If you are in the midst of a serious, overwhelming transition, then ask this question.
When was the last time I was happy, content and at peace with my work and life?
Whether your memory of that time is accurate or an illusion, it does not matter. What does is that the memory of this point in time is a starting point in understanding that transition that you are in.
Ask about what changed during this time? What changed about your perception of your purpose or in your relationships or possibly with the context of the work you do. These are three areas that are always present in our lives, and where our awareness of change has its greatest impact.
The second thing to recognize about this memory of a time in the past is that it reveals two things. The first are values that matter to us that we'd like reinforce or reinvigorate in our life or work. The second thing is that it points to a desire or desires in our heart that tell us what we love and want to see as central to our lives.
For example, lets say your company is bought out by a larger firm. Your memory points to how the company used to be like a family, where everyone care for one another. Now, that family feel is gone, and the pressure to perform is greater than you have ever experienced.
What you discover in that memory are the values of relationship and connection in the work place, and, that you love working for a smaller firm.
With that awareness, you can better understand the transition that you are in, and, the change that might be necessary in order to find that place of work and life that is meaningful for you.
This is what change is really about. Finding the right place where our desires for meaning, relationships that are happy and healthy, and a place where I feel my life matters can be realized.
So Change Early, Not Late. When you know that change is necessary, then begin the process of planning for that change.
What you'll find is that your capacity to change not only grows, but its negative impact upon your life diminishes. Why is this?
What I've discovered is that as we change, the speed of change increases. As it increases, it becomes simpler. Holding back changes inevitably means we must manage a host of obligations and expectations that have been thrust upon us by situations and people that may or may not carry meaning or impact for us.
The key is being very clear about your values, your purpose, and, how your team or group works together in the context of the transition that is taking place.
Doing the same things in the same way is not how we avoid the risks of change. It is how we embrace of the risk of irrelevance.
The risk of not changing is greater than the risk of changing.This is because we may think that not changing is just one decision, the same one, repeated over and over again, day after day.
To embrace change as the process of the transition we are in is to see that every decision is a new one and that when we make those according to values, purpose and a clarity about the impact we want, then we move forward to those decisions to see the path forward.
“Visionary companies make some of their best moves by experimentation, trial and error, opportunism, and—quite literally—accident. What looks in retrospect like brilliant foresight and preplanning was often the result of “Let’s just try a lot of stuff and keep what works.”
There is a fluidness about change, that once encounter, we discover a sense of flow moving through the moments of decision.
Simply put, change and change often. Not as a change-junkie, but as a responsible leader who both initiates and responds to change. Learn to do this and you'll never miss the fear and the doubt that accompanies change decisions. You'll find that the stress of change is not in the change itself, but rather in growing into a mindset that almost sees the connection between the past, present and future as happening simultaneously. I know this sounds crazy, but this is exactly what my own experience has been.
Desire isn't just an idea. It is a movement within us drawing us towards some value or experience or person.
This drawing, like water into the porous membrane of a sponge, is the activity of connection.
You walk into a room at a business after hours event. You register, get you name tag, and turn around and look at the crowd. Who are you looking to meet? Who is looking to meet you?
We are drawn towards particular kinds of people. What is it that us draws to them?
You sign up for an online dating service, and out of the dozens of possibilities, one person jumps off the page. Why this person?
What draws us towards this one individual rather than another?
Why can we talk about the synergy between two people who only met two minutes ago? What is it that draws us into relationships where we are prepared to trust, to be vulnerable and change our business plan immediately?
It is the intangible nature of human desire. It is beyond rational. It really isn't subrational, but rather supra-rational. It is beyond explanation. It falls into the realm of faith.
What is it about the connection of human desire that causes us to flee the safety of the fortress to venture out into the unknown to discover what lay in our heart's desire all along.
Many refer to this as a call, a voice that constantly beckons them onward, to risk all for the sake of that source of passion deep within us that refuses to be quiet.
This is the magic that happens between two people or within a team when they stop playing the game of control and risk management, and pursue a call they share to make a difference that matters.
In other words, it is love that draws us together. The love of ideas, of people and of the change that we can create together. This is the desire that lies deep within us that calls us to accept and honor its all or nothing demand upon our lives.
The People We are Drawn Toward
At a most basic level, we are drawn toward two kinds of people.
One type are those who affirm or validate who we are. They are like us or complement us by helping us see the inherent value of who we are. These relationships appreciate us for who we are right now. These are family and friends with whom we have happy moments each day.
Often these are people we've known a long time and with whom, even if we are very different in personality, we feel comfortable because of our shared life experiences together. These are people with whom we share similar values. These are our peeps.
The second kind are those people for whom we feel a kind of longing. This longing is to be different, better, fulfilled, complete, or known for some facet of our lives that the first group cannot see. These people set a standard for their life and work that we view as higher or more ambitious, and therefore is desirable. We desire relationships with them, hoping that some of their magic will rub off on us. We desire what we think they have. More than anything, we want their respect, and a connection to them.
These relationships may not be with people that we know or with whom we spend most of our time. The relationship may be virtual as on Facebook or Twitter. A connection is made when they like a link that we post. A social media connection with this person fulfills a longing for association with someone whom we perceive to be the person we wish to be in the future. These persons symbolize for us the values that matter to us, that may seem beyond our reach, yet live down deep within us as the desires that we have for our life and work.
We need both of these kinds of relationships. However, neither speaks to the character of the relationship, only to a type of relationship.
The character of our relationships matter. I thought of this when I came across this selection from the Diary of Anais Nin.
"The secret of a full life is to live and
relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might
not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the
sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions.
This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters.
meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that
might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and
rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial
rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of
people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might
cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The
dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the
place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with
millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human
She could easily be describing the relationships that many of us have through social media platforms. We desire connection. But too often it is superficial, lacking depth.
What then does it mean to have relationships of depth? This is the kind of relationship that I wrote about in my post Still Waters Still Flow. There I write,
"Am I setting up an impossible scenario for our relationships? Of
course I am! For without a standard, an ideal, or a vision of the
highest in human experience, then there is no clear direction to the
flow of our lives.
When the love I describe becomes complete within us, and seeks out
others who also have found a completeness in the love within them, then a
depth of relationship results that changes us. We are transformed by
loving, not simply by the idea of love.
All these human characteristics that we celebrate and honor, like
Respect, Trust, Confidence, Responsibility, Courage, Empathy and
Self-sacrifice find a ground upon which to grow. For ultimately, flow
rises from our own capacity to be the person we wish others to be.
I wish I could say that all this can come without pain or suffering
but it can't. In fact, it is the very comforts of our modern life that
stand in the way of a fulfilled, complete and flourishing life. Those
comforts present the appearance of strength and completeness. But too
often they are the curtain that blinds us to harsher realities of the
For still waters to run deep requires the dredging of the stream bed
of our lives to remove all those barriers to flow. The more courageous,
the more willing we are to raise the standards of our life and work, the
more willing we are to be committed to do the hard work of changing our
lives, the more willing we are to defy fear, and move into unknown
territories of discovery, the more we will discover that still waters
still flow bringing peace into a world of conflict."
For these kinds of relationship to flourish requires a setting or an environment for our relationships to grow. Increasingly, I'm convinced that this is difficult to achieve when the relationship is only in a virtual context.
Digital or Analog, Virtual or ... ?
What do we call the setting of relationships that are not virtual, that exist outside of an online digital social space? To say they are analog, physical or real does not capture it well. What are our relationships that exist where we live, with whom we encounter in physical proximity to one another.
Lacking an adequate terminology, I've decided to use a sacramental term that Presbyterians and other Protestant Christians use to describe the relationship of God to the eucharist, the sacramental meal that Christians observe in worship. That term is Real Presence.
I'm using real presence in a non-religious way. It is the relationship that develops between people who find their life and work connected at a deeper level of meaning and impact than with other people. The result is that they are drawn together in such a way that the traditional social media platforms are an insufficient for the purpose of the relationship. In other words, they find they need to be in physical proximity to one another often enough to advance their relationship's purpose.
To be really present, requires us to be open and vulnerable, attentive and willing to adapt to each opportunity as it appears. Real presence is living each day with intention and commitment. I realize that these are familiar words to people today. The challenge is not knowing the meaning of these words, but deriving our meaning of life from living them each day.
There are many people that I've met online with whom we now have a relationship of real presence. We are constantly in touch with the living our of our lives. We are not simply observing and commenting in a detached manner. Our relationships to one another matter. As a result, we are drawn to be with one another in a physical sense. And so we make the effort to travel to be with one another.
Let me return to my question from above. Why is it that we connect with some people and not others? Is it because the place where we meet and develop our relationships is conducive for the kind of relationship we seek? Is it because there are certain values that we share that can flourish in either a virtual or a physical context?
This is a complex question. To understand it we must understand ourselves. To understand ourselves demands that we understand the kinds of environments that are most conducive to making the kind of connections that we truly desire.
This is an important question because so many of our connections are virtual, operating only within a digital context. Yet, we are not virtual people, digitized, pixelated images or text narratives on a screen. We are embodied persons whose whole selves experience the movement of desire flowing through us.
Developing Platforms for Desire
We are at the beginning point in the evolution of the digital world. What it will be in a decade or in fifty years is pure speculation.
I am convinced that because we are desiring beings (James K A Smith's term), that the structure of society and organizations ultimately adapt to who we are. It is never smooth, however.
Today, we are at the end of the industrial era, without real clarity about what is to follow. Current global social and political forces are aligned to avoid change as much as possible. Resistance to human evolution is futile. And at the heart of our evolution as a species is the drive our desires for meaning, healthy relationships and lives of impact.
As a result, there will always be a tug-of-war between those forces that seek to control the evolutionary course, and those who choose the freedom to adapt to change as it presents itself each day.
As social media platforms develop, change and die, new platforms will emerge to meet the opportunities that come from human social interaction. The challenge for the developers of these platforms as I've said previously in this series, is not really how to monetize the platform, but rather how maximize the ability of people of shared desires to collaborate to make a difference that matters. The mousetrap has been invented. Now is the time to make a better mousetrap.
There is much more that can be said about the relation of human desire to the virtual online world. For now, this is sufficient.
Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things. ... Despite these afflictions man wants to be happy, only wants to be happy, and cannot help wanting to be happy.
But how shall he go about it? The best thing would be to make himself immortal, but as he cannot do that, he has decided to stop himself thinking about it.
The opportunities that life presents us today should provide us the conditions for happiness. But, as we are all discovering, these choices are not making life simpler, but more complex.
So many good choices, yet, so difficult to decide. Or so many hard choices, so difficult to act upon.
As a result, we ignore the complexity, and just choose the path that seems the least troublesome.
We face our opportunities with a form of denial. We deny that complexity has any control over our lives, and so we lean on the tried and true, denying that the world has really changed.
I see this particularly in how people have dealt with the recession over the past four years. A classic hunker down, trim way, downsize, wait it out scenario. That may work for some, if your industry is healthy, and your community is growing, but for others, not so much.
We must work through the complexity to discover simplicity that leads the happiness we desire.
Simplicity in this sense is becoming clear about what we want and how we want to get there.
This is how the Circle of Impact Guides came to be. Through lots of conversation about change, finding clarity in the midst of confusion, and discovering a simple path forward through a process that came to be. Here's how the image above gets processed.
Complexity comes when we see so many opportunities. They are embedded in the relationships that we have with people, and the many places we encounter those people.
Our Network of Relationships
Consider for a moment the full range of people that you know and with whom you regularly interact. This interaction may be face-to-face or online. It really does not matter. Because there are opportunities for impact in almost any place where we have those relationships. There are more with some people than others, but the point is that each relationship has its own natural potential waiting to be realized.
If you were to map your network of relationships, meaning first list everyone with whom you regularly interact, and show the links between them, then with you, by interest, values, social or organizational proximity, and your desire for greater depth in the relationship, then you will see a broad range of opportunities emerging.
If you are at a transition point, these are the opportunities that will carry you into the next stage of life or work.
Social and Organizational Settings
Next list the social and organizational contexts where you live and work. These are places that you meet people, work with them, have fun with them, do serious things with them, serve with them, worship with them, do things with your children with them, and interact with them on the large and small issues of life and work.
The complexity for a lot of people has not come from those they meet face-to-face, but with those whom they meet online in a virtual relationship. Facebook provides the best example of a place where people go to interact with a wide diversity of people. Within those settings, there will be a small percentage of people with whom there are opportunities that advance us forward in our life and work. Make sure this people are included in your above list.
Like what you can find in Google+, identify the various places where you interact with these people. List them according to these There are opportunities that come in each, but they are dependent upon the relationships finding a common ground for working together.
Focusing on Our Values and Purpose
List the values that matter to you. There is no master list. What matters is that these ideas matter to the extent that they are non negotiable. From this list comes a sense of purpose that orients us toward what we want to achieve in life.
For example, one of my ambitions is to help people discover their call and realize their potential. It is based upon more core values of respect and belief in the inherent dignity and value of people.
My strongest relationships are with people who share a similar set of values. Some I'm never physically been in their presence. Yet, we support and mutually mentor one another based on those values.
When our purpose and values align with our social and organizational settings, we'll find happiness and fulfillment growing in our lives. When these become clear, we will find our lives and work simplifying, and decisions more easily defined, and the actions that follow done with greater focus and passion.
Simple Happiness Happiness is a product of values, purpose and action. It is not simply a feeling, which is fleeting. It is the full flourishing of human life.
Happiness becomes simple when we are clear about our purpose, and we are able to share its work with like-minded people.
Just thinking about how different the 21st century is compared to either the 20th or 19th. Working on a post about this. What would you all say is the difference? I'm curious.
It is an important question if we are to effectively lead into the future. Here are some of the ideas shared. (Thanks Jenni, Pat, Richard & F.C.)
The social aspect... communication in a heartbeat
The entirety of the gross data and factual information within the world is within your 1.5lb. laptop.
Less face to face social interaction. Less informal group social interaction. More social interaction at a wire's length.
Too many businesses have forgotten ... being the people business.
19th more face to face ... 20th letters and telegrams ... 21st email, mobile phones and social networks - instant responses, less thought - little or no opportunity to convey intent except by emoticons that have become part of the language. This is a change so significant that I think it's as big as the printing press being developed.
In summary, these friends are seeing changes in technology, relationships and communication. I agree. These are the core differences that are impacting us daily.
If we use my Circle of Impact framework, we can identify others. This is a valuable exercise because it helps us in two ways. First, in seeing the transition over the past two hundred years, and second, to give us an idea of where to put our energy and resources for the future.
Using the Circle of Impact to Identify Change
Ideas: The Importance of Clarity.
Today, ideas matter more than ever. In the past, the communities and places of work were fairly homogeneous, not as culturally diverse as today. Now we need to be very clear about our values and purpose, and be able to effectively communicate them in visual and tangible ways.
In the past, we could measure our business by the bottom-line, and have a pretty good idea about whether we were succeeding. Today, if we are not clear about the impact we are creating, the purpose of our businesses / organizations seem vague. Impact is the difference that matters, and distinguishes us from others in the same industry. The core meaning of impact is the change we are seeking to create, and how we know when we have.
Lastly, is having a vision that is clear about what each person brings to the mission of the organization, and by that I mean, understanding what is their potential contribution. Then knowing how it is aligned with the operating structure to produce impact. And thirdly, each member of the organization being able to articulate that vision from their own place within the organization. Same vision, different expressions of it.
Relationships: The Importance of Being Present
Today, the person who is prejudiced, condescending and exclusive toward people and other cultures is viewed as backward, narrow and insecure. Openness and welcome are important behaviors that leaders and their organizations need to exhibit.
This mindset, so to speak, is really just an entry level attitude toward relationships. At the core, what made for a healthy relationship two hundred years ago, does so today. A year ago in a post, Honor and the Lost Art of Diplomancy, I wrote,
Diplomacy is the practice of respect applied in places of diverse cultures. It is the ability of one person to be able to empathize with another person, even though their cultural, ethnic and philosophical backgrounds are not similar. ...
This type of respect is a form of humility that places the dignity of the other person ahead of one's own perogatives. It is what I see missing in much of the social and civic interaction that takes place in our society.
This aspect of relationships has always been true. The difference today is that it has to be treated as one of the strategic initiatives of the business. How the business relates to the person and the culture will have a huge impact upon how well they do.
In addition, the importance of respect, honor, dignity, and trust are now functioning within a social environment where technology mediates our relationships more and more. This is one of the most significant changes of the past two hundred years. And as one of my Facebook friends noted,
... instant responses, less thought - little or no opportunity to convey intent except by emoticons that have become part of the language. This is a change so significant that I think it's as big as the printing press being developed ...
This means that the quality of our relationships is really a matter of the person we are. Our character, integrity and values matter more than ever. They do because with many people we only have a moment to convey the depth of who we are. If we come across as shallow, narcissistic, unempathetic, or distracted, then we may never have a chance to change that impression.
The impact of all this change in relationships and social context is that we must constantly be present with our best selves, if we hope to build relationships for the long term. To be present means that our first inclination is not to tell our story, but to ask questions to identify their story. When we know who they are and what they value, then, with genuine integrity, we can tell our story. We are able to do this when we truly approach each person with dignity, respect and trust.
Structures: The Importance of Leadership
A major change over the past two hundred years is in how businesses organize themselves. In the past, the industrial model depended upon a standardized, formal structure. Today, the complexity of doing business has placed a greater burden on workers to be problem solvers and initiative takers. The expectation that workers take greater responsibility is changing what it means to be an employee. In effect, this shift is a change in what is leadership.
In the past, leadership was a position, a title which often was personalized into a heroic narrative of the senior executive. Today leadership has become the impact that each person has within the business structure. It depends upon their ability to communicate, problem solve, relate well to others and contribute in ways beyond their job description. In effect, the skills of leadership are now the skills of an entrepreneur, and are needed by everyone within the structure.
With this shift, a company where more and more employees have the capacity to take initiative to lead, the quicker the company will adapt to changing situations with customers and in their industry.
The Difference that Matters
Here are five actions we can take.
1. Be clear about the Four Connecting Ideas of Values, Purpose/Mission, Vision and Impact. Develop an elevator speech for each, so that when the moment arises you have something clear to say.
2. Develop Ideas in Conversation. Identify three to five people with whom you work, and often have lunch, and begin to share your ideas with them. You may want to share this post with them, and see where the conversation goes. The idea is to learn through collaborative reflection.
3. Volunteer with an Organization that Serves People in Need. I have found that working with people who have lived through or are living in hard times gives me perspective on myself. I learn to appreciate what I have and gain the ability to respect those whom I may have not been able to see any value. The resiliency and adaptability of people who are in need provides us a window into our own capacity to change.
4. Develop a Set of Questions to Ask Everyone You Meet. What sparks your curiosity? This is how the Circle of Impact was developed. I asked questions of everyone I met. Once the Circle became clear, I began to use this as a framework for my discussions with people. Now it is printed on my business card. Do this is to take initiative because your desire is to make a difference.
5. Go Slowly on Beginning to Take Initiative. Yes, leadership is an initiative taking function. But not all organizations have embraced this idea. In fact, many think that relinquishing control over employee freedom to lead ends with chaos and confusion. It certainly can if there is poor communication and coordination between members of a team or department. Understand, therefore, that leadership in this perspective needs alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure.
The last thing to say is that while the changes over the past two centuries have been great, the core attitudes and behaviors that make for effective leadership remain the same as always. The primary difference are the changes in the social and organizational contexts that have come through technological innovation and the growth of life and work on a global scale.
Well, they are, but what we use are not real measures.
What we typically measure is management, not leadership.
The management of people, products and processes.
That is different than leadership.
Management numbers may ... may ... have a relationship to leadership. But it needs to be defined.
So, if you are going to measure leadership then you need to define what it is, and define it in such a way that you can measure it.
Here's how I define leadership.
Leaders take initiative to create impact.
Each word is intentional.
Leaders start, engage, facilitate, act, do and take the first step.
Leaders generate processes, products, systems, relationships, openness, cultures, opportunities, or the next ones, and they adapt, form, and bring into existence what is new, needed and necessary.
Leaders make a difference that matters by creating change.
By this definition any person can function as a leader. What does this mean for those people who are in executive and supervisory roles in traditional vertically integrated hierarchical organizational structures?
It is simple.
Executive leaders initiate the creative processes which produce leaders who initiate to create impact.
This means that executive leaders are measured by the leadership of those for whom they are responsible. This is quite similar to what we have thought of as management, but there is a difference.
The difference is that the management of efficiency, predictability and consistency requires control those who work for them. The reality is that this is a fading reality. Businesses are rapidly changing, by necessity, and our understanding of leadership needs to catch up.
The Three Dimensions of Leadership
Now if everyone simply initiated change in a random manner, then greater chaos would ensue.
Therefore, an integral part of executive leadership is coordinating the leadership of others. Executives do so through three principal areas: Ideas, Relationships and the context which each person has through the social and organizational structures of their work.
In other words, leaders facilitate clarity around the Connecting Ideas of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact. They facilitate the communication and coordination of the actions that follow the organization's purpose.
Executive leaders build a culture of shared leadership through the shared responsibility for the organization's defined purpose, values and its vision for impact.
As a result, leadership spreads out through the company. We can see a better connection between the company's purpose and the means to achieve its bottom line. Better communication, and a greater sense of community between the people in the company, fosters a culture that adapts more quickly to the opportunities and obstacles that present themselves every day.
So, how do we measure leadership.
First, we define the change we want by defining the purpose of the impact that we seek.
We track change. We track the changes that we see in how the Connecting Ideas are being use. We track change in how people communicate and work together. And we track changes in processes as they adapt to new circumstances.
Second, we identify and track employee initiative.
We track the connection between communication and issue resolution. If people are taking initiative to resolve issues at their own point of responsibility, then you are seeing the spread of leadership in the company.
Third, we track the speed of change.
How fast does it take for an idea to be enacted? The key to this returns to the Connecting Ideas. These ideas provide a context of understanding that can guide the initiative leadership of people.
Ultimately, the measure of leadership is the number of leaders who have been formed and nurtured by the company, and the collective impact of their shared leadership.
By growing a leadership culture of initiative, a company can become a community of leaders whose impact is far beyond what it was when everyone was being managed to just do their job.
The other day, I stopped by to see a friend and colleague. On his desk was one of the best leadership books of the past decade, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow. It is stellar description for leadership of the importance of the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Adaptation is a key skill for leaders who are managing change, while at the same time creating stable, sustainable enterprises.
Peter Mello and I had the opportunity to interview Marty Linsky on the book for two Weekly Leader podcasts, Part 1 and Part 2. It is worth hearing Linsky talk about the book and his work with Ron Heifetz.
Sitting there with this friend in his office, talking about leadership, how we deal with people in various situations, I came to a realization about myself, and about adaptive leadership.
In order to be an adaptive leader, we must be an adaptive learners.
I realized, then, that virtually everything I know, I learned from someone else.
It wasn't like a being student in a classroom learning from a teacher. Rather, it was learning by listening and observing to the lessons embedded in a person's perceptions and experience.
Listening and Observing - keys to being an adaptive learner.
Informational or Contextual?
There is no way I can tell you what I have learned from any particular individual. It isn't that type of learning.
It isn't informational learning.
Rather it is contextual learning. Learning from the context of a person is learning to see how ideas matter within a certain distinct situation.
It isn't abstract, or detached from experience. Rather, it is how an idea that transitions from the idea itself to something practical and real, that's applied in a particular situation.
The use of values in an organization is an example.
There are two types of values.
There are the ones that are on a list that the company claims are their values.
Then, there are the ones that actually are practiced by the people in the company.
These two sets of values are not always the same, congruent or even aligned. Depending upon different conditions, the same understanding of value will have a different application in an organization.
Company A espouses to be an open, transparent organization placing a high value on communication. Company B makes the same claim. The difference is in their context.
Company A is physically structured so that executives are separated into their own discrete offices. Communication is mediated by administrative assistants, and written information distributed throughout the company. If you want to speak to V.P. Joe, you go through his assistant Mary, or look at the latest memo.
Company B is physically structured around an open space concept. My friend Dana Leman of RandomKid share with me her experience of touring the Bloomberg offices in New York. She sent me a link ot a video tour of their offices. Regardless of your position, your office is in the midst of this open concept. The benefit is a greater exchange of ideas.
So, two companies can claim allegiance to the same values, but their application of those values be totally different. To understand the difference is to understand how to these insights and apply them in your own context.
Through my conversation with Dana, my perception of how to organize office space is different.
This is how adaptive learning happens. We listen for insights for applying ideas in various contexts. The more we learn from others the clearer our own understanding becomes, and how we can be adaptive leaders.
This kind of understanding is tacit and intuitive. It isn't an understanding derived from an analytical process. Rather, our brains synthetically weave together many thoughts, impressions, experiences, and feelings to provide understanding. The more this emergent awareness is allowed to take place the greater the capacity for adaptive leadership.
Adaptive leadership is a shift away from the old command-and-control method.
It requires openness to other people, their ideas, their experiences and an appreciation of their particular context. The easiest way to begin to learn this kind of adaptive behavior is simply to listen and apply the good ideas that you hear each day.
The Difference Adaptive Learning has made to me.
Sitting in my friend's office, I came to realize that adaptive learning had been my practice for over 30 years.
Listen and learn from people, whomever you meet, you can learn something from them.
Listen to them, ask questions to clarify what their experience was. Listen without trying to compete. Listen to learn.
Take what is heard and seen, then, reflect, process and apply what you learned.
Share what you learned with others. Express gratitude.
This is how the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides came to be developed. From lots of conversations over the years, about what was happening in organizations, each one contributing a little piece of wisdom and understanding, creating a holistic perspective, I learned what I was suppose to see in leadership. In effect, these are not my ideas, but rather my catalog of what I've learned from other people. These lessons have wide applicability because this is the product of contextual learning, not simply the exchange of information.
The benefits of adaptive learning are many. Here's what I've learned.
1. We learn that Ideas matter.
They are the key to understanding where we are and how we can adapt to the changes that are constantly confronting us. They connect us to people. They are tools for being more effective communicators. All learning at the most fundamental level is about ideas. Without ideas, we are left only with feelings. As a result, adaptive leaders must also be idea people who are interested in the ideas of others, not just in what they are thinking.
2. We learn that Relationships matter.
When we place ourselves in a position to learn from every person with whom we meet, every single one, we come to understand how our interaction within a social context is where the action of organizations is found. The greater our capacity for forming adaptive learning relationships, the greater our capacity to develop the adaptive capacities of employees. Those adaptive capacities provide employees the opportunity to lead from their own specific work context. This is part of what I mean by the idea, Community of Leaders.
3. We learn that Structures are either tools for adaptive learning and leadership, or they are obstacles.
If the structure of a business does not provide a way for people to learn from one another, and to apply that learning, then it is stuck in a system of operation that is not sustainable.
For many businesses, the structure of their organization is, seemingly, the only tangible, secure, stable, set, concrete, real thing that exists. It is a monument to the past, not a platform for constant adaptation and innovation.
4. We learn that learning matters more than knowing.
When our posture towards others is learning from them, we are less concerned about making sure they understand just how much we know.
It this is an issue for you, then practice asking questions about things you do not know. Read books in subject areas in which you have no background. Stop trying to reinforce you own knowledge, and start expanding it. Start listening for the wisdom and insight in others.
5. We learn that if we never stop learning, we also never arrive at a full and complete understanding of anything.
Adaptive learning isn't a tactic we deploy for a period of time to ramp up our current knowledge on a subject. Rather, adaptive learning is a lifestyle of openness to new ideas, fresh insights from people and a reflective approach to applying ideas by doing things differently one step at a time.
6. We learn that adaptive learning changes us so that adaptive leadership is possible.
Adaptive learning simplifies the way we approach leadership. It becomes about the impact we need to have right now. The old way of strategic planning is having to change to become more adaptable. This approach produces leaders who are nimble, intuitive and able to take advantage of the changes that are constantly happening.To adapt is to change. To change in this way is to make a difference that matters, it is to create impact. Becoming impact focused simplifies leadership.
7. We learn that adaptive learning leads to adaptive leadership which leads ultimately to becoming a Community of Leaders.
An adaptive leader will be most effective in creating a culture of adaptive learning. To do so means that each person takes responsibility for their learning, their contributing and their responsibility to create impact. Adaptive learning starts with the personal decision to learn from others. This nurtures within the individual the personal intiiative from which all leadership originates. It isn't just the individual initiating change. It is the whole organization as a community functioning as adaptive leaders. This is what I see as a Community of Leaders.
Realizing that I have lived this way throughout my life, my gratitude grew towards the hundreds of people from whom I've learned. Many are no longer with us. Many have no idea of the impact that they have had on me. Many are friends who are my go-to-people for counsel when I need it. Many are random people whom I've met in passing whose stories and insight helped me gain a deeper appreciation of so many different ideas and ways of leading organizations. If you are one of these people, I thank you.
Near the end of my father's career, the company for whom he had worked for over 35 years, was purchased, and, not so slowly, its assets drawn off and exploited for use by the parent company.
I remember him telling me of the day that he was on a management recruiting trip in Pennsylvania, and received a phone call that the company was not going to make payroll that week. He returned home to help usher through the closing of the company and be the last executive remaining as he handled the outstanding employee medical and benefit claims against the company. He was of an age where he could retire. It was a sad day for him. He had worked for the company his entire career.
My dad's story is not unusual. It is symptomatic of the time we are living in. I thought of my father as I watched last year's under-appreciated film, The Company Men. It is a story of executives and their families coping with change as their corporation goes through a series of downsizes simply to raise the share price. Like my father's experience, the film illustrates a very common experience of change. Here's a clip of a meeting where decisions are being made as to who is to be let go.
This has become a very normal experience for people. Even with a nice severance package, the emotional trauma of being fired is something that doesn't quickly go away. What lies behind this approach to quantifying the value of a company is a way of thinking about organizations that I believe is ultimately destructive rather than a path to sustainability. The logical outcome from over a century of this way of thinking has been the narrowing of the value of a company to something short term and specifically related to its financial value.
Consider the executive's rationale for downsizing staff and eliminating a division of the company in this exchange between Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson's characters from the movie. .
Nelson: "Stock is stalled and revenue is flat."
Jones: "Entire economy is flat. We are in the middle of a recession."
N: "I only closed two of the shipyards. Should have closed all three of them. Stock is in the toilet."
J: "Everybody's stock is in the toilet."
N: "Well, the stockholders would like to see their share value maximized."
J: "Heh, Heh, Heh, Well ... sell the Degas'. ... three thousand jobs?"
N: "Gene, we aren't some little shipyard any more. I'm not going to keep pouring money into a losing operation."
J: "We innovate, retool ..."
N: "American heavy manufacturing is dead. Steel, auto, shipbuilding ... the future is in healthcare infrastructure and power generation."
J: "I have to be involved in any decision that affects one of my divisions."
N: "You wouldn't have approved the cut. ... You'd go behind my back to the board again, right?"
J: "They were good people, Jim."
Both men are backed up against a wall. They are caught by a way of thinking about the value of companies that worked in times where growth was relatively assured. Now, the competition is tougher, more astute and far more flexible in their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Do you think they could have seen this coming? I'm not sure. It goes back to how to you determine the value of a company. I'm not talking about how Wall Street values it, but the people who are touched by the company in some manner. How do they value the company?
Can the value of a company be reduced to one thing, like the share price, or the charismatic leadership of the CEO or a design innovation? Or is the value embedded in the whole structure and context of the organization?
We are in a time of global transition in all aspects of life. Short-term, reductive, passive aggressive, reactive thinking is not going to lead us out of a recession into a new era of peace and prosperity. Instead, we need to realize that our approach is failing, and that we need a new way to think about how organizations function. It must start with the willingness to be different, to think differently, and invest in changes that provide for long term development.
The Context of Change
The ancient Greeks had a word for change which is metanoia. Literally, it means a change of mind, but it has come to mean something much larger and more comprehensive. Metanoia points to a change of orientation, perspective and direction. There is a sense in the meaning that the change of mind is accompanied by some regret. So the change, upon reflection, is a choice to follow a different path. People choosing to turn toward different values and new ways of expressing them. Metanoia is a change that embraces the whole person, the mind, feelings and will, and is expressed in action that is change.
This change of mind is an awareness that the path we have been on is no longer sustainable. As I wrote in my post, The End and The Beginning, this change marks an end of an era in several ways. The nature of this redirection means that the recent past is no longer an adequate guide for understanding what we must do in the future. As I began in that post,
What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?
The continuity between the recent past and the near future has broken down. This is a turning point for us. The 20th century may provide our most immediate experiential memory, but for the purpose of understanding the future, it is now ancient history.
Reflect upon the attacks on 9/11, our response to them, and the global recession of past three years, and our response to it. Can you see how the tried-and-true methods of the last century have not worked. Neither peace nor prosperity are being restored, in fact, the world is less peaceful and prosperous than it was a decade ago. Terrorism maybe contained upon our shores, but it still festers in places of poverty throughout the world.
Fear, doubt and diminishment in the confidence in our leaders and institutions are increasing. Greater diversity, interconnectivity, and, yes, even greater business efficiencies, are not answering the question about what it is that we must do.
