The Story We Tell Ourselves

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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.

This series on situational awareness is principally about how we learn to relate to people in situations outside of our comfort zone.

To do this we need something more than tactics for making conversation. We need to be able to know who we are, what matters to us, and why.

What I've learn by working with a wide variety of people and groups, who are in the midst of change, is that we need a story that we tell ourselves. This story distinguishes us in every situation we are in. It is a story that enables us to know who we can trust, and who we can't. It is a story that tells us, don't go there, or, let's find out more.

Another way of understanding this story is as a foundation, a platform, upon which we stand, while everything whirls around us. It is the story of our inner strength and commitments in the context of the external world.

It is not necessarily a story that I will tell people. This story is private, not public. It isn't a branding or a promotional story. It is, rather, a story of the values that matter to us, that we are unwilling to negotiate away by our accommodation to others. It is the story that enables us to walk into any situation and not feel compromised.

In this post, I'm going to describe two ways to create this story. One way out of reflection on who we are and what we want. The other through a more analytical approach using the Circle of Impact. 

Let's start with the first method which creates the story by looking at a couple of  scenarios.

Seeing the Situation

For example, when you go on vacation, what do you want to gain from it. Are you like some of us who enjoy adventure and discovery, or, like others, seek to be quiet and still. What appeals to you here is a part of your story.

I know folks who love going to the beach. They love sitting in a chair at the beach, reading a book, watching the waves come ashore, and then going out for a seafood dinner at night. They don't enjoy a manic schedule of biking, card playing and trips to the outlet malls. They have come for peace and quiet.

In this instance, that is their story. As a result, they need to be honest with their family members who love an action oriented vacation. That is the story which they tell themselves.

As a result, both types of vacationers need to be honest and respectful of the other. Both have to give in a bit, let the other have their approach, and plan to join them for some of the time that they enjoy, whether quietly on the beach or riding a jet ski jumping waves.

Here's another scenario. You are invited to a business after hours networking social event by a friend in your industry. You've never been to one of these meet-n-greet things. You don't really know what to expect. You are meeting your friend there. As you walk in the door, he texts you to say that he is running late, and will be there in 15 minutes. What do you?

The story you tell yourself, about who you are and what matters to you, guides your response in this awkward situation. You can stand outside and wait for him. Or, you can go in, register at the door, get your name tag, get something to drink, and stand near the front waiting for your friend. Or, you can immediately begin to introduce yourself to people you do not know. If you are somewhat shy, this may take some effort. However, I believe, what you will find is that many of the people in the room are experiencing the same uncomfortableness.

If being uncomfortable in social settings is the story you tell yourself, then you will be. If, on the other hand, the story you tell yourself is

"I'm not here to impress people. I'm here to listen, and learn, and make one new contact with whom I'll schedule a follow up meeting."

In effect, the story is a plan of action which sets specific boundaries, and is focused on one goal. Once there, and the goal is met, then, a release of pressure will be felt, and our story changes.

This shyness thing used to be me. Those of you who know me personally may find that hard to believe. But it is true. The story I told myself in those days was

"What do I say? How do I start? What if I look weak and silly?"

It took time but the story I told myself changed. I began to walk into those situations looking for someone whom I could befriend. I would not go to a mingling of 3 or 4 people, but to the person who was standing by themselves. I'd introduce myself, and just start asking questions. Each question was not planned other than the initial one,

"So, what do you do? How do you spend your days?"

After they told, me, I'd ask a question about that thing. If they said,

"I sell insurance."

I'd respond with,

"What kind?"

Then they say, something, and then I asked, something like.

"How do your new customers find you?"

Or,

"What is generally the first question people ask you when they come to you for insurance?"

My story shifted from being about my fear to about my curiousity and interest in the other person. The rapport that comes from asking questions is the kind that builds trust, at least when the questions are kind and respectful. Now, I am not afraid to meet any person regardless of who they are.

Another Approach

The story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but about who we are. If your sense of identity is murky, then the story you tell yourself will be too. As a result, it may then be helpful to take a more analytical approach to developing your story. My Circle of Impact model can be a help.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

To develop the story that we tell ourselves, we don't start with the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. Instead, we work from the Four Connecting Ideas - Values, Purpose, Impact and Vision. Let's take them one at a time.

Think of this discovery process as a conversation between us right now over coffee or dinner. Just the two of us talking. We aren't looking for the perfect answer, but an honest, beginning point of understanding. We've just met, and I'm just asking questions because I'm curious, not nosey, just interested getting to know you.

Values:

I ask:

"If you didn't have to work for a living, and you had access to all the financial resources you would need, how would you spend your days, and why?"

"What do you think are the values that are important to you in doing those things? Do you think those values define you more than any other? Do they please you, make you smile, get you excited about the day ahead?"

