It’s about power

September 17, 2014


This article is about something very close to my heart: Scotland.

September 18 is momentous for me in two ways: it will be 50 years to the day that I arrived in this world, in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, and it is also the day when Scotland decides whether to become independent or remain a part of the United Kingdom.  The two are linked for me, as I find it incredibly exciting that I am in the prime of my abilities and could have the opportunity to actively participate in the historical re-birth of my country as an independent entity.  Scotland already has a long history with a rich heritage, but in the many years I lived in various countries on this beautiful planet (Scots transplant well to other parts of the world, as is well-known), I noticed on my visits to Scotland, that it seems to have become infused with a increased sense of self-belief and energy.  Now currently resident in London, I am not eligible to vote in the referendum, though I will certainly be free to take up Scottish citizenship should the result be “YES” and I will certainly be giving serious consideration to relocating up north and being an active participant in the crafting of new institutions, new processes and new structures.

The referendum, to my mind, is about one thing.  This referendum, I believe, is not, as many would have us believe, about “not being British”; though “identity” and how one feels is certainly important. This is absolutely not, as some insist, about “anti-Englishness” though I don’t doubt that for a very small minority, that is part of it.  It is not about shortbread, tartan, bagpipes or whisky.  It is certainly not about money, well not solely, as many would have us think.  You certainly cannot run a country, or a business, or a charity….or most things…without money being a factor.  But this referendum is far more complex.  Through the complexity, however, I keep coming back to the one thing this referendum is about: power.

Where does power sit?  

The decision to unite England and Scotland was made in the early 1700s.  In Scotland, the decision was made by the 100 members of the Scottish Parliament that voted for union.  This time round, the decision rests in the hands of the 4,285,523 people registered to vote.  Yes or no, this gives me hope.  I feel this national conversation, which has been going on for some two years, has invigorated Scotland and made everyone give consideration to that really important question: where does power sit in our national affairs?  People want to be involved in their societies.

Who has the power to make decisions about the things that affect Scotland?  For those 15 precious hours that the polling stations are open, the decision about where power sits for Scotland resides in the hands of those 4,285,323 people.  Marvellous.  The locus of control over Scotland’s affairs can rest in Scotland’s people.

This is about the Scottish nation making a conscious decision about where decision-making power for Scottish affairs to be held.  I have written before about people having power over decisions that affect them.  I firmly believe that nobody can empower anyone.  We can enable others but we cannot empower them.  The only person who can empower me is me.  The only people who can empower Scotland are those who live in Scotland.  Power granted by someone who retains the authority to withdraw it is not power.  Just as the Scotland Act 1998 which set in train the establishment of a Scottish Parliament was passed in Westminster, so the power to abolish it remains in Westminster.  I’m no fool and hold no illusions that the parliament of an independent Scotland will suddenly make the roads paved with gold and the taps run with champagne.  Having power and agency in one’s own affairs is no pleasure cruise.  It is, however, preferable to having decisions made about me by someone who is “not me”.

“Hang on a second”, I hear.  What about this clamour to join the EU, NATO, etc etc etc?  This highlights an interesting paradox of our time.  We are becoming ever more connected and interdependent, yet we wish to have more agency in our lives.  On a global scale, we are subject to globalisation and increasing interconnectedness, yet we want to retain national parliaments.  I am an advocate of thinking and acting systemically: being cognisant of how connected we are.  We are none of us islands.  What on Earth, then, is the point of saying “Let’s strike out on our own!”?  If there is no such thing as truly “on my own” how can we say that we are independent?  The paradox is that there is something to be said for people having more autonomy and freedom in their lives, even while in relationship with others.  While we cannot eliminate the  systemic effects of being more connected and influential over each other, we should also not surrender our aspirations and our freedoms to people who do not take us into account.  Notice, for example, how the UK has steadfastly remained outside of the eurozone despite being an active member of the EU: that decision is about sovereignty and power, at least partly.

In this interconnected world, what would possess the Scots (or the Catalans or Basques or Kurds or…) to think that “going it alone” was the way to go, or indeed, that anyone could go it alone.  To hear some of the rhetoric from the pro-UK argument, one would imagine that in the event of a “YES” vote, Scotland would be severed completely from the rest of the world in a way that no other country, save North Korea, seems to have achieved.  Nonsense.  We are moving to a world, I believe, of a network of tribes.  Not empires, but alliances.  If that’s the case, I hear some pro-unionists, why bother?  We are so interconnected that there is no point in going through the whole independence mess; it’ll just cost money and create a whole lot of work we can do without.  The point is that there are a number of decisions about Scotland that are better taken by those whom it affects: the Scots.  There will be treaties and alliances and unions that Scotland will be a part of.  This argument seems odd though. Many pro-union voices are the same who decry membership of the European Union because it curtails UK sovereignty.  You can’t have it both ways: you can’t argue that the EU is bad because it curtails sovereignty and then argue that the UK union is good, even though it curtails sovereignty.

For me, this referendum is not about nationalism.  I am definitely no nationalist; I have spent most of my life living, working and travelling all over this planet.  For me, this referendum is not about giving the 1% a good kicking, though I find growing inequality in our societies obscene.  It is not about David Cameron and the Conservatives and it’s not about Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party; they could all be replaced when there are elections.

It’s. About. Power.

It is about power and being able to have agency in one’s own destiny.  It is about being grown up and responsible for all the choices that we make, good and bad, and as a corollary, being grown up enough to deal with the consequences of the choices we make, good and bad.  Some of those opposed to independence say that the road to Independence Day and beyond will be messy.  There aren’t many realms in human affairs that are, quite frankly, not messy.  Scotland, should it vote for independence, will make mistakes, but they will be our mistakes.  Having greater agency in one’s fortunes also increases one’s self-confidence and therefore, I believe, the ability and determination to navigate the complexities of life.  If we have greater confidence in ourselves, we are better placed to unleash our creativity and untapped resources…..and by resources I don’t mean oil.  I mean within ourselves.

Yes there are risks.  I could quote any number of aphorisms that encourage us to take risks in life: a ship is safe in harbour but that is not what it is built for…etc etc….   I don’t think there is anyone who wishes for independence who doesn’t acknowledge risks.  Equally, there are risks if we continue to abdicate power to someone else in our lives.  There may be safety in letting someone else make decisions for you, but where is the sense of a life well-lived?  Where is the sense of achievement?

