In the Moment of Situational Awareness

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Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

From this place, situational awareness enables us to discern the influences that affect us both internally and externally. From those perceptions, we gain perspective. We can because we see the distinction between external realities and inner strengths. The external realities of the situation we are in seeks to control and absorb our attention. Our inner strengths are those qualities, so may say character, that enables us to move into a wide variety of settings without losing our sense of who were are.

External Realities - Inner Strengths 

Here's a depiction of this perspective that resulted from my engagement with a group of young women who are each in the midst of a dramatic life change.

ExternalRealitiesInternalStrengths
They identified the six eternal realities that they must address in their lives. Then from our exploration of them, we came up the ten inner strengths that would be most helpful for adapting to those realities with the greatest benefit.

The conclusion is that we need "tools" for coping with challenging situations. This is why situational awareness is a skills-based capacity, and, not just a tactic or an idea.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Like many of us, I often encounter people who are panhandlers, asking for some spare change for various reasons. They may or may not be homeless. They may or may not be telling me the truth about why they need the money. Their reasons don't really matter. What matters is the interaction we have at the precise moment of our encounter.

My values tell me that each person, regardless of their life situation, should be treated with dignity as a human being. That doesn't mean that I have to approve of their life choices, or whether they have the self-respect that should accompany that sense of dignity, or that I should even trust them. It is that without a belief in the inherrent dignity of each individual, we do not have a foundation for a relationship that allows for us to honestly explore what is possible between us.

If a person on the street, who asks me for help, is clearly not high or drunk, then I will do something to help him or her. It they say they are hungry, I will take the time and buy them a meal. If they say they are hungry, yet do not want the meal, but the money, then I know that there is an ulterior motive in their request to me.

I tell them that is all I am willing to do. (This reflects the boundaries that I have set for my interaction with this person.)

If they say they need a bus ticket, I may drive them to the bus station. If I am convinced that this is a legitimate request. I will ask them lots of questions to determine whether the story is legitimate. If I'm satisfied that it is, then I will help them.

If they are drunk or smell of alcohol, I'll send them to the local agency that works with people in need.

I hope you see by this scenario that I have constructed a way of being situationally aware that does not place me in conflict with the external realities are clearly designed to do so. Many of our interactions with people are intended to put us in a compromised position, so that we give against our wishes and our own interests. The key is being prepared to relate to the person or group as they present themselves to us right now, in this moment, not historically, or as may happen in the future.

I have decided that to treat people with dignity, who lack self-respect and feel no reciprocal dignity towards me, requires the kind of internal strengths identified above. 

To learn to do this brings freedom and peace of mind to our relationships, both those with whom we live and work everyday, and, those whom are strangers that we encounter outside of our normal environments.

Situation awareness is a type of intuition into a particular situation.

We see into it, connecting different observations, sensations with logic and past experience.

We see into the situation as a result.

Let's take this interaction a step further.

The dignity I offer to a person asking for help is to believe what they tell me. To respect them as a human being, and to establish a relationship of trust. Even if this is for a minute or two, it is important to do this.

Social conformity, which I wrote about in my previous post, is derived from the need for secure external circumstances. The goal is to minimize the internal discomfort that we may feel as we encounter all kinds of people every day. These feelings of discomfort are the ground upon which we build the inner strengths that we need for situational awareness.

There is a kind of natural co-dependency that occurs when social conditions are secure and constant. It is the picture of happy families and homogeneous communities in movies.

Times of social and economic disruption are more traumatic for people. Their emotional health and sense of self-worth become dependent upon the support and constancy of external circumstances. In other words, when personal security is found in conforming to some social expectation, we lose the best parts of our individualism, and become more resistant to change and social difference.

When a person goes through a divorce, loses their job, finds their children are disabled in some manner, or the nation goes to war, the community experiences a catastrophic natural disaster, or at a more superficial level, their favorite sports team fails to win the championships that everyone expected them to do, then these are not simply emotional blows to be weathered as better times return. Instead, these changes may be threats to one's own sense of self, or identity.

Returning to my scenario of the panhandler, if I give her or him, I then tell them the following.

"I am giving you this money trusting that you are telling me the truth. I have no way of knowing this. But you do. This money is a gift to you. In response, I only ask you that when you are given the opportunity, that you do the same for someone else. I am asking you to give to someone as an act of thanks for the gift that I am giving you right now."

The money is not the point. Establishing a rapport of trust, dignity and mutuality is.

To act in this way requires discernment that is learned at a deep level. It requires of us to be able to listen to the story behind the story, to ask questions that get to that story, and from that awareness, determine whether there is a possibility of establishing, even for a moment in time, an open, trusting relationship. If we can do this once, we can do it again and again.

The risk is that I may have totally misread the situation, and I have squandered the price of a bus ticket or meal on someone who is simply using me. That is the price I pay for treating people with dignity. I accept that, and am willing to take the risk because of the times when the response is one of deep gratitude.

The point is not the money, but the story we tell ourselves about who we are in social situations. My story is about dignity, trust and generosity.

In the next post in this series, I'll write about the story we tell ourselves. I've written about this before in The Edge of the Real: The Unfolding Story.


Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

  SocialConformity

Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

One of the most challenging aspects of being situationally aware is learning how to deal with the social conformity that lies at the root of all social environments.