In discovering the values that matter to us, we are identifying the foundation upon which we have built our lives. These values help us to establish the boundaries that guide us. If this is new to us, then we may have to live into this awareness. These values may not be evident, active or relevant at a particular moment, with some people, and then, some comment, triggers in us an awareness. This is how we grow into the values that matter. We try many, discard many, from our emotional investment in them, and then come to realize what is truly important to us.

These are the values that tell us who we are, and are the ones we want to have always present. I have five of these values, and I'm looking for them in every thing that I do. I, personally, have decided that if three of the five are not present in the opportunity before me, that I'll not participate. Knowing the values that guide and give meaning to our lives is a way of saying No to situations that are not supportive of the values that are important to us. This is why knowing what our core values are is so critical to being able to walk into any situation and function well.

Purpose:

I ask:

"How do you spend your days? How did you end up doing this kind of work? Does it give you a sense of purpose, a sense that you are making a contribution?"

The conventional thought is that we all have a singular purpose for our lives. I find that very limiting. Instead, I see purpose as an intentional focus on applying our values in a specific way in the situation that presents itself to us. Here's how this could work.

One of my values is integrity. It is so that I don't live with regret or fear, or, even the sense that I've compromised by values to accomodate some person or situation. The purpose of integrity beyond that is to provide me a basis of relating to every person from the same position of respect towards them. My purpose, then, in social situations is to act with respect, by listening, being honest and truthful, without being beligerent. The purpose of my integrity is to establish a basis of friendship that is open, mutual and filled with opportunity for shared work and contribution.

Purpose is a way of translating the values that matter to us into action. While our values may become clearer and more specific over time, they rarely change in any radical sense. Our purpose, however, can and should change. For purpose is the mechanism for focusing our values in the situation that is before us right now. Even if we are talking about our purpose as sort of a life mission, it still is subject to change. With our values as a foundation, we live out a purpose in an adaptive manner to fit the time and place in which we live.

While our purpose is about what we do in acting upon our values, it is also about the effect that we want to have.

Impact:

I ask:

"Tell me what difference you think your work makes? Why is it important? Who is impacted by what you do? What do they tell you?"

The way our world works is by an exchange of products or services by an agreed upon price. Money is the most tangible medium of measure we have. It is simple, straightforward, and for that reason obscures many of the signs of value that actually exist, yet we never really see.

To look at the difference a person makes, we have to look at what our expectations are, right now. This requires us, on both sides of a relationship, to have an idea of what we want, or, what our purpose is. If we can define our purpose, not as what I do, but rather the difference I want to make, then my story takes on a very different feel.

Let's return to our business after hours event. In that room, our purpose is what? Is it to meet people? Or, is it something more. Is it primarily about "my" interests or about the other person's?

My friend and colleague Meridith Elliott Powell told me years ago about her strategy for after-hours business events. Her focus was to go, meet people, and leave as soon as she had three follow-up meetings with new contacts. She would go to alot of these events, and built up a substantial client list through that focused approach to business relationship building. She's one of the best I know at this. I found her approach incredibly helpful, and focused on the purpose of the event, which is to initiate new business relationships. Then she works her "magic", she's really good, in the interaction she has with people within the context of their business.

When the story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but what we create, the difference that we make, about the relationships that we form, then we approach everything with a different level of confidence. If we measure our lives by our activity level, then we never really see clearly the outcome of that activity.

Measuring by activity comes out of the old factory production model focus. The most tangible measure of that work was the paycheck. Measuring by impact is a change model focus. One is repetitive. Let's see how many events I can go to this month. The other is a creative relationship with people where together we learn to make a difference. How many relationships do you have right now that if asked they would say, "She makes a real difference in my work." And, then be able to describe precisely what that impact is.

The Four Connecting Ideas are not isolated from one another, but, are interconnected as a way to understand how things can fit together in our life and work. To be able to see the impact of our values and purpose in real life, then our perspective changes, and our story does too. It opens up possibilities that may have been present, but were hidden behind the production measure mindset.

Vision:

I ask:

"Where do you see yourself in a year? What's your plan for today?"

The vision we need is not some grand, epic adventure into the future. Instead, our vision is our story lived out in real time, right now. It is the story we tell ourselves every day that enables us to make decisions. In the context of the Circle of Impact, it is about people, and the organizational structures in which we live and work. Our vision emerges and is lived out every day through the story we tell ourselves.

A vision then is simply what I do and the decisions I make, based upon my values and my sense of purpose for this particular moment, all through a deep desire for impact, with the people that I work with and encounter everyday.

The story we tell ourselves is a guide in the unexplored land of today. It helps us to know the boundaries that will both protect us from the unwanted compromise of our values, as well as, opening us up to the possibilities in every human relationship and situation.