I’m clear that I would prefer a move towards Scottish independence and greater decision-making power for Scotland’s affairs resting in Scotland.  However, even if the vote is “No” and Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, the beast has (re-)awoken.  The beast to which I refer is democracy.  In recent years there has been a trend towards smaller and smaller turnouts in democratic elections, but this debate has brought politics back to the people.  Politics is not about what professional politicians do, it is about decisions that get made that affect our lives.  It is about being involved in conversations around public health services, it is about being involved in decisions about social justice, it is about how we want to structure our societies.  A full 97% of eligible voters in Scotland have registered to vote in this referendum, a record.   Predictions are that turnout could be around the 80% mark.  Time and time again, I read of conversations in people’s homes, in cafes, in pubs, all over the place, being about the referendum.  People ARE interested in politics, just not professional politicians.  People DO care about how they are governed, only when they have some hope that they have a say in it.  To quote George Monbiot, “A yes vote in Scotland would unleash the most dangerous thing of all – hope.”  I also believe that something has awoken that means that even in the event of a “NO”, hope will not dim.  Hope and enough self-belief that the idea of an independent Scotland is not just some kind of Jacobite romantic notion.  Hope also for the entire UK; people all over these islands are fed up of the status quo.  Scotland’s referendum is also about power for those who do not reside in Scotland.

Sometimes, the pro-independence movement is accused of overly romanticising Scotland, of being muddle-headed, of not being sensible about things.  Scotland, to me, however, is not Brigadoon.  It is a real place with real energy, real ideas and real potential.  Oil aside, an independent Scotland has a future.  Yes, the early years would be challenging, but I don’t think anyone who is seeking anything really worth having is looking for the easy road.  Yes, an independent Scotland would be quite a different place to the one it is now, but isn’t that the point?  Yes, an independent Scotland would require hard work and would have to stand by its own efforts, but again, isn’t that the point?

There are no guarantees that things will be “better together”, as the pro-union campaign phrases it.  Similarly, there are no guarantees that things will be better as an independent nation.  Questions remain about currency, for example.  In this life, however, there are essentially no guarantees of anything.  Ever.  One thing that I keep coming back to, though, is that the more power I have in my own hands, the more agency I have in my own life.  The more I decisions I am able to make about my life and my future, the more likely that my life will unfold as I wish.  Likewise, the more responsibility I will be able to hold for the consequences of my decisions and frankly, I’d much rather take responsibility for my own decisions, good and bad, and to be able to do something about them.

If it’s a “YES”, this may be sad for those who wish to retain a union of the two countries.  Scotland, I believe, is not interested in severing the friendship it has with the rest of the UK.  After all, they say that a good fence makes good neighbours.  A YES is a signal that the Scottish people are ready to be in greater control of its own affairs.  What this referendum is about is “the will of the people”.

It’s about power.


photo by John Wenger

photo by John Wenger

I love the “working out loud” approach.  It’s highly social, which now, after years of personal work, runs through me like a stick of rock.  In that (ongoing) personal journey, I have learnt not only the benefits and indescribable joys (and sometimes, the excruciating pain) of joining the rest of the human race, but also how to do it.  WOL also gives us the opportunity to exercise our opposable minds with each other. This is our ability to hold seemingly contradictory or conflicting ideas in a creative tension so that we come up with novel solutions or insights.  The idea that we can co-create something that neither of us could have worked out individually is highly appealing to me.  The challenges before us, many of which seem intractable, are products of old ways of thinking and being.  One of my things is that the new solutions will come out of collaboration, learning together and co-creation.  That, for me, is one of the strongest “selling points” in WOL: I can’t solve it myself, neither can you, but together we might synthesise a wondrous future.

So how’s this for working out loud….

I hate feedback.

Feedback, as I learnt from one of my greatest teachers, is that dissonant screech you get coming through a speaker system.  In my time, I have trained in a myriad of personal and professional development settings, via a variety of modalities, methods and processes.  I always looked forward to (and still do) the “feedback-y” bits of those.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I hate feedback.  I love supervision.  Super.  Vision.

The thing I enjoy is the learning; the “supervisory” conversations with others who hold my learning and development in mind and who have super vision, i.e. see things I don’t see.  In these conversations, I would receive information about myself and how I function in the world, have the opportunity to integrate it into my self-concept and update my knowledge and capabilities.  This would uncover blindspots, help me to see things about myself I couldn’t possibly see on my own and expand my self-awareness.  Purpose: self development.

There is, I believe, a cultural conserve around “feedback”.  In a lot of situations, feedback comes across exactly like a dissonant racket and is welcomed with just as much openness and delight as you would expect such a screech to invite.  I believe this is related to our cultural conserve of “feedback” and how it’s done.  It tends to be (mostly) one-way: one person giving feedback to another.  Rather than a mutual and engaging conversation, it gets structured into a “three positive things, three negative things, and one more positive thing to finish on so that we can end on a positive note” type of ritual.  It also tends not to be strengths-based.  Hang on a sec, didn’t I just say it starts with “three positive things”?  Yes, but that is not strengths-based.  Telling someone something “negative”, no matter how it’s dressed up, is not strengths-based.

Taking a strengths-based approach

I believe there is an entirely different way of looking at this, which is to view humans as inherently good and their behaviours as inherently meaningful and sensible.  We may not see the good, nor understand the meaning and sense of why people do what they do, but let’s just imagine it is so.  If we start with this assumption, then instead of giving “feedback”, let’s look at what people have done and build on it.  If we see learning as a process rather than an event… a constant becoming….then everything we do is the starting point for the next thing to learn.  Beings in beta, always refining and retuning and building on.

“What a bunch of new age, PC nonsense!  It’s this sort of thinking that is driving this business to the wall!”

Well, perhaps……However, to fail to recognise strengths is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.  It is demoralising and demotivating.  Even in our worst ever moments, there is the seed of something useful, life-giving and good.  As Dr. Max Clayton states, “…there tends to be an over-emphasis on the inadequacies of people….When people become aware of what is (good) in their functioning,…problematic areas of their life become easier to manage.”  If we want people to really learn and to really change, this is what we want: that they are able to self-manage and that they find it easy to do.

What does this have to do with working out loud?

Working out loud is part of the “new way of doing things” (#nwodt, just to give myself a bit of hashtag license).  When I do my work on Twitter, blogs or Google+, then what I’m working on there is open.  When I’m working in a room with people, I employ a human technology that works with what is emergent, so I’m also working out in the open; to a very great extent, what happens next is dependent on what has just happened.  I’m working out loud.  If I’m working out in the open, I’m exposing myself and am vulnerable.  What might stop people from doing this?  When I put something in the public domain, I am taking a risk.  As Eric Ziegler writes, “people are scared of putting themselves out there and working out loud. They are fearful that there will be negative repercussions when they make a mistake out in the open. They are fearful that people will think less of them. They are not willing to risk sharing because there is no benefit or that other people will not find what they are sharing as interesting or informative.”  All very human.