Social Conformity and Self-knowledge

Much of our socialization as children and adolescents was not intentionally focused on developing situational awareness as I describe it. Rather, we were taught various ways of conforming to the social requirements of a particular situation.

Social conformity breaks down situational awareness by suppressing individual initiative.

The institutional form of social conformity requires us to think less for ourselves by operating according a set of prescribed codes and processes. Ironically, the "expressive individualism" as Charles Taylor describes in his book, A Secular Age is at the same time conformity to a wider consumer culture.

I believe ... that our North Atlantic civilization has been undergoing a cultural revolution in recent decades. The 60s provide perhaps the hinge moment, at least symbolically. It is on one hand an individuating revolution, which may sound strange, because our modern age was already based on a certain individualism. But this has shifted on to a new axis, without deserting the others. As well as as moral/spiritual and instrumental individualism, we now have a widespread "expressive" individualism. This is, of course, not totally new. ... What is new is that this kind of self-orientation seems to have become a mass phenomenon.

... With post-war affluence, and the diffusion of what many had considered luxuries before, came a new concentration on private space, and the means to fill it, ... And in this newly individuated space, the customer was encouraged more and more to express her taste, furnishing her space according to her own needs and affinities, as only the rich had been able to do so in previous eras.

While we perceive ourselves as individuals, we still make choices that are motivated by the fear of rejection or retribution for standing outside the circle of conformity. To think for ourselves in a situationally aware context requires us to have the self-knowledge that enables us to see social situations more objectively, to engage people without personalizing the interaction, and to discern what is in the best interests of the group.

Social conformity produces a personal identity that is formed by external conditions governed by institutional rules and defined by objects that provide us our identity.

Consider all the groups a person experiences from kindergarten through high school. Family, academic, sports, arts, religious and community organizations each have a set of guiding values. From place to place, town to town, organization to organization, each one provides a developmental experience that may or may not have the intention of creating stronger, mature, life-ready individuals.  Each institutional situation does require some sort of accountability to the goals and values of the group. An over-riding concern, therefore, is when social conformity is accomplished by cohersion, threat and fear. An extreme example of this would be the practice of hazing as an initiation rite into membership of a social organization.

Group oriented organizations can provide lessons in how to fit in, to play the game that others control, and how to win or excel as a group. One of the realities of this situation is that some people are better at whatever the purpose of the group is. Whether it is math class, football or band, there emerges a recognition that every group is ordered according to those who are the elite players, and those who are the support ones. Every kid knows who the cool, the key, the elite members of their school or group are. It is a part of the process of social organization and conformity.

This kind of institutional social control is a product of a time when our society was based upon people working within large institutional organizations. If you are going to grow up, work in a factory, in a corporate environment or any large complex organization, knowing how to play the game of social conformity is essential to success. There are multiple boundaries that a person must learn to negotiate to function well in those complex settings.

However, this kind of social conformity is becoming less and less beneficial in society. Institutions are no longer capable of sustaining life-long employment where the benefits of fitting in are rewarded. Instead, in today's world, advancement comes through not fitting in, of moving from one organizational setting to the next, as a means of finding the most advantageous place for ones' gifts and talents to be expressed. In effect, advancement is "expressive individualism" as a life strategy.

As a society, social conformity works less and less for more and more people. A recovery of genuine identity is essential. Today, we need to develop the self-knowledge that provides skills of objectivity, engagement and discernment.

The virtue of self-knowledge is that it provides us the foundation upon which we can develop the social awareness that is necessary to be effective in a global world of connection.

As I have explored this aspect of our lives, I believe we can say this much.

Situational awareness begins with self-knowledge.

I can stand apart; I can see what is going on; I can empathize with a person; I can avoid compromising situations.

With self-knowledge I grow out of the need for every situation to be about me, and I lose the fear of what happens when I do not fit in.

When I am able to be myself, without losing myself, then I am able to see how to build relationships of understanding and collaboration that create strong families, organizations and communities.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves


Three Turns

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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.

Three Turns 

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 i ts 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.

Transition Point - without Title
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. 

Structural Hole 2

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.

Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy
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.


The Social Bond

Troop in Edinburgh - Night

"If this afternoon, you were to lose everything, become a failure in all that you had sought to create, who would stand by you?" 

This is the question I asked of a number of men during a six month period a many years ago.

At the time, I did not realize how traumatizing my question could be. Most of them answered with reflective silence.

The others? "My mother."

None of them were confident that their spouse, their children, their neighbors, the people from their congregation, work, the club or any other social association would hang in there with them during a time of humiliation. In effect, these recognized leaders of their businesses were isolated and alone, alienated from a community of support and caring.

It did not take long to realize that I had to stop asking the question.  It didn't help them. I also realized that I had to become a person who could stand along side of them when they would go through the worst experiences of their personal and professional life. It changed my approach to being a consultant. It elevated my understanding of the relational nature of leadership.

Why is it that these men thought that no one stood with them?

Is it something personal?

Or is it something embedded in the way leadership, professional life and the structure of organizations have developed?

Failure of the sort that I described to them could come as a black swan, out of the nowhere, without expectation. Over the past three years, many people have found themselves in this situation. It points to a fragility that exists in our lives that is buffered by relationships of trust.

Trust is basic to healthy human interaction and the functioning of society.  We diminish the value of trust when it is understood as little more than the basis of economic exchange.

