Click to view entire Managing by Commitments by Donald N. Sull article.
Posts by Paracomm:
American managers aren’t going to shake their bad habits until they quit denying that they’re addicted to the old management. American managers in the late 1980s have a certain way of interpreting the job of managing, a way so ingrained and habitual that on the whole we don’t realize it’s an interpretation—not until we look at the practice of American managers in, say, the 1930s, or at the turn of the century. A comparison with Japanese, Mexican, or Swedish managers exposes even more telling differences. In fact, it’s only by noticing how “unusual” their practices are that we can define our own. Like fish, we have difficulty seeing that we are “swimming” in a management pond made up of unexamined assumptions and beliefs.
We believe that as American managers we can be far more effective than we are at present. But to do that, we have to change the way we think about management. And to change, we first have to be aware of our current habits, of the culture-bound and largely unconscious assumptions that determine the way we see the world.
<p >The consequences of acting from habit rather than conscious thought are that we are not really responsible either for our actions or for the results those actions produce. In effect, we are addicted to our own view of the world, and to the patterns of thought and action permitted by that view. <p > We do not use the word “addicted” for effect or as a metaphor. We actually mean addicted. The problems managers work on are a function of interpretation, and we, as managers, are addicted to our interpretations. If we can break our addiction, we can break the condition that underlies and perpetuates our corporate problems.<p > When we think of addiction, we normally think of addiction to substances, although sometimes we think of addiction to some particular behavior. Only rarely do we notice that people can be powerfully addicted to an idea, or a belief, or a worldview constituted primarily of a set of beliefs and assumptions. The problems of America’s declining productivity and competitiveness could be the product of a national addiction to a particular way of viewing the world.
<p >Most of us have known people we would describe as unmistakably addicted—addicted to alcohol, or work, or sex, or gambling, or something else. Addicted people appear irresponsible. They have been unable to stop doing whatever it is they are addicted to, even when it obviously harms them and those around them. They function with considerable difficulty and behave weirdly on occasion. They are often defensive and unable to listen, have memory lapses, rationalize their behavior, blame others, and are likely to become belligerent when confronted by the seemingly obvious. <p > Above all, they deny the problem and seem completely unaware of their role in generating the problem. They just do not see themselves as causing the difficulties they must cope with. They refuse—or abuse—help you offer, and at some point become untrustworthy. You might say they were their own worst enemies.<p > In effect, we are addicted to our own view of the world, and to the patterns of thought and action permitted by that view.
THE PRINCIPLES OF ADDICTION
<p >The first principle of any addiction is that “it” has power over the person’s behavior. That’s what distinguishes a habit from an addiction. Addicts think they can choose to stop, but actually “it” plays the tune to which they dance. The ability to choose is only recovered when the addiction is acknowledged and dealt with as such. <p > But addicts must maintain a façade of control. They must protect themselves from knowing that their addiction is out of control, that their behavior is generating destructive consequences, and that their addiction is the source of the difficulties in their lives. They must keep their relationship to “the problem” totally outside their awareness. <p ><br >
To do this, they must rely on four defensive mechanisms:<ul >
- Denial: what problem?
- Rationalization: reasons, explanations, and justifications for what happened;
- Projection: others are unreliable, unfair, troublemaking; and
- Memory Distortions: euphoric recall and selective forgetting.
<p > <p >As long as these mechanisms are operating, it is nearly impossible for addicts to recognize their disease and the need for recovery. <p > Does this description fit anyone you have encountered in organizational settings? That is, does the description of an addict fit the managerial behavior of any managers you have known at work?
Problems in the organization usually surface as crises, and upper management’s response is something like, “Find the cause of the problem and fix it!”
IS THIS YOUR ORGANIZATION?
<p >Let’s illustrate the point. We know a large, well-known, traditional organization that’s a gold mine of managerial and organizational problems. The organization is compliance-driven and places a high value on authority as the key to its effectiveness. Most people in the organization know that the organization could be much more productive and effective, as well as a more satisfying place to work. Almost everyone has an explanation of what’s wrong with the place and who ought to do what to put it right. Gossip abounds in the hallways, cafeterias, and carpools. Denial is rampant. Some things that need to be said are never said, and some crucial questions are never asked, such as why certain meaningless activities are perpetuated. <p > The organization promotes the façade that it’s well run, but everyone knows it’s a joke. Nobody is really responsible.<p > Problems in this organization usually surface as crises, and upper management’s response is something like, “Find the cause of the problem and fix it!” Task forces are frequently assembled, although their recommendations are rarely implemented. More often, someone is appointed to carry out yet another study of the people at the lower levels, since the theory is that the lower levels are what the upper levels are supposed to manage. Conversely, those at the lower levels are certain that upper management is the source of the productivity problems and organizational difficulties. Nobody takes responsibility for the state of affairs. It is not apparent to anyone that the entire scenario is perpetuated by a set of assumptions about people, organizations, work, and management. In the contemporary culture of management, managers are addicted to a set of assumptions about people and how to manage them.
ADDICTION TO ASSUMPTIONS
<p >These assumptions, most of them long forgotten, comprise everyday truths and conventional wisdom. For example, when an employee’s job performance doesn’t meet the boss’s expectations, the boss has an immediate interpretation of the employee’s performance, frequently formed without consulting the employee or anyone else. Only rarely will he consider an alternative interpretation of the event. <p > Or consider the common practice of keeping certain information, such as salary increases, secret.<p > Even when these everyday managerial ‘truths’ and conventional organizational ‘wisdom’ don’t produce the desired outcomes (better employee job performance, for example), managers continue to operate within them. Managers can’t stop the unproductive behavior because—given the underlying assumptions—it appears that they’re doing the right thing.
<p >One of the distinguishing characteristics of addicts is that denial of the addiction often continues until they hit bottom. It is nearly impossible for addicts to recognize their disease—and the need for treatment—until they hit bottom. When the alcoholic hits bottom, he may lose his spouse, job, house, friends. When a manager hits bottom, he may lose his staff, reputation, customers, profits, organization, career, self-esteem, and ethical integrity.<p > Many American managers seem well on their way to hitting bottom. Some are fortunate enough to have already hit bottom (as any recovered addict knows, hitting bottom is often the gateway to recovery).
MANAGERISM AND ITS SYMPTOMS
<p >What probably best characterizes American managerism is the unspoken belief that everything in the organization can and should be controlled. <p >What are the other unspoken principles that American managers live by? As far as we know, no systematic work has attempted to identify them, but we can make a pretty good guess based upon our experience with American managers and our reading of the business press. <p > The following list offers some examples of the unspoken rules, or background principles, of American managerism. They should be sufficiently recognizable as “pollutants” of the managerial pond in which we are swimming. <p > Some of the more readily observable symptoms of managerism are presented below. There seems to be a growing recognition of the unacceptability of these symptoms, which, as we have argued, derive from managerism—an addiction truly detrimental to the health of organizations and the economy. The bottom line is that managers and organizations increasingly dedicate themselves to maintaining their current operations, to surviving the immediate crises, to perpetuating themselves, to justifying their existence. They lose the capacity to see possibilities that might generate a different future from the one that would automatically occur from the drift of events. <p ><strong >UNSPOKEN RULES UNDERLYING THE DISEASE OF AMERICAN MANAGERISM<ul >
- Take care of #1.
- Get turf, mark it and build strong alliances to keep it.
- Keep winning in the short run.
- Every problem has a cause: find it and fix it.
- Justify everything.
- Be careful, minimize risk, hedge your bets, don’t rock the boat.
- People are only useful if they do what you want them to do.
- Cover your ass, take credit, avoid blame (and always know who to blame).
- Cheap quick fixes are better than costly solutions.
- People have got to be motivated, whether by a carrot or stick.
- Rank has its privileges.
- Don’t lose control. Act as if you know what you’re doing, especially if you suspect you don’t.
- People are cost factors. Everyone is expendable except me—and maybe you.
- Develop allies in powerful places, stay ahead of your peers at all costs, and don’t get too close to the people you work with.
- Never admit you screwed up. Punish errors in others.
- Don’t trust. Keep the important stuff secret.
- Always look good.
<p >How can we prevent managers/addicts form further damaging themselves, their friends, their organizations, and the economy? What can be done to minimize the suffering and ineffectiveness of people at work? <p > Consider, if you will, a nationwide network of recovery treatment centers to deal with the disease of managerism. Now that more and more managers are hitting bottom, there’s a need for readily accessible recovery centers, located in or near the major corporate zones, which can provide self-help treatment for this addiction. We propose to call the organization Managers Anonymous, or ManAnon. <p > The only requirement for membership is an acknowledgement of one’s addiction to managerism and a clear intention to recover from it.
ManAnon would operate with the well-known Twelve Step Program that has been so successful in treating a variety of other addictions, beginning with alcoholism. Our version of AA’s first three steps for managerism is: <p > 1. We admitted we were powerless over our assumptions about organization, management and work, and that our organizations had become unworkable.
2. We came to see that a managerial Context larger than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to commit our will and our work lives to a worthy organizational Vision.<p > (A copy of the complete twelve steps is available upon request.)
<p >The choice for any manager is essentially this:<ul >
- Deny the addiction, and thereby give it continuing power. That means staying hooked on a particular way of managerial thinking and continue doing what doesn’t work, or
- Acknowledge the power of managerism in our daily work life and recover our freedom to act. That means acknowledging that our managerial actions have been largely running on automatic. While we thought we were choosing, it was choosing. When we thought we were controlling it, it was controlling.
<p >By taking even the first step of the Twelve Step Program, new questions open up to take the place of complaining, resignation, and perhaps cynicism. For example, is it possible to actually make a difference in my own organization, rather than merely pretend I make a difference? Is it possible to be responsible for my actions, rather than merely reactive to circumstances? Is it possible to be empowered and to empower others in the work setting? Is it possible to transform organizational vision into reality?<p > We hold that asking such questions begins the process toward recovery. When confronting addiction, we’ve learned that questions are more empowering than answers.
COMMMITMENT TO RECOVERY
<p >If we have given the impression that being an addict is a bad thing, we have fallen short of our intention. Being an addict can be a good thing when there’s a commitment to get to the other side of it, to recover one’s ability to choose. Only denial makes it a bad thing, because denial destroys freedom and possibilities and perpetuates the array of undesirable consequences for everyone involved. Denial keeps the disease in place. “Owning the disease” makes it possible for new opportunities to emerge. <p > Anybody who has ever been addicted to anything and has gotten through it is always empowered by the addiction. <p > Getting through the addiction gives us access to ourselves and the possibility of satisfying and productive living that is beyond anything that could be imagined in the denial stage. <p > It also alters our relationship to time. Instead of dreading an inevitable future with no possibility for change, the recovered addict realizes that the future is based upon actions accomplished one day at a time.<p > Once a manager gets beyond his own addiction to managerism, he becomes personally effective in making it possible for others to acknowledge their addiction. New management and leadership is expressed by releasing the entire organization from its collective addiction to managerism. What is necessary is a breakthrough in our traditional practices and culture of management. This is possible whenever we get ourselves unhooked from our addictions.