Seems to me that our limbic systems come into play here just a little bit.  These alarm systems that sit right within our brains don’t like danger.  They also don’t like perceived danger.  The thing about our limbic system is that it doesn’t know the difference between real danger and perceived danger; it’s all just danger.  Like a gazelle in the open savannah, when we are exposed and there is a potential for attack, we are in a heightened state of vigilance, which could explain the reluctance of many to work out loud.  Yes, there are clearly benefits to working out loud, however the cultural conserve of “feedback” leads many not to.

I understand these reservations.  I have felt the things that Eric describes as fear-inducing  and I know how it feels.  Not good.  That is kind of irrelevant.  I’ve had some amazing supervision sessions with some great teachers in my time and I haven’t felt ‘great’, but those conversations have certainly taught me invaluable stuff.  I will add: after all the many years of aforementioned ‘personal work’, I have a pretty solid sense of self-worth and I certainly welcome conversation, questions, something that would expand my (and your) knowledge.   I also bounce back quickly.  This is not to say, however, that to have my thoughts and perspectives dismissed in three or four sentences of “feedback” by people with substantial prestige, status and influence doesn’t sting.  And as I say, I don’t mind not feeling great; I do mind not having the engagement that leads to all involved becoming greater.  Where is the interaction?  Where is the engagement with me?  Where is the responsiveness to me and the perspectives I hold?  A terse, un-engaged dismissal, phrased using language of the “old way of doing things” has wrapped within it an assumption, conscious or unconscious, that my experiences hold little value, my synthesis and meaning made of said experiences erroneous and the thought processes used faulty.  If we work out loud, allowing our works-in-progress to be spotlit, and they are treated like a critic treats a theatre performance, scrutinised from another subjective perspective using language of definitiveness, we will understandably think twice about making a new habit.  If we work out loud and someone comes along and infers (using the most educated and authoritative language) “Idiot”, and does it in a way which shows no curiosity or interest in where we are coming from, we all lose out.  We have the technology, we are all right here.

For me, part of the “old way of doing things” means that we take up an either/or stance.  This is part of the whole “feedback” cultural conserve.  I see what you have written and if I like it or agree with it, I might share it.  And if I don’t like it or don’t agree with it, rather than simply saying nothing, I feel somehow moved to explain why I don’t agree and why you are wrong.  Limiting.  When I’ve had a simple “I don’t agree and this why you are wrong….” as a response, I am left thinking, “So where is the learning?  For me and for you?”  Missed opportunity.  If you have some super vision that I am blind to, the absence of engagement leaves us both poorer for it.  If there is some engagement, we might both come out better for it, our world views expanded.

Part of the #nwodt was described over 20 years ago by the venerable Mr. Edward de Bono in his book “I Am Right, You Are Wrong” when he set out some differences between the “rock logic” of traditional thinking (absolutes, adversarial point scoring, rigid categories, either/or) and the “water logic” of perception (both/and, constructive and creative thinking).

So, I accept the challenge, I will continue to work out loud, I will allow myself to be vulnerable.  In response, I request curiosity, responsiveness and a spirit of “building on”.  Please engage with me.  As a person.  A human person.  And if you find yourself moved to say something which is more about being right or showing how much smarter you are or how much dumber I am, please refrain.  (…and I realise that I am coaching myself here, as much as anyone else.)

My WOL credo

My understanding of working out loud is that I show my work and invite engagement so that we all might learn from it.  Working out loud is more than ‘stuff I do in public’, though.  Like many #nwodt, it’s got a bunch of assumptions that go with it.  Here are some of mine.

  • I believe that it is social.  With my background, that means that it is mutual and two-way.  Central to this, I try to become aware of any power differential: “power” being my status, my network connections, the ‘clubs’ I belong to or don’t, the influence I am able to exert……. So I commit to being more mindful of how I engage.
  • I believe that effective working out loud starts with the belief: “I don’t have all the answers.”  I believe that WOL requires a modicum of giving people some credit for having had some experience in life and having made some meaning of it.  So I commit to being more mindful of what I don’t know about others.
  • I believe it requires enough self-awareness to know that we all have blind spots.  This simply means we understand that we have them, not that we know what they are….they are called BLIND for a reason.  So I commit to being more mindful of the unknown unknowns: mind AND yours.
  • I believe that there is something in people who work well and comfortably out loud that acknowledges self-deception.  As David McRaney writes in his post about the illusion of asymmetric insight, the misconception we hold about ourselves is that we celebrate diversity and respect others’ points of view.  The reality that our behaviour belies is that we are driven to believe others are wrong simply because they are “others” and they couldn’t possibly be as self-aware/clever/educated/experienced/skilful as us.  So I commit to being more mindful of the lies I tell myself.
  • I believe that to in order for me to work out loud, I will value community and learning over the need to be right.  When I’m in a learning mood, I find myself asking genuinely naive and curious questions, being aware of stuff I don’t actually know and that someone else does know stuff that I don’t.  So I commit to being more mindful of my internal voices.
  • I believe it’s useful to notice what state I am in and to consciously warm up to being in the role of Open Receptive Learner.  It’s not necessarily our default, considering the kind of schooling institutions and workplaces most of us have been predominantly exposed to.  So I commit to being more mindful of the Role I’m enacting.

Some of the most inspiring and lucid out-loud-thinkers that I’ve come across include Dan Oestreich, Louise Altman and Bob Marshall.  Read Dan’s work to see how beautifully and humanly he describes the challenges he faces in his work as a coach to others.  Read Louise’s work to see how deeply she cares about humanity and the lengths she goes to learn and learn and learn about herself in relation to others.  Read Bob’s work to see how he bares open his thought processes as he extends his revolutionary method of working to make work work better.

This bit of working out loud about working out loud has clarified some things for me….but at this stage, it’s still just me on my own.  Responses?


Copernicus has been name-checked in a fair few articles I’ve read lately.  Good thing too.  Working with a client a couple years ago, we illustrated the concept of “shifting consciousness” with a story about Copernicus, our point being that to get to “WE”, to really get to WE, a shift in consciousness is required.  We humans can be a little hit and miss when it comes to cooperating, so something more than behaviour change, something more profound, something related to mindset, will help us to really get to a mode of being and a way of viewing the world that is truly cooperative.

Steve Denning in a recent article wrote that the “revolutionary new kind of organisation…focuses on delighting customers profitably, enabling self-organizing teams and networks, coordinating work in iterative cycles and communicating interactively. The shifts in behavior, attitudes and skills needed to implement it are significant and will have effects as profound and revolutionary as the Copernican Revolution in astronomy.”