In my post, The Emergent Transformation, I distinguish between human experience that is series of transactions of information and encounters between people, and a transformational one where our interaction creates a higher level engagement.

Here's an example of what I mean.

The closest Starbucks to my home is in my neighborhood grocery store. For most of the baristas, I'm a customer. I come in, order my coffee, pay for it, and leave. Whatever banter we have is rather meaningless, just the sort of talk that accompanies any transaction.

However, there is one young woman who is different. She engages me in conversation. She recognizes me, tells me about her day, asks about mine with genuine interest.

One morning, I walked in and said, "Grande bold, room for cream, please." She starts to laugh. She stops and says, "Sounds like the names of your pets." We both laugh. It is one of those situational jokes (You had to be there.). So about once every three or four visits we talk about my dog, Grande bold, and my cat, Room for cream.

Granted, the barista and I will never become BFFs or colleagues in business. However, the moment we shared that day transcended the typical economic transaction that was the purpose of my visit, and has transformed my relationship to that store.

The Social Bond Online

Over the past decade, an interest in human connection and social networks has grown dramatically. Much of this interest is taking place online through social media platforms. You only have to look at the rise of Facebook to see the extent of the desire that people have to be socially connected to other people.

Many people denigrate the trend towards connection by social media.

"They are not real relationships." 

The relationships that develop are viewed as the online equivalent of a large cocktail party. Lots of meet and greet (search), exchange of contact info (befriending), and a superficial staying in touch (status updates.)

There is a social bond to this shared experience.  Real relating is taking place. Some of it is at a low level of social interaction as describe above. However, some of it is at a personally meaningful level. Social transformation is taking place as our connection deepens with each interaction, and possibilities open up for good things to result.  This is my own experience. 

The social bond is not the online space where we meet. The bond is the connection that we share through a common interest. Our interaction is real and provocative. Like many people, I find people whom are asking similar questions, seeking similar solutions, and who are open to learning from others.

There are two conditions that determine whether the social bond online is superficial or substantive.

The first is the transformational potential of the ideas or common interests that bring people together.

The second is the willingness for participants to allow their interaction to lead the interaction where it needs to go.

As you can see, it isn't being online, but what we do online that matters. By being a particular kind of person, we engage others in such a way that the social bond emerges from its hidden place in the social setting..

Learning to see a social bond

Earlier in my career, I worked at a small college. One of my roles was to develop a student leaders program. For three years I failed as I sought out the top student leaders to form a group focused on leadership. They simply were not interested. Persistence is sometimes not the answer. Changing your approach is.

Over time, and through my doctoral work, I came to see what was in plain sight, but virtually all of us miss when we talk about leadership.

We see leadership as a set of transactions or rather interactions and moments of decision within an organizational context. We think of leadership as a function of process. Is it simply a series of transactions made between people and groups within an business, or is it something more?

When we think only transactionally, we miss seeing the social dimension. 

We touch on it when we talk about collaboration and team work. But if you listen, most talk about improving those aspects of their business is not about the social dimension, but rather the tactical dimension of business processes.  My observation is that most leaders don't address the social dimension until it has become problematic. By ignoring the social dimension, we create a self-profiling prophecy as issues arise that not subject to easy process change.

Let me say it this way.

The last remaining unexplored leverage that leaders have now is the social dimension.

Tactics and processes, while essential, do not address the issues that many businesses now face. Leaders must identify the social bond that exists within their organizations if they are going to find the edge they need for sustainable growth in the future.

I learned this in addressing my own failure with my student leaders program. My approach had been abstract and tactical, lacking in a context for application. So, I shifted my focus to mobilizing student groups through the social bond that brought them together.   

In a college context, there are sports teams, fraternities, sororities, academic clubs, religious groups, advocacy groups and residence halls. In each, a group of students discover each other through a common bond that unites them together. It provides each person connection, a place of belonging, and a sense of identity.  For the group it provides purpose, a reason to exist and possibly as they develop a way to understand the difference they can make as a group.

Connecting Ideas2
In a business context, there are associations based on interest, skills, industry and locale. The social bond unites the executive team, the administrative staff, the sales staff, and back office as uniquely definable groups whose shared work experience provides a basis for connection, belonging and identity.

The leader of the organization has to discover the social bond that unites all the different groups to make them one group. That social bond is wrapped in what I call the four Connecting Ideas. 

When I discovered this perspective, I made two changes to my student leadership program.

The first change was to shift my attention from the individual leader to the group.

The second was to shift my leadership emphasis from teaching abstract principles of leadership to learning to lead within the context of doing it. 

I did this by starting two new activities on campus. One was a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity International. The second was an afternoon play group for the elementary age children of adolescent mothers in our community. For each, I went to the groups on campus, asking them to sign up for a service weekend with a Habitat affiliate in a nearby county or one of the play days with kids during the semester.  In both instances, groups eagerly stepped forward to sign up and participate. They saw it as a fun, meaningful activity for their group. The leaders within those groups rose to the top as organization as they took on responsibility, with the added benefit of new leaders coming forth who wanted to focus on these new campus activities.

The transcendent character of a social bond

A group's social bond is not a branded idea. While ideas may describe the bond, it is more than an idea. It is instead something emergent. It is something that is whole, that draws people together into a relationship that transcends the moment.

