Old World superstitions, New World orientation

July 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

Here’s a second nugget from Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix (see this post for an earlier nugget on being an organisational emotional domino).

Friedman cites superstitions which underpin what might be called the age of anxiety, wearing us all down. And then, he suggests some ‘new world’ orientations to relationships.

First, those old world superstitions (some of them appear to be quite mainstream and liberal!) –

  • Leaders influence their followers by the model they establish for identification or emulation
  • the key to successful leadership is understanding the needs of their followers
  • communication depends on one’s choice of words and how one articulates them
  • consensus is best achieved by striving for consensus
  • stress is due to hard work
  • hierarchy is about power.

Instead, argues Friedman, a new world orientation to relationships will produce a view of leadership that will say the following:

  • a leader’s major effect on his or her followers has to do with the way his or presence (emotional being) affects the emotional processes in the relationship system
  • a leader’s major job is to understand his or her self
  • communication depends on emotional variables such as direction, distance and anxiety
  • stress is due to becoming responsible for the relationships of others
  • hierarchy is a natural systems phenomenon rooted in the nature  of the [material itself within the organisational system] – what Friedman confusingly terms ‘the nature of protoplasm’).

(adapted from p195, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix, by Edwin Friedman. 2007. New York: Seabury Books).

If one can avoid being distracted by the phrase ‘the nature of protoplasm’, for me this list of orientations is exciting and profound.

A systems-thinking approach to leadership – essential in today’s VUCA world (volatile, uncertain complex and ambiguous) – leads us to hone and use our intuition to understand the whole, work with the interconnections, and shape the ‘river of change’ to to the best ends possible. And within that, Friedman identifies a principle task of the leader to understand themselves, and their invisible and often counter-intuitive impact on the system around them.

I love the reference to followers – and note I understand leadership and followership to refer to roles rather than being fixed permanently to people, and that informally these roles can rotate to suit the circumstances. And, as has been described elsewhere, leaders and followers can be in a dynamic relationship, ‘interacting to co-construct leadership, followership and outcomes’ (Ira Chaleff).

For me, effective leadership does require one to be alert to the needs of followers – so clearly I’m still partly buying into at least one of Friedman’s superstitions!

But I warm to the primary emphasis on knowing oneself and the reality of one’s presence. If that presence is truly discerned then, from a Gestalt perspective at least, awareness frees resistance (inner resistance, in this case) and will release insight and energy for transformation. And in that sense, maybe yes one can then be alert to the needs of followers, from an unblocked and deeper place of understanding.


Don’t be one of your organisation’s emotional dominoes

July 21, 2016 § 1 Comment

Here’s a nugget from a leadership book entitled A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix, by Edwin Friedman.

He explores the concept of differentiation, which he defines as

‘becoming oneself with minimum reactivity to the positions or reactivity of others … charting one’s own way by means of one’s own internal guidance system, rather than perpetually (seeing) where others are at’.

So for me it sounds like to what extent can I keep objective, and speaking/acting from my own judgments rather than just waiting to see – or being unduly influenced by – what others are doing. And note: I’m taking Friedman’s ‘reactivity’ to mean the likelihood of being stimulated to react.

Below are some examples of differentiation from Friedman, which seem to me – as someone interested in nurturing one’s true voice – to be a great list of aspirations for twenty-first century, emotionally intelligent leaders. See what you think. I love particularly the encouragement not to be one of your system’s emotional dominoes…

Differentiation is…

  • The capacity to take a stand in an intense emotional system
  • Saying “I” when others are demanding “we”
  • Containing one’s reactivity, including the ability to avoid being polarised
  • Maintaining a non-anxious presence in the face of anxious others
  • Ceasing automatically being one of the system’s emotional dominoes
  • Being clear about one’s own personal values and goals
  • Taking maximum responsibility for one’s own emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others or the context

(adapted from p183, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix, by Edwin Friedman. 2007. New York: Seabury Books).

By way of commentary on this: I knew someone, a very collaborative leader, who demonstrated some of the above. His ability to rise above and to read a group situation was amazing. On the few times when I saw him lose his cool, it was almost always out of passion for truth – and what struck me was that even in those moments he never lost his sense of the others around him and what they might be feeling and needing.