When we find the story we tell ourselves, and, we grow into it, it ceases to be a story "out-there" that we tell myself. We become the story. We become the living embodiment of the values, the purpose, the difference and the vision for being an authentic person regardless of where we are and with whom we are with.

The story that we tell ourselves is the secret to being situationally aware. If you are a person who finds him or herself overwhelmed by circumstances, people and change, then you need a story which helps you live in those moments that are threatening and uncomfortable. 

Where do you begin to write your story. Here are two suggestions.

1. Think of the situations where you are most comfortable. What are the values at work in those situations that you'd like to see in those uncomfortable situations.

2. Write a three sentence introduction of yourself that describes the person you believe you actually are. This is not what other people think of you, but you at your strongest, most impactful, most free and at peace self. Write it down, carry it with you, and edit it until you've found the story you really want to tell yourself. Then toss it away, and let your story unfold.

It all starts with personal initiative. One step. Then another. And another. If you need to share your story with someone outside of your world, send it to me. I'll not critique, but will ask questions to clarify, so you can be clear. Then you can go live the story you tell yourself.

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


A Century of Difference

Amazing how much has changed in such a short period of time.

However, I do believe that the principles which people shared, and the way the Circle of Impact can be applied has not changed.

The reality is that our needs for clarity of thought, being present in our relationships, and, genuine leadership are more needed now that ever.

Target

 

The other day I asked the following question as my Facebook status update.

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.

Circle of Impact

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.


Networks in Transition

Transition Point - without Title

Networks are the new management mantra. The back story to this development is the increasing importance of healthy relationships for the sustainability of organizations. I've seen this coming since the mid-1970s with the realization that relationships are the vehicle through which life works.

The science of networks is growing in sophistication and practicality. It is truly amazing to see what the data on networks can reveal. That said, networks are not the end point. They are a transition point to something else.

The first transition

If you step out, look back, you'll see that for most of the past couple millennia, organizations have been structured as hierarchies. I've posted on this before.

Hierarchy of  Structure

This hierarchies look basically like this image.  There is leadership, with a level of  middle and supervisory management, followed by everyone else. This is an over simplification.  The point though is that the structure was organized for order, efficiency, and bottom-up accountability.

This hierarchy has been the primary form of organizational structure since human beings began to organize themselves. Some form of this hierarchy will always exist. However, it will be different.

Into the context of organizations appears a new phenomenon called a network of relationships. This is a new form of human organization that exists as connections without a designated location for these relationships. These are the kind of relationship that populate social media networks. They are virtual and intermittent, lacking comprehensiveness and continuity.

Prior to the advent of modern communication technology, the highest form of network was a local community of residents.  This ancient form of the network was based on physical proximity. Think of an Amish barn raising where all of one's neighbors come to your farm to construct a building that serves a family's need for sustainability.  Of course, no one talked about their local community as a network, but that is essentially what it was.  The connections formed a tight bond of closeness that made it difficult for outsiders to join. Today, networks are the opposite, loose, open configurations where the social bond is in the moment.

Hierarchy of Connection

Today, this network of relationships looks like this.  It is not primarily based on living near one another, but rather being connected through common interests. The sophistication of these networks is enabled by the data mining that modern computer technology provides. Social media provides the most practical and universal means for these networks of relationships to develop.

These networks are driven by the science of connection and its viral nature. There are great possibilities for impact when a network is mobilized for a cause, when an influential hub (person) sneezes and the whole world catches a new pair of shoes, or when one person posts a video of some random guy dancing, and it is shared globally millions of times. This is the power that this form of network connection holds.  This, however, is a feature of contemporary networks of relationships, and not the potential, ultimate end.

Two shifts

Networks are a basic infrastructure of the future of organizations. Where hierarchies are based upon position and role within an organization, networks are based upon who you know, and the ability to turn those connections into action.

To understand networks is to be aware of a couple shifts that have taken place over the past century.

The first shift is the elevation of the individual to a place of centrality in their own network of relationships. In this respect, being member of a community or an institution means less today than it did a generation ago. This individualism is a product of living in a society of choices made available to all who have the means as a consumers.  Today's consumer mindset sees organizations and networks existing to meet my purposes and desires. It is social in a limited, not a comprehensive sense.

The result is that much of the emphasis on networks is focused on developing them for one's own purposes as a universal platform for marketing the individual to a world of individuals.

A second shift is the emergence of the network as a place of virtual habitation. We live online, and our relationships are online, and our identity is formed online, and our life is lived online. What the old hierarchies and old local communities offered was a physical place to live one's life and to develop the habits and practices that provided a basis for a sustainable society. There is a reason why cultures survived centuries, even millennia, without the modern technologies that we have today.  These cultures of the past were communities rooted in a specific place, organized around specific traditions that helped people know how to live a life of contribution and meaning within that specific context. Many of the habits and practices that provided sustainability during the pre-modern era have eroded away as we taken up residence online. Today, everything can be done online, not requiring anything more than a wifi connection to be connected to a network of social profiles of people whom we only know as they choose to present themselves online. 

The significance of this shift is seen in the difficulty that people who are not highly engaged in an online network of relationships find in dealing with people who are not used to face-to-face human contact. Frankly, they do not understand the patterns of interaction and communication that take place through social media platforms. As a result, they are missing the necessary capacity to be persons of influence who can make a difference on a global scale.


Three Desires-Impact-NoFill
These two shifts inadequately address the fundamental desires that people have.  Those desires are for our lives to be Personally Meaningful, for Happy, Healthy Relationships, Socially Fulfilling and to Make a Difference that Matters. All of this can happen through our online network of relationships. To do so requires that they become more than simply a place where I daily project my personality into noise of the online social world.

The Next Transition

These changes are why I see our current fixation on networks of relationships as a transition point between the old hierarchical structures and what comes next. What comes next is a recognition that we are more than the constructed persona of our diverse social media profiles. We are real people who have lives apart from the online world.

The next iteration of the network is for them to become more communal. By this I mean that the relationships transcend the virtual to be transformational. For this to happen, there must be a personal stake in the relationship that moves beyond what I get from it. It goes to what I give to make it work.  In this respect, the next transition is a return to the old communities of proximity where being a neighbor meant that we were actively engaged in the care and sustainability of our community of common welfare.

SharedLeadershipImpact
There is a sharedness of these communities of relationships as seen here. When I speak of "leading by vacuum," it is a way of talking about how we each bring our own gifts and talents to the network of relationships, and in so doing, the network transcends the virtual to become something greater.

In this scenario, the individualism of the network is transformed into a community of relationships who share a common purpose or goal for their relationships.

For example, the Flow Ventura Global Triiibes Retreat  brought together people from around the globe, most who had never physically been together before. We knew each other online. The event would never had occurred had the relationships been simply virtual and individual. Instead, over a period of time, our relationships came to increasingly matter more and more. We were more than virtual connections. We were friends whose daily interaction online mattered in how we live in the dispersed places where we reside.  In other words, knowing one another online was insufficient for the sustaining of our relationships. We needed to be together in the same place, face-to-face, and side by side.

The retreat as a result was transformational for many of the participants.  Many common points of interest explored in the conversations and presentations elevated the shared values that transformed our once virtual network of relationships into a community of friends whose relationships matter to one another.

Facilitating The Transition from Network to Community

For a network to transition into a genuine community requires leadership. It needs people who facilitate and coordinate the interaction that is needed to build a community of relationships. Conversations within these networks need to clarify the shared ideas of purpose and values that are a basis for a shared vision of impact, and a common commitment to share the responsibility for it. Each provides a way for the relationship to transcend superficial connection to one that is meaningful, fulfilling and makes a difference that matters.

This is the future that I see emerging. I see it as the logical evolution of networks of relationships to become more communal than social. That does not mean it will happen in every place.  It does mean that it is possible. That it is a choice fueled by our desires for a certain kind of life that transcends the shallow superficiality of much of what we experience each day.


TransitionsOrgStructure
PDF of this guide now available
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Measuring Leadership

Circle of Impact
There are no real measures of leadership.

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.

 

Defining Leadership

Here's how I define leadership.

Leaders take initiative to create impact.

Each word is intentional.

Initiate

    Leaders start, engage, facilitate, act, do and take the first step.

Create

    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.

Impact

    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.

Measuring Leadership

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.


Parallel Structures of Networks of Relationships


Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy
One of the questions that continues to dominate many of the conversations that I have with organizational leaders is the one related to how they should structure their business.

For example, yesterday in a conversation with a friend and client, we discussed the role of the administrative assistant in his business. Like many small businesses, this role has shifted from an essential one to a discretionary one. Many employment positions have gone away because the benefit does not match their cost.

The issue isn't whether the tasks that these people do are not valuable.

The issue is whether the role as defined is.

This is a picture of the shift being taken in many places from a traditional hierarchical business structure to one that I call a parallel one. This parallel structure is a network of relationships.

Hierarchy-NetworkRelationships

As you can see by this chart, there are some real differences between the traditional approach to organizing a business, and one built around relationships.  This shift is hard for everyone who has spent their work life in a hierarchical structure.

In the traditional approach, a person is hired to fill a position. That position has a job description that outlines the specific tasks and responsibilities that they are to do. The employee's expectation is that is what their time at work will be like each day. Completing tasks that are assigned through the organizational design of the company. Responsibility is passed down to the employee,while authority is held at the top. This system worked well during an era of easy growth and social continuity.  It does so because the ultimate purpose of the organization is institutional integrity.

In a network of relationships parallel structure, the job description is also relational. It means that the individual's character and engagement with people is part of what makes them a valued employee. Some may think this has always been true. And that is correct. These parallel structures of relationships have always formed when a specific need emerges. But they were seen as temporary or adhoc, not a permanent or essential part of the organization's structure.

What We Want

The greatest business failure of the past thirty years has not been scandals or financial collapses. It is the failure of business to understand the value of their employees. This failure originates in the structure of businesses.

If employees are functionaries in an administrative, production system, then their value is diminished, by let say at least 30%, and in some cases twice that.

If the business is organized to create order, then employees are hired to comply with that order. Institutional integrity becomes the goal of the organization.

However, in a network of relationships model, people bring much more to their work. This is what the team building movement has been teaching us for a generation. How people relate and work together is a key ingredient in an organization's success.

I suspect though that here again the value of the individual to company is still not perceived well.

If you were to sit down with each employee for coffee and talk about their lives, you would find what I am finding. There are three things that they want. Everyone says them differently, but they can be summarized simply. 

Life-Work Goals
People want their lives and work to be

Personally Meaningful,

          Socially Fulfilling, and

                    Make a Difference that Matters.

This is what we all want. We want the values that matter to us to be central in how we live. We want some kind of purpose for our lives. There needs to be a point to it.

We also want our relationships to be healthy and whole. We don't like conflict. We don't like to be manipulated, to be taken for granted, or to be used for someone's selfish purposes. We want to walk into work hopeful and excited about the opportunity to share my day with the people with whom I work.

We want to feel at the end of the day that we did something that made a difference. Listen to what people say when they talk about a good day. One where they accomplished something. They overcame a challenge or an obstacle and succeeded at it. Also, they did something for someone else that was appreciated. It made a difference. There was real satisfaction in helping solve person's problems. That's what we want.

The Circle of Impact Connection

The lesson for me when I began to see this picture emerge is how congruent it was to the three dimensions of leadership that I had identified as the Circle of Impact.

Circle of Impact- simple
The three dimensions that command every leader's attention are Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We tend to segregate them, thinking that it is easier that way. Instead it creates confusion and greater complexity. That is why the four Connecting Ideas - Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact - are essential tools for helping link together the three dimensions.  And it begins by clarifying the Connecting Ideas.

The Circle of Impact applies to both kinds of structures, traditional and parallel, because this is a basic, fundamental understanding of all organizations, regardless of type. Every organization must address its ideology, its social context and how the business is structured to achieve impact. All of them. However, here's the difference.

The parallel structure, described above, is a Network of Relationships. Just like in a traditional hierarchical setting, this organizational structure requires attention to the Connecting Ideas, relationships and the organization of their work.

Networks of Relationships are formed around a Shared Mission and Shared Responsibility, where leadership, authority and responsibility to contribute are shared.

From this perspective of Shared Leadership, the responsibility of the individual is to take initiative to create impact. This is the most basic contribution of the team member. And because the group is organized as a network of relationships, their collaboration and communication is an essential focus of their relationships.

Three Contributions

Most of us have experienced team work where there was a genuine experience of coming together as a group of shared purpose and contribution. And most likely, we see these experiences as the exceptions in our lives.

Let's return to my conversation with my friend and client about the administrative staff person in his office.

How can this perspective about parallel structures, networks of relationships, shared mission, shared responsibility, shared leadership and impact fit into his traditional business structure?  

It begins with recognizing that each individual has unrealized potential waiting to be released. Everyone of us wants to work in an environment that is personally meaningful, socially fulfilling and makes a difference that matters. If that is so, then the first step is figuring out how those three personal goals can become the basis for the contributions of each person.

As a result, each person contributes that which is personally meaningful. Each person contributes in their interpersonal interaction that which is socially fulfilling. And each person contributes out of their own talent, expertise and character of personal initiative those actions that create the impact that makes a difference that matters.

For each person to do this means that the social structure of the business must change. And this shift is based on what each person shares with the whole of the organization.

SharedNetworkRelationships
Here's the insight that is a key to understanding this organizational change. Because these networks of relationships are parallel structures, they can work along side of, and even within the traditional structures of hierarchy. In fact they always have. But rarely as a core strategy, but rather as a tactical approach to team work. 

We can see this is the way businesses define positions of employment. Instead of focused on contribution, the emphasis has been task oriented. As result, the value of the employee is not realized, and it makes the case for reductions in force must easier to make.

The future belongs to these parallel structures. Let networks of relationships form. Let them take collective initiative to make a difference that matters, then new vitally and impact will emerge.


From Fragmentation to Wholeness

 Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy

To create order is to create a structure for control. To release control creates a opening for initiative and collaboration. This is the transition point that modern organizations are passing through from hierarchy to the network.