THE ACID TEST
<p >Please re-read the description of an addict at the beginning of this article. As you read, ask yourself whether those with whom you work might describe your management in similar terms. Now check one of these boxes.<ul >
- Yep! I got a glimpse of myself.
- Nope! You’ve got to be kidding. (But it certainly describes my boss!)
- Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure. But I’ll think about it.
<p > Managers are very special people. Whether in corporations or in government, they occupy positions of great power and influence. They are arguably the most powerful segment of society, since most of our societal problems are fundamentally problems of human organization and management. And all of these problems require management for their resolution. The quality of our society, both now and in the emerging future, depends critically upon the quality of managerial practice. <p > The crucial question is whether we are willing to break out of our current managerial culture which is hooked in a particular, reactive, automatic way of relating to the world. If the answer is ‘Yes’, there’s a great possibility for creating a genuinely new management. <p >SOME MAJOR ORGANIZATIONAL SYMPTOMS OF MANAGERISM<ul >
- Nobody is responsible.
- People focus on controlling others and avoiding being controlled.
- Personal accountability for problems is denied at all levels.
- Reasonable explanations and justifications abound.
- Blaming others and gossiping are the norm.
- Individuals, including management, experience emptiness, futility, alienation, hopelessness, powerlessness, and resignation.
- Work has lost its meaning.
- Systems don’t work and are increasingly unworkable.
- The conditions are generated for many other addictions.
- Productivity and competitiveness decline.
- Managerial actions derive from habit and past procedures in an attempt to maintain the present.
- Managerial action is reduced to operating a program.
- Freedom is lost.
There is a lot of talk in the Public Service about leadership.
We say we need it. The question we don’t ask, however, is
“who is responsible for leadership?” Moreover, if we
stop and reflect, we recognize that leaders don’t lead without
the commitment of those who follow and that uncommitted followers
can destroy any leader no matter how talented or sincere. Leadership
can be a solution to many problems, but it is a solution ONLY IF
we are committed to a different future and take responsibility as
leaders and learn to empower those we follow.
The key to this idea being more than rhetoric is in understanding
that responsibility is about how we relate to the circumstances and
is not a judgment of who is to blame for the circumstances. Responsibility
is about ownership of the way things are; it is a state of being-in-the-world.
No one can legislate responsibility or any other human quality… but
responsibility can be learned and it can be coached and it can be
the foundation for building a culture of leadership in which all
of us share in creating the future.
<p >From the point of view suggested in the CCMD course “Coaching
for Breakthroughs and Commitment”, responsibility is a declaration
of “who one is” in a situation. The word literally means ‘response-ability’….
the freedom to act. When we take a stand, we bring ourselves forth
as committed in a manner that is not subordinate to the circumstances
or the conventional wisdom of what is and is not possible. For example,
if we say “this is my country, my government, my organization,
my circumstances and my issues” then we might also say that “I
am responsible” for everything in my environment — not as
an admission of wrongdoing or having created the issue, but as a
declaration that opens a possibility of choice and action. If we
aren’t responsible individually, then there is no possibility
beyond continuing to cope with circumstances that are bigger than
we are, pray for better times and do what we can to survive. <p >Whatever the future, we can safely assume that it will be the product
of action taken today…right now. This idea that the future
is a product of action seems obvious whether we are speaking of making
a date for coffee with a friend, planning an individual’s career
or creating change in the Public Service. What is less obvious is
that all of us are acting to the best of our ability based on the
way we observe our circumstances, and our observations are a function
of our historical stories of how the world works and what we believe
to be possible. In other words our actions are normally responses
to our explanations and justifications for what has happened in the
past. We assume that ‘the system’ is more or less cast
in stone and therefore we normally commit only to what we think is
reasonable and feasible. Actions based on this view however, will
always lead to more of the same based on the past and reinforce the
cultural and circumstantial status quo. Perhaps this is what George
Bernard Shaw had in mind when he said:
Reasonable people adapt themselves to the circumstances
Unreasonable people adapt the circumstances to themselves
Progress (leadership) depends upon unreasonable people
What if we were committed to being unreasonable? What if we stopped
blaming the system, or the politicians or the media or our workloads
for whatever we consider negative in our current situation? What
if we transformed the idea of leadership from being a solution to
a problem to being an expression of each individual’s responsibility
for creating the future? What if our actions were based on our commitment
to and responsibility for a future worth having… a vision of
service to Canadians through mutual respect, straight talk, full
and open cooperation, and a culture in which we value individual
<p >To have these ‘what ifs’ become ‘why nots’ will
require we take different actions than we might ordinarily take and
challenge some of our most basic assumptions about the nature of
our ‘reality’. If we accept the premise that our actions
are already correlated to the past, then it follows that to have
a different future, we will require action that is a correlate of
the future we are committed to creating. Our leaders need to stand
for this possibility — not for reasonableness and not for excuses
of why it is hard to achieve our dreams in the current circumstances. <p >Becoming a leader and being responsible begins by accepting that
whatever we consider to be ‘real’ is always and only
an interpretation. For example, in a recent speech, the Clerk of
the Privy Council challenged all of us to create a workplace that
was more ‘open’ to human values and creativity. This
can be heard cynically as a reality in which he is merely ‘cheerleading’ or
it can be heard as a reality in which he is calling for new forms
of expression, new conversations about who we are and new action
consistent with what we say we want. The question isn’t what
is ‘reality’, it is what interpretation of reality are
we committed to and given that interpretation, what actions are we
Another notion we should challenge is that one needs position, authority
or control to have power and to make a difference. In our history
we have seen countless examples of individuals such as Mahatma Gandhi,
Martin Luther King and Pierre Trudeau or groups like Amnesty International
and Greenpeace taking a stand for what they considered to be right.
While many might not agree with everything they espoused and sometimes
they have had to pay a price, even their lives for what they stood
for; they also shifted the larger conversations and interpretations
for the rest of us and created a new reality based on a concern for
the well-being of the whole society and future generations. These
acts are always unreasonable; they always go against the prevailing
wisdom and even sometimes against common sense. Yet these are the
most powerful acts of leadership imaginable; they are acts of individual
human beings being responsible for their situation and moving forward
from a deep sense of trust for their vision, other human beings and
a willingness to risk what is necessary to make a difference.
We can also challenge the idea that leaders are special people with
some innate capacity that allows them to become leaders. A more powerful
idea is that leaders are ordinary people who make extraordinary commitments.
In addition, leadership doesn’t happen inside an individual,
but in the context of relationships and in the coordination of actions
and practices in a community. In this sense it is a social phenomenon
that is as much a product of those who follow as of those who are
recognized and acknowledged as leaders.
<p >In conclusion, we should constantly remind ourselves that the future
doesn’t happen ‘out there’ and the future isn’t
a problem to be solved or a ‘fixed’ reality waiting
for us to arrive. The future is always a possibility and when it
arrives it will always be a function of our individual and collective
actions…today. Whether we are waiting for a great leader,
aspiring to being leaders ourselves or simply seeing leadership
as missing in our current circumstances — our choice is whether
we participate and be responsible for bringing leadership into existence
or whether we wait and watch and assume that someone else is responsible.
If we choose not to be responsible, then we are powerless and may
end up with a future we do not want. On the other hand if we can
be responsible and participate in creating the future then as Mahatma
Gandhi said, we are “being the change we wish to see”….
We are being responsible for leadership and working together to
transform our difficult circumstances into the raw material with
which to create a future worthy of who we are and what we stand
Respect is one of the values that we hear talked about a lot
in organizations. Respect is a word that always evokes a positive
conversation — “yes, respect is very important, we
value respect, and we need to be more respectful and so forth”.
The problem has been that almost no one really thinks about or
understands what it means to respect someone, create a culture
of respect among people or for that matter what it means to be
to be respected. Most of us believe that respect is an important
value and that it is good. We do not normally think of respect
as an action but as a feeling or judgment about other people.
To understand and distinguish respect it is important to recognize
that language is fundamental to how we see the world. Language
both opens possibilities and empowers us, or it closes possibilities
and limits us. For example, the word respect derives from the Latin
word “respectus” which means “to look” or “to
look back”. In thinking about this word, it also brings to
mind the notion of “spectacles”, “spectator” and “spectacular”.
In other words we can distinguish the term as having something
to do with “looking” or “observing”. If
we take the prefix “re” to imply “again”,
then we have the notion of respect as meaning something like “looking
If we say we respect someone, we are “looking” at
the other person in a particular way — usually suggesting
we are open to listen and honor each other’s views even if
we disagree. If we say we don’t respect someone, we are generally
closed to certain possibilities and conversations with them. Likewise,
if we have “self-respect” we are generally in a healthy
internal conversation with ourselves. If we don’t respect ourselves,
we will typically be stuck in all sorts of unproductive and unsatisfying “self-talk”.
If we say that something is possible to someone we respect, we
will more than likely have a productive and satisfying dialogue.
If we don’t respect them then we will more than likely be
closed, not listen or in some cases disregard and dismiss them
and their views outright.
‘Respect’ is just a word, but what it means and what
it distinguishes for us can make all the difference in how we observe
ourselves and others — as well as how we relate to future possibilities
and choices. Our conventional wisdom considers “respect” to
be a kind of feeling or more often than not a judgment of a person’s
“worthiness”. But respect can also be a declaration on the
part of the person who is respecting another. If we take this to
be the case, then respect is something else altogether. This article
suggests that while “respect” is always a context for
relationship we have a choice about whether it is created as an
expression of our commitment to relating effectively with other
human beings or whether it becomes part of a culture and worldview
that separates and limits us.
Whether respect is declared or whether it occurs as a judgment,
it is an expression of the way the person who is respecting on
not respecting sees themselves and others. Respect is in the eye
of the beholder and is not a function of the behavior or attributes
of those we are relating to. Further, we propose that to understand
respect as an empowering concept, it must also be universal. If
respect is a judgment, it becomes a tool of the ego and actually
a source of separation and conflict between human beings. The alternative
is to understand that respect is an action, a declaration and a
commitment on our part of who another person is separate and apart
from whatever judgments we might have of their behavior.