Unnervingly, Friedman also points out that effective differentiation by a leader will inevitably trigger sabotage from the ‘least well-differentiated’ people in the system. A health warning, therefore. Just sayin’. Sabotage is possible in any circumstances, of course; so differentiation may be a better path to choose, though not necessarily an easier one.

NB There’s a separate inspirational nugget I found in Friedman’s book, which I’m planning to post about in the next couple of days.

Malala Yousafzai

January 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

“I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”

I went yesterday to see the film He Named Me Malala. The documentary shows Malala Yousafzai and her family making their new life in Birmingham, England, and also provides a compelling account of the rise of the Taliban in the Swat valley and the events that led to the attack on Malala and her school friends.Image result for malala image

Here is the trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cug1-eTOVS

I hadn’t realised how active Malala’s father had also been in protesting against the misapplication of Islam by the Taliban; though that only drove home the importance of Malala’s assertion in the film that it was she, and no-one else, who chose and who chooses how she acts.

Most significantly, of course, the question arises What would I do in such a situation?, if the rights of myself and those I love were being so comprehensively violated. I hope that I would take a stand, despite the risks. So many people around the world do take a stand; and too many are threatened, harassed, or are killed, unrecorded and uncelebrated.

So I was excited, on returning from the film, to see a University of York e-mail notification of an Extreme Values Research Masterclass. “That has to be worth going to”, I thought, imagining the application of core human values in extreme situations. Imagine my disappointment, on opening the e-mail, to read “Extreme value modelling is a well-established area of statistics, motivated by problems in hydrology, the environment, drug safety, and other fields…”.

A different meaning of values. But still a useful framing for encountering Malala through the film – her values in practice, in extreme situation; and an extreme and wonderful example of courage and leadership.

More information here on Malala Yousafzai.


Defining leadership

November 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

As more and more of my practice develops into working with leaders – in formal or informal leadership roles – I thought I would put together some definitions of leadership which clients have found helpful so far.

I’ve chosen definitions which I hope are useful, and which are also offer a take on the realities of leadership in the early twenty-first century.

There are only four! – five, if you get to the end and find a comment on the difference between management and leadership.

Let’s start with the basics. This first definition is a favourite of mine because it’s comprehensive, and does not restrict the principle of leadership to a chosen few.

“Leadership may be defined as the capacity to influence people, by means of personal attributes and/or behaviours, to achieve a common goal. … It is important to recognise that most people, at some points in their lives, are leaders. Leadership is not just about the qualities of an elite few, and is not always associated with a formal managerial role, although the leadership skills of chief executives and their teams are of fundamental importance for organisations.”

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, UK

Even shorter – but also here an emphasis on practice, and spelling out that leadership is indivisibly associated with working with others:

Leadership is “taking initiative in relationship”. George Lakey

In other words, not only working with others, but using as a platform the relationship that has already been built. So a leader’s priority is to build trust. This means a leader developing respect for those who might be expected to follow them, and providing opportunities for those ‘followers’ to understand why and how the leader is acting.

So we can take another step:

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” Kevin Kruse

Here we see three elements of leadership – influencing change, through coordinating (or at least inspiring) others, with a purpose.

And what is that purpose? We could call it the Why of leadership – leadership, but towards what end?

Or to put it another way, we need to draw a distinction between, for example, leadership as demonstrated by Bashar al-Assad and by Malala Yousafzai.

So the fourth quote:

is time
 and passivity, 
stop waiting
situation — that 
we’re all 
all have 
voice — and 
hearts and 
 Margaret Wheatley

In other words: leaders can no longer expect trust or followership simply because of their seniority. Leaderful behaviour (or leadership if you prefer – I use the terms interchangeably) needs to be encouraged at every level, because the complexity of the majority of work roles require initiative and accountability at all levels of organisations.

So I hope those definitions are interesting and thought-provoking. I will say more about twenty-first century leadership in my next post.

