Byron's Babbles

A New Approach to Leadership

The following is an excerpt from Humble Leadership

A New Approach to Leadership

By Ed and Peter Schein

This book introduces a new approach to leadership based more on personal relationships than transactional role relationships.

The good news: employee engagement, empowerment, organizational agility, ambidexterity, innovation . . . all of this can flourish in the rapidly changing world when the fundamental relationship between leaders and followers, helpers and clients, and providers and customers becomes more personalized and cooperative.

The bad news: continued deception, scandals, high turnover of disengaged talent, safety and quality problems in industry and health care, all the way to corruption and abuse of power at the highest levels of industry and politics, driven by financial expediency and the obsession with retaining power as primary success criteria . . . all of this will continue to happen as long as leader-follower relationships remain impersonal, transactional, and based on the roles and rules that have evolved in the current culture of management that still predominates in our hierarchical bureaucratic organizations.

The Leader-Follower Relationship

“Leadership” is wanting to do something new and better, and getting others to go along. This definition applies as much to senior executives developing new strategies, new purposes, and new values as it does to a group member down in the organization suggesting a new way of running a meeting or improving a process to drive better results. Both the word new and the word better remind us that leadership always refers to some task that can be improved and to some group whose values and culture will ultimately determine what is better.

What is new and what is better will always depend on context, the nature of the task, and the cultural values that are operating in the group or organization that is doing the work. What we later may label as “good or effective leadership” thus always begins with someone perceiving a new and better way to do something, an emergent leader. Our focus will be not on the individual and the desired characteristics of that emergent leader, but on the relationships that develop between that person and the potential followers who will have influenced what is finally considered to be new and better and who will implement the new way if they agree to try it. Those potential followers will always be some kind of workgroup or team, so our focus will also be on the relationships between them. They may be co-located or widely spread in a network, and their membership may change, but there will always be some kind of grouping involved, hence group dynamics and group processes will always be intimately involved with leadership.

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About Authors

Edgar H. Schein is Professor Emeritus from the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He’s a pioneer in organizational studies, organizational culture and leadership, process consulting, career development. Ed’s contributions to the practice of O.D. date back to the early 1960s and continue with the recent publication of Organizational Culture and Leadership 5th edition and now Humble Leadership, co-authored with Peter A. Schein, co-founder of OCLI.org who brings 30 years of hands-on experience in large and small companies leading growth initiatives in Silicon Valley.

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Community: Aggregating For Innovation

IMG_3385Last week I had the opportunity to be part of a webinar with Peter Block, author of Community: The Structure of Belonging, 2nd Edition. I already blogged once about this webinar hosted by  Becky Robinson at Weaving Influence in honor of the release of the second edition of this book last week. Click here to read, Why Does Community Matter?

During the webinar I had the opportunity to ask a question of Peter Block. My question was, as a public policy maker, how can we scale the use of community and convening of people to really solve the issues at hand; in my case in education? You can listen to Peter’s response to my question here:

This was such a deep and thoughtful answer from Peter, don’t you agree? I had to do some follow-up study to really get my mind wrapped around all of the thoughts he presented here. First of all, this idea of aggregation. There are so many ways you can use and think about the idea of an aggregate. Many times the aggregate is thought of as the whole, like a country, and then the community as part of that whole. Peter challenged me to think about aggregating as opposed to bringing something to scale. He said, “When I aggregate I bring big things and people together that do not need to be alike.” This was powerful and made me think about aggregates like components of a composite material that resist compressive stress. In other words, we need to aggregate people who are co-creating what education, in my case, needs to look like.

Peter was also very clear that legislation follows the innovation phases; you can’t legislate innovation. You innovate through experience. As I was putting this thought process together I realized the aggregation theory was so powerful because by aggregating we are developing by the merging of the differences of the people we are bringing together. Therefore, when we aggregate people together, we get a great deal of experiences to draw from. Peter also pointed out we need to make visible the people who are doing great and important things with the idea of replication. I believe an aggregate can also be made up of many different communities with diverse experiences. Across the country, we find a wide array of communities. However, when you put all of them together, we get an aggregate or the whole.