<p >Finally, if we can create a culture in which respect is universal
and an expression of our commitment to each other as human beings
and how we choose to “look at each other”, then we
have a foundation for designing ways for collaboration and mutual
empowerment that are simply not possible in the absence of authentic
respect. I offer some ideas about how leaders can create a culture
of universal respect. We believe that respect is the foundation
for any serious discourse on coaching, leadership or building satisfying
relationships with others. Without respect there are no possibilities
for trust, sharing a vision, for empowerment or for creating powerful
teams and organizations.
“Respect” is one of the terms people often preach
as a virtue but in fact, can use as a weapon for manipulation and
control of others. For example, how often do we hear someone say “I
don’t feel respected” in a context of blaming others
and demanding that “they” change? We hear people use “not
feeling respected” as a justification for all sorts of counterproductive
and even destructive behavior including being victims of their
environment and prevailing systems of authority. Respect (or lack
of it) is a core aspect of any recurring conflict situation as
well as an integral factor in most labor-management disputes. Many
times, we use the term and our feelings about respect to in effect
say, “You should agree with me and behave the way I want
you to or it means you don’t respect me (or justifies my
not respecting you) and therefore I can rationalize doing just
about anything I want without concern for you”.
Mostly we think about respect as a judgment based on our feelings.
Alternatively, we can view respect as a commitment or a declaration
of “who another is for us” or “who we are for
ourselves”. Either way, respect is always in the eye of the
beholder and it always becomes a context for relationship. For
example, most of us will acknowledge that we have some list of
negative assessments about ourselves and others — we think we
(or they) are too lazy or not good-looking or “not competent
enough”. When we believe our judgments are “truths”,
we objectify ourselves and others and generally conclude whether
we (or they) are worthy of our respect. In an organizational or
social context our judgments and level of respect become the basis
for how we relate to other people on a day-to-day basis.
In a personal and psychological context, self-judgments occur
as “facts” and typically means that our “self-esteem” becomes
hostage to whether we respect ourselves or not. Self-respect has
exactly the same nature and character as our respect or lack of
respect for others. In conversations with ourselves, we often find
that we “know” about “the way we are” as
if our assessments about ourselves are more “true” than
other people’s assessments of us. This condition of self-judgment
inevitably becomes part of a closed worldview and can lead to all
sorts of “self-referential” behavior and “self-justification” which
upon close examination reveals an objectification of the “way
we are” and resignation that change is unlikely at best.
Since most of us don’t claim perfection this means that we
become trapped in an interpretation of self in which something
about the way we are isn’t okay and since we are that way
it can’t change because our life experience has provided
the experiential proof that we are the way we think we are. The
result is we don’t respect ourselves because we aren’t
okay the way we are and we can’t (or haven’t been)
successful in changing ourselves. Many people live large portions
of their lives suffering in a closed “internal conversation” about
the way they, others and life “should be” without ever
realizing that they are living in a state of disrespect for themselves,
for life and for others.
That respect is fundamental to human relationships (and relationship
with self) is not a new idea. What is new is the inquiry into whether
it is possible to respect people with whom we strongly disagree
and whose actions and behavior are inconsistent with what we value.
We all use respect (or lack of respect) to determine how open we
are, how trusting we are and how we choose to relate to others.
For example, in growing up with my children, I have lived with
a lot of the younger generation’s behavior which was inconsistent,
foreign and even threatening to my own values and standards. Some
of these behaviors included brightly colored hair, frequent use
of strong scatological language, tattoos and body piercing. If
I add to this an exceptionally open and casual attitude toward
sex on the part of many young people and lots of experimentation
with drugs and alcohol, then the list of “negative assessments” begins
to be significant. Can I respect people who behave in these ways,
even if they are my own children?
I am not arguing inter-generational differences here, I am suggesting
that if we think about it, there are many people (in every generation)
who behave (for whatever reasons) in ways which push or exceed
the limits of our own view of what is and what is not acceptable.
When we have negative judgments, our assessments become the justification
to give or not give respect. In our everyday way of relating, we
rarely notice that the judgments and assessments are one thing,
and the conclusions and actions which follow are something else.
We blur this distinction and forget that respect is always and
only something in the eye of the beholder and is never “caused” by
those we respect or don’t respect.
My proposition is that respect can be seen as an action and that
it is possible to create a culture in which people naturally and
authentically respect each other. To do this, however, we need
to consider how we are looking at people already. That is, we need
to observe that we are normally judging others in terms of our
own values and practices. Our baseline for assessing others is
essentially what we happen to believe at a given moment. The implication
of this has to do with whether we can take someone seriously if
they don’t meet or match our standards and beliefs. If we
can’t take someone seriously then we never have the conversations
which could make a difference in how we relate or what is or isn’t
possible for us in the future. When this occurs we become trapped
in a vicious cycle of judgment-lack of respect-reaction, and more
judgment that justifies more lack of respect.
<p >It is of course possible to partially finesse the issue by trying
to separate the “human being” from his or her behavior… “I
respect YOU, but don’t respect your behavior”. This
does distinguish and separate domain of “self” from “behavior” and
does leave the individual whole, but is still based on having a
superior judgment of which behaviors are worthy and which ones
are not. Therefore it is still a way of using respect in order
to maintain some degree of control over the other’s behavior.
While separating “self” from behavior is more responsible
than simply writing off the whole human being as “unworthy”,
it is still a trap which ultimately will undermine relationships,
weaken practices for coordination and destroy any possibilities
We can’t talk about respect for very long before we consider
the “who” it is that is being respected or not respected.
I am suggesting that we must respect everyone if the idea of respect
is to make any sense other than as a tool for judging and manipulating
behavior. The reason for this is that the simple act of judging
whether someone (including ourselves) is worthy of our respect
is to separate ourselves from the other person as a human being
and assume a “superior” relationship to them. To pass
judgment from a position of superiority is in effect not seeing
someone as having equal value, choice and responsibility for their
actions. To judge another as worthy or unworthy is itself an act
of disrespect. In this context we are using the notion of respect
as a weapon for control and domination….saying “I approve
(or disapprove) of you and what you are doing” as if we were
the Judge and in doing so implying that “if you want my respect
you must behave consistent with my standards — otherwise you
If we don’t respect everyone then we can respect no one,
including ourselves. As a judgment, respect is used by the ego
as a means for remaining separate and apart from others. This can
also form the foundation for justifying perpetuating conflict between
human beings. The alternative is to understand that respect is
an action, a declaration and a commitment on our part of who another
person is separate and apart from whatever judgments we might have
of their behavior. This means that we do not sacrifice the background
of relationship over our differences and disagreements. This is
crucial since relationship is the foundation for any sort of collaborative
enterprise whether it is a nation, Multinational Corporation, a
team or a marriage. As long as our relationships are in tact, we
have room to negotiate and design new ways of working together
or even in some cases to not work together — but as a choice
and not a reaction.
If respect means to “look again”, then the question
is what are we looking for? We can look at someone to garner evidence
for our preconceptions, stereotype, and prejudices or we can look
for who they are as a possibility. As a coach for example, I am
always relating to a person in two domains….one is who I
say they are as a possibility, the other is who they are in a context
of my judgments and their history. My choice is in which context
I will relate to them. If I relate to another in a context of possibility
then our work together is about their commitments, creating breakthroughs
and producing unprecedented results. If I relate to them in a context
of their past and my assessments then the game typically becomes
about me analyzing their behavior and attempting to “fix” or
<p >Respecting everyone is a stand we can take…it is not reasonable
and it is not based on people’s past behavior — it is “looking
at people newly” as possibilities and as
perfect in the context of their own lives. If we make this shift,
then we still
have issues and differences, but we no longer give or withhold
ourselves and our respect as a condition for the other person’s
compliance with our point-of-view.
Creating a Culture of Respect
There are many ways to define culture. One way to see culture
is that it is constituted by the everyday conversations that people
have about ‘the way it is around here”. We can observe
culture most directly by listening to the “hallway conversations” in
which people speak straight about what they think and ‘the
way it really is” for them. There are several reasons why
this view is both powerful and useful. First it allows us to create
or change culture by simply changing our conversations and committing
ourselves to new interpretations of “reality”. Secondly,
it opens a perspective in which every individual can be personally
responsible for the culture and participate in its persistence
or change through how we speak and listen in each and every conversation
every day. Finally, observing culture as conversation makes values
such as respect “actionable” since from this perspective
words and commitments are actions in language. Our conversations
can literally transform how we observe our environment, open new
possibilities and allow us to see choices we might not otherwise
Creating a culture of respect begins with a commitment to seeing
everyone as worthy of respect. We have already noted that while
we don’t always have a choice about our automatic judgments
and predispositions, we do have a choice about what our assessments
mean and the weight we give to them in our day to day relationships.
I want to emphasize that I am not proposing some sort of Pollyanna
positive thinking about people. I am not suggesting that we somehow
try to rationalize some sort of positive virtue in people that
we otherwise don’t respect. What I am proposing is that,
as a practical matter, not respecting others costs each of us a
great deal and contributes to the persistence of cultural practices
that we say we don’t want. If people are serious about creating
a future that has larger possibilities for everyone, then it begins
with creating a different cultural reality in which we universally
respect each other.
Another aspect of creating a culture of respect is to observe
how the absence of whatever we say we value occurs on a day-to-day
basis. For example when we are not respecting someone or we don’t
feel respected, does this occur as a breakdown for us — is it
a call to action — does it produce new conversations to align
and strengthen relationship, clarify different views and build
greater confidence and trust. In a culture of respect there will
be more straight talk (especially of negative assessments) because
we respect each other. In a culture of respect — all sorts of
relationship issues, differences and lack of alignment become positive
forces for change, not justifications for the status quo.
<p >Obviously, one thing that would have to change is that we would
need to “see the other persons newly” ….we would
need to look again, look past our judgments and generate an interpretation
of who that person is which would allow us to authentically respect
them. We would need to become the source of respect as our context
for relating and assume responsibility for whatever negative assessments
we might have that would normally justify our lack of respect.
Human beings will always have judgments about themselves and others.
It doesn’t matter whether our judgments are positive or negative
since no judgment is ever true or false anyway, no matter how many
may agree or disagree with it. However, we have a choice about
what we conclude from our assessments and the secondary meanings
we give to them. If our judgments of each other are negative and
we conclude that therefore the other is not worthy of our respect
or that we therefore don’t need to take each other seriously;
then we are setting up an interpretation in which our actions are
justified by assessments that were neither true or false in the
first place. Further, we have created a context for our relationship
in which ‘they” are responsible for our judgments and
assessments. In effect we are setting up a structure of interpretation
in which we are reacting to each other based upon what we are “observing”,
but are blind to the fact that our observations have more to do
with us and the “meaning” we give to what we observe,
than they do with the other person.
<p >Respect is one of many values we seek to “enculturate”
in our organizations. Like all values it cannot be legislated or
regulated into existence. It can be learned, it can be coached and
it can be demonstrated by leaders everywhere. In the final analysis,
respect is part of our “way of being” in the world and
is a product of both our commitment and our everyday practices.
Respect as we have distinguished it here is a context for all relationships
and can be created through commitment in our everyday conversations.
It is not reasonable nor does it happen naturally. It is a conscious
expression of who we are, who we aspire to be and who we declare
others are for us. Creating a culture of respect doesn’t solve
problems or predict any particular behavior. It does, however, shift
the context, our consciousness and the organizational paradigm in
such a way as that we need not sacrifice our relationships in moments
of conflict and fear. Moreover, when we respect others, we are able
to consider our own responsibility for our disagreements and differences
and most of all we can engage in dialogues to create a future in
which everyone is included without perpetuating reactive cycles
of distrust, resentment and acrimony….a future based on respect.
Innovation is one of those words that we all use, agree is a positive
thing and for the most part want more of. The term “innovation”
like the word “leadership”, however, seems to defy generally
accepted understanding. Most of us lack a shared interpretation
of what we mean or what we are observing when we use the terms.
Moreover, we lack practices for deliberately and consistently producing
whatever is meant or whatever it is that we are looking for from
“leadership and innovation”. This is evident in the
fact that in spite of thousands of books on these subjects, reading
and understanding the books doesn’t enable us to be leaders
or to be innovative.
These terms are closely related. Leadership always has some focus
on bringing about a desired future. We would not normally consider
a spectator of the status quo to be a leader. The term innovation
also suggests some break with the “norm” or the status
quo. I am suggesting that an “innovator” and a “leader”
are cut from the same cloth, that these terms are distinguishing
different aspects of the same phenomenon.
This paper is the first of a series of essays that are intended
to open possibilities for developing leadership…to provide
pathways for action for those who are dissatisfied with the status
quo and are attempting to either improve on existing processes or
perhaps accomplish breakthrough results.
<p >To begin, we need to make a number of distinctions. There are obvious
distinctions for example between: the innovator (who), an innovation
(what) and the process of innovating (how). This paper’s intent
is to illuminate and inquire into the phenomenon of innovation (and
leadership) prior to action and before history judges an
accomplishment as innovative or declares a person to be a leader.
The focus here will be on the innovator and the context or ‘way
of being’ of the innovator. My thesis is that a competency
for innovation is a natural by-product of different ways of relating
to the world… the context in which we relate to circumstances
and change. We will also distinguish between innovation and art.
Both involve creativity and these terms are often used interchangeably.
Finally, we want to distinguish the kind of simple change that is
a variation of what already exists from the kind of profound change
that alters the scope of what is possible.
The dictionary’s primary definition for innovation is simply
“making change”. This view this is incomplete however,
and becomes a distinction without a difference, because change is
happening all the time whether people do anything or not. We do
not consider a random event, insight or an accident to be an innovation,
although what one can observe and do in the context of a novel occurrence
or insight might very well lead to innovation. For example, all
of us have had “big ideas” from time to time and done
nothing about them only to learn later that someone has succeeded
in bringing about exactly what we had imagined. This is what might
distinguish a leader/innovator from a dreamer.
A potentially more powerful way to think of innovation is that
it means: intentionally “bringing into existence”
something new that can be sustained and repeated and which has some
value or utility. That is, innovation is always related
to some practical “in-the-world” value…. it is about
making new tools, products or processes….bringing forth something
“new” which allows human beings to accomplish something
they were not able to accomplish previously.
For example, art is always creative and may have value to its consumers,
but requires no utility to be art. Art might be seen as the artist’s
self-expression or experience of their world. Innovation on the
other hand must allow for something else, some possibility or accomplishment
or value beyond the innovation itself. If someone comes up with
a new hammer that does what our existing hammers do, then that is
a design change and design is an “art”. When someone creates
a new kind of hammer, however, such as a “nail gun” or
a new method for hammering, then we can distinguish that as innovation.
In this sense, we can also see that we can innovate within an art
form, such as painting with acrylic at one point allowed artists
to create effects that were not possible with traditional oils.
When we create a new tool we are innovating. When we are not innovating
we are the tool or the “tool” is an extension of us. For
example, the typewriter was an innovation in writing. At some moment,
the typewriter becomes transparent (to both the typist and those
concerned with what is being typed) and we simply have a typist
typing. The tool appears again only when there is a breakdown or
it no longer serves its purpose. I am claiming that our relationship
to the circumstances, especially when there are breakdowns, is the
primary factor in determining whether we respond as leaders and
innovate or simply resist or cope with what is happening.
Whether we are speaking about leadership or innovation our concern
is almost always about accomplishing some sustainable change whether
large or small. Change can occur gradually and in small increments
such as making continuous improvement to an existing process or
product. Change may also occur as a breakthrough such as some unprecedented
action or result that opens possibilities for new occurrence. While
leaders and innovators participate in both kinds of change, I distinguish
leadership as always occurring in a context of some intention to
create a breakthrough….to break with the status quo. A one-time
unique event is not an innovation. For an occurrence to be a breakthrough
it must alter, change, illuminate or modify the existing structure(s)
within which the innovation is occurring. In other words we might
say that this kind of innovation is the kind of action or outcome
that alters the context, paradigm or frame of reference of the innovator
and those who have a stake in the innovation. We conclude that innovation
changes the innovator and the space of possibilities available for
everyone. Leadership is about creating what does not exist….
bringing forth something which was previously “not real”,
or not available within an historical context. Leadership isn’t
just about what happens within boundaries, it transforms our relationship
with boundaries and circumstance.
<p >As previously noted, change is happening all the time. To observe
a change we must be comparing our perception of how things appear
now with how we remember them from before….change is an assessment
or an assertion that something is different than it was. The timeframe
for comparison may vary. For example, technology has changed the
way we do our work compared to ten or fifteen years ago, it probably
hasn’t changed much in how we work today as compared to yesterday.
By the same token, the resources we have to work with have undoubtedly
changed from yesterday. At a molecular and biological level, our
bodies are changing with each breath we take. If we wish to develop
a rigorous methodology for deliberate and intentional innovation
and leadership, we need begin with the question: “how do we
relate to our circumstances and change?”
Relationship to Circumstance and Change
<p >I distinguish six different ways we can relate to our circumstance
and the changes which are occurring all the time. I claim that the
way we relate to our circumstances becomes the foundation for our
being leaders and opens or closes possibilities and opportunities
for innovating. If we consider that change is a constant and always
occurring whether we know it or not, then we might also say these
six ways of relating to the circumstances are also ways we relate
to the world and become the contexts within which we deal with everyday
life. These should not be considered as progressive steps in a process.
Rather, these are different “states of being” or contexts
available to every human being, at every moment, to differing degrees
depending upon our commitments, concerns and competence in various
domains of action.<blockquote >
RESISTANCE – Opposition to circumstance
Probably the most common way we relate to change is to resist
it. To resist means to stand apart from whatever one is resisting
and judge it as “not being as it should be”.
We resist in many ways, we can resist by simply disagreeing with
a new policy or by analyzing something over and over again, or
by playing devil’s advocate with no ownership of the issue.
Resistance can be overt or covert…. sometimes we can resist
by agreeing with someone and then gossiping when the person isn’t
around. We can procrastinate, we can argue, we can rationalize
or even sabotage a leadership initiative simply by ignoring it
and waiting for the next change to come along.
Whatever strategies or patterns for resistance we have, whether
overt or covert, whether conscious or unconscious, whether active
or passive they have three things in common:
First, all forms of resistance are “counter-innovative”
and thwart human intentionality to create change. Any effort spent
in opposing what is occurring moment to moment will blind us to
possibility. Further, resistance gives power to the status quo
or cultural inertia which, by its nature, will persist. This is
reflected in the often quoted maxim, ‘the more things change
the more they say the same’.
Secondly, all resistance is rooted in the past and is grounded
in a negative mood/attitude and assessment of ‘the way it
is’…a judgment that things ‘should be’
different than they are. Our commitments and actions are organized
by what we see as feasible and that we know how to do. At best,
this will lead to finding effective ways to cope and at worst
will lead to a state of chronic suffering and eventually to resignation.
Thirdly, to resist implies that there is some Thing “there”
to resist which essentially objectifies our world including ourselves
and other people, turning us into objects in an objective world.
This reduces us to either being victims of whatever it is we are
resisting and/or encourages a “spectator” relationship
with the circumstances. This means we no longer participate in
creating the future, and become trapped in a worldview that destroys
possibility and power. In this state, innovation is a rarity and
an ideal. When innovation does happen it is usually attributed
to some “special-ness” of the innovator or more often
explained as an anomaly that leaves us unaffected, untouched and
not responsible for the change.
<p >“Leadership” in this context will involve ‘opposition’
to the circumstance and for the most part will prove ineffective
to the point of becoming part of the problem. For example, in
most organizational or cultural “change” initiatives,
the prevailing rational is that the status quo is “broken”
and needs to be fixed. The leadership is resisting the “way
it is” and in a well meaning way are attempting to “fix
it”. The problem is that these initiatives are rarely effective
because everything being done to change something is pushing against
(resisting) what is already going on. This is how many issues
persist even when there is widespread agreement that something
should change. Essentially the proponents and opponents to a leadership
initiative are operating in the same context.
COPING – Positive reaction to circumstances
Coping is also rooted in a view that circumstances are objective
and we must somehow adjust our commitments and actions to match
what the circumstances allow. Coping might be viewed as a positive
alternative to resistance in which one works within the circumstances
effectively. Energy that was previously expended in resisting
is redirected to problem-solving and designing ways to overcome
barriers to accomplishing one’s intention. In this sense
coping is also “counter-innovative” as a relationship
to change, however there is one big difference…. specifically,
there are many innovations that are conceived as tools or strategies
for more effective coping. In other words, in a circumstantially
determined view of reality, coping can drive innovation, but only
as a RE-ACTION to the circumstances, not as an intentional force
in creating new circumstances.
For example, “organized labor” was invented as a
re-action to perceived misuse and abuse of power by owners and
managers in the early part of the 20th century and has become
an integral aspect of how work is accomplished.. In other words,
the political-economic “institution” of organized labor
was a way for workers to cope with their circumstances. While
we can observe that this “innovation” has produced a
lot of value and benefit for workers over the years, it can also
be argued that it has done little to build or address the underlying
issues of trust and allocation of perceived power in organizational
hierarchies. In effect, the mechanism for coping reinforced and
even institutionalized the problem. Further, we can argue that
successful coping solutions will often thwart and even undermine
attempts at further innovations. In the above example, labor organizations
have generally attempted to block various proposed innovations
in management such as cross-functional training, incentive compensation
packages, self-managing teams and commitment-based management.