We are now at a crossroads that requires metanoia, a change that is comprehensive and whole. This change of mind requires us to begin to see businesses as a whole organizations, rather than as a collection of interchangeable, discardable, transferable, value-specific parts. The company in The Company Men was dying because it too, like my father's company, was just a collection of assets to be exploited. There is no future in this way of thinking. To have a future requires us to change our minds and see things differently.
To change our minds, we need to make Three Turns of perception, understanding and orientation.
The Moral Turn In the first clip from The Company Men, above, Tommy Lee Jones' character raises questions about the selection of people to be let go. His response, that there is an ethical question involved, is met with a legalistic answer.
By reducing the decision to a question of share price and what is required under the law, the company is not just making a business decision, but also a moral choice.
What is a company that no longer manufactures its products? Is it now a money machine for its share holders as long as the money holds out?
The moral turn is first and foremost about the purpose or mission of the company.
Does a company whose actual purpose is share price encourage confidence and trust?
Does a company whose primary focus is share price understand its connection to the people who work in the business and the communities where they are physically located?
Is a company more than its financials?
Does a company have a responsibility that goes beyond its shareholders, and what is defined by what is strictly legal?
Every organization exists in a context that is greater than the sum of the parts of the organization. There is a culture that is physical, ideological, technological and social.
For example, what distinguishes an insurance company in London to one based in Sao Paulo or Detroit is geography and culture. Yes, they each ofter insurance plans. Yes, they each have customers. Yes, they each generate revenue. The difference is the local context that helps to define the culture of the business.
As a result ...
a company is not primarily its mission or purpose, but its values that are embedded in ideas and relationships within the context, culture and structure of the organization.
Values permeate the whole of the business, including those persons and organizations outside of the business who are influenced by it. Values inform its purpose, its vision of impact, its relationships with all those who are touched by the company, and how the company measures its impact.
The mission of a company is a product of its values.
When the purpose of the company is more than its financial value to shareholders, it is no longer, just a reservoir of assets to be exploited, but a context in which to create the future.
Recently I heard a presenter during in an organizational development workshop describe organizations that are mission driven as organizations on the rise. He used a diagram similar to this one that I use to describe organizations in transition.
When a company reaches a point of maturity or stabilization or equilibrium, the importance of its mission as a guide often fades. What follows is an increasing focus on its financial assets as its primary purpose. The presenter was convinced that once an organization shifts from a mission focus to a financial focus, it has entered a stage of decline. In effect, they no longer see how a company can grow, but rather be sold.
The moral turn that a company needs to make is to reaffirm its values and reestablish its mission as the driving force of the company as a whole.
The Social Turn When the value of a company is reduced to its share price, the company loses the value that exists within its social structure. Not every member of the organization benefits from a rise in the share price. As a result, the company fragments into internally competitive parts to see who will survive the company's disintegration.
For example, as a Boston Red Sox fan for over 45 years, I was particularly disappointed in their collapse this year. It was not that old patterns of attitudes and behaviors that had hampered the team in the past had returned. Rather, it was the squandering of the talent and potential that existed on paper, at least, at the beginning of the season.
By all appearances, the social environment of the team is the core reason for their decline. At the beginning of the season, they were the odds on favorite to win the World Series. Great pitching, the acquisition of two all-star hitters, and a coaching staff that had produced two World Series championships held great promise for the upcoming season. Yet all that collapsed into a mess in what appears to be based in a collective selfishness and lack of accountability for the team's social environment and on field performance.
The Social Turn is the recovery of the human dimension in organizations. As human beings we are social beings through which our individuality develops. Much of the fragmentation of modern business organizations isolates individuals and business units into individualized roles that make collaborative team work more difficult. As a result, the connections that exist between people in the workplace are treated as having marginal value.
In The Company Men, when Ben Affleck is fired, the stated reason is that his position is redundant. In effect, the company was recouping a cost that it viewed was exceptional rather than necessary. The company also loses in this kind of fragmenting of the social structure of the business. Affleck's character was not just a person in a cubicle, but was a connection point in a network of relationships that provided information and influence beyond the company. The value may be redundant, but it is a redundancy that creates strength and resilience, not weakness.
Social fragmentation is not just found in businesses, but in global society at large. Its destructiveness finds its way into companies and organizations, weakening their ability to marshal the talent that exists. The Social Turn is one that values relationships of honor, respect, humility, trust and mutual reciprocity. These values function to create a social fabric that allows for diversity and interconnectivity that creates the sustainability that businesses and communities need.
The Structural Turn The industrial model of business was conceptualized around the idea that a business is filled with a few smart people and a lot of laborers. The world has changed, yet the structures of organizations have not. Still the structure is a hierarchy of decision-makers "leading" a larger number of decision-implementers.
This approach does not work as well as it once did. Here are just a few reasons.
1. Technology levels the information playing field.
2. Advances in public education, and the expansion of higher education has created a society of workers who are much better informed and equipped to do decision-making type work.
3. The complexity of working in a global environment of diverse cultures makes it more difficult for a few people to know everything they need to know about the issues that confront their business.
4. The skills required for leadership and management of business are much more accessible to far more people than every before.
5. Hierarchical structures are organized for control through compartmentalization and standardization.
The Structure Turn that is taking place elevates personal initiative, network collaboration, and adaptive learning as the keys to the organization and leadership of businesses.
Instead of a structure organized around compartmentalized roles and defined areas of responsibility, the emerging structure is an open environment where the skills and resources needed for the work of the business is acquired through a network relationship structure.
In this structure each person is responsible for the whole of the project, not just their segment. Each person can function in the role of leader, while not having a title as one.
In this networked structure, the premium skills are placed upon thinking skills that are both analytical and intuitive.
As I recently commented to Dana Leman of RandomKid,
"Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, and everyone is a leader."
Leadership ceases to be a title, and becomes a set of behaviors and attitudes that all share. For the character of this kind of leadership to take root, it requires changing the structure.
The Structural Turn is towards an organizational culture where people are free to create and contribute, to communicate, to initiate and to pitch in where they see a need. Instead of being doers of assigned responsibilities, they are facilitators and problem solvers. In many companies, this kind of structure is developing. However, it must happen at the senior level for the turn to be successful.
How would the company in The Company Men function differently if they operated under a network structure?
1. More people would be engaged in meaningful reflection about the challenges facing the company because they knew that had an actual stake in its success.
2. Innovation would be more prevalent as employees practiced a higher level of leadership initiative and problem solving.
3. New business applications through employee ingenuity would expand the number and range of revenue streams the company has.
4. The company would be unified behind its shared values and mission.
5. The company would be a more attractive place for the top talent to work.
6. The company could more easily adapt to financial downturns.
7. Communities would be vying for the opportunity for the company to create a local operation.
The central message of the Three Turns is for your mission to drive change in the company, centered around values that unite people to create a shared company culture of trust, personal initiative, and a desire to contribute to the company's success. When this happens, the turn from hierarchical structure to a network one can take place as a natural evolution of the company.
A friend of mine recently commented that his business and professional relationships were transactional,not relational. In describing them, he meant that while they were congenial, the motivation for the relationship was quid-pro-quo.
I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine, and will only scratch yours if you scratch mine.
A transaction-based relationship exists as a function of a reciprocal economic exchange. It is a sophisticated form of negotiated shared mutual self-interest. It's nothing personal. Just an agreement between two or more people, or the culture that exists in an organization or community.
In a transactional culture, the institutional relationship centers within a game of power, influence and control. The reward in such a relationship is the validation of self worth by the organization.
Communities, where a transaction-based culture exists, is oriented around the status of the influential and prominent, and the line between those who are and are not is clearly maintained as a part of the culture.
As my friend shared his experience with me, the context reminded me of the organizational leaders whom I interviewed in the mid-1990s. In those interviews, I asked,"If you were to lose everything this afternoon, who would stand with you?" Most answered with silence. One or two offered, "My mother?" None said their business partners, their friends, their spouse or children.
One reason the psychic effects of the recession have been so severe is that self-worth for so many business and professional people is rooted in this transactional institutional relationship. In effect,
"I am my position, title, job responsibilities and compensation package."
Displaced from this organizational setting after years of service, cast adrift into a sea of other unemployed professionals, it quickly becomes apparent that these transactional relationships cannot sustain us through life's disruptive transitions.
Like the leaders I interviewed, many people are finding that their confidence in the support and security of their institution is disintegrating. As accomplished professionals, who successfully maneuvered the challenges of operating within a transactional business environment, they now realize that they are on-their-own to chart their future course in an unknown landscape where organizational connection matters less and less, and human connection everything.
As with most of my projects, questions are the driver of discovery.
At first, I wanted to understand gratitude, and how it can build stronger relationships and strengthen organizations.
Then, I began to ask a question that got behind my original one.
When I am grateful to someone, to what am I responding?
After considerable of reflection, I finally concluded that it was human kindness.
By kindness, I mean acts that represent a certain kind of attitude and behavior that we have about people and our relationships with them. I'm not just talking about family relationships, or close friends, but all our relationships, personal and professional.
Here's are some examples that inspire me to celebrate this human motivation.
A friend wrote me to tell about how she had been transferred to a different department within her company. While the change was good for her, it put her former boss and co-workers in a difficult position. Here's her description of what she did.
I told my ex-boss and current boss, that for my own conscience and personal conviction, I felt strongly wanting to help my ex-dept (esp my ex-bosses) as they were in very difficult times. I decided to take my few days of leave and go back to my ex-dept to coach and help them. Many, could not understand why I needed to go to this extent to help (by taking own leave) and jeopardizing my appraisal from my new dept by going the extra mile to help my ex-dept. I was not bothered because I knew what I was doing and I felt that loyalty, compassion and being there for my ex-bosses and colleagues were the most important things in life compared to how my new dept assessed me in my new appraisal.
My friend's former bosses and colleagues meant something to her. Her relationship to them was not a transactional relationship, but a professional relationship with a genuine depth of caring.
Another example that remains in my memory are the people I met in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast who had left the home communities, sold their homes or shut their utilities off, lock the doors and moved to contribute in the relief and recovery of the region following Hurricane Katrina. Six years later, some are still there making a difference as the region rebuilds.
I have the same respect for the hundreds, maybe thousands, of nameless people, who in the midst of the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center towers, the attack on The Pentagon and the bringing down of Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania, cared for people whom they did not know, yet were in need. Their acts of kindness and sacrifice are, for me, why we commemorate this day each year. They are a living reminder that not everyone bases their actions on a mutual economic exchange.
These examples, and many others, are for me theKindness / Gratitude Connection.
Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor describe kindness, in their book On Kindness, this way.
"... life lived in instinctive sympathetic identification with the vulnerabilities and attractions of others."
Kindness is not the first attribute that we'd use to describe a business. Yet, it is one that we may identify as why we are loyal to one.
Kindness is an expression of empathy. People who are kind and empathetic are able to see in other people the challenges they face and the potential that they have. The empathy connection, like kindness, builds relationships of strength to overcome serious life challenges.
Kindness is a leadership capacity that transcends the formal structure of the organization.
Leaders who can engage people with kindness and empathy are able to find resources of motivation and commitment that are non-existent in a transactional relationship.
Kindness in its fullness requires a level of personal maturity that enables us to look beyond our individual interests. In kindness, we can see the dignity, value and potential of other people.
Think of the many professional situations we encounter everyday. We walk into a room. There are a dozen or more people in there. What should our intention be?
If our intention is to be kind to each person, then we enter the room with the purpose of honoring them. To do so I must see that my presence in the room is not about me. It is about the connection that can be made between me and another person, and of the room as a whole body of people. My purpose is not to get something, but to contribute.
Does everyone in the room deserve this sort of treatment? Obviously not. But it isn't about treating people as they deserve. That is the transactional mindset. Rather, being kind in a business and professional context is about my acting in such a way that we all are able to achieve higher levels of impact that we could have.
I am suggesting that the practice of kindness and gratitude is a strategy for strengthening organizations. And, that without it, a company is weaker, less able to manage change and adapt to their opportunities.
I am saying that a transactional mindset is inherently unpredictable and organizationally divisive, and contributes to economic instability in organizations and the global economy.
I am actually saying that leaders who only know how to work within a transactional model are weaker, and, their displays of control and ego are masks for fear and a sense of inadequacy.
Treating each person with respect, empathy and honor doesn't mean that we are simply nice to them. It is means that we listen and treat their ideas and their actions seriously. By treating them with honor, we are able to be constructively critical. Without honor, our criticism easily becomes self-serving and destructive.
With honor and kindness, we build understanding between us that elevates our mutual strategic thought processes. This is often what is missing in executive efforts to increase team communication and decision-making. It isn't about the analytical process, but about the relationship that builds understanding, unity and commitment.
A reason why so much of social networking, whether in person or online, is a waste of time is because its based on a transactional perspective. When we seek to be kind, to contribute to the welfare of others, to practice the Five Actions of Gratitude, then the social dynamic changes.
As my understanding of Gratitude and, now, Kindness has grown, I'm also seeing how my best online relationships are mutual expressions of The Kindness / Gratitude Connection.
The Power of Mutual Reciprocity
Genuine accountability in relationships requires openness, transparency, and a mutual willingness to adapt and change to make the relationship work.We share a mutual intention to submit to one another's critique and counsel.
When mutual accountability works, the relationship transcends the transaction and begins to move toward a relationship that reflects the kindness / gratitude connection.
Kindness fosters giving. It opens up social settings to opportunities that do not exist except when relationships are healthy and vital. Givers are the source of this openness. Philanthropy is an embodiment of the kindness of strangers giving to causes and institutions that matter to them. Their giving creates the strength that makes a society work.
For this reason, gratitude is more than a function of social etiquette to which my grandmother would earnestly approve. Rather, It is a fundamental part of every human relationship that completes the act of kindness by giving back in gratitude.
"A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy."
"There is a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction, but it always leads to sorrow because it narrows and deadens our spirit. True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared. There is no end to the sharing of love, and, therefore, the potential happiness of such love is without limit. Infinite sharing is the law of God's inner life. He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves. In disinterested activity we best fulfill our own capacities to act and to be."
"Yet there can never be happiness in compulsion. It is not enough for love to be shared: it must be shared freely. That is to say it must be given, not merely taken. Unselfish love that is poured out upon a selfish object does not bring perfect happiness: not because love requires a return or a reward for loving, but because it rests in the happiness of the beloved. And if the one loved receives love selfishly, the lover is not satisfied. He sees that his love has failed to make the beloved happy. It has not awakened his capacity for unselfish love."
"Hence the paradox that unselfish love cannot rest perfectly except in a love that is perfectly reciprocated: because it knows that the only true peace is found in selfless love. Selfless love consents to be loved selflessly for the sake of the beloved. In so doing, it perfects itself."
"The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received."
The expression of kindness is analogous to the expression of love between people. Paraphrasing Merton, we could say.
The gift of kindness is the gift of the power and the capacity to be kind, and, therefore, to give kindness with full effect is also to receive it.
The gift of gratitude is the gift of the power and the capacity to be grateful, and, therefore, to give gratitude with full effect is also to receive it.
The fulfillment of love for Merton isn't the expression of it. Rather, it is the mutual benefit that comes from mutual giving and receiving. This is what the Kindness / Gratitude Connection means.
My purpose is to show that gratitude is not just some nice thing that we do. Oh, isn't she nice. She sent me a thank you note. My point is to show that the expression of kindness and gratitude changes a professional relationship from a transactional one to an adaptive one..
When we act towards others with kindness, we open up possibilities in our relationship with them that would be more difficult to discover if my only interest was closing the deal. We become much more aware of the situations that we each have, and those that we share. As a result our communication level is deeper, and our willingness to help the other out is greater.
The Future is Kind
Everywhere I turn I see organizations and institutions failing because they think they can sustain the past into the future. The transaction-based professional relationship and institution are relics of a much more homogeneous, economically predictable time. It is the model of the 20th century that worked.
The 21st century is vastly different. The organizational forms of the past are disintegrating, to the point that all that is left is the commitment and desire of people to sustain the place of their employment.
The future is going to be secured in relationships of mutuality, kindness, honor, empathy and gratitude.
These relationships will transcend all the boundaries that we spent the 20th century seeking to overcome. Where they remain are places still committed to sustaining the past.
The beauty of the 21st century is that it is open to everyone because it is built upon our relationships with one another. It is not just an ethical perspective, but a strategic development one. Making the Kindness / Gratitude Connection a strategic focus on a business, the kind of relationship we need to manage rapid, accelerating global change can be realized. The real beauty of it is that it is not institutionalize, but personalized in each one of us.
If we want to be successful in every aspect of our lives in the future, then learn to be kind, giving, grateful and honoring of the people in your life.