IMG_3386Then we need to begin aggregating for co-creating for education (in my case), and we then get people talking to each other.  I love the question that Peter suggested we should be posing when convening, “Who wants to participate with us by making it real for you?” Two other things I have learned from Peter Block are to always ask, “What can we create together?” and elected officials and policy makers need to be conveners and not problem solvers. I have always tried to take this very seriously and convene communities with no preconceived solution. This idea of aggregating really drove home the value in convening groups with a wide array of experiences and then valuing those differences – not being afraid of them.

As you can see, this was a very thought provoking webinar that caused a lot of reflection. Here is the entire webinar for you to watch:

 

Why Does Community Matter?

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 9.31.57 AMThis past week I had the honor to be involved in a webinar put on by my friend Becky Robinson at Weaving Influence. The webinar featured a hero of mine, Peter Block. I consider him to be the father of Community. In fact, he literally wrote the book on it – Community: The Structure of Belonging, 2nd Edition. The webinar was held to launch the 2nd Edition of the book that was released last week. Peter Block was introduced to me by my good friend Mike Fleisch. Mike has literally shown me all the great community work that Peter Block has done in Cincinnati. I have read Peter’s books and was excited to be on the webinar with him. Peter is truly helping to change the world.

“The best way to connect is with groups of three people with their knees 9 inches apart.” ~ Peter Block

Let me tell you, there was a great deal of content in a one hour webinar. Peter is very philosophical, but is also able to bring his philosophies and core values to a practical level as well. I want to provide you a bulleted list of some of the more salient points that I believe Peter made during the interview. I will provide you with the link to the webinar and you can make your own list later in this post. Here is my list:

  • We’ve reached a limit as to what professionals can do.
  • Schools cannot raise our children.
  • PowerPoint pretends our conversations are predictable.
  • How can you have learning, if all you have is content?
  • We need to ask the question, “why did you show up?”
  • All cultures value depth of relationship!
  • We are afraid of the stranger.
  • Working of deficiencies just makes the deficiencies stronger.
  • Using community strategies creates real and concrete outcomes.
  • You can’t innovate through legislation.

Wow, I just realized I created a top ten list from the webinar. I am not going to go back and number them because there is no real order to this list, but all important points that Peter covered in the webinar. I need to go back and blog about each one (we’ll see if I get that accomplished or not). So, I promised you the opportunity to make your own list. I want to provide you with the link to the YouTube video of the entire webinar, including the chance I had to visit with and ask a question of Peter Block. My next post after this one to my blog will specifically deal with my question and the conversation that followed. But for now, click here to watch the whole webinar (again my thanks to Becky Robinson and Weaving Influence for making this possible):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUPAFSbcEHY&feature=youtu.be

As you can see, this was a very powerful webinar. I would love for you to reply to this post with your top ten (or however many) takeaways you have from the webinar. By replying you will be creating the strong aggregate Peter talked about. Notice I am trying to practice the teachings of Peter by not offering my own thoughts on each of the bulleted points, but asking you to give your thoughts. I really do want to hear from you. Peter Block really is the father of using Community to change the world.

Independence Day Leadership Lessons From Maine & Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

On this 2018 Fourth Of July morning I am reminded of the great leadership that has been necessary for the United States to become the great country it is. My family and I are vacationing in Maine right now so, of course, I had to do some studying of influential leaders from Maine. Boy did I come across a great one: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Now I know that Independence Day is observed to honor our Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of Great Britain and those who provided the leadership during this important time of our country’s founding, but since I am in Maine I am going to honor and remember Chamberlain too.

Raised from a modest life in the small town of Brewer Maine, Joshua Chamberlain chose the professions of ministry and academia filling in the post of Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College during the tumultuous 1850s. As the Civil War broke out, Chamberlain felt the impulse to serve based on his belief in preserving the union and his moral conviction against the institution of slavery. In early 1862, Chamberlain expressed his desire to serve to the Governor of Maine, who offered him the rank of Colonel in the Maine volunteers. He turned that rank down because he did not believe he had the experience necessary for the rank. This is lesson one learned from him – be modest and know what skill level you have and what you still have to learn. Believing he needed to gain experience and knowledge of the military profession, Chamberlain’s uncommon act of humility set a tone for the remainder of his service.

But the cause for which we fought was higher; our thought wider… That thought was our power. ~ Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain went on to have a very successful military career and ended that career as a Brigadier General, but two Civil War stories are worth telling in this blog post. Here they are:

Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, Little Round Top

Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, who he now commanded, ordered the 20th Maine Regiment to execute a daring counterattack against the 15th Alabama Regiment of the Confederate Army on July 2nd 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. At the extreme left flank of the Union Army, the 20th Maine fought off repeated assaults for the past several hours against the determined Confederate Soldiers. Even though the 20th regiment was outnumbered and low on ammunition, Chamberlain’s bold decision and courageous leadership led his men of Maine down the slopes of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and stopped the Confederate assault against the Union Army’s left flank. He showed tremendous insight and leadership in making this bold move. Colonel Chamberlain was inspirational to his men and as a leader, a true influencer.

Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, April, 1865

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain taught us what it meant to be a man of character and compassion when he was personally asked by General Ulysses S. Grant to preside at the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse over the surrender detail. It was not the fact that he presided that is noteworthy here, it is the awesome act and example of leadership he performed. As the 20,000 Confederate Soldiers paraded by to turn over their arms and battle flags, Chamberlain gave the Union Army detail the command of “carry arms” to salute Confederate’s service and gallantry in battle. Many, then and now, credit this leadership gesture as the beginning for the country’s healing process toward reconciliation.

This act took courage and would bring him accolades and plagued him politically for the rest of his life. The southerners deeply respected him for this show of compassion and respect. Conversely, however, many northerners, including those in his home state of Maine, did not see it that way. They wanted to continue the humiliation of the Confederacy. Chamberlain did what was right and faced the consequences.

Congressional Medal of Honor

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was awarded the Medal Of Honor for his service At Gettysburg. He saw combat at Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Five Forks, and the Appomattox Campaign.

Chamberlain Leadership Lessons

Chamberlain always positioned himself in the middle of his brigade’s formation. He led shoulder to shoulder with his men. This built trust and gave him the ability to truly know what was going on. Chamberlain reassured his soldiers through his cool and calm presence during the heat of combat. He garnered the trust of his men through his actions in combat. The other thing that really impressed me as I studied this hero was his commitment to studying his new military profession, and his commitment to developing his subordinates. We need to pay attention to these lesson learned and apply them to our daily lives as leaders.

Learn More About Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

There are so many more leadership lessons to learn about this great man that went on to be President of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and four term (one year terms at that time in Maine). Let me suggest two ways that I did to learn more:

  1. Visit Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and visit the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Museum. It is awesome! I learned a great deal from the tour and curators there. The museum is the restored home (the only home he and his wife, Fanny, ever owned). There is family history, Civil War history, history of his time as Bowdoin College President, and history of his Governorship. It is awesome!
  2. Read the great book by Alice Rains Trulock, In The Hands Of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain & The Civil War. This book is awesome and I gave it five stars. Is a very well written well told story of this great leader. This book inspired me to dig deeper and explore more to understand how this man became the great leader he did, at a crucial time in our nation’s history.

I am thankful on this Independence Day, 2018 for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. What leaders are you thankful for on this day of celebration of our great country, The United States Of America?

What Can We Create Together?

Every year, the Ernest family takes the first week of July as an opportunity to get away and spend time together. We have found this to be a great week because it is moratorium week for Indiana High School athletics; in other words, Heath (my son) does not have football 🏈 practice all week. Another thing I love is that when we travel we get to celebrate the Fourth of July in different places around the country. And…with the holiday, many others are off work too, and it seems the draw to do work related things is less.

View from my camper door in York, Maine. Breathtaking!