<p >Leadership in this context is often facilitative and oriented
toward reasonable expectations and interpretations of what is
possible and not possible. In a coping context, leaders will typically
be arguing for and justifying whatever limitation seem to exist
and encouraging “work around” or “in spite of”
strategies for getting things done. While this and be positive
and produce results, the leader in this case become a well meaning
and unwitting “co-conspirator” for individual and organizational
RESPONDING – Owning the circumstances
To respond, means to freely choose action, given the circumstances.
To respond requires a different relationship to the circumstance
in which one considers that the circumstances are subordinate
to the actions of the individual. In other words, to respond requires
that one view him/herself as responsible, as owning, as being
senior to whatever circumstance is occurring. The word, responsibility
can actually be seen as “the ability to respond”…
In responding, we see a human being as having insights and making
choices in relationship to objective circumstances but not limited
or defined by them. When we are responding we are beginning to
innovate to the extent we: a) have some intention or commitment,
b) are owning and not ‘re-acting’ to circumstances,
and c) are bringing something new into existence which whether
small or large has value/utility and can be sustained/replicated
in the future.
For example, one of the most basic organizational issues is the
common “us versus them” conversation. In this structure,
we complain is that “they” are a problem. The “they”
might be upper management, or the quality control group, or the
salespeople or the government. The underlying structure of the
conversation is that someone “outside” is causing a
problem for me/us.
To respond requires that we acknowledge that whoever “they”
are is occurring within our interpretation of the world. Our choices
and actions are never limited or determined by ‘them”
or the circumstances unless we believe that we have no power or
choice in the matter… what limits us is part of our interpretation.
We are never in fact, victims of our circumstances, although in
many instances it can seem so and our suffering when this is the
case can be very “real”.
Secondly, to respond we must grant “them” the freedom
to choose…autonomy as individuals…grant them the legitimacy
of their view even if we disagree.
Otherwise we will be reacting to what we perceive they are doing
and therefore have limited action and become part of a larger
pattern of resistance that reinforces “their” behavior.
In a posture of resistance, at best we may “win” in
a dispute by dominating rather than innovating. At worst we become
resigned and simply “put up with” the status quo.
To determine whether we are responding or reacting we can ask,
“for the sake of what are we responding”? If there
is no intention or commitment behind our actions, then our actions
are essentially automatic and thoughtless. If we are responsible
for our circumstances and intentional in our responses, when we
become dissatisfied, innovating comes naturally.
<p >Leaders who are responsive rather than reactive are not blind
to problems or to people’s concerns, but are organizing
their actions based on something else. They are not attempting
to “fix” people or simply solve problems but keep their
eye on the intended outcomes or purposes for which they are working.
For example, in the movie Apollo 13, there is a moment when a
technical crisis threatens the lives of the astronauts. All technical
options have been exhausted and there is no possibility they will
survive. The “leader” in the film throws down a pile
of all the “stuff” in the space capsule and makes an
unreasonable demand for the engineers to “create” a
solution where none exists. This response could not have happened
if the leader had believed that the circumstances were fixed.
CHOOSING – Accepting the circumstances
To choose is a step beyond owning and responding freely to circumstances.
To choose implies a choice about the circumstances to which one
is responding. The idea of choice is synonymous with the idea
of acceptance where we acknowledge not only that things are the
way they are, but that they should be the way they are…
even when the circumstances are not what we would wish and may
be assessed as very negative. This is a very different state of
relating than either succumbing or rationalizing that one can’t
help the way things are. This state is to embrace the change and
This notion is very basic to many spiritual disciplines in both
the East and the West where we can experience enormous freedom
when we acknowledge that “reality” is happening regardless
of our point of view or understanding. In fact, one can even at
some point notice that by the time our brains can “think”
about what is happening in the moment, the moment is already past.
Eckhart Tolle in his book The Power of Now shows that
to choose is to learn to live in the present and to be present
to whatever is happening. This experience is familiar to almost
anyone who has participated in sports and been in “the zone”,
or to people in the performing arts who have transcended thinking
about or controlling a performance and simply expressed himself
or herself fully.
In this state of choosing or ‘being present’ one
becomes a different observer. A person can observe all sorts of
possibilities and choices that otherwise would remain buried in
the circumstances. This is a state in which innovation is natural
and effortless, even obvious. It is important to note however,
that this is also a state in which the circumstances are still
“out there” and the observer is still relating to the
world as something separate and distinct from the observer.
<p >This is the state where leadership begins to become an increasingly
creative process. This is also where we can observe a paradox
between fully accepting the way things are without any resistance
whatsoever and simultaneously creating a commitment to a larger
possibility. In this context it is obvious that possibilities
are by definition created and leadership is about creating vision
and possibility in relationship with other human beings.
BRINGING FORTH – Creating the circumstances
This way of relating to the world and to circumstances is the
state that we normally associate with truly “creative”
people. What I wish to distinguish here is that the ability to
create something is not a “gift” that a few especially
endowed people have inherited. While it is true that some people
come by this capacity “naturally”, it is a learnable
way of relating to the world and the creative expressions which
it makes available begin to approach what we earlier distinguished
as breakthroughs. To “bring forth” means to not only
to choose a circumstance that is already occurring, but begin
to relate to the world “as if” we are creating the circumstances
This is not necessarily a strange or metaphysical notion. We
have known in the field of quantum mechanics for some time that
everything we perceive is constantly being changed in the process
of being perceived. The noted physicist John Wheeler in an interview
with Discovery Magazine (June 2002) has even suggested that even
the fact of the existence of an objective universe itself might
be viewed as a product of our capacity to consciously observe
and distinguish a world that only appears separate from us.
In an organizational context for example, most of us have experienced
or witnessed moments of sudden and often profound insight into
the nature of a situation or circumstance and have formulated
what seem to be (and often are) genuinely original ideas or solutions.
In retrospect these innovations or inventions can be seen as:
a) unpredictable, b) require challenging or changing some underlying
belief or assumption about what is and is not possible, and c)
generally appear obvious after the fact. A classic example is
the story from the 3M Corporation about the invention of the POST
IT that was created when a project looking for stronger glue
failed. The inventor “brought forth” a new interpretation
of what was wanted and needed (removable notes) and which bad
glue could provide.
The point is that this insight required a different order of
creative thinking outside conventional and reasonable frames of
reference….what is usually meant by “outside the box”
thinking. The question here is can anyone learn to be creative
simply by beginning to change how he or she relates to the circumstances?
I believe that this is possible and in fact is how most people
develop what might be described as creative talent. To do so,
however, requires that we let go of our notion that we are objects
in an objective world and adopt a worldview in which we are individually
and collectively creating the circumstances that we are observing.
Leaders who “bring forth” are those we normally consider
to be ‘visionary’ and charismatic and who are often
seen as gifted in their capacity to keep moving forward and creating
openings for action regardless of the circumstances. In Shakespeare’s
Henry V, the King gives an impassioned speech to his soldiers
in the face of insurmountable odds. In doing so, he not only creates
a possibility where none exists, but inspires his army to victory.
For the leader who relates to the world in this way, a vision
is not a big goal or picture of the future, but a powerful ground
of being from which to create reality.
MASTERY – Creating the Context for Change
“To create” here means to distinguish the rare ability
that a few people have demonstrated to invent entirely new fields
of inquiry. These people are creating new domains, new openings,
and new possibilities for others to explore and innovate. This
is working at a different level and is a very distinct way of
relating to circumstances in which the “creator” is
the author of the context in which the creator is relating. To
create a context means to be responsible not only for what is
being perceived, not only for one’s responses, not only
for a generative relationship to the circumstances, but to be
responsible for creating the background or space within which
the circumstances appear.
“Mastery” of anything from art to penmanship is
ultimately mastery of oneself and “who one is being”
in a situation and in relationship to the world. Hence, to become
a master of innovation, a person must own both what is happening
as well as what isn’t happening…. to be present to
both “what is” as well as to the cognitive and transparent
boundaries that define our perceivable reality.
In 1980 a man named Fernando Flores wrote a PhD thesis titled
“Management and Communication in the Office of the Future”.
(UC Berkley, 1980). In his thesis he asked the simple question,
“What is action for a manager”. His thesis opened
an entirely new view of management as a phenomenon that happens
in conversations and that action occurs as “speaking and
listening”. His work has transformed much contemporary thinking
about how coordination occurs in organizations and has impacted
thinking and practices in the fields of information technology,
artificial intelligence, health care, international relations
and development of leaders among others. Where this will go remains
to be seen, but his work illustrates creating a new “meta-paradigm”
for observing, not simply making different observations in the
same paradigm. When one is the creator of the paradigm or context,
then we can begin to consider that we are in fact creating and
mastering our circumstances.
<p >Finally, leadership in a context of Mastery is often very modest
and may seem effortless or so natural as to seem inconsequential
at the time. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, was a gentle man who
used no force, and yet showed us how not resisting can be a powerful
force for change. His Mastery did not even seem to be leadership
for most of his career and yet from the beginning he was pursing
the creation of a new reality. In addition, leaders who live and
work in this context are constantly inventing or creating their
experience….in this sense they are always beginners….learning
and creating in each moment.
Innovation happens at different levels from modest improvements
on an existing product or process to dramatic and even historically
significant breakthroughs in how we relate to the world. In all
cases, the capacity to innovate will be a function of our commitments
and concerns…what we want to accomplish and our relationship
with the circumstances we perceive we are in. If we are resisting
or coping, we see no innovation and whatever change we
generate will be as a reaction to the circumstances and part of
the process by which those circumstances persist. When we are
responding or choosing we are in a position to innovate
and will do so naturally and consistently as a function of what
we observe to be possible or what we observe is missing in our perspective
of the world. Change based on this view is likely to be an improvement
on what already exists. When we are bringing forth or creating
we are not only in a position to innovate but are predisposed to
do so. Further, in these ways of relating to circumstances, we have
few if any limitations on what we can imagine and generate…we
are likely to be generating breakthroughs or even creating entirely
new spheres of possibility.
I consider leaders and innovators as those who are concerned with
and competent at bringing “new realities” into existence.
I consider innovating to be a primary element in the process of
leading and I see innovations as examples of leadership results
<p >The following is a table that summarizes the six ways of relating to change associated with different leadership models, intentions and views of circumstances.