These things that Denning lists are inextricably linked and I believe that we need to undergo a deep shift in mindset as to how we do our work and how our workplaces are governed.  I believe that we can be more effective at delighting customers when we are working as a unit, coordinating our own work and interacting with each other in a conflict-capable and honest fashion. I believe that because I was once part of a team that worked in just that way…and man, were we great.  But how do we get there?  It’s not going to happen in a one-off seminar about “teamwork” and it’s certainly not going to happen because of a memo or directive from the CEO that we need to work as a team.

Denning goes on to say, and I agree, that acquiring the skills and capabilities to implement the shifts in how organisations operate will not be quick or easy.  Getting to teamness is a thing which I believe requires conscious effort; it is not a result of happenstance.  Denning mentions self-organising teams, which brings me to mind of  “The Cosmic Blueprint” by Paul Davies.  In his book, Davies discusses the latest discoveries around the emergence of complexity and organisation in the universe.  I see a number of parallels in how humans in groups self-organise.  He says these discoveries about the universe are informing not just science and astronomy, but also challenging the very foundations of management and organisational thought.  In his book, he describes the cosmos as a never-ending, unfolding process; never finished, never complete, yet at the same time, a full and perfect idea.  His narrative resonated with me as apt descriptors of teams and human groups: full and perfect ideas, yet always in beta, always unfolding.

As my attention is currently on the area of teams and how they function, I am considering the things that one particular team I’m working with seek for themselves, in order to make concrete the vision they have of and for themselves.  Already highly capable, already highly professional and competent as individuals, seeking to develop more teamness.  They make the connection between working as a unit and being more ably of service to their clients.

Growing teamness is not about playing about with feel-good exercises or coming up with a list of “teamwork values”.  They don’t necessarily create the kind of fundamental shifts in how people relate with each other and their work.  To paraphrase Benjamin Bratton, the new thing we are trying to create is not merely a dressing up of the old.  It is fundamental; at the fundament.

One enormous benefit of getting to teamness is also borne out in something else Bratton has to say: that to view solutions to our problems as a puzzle misses the point entirely.  If they were puzzles, the pieces would be here and it would be a simple re-arrangement of those.  It is not and they are not.  We need, in business, in our communities, in the world, to come up with solutions that we haven’t yet found.  We will be able to do that when we grow a sense of WE and we begin to grapple with challenges together.  To innovate together.  If we can achieve genuine co-working, genuine cooperation and it’s done at a fundamental level, we have the opportunity to actually co-create a new status quo.  Not by each of us trying to work it out on our own and then trying to enlist others in our solutions; by catalysing novel solutions together.

Much deeper than learning new capabilities is the mindset that we each operate out of.  Any new skills or capabilities we seed will flourish much greater when they are planted in a fertile environment.  This is linked to the way we relate to power and authority.  In our predominantly command-and-control organisations, despite the best efforts of individual teams and working groups to consciously develop cooperative working practices, the over-riding structures can scupper their hard work.  Line management, centralisation of power, all memes which can cut across a team’s hard work.

There is something incredibly potent about the culture of dependency which is created when command-and-control hierarchies remain in place.  It is deep in the organisation’s hard wiring. For a team to develop teamness, there needs to be a culture of mutuality, not dependence.  Each member of the team needs to feel a sense of empowerment and agency in their working lives.  When people defer less to managers (Parent-Child in TA parlance) and refer to each other as authorities in their work (Adult-Adult in TA parlance), a culture of mutuality can begin to flourish.  Mutual accountability, mutual learning, mutual problem-solving and innovation.

Sociometry is a human technology which assists us to develop this mutuality.  Think of Sociometry as “team hacking”.  Applied Sociometry uncovers the connections that exist between people, shines a light on where connections are weak and could be strengthened and forges new connections, allowing a team to redefine itself so that it can become more productive at what it does.  To move from a culture of dependency to mutuality, we need to know more about each other: who we are, what our strengths are, what we don’t do as well as we’d like.  This grows trust, a core component of high-performing teams.  Unless we, the members of a group or team, engage our will and take up responsibility for ourselves, we remain in the default setting of dependency, an unspoken mindset that pervades how we govern ourselves, allow ourselves to be governed and make decisions about our work.  Who else is better placed to make decisions about how we serve customers than those of us who directly touch our customers?

The purpose of Sociometry is to facilitate group task effectiveness and satisfaction of participants by bringing about greater degrees of mutuality amongst people and greater authenticity in relationships.  Applied Sociometry is “an action method, an action practice”.  (Moreno, 1953).  When using Applied Sociometry, the people whose connections and networks are being studied have real time access to the social mappings and are active participants in the shifting and development of social linkages.  To repeat: allowing a team to redefine itself.  Not something done TO the team by managers using an analysis tool, but something done interactively WITH the team or group.  It is a highly participative process which allows people within a system to explore the connections they have and make decisions about where connections could be forged and deepened.  In my experience applying Sociometry, making the covert, overt, assists people to begin to uncover their systems blindness.  Hacking into our conserved ways of seeing workplace relationships and power structures lets people begin to see where they fit in the system and how their actions (and non-actions) impact on others.  When we have increased group perceptiveness, we can become aware of the forces at work on us as individuals and teams; from there, we can all participate in our own team development.

Sociometry is inherently about shifting mindsets.  When we begin to really see, we start to see how we see.  Once seen, it is hard to un-see….if you see what I mean.  A WE consciousness comes about over time, as I’ve written previously.  We can devote ourselves to the practice and discipline of being a WE.  We have the technology.

progressStockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages display empathy and sympathy for their captors, often developing positive feelings towards them and defending them.

I’m often fascinated by how people, when they walk through the door of their workplaces, adopt behaviours akin to the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.  Despite knowing in our hearts and in our guts that much of how workplaces operate is nonsensical and even anti-human, we maintain the charade that it’s the best way of doing things.  As Alan Moore points out in No Straight Lines, industrial systems were not designed with human needs at their heart, yet we still organise workplaces along such lines.  We go along with the deceit that doing things in a mechanistic, command-and-control way is the right way to do things.

A living system such as a family or a business operate with a number of norms which remain largely unspoken.  Just as families have an idiolect, a set of values and beliefs and ways of doing things ‘properly’, so do organisations.  These unwritten and unspoken rules maintain the status quo by ‘training’ people how to act and unless new information enters the system, it will continue to operate as it always has.  Species adapt to their environment in order to be successful.  The same is, of course, true for us.  At work, we often adapt by adopting an alter-ego in order to be successful.  When we take up employment in an organisation, we will eventually adhere to the ‘correct’ ways of doing things in order to survive there, even if they jar with our personal beliefs.  That, or we will end up having to leave.