This year, we are spending our week working out of York, Maine. This trip is giving us the opportunity to pick up visiting in four states (Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont) that he had not been to yet in his quest to get all 50 before he graduates from high school. He will just have Alaska, Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico left after this trip. Not bad for a 17 year old. Yesterday, as we were setting up our camper, my son and I noticed a neighboring camper flying the American flag 🇺🇸 and The Gadsden (“Don’t Tread On Me Flag”). Heath and I had a discussion about the flag, Christopher Gadsden (who designed the flag), what it meant during the American Revolution, and what it means to us now. Please don’t go down the route of thinking I am on some anti-government weird movement. I’m just reflecting on our past,studying history, and what it means to our future.

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” ~ President Harry S. Truman

The Gadsden Flag

Many people during revolutionary war times thought the rattlesnake was a good example of America’s virtues. They argued that it is unique to America; individually its rattles produce no sound, but united they can be heard by all; and while it does not attack unless provoked, it is deadly to step upon one. I have to think 🤔 this was how our forefathers were thinking. Even though we later had some expansionist behaviors as we put the whole United States project together, there continued to be to mentality we would not go beyond our geographic boarders.

Colonel Christopher Gadsden

He was from South Carolina and really liked a yellow banner he had seen with a coiled rattle snake drawn on it, and the rest is history, so to speak. Gadsden made a copy of this flag and submitted the design to the Provincial Congress in South Carolina.

During The American Revolution

At the time of the American Revolutionary we were in a time period where intense, but controlled individualism was the dominating disposition of most people. Remember, most of the colonists had come here to escape some type of oppression. An important fact, by the way, I believe we need to remember today! This was a time when self-directing responsible individuals again and again decided for themselves what they should do, and did it without needing anyone else to give them an assignment or supervise them in carrying it out.

Does The Gadsden Flag Have Meaning Today?

YES! I want to just stop there, because I believe we must make that meaning for ourselves, using our founding fathers as the guides. It reminds me, we need to be mindful of the idea of government overreach. For me this means on a local and state level, as well as at the federal level.

And…as we know, this is not an easy thing to balance. What I see as support, you may see as overreach, and visa versus. Or, I’m reminded of pre Civil War times when decisions were made pointing to states rights, which I believe very deeply in, but states rights were being used as a political shield to not doing the right thing – abolishing slavery once and for all for the whole country. I believe this conundrum itself is part of the genius our democratic design. It allows us to debate and have discourse about how to proceed. My only wish on this week of celebrating the independence of our great country is that we take more of a stance of civilized discourse and come together as a nation of communities to develop great solutions to our challenges. What can we create together?

Learning By Playing Like Kittens

Those of you who know me well, know that I really value my time in the barn in the morning. For some reason I can be working along giving bottles to babies, milking cows, or washing heifers, and at the same time, be thinking and reflecting on a lot of things. This morning I became entranced while watching a new litter of kittens romping and playing. They would go from one end of the barn to the other and then became totally into playing on a feed pallet we had leaned up against a grooming chute. They would climb, jump, and knock each other off. Such fun!

I began to think about all the things learned while playing. I also thought about how important it is for us to make learning fun for both our student and adult learners. Here is what kittens learn from playing, according to iheartcats:

6 Life Skills Kittens Learn By Playing With Each Other

• #1 – How to hunt. Kitten play is full of stalking, chasing, and tackling to the ground. …

• #2 – Good social skills. In order to grow into social, emotionally-healthy cats, kittens need to be socialized. …

• #3 – Coordination. …

• #4 – Communication. …

• #5 – Confidence. …

• #6 – Boundaries.

Most of these are skills we need all need to have. I have to tell you I witnessed a large group engaged in fun learning this past Friday. I had the opportunity to keynote an event. Click here to read about it. During my keynote, that was about the critical need for relevant learning, I had the over 200 participants put together toy glider planes I had put on the tables ahead of time. Everyone at each table became a team and the participants developed team names and then wrote the team name on the wing of their plane. Four containers had then been placed at the corners of the room and boundaries marked off. The participants were given time to put the planes together, practice, and then given one try at gliding the plane into the container.

