Sunday, October 26, 2008

Authenticity

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.


Bob


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: