, in some cases, negative) impact on your life, such as parents, teachers, coaches, or bosses? What did you learn from these people about leadership?

Think of your life purpose. Why are you here, and what do you want to accomplish?

What are your core values that will guide your behavior as you attempt to live your life “on purpose”?

Given what you’ve learned from past leaders, your life purpose, and your core values, what are your beliefs about leading and motivating people?

What can your people expect from you?

What do you expect from your people?

How will you set an example for your people?

These questions are all important to explore in the role as an “authentic leader”.

Finally, at the end of exploring these questions, we all were required to share our LPV with the rest of the class. This was intended to be a precursor to sharing our LPV with the people we lead at work. It can’t be overstated how important it is for the folks you work with to learn more about their leaders - where they came from, what they value, what they expect from “you” and what you can expect from “me”.

(Editor. I just want to add a few words about "authenticity". Dr. Koestenbaum talks about Leadership being the sum of two vectors - Competence and Authenticity. Competence deals with skills and abilities, while authenticity deals with character. The questions that Mark has outlined above go to the heart of who you are. The answers become a way of examining your character. This exercise is well worth your time if you want to learn more about yourself.

Also, take a look at the Blog Entry titled Asking the Right Questions for more on this subject. Also you might find the short story at the bottom of that entry interesting.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Emotional Intelligence and the Leadership Diamond

In the highly acclaimed book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman, and his co-authors Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, describe the attributes of great leadership. In chapter one, in the first paragraph they say “Great leadership works through the emotions.”
This bold statement moves the discussion of leadership away from formulas and “how-to” manuals into the realm of the mind, and the human side of the workplace. Goleman says
No matter what leaders set out to do … their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.

Goleman and the co-authors go on to show how emotional intelligence (EI) includes elements of self-awareness and self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
As you read Goleman’s thoughts about leadership you discover that ethics and empathy play a huge role in defining great leadership. Words such as emotions, self-worth, transparency, honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, flexibility, initiative, optimism, empathy, understanding, the needs of others, inspiration, and cooperation are used to describe the traits of great leaders.

Those of you who are familiar with the leadership diamond may be seeing the connection between the Ethics point of the Leadership Diamond and the characteristics of great leaders described by Goleman.
Goleman goes on to connect the Ethics and Vision points of the diamond by stating:
Of all the EI competencies… empathy matters most to visionary leadership. The ability to sense how others feel and to understand their perspectives means that a leader can articulate a truly inspirational vision.” (Primal Leadership, p. 59)

For those of you interested in how the human side of the Leadership Diamond works, I encourage you to pick up Goleman’s book, Primal Leadership, and give it a quick read. You will learn that great leadership (part of what creates an opportunity to achieve Greatness as defined by the Leadership Diamond) is a key factor in the success of an organization. Using your emotional intelligence, and being able to get in touch with the human side of the organization is an essential part of achieving "greatness". But, it does not take a Super Hero (male or female) to be a great leader. We all have the ability to bring our emotional intelligence to the forefront, and to create opportunities for our greatness within our organizations.
Goleman’s work is a valuable contribution to those trying to become great leaders, and leaders who can successfully apply the Leadership Diamond in their daily life.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


The Ethics point on the Leadership Diamond is probably one of the most difficult to define. When we hear the word "Ethics" we immediately think of the most common meaning: the process of dealing with the difference between what is right an wrong, or the more philosophical use of the term related to existing within society's rules and morals. Although these definitions are helpful, when we use the term in relation to the Leadership Diamond we have an additional layer of meaning to consider.

Ethics, when used as part of the Leadership Diamond model means being of service, doing things that honor you and others as human beings, and understanding that people matter. Ethics incorporates empathy for others and understanding that there are principles that help us decide which path leads to integrity, trustworthiness, and keeping our promises. (The Philosophic Consultant, © 2003, p. 107-108).

In the larger world, a breach of ethics can lead to punishment and jail. This lapse in ethics usually means that laws have been broken, often for personal gain at the expense of others. This is what we saw with ENRON, Broadcom, and Tyco, just to name a few. It is also hundreds of cases of backdating stock options, misuse of corporate money, and other examples of fraud.