I have to tell you, every person was up and engaged. There were questions being asked, teams practicing, laughing, strategizing, and adults and students having fun. It was amazing! Check out this video tweet – it shows it all. Click here to watch. All the while, they were learning the importance of learning in a relevant and engaging way. And…let’s see here…they were learning social skills – team work, coordination, communication – giving advice and feedback to one another, confidence – rooting each other on, and boundaries.

So, just as we know play is the cornerstone of the kitten’s learning process in the first few weeks and months of its life; I believe it is also the cornerstone of learning for our students and lifelong learning adults. It is by playing together that we humans and kittens will develop both physical and mental abilities. But play is more than that: it is also good, rollicking fun, which in turn increases both the kitten’s and our social skills, technical skills, and sociability.

Excavating Lifelong & Engaged Learners

Today’s world absolutely requires collaborative and critical thinkers, creative and courageous innovators, and true lifelong learners. Then comes the question – how do we achieve having our students become all these things? First of all, I believe we must do a better job of providing career exploration opportunities for our students at a much younger age. This means so much more than just hearing about jobs or walking by a booth at a job fair and getting a piece of candy. It means really digging in (no pun intended) and learning about what career paths fit the interests and passions of the student. It also means facilitating the creation of a plan of how to get there. We need to be thinking about internships and pre-apprenticeship programs. If we get this right, I believe it brings relevancy to the students’ education and will improve student engagement. We do a pretty good job of mapping out the courses and plans for four year colleges (mainly because there is a list of courses needed to get accepted). But, when it comes to helping our students into other paths, we need to improve.

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 5.28.50 PM

William E. Dugan Training Center

I was reminded of this recently when spending some time with Mark Kara, Assistant Apprenticeship Coordinator for the International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 150. While at the Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program‘s William E. Dugan training site, he made the comment that he would go to a school job fair and “…when I leave I suck everything that I told the kids or that they learned about us out of the room as soon as I walk out.” This really resonated with me because as I toured and learned more about this amazing training program and facility, I realized how we need to have our students realize these opportunities exist. We need both our students and parents understand the career opportunities that exist outside the normal four year degree track. The jobs associated with the apprenticeship programs I was witnessing were high wage/high demand and highly skilled. We owe it to our students to get better at this!

img_2920While at the training facility I had the opportunity to run a Caterpillar Excavator Simulator. Wow, what an experience! Apprentices start out on the simulators for so many hours before moving to the real machines. I’m not going to lie, the farm kid in me was coming out and they had to pull me off the thing. The cool part is that the Cat Simulator you see me on in the picture, for example, has hand controls that can be switched out for different CAT machines. In other words, the same simulator can be used to simulate all of the heavy CAT machinery. And, as new models come out, the new controls can be purchased and put on with software updates. The controls are the actual control panels from the machines. Bottom-line, however, is we need to be using real world experiences like this in some type of pre-apprenticeship programs to get students interested and then teach our courses in a real life context. These are just the kind of things I researched and discuss in my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room.

In my opinion, a rather clear pattern of practices has emerged as to what works for engaging students and certain “best practices” are recommended and should be put in place. Exploration and relevancy are at the top of this list. You can’t do much more exploring or be more relevant than actually sitting in the same seat using the exact same controls as the real equipment I would be using if I wanted to be an excavator operator – let me tell you, I could get my mind wrapped around that!

excavator-slew-ring-also-5230-caterpillar-excavator-with-excavator-for-sale-together-with-cat-390-excavator-bucket-sizes-plus-yanmar-b-50-mini-excavatorsOne common prerequisite for engaging learners is “relevancy.” Today’s learners ask that their learning apply to real-life scenarios whenever possible as opposed to being theoretical and text-based. Working with authentic problems or community issues engages students and builds a sense of purpose to the learning experience. Students, themselves, clearly want their work to be intellectually engaging and relevant to their lives.

Additionally, today’s learners ask for the opportunity to explore and to find solutions and answers for themselves. We need to be giving our students the opportunity to explore different careers by actually living them; just like I lived while running an excavator. Here’s the deal: Our students want to turn the thing on, get in there, mess around, and see what works; and, what does not work.