If you know me, you know that meeting people from diverse walks of life is a passion for me. I find people infinitely interesting, their background, their thinking, how they found themselves doing what they do, their hopes and dreams, and their perception of their strengths and potential.

There is a reality that I see in many of them that is equally interesting.  Many of them are unfulfilled in their life and work. It isn't that they don't have a passion for something, or don't know enough about themselves to know what their strengths and gifts are. No, it is that most have never found themselves in either the social or organizational setting where they could flourish as human beings.

As I write this I'm mentally scrolling through the places where I live and work. I'm thinking about the people whom I've met and known over the years. Thinking about common characteristics that distinguish them and united them together.

What are the common characteristics of non-fulfillment and of life fulfillment.

Here are three.

Do you have a purpose, a mission, or a calling? Can you define this as something more than what you do as an activity, and more as something you create and achieve?

Do you have a supportive, encouraging, open and honest network of family and friends? Are there people who understand you, who stand by through thick and thin, who believe in you, your mission and the impact  you want to achieve?

Does your workplace and home life provide a context where your purpose and your relationships can flourish? Are you constrained by the structures that frame your life? Or, does the lack of order within your calling mean that there are opportunities that you fail to achieve?

My observation is that these characteristics are in descending order of occurrence. More people have a sense of purpose, fewer people have a truly healthy social network, and by a large margin, the fewest people work and live in social and organizational contexts where they can flourish.

The Circle of Impact


Circle of Impact- simple
For a decade, I've been using this diagram as a conversation / thinking tool to help leaders and their organizations understand where the gaps are in their business.  Here's a simple description of what I see.

Leadership is a function that every person can perfom to take "personal inititative to create impact." 

I am not defining leadership as a role or an organizational postion. Like many leadership theorists, I see these roles as management, rather than leadership.

Therefore, the Three Dimensions of Leadership that every leader must address are Ideas, Relationships and Social & Organizational Structure. Ideally, every person within an organization takes personal initiative through their ideas and relationships, within social and organizational structures to create impact. As a result, a company becomes a leader-filled organization, rather than one starved for leadership.

The four Connecting Ideas of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact provide the glue, the ligaments and tendons that create the wholeness of an organization.

Each of the three leadership dimensions must be aligned with one or more of the Connecting Ideas. Here's how.

The social and organizational structures are aligned with the organization's purpose. If these structures aren't, there is conflict and fragmentation.

The relationships within an organization are aligned with the values that create a common identity and character as a community of people.

However, it is not enough, to have values. Many organizations have a strong value system, but lack purpose. A community of people need a vision for how their purpose that makes a difference that matters.  It must challenge them to grow, to remain open, and to inspire leadership initiative all with their community. 

The Connecting Ideas permeate all aspects of an organization. Every person, every unit, office, group, committee, or board needs purpose that guides, values that unite, a vision that inspires, and an understanding of impact that defines the future of their organization.

The Structure Dilemma

Having been working with this perspective for over a decade, I've come to a challenging conclusion.

The problem in most organizations isn't the attitudes and behaviors of people. The reality is that people are products of their environment, or the social and organization structure of your business dictates what attitudes and behaviors fit within that system.

Most organizations work from a hierarchical stance. There are bosses and managers who direct employees work. This industrial model of management worked well when the tasks of work were non-creative, repetitive and mechanical skills based. Today, we live in a world of creativity, information and the skills require are for human interaction, communication and collaboration. The old structure doesn't align well with this new reality. Network

As I wrote in The End and The Beginning, this shift from hierarchy is an epic one. As I said recently, "Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, just leaders."

The emerging structure for organizations is the network. Each person participates by their own initiative. Each person contributes through their own unique offering to the network.

I call this "leading by vacuum," which simply means that people do what they are gifted or able to do, which opens up the environment for people with different talents and skills to contribute.

In an hierarchical structure, the efficient ordering of the parts and their compliance are primary. This structure is highly susceptible to fragmentation, compartmentalization and corruption through concentrations of power.

In the network, personal initiative, collaboration and communication make human relationships central.  This is an emergent reality, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The power resides in the network and those who know how to engage more people to contribute. It is a leadership of facilitation and ingenuity, rather than control.

I first saw this reality in mid-1970's when I heard the Modern Jazz Quartet in concert. Sitting in a large concert hall with these quiet instruments I saw these four musicians communicating through them. Here is MJQ playing one of the signature tunes, Django. Watch for how their unspoken communication and timing work together.

 

Each person in the band is essential. Each person has their part to play. The impact is a sound which transcends one instrument, and blends the four into something evocative.

The Quest for Wholeness

If you know that your business or organization is fragmented, splintering apart, difficult to hold together, then what you are experiencing is the end of the viability of a traditional hierarchical structure. You feel it before you can truly see it. By feeling it, you know that others do too.