In the meantime, if this reflection on leadership has got you thinking about where does management come in, then here’s my fifth definition:

“It is incumbent on leadership to ensure that the organisation is effective in what it does; that its strategies, and the way in which it gives effect to these, are appropriate and have impact. It is incumbent on management to ensure that the organisation is efficient in what it does; that its internal systems function logically and smoothly. To put it simplistically, it has been said that while leadership ensures that the organisation does the right thing, management’s responsibility is to ensure that things are done right.”

Kaplan, Allan (1994), Leadership and Management, CDRA Community Development Resource Association. The full text is available at http://www.cdra.org.za/uploads/1/1/1/6/111664/leadership_and_management_allan_kaplan1994.pdf.

So we might see management as head down/’desk’ horizon; compared to a leaderful head up/’world’ horizon; or management accepting the status quo whereas leadership aims to challenge the status quo. Again, I’ll be writing more on this aspect of leadership in the future.

Any thoughts/comments? Please post below, I look forward to hearing from you.

October 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

I will be chairing the third lecture in the series of ‘Talking of Peace’, this Thursday 29th October 2015 at 7:30pm in York.

The speaker is Kat Craig,  and her topic is Britain’s War on Terror at home and abroad – making the world a safer place?

Kat is Legal Director of the Abuses of Counter-Terrorism team at the human rights organisation, Reprieve.

The full program for the series is listed below.

7.30am, Thursday 29 October 2015, Quaker Meeting House on Friargate (off Castlegate).

Please Note: due to extensive building works in the neighbourhood of the Meeting House, the bottom end of Friargate is closed for a considerable period.  It is therefore necessary to approach from Castlegate rather than Clifford St.  Also the cycle rack in Friargate has been removed by the builders so cyclists will need to use one of the other racks in the Castlegate area.


Invitation to a series of Peace Talks: Thursdays in Autumn 2015

1st Oct: Faith, Power & Peace – Creating peace by peaceful means

Diana Francis, Trainer in Conflict Transformation, & Past President of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation

15th Oct: Security and the Dispossessed – How the military & corporations are shaping a climate-changed world

Steve Wright, Reader in Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Beckett Univ

29th Oct: Britain’s War on terror at home and abroad: making the world a safer place?

Kat Craig, Legal Director of the Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team at Reprieve

12th Nov: Reimagining Security: an alternative approach to the UK’s national strategy

Celia McKeon, Assistant Secretary, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York, YO1 9RL

7.30 – 9.00pm

Retiring collection

For more details: tel 01904-624065

or e-mail: peacenetwork@yorkquakers.org.uk
or see www.yorkquakers.org.uk 

Questions of purpose

March 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

I heard recently about a religious community which was facing fundamental questions about its purpose.

The tension seemed to be around those who saw the community primarily as a worshipping community which also offered courses and retreats; and those who wanted a course-and-retreat venue run by a group of people who happen to live in a religious community together.

By the sound of it, there were enough folk alive to the issues to enable a careful debate to arise. Communities like this (and others such as self-build groups, housing co-ops and other peer-led groups) require a level of leadership skills, conflict skills and self-awareness/self-management above what is normally taught in our current society.

Fundamental questions about purpose are the reality of life in organisations, networks, and within any community which organises around a central vision. In the best of such organisations, these questions are never definitively answered for all time (‘future-proofed’, to use the jargon). They may be answered for a year ahead, or five years, but by then a more substantial look at ‘Where do we want to be heading’ will be needed.

Answering questions about future mission depends – more than we sometimes care to acknowledge – on the personal preoccupations of the people currently in the organisation. In a contemporary religious community with a membership which changes over the space of a decade or so, this is perhaps more explicit. But in the larger organisations too, in my experience the interests and passions of the current staff play as much a role as the more objective factors identified through, for example, a SWOT analysis.

So long as this subjectivity is acknowledged, it seems a fair compromise. After all, it is the present membership and staff who will be tasked with bringing the mission into fulfilment.

If the organisation depends on attracting new members, however, then the more the organisation is a collection of people doing their own thing, the more complex it will be to engage others into the enterprise. Almost as complex, perhaps, as facing the conflicts arising when members are driven by competing purposes.

As the saying goes: by all means trust in God – but don’t forget to tie up your camel.

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