We are, in effect, hostages to the culture of our organisations and we very often exhibit the signs of Stockholm Syndrome.  According to Dr. Joseph Carver, four conditions serve as the basis of Stockholm Syndrome:

  • Perceived threat to survival and the belief that one’s captor is willing to act on that threat
  • The captive’s perception of small kindnesses from the captor within a context of terror
  • Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor
  • Perceived inability to escape.

In the context of the modern workplace, these four conditions might look like:

  • Perceived threats: making waves and challenging the norms could damage your chances of promotion/a pay rise/job security or see you sidelined in the heady world of office politics
  • Small kindnesses: ‘Positive feedback’ at your annual performance review/individual bonuses/promises of advancement
  • Isolation from other perspectives: ‘Best practice’/This is how it’s done here/Defensiveness and justification/Exhaustive and overly prescriptive policies and procedures
  • Perceived inability to escape: you have a hefty mortgage/kids/student debt and there aren’t many other well-paid jobs out there, are there?


It is worth mentioning the words of Robert Jackall: “What is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you.”  He lists the basic unwritten rules in the contemporary workplace as:

“(1) You never go around your boss. (2) You tell your boss what he wants to hear, even when your boss claims that he wants dissenting views. (3) If your boss wants something dropped, you drop it. (4) You are sensitive to your boss’s wishes so that you anticipate what he wants; you don’t force him, in other words, to act as boss. (5) Your job is not to report something that your boss does not want reported, but rather to cover it up. You do what your job requires, and you keep your mouth shut.”

I know many are attempting to retool organisational life so that it is more respectful and inclusive but if the same old hierarchical structures and mentefacts remain in place, not much has changed very deeply.  If Jackall is right, those five rules delineate the forces that act upon a system (workplace culture) to shape behaviour of those within it.  Not so great for participatory leadership and fellowship in the workplace.

How can we go about generating new ways of ‘doing organisations’?

One way that I find especially valuable is Sociodrama.  This cutting-edge human technology has inherent in it a systems approach to organisations which develops our capacities to see a bigger picture.  It also provides the stage whereon we can develop capacities for purposeful collective action.

It’s vital, I believe, that we begin to see.  We need to be able to see the ‘stuck state’ that many businesses and institutions are in.  We need to see the hidden conflicts, competition to climb higher up the ladder, plays for personal power at the expense of others that are the fruits of hierarchical structures.  We need to be able to see the casual incivility and interpersonal violence that comes from spending our days in anti-human systems that (no matter how it’s dressed up) treat humans as resources.  We also need to see the strengths and opportunities that live within a system; it is from these that novel, creative and more effective ways of working will begin to emerge.  Really important in all this is that we are not the only ones that see this and the effects that they have on ourselves and others; that we shift from “Me” to “We” and do it in community with others, otherwise we may be thought of as foolish or find ourselves isolated.

The practical method of Sociodrama allows people to collectively uncover what may have been previously unseen.  It also creates the opportunity for people to have conversations about the unwritten and unspoken rules that keep them hostage, but which have not been previously named or discussed.  It begins by weaving together a group feeling and establishing the focus of the group’s work.  As the “Sociodramatic question” coalesces, the group will work in action together, with the assistance of a capable Director, to explore the many elements of the system which are related to this focussed question.  Examples of Sociodramatic questions that have focussed some of the work I’ve done in businesses include:

  • How can we work in a more collaborative, less silo-ed way?
  • How can we grow a culture of ‘betterment’?
  • How can we as “leaders” in this business, become more able to have the “difficult conversations” that need to be had?

I think the two key words in these questions are “How” and “We”.  A shift in a set of behaviours or attitudes will come about meaningfully in a system when it’s done collectively.  When the Sociodramatic question crystallises, it is as a result of the group’s work; they warm up to and engage themselves in the purpose of the workshop.  What follows comes about because it is an act of will on the part of each individual.

In Sociodrama, as with all Morenian action methods, the group develops action-insight and begins to identify things which may have been hitherto unknown or unaddressed.  Some of these insights are related to the dynamics between the various parts of the system.  Some of them are related to the rules, spoken or unspoken, that influence how the system works.  Some are connected to things that work well and others, to things that are not working so well.  In effect, the group begins to behave like the boy who cried that the Emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.  The clarity of vision that comes from Sociodrama can assist us to free the hostages; this clarity is a first step, at least.

From here, the next phase is to work cooperatively to create something new which can alleviate or deflect some of the less desirable forces that influence the system.  Typically, one person will struggle to effect change in a system.  But collectively, members of a group can create structures and start inter-relating in ways that transform the system and to grow greater participative fellowship in the workplace.  Sociodrama has as one of its aims, to warm us up to a state wherein we are able to intervene in our own social systems.  The Sociodrama Director will approach the work not as an expert or guru with the “right” answers, but as the Auxiliary, there to help the group warm up to this state of spontaneous, co-responsible creativity.

Towards the end of the process, the group spends some time making sense of the Sociodrama, with a focus on the initial Sociodramatic question.  As meaning-making beings, we humans need to make some sense of the experiences we have.  An action method such as Sociodrama cannot help but change how we think about what works best.  When a group experience such as Sociodrama brings up new insights and generates something innovative between us, we need to reflect and shape a collective understanding, as best we can.  When our collective understanding of ‘how things work’ shifts and we have a collective understanding of ‘what works best’, we can commit to changing how the work works.  From Sociodrama, we can derive deep learning and transformation.  As Lao Tzu is quoted: “If you tell me, I will listen.  If you show me, I will see.  If you let me experience, I will learn.”

My experience is that Sociodrama generates greater freedom to counter the effects of our personal Stockholm Syndromes and to do this in community with others.  Ultimately, why shouldn’t work work for everyone?  Everyone.

Further reading:

R. Weiner, D. Adderley, K. Kirk (eds.) Sociodrama in a Changing World. (2011),

J.L. Moreno. Who Shall Survive? (1953), ASGPP, McLean, Virginia

P. Sternberg, A. Garcia. Sociodrama: Who’s in Your Shoes (2000), Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT.

Welcome to Work Club!

October 6, 2013

John Wenger:

It infects you…it’s in the water…it’s in the air conditioning. Just because you can’t see it, though, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Originally posted on thinkpurpose:


It is your first day at work.

You are wearing your interview suit, slightly nervous. You sign lots of forms, then eventually are shown to your new desk. Lying on top of your computer’s keyboard is a single sheet of paper, with these words written across the top in marker pen.