However, in the leadership world of Peter Koestenbaum, ethics goes deeper than the legal system. At its philosophical roots ethics contains empathy and principle. “Empathy is the struggle against emotional indifference. And principle is the fight against unscrupulous behavior.” (The Philosophic Consultant, © 2003, p. 108). Dr. Koestenbaum goes on to add that ethics involves “reaching out, understanding how other feel, and caring about that.” He also says that principle is “doing what is right, not necessarily what feels good, keeping promises, integrity, and being thoroughly trustworthy."

In its Leadership Diamond context, a breach of ethics could be a behavior that would be considered illegal, but it is more likely that this ethical slip would be a personal failure of character that would make it difficult for the person creating the breach to be a strong and effective leader.

If we look at the ethics of the law as the body, the ethics of the Leadership Diamond would be the sole. The two together make the complete person, and the effective leader.

The authors of the Successful Manager’s Handbook (Previsor, © 2004, p. 586-588) suggest that in order to make ethical decisions in business, a manager or leader must give thought in advance to a number of factors that will affect the decisions made in support of the business. These factors include:
  • The values involved for the individual, company, community
  • How different constituencies view the issues before you
  • What your values and code of ethics tell you about the decision you are about to make
  • The consequences of the various choices you might make
  • Listen to and consider the concerns of others
Finally, a leader should not leave the consideration of ethics and conduct until faced with a situation requiring immediate action. Devoting time to examining personal, organizational, and community values, morals and ethics, and developing your own code of ethics that supports your vision of what you are trying to create is essential to being able to use the strength of the Leadership Diamond in to create greatness in all that you do. 

(Note - Wikipedia has an interesting article on Ethics on its web site. Although Wikipedia is not known as a reliable source of information for academic purposes, you might find this summary of the philosophical view of ethics an interesting read.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Traditional thinkers will tell you that “What gets rewarded gets done.” However, Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, suggest that this well worn statement is a little off. In their minds it should read “What is rewarding gets done.” (p. 40 The Leadership Challenge). This thought goes to the heart of what drives a successful organization – motivated people doing meaningful, rewarding work.

Peter Koestenbaum has said that “The most powerful sources of motivation are not money or fear of punishment, but rather pride, honor, self-respect, self-development, and a sense of accomplishment. …(U)ltimately, only you can motivate yourself.“ (p. 160-161 - Leadership The Inner Side of Greatness, 2002)

If it is true that motivation comes from the inside, that you are responsible for your own motivation, and ultimately the quality of your life, then the real question is: What motivates you? And, why have you chosen to do the job you are now doing?

In his book, Crossing the Unknown Sea – Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte wonders at how we can “…spend a third of our lives preparing ourselves for our work, and find ourselves forgetting the original inspiration behind all that preparation the moment we take a seat at our new desk.” (p. 164) (See a previous post on this blog “Applying the Diamond to Life” for an additional reference to this work.) Our own motivation brought us to this point, but somehow, once settled behind Whyte's proverbial desk, we allow our motivation to wane and we attempt to substitute the motivation and goals of others for our own.

But true motivation comes from the inside when we are doing what we consider to be “good work”. Whyte says that

“The stakes in good work are necessarily high. Our competence may be at stake in ordinary, unthinking work, but in good work that is a heartfelt expression of ourselves, we know, in the end, we are our gift to others and the world. Failure in truly creative work is not some mechanical breakdown but the prospect of a failure in our very essence, a kind of living death. Little wonder we often choose the less vulnerable, more familiar approach that places work mostly in terms of provision. If I can reduce my image of work to just a job I have to do, then I keep myself safely away from the losses to be endured in putting my heart’s desire at stake. (Crossing the Unknown Sea, p. 13)

By choosing ordinary, unthinking work we may find ourselves in a career path that provides no motivation beyond safety and low risk. These may initially be strong motivators, but in the long run, a safe and risk-free existence may not prove to be fulfilling. Finding work that provides a "heartfelt expression of ourselves" may mean stepping out of the safe and cool shade of uninspiring work into the light and heat of work that provides meaning and a vehicle for us to share our gifts with those we serve.

These authors tell us to shift from believing that others are responsible for our energy, happiness, and motivation to recognizing that we are in control of our own destiny. Understanding this is a key to gaining control of your life and ultimate happiness.