Here's the difference. Your college's basketball team wins the national championship. The streets of town fill up with cheering, celebrating fans. The experience brings people together around their shared joy for their team. But once the cheering stops, the bars close, and baseball season begins, the bonding experience of the post-game celebration is gone.

The social bond is something that people draw upon for meaning and purpose in their relationships within a particular social or organizational context. This is historically been one of the core strengths of religious worship. It isn't just the ideas of faith, but the shared experience of faith that matters. It is a whole shared experience that elevates one's perception of who they are and how their life matters.

For military personnel, the experience of battle is the archtypical bonding experience. This became quite clear to me when I watch for the first time the HBO documentary,  We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company that accompanies the mini-series Band of Brothers.  Lt. Dick Winters commander of the 506 Paratroop Infantry Regiment,Company E speaks about the men under his leadership.

I look upon them ... each man with great respect ... respect that I can't describe ... each one of them proved himself that he could do the job.

The respect which is difficult to describe is the bond that unites them as soldiers. It comes through a shared experience where they were tested as men and as human beings in the crucible of battle during World War II. Shifty Powers describes it.

"You know these people that you are in service with ... you know those people better than you will ever anybody in your life ... you know them right down to the final thing .. that comes when you start your training .. that progresses."

Listen how these men, in many ways not different from people we encounter everday, describe their relationships with one another.

 

The social bond that these men have exists beyond analytical description. It can't be simply broken up into a collection of ideas or stories.  It goes deeper than that.  Their relationships matter more than just as as a group of acquaintances. Rather, they are forever connected by the bond of shared experience. You can hear it in what they say. 

Here's what Ed Tipper said in the video.

There is an intimacy develops like nothing I've ever experienced anywhere, not in college, not with any other group of people.

It is like the union leader who commented to me during a values identification process with his company.

"I want us to get back to where we were twenty years ago when we were family."

Embedded in these emotions is the social bond that made working for the company or serving in 506PIR Company E something more than a job.  What formed was something fundamentally important to their experience as human beings. We are not solely individuals. We are not simply interchangeable parts in a system of organizational processes. And potentially not just list of friends in a Facebook profile.

Attention to the social bond that exists in organizations is largely missing in our society today. We treat the shared work that human beings do as mechanical scientific processes that are to be performed and measured. By removing the human social element we think we are removing ambiguity and creating efficiency and consistency. Rather, we are diminishing the organization's ability to maximize the potential that resides in each employee. It produces a rush to the bottom of the lowest common denominator level of social experience. The potential that resides in each person cannot be released because it must be done so within a social context that shared purpose and experience. Our potential is not realized solely by individual initiative, but by collaborative action.  At the heart of every team is a social bond waiting to be recognized and released. It is the hidden potential that awaits recognition by organization leaders world wide.

The challenge we confront

Years ago, when I asked people who would stand with them if they failed, unwittingly, I was revealing the absence of the compelling connection that the social bond in an organization can create. The reason for this is not solely the mechanistic principles modern scientific management.  It is also a national culture that seeks to remove risk and danger from every day life. 

When I first watched the We Stand Alone Together documentary of the actual members of Easy Company, I turned to my son and said,

"If you ever find yourself in a group where this is your experience of friendship, consider yourself to be one of the lucky few. Most people go through life never having this kind of experience of human community."

At the heart of the social bond is the recognition that we need one another. Not because we are weak, but rather because we are incomplete as individuals. The togetherness that is realized when this social bond is strong enables men and women from diverse backgrounds to join together to achieve greatness beyond their individual potential.

The challenge before us is to believe that this is true, and to act accordingly. For if this is true, then how we organize our businesses will set the stage for the elevation of the social bond creating a culture of shared human endeavor, that is required more today than every before.

First steps in discovering the social bond that exists in your organization.

I could give the standard analytical process of a set of processes that focus on the development of values and organizational purpose. But I won't, even if at some level that is important.

Instead, just treat each person with openness and honor.

Learning how to do that (I'm assuming we all need to learn to be more open to others, and to honor the best in them), a new social context will emerge that can elevate your company to a new place of shared endeavor.

To be open simply means to listen, to understand, to affirm, to let people try and fail, and to create the expectation that others will be open.

It means letting new people have the opportunity to influence decision-making and direction. It means not assuming control over every aspect of the organization's life.  And from my experience, openness is a powerful attractor for talented people to come work for your business.  It is a signal of authenticity and opportunity.

To honor is to appreciate the value and dignity of each person (see my post Honor and the Lost Art of Diplomacy) .

This is more difficult because it requires us to pay attention to the other people in the room. We must look at them not as human resources or representatives of particular social ideologies. We look at them with dignity and respect, with appreciation for the potential contributions that they can make. In many cases their contribution can only be realized when the social bond creates social strength for the depth of trust and collaboration needed for a challenge moment.

In one way or another, much of our lives is lived standing alone. But it does not have to be this way. To stand alone together is the product of intention, initiative, openness and persistence. It emerges from the thousands of individual encounters that we have where our connection to one another begins to matter beyond getting tasks done.  It is where genuine transformation happens.

Discover the social bond in your business, and you discover the path to a future that is yet to be realized.


The Unnameable Problem

People

Leaders of every organization face an unnameable problem. This problem is hidden in plain sight. Yet not recognized.