“Welcome to Work Club! These are the rules.”

Under that, is this…

rules Copy (1)

You’ve worked in a lot of places, and you recognise the things written here, but you are a bit surprised at someone leaving something so cynical for the new kid. It’s a nasty joke you think, slide the paper into your drawer and get on with your job.

A few weeks later you mention to someone the paper with the rules, they blink at you confused. You describe it, and the things written on it. They turn away with a look of disgust and leave quickly.


View original 1,158 more words

interactionI have been interested in the furore that has followed Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banning workers from working from home.  I’ve also read that Hubert Joly, the new chief at struggling retailer Best Buy has also just scrapped their Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) for their corporate employees.  Corporate staff who, until now, have been allowed to telecommute, as long as they got their results, will now be required to work at the corporate headquarters, though some managers will still have discretion to accommodate some workers.  Joly’s intention is to shift the culture to one of greater accountability.  A Best Buy spokesman said, “It makes sense to consider not just what the results are but how the work gets done.”

Think about it for a minute.

Like many, the initial assumption I leapt to was that here were those awful authoritarians: new in the job, trying to make their mark, trying desperately to cling to hierarchical power and going about it rather clumsily.  Isn’t the modern thing to show respect to workers and give them autonomy?  As long as they achieve their outputs, we don’t have to regulate their movements, right?  On further reflection and having read about the possible motivation behind the Yahoo ban, I can see it might make some sense.  What if, say, she was looking at Yahoo as a systems thinker and taking action on the system?  What if, say, she wasn’t trying to do the old-fashioned thing of managing the people?  I enjoyed the sub-heading of an article in the Guardian about Mayer’s decision: “Marissa Mayer shows she knows little about managing people with this offensive memo to Yahoo employees.”  Perhaps.  Perhaps she actually knows a lot about managing people and knows that it’s a waste of time.  Perhaps she knows that in order to get greater effectiveness in an organisation, you actually don’t spend your energies on managing the people, but you work on the system.  Maybe, as another Guardian article sets out, she is focussing on what matters for Yahoo at this moment in time and space.

Think about it.

HR consultants and originators of ROWE Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson wrote in an open letter to Mayer, “We don’t think you deliberately meant to send a message to Yahoo employees that you are an Industrial Age dictator that prefers to be a baby sitter versus a 21st century CEO that can lead a company into the future. Or did you?”  Good question.  Again, let’s suspend judgement and consider the shift in policy.  Could be that Mayer is one of those Industrial Age clock-watchers.  Might be that she is looking to make a change to Yahoo’s ecosystem in order to get more creativity and innovation going.

Might be….?

I don’t have any special insights into what Mayer was thinking, but I watch what she is doing and am reminded that in a world still dominated by the command-and-control, someone who is acting like a systems thinker might sometimes look as if they are doing the old thing.  That is because we haven’t enough “systems thinking stuff” going on to know what that actually looks like.  How, for example, would we know if a manager’s tantrum comes out control-freakery or quality-freakery?  Looks like the same tantrum, might use some of the same shouty words, but might actually come from a “we are doing crap work” mindset, not a “you are an idiot and I need to whip you into place” mindset.  I’m also not suggesting that Mayer is some kind of enlightened goddess; she is as flawed as the rest of us and perhaps her way of going about the shift in working practices was a little graceless.  I only want to say, let’s suspend our judgements until we examine a little more closely what might be behind her bold move, and observe if the shift in policy does, indeed, generate greater innovation and collaboration at Yahoo.

Interestingly, in a recent interview, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh said:

“Research has shown that companies with strong cultures outperform those without in the long-term financially. So we’re big, big believers in building strong company cultures. And I think that’s hard to do remotely.

We don’t really telecommute at Zappos. We want employees to be interacting with each other, building those personal relationships and relationships outside of work as well.

What we found is when they have those personal connections that productivity increases because there’s higher levels of trust. Employees are willing to do favours for each others because they’re not just co-workers, but also friends, and communication is better. So we’re big believers in in-person interactions.”

So am I.  I know from experience that I get a real buzz from real-life interactions and that in most cases, I find a lost mojo when I’m doing my thing in the room with someone who’s available to me and we are giving each other our attention.

One of the things to be mindful of is that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to go.  Just because whatever it is that works for Zappo’s and Google is good for them, it doesn’t mean that other businesses should necessarily follow suit.  A good systems thinker will become intimately familiar with their system and do what works for that system.  One of the exceptions that Guardian writer takes is that having to work in the office is inconvenient.  She describes how she manages her time and gets her articles written.  All good, I say.  Once again, it’s important to look at the details of what is happening.  In the case of a solo journalist, perhaps it would seem madness to compel her to sit at a desk in an office when she could produce quality journalism sitting at home.  If the job was to co-write an article, however, I wonder if being side-by-side with the co-writer might produce even better quality work than each one working remotely, emailing the work back and forth.  Just an idea.  The point is that we need to know what the work is…..and to consider how best to get it done.

Think about it….

Google’s workplaces are famously enviable, but I would suggest that it’s the smart thing to do to focus on the purpose, not simply on making a “fun place to work”.  How did Google’s offices happen?  Someone designs them.  Someone engineers the physical spaces and what is in them.  To make it a fun place to work?  Well, yes and no.  I would suggest that that someone did not simply design something that is “fun” for fun’s sake.  That kind of workplace is often mocked in the popular press or programmes like The Simpsons as funky and cool, but there is a hint of “…but they probably don’t do much work there”.  I would suggest that some good thought has been given over to the design of the system at Google: the working processes as well as the community that will carry them out.  What does a business like Google require?  Creativity and innovation.  “The philosophy is very simple,” Craig Nevill-Manning, Google’s Manhattan engineering director said. “Google’s success depends on innovation and collaboration. Everything we did was geared toward making it easy to talk.”  In order to get this, what would be the optimal way of engineering these things?  Draw on nature, be conscious that systems are self-organising and thrive on variety, and that, at the same time, they can be nurtured.  The ecosystem within which such fruits could flourish can be designed.  Google started with a philosophy.  They have a purpose and a way of thinking as to how to make that purpose come to life.  They are enviable because they have been designed with the work in mind, not on fun; I believe the “fun” is, in one sense, a by-product.  In any case, as Teresa Amabile, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School says, “I’ve found that people do their most creative work when they’re motivated by the work itself.”