Reprinted from The Economist Global Executive
September 5, 2003
The executive looking for training this autumn faces something of a dilemma. On the one hand, managing can look particularly difficult in an uncertain recovery, especially as global businesses prove more vulnerable to all sorts of political and economic setbacks. On the other, many companies are still in a budget-cutting mood, and every extra dollar spent for training has to be justified. The opportunity cost of an executive course has rarely been higher.
With budgets being slashed from one quarter to the next, executives must consider more strongly than ever the potential value of education. Will it make them better leaders? Better managers? Better thinkers? It is not simply a question of being handed a new tool-kit or method for making decisions; the executive aiming to pour money into a new course must also consider the long-term effect on his ability to steer his company in the right direction. Executive courses must now promise not only a nice environment, an interesting body of knowledge and the opportunity to network (though both those benefits are still much in demand), but a bit of foresight and an ability to grapple with deeper questions.
Some observers now advise executives to consider options beyond traditional executive courses. In an article published in Academy of Management Learning and Education in March, Robert Hogan, a former professor of psychology who now specialises in assessments, and Rodney Warrenfeltz, a former consultant who also sometimes acts as an executive coach, named four crucial sets of skills for modern executives: intrapersonal (how you get along with yourself), interpersonal (how you get along with others), leadership and business skills. Traditional courses can help executives beef up their business skills, Mr Hogan and Mr Warrenfeltz argue, but chief executives are more likely to make mistakes involving the other three sorts, which are less easily addressed in a classroom.
Whether an executive decides to go for personal coaching, a short executive course, or a longer one such as an executive MBA, he needs to have a clear idea of what he wants from the experience. The programme will work best if the executive goes into it with a list of goals, be they fuzzy (“Become a better leader”) or specific, and an idea of how to measure progress toward them. Look for courses, or coaching sessions with comprehensive assessments at both the beginning and the end of the programme, as well as an agenda for both the overall course and individual sessions.
Above all, don’t learn in isolation. Whether the executive enters a course with colleagues or wants to learn new skills, making use of—and getting the most value out of—the new knowledge acquired won’t be just a matter of acquiring a renewed sense of self-confidence or a way to evaluate a certain project, but an ability to see both problems and solutions in a larger context. Being familiar with the history of ideas, and even of programmes, can help an executive better decide whether he really needs to spend $5,000 or even $100,000 on his education.
<p >This Executive Education Outlook takes a look at both the practical and theoretical value of executive education. Included is an overview of changes being made to one of the oldest and most prestigious executive MBAs in the world, and a look at whether an executive MBA really can jump-start a career change in a bad market. Yet it is also worth reviewing how management theory develops. A little knowledge may indeed be a dangerous thing; but the more knowledge you have about executive education, the more valuable it is likely to be. <p >© 2004 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All
Condensed from a white paper for Lucent Technologies
‘Empowerment’ is an often misunderstood and abused buzzword. A lack of empowerment has frequently been used as a sweeping justification for all kinds of organizational problems. Likewise, people generally speak of being empowered as a universal solution—the pathway to the promised land. In the best examples, teams of workers are encouraged to manage themselves to solve their own problems, allocate resources as they consider necessary to get a job done, and generally function as an entrepreneurial unit responsible for what they produce, including customer satisfaction.
Unfortunately, there are many more examples where the pursuit of ‘empowerment’ has simply reinforced and sometimes aggravated existing cultural impediments to change. This is usually the case when the concept of empowerment stops being about responsibility and instead becomes about entitlement. This typically shows up as some form of recurring complaints, in which being ‘empowered’ means being left alone, being allowed to be autonomous, and, if things go wrong, implicitly accepting whatever excuses are offered. In other words, the call for ‘empowerment’ becomes a ‘racket’ in which people say they need or want power, but in which they continue to behave as though they are powerless.
WHAT IS EMPOWERMENT?
<p >To be empowered means that I am responsible for my commitments in the Organization. It means I have the competency or capacity to take action or have others take action appropriate to fulfilling whatever I am intending to accomplish. This does not mean I am able to do everything personally, or that I know everything I need to know, or that I have the authority and all the resources I think are necessary to do the job.
Empowerment is an operating state. It is a way of being, a relationship between a person and their circumstances. To say “I am not empowered” is to declare that the circumstances or situations I am in are senior to and more powerful than I am. I am effectively declaring that I consider my commitments and correlated actions are insufficient to changing the circumstances.
Empowering others is a bit of a misnomer. In the final analysis, we can only empower ourselves. We do this by taking a stand for being empowered and then taking action in that context, regardless of the circumstances.
Management can and should provide clarity about what it means to be empowered and offer people opportunities to take an empowering stand for themselves and others. Management may provide this through structural definitions, systemic changes, policies or through coaching and education. In the broadest sense, any management style should be empowering in the sense it provides what is needed for people to generate and express commitments to accomplishing unprecedented results.
<p > EMPOWERMENT: A Relationship with Circumstances <p >Empowerment does not and cannot occur in isolation. It is not a reflection of someone’s personal feelings or point of view. It is not a result of permission or being granted autonomy.
Being empowered is never at the exclusion of others being empowered.
Empowerment always occurs in the relationship between an individual and the organizational context within which they are working. For example, a player can be empowered in a relationship with a coach or in relation to a team’s vision, but never independent of some relationship.
<p >To be empowered, one needs to be empowered in relation to some domain of action. It is inconceivable that someone would be viewed or that they would even experience themselves as empowered at all times and in all situations. For example, I experience myself as being empowered within the domain of organizational transformation, primarily in the areas of competency development, process design and culture change. I can both declare myself as being empowered and I am also able to ground the assessment that I am empowered. Were I to have a concern or have a commitment involving some other area or domain, I would necessarily need to either build an alliance (relationship) with someone who is empowered in those other areas OR I would have to execute a strategy for getting myself empowered.
EMPOWERMENT IS NOT AUTHORITY
<p >Management can structurally provide for people to empower themselves by giving them authority in some domain. The decision to grant authority (or not) should be a function of being efficient, based on an assessment of competence and trusting someone to act on behalf of the Organization.
Having authority, however, does not assure people will be empowered. It sometimes even gets in the way: people think they are supposed to be empowered, but continue to experience that they are not. Numerous studies have shown that the top people in an organization often experience being the most disempowered. Rosabeth Kantor, a consultant and Harvard professor, reports that CEOs are among the most disempowered by virtue of the fact that they consistently report an inability to have the people reporting to them deliver on what they are requesting or, in many cases, to even keep the promises they are making. While these conditions are often explained away as ‘cultural problems’, they are more accurately seen as empowerment issues.
It is easy for people to confuse boundaries with empowerment. It is intelligent for management to clarify a person’s boundaries in the Organization. For example, saying to an associate that they doe not have the authority to commit certain kinds of resources without your permission is a declaration of an authority boundary. An empowered associate would know that part of getting the job done included requesting permission. He or she would not view the lack of authority as a limit to power, but simply one of the variables to deal with in expressing one’s commitments.
<p >One way of seeing this is that what have traditionally been constraints can be transformed into breakdowns, and the breakdowns point the way through the organization’s authority maze to what is necessary to accomplish the commitment. In one sense, the hierarchy exists to serve the empowered associate. An excellent reference that expands on this notion is The Empowered Managerby Peter Block.
<p >Regardless of the approach or approaches taken to empower individuals or teams, the process will involved generating one or more distinct conversations throughout the organization:
Conversations for Relationship
These conversations build trust and assurances that taking personal risk is not only acceptable, but also required to be a leader on a team. The power of this conversation is in our relating to each other as a function of our commitments in the organization and in the world instead of relating to each other based on ungrounded or uncommunicated negative assessments and feelings about each other in a given moment. I propose the following ‘ground rules for effective dialogue’ as a basis for an empowering relationship:
- Acknowledge we are ‘up to something’ together—we have something that we are committed to accomplishing together.
- Promise to speak straight and to listen generously and tell the truth as we perceive it. Be open to and encourage negative assessments from others as a contribution and an opportunity for inquiry and learning.
- Stand for each other and honour each other’s commitments (including their assessments) as being legitimate and authentic as our own. Acknowledge and appreciate each other and the team.
- Even in the most difficult disputes, there is much to acknowledge, including the fact that without a background of relationship, nothing of any consequence would be possible.
Conversations for Possibility
These foster creative dialogue unconstrained by practical, everyday limitations on what can and cannot be accomplished. These ‘what if’ conversations create openings for innovation and unprecedented or unreasonable commitments to emerge which otherwise are unthinkable or simply too risky, given the prevailing culture.
<p >Conversations for Opportunity
In these dialogues, we anticipate barriers and breakdowns (or ‘missings’) that must be addressed to translate an invented possibility into reality. These conversations include: asking and answering questions, and making commitments related to resources required, accountabilities, conditions of satisfaction, roles, broad time frames and criteria for determining success. Assuming relationship and alignment about what we’re trying to accomplish together already exist, this is probably the most substantive conversation when setting up and empowering a new team. This is the conversation in which the game is declared and the players make an offer—this is the ‘deal’!
Conversations for Action
In these conversations, people, by virtue of making requests and promises, specify particular changes in time and declare their responsibility for making them happen. This is where the “rubber hits the road” in terms of something either coming into existence or being taken out of existence. For any process of coordinated action to work well, it is essential that all the players recognize they are co-creating a future in a network of conversations and, at the end of the day, they are all responsible for the result.
Commitments always involve both speaking and listening for them to have any power in an organization. This is easily observed when we consider that all we need to do to disempower someone or ourselves is to simply stop listening or stop taking our commitments seriously.
Conversations for Completion and Declaring Breakdowns
These conversations occur when action is stopped and people require a new opening in which to move forward. They are particularly important conversations for acknowledging and completing mistakes or failures or aborting projects that have not turned out or are no longer commitments for one reason or another. They are also important opportunities to acknowledge ourselves and others, to renew or abandon commitments, to nurture and build relationship, and to explore new possibilities. In other words, these conversations call for all other kinds of conversations.
<p >In my experience, people are not empowered when they consciously or unconsciously become co-conspirators in negative conversations—when they speak as though they are not responsible for their being empowered—in which they are caught up in a labyrinth of ungrounded assessments, interpersonal ‘stories’ and suppression of authentic commitment.
People who say they are not empowered are essentially being victims of the system. They either lack access (including having a ‘blind spot’) to a conversation that would allow them a choice or they have a senior and conscious or unconscious hidden commitment that would be threatened if they were empowered.
<p >Empowerment is a natural state for human beings, one that allows us to experience being free and able to responsibly express ourselves and our commitments in alignment with others and our strategic intent. In a world of accelerating change, global coordination, increased competition and fewer ways to distinguish what makes us different, true empowerment of everyone in an organization is more than just a concept—it is a prerequisite for winning.