This problem is also an opportunity, even an asset, yet it is shied away from because it requires a different approach that what is typically practiced.

I learned of this unnamed problem two decades ago as I began to form a student leadership program at the small college where I worked. For three years, I tried to identify the top leadership talent on campus, and attract them into a program that would development their leadership potential. I failed in virtually every way.

What I learned was something that has driven my insights about organizations ever since. Yes, people want to be treated as individuals, but the pull of the social can be equally motivating.

Within every organization there is a social context. It functions on many different layers depending upon the intricacy of the organization's operating structure. It is close and so immediately alive in our experience that we don't truly see it. Except when serious conflicts arise.

The unnamed problem/ opportunity/ asset is the social bond that unites people together in a setting.

This social bond has many sources. In every case, it is formed by a shared experience or set of ideas that creates a common bond. It could be the shared experience of being the administrative staff on the senior executive floor. It could be a shared experience as franchise holders in a region whose challenges are different than other owners. It could be a shared value that inspires a high level of performance by a team. It could be any number of things. And what that common bond is may or may not have anything to do with the business or organization.

When I finally saw this in my work with students, I realized that people are not just individuals, but social beings. Their identity as individuals is not entirely personal, but also social.

When a kid wears his favorite team's jersey, he is signalling to us a part of his social identification. When you see a bumper stick advocating a social cause, or telling a joke, or celebrating their hometown's initials, they are signalling to us a social connection that matters to them.

In business, this is an unnamed problem because leaders, typically, don't want to deal with the social element. They want to deal with quantitative issues that lead to decisions, actions, results. Many don't even want to deal with people as individuals. They are human resources, or workers, or employees, not people, and certainly not individuals.

The reality is that our identity as individuals is not wholly self-determined. In fact, I'd say very little of our identity is self-determined. Read this excerpt from Shoshanna Zuboff and James Maxmin's The Support Economy.

"In the second half of the twentieth century a new society of individuals emerged - a breed of people unlike any the world has ever seen. Educated, informed, traveled, they work with their brains, not their bodies. They do not assume that their lives can be patterned after their parents' or grandparents'. Throughout human history the problem of identity was settled in one way - I am my mother's daughter; I am my father's son. But in a discontinuous and irreversible break with the past, today's individuals seek the experiences and insights that enable them to find the elusive pattern in the stone, the singular pattern that is "me." Their sense of self is more intricate, acute, detailed, vast, and rich than at any other time in human history. they have learned to make sense of their lives in unique and private ways, to forge the delicate tissue of meaning that marks their lives as their own.

In all other times and all other places, psychological individuation was unimaginable. It was, at best, the emotional precinct of an elite group of artists and spiritual seekers - rare, elusive and precious. But today that unique human capacity for individuation has been put within the reach of millions of people. Their individualism, long regarded as the basis for political self-determination, has also become the foundation for the one sure thing they have in common: a deep and abiding yearning for psychological self-determination."

I think they over simplify this change. It isn't as clear or as positive a step forward as they suggest. The impetus for self-determination is partly a reflection of the failure of organizations and institutions to accommodate change.

We are not a world of atomistic individualists who each stake out our private turf to celebrate and defend. We are also social beings whose need for connection outside of the interior space of our own minds and emotions is exhibited in the social networking that takes place on line.

The 500 million people on Facebook are not all just projecting their own individual profiles. They are engaged in real interaction that makes a difference. As I write this post early this morning, one friend has responded twice to two posts of my Facebook posts from yesterday. 

The challenge for organizational leaders is not just to begin to treat people as individuals, but to recognize and elevate the importance of the social dimension in their businesses. This is partly addressed by a greater emphasis on collaboration. However, if collaborating is simply a tactical exercise in getting a task done, then its value is not being fully realized.

The unnamed problem is the reality that our individual identities are products of the environments that we are in. To embrace my parents' values or to reject them is a reflection of the influence with which that particular social setting has upon me. The work place is no different.

The hidden asset in the workplace social environment is our inherent need for a social bond with those whom we work. To be treated only as individuals is to miss what is also true. We thrive on social interaction because it helps us to center our own sense of who we are in the larger world of other people and places.

How then should leaders begin to address both the individual and the social nature of the human environment of their organizations?

The first step to do is recognize that the social bond exists, lies hidden in the relationship of the people in your business, and is an asset that awaits development.

The second step is to realize that a shift in strategic direction is called for.

The third step is to begin to see that the decisions and actions function within a social context, and therefor how communication of information, collaboration between people and groups, and coordination of plans and programs matters in developing the social assets of the company.

The fourth step is to identify and operationalize the values that is the social bond that unites your company.

The fifth step is to recognize that as a leader you are not just managing business processes, but the leader of a social culture that either advances the business or detracts from it.

A vibrant social culture builds upon the company's values to strength the social bond that unites people together to achieve the goals of the company. This means, therefore, that the goals or purpose of the company must be aligned with the values that unite people for their work together.

Most leaders are not trained or equipped for this kind of work. The future viability of their business is dependent upon their gaining those insights and skills.

Implementing a social context strategy

When I came to see the social bond that existed at the college where I worked, I changed my approach to working with students.

I looked for where students were self-identifying themselves as belonging to an identifiable group: academic clubs, fraternities/ sororities, resident halls, sports teams, and other campus organizations.