So, the questions become - What motivates you? Are you doing "good work"? Or, are you waiting for others to come along and light your motivational fire?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Truth As We Know It

Noted author and expert on organizational culture, Edgar Schein, points out that there are many ways to establish what is “true” for an organization, groups, or individuals within a group. These definitions range from the moralistic to the pragmatic (neither of which is meant to be a prejudicial term), from the more faith or belief based to the scientifically tested theories of truth. Schein lays out six types of truth that may be found within organizations or groups:

  • Pure dogma, based on tradition and/or religion: It has always been done this way; it is God’s will; it is written in the Scriptures. 
  • Revealed dogma, that is, wisdom based on trust in the authority of wise men, formal leaders, prophets, or kings; our president wants to do it this way; our consultants have recommended that we do it this way; she had the most experience, so we should do what she says. 
  • Truth derived by a “rational-legal” process, as when we establish the guilt or innocence of an individual by means of a legal process that acknowledges from the outset that there is no absolute truth, only socially determined truth; this includes majority rule where things are decided by a vote 
  • Truth as that which survives conflict and debate: We thrashed it out in three different committees, tested it on the sales force, and the idea is still sound, so we will do it 
  • Truth as that which works, the purely pragmatic criterion: Let’s try it out this way and evaluate how we are doing. 
  • Truth as established by the scientific method, which becomes, once again, a kind of dogma: Our research shows that this is the right way to do it; we’ve done three surveys and they all show the same thing, so let’s act on them.

(From page 102 – Organizational Culture and Leadership, Second Edition, copyright 1992)

So what is true? We all take it for granted that we know what is true. We express our opinions about truth every day in our behaviors, conversations, assumptions, dress, habits, in short every part of our daily life. We express what we believe to be true about ourselves, our employer, our families, our friends, our city, and our country through the acts of daily life.

We seem to know what is true.

But, if the truth is so easy to see and know, why are there so many arguments over what is true, or how people should live, or which culture should survive and which should cease to exist?

Gaining an understanding of how the organizations you work with, and the people you interact with, define their truth will help you understand where the root of many misunderstandings may lie.

In a recent address to the Alliance for Innovation (June 6, 2008 – Greenville, SC), highly regarded teacher, author and lecturer, Rafe Esquith, said that to be a successful teacher you must be able to approach issues from the perspective of the children you are trying to reach. You must first understand the truths of the world from the child’s perspective.

The same advice would be helpful to anyone trying to affect an organization, group or individual – To be a successful leader, first understand the truths of the world as seen from within your organization, group, or from the individual perspective.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Getting the Right Thing Done for Society

(Contributed by Courtney)

Is operating Government like a business really the best thing? Many citizens wonder why things get addressed so slowly and question all of the “hurdles” that bureaucracy adds on. Can society be better served by those who have more of a closed and intimate decision making process rather than try convening a town meeting each time there is a discussion? The answer is different for everyone… it depends on who you ask.

I like to think of Government (be it Federal, State or Local) as a protector. They provide a safe haven and create an environment that many in this world would die to have. Government can be seen as an entity formed to serve as a moral compass for leading people towards safety and an improved quality of life. With the goal of common good in mind, Government promotes an open process to gather all the stakeholders together prior to decision making. Although Government is often criticized for being slow and some what unclear, it can also be viewed as holding a vision for the future and can be applauded for not moving forward based on gut reaction.

Corporate America also belongs in society. Corporate America is a force that drives the world economic market, claims victory when trampling the competition, and supplies the world’s population with commodities to make the globe turn. Their focus is narrow and specific, making Corporate America much more clear and concise. They are driven by profit. Each outcome is defined and precise… no variation... there is no gray. Corporate America has enough flexibility to make decisions in a split second, and has few controls when deciding what is right for them.

The two cultures are poles apart. So is it all about the population who will benefit from the efforts or is it about the dollars spent and saved at the end of the day? That brings us to the ultimate question… do you do what’s right or what matters when managing a business?

In my opinion… there is no doubt as to how Government should operate.

(Editor: Courtney points out an interesting polarity that is worth considering more deeply. She asks: Is it appropriate to run our government like a business? Can you serve the needs of the general population by taking a business approach to dealing with public issues? Any thoughts?

I invite others to join in this discussion. )

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Time is an interesting thing. We all are given the same number of hours in each day. And yet at the end of the day, some have made mountains out of molehills, while others have moved mountains.

According to Dr. Koestenbaum, the ability to seize control over how you experience time is an important trait of the leadership mind. How you perceive time affects how you tackle the challenges of leadership.

In his book Leadership – The Inner Side of Greatness (p. 185) Dr. Koestenbaum talks about how the Pentagon uses the concept of time in the process of selecting generals. The general rule (pun intended) is that while effective executives may perceive time in terms of ten-year blocks, a good general will perceive time in longer spans, perhaps twenty-five-years or more. This larger sense of time gives the general the ability to perceive past, present, and future events as a single continuum. The actions of today can be evaluated with regard to how they will affect the future of the organization, or their ability to accomplish a specific goal.

If you are spending all of your time focusing on how to get through the day, you will not be able to effectively lead an organization that needs to perceive the events of today in a framework of the past, present, and future.

One way of improving your ability to look into the future is suggested by Kouzes and Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge (p. 106-107). They describe a study done by El Sawy of USC that shows that by reflecting on the past before looking into the future an executive can improve both the detail and the depth of his or her future vision. Sawy says:

If we want to plan for the distant future, and we want the (executives) to elongate their time horizons in their image of the future, let them talk about history first.

Kouzes and Posner do not suggest that the past is the future, however, they do suggest that taking time to reflect on a rich set of experiences improves the ability to envision the future.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


In every organization (and at some point, in every life) there is a cry for change; people within the organization will have an overwhelming feeling that systems, structures, cultures, missions, purpose, or products must change to remain relevant in the world today. And, as this cry for change goes up, these same organizations will find that there an undeniable resistance to change within the organization that will confound the process.
Where does this resistance to change come from? And, why do we experience this polarity within the organizations we serve, and even within ourselves?
Richard Beckhard and Ruben Harris, in their book Organizational Transitions (now out of print), have boiled this phenomenon down, and created a little formula that helps us understand resistance to change:
Here is how this formula works:
  • LD - This is the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo. If you are very dissatisfied with how things are right now, you are motivated to change. However, if dissatisfaction is low, or even Zero, change will not be possible.
  • DC - This is the desirability of the proposed change or end state. If the end state is very desirable, then change is possible, however if a person cannot see the value in the new state of affairs, or the end state is undesirable, change will not be possible.
  • PV - This represents the ability of the person who is considering the change to hold the vision that change is possible. If the task of undertaking the change is possible, even if it is difficult, then change can occur. But if the task seems impossible, or out of the reach of the people who are involved in the change effort, change will not happen.
  • Xc - This part of the formula represents the cost of change. This cost can be in dollars, personal energy, self respect, any form that is of value to the organization or person involved in the change.
When we take the level of dissatisfaction times the desirability of the end state, times the vision of whether the task is possible or not, we get some sense of the importance of the change to the organization or person. These factors must be greater than (must out weigh) the perceived cost of the change before any change effort can successfully move forward.

Trying to apply real numbers to these variables is difficult at best. You will not be able to simply apply the formula and come up with an answer that tells you whether or not change can occur.

However, what you can do is evaluate each of the three factors on the left side of the equation. If you are experiencing resistance to change it is likely that the resistance is related to one of these three factors. Also, if any one of these factors is Zero - change is seen as a having no value - then the driving forces that would bring about change will always be less than the perceived cost of change.

If you can find a copy of Beckhard's book, look at page 98 for a description of this concept. (When I last checked, you could get a used copy of this book for $0.40 at

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Courage and Vision to Innovate

Rob Here, 1st time caller to the Leadership Blog...

Innovation is a topic of thought in my mind recently and in my reading and mulling I can see Diamond implications worth discussing- so here it goes.

Systems and analytical thinking are beneficial in many organizations. In these types of Organizations the Reality point on the Diamond is sharpened with Logic to make objective decisions free of wishy washy emotion. New ideas are purified in the crucible of past experience and cost benefit analysis. This mindset works great for maintaining a status quo, for avoiding risk, for remaining consistent and predictable.

This Reality heavy bias can also produce a looming barrier for innovation.

