Thursday, September 16, 2010

Freedom and Accountability

Every act we perform is, in its foundation, a free one (Freedom And Accountability At Work, Koestenbaum and Block, 2001, P. 49)
The western world is in love with the concept of freedom.  It is the most precious aspect of society.  Whether it is the freedom of religion or speech, the freedom to choose our political leaders, or to pursue the life we choose without fear of interference from individuals or governments, freedom is essential and paramount in all things.

However, when we move from our societal craving for freedom to our personal lives, or the workplace, we seem ready to give up our freedom and are willing to put our happiness and our level of motivation in the hands of someone else.  In the workplace we call this someone else "management".  It becomes management's job to give us rewarding work, to motivate us, to make us into high-performing individuals and teams.  We tell ourselves that our mechanical systems of rewards and punishments, measurements, strategies, or command and control structures get the behaviors that we want from our organizations.  In short, we create these devices to help eliminate the need for the exercise of free will.

Koestenbaum and Block suggest that this "escape from freedom," as Erich Fromm called it, is in large part due to the fact that "...with freedom comes accountability, and with accountability comes guilt, and with guilt comes anxiety.  Since our freedom leads to anxiety, it is easier to repress it than to bear it proudly." (Freedom And Accountability At Work, Koestenbaum and Block, 2001, P. 30)  Both in our lives and in our work it is often easier to deny our freedom and allow others to choose than to make difficult choices ourselves.

But this creates an interesting paradox.  By allowing others to choose I have made a choice.  I have chosen to give others the power to choose for me, which in itself is an exercise of my free will.  Therefore, I am still accountable, at least to myself, for the results of my decision.

Arguments are sure to be put forward showing how, at least in certain circumstances, I had no choice in the matter:  "I hate this job, but if I don't come to work I will be fired.  I have no choice but to come to work."  Or, "The law says I have to pay my taxes.  I have no choice.  If I don't pay my taxes I will go to jail."

When these statements are examined more closely we see that there is an element of choice in each.  I choose to continue to go work at a job that I hate because I am unwilling to deal with the consequences of walking away from the job.  Instead of choosing to look for another job, I choose to continue working at the one I have.  I am accountable for my choice to continue in an unpleasant job instead of changing my situation.  I choose to pay my taxes because I am not willing to be accountable for the consequences related to not paying my taxes.  Regardless of why I made the choice to pay my taxes, it is still my choice to make the payment.

We are not always in control of the alternatives among which we may choose.  Having free will does not imply that life will always be perfect, or that the choice of another option would have provided us with great happiness.  But through the exercise of our free will we are able to embrace our humanity, and to take on the succession of risks that life has to offer.

Recognizing that we are free gives us the ability to exercise control over our existence, and lets us shift from blaming others for how things are to being accountable for our life.  "Once the inevitability [that we are accountable] is recognized, we will be inclined to place the full blame [or credit] on ourselves rather than on others or on objective situations beyond our control."  (Freedom And Accountability At Work, Koestenbaum and Block, 2001, P. 79)

The good news is that you have free will, and that opens up a world of opportunity.  The bad news is that you have free will, and that opens up a world of accountability.  Good luck with both.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Self As Instrument

No matter where you go, there you are. 
(Source: possibly Confucius, biblical, or Star Trek)

Many people go through life taking the events of each day as they happen, happily addressing each challenge, and then heading home with the sense that they did the best that they could, given the circumstances.  Tomorrow is another day, not to be worried about until the morning comes.

But for those who find themselves in situations that require change, where their vision of the future is different from the realities of today, and where they have made the choice to play an active part in achieving that vision, such a laissez-faire approach does not work.  If change is to occur, some sort of intervention is required.  And the only tool that any individual has to bring about change is themselves - their actions, behaviors, dialog, questions, and choices.  They must choose to use their skills and abilities in deliberate and thoughtful ways to influence others.  In short, they must use themselves as the instrument of change, a concept often referred to as self as instrument.

As with any instrument, before one becomes a virtuoso there is learning, practice, and performance.  A musician does not decide to become a pianist and immediately leap onto the stage at Carnegie Hall.  Practice and preparation is necessary before the performance.  Nor does a leader decide to become an instrument of change and immediately charge forward to success without introspection and learning.

Katherine Curran, Charles Seashore, and Michael Welp summarized the concept of self as instrument best in their November 1995 presentation to the ODN National Conference:
Perhaps the most powerful instrument we have in helping our clients navigate change is ourselves. Our ability to use ourselves potently relies in large part on the level of awareness we have about the impact we make, and our ability to make choices to direct and modify that impact.
Awareness is the key.  Developing the mind so it is aware of self, others, situations, and patterns is the beginning of being able to use yourself as an instrument of change.  Self-awareness and self-management become the first requirements.

In Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman lists these as the first two dimensions of what he has termed emotional intelligence.  True self-awareness requires reflective self-examination, feedback from others, and knowledge of who you are, where you are going, and why you are going there.  Self-awareness is not something that is intrinsic, it is developed over time, often with the help of others guiding the self-discovery process.

In his book Leadership From The Inside Out, Kevin Cashman suggests:
Leadership is not simply something we do.  It comes from somewhere inside us.  Leadership is a process, an intimate expression of who we are.  It is our being in action.  Our being, our personhood, says as much about us as a leader as the act of leading itself.
Cashman's statement about leadership is also applicable when we are becoming an agent of change; it is not simply something we do.  It is a process, an intimate expression of who we are.  It is moving from passive observer to active participant.

But, why all this talk of self when what we want is to influence others to join us in the pursuit of our vision?  The answer is: through the understanding of yourself, you become a more authentic leader, one who "aligns both actions and behaviors with [your] core values and beliefs". (An Overview of Self as Instrument Using a Leadership lens and a Coaching Application, Debbie Kennedy, December 29, 2006)  This authenticity is visible to those who would be followers and companions on the journey to the desired future, and encourages the development of trust between the leader and the followers.  Also, "Followers learn by observing the positive values, psychological states, behaviors and self-development being modeled by the authentic leader..." encouraging the same behavior in the followers. (Kennedy)

You have the ability to become a leader who makes a huge difference in your organization if you are willing to devote the time to develop the tools you need to be an effective instrument of change - to develop your "self as instrument".  The journey to virtuosity begins inside by learning about who you are, developing self-awareness and self-management (and as Goleman would suggest, in the development of social-awareness and relationship management).  It continues by becoming clear on what you want to accomplish as a result of your effort, and why it is important to create a particular vision of the future.

Once you have developed the ultimate instrument (yourself), no matter where you are, you will have with you everything you need to be an authentic leader who can make a difference.