I started two programs that provide groups of people the opportunity to serve: one a program working with the elementary age kids of adolescent mothers, and the other, a Habitat for Humanity International campus chapter.

The rationale behind this step was the realization that if a group participated in one of the projects, someone within their group would need to take the lead to organization their involvement. Those leaders became the focus of my efforts. A second set of leaders also emerged who committed to working with the program because it matched their interest and values. The residual effect was immediately noticable as out of our fledgling Habitat chapter, a local affiliate was born.

There are two realities that we need to recognize if we are turn the unnamed problem into an asset for an organization.

First, that people are individuals.

Second, their social context is a reflection of their own self-identity.

The social bond in an organization is between people who share similar values and expectations for the experiences that they have.

When leaders see this, and act on this strategically, the hardened resistance of organizations to change begins to soften. It can be trite to say that people are a company's greatest asset. It is only if we ignore the social context as a strategic asset that has hidden value waiting to be realized.


Culture: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This guide - Creating a Culture of Impact through The Connecting Ideas - is one of a series of my Circle of Impact Guides.

Culture of Impact Organizations are not just policies, processes and operating structures. They are places where people interact for the purpose of achieving the goals of the company.

The problem with most organizations is that they are not organized around people, but around the processes that constitute the organization's operating system. The effect of this problem is that it creates, not a culture of collaboration, but one of compliance to the processes that are designed into the system. This is why often people in these systems are referred to as cogs in a machine.

The solution to this problem is not dramatic or radical. It is, however, a shift of perspective from a process orientation to a people one. This change achieves a better alignment between the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and the Social & Organizational Structures. The shift is accomplished by using the Connecting Ideas of Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact to create a culture of impact.

Too often, employees are disconnected from the ultimate purpose of the business. Their role is to do their job, which typically means following the prescribed operating procedures. Even when the company's leadership wants, in the name of transparency, to engage with employees honestly about the company's health, it may not produce a more informed, engaged employee. The problem is more than being transparent about ideas. It is a combination of many things, all which are connected by the Three Dimensions.

If the leadership of a company wants employees to take greater initiative and care for the company, then they need to look at how  the Connecting Ideas facilitate a culture change that accomplishes the engagement that is needed.

The Connecting Ideas are the concepts that link the Three Dimensions together. These ideas are the core strength of the Ideas Dimension. Without a clear understanding of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact, the company lacks a set of ideas that can, not only unify the whole organization, but also give it direction.  This is especially true during times of transition, like the time we are in now.

The result of utilizing the Connecting Ideas is a change in the attitudes and behaviors of people. Over time, this change becomes a culture; a Culture of Impact that is built upon a clear and operational sense of the company's purpose and values. 

Over the years, I've seen that people want their lives and work to be Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilling and Make a Difference That Matters.  In other words, they want the Ideas Dimension, best expressed through the Connecting Ideas of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact to be reflected in all that they do.

If there is little or no alignment, for example, between the company's Purpose and how it is organized through the Social & Organizational Structures, then people will end up either fighting the operating system, or giving up and treating their employment as a job to endure. 

If there is no alignment between the people of the company and Values that are both Personally Meaningful and Operationally Strategic, then the culture will not be Socially Fulfilling.

If there is no Vision of Impact, meaning no conception that is shared between people, then employees will not see that their work Makes a Difference That Matters. A Vision of Impact is a living conception of the difference the company makes.

This is a picture of the change that the company, and each of its employees, should envision being fulfilled by their work together. It is not a visionary picture of one person, but all contributing their part to making the impact of the company something worth believing in, worth being committed to, and worth taking pride in at the end of the day.  This is a major responsibility of 21st century leadership.

To create a culture is a large task that may take a decade or generation to accomplish. However, all along the way, progress bolsters employees' sense of participation in work that is Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilling and Make a Difference That Matters. Taking the long view is essential, even in times where strategic planning may only take you two years out from where you are today.

Creating a Culture of Impact is the legacy of leading as the Circle of Impact identifies.

How To Us This Guide.

Look at the guide. As you see, the middle box has a listing of different levels of leadership and management in a company. Each level needs to be engaged in this process.  

Use the Circle of Impact Guides to facilitate the conversation that identifies and applies the Connecting Ideas.

1.  Identify your Purpose, Values and a Vision for Impact.

2. Align the Three Dimensions with the Connecting Ideas to improve Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

3. Operationalize the Values as Measurable Practices. Don't let your just be words that inspire and comfort. Build the Values into your work processes by asking, "How should we apply the Values to our work together?"

4. Create a Culture by Celebrating, Recognizing and Innovating your Purpose, Values and Vision for Impact.

Leading your company through this kind of Transition should not be done without thought, and with help of an able facilitator. It will take time, so be patient and persistent, and measure your progress.


Circle of Impact Leadership: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is one of a series of posts describing the intent and use of the Circle of Impact Guides.

Circle of Impact - Life-Work Coaching The Circle of Impact is a picture of the dynamic that every leader addresses. There are three dimensions to leading.

There is the Ideas dimension which incorporates the activities of visioning, planning, decision-making and communication.

There is the Relationship dimension that functions as a focal point of networking and collaboration.