According to John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University, studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative.  He says “If you want innovation, then you need interaction,” he said. “If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.”  That, to me, seems slightly simplistic, but I get the point.  Also, Tony Hsieh seems to find that productivity and working together in a shared workspace are linked, so there you go.  In any case, you don’t simply institute a ROWE because it’s what people want and seems to be one of those lovely perks that makes people happy.  You do something like that if it helps to create the ecosystem that best nurtures the work.  You craft a system that is best designed to meet the purpose of the business.

All of this speaks to me because at the heart of the work I do is sociometry.  The term was coined by Dr. J.L. Moreno and its basic tenet is that “the quality of an outcome is directly related to the quality of relationship between the people trying to achieve that outcome.”  The sociometry, or quality of relationships, within a business, affects the system and the system affects the sociometry.  It’s a reflexive relationship.  Sociometry and systems thinking are intertwined.  I encourage managers to see their role as supportive of those they purport to manage, rather than as controllers.  I encourage them to see their role as ensuring people have the resources, information and relationships they need to get on with their work.  That last bit sometimes challenges managers because as John Seddon describes, we train managers (if at all) to be good people managers.  When I say “ensure people have the relationships they require”, I don’t intend they manage people or try to keep them happy.  Odd, huh?  I intend the kind of picture that Google have: to engineer and nurture a system which facilitates people interacting with each other.  In an older article, I suggested that a good leader is a good sociometrist.  Yes, leaders (people) need to develop their relationship capabilities.  They also need to develop the bigger picture abilities that facilitate productive and purposeful working relationships to flourish all over the place.

Some have misinterpreted sociometry as “developing skills to get on better with people so I can get them to do what I want them to.”  No.  Sociometry is an active exploration of the inter-relationships that exist and an uncovering of what is not seen between people, so that they can, together, create new patterns of behaviour with each other.  The result is that people work better together.  I believe that working on the sociometry is part of working on the system.  One of the insights that came to a client of ours recently, as a result of our work with their sociometry, was that they need to redesign their physical space so that they get more of the interactions that lead to the kind of innovation that sits at the heart of their business.  In their commitments to action, I see a mirror of the kind of community that Google have created.

In the modern economy, where much of the work that we do is knowledge based, relationships and networks are core.  Google’s approach is to engineer serendipity.  I enjoy oxymorons.  Like spontaneity training.  How can you possibly engineer happy accidents?  Well, we can’t make happy accidents happen, but we can nurture the ecosystem within which they are more likely to happen.

Attending to the interpersonal also cannot be underestimated.  Part of this is examining how people relate to each other and what “elephants” might sit in the room between them.  Dealing with these “elephants” is at the heart of sociometry.  People learn about themselves and the dynamic of the groups to which they belong.  They cooperatively learn how to grapple with the complexity and uncertainty of modern business life.  This occurs when a skillful sociometry practitioner assists them to discover what is happening between them and work out new structures of relating.

If creativity and collaboration are core to the business, we can craft workplaces where people are drawn together and interact about the work they are doing.  We can design spaces and ways of working where people are more likely to be stimulated to innovate together.  Maz Iqbal, in a comment on a recent article of mine wrote, “The pragmatist changes the structure of the system so that the desired behaviour is called forth.”  Yes.  He also provided a link to the work of Jeppe Hein, an artist who has created some wacky park benches which he designed to encourage more exchange between users and passers-by, giving them a much more social quality.  As well as engineering the physical environment, we can also “engineer” the interpersonal by attending to the sociometry.  Both of these are conscious systems interventions, both add value and set a business towards achieving its purpose.

Eliminate targets

April 17, 2013

target“Systems thinkers know a number of counter-intuitive truths.”  John Seddon

One of these counter-intuitive truths is that “when you manage costs, your costs go up. When you learn to manage value, your costs come down.”  There is the business case for systems thinking, if one was needed.

Thanks go to David Wilson through his fitforrandomness blog for bringing a presentation by Seddon to my attention.  Makes great watching and listening.  There is so much to learn from this talk on so many levels, but when I was watching the video, I kept making the link to management, leadership and new thinking.  New thinking to me means a new set of assumptions about organisations and how they get things done.

I think Seddon accurately describes quite a lot of what happens in organisations today; doing the wrong things righter.  We have managers who set targets for activity, who then focus people on meeting activity targets.  Managers approach their work as target setters, people inspectors, people managers; when targets aren’t met, the managers try to manage individual performance.  As he says, modern managers are trained (if at all) to do one-to-one, which he calls a therapy model.  I would say he’s not far off the mark.  If we are teaching people to be good people managers, we are training their gaze to the 5%, rather than the 95%.  This is not to say there is no place for more empathy, respect and humanity in the workplace, far from it.  However, in terms of getting things done, in terms of being more effective, treating people well is not the answer on its own.  If the system is still set up for people to meet targets rather than work towards achieving purpose, we may just have a lot of lovely workplaces where people are still meaninglessly ticking boxes and shuffling bits of paper.  If the system is still command-and-control, commanding and controlling with a smile will not make much difference to organisational effectiveness and betterment.  Command-and-control with a smile is like putting a cherry on a turd.  Yes, we still need control in organisations, but not as we have understood it up till now.  Not managers controlling people, but, as Seddon says, people having control over their work.  We need management that focuses on systems, not the people.

Loathe as I am to isolate just three of Deming’s 14 points (because he meant for all 14 to be taken on board together, not as a pick-n-choose menu), when he said:

Eliminate work standards (quotas). Substitute leadership.

Eliminate management by objective. Substitute leadership.

Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

…… I believe he means substitute.  Put something in place of another.  Put leadership in place of targets, quotas and numerical goals, individual performance management, inspection and supervision of people.  I understand it to mean that we stop doing targets, individual performance management and all that other stuff that aims to control what people do.  As Deming also says, management by objective ensures mediocrity and stifles innovation.  There you go, another counter-intuitive truth that Seddon speaks of, and a modern-day heresy.  I think it’s important to really consider what kind of management would actually serve organisations better, and we need to get clearer on what leadership means, too.  I will add that I don’t think it’s making it a semantic exercise, calling managers “leaders” and getting them to keep doing the same old stuff.  The picture I have is that managers start doing management differently AND they start doing leadership as well.