Bringing wholeness to your structure begins with the Connecting Ideas.

Reaffirm your purpose.

Identify the values that build connections between people.

Create a vision that inspires personal initiative.

Define the difference you seek to create so that you and everyone else can be absolutely clear as to what your impact is.

Begin this process in conversation. Use the Circle of Impact Conversation Guides. Hire me to come facilitate the conversation, if necessary. I'd welcome the opportunity to work with you and your leaders.

Creating a network business structure starts with establishing relationships of respect, trust and mutual reciprocity. Out of those healthy relationships, the network emerges to provide a platform for leadership initiative to create impact.

As the network grows, allow it to establish the organizational structural components that it needs. Remain open to change. Stay vigilant in affirming and acting on the Connecting Ideas.

The future is the network. And the future is now.

Creating a Network of Relationships

Here are some additional conversation guides that can help you understand how to create your own network of relationships.

How Social Networks Work
How To Expand Your Social Network
How Information Flows Through a Social Network


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.


Bringing the Future into the Present

A generation ago the saying "The Future is Now!" celebrated the presentness of a hope in the future. It foresaw the acceleration of change that compresses our experience of time.   Future-4414647645_1cb7a7e3ca_z

I used to see this frequently in planning projects. The five year plans we'd create, often would take only 18 to 24 months to complete. The sense of time that people had was off kilter. Much more could be done than they imagined. The limiting factor? Seeing beyond the present. Or, to put it another way, being able to identify a future that was truly tangible, beyond the aspirations of today, in which they could root their present actions.

Through these experiences, I often saw its contrasting attitude, not the inability to truly grasp the future, but rather resistance to it. I would hear,"What's wrong with the way we've always done things?"

The traditions and cultural forms, as I wrote about in Bringing the Past into Future, replaced the values that were their inspiration. Instead of a vision of the future, a nostalgia for the golden days of the past provided motivation of resistance to the future rather than engagement.

Whether it is a nostalgia for the past, or a shallow adherence to current organizational fads, the lack of a tangible vision of the future makes it difficult for people and their organizations to develop the adaptive skills needed in a environment of accelerating change. 

Resistance to the Future

A resistance to the future is based in part on the lack of personal confidence to venture into the unknown of the future. It is easier to stay with what is comfortable and known of past ways of doing things. It is also in part how we approach the future, or how we bring our past experience to the task of envisioning the future. It is worth restating what I wrote in The End and the Beginning.

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? 

If resistance to the future is part confidence, part approach, its also part, the lack of skills in managing change or in knowing how to adapt.

Adapting to the Future already in the Present

To adapt is to change on the fly. It isn't a linear process. It is an emergent process. Each adaptive moment moves into a new context of change. It isn't staying in one place and defending the palace against the barbarian hords of change. It is rather like being in conversation with different aspects of the future, very quickly and progressively.

For example, you walk into a room and within two minutes have a twenty second conversation with a 90 year German World War II veteran, a 10 year old girl from St. Louis in a soccer uniform, a thrity five year old couple from Miami with twin 6 year old boys, the 65 year old Japanese CEO of a global communications business, a 16 year old social entrepreneur from Sri Lanka and your great grandmother.  Each encounter requires you to shift your attention from one person to the next. And if each relationship was intended to go somewhere, then within those twenty seconds, you'd have to quickly be engaged in who they were, find common ground and define a shared responsibility for the relationship in the future.

Sounds daunting. But that is what adapting means. The needed skills are a quiet personal confidence that enables you to be the same person with each of those listed in the example, and a tangible vision of the future that provides a conceptual context for the relationship.

This sort of adaptation goes hand in hand with innovation. It is a learned skill, not a personality trait.

See Social Creatives' Six Habits of Highly Effective Social Entrepreneurs as a model for creating a tangible future in the present.  

Those who are involve in technological innovation work in an arena where adaptation is central to their experience of bringing the future into the present. See my post about 3D printing and watch Tony Atala's TED video on regenerative medicine.

These examples may suggest that these are for extraordinary people in unique places. Yes and No. In one sense this is true. They are extraordinary people, but only because the learned to become extraordinary. They developed the confidence and the capacity to adapt. In another sense, they are no different than you or I. They are just further down the path toward the future than most of us. This is one of the core values behind the children and youth social entrepreneur site, RandomKid: The Power of ANYone, (Disclaimer: I chair the board of RandomKid).

Creating a Vision of a Tangible Future

Ask this question of yourself and your organization.

Are you best days / years ahead of you or behind you?

How you answer that question will determine how you relate to the future.

A tangible future can be difficult to imagine because the past is actually not very tangible either. It is an amalgam of memories and impressions attached to random situations, people and objects that represent to us what we selectively remember our past to be.  One person remembers a conversation one way, and another a different way.