As we enter a time where we are making Graduation Pathways available to our students, we must increase and improve the opportunities for our students to explore different careers first hand and facilitate their learning by connecting school work to real life.

Improving To Great

In Gem #17 entitled, “Good IsThe Enemy Of Great” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart we are reminded that we need to adopt a culture where every aspect of the organization can be improved. “Good is the enemy of great” are the opening words of “Good to Great,” the best-selling iconic book by preeminent leadership and management thought leader Jim Collins.

In order to do this we must surround ourselves with the right people. Collins taught us to have the right people in the right seats on the bus.

Additionally, we need to remember that the journey to great is just that, a journey. This journey should not end. Once you think you are great, you have nowhere to go but down. Very few organizations ever achieve greatness, even though at times leaders and those who they lead may use that term to describe their organizations.

Many times we are blinded by the facts. We get lulled into thinking everything is going great. We must be open to looking at all the brutal facts about our organizations. Let’s take a moment and think about our leadership style and the culture of our organizations. Should any changes be made?

Organizing

The following is an excerpt from The Essentials of Theory U

Organizing

Guest post by Otto Scharmer

Global organizations are a new species on the face of our planet—a species that in less than two centuries has progressed to rule the world. Organizations are essentially geometries of power. They structure our collective decision making. When we look at the evolution of organizations, we see four different stages: centralized, decentralized, networked, and eco-system, which reflect different stages or qualities of how organizations operate. Again, the art is to develop tools that allow the organization to change and evolve into these different stages, depending on what is needed.

Centralized

In 1.0 organizational structures, decision-making power is located at the top of the pyramid. It is centralized, top-down, often with formalized roles. These 1.0 structures work well as long as the guy (or core group) at the top is really good and the organization is relatively small and agile. However, once organizations or companies begin to grow, they need to decentralize in order to move decision making closer to the markets, customers, or citizens. The resulting 2.0 structures are defined by both hierarchy and competition.

Decentralized

In a 2.0 organizational structure, decentralization enables the source of power to move closer to the periphery. The result is a functionally, divisionally, or geographically differentiated structure in which decisions are made closer to the markets, consumers, communities, or citizens. The good thing about 2.0 structures is the entrepreneurial independence of all of its divisions or units, its accountability, and its focus on meritocracy. The bad thing is that no one is managing the interdependence, the white space between the units. Which brings us to 3.0 structures.

Networked

In 3.0 organizational structures the source of power moves even farther from the center. It originates from beyond the traditional 501-71384_ch01_5P.indd 48 1/17/18 1:59 AM The Matrix of Social Evolution 49 boundaries of the organization. The result is a flattening of structures and the rise of networked relationships. Power emerges from the relationships to multiple stakeholders across boundaries. How many people report to me matters less than the quality of my stakeholder relationships inside and outside the organizations, or how many people follow me on Facebook and Twitter. A good thing about 3.0 structures is empowerment and networked stakeholder connections. A bad thing is the increased vulnerability in the face of disruption or being sidetracked by vested interests, because small groups can organize their lobbying activities much more easily than large groups.

Eco-system

Finally, 4.0 structures, or eco-system structures, operate by connecting and cultivating the entire living eco-system that is organized around a shared purpose. “Swarm” organizations and Agile or Tealbased organizations are all based on self-organizing circle structures in the context of shared purpose and institutional interdependency. As the decision making is being pushed even further to the frontline of organizations (empowering), these flattened and fluid structures of decision making only work well to the degree that the mindset of the participants has shifted from ego-system to eco-system awareness. This means that the decision-making circles develop the capacity to act from local knowledge while being aware of the cross organizational interdependency and aligned by a shared purpose.

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More about Otto Scharmer
Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute. He chairs the MIT IDEAS program for cross-sector innovation that helps leaders from business, government, and civil society to innovate at the level of the whole system. He is the author of Theory U (translated into 20 languages) and co-author of Leading from the Emerging Future, which outlines eight acupuncture points of transforming capitalism. His latest book, The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applicationsilluminates the blind spot in leadership today and offers hands-on methods to help change makers overcome it through the process, principles, and practices of Theory U.