As a context, coaching is a stand for another’s or a team’s commitments within a committed relationship.
As a process, coaching involves dialogue to show ‘new’ possibilities and practices.
<p >As a result, coaching occurs in the inspired action of the coachee(s) and their results<ul >
<p >A coach listens for possibility, for what’s missing and for commitment. They observe action and speak/listen in such a manner as to evoke new action.
FOCUSING QUESTIONS FOR CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT
<p >To whom (in what situation) are you committed to provide coaching? Be specific.
- What opening/possibility do you see?
- What breakdown do you see given a commitment to a possibility?
- What is missing in terms of the competence of who you are committed to coach?
- What assessments do you make with respect to the person(s) you want to coach?
Is your relationship sufficient for coaching? Are they enrolled? Is there a demand?
- Do they see possibility for themselves?
- Are you and they clear about their commitments and conditions of satisfaction?
- Is conversation now future-oriented?
- Is there a ‘mood’ of enthusiasm for what is to be accomplished together?
<p >Is the coaching contract clear?<ul >
- What do you expect of coachee(s)?
- How will we handle breakdowns? Do you have their permission to lean into their blind spots?
- When, how often and in what forms will you communicate/meet?
What breakdowns do you anticipate in the coaching relationship/process? What actions can you now see that would be appropriate?
What strategies/circumstances have you used in the past to avoid commitment, quit or give up on someone else’s commitment? For example:
- Get too busy
- Forget to follow up or follow through
- Give in to discomfort
- Not talk straight
- Try force
THE MODEL (Domains of Being/Communication)
Changes with New Stands/
Changes with New Commitment /Practices in Time (for example, requests and promises)
Changes with New Action and Agreements (for example, accepted assertions)
- Look for openings
- Is there an opening?
- Design conversation
- Is coachee enrolled?
- Follow-up #1
- Can coachee see opening?
- Design next conversation
- Acknowledge progress
- Can coachee self-generate?
- Acknowledge progress
OPPORTUNITIES FOR COACHING
- Performance Assessment
- Breakdowns (business, projects, personal)
- Broken Promises
- Requests for Coaching
- Observed ‘Missing’ (for example, a new skill)
- Hallway Conversations
- Ability to observe/listen for gap between possibility and action
- Ability to communicate so that coachee can ‘see’ what coach sees
- Ability to enroll, engage and support coachee in taking new action
- Ability to assist coachee(s) to complete past wins and failures (to be present)
- Declaring and Resolving Breakdowns
- Designing Conversation / New Practices
- Ground Rules
<p >“This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
—George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
Being an elder is an ancient and important aspect of many aboriginal and Asian cultures. In the past, the word ‘Eldering’ has been used in some ethnic and religious traditions (such as the Quakers) to describe a process of keeping teachings ‘pure’ from one generation to the next—a role that connotes ‘taking care’ of the spiritual aspects of aging, as well as passing on knowledge to the young.
Historically, the gap between the older and younger generations was not particularly significant. Grandparents and grandchildren might have differed in terms of styles, some behaviors and technologies, but they more or less shared the same values and worldview. Today it can be argued that the young and the old occupy very different worlds, have different worldviews, and even speak different languages. The exponentially increasing rate of change means that solutions are obsolete before they are implemented, uncertainty and risk are constants, and reacting to circumstances cannot be tolerated as a guarantee of success. In this new context, the traditional process of Eldering as being concerned with passing on “the best of the best” and what the older generation thinks the young need to know must evolve to become the basis for creating an entirely new way for the young and the old to relate.
We are appropriating the word ‘Eldering’ to denote a powerful new movement in the world and a new distinction in the domain of leadership—a way of relating where authority and tenure do not influence choices or limit possibilities and where everyone involved is committed to intergenerational collaboration and to jointly taking responsibility for the future. This movement involves practicing a kind of focused leadership in midlife for:
- Rebuilding inclusive multigenerational communities of people co-creating a world that works for everyone;
- Learning from younger persons what is missing for all of us to work together to address the intractable problems in the world we share; and
- Transforming the culture of aging from one of decline, loss and resignation to one of power and possibility.
<p >Eldering is an opening for the Baby Boomers to leave a legacy so future generations can look forward to the second half of their lives with enthusiasm and appreciation for growing older. And it is an opportunity for younger generations to draw on the wisdom of their elders and to gain the competencies they need, including the ability to collaborate with people of different ages, in doing what needs to be done in this increasingly complex world.
Reinvent the SELF →
<p > Reinvent the PARADIGM →
The word ‘paradigm’, like so much of our language, has been overused, so much so that in business many of us don’t even like to hear the term—‘paradigm’ has become like some annoying piece of technical jargon that we half understand but which makes very little difference in our practical lives.
A paradigm is a prevailing and shared interpretation of the world or some aspect of human life that organizes how our ‘reality’ occurs for us. It, therefore, also organizes what we can observe as possible and the choices we have at a given moment. Paradigms are a phenomenon of human existence—like the weather, they are not a concept. For all practical purposes, our paradigms are our reality.
We could say that, since a paradigm is widely shared and mostly transparent to those who are ‘living it’, ‘who we are’ is a paradigm. If we want to ‘be’ different or transform our way of being, we need to become a new observer, transcend our historical interpretation of who we are. Likewise, when we reinterpret some ‘taken-for-granted’ aspect of our world, we are breaking the hold of the prevailing paradigm and creating a new worldview. When we create a new worldview, we create a new world and have a vision within which to act, which in turn eventually manifests as intentional change and which eventually becomes the new paradigm or reality for future generations.
For the first time in human history, more than half of us are going to be over 50 years of age. This demographic anomaly can, and most certainly will, transform our reality in profound and lasting ways. The central questions we need to focus on are whether we as individuals will have any say about what happens and whether we will participate in the transformation of our world.
Since the 1970s, the “Baby Boom” generation has shared a wealth of experiences. We have all lived through multiple major societal shifts—from Woodstock and Vietnam mobilizing millions to participate in the civil rights movement, world peace and anti-nuclear initiatives to environmental awareness and the feminist revolution that changing everything from politics to strategies for ending hunger and poverty. The “Boomers” also saw the birth of rock ’n roll, mass marketing and the “Me Generation”. As we have grown older, we’ve become more interested in making money than in making love. The past 20 years are a testimony to how powerful a demographic ‘bulge’ can be in determining what happens in every aspect of life. The generations that have followed the Boomers have excelled in creating new technologies, but it was their fathers and mothers who created the economic and cultural freedom to do so.
But there is a dark side when one generation dominates the larger conversations and practices of a society (and in the case of the Baby Boomers, the whole world). Just as this generation has influenced how we think, what we wear, what we value and how we act, so have they also defined our collective ‘mood’. Since the ’70s we’ve been on an optimistic ‘high’ and as we age we’ve witnessed a gradual and general diminishing of enthusiasm for the future, as well as a growing mood of resignation and even cynicism about leadership and our national institutions. We have created a long list of intractable problems that threaten civilization as we know it. Most thoughtful commentators agree that we are a turning point in human history. We will either “break through” and create new structures and processes for governance and sustaining the quality of life for human beings or we will, in all likelihood, face a period of unprecedented human suffering.
Whether one is optimistic or pessimistic is not the point. These perspectives are, after all, only based on predictions that are dependent upon one’s beliefs and predispositions. Neither point of view affects what the future will be. The future will be a product of individual and collective actions—and nothing else. The question is what will organize and determine our individual and collective actions in the days and years ahead?
<p >The ‘Eldering’ movement is grounded in the declaration that the single most important and pressing factor in shaping our actions and our future is the paradigm that defines everything else, including “who we are”. Before we make new policies, new laws or create new enterprises, we must, first and foremost, confront and resolve this larger question of who we are.
LEADERSHIP, COACHING & ELDERING
<p >Leadership and coaching have become major themes in almost any conversation concerned about the future. These terms, along with ‘Eldering’, have much in common. They all are based in and require strong, committed relationships and focused, purposeful communication. They are all concerned with producing breakthroughs—unprecedented outcomes or unpredictable futures.
These terms are also different. Coaching is primarily focused on empowering an individual or team ‘in action’ based on the commitments of those being coached. Leadership is more about coordinating action to achieve a common vision and is generally best understood in an historical context—a break from conventional wisdom.
Eldering includes both of these, but is more focused on the co-creative aspects of how leaders and coaches create the future. Eldering provides a new context for collaboration between human beings for generating a new paradigm—a context in which coaching between different generations becomes a normal part of life and, eventually, fades into the background. It is about transforming our traditional understanding of “who we are” as a prerequisite for generating new possibilities and choices.
<p >Eldering can be understood as a kind of ‘meta-relationship’ to all of our concerns. From the perspective of Eldering, we can observe our relationships with ourselves and other people, circumstances and time. These three relationships can provide a way of getting to the structures of interpretation that become self-referential patterns of thinking and behavior that keep us doing the same things over and over while looking for different outcomes. Eldering presupposes the kind of perspective that can come with age, maturity and experience. This doesn’t proscribe what our choices should be, but always reveals that we have choices even when none seem to exist. It is a perspective from which we can observe that most of the breakthroughs and solutions we’ve seen or experienced in our lives were created—came into existence—entirely as a function of human imagination and the willingness to act in unreasonable, often counter-intuitive, and unprecedented ways,
“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible—and achieve it, generation after generation.”
—Pearl S. Buck
DISTINCTIONS OF ELDERING
<p >Eldering itself is a new distinction in the domain of leadership. While it encompasses the best thinking and experience in the arena of developing and coaching leaders, it is also evolving and is not yet a field that stands alone or can be easily communicated to others. There are, however a number of core ideas and distinctions that capture the essence of what Eldering involves as a practice.
Breakdowns and Problems. The primary factor that causes the persistence of the prevailing paradigm is the belief that reality is a problem that human beings are destined to ‘fix’. For most of us, anything that doesn’t match our expectations, desires or standards is viewed as a problem. Our solutions always result in more problems that require solutions of greater complexity, solutions which lead to problems that cannot be solved and, eventually, to our resignation. An alternative way of observing the world is that problems are only assessments and never exist independent of an observer. Further, they can be distinguished easily from ‘breakdowns’. A breakdown is anything that we see is obstructing or limiting the achievement of our commitments. For example, we might see the economy as a problem, but until we lose our job it generally will not occur as a breakdown. Learning to use the phenomenon of breakdowns as feedback to achieving our commitments is essential if we are to collaborate in co-creating the future.