The executive leaders of businesses are not just strategic decision-makers and systems managers, but the creators of culture. This culture is the human dimension of their organization. It is how people interact, communicate, collaborate and operate ethically.
There are some aspects of a healthy culture that transcend time and place, industry and organizational purpose. One of those marks is openness.
Two questions drive this interest for me.
What is an open culture?
How can the practice of gratitude contribute to it?
Think of a culture of a business as being the product of the ideas and relationships of people connected to it.
A culture has distinguishing characteristics, activities, branded products and services. and specific processes that represent that culture. It is also the connecting ideas of purpose or mission, values, vision and impact that are given life by the people within the culture. A culture is what binds people together as a group, a movement or an organization, and provides them a way to interact and support what matters to them collectively.
Cultures can be open or closed, healthy or dysfunctional, unified or confused, sustainable or dying.
The key to creating a healthy, sustainable culture is openness.
The Marks of an Open Culture
In an open culture there are low barriers to contributing.
A new person can join, and immediately make an impact. There is no process of jumping through hoops to determine whether you are worthy of contributing. I see this particularly in social organizations, whether a club or religious congregation. In an open culture, people join and start participating and contributing right away. Their contribution is valued and recognized.
Another characteristic of an open organizational culture is a high incidence of personal initiative being taken by members. In my mind, initiative is the beginning of all leadership. Without initiative, there is no leadership, only passive followership.
In a closed culture, the initiative is reserved for the authority figures. They decide what the group does and doesn’t do. This high control environment means that personal initiative is resisted and those who may be more independent, creative and innovative in their attitudes and behaviors are discouraged or punished for being so. In an open culture, people recognize that they have the opportunity and responsibility to create new and better ways of realizing the impact of their organization. So, they take personal initiative to make difference that matters.
A third mark is that openness creates a higher level of adaptability. In a closed culture, the mindset becomes defensive and resistant to change. The assumption is that a culture is fixed in time, and remains the same over time. Rather, what is fixed are the values that drive the culture. The expression of those values can change over time. But the values don't.
“Core Values are the organization’s essential and enduring tenets – a small set of timeless guiding principles that require no external justification.”
Cultural practices, in their model, are those practices that have replaced the core values as the drivers of the company. These practices have lost their connection to the core values with the result that the company becomes closed to opportunities through change.
In an open culture, values matter.
Your mission or purpose can change. Your vision can change. Your understanding of the impact that you want to have can change. They can because you are adapting to changes that are occurring simultaneously throughout the landscape of your business. What guides you through change are your values.
In an open culture, people find a culture where there are low barriers to contributing, their personal initiative to make a difference that matters is welcomed, and the company adapts more easily to change by being rooted in its values.
The challenge to creating an open culture is implementation. It is one thing to have well defined connecting ideas. It is another thing to know how to act upon them within the structure of the organization.
The Five Actions of Gratitude as Openness Strategy
Each of the five actions is an outreach of openness to others. It is not protective, defensive, exclusionary or elitist. It is open, grateful, giving, welcoming, respectful and creative.
To Say Thanks is appreciate the actions and impact of another person.
It is recognizing another person or group’s contribution to your life and work. It is also a type of self-awareness that sees the beneficial place of others in our life
To Give Back is to recognize that I want to give back in service to persons, groups or communities some measure of the goodness that I’ve received from them.
This is not a payback of a debt owed, except as a debt of gratitude. It is an act of thankful contribution.
Imagine if this was the culture of your office right now. What would it would it look like. Maybe, what you’d see is a higher level of not just contribution, but sharing of work and responsibilities so that it gets done, and done well.
To Make Welcome is to create an open environment for people to take initiative to contribute.
With openness comes personal responsibility to make the workplace a better place to work, to innovate ways to better serve customers, and to resolve problems and issues before the grow into a crisis.
This is the key action for creating an open culture. It requires a specific kind of leadership that permits others to lead along side one another. It is a culture of shared responsibility and opportunity.
To Honor Others is to treat people with dignity, respect and kindness.
These are values that characterize the best of relationships. The are the basis for a culture of gratitude and trust.
The reality for most businesses is that these are rarely evident with any degree of strength. Why is it so? My guess is that these practices require effort and commitment. They do not easily translate to a company's bottom-line. They are not typically the qualifications for executive leadership. These values only create efficiency when the culture has reached a level of maturity. As noted above, it is this culture that produces the adaptability that is so essential for sustainable growth in the current business environment.
To Create Goodness is the outcome of an open culture that invites personal initiative to make a difference that matters.
Creativity is born in the initiative of a person. It rises from their values, their sense of purpose, the questions that lead them to explore new ways of doing the things and finally to make a difference that matters.
Goodness is the impact of an open culture. As the ancient Greeks understood goodness, it is a way to understand the fulfillment of purpose. It is way to understand wholeness, completeness, integrity and success. It is the fulfillment of the potential that resides in each of the connecting ideas. It is that intangible quality that brands the experience that people within a company's culture comes to measure the organization by. It is the product of personal initiative, which flourishes within an open culture.
Creating an Open Culture of Gratitude
These practices are not just good ideas, which they are, not just good things to do, which they are, but more importantly a systemic strategy for the effective functioning of every organization. In order for a system of gratitude to be developed, the system that currently exists must be changed or replaced. It may be a small change or a large one, but turning your organization into an open culture of gratitude creates an environment of shared leadership that attracts the best talent to join you.
Leading in an Open Culture of Gratitude
I hear from people that gratitude is this sweet, grandmotherly sentiment that has little relevance to leading organizations. Obviously, they didn't know my grandmother. Instead, to practice gratitude as I've outlined here requires personal maturity, inner confidence, and a willingness to trust. Instead of it being trite, it is the most transformative, courageous thing an executive leader can do.
To transform an organization’s culture from a closed one to an open one is dependent on the person at the top changing. It is a simple change, but a very difficult one. It is difficult because it is not tactical, but personal.
In order for an open culture of gratitude to grow, you have to decide that you are not the go-to-guy for everything, that you can’t make every decision, resolve every issue, be the king or queen on the throne, and be the one who dictates the course of your business. You can't even be the expert at creating an open culture of gratitude. You have to realize that you are a facilitator of talent, and that the value of that talent is only realized fully when each person is free to exercise their personal initiative for the greater good of the customer, other employees, the business and the community.
This is a change of mindset, of attitude and behavior. This is the supreme test of the character of the leader. Can you let go and let you people lead? If you can, then you can create an open culture of gratitude. If not, then you will be following those who can do it.
Openness is the key, and gratitude is the strategy that elevates openness to a practical, functional level.
Be grateful, giving, welcoming, honoring and creative and you’ll find new depth of impact emerging from the parts of your organization that have never produced to their potential. It all starts by being open and grateful.
What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?
Working in planning processes over the years, I've concluded that people can see what they want, but fail to reach it because of how they go about it. We can imagine the future, but not see the path that will take us there. This gap in our abilities is becoming more acute as the ways we have worked are becoming less effective.
From another perspective, we rarely see the end of something coming, or the beginning of the next thing. We tend to see in retrospect. Our aversion to change, I believe, is largely because we don't like surprises. We defend the past hoping that it is sustainable into the future, even if we see a better, different one.The past, even less than ideal, at least seems known and more certain, more secure, more stable, more predictable, more comfortable, at one level. It does not mean that it is satisfying or fulfilling, but it seems safer.
As a result, instead of providing us a sound basis for change, the past can inhibit us from achieving the vision that we see. Instead, we live by a set of cultural forms that must be defended against change. In other words, the form of the way we live and work remains the same even after its vitality has gone.
Change that has come
What impresses me about our time is how fast change is happening, and how quickly things we thought were normative seem less relevant.
Ten years ago, websites were the rage. You weren't on the cutting edge of business without one. Today, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other social media platforms are the norm for a business. Twenty years ago, CDs were the norm. Now, digital I-Tunes downloads. Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union was the West's nemesis, now militant Islam. Forty years ago, Vietnam and racial equality were the dominant issues of our time. Now we have an African-American President, and Howard Schultz wants Starbucks in Vietnam. Fifty years ago, President Kennedy was challenging the nation to go to the Moon within the decade. Today, the government is putting space exploration on the back burner as space travel is becoming privatized.
Could we have imagined these changes? Possibly. We'd probably not be able to see how they'd happen. That is the curious thing about visions and visioning. We can imagine the end, but not the means. The pathway to the future goes through today and tomorrow. Yet, we are captives of our past thinking and experiences. They are the measure of what is possible and what can be done.