In 2015, he co-founded the MITx u.lab, a massive open online course for leading profound change that has since activated a global eco-system of societal and personal renewal involving more than 100,000 users from 185 countries. With his colleagues, he has delivered award-winning leadership development programs for corporate clients and co-facilitated innovation labs on reinventing education, health, business, government, and well-being.

How Do We Change This World?

IMG_2188This morning as I was driving to visit with my mom I was listening to my favorite band, Alter Bridge. I would argue that no group has a line up of more inspiring songs. If you disagree, let’s have that discussion because I would love it, but that is not the point of this post. One of my top five songs from Alter Bridge is “Rise Today.” The main lyric of the song says, “I Wanna Rise Today And Change This World!” How can you not be inspired by that? But then as I sat with my mom, I got to thinking about what it, or what does it, mean to “rise today and change this world?” Particularly, when we all have different ideas of what it means to change the world.

img_0666Then I remembered what Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, so famously wrote: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” This got me thinking that if we really want to change the world we need to think and act on changes that we need to make to ourselves. Tolstoy’s dictum is a useful starting point for any leader engaged in organizational change that will change the world. I’m convinced that organizational change and changing the world is inseparable from individual change. Most change falters because individuals overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves.

There are a few pieces of the lyrics of “Rise Today” that really hit home as I was reflecting on the question of what it means to change the world. Here they are:

  • Have we lost our way tonight?
  • Have we lost our hope to sorrow?
  • Feels like we’re all alone, running further from what’s right
    And there are no more heroes to follow
  • Hope we find a better way before we find we’re left with nothing
  • Seems to me that we’ve got each other wrong. Was the enemy just your brother all along?

Research shows that half of all change efforts for transformational change fail either because leaders don’t act as role models for change or because people defend the status quo. Let me tell you, I have experienced this a lot lately. So as I think deeply about the five phrases I pulled from the song, it really comes down to something I learned from my studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education: Technical vs. Adaptive Leadership. The problem is we view most things as technical challenges and they really aren’t. Technical leadership is just about applying the solution we already know to apply. An example I can think of right now to illustrate the difference is with budgets. Most think doing a budget is just a math problem – tweak here, tweak there, presto… done. That would be a technical challenge. But, with all budgeting, difficult discussions, trade-offs, staffing changes and re-deployments, and disappointments happen—this is the adaptive leadership work.

“Adaptive leaders learn to live with unpredictability. They spend less time fretting about the inability to establish a routine or control the future and focus more on exploiting opportunities.” ~ Dr. Leonard Wong
Therefore, if I want to be an adaptive leaders and truly change the world I must go through the continual process of challenge, adaptation, and learning, which readies me for the next challenge. It also challenges me to examine whether, as Alter Bridge’s song says, whether “the enemy was just [my] brother all along.”  If we want to be adaptive leaders we need to hone the following skills:
  • Be able to consider diverse and conflicting views in all situations.
  • Be able to operate with autonomy under a general framework (and not just look for the easy way to be compliant).
  • Model great behaviors as being both technically and and tactically proficient.
  • Be mentally flexible and agile.
  • Recognize and be able to navigate the gap between the way things are and the desired state.
  • Understand there are multiple perspectives on the issue.
  • Remembering that new learning will absolutely need to happen.
  • Knowing that resistance will be triggered in stakeholders.

So, if we are going to change the world we know that behaviors and attitudes will need to change. The tough part is people with the problems are key to solving the problems. And, those groups will have varying opinions on solutions. Thus, why I believe the lyric, “Seems to me that we’ve got each other wrong. Was the enemy just your brother all along?” is so appropriate. We must also remember that with adaptive leadership, old ways need to change, and that will create a sense of loss for some (or a lot).

As I reflect on rising today to change this world, I believe we must, as leaders, not miss thinking, “What’s good, right, and just for everyone?”