Compassion. One of the primary ways older and younger people differ is in their need to be understood and to have others agree with their point of view. The older we become, the less important it is for us to be right, to win arguments or to have others agree with us. Some of us have even learned to be patient, to trust that everyone grows and learns at their own pace and that, even when people are suffering, there is a human being present that can be acknowledged as whole and complete and competent to transform and transcend their circumstances (no matter how difficult they may be). Compassion is ‘tough love’ and the recognition that we are always connected to other human beings no matter how apart we may appear to be in our beliefs and practices. Compassion is the foundation for a world in which we can contribute our differences, transform problems into opportunities, and collaborate with those who are less ‘enlightened’ than ourselves.
Control/Mastery. First and foremost, eldering is a kind of mastery. All mastery involves mastery of self. Mastery can be understood as accomplishing something without control—more of a creative process where the results are achieved by not resisting ‘what is’, but by being in harmony and working with whatever ‘is’. In the case of Eldering, we are always working with other people. One of the more difficult aspects to achieving mastery is in letting go of our paradigmatic addiction to control as a necessary prerequisite to achieving what we say we want.
Creating Possibility. Eldering is about creating possibilities where none exist. Possibilities are, by definition, not ‘reality’. If they were, they would be examples. Thus, the ability to co-create an unprecedented future requires that all parties involved acknowledge and accept the paradox of confronting an intractable condition in which there are no solutions, while simultaneously being committed to creating outcomes that are seemingly impossible within the context of conventional thinking.
Communication. Eldering, like all forms of leadership and coaching, occurs in conversations between human beings. Conversations encompass all aspects of communication—oral, written, symbolic and emotional. Speaking and listening (in the larger sense of ‘languaging’) is the medium in which we exist as human beings. It occurs for us as ‘water to a fish’, in the sense that it is so pervasive we don’t normally distinguish it. It is the stuff of conscious awareness. It is also the way we not only describe an objective world in language, but also how we create the world we describe.
Completion. Eldering is about co-creating a future that is “outside the box” of our contemporary paradigm. Creating anything involves a willingness to disconnect or let go of what is already present—to put the past in the past and create a space that is open to something new and original. Completion is not the same thing as ‘finished’. Most of us have experienced something being finished but not complete (for example, ending a relationship and continuing to feel and experience the memories and desires in the present). Completion is a ‘state of being’ in which how one relates to the past allows one to have a memory without the memory dominating or having power over one’s actions or experience in the present. Most elders have learned (or are learning) to appreciate the past while ‘letting it be’. This capability is essential if Eldering is to be an opening for new conversations for creating an unprecedented future.
Humility. Humility is the consequence of having a distinction between our ego-centered, largely automatic thinking and our Self—the observer of our thinking processes. When we are being our Self, we are able to choose and commit in ways that are not possible when we are reacting to our thoughts and feelings. Humility is not some form of pious modesty. A human being who is humble is clear who he or she is and is also capable of working with others in ways that are engaging and collaborative, rather than driven by forceful persuasion, manipulation or domineering practices.
Responsibility. In our contemporary cause-and-effect paradigm, responsibility is inextricably connected to either causality (who did it or will do it) or to blame/credit for what has already happened. If taken literally to mean “response-ability”, it is neither. It is a relationship with circumstances, not a cause of circumstances. Responsibility is a way of being, an ownership of one’s world, an acceptance that at the end of the day we are, in fact, always responsible for how we choose to relate to whatever is happening, whatever has occurred or whatever might occur in the future. The only question is whether we can declare this to be so for ourselves and allow this distinction to empower us to ‘respond’ in often unreasonable and unprecedented ways.
Service. Robert Greenleaf pointed out in his remarkable essay “Servant Leadership” that true leaders are always servants of those they lead. They not only embody humility and are a stand for an inclusive vision, they are also deeply caring and connected to other people. Service from the perspective of Eldering is not ‘helping’ (which is often not appreciated), but it is always taking actions ‘for the sake of’ creating more space and possibility for others. Most older persons will acknowledge that their deepest desire is to contribute whatever they can to others—to make a difference. For elders, service is a privilege and a basis of being valued and expressing their love of others.
<p >Surrender. One of the most predominant blockages to intergenerational collaboration is the often well-grounded belief that older people “know the answers” and that younger people need to ‘learn’ what the older people know. Aside from the logical obviousness that at the current rate of change no one knows what will be needed in the future, this notion evokes a kind of arrogance on the part of older persons and a kind of natural resistance on the part of those who are younger. It is necessary to be willing to ‘give up’ the attachment we have to what we know and surrender—give ourselves fully—to the possibility that we can only find the answer in conversations with others. We must be committed to learning as much from the young as we have to give. One of the difficulties in our culture is that we think of surrender as ‘giving up’ or a state of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Surrender is not the same as succumbing. It doesn’t mean ‘beaten’: surrender is a choice wherein one voluntarily chooses to not resist and to accept life on life’s terms. The key idea is to ‘give oneself to’ whatever is beyond one’s capacity for control and understanding—to acknowledge the fact that we are always vulnerable to whatever is outside of our own limited system of beliefs.
“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”
WHAT IS WISDOM?
<p >Most of us think of wisdom as being a kind of ‘right knowledge’, practical insights approximating ‘truth’ that are gained through longevity and experience. Formal definitions suggest that wisdom isn’t so much about knowledge as it is something like ‘good judgment’, being able to sort out the right and best choices from the many that are available to us at any moment.
In the context of Eldering, wisdom is closer to the latter definition with the added component of commitment. To be wise is to have something to say, a point of view, or an instruction or recommendation that we are committed to. We are less concerned with whether it can be justified or defended than with whether we can be responsible for the consequences. Wisdom isn’t a function of age or tenure, but being fully engaged and having something at stake in the conversation. In the final analysis, wisdom is an assessment that we make after the fact based on the results of a particular decision or strategy.
WHAT IS ACTION?
<p >Action is always relative to an observer. Whatever we are doing can vary, depending upon the context in which we are observing. For example, if I am mowing my lawn, one could say I am working in the garden, but one could also say I am getting exercise. Both interpretations would be equally valid.
From this view, action happens in language. Any meaningful movement or action in a conversation or systematic pattern is linguistic in nature. That is, without language we would not be able to distinguish one action from another. As we get older it becomes more and more obvious that everything we are doing involves conversations with ourselves or others. The mere fact that we may be physically more limited suggests that we learn to appreciate the linguistic nature of action—the power of requests, promises, and declarations. We are more and more conscious of the relative validity of our assessments and assertions and are often more focused on whether someone is ‘walking the talk’, rather than whether they have a good story for why they are doing whatever they do.
Eldering is about intergenerational collaboration. Collaboration is action that happens in conversations (and which is therefore not limited by physical capabilities) as a function of commitment and engagement in the process of creating the future.
ELDERING AND THE FUTURE
<p >Originally eldering was a term used to denote mid-life leadership. It became quickly apparent that the idea of leadership in mid-life was the old paradigm of experience and age presuming answers on behalf of others. The fact is that older persons do not know the answers today. Moreover, they live in a different disclosive space or interpretation of the world than most younger people. The paradigmatic ‘gap’ between people born in the 1920s and their children born in the 1940s or 1950s is small compared to the gap between Baby Boomers approaching retirement and Generations X, Y and later. <p >Today, age is one of the factors that divide us. Eldering is about having age be one of the things that we all have in common that can unite us. It can be a context for collaboration and coordination, rather than a factor that limits what’s possible. We are all familiar with the litany of problems that threaten us, and our way of life in the not too distant future. Eldering begins with older persons taking responsibility for the circumstances of our world and then engaging with others of all ages to create projects to challenge conventional wisdom and the prevailing paradigms that limit possibility and thwart our best intentions. Eldering projects have the dual purposes of simultaneously bringing forth new possibilities and unprecedented ways of addressing the problems, but also in transferring to the next generation not only the best of what we’ve learned, but the best of who we are.
Listening is much more than just hearing words or reading body language.
We now have the ability to communicate more frequently with more people than ever before. And yet, there is something missing. Something that could help us avoid misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, build trust and increase our effectiveness as leaders. That something is the art of listening.
Normally, even if we’re interested in learning about what matters to someone, the best we can do is make assumptions and then leave it at that. Effective listening allows us to go beyond our assumptions, choose actions that will address everyone’s unspoken concerns, and move things forward.
Listening is much more than just hearing words or reading body language. It requires that we:
- Be totally ‘present’ in the moment (not be distracted by other thoughts or activities)
- Be quiet and stop talking
- Accept the other person as they are (be non-judgmental and listen without censoring)
- Maintain an open mind
- Do not plan what we are going to do or say next
- Be willing to interact with whatever shows up in the moment.
Being listened to in this non-judgmental, ‘generous’ way creates a space for us to tap into our own wisdom and to create possibilities. When someone really listens to us, we can be inspired to invent solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems.
TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE LISTENING
Listen with Intention
Commit to seeing how the world looks to the other person. Keep your attention focused on them, on what they are saying, on what they are not saying and on the non-verbal cues they are unconsciously giving you. Notice their energy level and mood. Listen deeply to what they are not saying to discover the essence of their concerns. If you find yourself holding an internal conversation in your head about whether you disagree or agree with them, remember to maintain an open mind.
Ask for Specifics
Focus your listening on what they are dissatisfied with and any opportunities they see. Ask direct questions and record the essence of what they say (not your opinions about their responses). Dissatisfactions and opportunities point the way to specific concerns.
Consider & Observe to Understand
Consider several aspects of what you have heard in your conversations with this person. Review what issues and events they consistently focus on, what they always take action to improve, what things quickly and frequently distract them and what they will interrupt almost anything for. Observe what you’ve heard in terms of themes, contradictions, assessments and anything you see that is missing.
Share Your Interpretation
Paraphrase what they have said and describe the underlying emotions you observe in their speaking. In the spirit of promoting mutual understanding, share your interpretation with the other person. Ask them to elucidate, correct and fine-tune what you offer to ensure you ‘get’ what they are trying to communicate. This is not the same as agreeing with them. In situations where people do not agree, creating this partial understanding changes the mood of the conversation to one of cooperation and increases the possibility of collaborating and resolving the conflict. Once you are both clear, you’ll be able to easily begin to explore specific conditions of satisfaction that will address both of your concerns.
Be Compassionate and Consistent
Many people have never have experienced deep, generous listening. Be compassionate even if they are only comfortable speaking superficially. The more they experience being really listened to, the more they will be open to communicating more and also the more they will be willing to listen to you.
Professional actors and singers master effective listening as part of their craft. Whether we perform on a stage in front of an audience or in an organization in front of our colleagues or clients, mastering listening in this way can make the difference between giving an average performance and achieving extraordinary results. Leaders who really listen can learn more from the people they work with, can be more effective in their speaking and can do more good when they move into action.