There are the Social and Organizational Structure dimensions. They are similar in that they are the context for people to work together. I divide this dimension in two, recognizing that the social environment of an organization is different than the organizational structure. I'm also distinguishing between the relationships that people have with one another, and the social setting or culture of the organization. That social setting doesn't require everyone to be in relationship, though it is formed by people's ideas functioning in their relationship within the structure of the organization. To keep this picture simple, I define the components of the Organizational Structure as Governance, Program, Operations and Resources. Working with these four broad areas will provide more than enough opportunities for conversation.

There are four types of ideas that are important for the functioning of the organization. I called these concepts the Connecting Ideas.

The first is the Purpose or Mission that a person or organization has.  The words are basically interchangeable. However, I distinguish them in the following way. Purpose is used more often to refer to the inner motivation that a person has toward their life. Mission is more focused on the outside world. That said, I find no difficulty is using either one in any circumstance to mean the same thing.

A second Connecting Idea is Values that guide the organization. These are ideas that speak to a certain quality of the work and relationship that exists in a group or organization. For example, values like respect, trust, integrity, openness, transparency, resilience, and creativity speak more to the quality of the individuals and their relationships to one another than it does to a product or service.  From my perspective, Values serve the organization by providing an ideological platform for relationships to be unified in their shared effort to give their best to the organization.

The third Connecting Idea is Vision. This is a picture that illustrates what it looks like for the people of the organization to function within the Social and Organization setting to achieve their Purpose.

The last Connecting Idea is Impact. This a larger concept that results or measures. It intended to describe the difference that the company makes that matters. Difference is a way of speaking about the change that should result from the shared actions of the people. To measure change in this way is more than measuring numbers. It is a qualitative people of difference. This difference is defined the Purpose and Values of the organization. This is why it is a difference that matters, and not just a difference that can be measured.

How To Use This Guide:

The guide is a picture. Ask questions about how the organization corresponds to each part of the guide.  Talk about what your purpose, mission, values and vision are. Ask about what are the guiding ideas that most people in your organization share. Identify the different types of relationships that exist within the environment of your organization. 

You can use this picture as a problem solving tool. Identify an issue that seems difficult to resolve. Ask: Is this an Idea, a Relationship or a Structure problem?  Ask each person to identify which dimension that they see as the focal point of the problem.  The solution is not with that one dimension, but utilizing each dimension's strengths to resolve the problem.

For example, a communication problem may be a lack of clarity. But the lack of clarity may not be an idea, but rather a poor relationship issue made worse by a poor delivering system for communicating ideas.

Practice with the guide and fairly quickly, you will see all three dimensions in dynamic relationship with one another. You'll get it.

The next few posts will explore other aspects of this picture.


7 Virtues of the 21st Century Organization

7VIRTUES image

My current Weekly Leader series is on the 7 Virtues of the 21st Century Organization. Check here, here and here

The 7 Virtues are a system of values that can be used to improve the functioning of an organization.

7 Virtues 21stOrg

In this post, I look at the 7 Virtues through the lens of the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides. The Circle of Impact is built around two sets of ideas. The first is that all leaders must address themselves to the Three Dimensions of Leadership: Ideas, Relationships and Structure. The key is to align the three so that they work together. The way this alignment is achieved is by being absolutely clear about the Four Connecting Ideas: Values, Purpose, Vision, and Impact. The key here is that every facet of the organization is focused on Impact, which is defined as change or a difference that matters.

Impact as change or the difference that matters is a very general definition. This means that each organization, and each division within it must define for their own purposes what impact means. As a function of leadership, this requires each person within the organization to be able to state the impact that they seek to create by their work within the system. This is how leadership becomes a shared responsibility, and not simply a positional one.

Circle of Impact- simple

The 7 Virtues

 1. Collaboratively-led:

This idea encompasses the other six virtues into a singular perspective that defines what it means to be collaborative. It means that a collaborative leader will focus on aligning the three dimensions and the four connecting ideas so that the people who are a part of the social and organization structures may have relationships that enable them to fulfill their shared vision for impact. This is what a collaborative leader does.

2. Decentralized, local control:

This function of the structure of the organization, created by policy governance and design, establishes a system of communication and accountability, built around collaboration.

3. Long tail internal operational structures:

This is a function of the alignment of structure with relationships. This means that the people who are bound to one another by a clear purpose and set of values have the freedom and may take the initiative to organize how they work together.

4. Purpose-driven organic adaptability:

This is also a function of the alignment of structure and relationships. In this context, the group or team adapts freely and with great agility to changing circumstances in order to keep their purpose foremost in their relationships.

5. Relational-asset based:

It may seem that this is a function of the relationships, and at one level it is, but the importance to treating the group or company's network of relationships as a relational asset is that these connections bring value that does not exist when the people of an organization are viewed as human resources. Relational resources are the assets to come from having a large, diverse, and widely dispersed network of relationships that feed information, insight, talent and business to the organization. From a structural point of view this is a fourth classification of resources, along side the financial, material, and human. The higher level of collaboration that takes place through these relational assets, the great value they bring to the company. These assets are what are commonly understood as social capital.

6. Values that are operational:

This a function of the alignment of the Ideas and Relationships dimensions with the Structural. Values, which inform an organization's purpose, is the core strength of a business. It is the only thing that is unchangeable. An organization's purpose can change as circumstances change. The structure can change to remained aligned with a vision that is constantly adapting to the current context of business. But the values of a company remain constant, though not necessarily acknowledged or practiced. This virtue, therefore, focuses on applying the company's values operationally. This done by asking the question how are our values represented in this decision or this policy? The greater alignment between values and practice, the greater the integrity, confidence and impact from the collaborative work of the people of the company.