The End and the Beginning
I have been reflecting, in particular, on these thoughts over the past several months. I've tried to step back without prejudice and identify what I see without reducing it down to a few simple categories. What I do see are the markers of change in three broad areas.
For one it is the The Beginning of the End, for another The End of the Beginning, and for another, surprisingly, The Beginning of a long delayed Beginning.
Some of this reflection was prompted by a conversation about a project event to take place later this year. It was a discussion about how businesses function. The contrast was between a focus of work as a set of tasks to be done and the importance of human interaction in meeting organizational goals. I realized coming out of that conversation that this project, for me, represented a turning point in human and organizational development. It provided a picture of the past and the future. The past as the Industrial model of business organization and the future of organizations as communities of leaders. That last phrase was what I envisioned a decade and a half ago when I began my consulting business. Only now, after all these years, do I see that simple idea beginning to have relevance for the way we live, work, organize and lead organizations.
What I see is:
The Beginning of the End of the Progressive ideal.
The Endof the Beginning of the Capitalist model.
The Emergence of freedom and democracy on a global scale.
The first two, Progressivism and Capitalism, along with modern Science, are the principal products of the age of Enlightenment.
The Progressive ideal believed, and still does by many of its advocates, that through government control of science and industry a free, equitable and peaceful world could be achieved. Conceived during the 19th century as a belief that society could be perfected, and as a counter-balance to the industrialization taking place in Europe and the United States, it was an utopian belief in a well-order, controlled, uniform world.
The Capitalist model was born in a belief that each individual should be free to pursue their own economic welfare, and not be forced by government rules or economic servitude to do that which they choose not to do. It was the ideology that provided the basis of the industrialization out which has come prosperity for more people in history and the rise of the modern middle class.
Both the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have brought great benefits and liabilities to society. They form the two sides of virtually every divisive issue confronting the world today. They are quite similar, yet in very different ways. Both are organized around the control of power and wealth. Both have been institutionalized in the large, hierarchical organizations in Washington and on Wall Street, and in similar institutions throughout the world.
Over the past decade, the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have begun to show their age. The assumptions that underlie these ideologies are being challenged by forces of change that are beyond their control. Because the control of global forces of change is problematic and less realistic.
A principal assumption of the Enlightenment is that we can know what we need to know by analytical decision making. In other words, by identifying the parts of a situation, we understand it, and therefore can design a strategic mechanism for controling the outcome. This analytical process works very well in the realm of the natural sciences, less so in the realm of the social sciences. To paraphrase novelist Walker Percy, "Science can tell us how the brain functions, but not about the functioning of the mind."
At the beginning of this essay, I wrote of what I was seeing The Beginning of The End of the Progressive ideal and The End of the Beginning of the Capitalist model. Neither of these observations are political statements. I am not a Democrat, nor a Republican. I am not a Progressive nor a Libertarian. I find none of the current choices of political affiliation representative of my own perspective and values. I speak as an outlier, not an antagonist.
I see these ideological movements as products of a different time in history. The assumptions and the way of thinking that brought these ideologies into prominence are now receding in appropriateness. The conditions that gave rise to these ideas over the past three hundred years are now giving way to new conditions. If progressivism and capitalism are to survive, then their proponents must change.
These ideologies born in the age of Enlightenment share a reductive approach to knowledge. In other words, we gain knowledge and understanding by breaking things into parts. The assumption is that things are collections of discrete parts. Yet, we know that in the natural sciences, the mixing of different chemical elements creates something new and different that cannot exist in any other way. Water being the most obvious example.
However, in the social realm, there is a shift toward emergent knowledge as the basis for understanding what is. The emergent perspective sees connections and wholes rather than just parts. In a network of relationships, the value isn't one person, but rather the connections that one person has to other persons.
Think of it as the difference between those radio ads selling lists of sales leads, and knowing the person who has a relationship with 100 of those buyers. The former is a list of contacts, of names and addresses. It is a parts list. The other is a picture of a network of connections that one person has. This second picture is the picture of the future, for it is a picture of relationships.
We see emerging forces all around us. Again, this is not a political statement, but an observation. One difference between the Tea Party demonstrations and the Union demonstrations of the past year is the difference between an emergent organization and a traditional hierarchical one. The Tea Party organization is intentionally decentralized in local communities. Unions are designed as centralized concentrations of power. One body speaking for a host of organizations.
The difference here is between a centralized and decentralized organizational structure, like that described in Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom's book, The Starfish and The Spider. The centralized structure (the spider) is vulnerable at the top. Take down the leader, and the organization suffers significant loss of prestige and power. The decentralized system (the starfish) is not vulnerable at the top, because there is none. In a decentralized system, no one expression controls the fortunes of the whole. The centralized is the industrialized model, and the decentralized, an emergent one. The system that the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model share is one of centralization. Operating separate from both are independents and small business entrepreneurs. The difference is between a hierarchy of control and a network of collaborative relationships.
The recent rebellions in the Middle East are also examples of this emergent model. The use of cell phone and internet technology to connect people in agile, less structured ways make these rebellions possible, not necessarily successful, but possible.Their desire is for a freedom that they see provided and secured by democracy. When thousands of demonstrators fill the streets of Cairo seeking the end of a repressive regime, their impact is far greater than their numbers. We see a visual counterpoint of the difference between being a nation of free people and one living under an authoritarian government.
In business, the emergent model has relevance. When a business perceives itself to be a structure of parts, processes and outcomes, following upon the centralized industrial model, then it has a much more difficult time seeing the value that exists in the relational connections that exist both between people and within the structure itself. It is why so many businesses become siloed and turf battles insue.
However, when a business sees itself as a network of interactive individuals, then the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The result is higher levels of communication, collaboration and coordination.
While the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model are products of the age of Enlightenment, emergence, freedom and democracy are even older ideas finding new ground and relevance. In the traditional business organization, their relevance can be seen in two ways.
First, in the freedom of the individual to take responsibility through their own initiative. This perspective harkens back to the ancient Greek democracies where Greek farmers and small business owners participated in the governance and protection of their city-state. For businesses to replicate such an ethos requires a shift in perspective from employees as functionaries of the tasks of the company to a recognition of the potential contribution that each person offers. It is in this sense that each person leads out of their own personal initiative to give their best to the company.
Second, in the emergence of businesses as human communities of shared responsibility. The traditional approach has been to break down the organizational structures into discrete parts of tasks and responsibilities, and to staff to that conception of the organization. This traditional hierarchical approach worked in simpler times when businesses were less global, more homogeneous, and employees less well trained, and had the technology to advance their contributions beyond their individual position in the company.
Today, the environment of business has changed, as the context becomes more complex and change accelerates. Agility and responsiveness are not embedded in structure, but in human choice and in relationships that amplify those shared choices to make a difference. It is the freedom to take initiative to act in concert with others that creates the conditions of successfully managing the challenging environment of business today. The result of a greater emphasis on relationship, interaction and personal initiative is a shift in culture. One only has to select any page in the Zappos.com Culture Book to see the influence of genuine community upon the attitudes and behaviors of the company's workforce.
The Keys to Change
I began this post by saying that we rarely see the end of something coming or the beginning of something new. What I offer here has been germinating in my mind for the past three years. It is still not yet fully formed, and may never be. Yet, I am convinced that the changes that I see happening mean that there is no going back to the halcyon days of the 1990's or even the 1950's. Business organizations will not long succeed as mechanistic structures of human parts. Rather they must emerge into being communities of leaders, where individual initiative, community and freedom are fundamental aspects of the company's culture
The keys to the future, in my mind, are fairly simple.
1. Leadership starts with individual employees' own personal initiative to make a difference. Create space and grant permission for individual employees to take initiative to create new ways of working, new collaborative partnerships and solve problems before that reach a crisis level.
2. Relationships are central to every organizational endeavor. Create space for relationships to grow, and the fruit will be better communication, more collaboration between people and groups, and a more efficient coordination of the work of the organization.
3. Open the organization to new ideas about its mission. Identify the values that give purpose and meaning to the company's mission. Organize around those values that unite people around a common purpose, that give them the motivation to want to communicate better, collaborate more, and coordinate their work with others. Openness is a form of freedom that releases the hidden and constrained potential that exists within every company.
We are now at the End of an era that is unprecedented in human history. The next era is Beginning, and each of us has the privilege and the opportunity to share in its development. It requires adapting to new ideas, new ways of thinking, living and working. I welcome the change that is emerging, because I find hope that a better world can be gained through its development.