Truly "new to this world" innovation requires Courage and trust to review the idea with new eyes and an intuition bias. An idea that is new to a Reality based organization will be judged severely if it does not fit within past proven methodology - this is a barrier to innovative thinking.

In the Book "Breakthrough! Innovation Management Practices" (Thanks for the book Jim) a concept to combat this Reality bias is described as;
"Experimental Thinking" The definition is An approach to thinking about challenges that demand change, problem-solving, unique solutions and encourages the individual to avoid evaluation of new ideas and concepts, while building upon the ideas of others, and considering the positive aspects of ideas.

An innovative process gives time for visioning, dreaming, and intuition while experimenting with an avoidance of evaluation and judgment until a much later stage in the process.

Courage and Vision need to be emphasized to be innovative, when added to a strong base of Reality the Diamond of the Organization can be enlarged leading to an opportunity for true "Greatness".


(OK Jim, I did it, I posted on your Blog, now please loosen the thumb screws!) ;)

Saturday, April 12, 2008


In the introduction to the book Polarity Management - Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems, Dr. Barry Johnson says that the bad news about life is that we all face a large number of unsolvable problems. However, the good news is that, in many cases, we can stop trying to solve these problems and begin to manage them by addressing these problems as Polarities.

According to Dr. Koestenbaum, the concept of polarities is at the heart of the Leadership Diamond model. From his perspective the points of the Leadership Diamond can cause conflict and create unsolvable problems as described by Dr. Johnson. However, this conflict brings us tension, and with the tension comes the energy necessary to manage polarities.

For example, lets take a quick look at Vision and Reality. Vision implies looking into the future, imagining what could be, creating something that does not currently exist, and not being limited by barriers. On the other hand, Reality can imply being focused on what currently exists, understanding barriers, knowing what tools and resources are available, and not being blinded by any wish or day dream that takes you away from the truths of life.

The conflict between vision and reality is not a problem to be solved, it is a polarity to be managed. Dr. Koestenbaum tells us that the ability to hold the conflicting concepts of vision and reality in your mind simultaneously is an essential part of the leadership mind. Being able to identify polarities, understanding the gap between two polar concepts, and feeling the tension created by the pull of both is part of being a leader. Koestenbaum suggests that we:
Ask for clarity, but accept ambiguity, demand certainty, but adapt to surprises.

Here are a few of the common polarities that we face as leaders:
  • Team - Individual
  • Democracy – Dictatorship
  • Work – Play
  • Life – Death
  • Reality – Fantasy
  • Rich – Poor
  • Man – Woman
  • Active – Passive
  • True – False
  • Us – Them
  • Proactive – Reactive
  • Centralized – Decentralized
  • Principles – Rules
  • Flexible – Inflexible
  • Empowered – Powerless
  • Internal – External
  • Organized - Unorganized
When you objectively view each side of a polarity you find that each contains positive and negative qualities. The challenge for the leader is to work to maximize the positive, while minimizing the negative characteristics of both ends of the spectrum.

In this process of understanding polarities, a leader discovers that life is rarely entirely in one camp - the world is not "organized OR unorganized". It is "BOTH organized AND unorganized" at the same time. Businesses are not "focused on teams OR individuals", they are "focused on BOTH teams AND individuals". Life is rarely Either/Or, it is usually AND.

What we experience is that life is a balance between polarities. Constantly moving. Shifting from one form to another. Offering first the positive and negative qualities of one side of the polar equation, and then moving toward the other pole.

The strong leader is one that is prepared to work in this world of ambiguity, and help others navigate through the confusing waters filled with polarities.

In the book The Art of Happiness at Work, the Dalai Lama points out that in western society we are taught to choose between polarities - we are schooled to pick between "either/or". However, in a world that is consistently filled with "both/and" a choice between "either/or" will be frustrating because neither choice will satisfy. Learning to hold competing thoughts simultaneously, and to understand the positive and negative qualities of both is necessary to be a successful leader.

If any of you (my faithful readers) are interested in doing a post analyzing a polarity that you are interested in, post a comment with your email address and I will set the blog to allow you to be an author. I would love to have your contribution to the discussion.

In a future blog post we will look at how to use a Polarity Map to help identify true polarities, and understand the positive and negative attributes of each side of the polarity.