7. Ownership culture of giving:

This virtue is a function of the whole community of the company.  It is the responsibility of the company's leadership to foster a culture of giving. The aim is to encourage people create a culture of giving through their own initiative and expression of gratitude. This is the kind of culture that is represented in the Five Actions of Gratitude (Say Thanks Every Day).

The complaint that I've heard over the years about a more relationally oriented business structure is that these are soft skills, not the hard skills of finance. True they aren't the same, but they are also not contradictory either. Create a culture of the 7 Virtues, and you'll see not only a transformed workforce, but a transformed business environment. If you do it sooner than later, you'll be ahead of the curve, and be recognized for leading rather than following.


Qualifying your Network

Following our Lessons In Leadership Making the BIG SHIFT workshop a month ago, one of the participants told me/asked me the following.

"I know how to grow my network. What I need to know is how to qualify the people I meet so that I'm growing it in the right way."

This is a great question. Let's use the Circle of Impact guides (free download) for this purpose.Circle of Impact - Life-Work image

The Circle of Impact is built around three dimensions - Ideas, Relationships and Social & Organizational Structures.

Simply put, everyone has ideas, relationships and lives and works within specific social and organizational structures. This is true of everyone.

The focus of each of these dimensions is Impact creation.

Simply put, we all use our ideas and our relationships within our social and organizational structures to make a difference, to create change.

The question we must ask ourselves is whether those changes matter.

Simply put, the qualifying question that we need to ask is

Does the potential impact of this person's ideas, relationships and their social and organizational structures matter?

The only way to know is learn to ask questions that reveal the answer.

This where the Circle of Impact Connecting Ideas come in.

A starting point for qualifying someone is learning about their purpose, their values and their vision for impact. If these ideas are not clear or not well developed, then it tells you something about them.

Of course, anyone well versed in networking practice has learned to have their little spiel prepared to answer these kinds of questions.

What matters is not having an answer to what is your purpose, values and vision, but rather demonstrating how those ideas matter in action in your relationships and your activities in the social and organizational structures of your life and work.

See how this Circle is completed.

The most important aspect of discovering how to qualify your network is becoming a person who matters. In so doing, you learn to discern substance from superficiality.

Was it Gandhi who said, "Be the change you want to be.

It applies here.

Be the person of impact who creates the difference that matters and you'll find the people of like purpose, vision, values and impact.

Remember: It is better to have a small and impact qualified network than a larger network that is as thin on impact as a business card.


Why Alignment Matters

Tire wear 3824682707_51317322e4

Alignment is one of those words that we don't use often.

When the steering on our car is out of alignment, our tires wear out faster.

Driving the car is harder because we are always fighting the steering. It wants to go one way, and we are trying to keep it going toward our destination.

Lack of alignment is costly because it creates conflicts. It puts parts of a system at odds where other parts.

Here are a few examples of a lack of alignment.

Poor morale. The system is not aligned with the people. They are unhappy for one reason or another. We could blame the people. Or we could address the reasons why they are unhappy.

Which is more important? Aligning people with the system or the system with the people? (Hold that thought.)

Disconnect between what you say you do and what you do. The system is not aligned with your purpose.

What is your purpose? What is your business' purpose? What measures do you use to determine that you are fulfilling your purpose? What do your customers say?  Are they recommending you to their family and friends?

What is more important? Doing things the way you've always done it? Or, having your customers say to their friends that you do what you say you are going to do?

A successful year did not lead to a second and a third one.  The system is not designed to align its various parts to create success.

If your life and work are not aligned for success, then it is out of balance. Lack of alignment creates wear and tear, conflict, confusion, poor morale, poor customer perceptions and a lack of impact.  The price is more than a new set of tires and a $50 steering alignment. Circle of Impact - Alignment PVV

How do we create alignment in our life and work?

Simple.

Align your purpose with what you do and where you live and work.

Align your values with the people in whom you invest your life.

Align your vision with those relationships and social & organizational structures so the difference you make truly matters.

As simple as it sounds, it does require courage, commitment and a willingness to change.

Where to start in creating alignment?

1. Identify your purpose and the values that guide your relationships. Ask these questions.

Is my purpose just what I do, or is what I want to achieve?

What is the difference that I want to make that matters to me and to the world?

What are the values that are most important to me?

What difference do they make in my relationships?

2. Look for ways to act upon those ideas in the social and organizational structures where you live and work. Ask these questions.

Is my business organized to achieve my purpose?

Are my social and work interactions with people intentionally based on my values?

How can I operationalize my values?

3. Create a vision that brings all three dimensions together in an alignment that creates the impact you want. Ask these questions.

What can I do, along with my relationships, to make a difference that matters?

How can we use the systems and structures of our social and work settings to create this impact?

If we were successful, what would it look like? How would I describe the difference I see?

Take these steps, answer these questions, make changes and act upon what you discover, and alignment will begin to happen. And just when our car's steering is properly aligned, so too, when our life and work are aligned, we aren't fighting the systems, but able to focus on our destination

This is what it means to create alignment in our life and work.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesonflickr/3824682707/in/photostream/