My understanding is that when people like Deming and Seddon advocate for the elimination of targets and performance appraisals, they are not suggesting that we eliminate management.  It can be confusing sometimes because so much is written about management and leadership and, as John Kotter and others have already observed, the two terms are often used interchangeably when they mean different things.  For example, when Deming says in his 14 points, “substitute leadership”, one could easily misinterpret that to mean he is pooh-poohing management.  He is not; he is pooh-poohing management by numbers.  Organisations still require management.  Deming himself said, “A system must be managed. It will not manage itself.”  In our current paradigm, however, we misconstrue management to mean managing people: getting people to work to targets, inspecting them and chastising them when they miss a target.  Old-style management focuses mostly on the people, Deming’s 5%.  The 95% is the system; I’ve seen managers who manage the system and it’s far more effective at making the work work for everyone.  I see management as the set of tools and processes that people apply in their work that allow them to provide the services or make the products that the market is asking for.  Every organisation will have these tools and processes, but I think the point that Seddon and other systems thinkers try to impress upon people is that, by and large, those tools and approaches to managing are oriented to managing the wrong things.  I see this in my work, too.  So trying to integrate Seddon’s talk and Deming’s work and my own experiences, I would say that we do away with old-style management practice and replace it with the kind of management that works on the system….AND institute leadership.  Management and leadership, different things.  Both necessary.  Complementary.  Both/and, not either/or.

So what would a manager’s work look like if they were doing system-y management things, rather than control-y, target-y management things?  How would someone in a senior management role occupy themselves, then, if they didn’t have all those “HR issues” to deal with?  I feel privileged to say I used to work in a place many years ago, where the senior managers did this system-y stuff, rather than the controlling stuff.  I say privileged because it’s more than just a lovely thought experiment for me, and at the same time, I still need to sit and think about how to approach the work I do.  I want to be careful that I don’t come across to clients that I’m inferring they should drop the “management” ball and focus solely on developing their leadership.

Interestingly, when the two senior managers of my old workplace moved on, they were replaced with people who didn’t get systems thinking.  Even more interestingly, the reputation of this organisation has gone downhill, they are struggling to survive, they are struggling to attract contracts, they are seriously struggling to retain good staff.  The place has turned into a paper-shuffling nightmare with little room for autonomy, innovation or real learning.  People feel stifled and it’s not a nice place to be anymore.  Still….as far as the new managers are concerned, it’s working MUCH better than before; after all, they have everything under control, they have the people under control (…if they only knew) and everything that can be counted is being counted.

So, it’s not about getting rid of management in favour of leadership; organisations need both.  The role of someone in a management position, however, is to provide the kind of support that people need in order to do their jobs well, not to keep tabs on them while they do it.  Taking away targets does not mean living in lovely fluffy, cloud-land. It doesn’t mean, for example, that people stop having fierce conversations with one another.  It’s just that they stop being fierce about which numerical targets people haven’t reached yet and which behaviours they need to stop and, instead, are fierce about quality.  Quality freakery, not control freakery.

roundaboutIf we get managers to take up that system-y support role (making sure everyone has what they need blah blah blah), we can get rid of the target-y stuff.  I like the roundabout/traffic light analogy.  If the traffic people build a roundabout, they are implying, “We trust that drivers have all the information, experience and training they need to make the right decisions about who goes next.”  The role of the traffic mangers, then, is to ensure that the system is built and maintained that promotes good flow and that people have learnt what they need to about responsible driving etiquette.  Their job is not to keep tabs on individual drivers.  Traffic lights, however, infer that drivers don’t need to do anything but what they’re told.  Red means stop, green means go and amber means speed up or else you’ll have to wait for the next green.  They then set up cameras to inspect whether or not people are breaking the rules and if they do, they get a fine in the post.

So management is about making sure people have all the knowledge, information, learning, resources and relationships necessary to get the job done and that the system is designed to make the stuff or provide the services that the market actually wants.  If you haven’t yet, watch that Seddon video to hear some good examples of what shouldn’t be happening and what is starting to happen differently, illustrating how costs come down as the work gets done better for the benefit of the “market”.


So what is the leadership stuff?  In my old workplace, the senior managers managed like systems thinkers (working on the system, not on the people) and they also role modelled leadership stuff.  Leadership is often associated with providing a vision.  Once again, the assumption is often that the few people “at the top” will craft that vision and then apply a bunch of management techniques (individual performance management, targets, standards) to get people to do stuff.  I believe there is a disconnect.  Why should the senior managers have the joy of working to achieve a grander purpose while all the workers get to see is their activity targets?  Even if those “at the top” put together a vision, it will not necessarily come to fruition just because we tell people, “This is what you have to do.”  I believe it comes to fruition when everyone in the business is a part of it, when everyone connects with it, when everyone is enlisted into it.  I will do something really well if my will is engaged in it, not just because I have to.  Best way of engaging my will?  Include me in something bigger and bolder than a numerical target.  In any case, if I’m a good boy, I may just try to meet my target and go no further or I may try to find creative ways to play with the numbers so it looks like I’ve met my targets.

To get leadership, I believe we need to emphasise purpose: what are we here to achieve for our “market”?  Depending on the organisation,the market is someone buying our products and services or a social housing tenant who needs repairs done or a patient who needs good treatment.  If targets are set, then, as Seddon suggests, the people work as if their purpose is to meet the targets.  I believe organisations have other, more useful things as their purpose.  I’ve used the example before of grave-diggers.  The activity they engage in is digging and tending graves.  However, I believe they are part of a wider system whose purpose is to assist families through bereavement.  It is not just semantics; it makes a difference to how they carry out their work.  It also makes a difference if they are connected to that purpose because rather than have to be carrotted or sticked to do their jobs well, they can see how they add value to the purpose, how they add value to those they are there to serve.   The purpose, then, is not about meeting targets for how many graves they have to dig or tend.  They already know how to do that well and don’t need beaten to make it happen.  If the managers spend their time working on the system to make sure the grave-diggers have everything they need to do their jobs and the processes are clear, they can let them get on with it, and if there is leadershipeveryone will be connected to purpose: making a difference to families in distress.

As Gregory Gull says, leadership must transcend self-interest.  That, to me, seems self-evident.  If someone is “doing leadership”, they are cognisant of those around them and the wider system.  Operating purely out of self-interest is self-defeating in the long run.  Good leadership is about seeing possibility; having the vision of how things could be.  It’s about making a difference to others; having a deeper sense of why everyone really comes to work.  Gull also says that leadership is related to one’s personhood, not one’s position.  I believe the same.  Good leadership development is good personal development.

I agree with John Kotter, that there are very very few organisations that have sufficient leadership.  They may have managers who have re-styled themselves as “leaders” because it’s just what you call yourself these days.  Without a shift in thinking, however, what we end up with a bunch of “leaders” still applying old management tools and looking for the people to blame when things don’t get any better.

Am I adding anything to the wider conversation?  Not sure, but pondering and reflecting on all these things has helped me to get clearer in myself.  As I’ve said before, I primarily write for myself; to help me integrate and seek to be of some use to clients.  I do, however, welcome comments that build on this conversation and which may give me pause for further thought.

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