Our remembrance of the past changes day to day. It is constantly shifting. We can remember a traumatic situation that leads us to view the future with bitterness and cynicism.  Then, encounter someone who's perspective sheds light on our experience so that we see it differently. In the space of a few moments, our feelings that our best years are behind us shift to hope and optimism about the future.  All of sudden a tangible future begins to form in our minds.

What has taken place within us? What is the source of this change? It isn't simply the influence of someone's different perspective.

What we've experience is the Future being brought into the Present.  All of a sudden, with a flash insight, we see something in the future which is real. It is tangible. We feel we can reach out and grasp it. We want it. Our sense of purpose and self-confidence in a moment has changed. We are different. We have adapted to a new context, a context where the future is here now.

The Future Begins with an Idea

This question about the relation of time to our lives is one that I've reflected upon for a long time. The relation of the past to the future and of the future to the present exists in time. It also exists outside of time. What we remember about the past that we wish to be a part of our future are conceptions of the way we want our life and work to be.

At the most fundamental level, we are talking about ideas.

Several years ago, I conducted a project with a mid-size corporation to develop a values statement for the company. The planning team was a mixture of mid-level managers, Union leadership and a senior vice president. One of the refrains we heard from the group was, "We want to get back to a time when the company was more like a family."  Over the years, things had changed. The company had gone through a scandal with some top executives. Perception by some was that the company's best years were in the past.

Here's a situation where a rememberance of the past influences people's expectations of the future. For this team, being a family meant something. The question was what does this mean. For not every employee has a positive experience of being a family.  As we went through our process, four ideas came to the front that provided a way to understand the past in order to create the future that they desired.

Those ideas were Respect, Trust, Integrity and Pride. 

It would have been easy to take those words and turn them into slogans for an internal marketing campaign. The result would not have been a tangible future of respect, trust, integrity and pride in practice, but continued cyncism about the role of leadership in the company.

But that is not what happened. The company instituted a program of culture building around these ideas.

The first step was to introduce the values to the whole company through small gatherings of employees where they would participate in a discussion of the values and their historic place in the company.

Next, leadership training was instituted for middle managers so that they could implement or "operationalize" the values within their work areas. The purpose was to make the values of respect, trust, integrity and pride live in the functioning of each department. In effect, the process was equipping new leaders to solve problems and resolve issues before that became to big.

Today, the company is recognized as one of the nation's most trustworthy companies.

I share this story to emphasis a point about what it means to bring the future into the present.

 For many organizations the past is represented by traditions and cultural forms. A cultural form could be any practice that is regularly done in which the original rationale has been lost. The future for those companies consists, in many respects, as an attempt to preserve those traditions and cultural forms into the future.

The alternative is to recognize that behind every tradition or cultural practice is a value that matters or at one time used to matter to people and their organization.

Another key to understanding for how to bring the future into the present is to understand where our values fit in. 

Let me be clear about this. I'm not talking about those values that are divisively used to distinguish one organization or association from another. Those values of the negative other have no place in creating a positive, tangible, sustainable future. They are representative of past traditions and cultural forms that have lost their meaning. I say this primarily in anticipation of the distastful unpleasantness that is about to descend upon our country called a Presdential election.

A tangible future is one where values matter in practice, not just in theory. So, if respect, trust, integrity and pride matter, then they matter in practice. If customers matter, then they matter in practice, not just in advertising copy. If innovation and impact matter, then the organization will adapt to make it possible for those values to make a difference in the future.

In order to understand how a value matters, ask this question.

If this value was functioning at its highest capacity, if it was reaching and sustaining its potential, then what would, 1) it look like if we were to shoot a video of its performance, and, 2) be the change we would see as a result? 

Impact or difference is change. If something changes, it can be measured in some way. What is it that is changing when this value is a living practice in your organization? Can you identify at what level it is operating today? Can you see things to change so that it can grow a little bit more today, tomorrow, next week? If you can, then you are seeing a tangible future being brought into the present.

If you can answer this, then you can envision the future. If you can envision the future in a tangible way, then you can identify what must change to make it happen. This is how the future is brought into the present.

This is true not just about values, but especially of each of the Connecting Ideas - Mission or Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact. Make them tangible for today, then you can see how they will be in the future. Transition Point

When you do, what happens is that old traditions and cultural forms that no longer are empowered by their original values can be discarded, and new ones formed.

This means that you have a reached a definitive transition point in your life and work. A clear point of change that either leads towards decline or advancement.  When you do, it is important that you discard dead traditions and cultural forms in a way that becomes a tangible moment of remembrance in the future. As you do, the values that guide you forward will find new traditions and cultural forms to serve as their vehicle for their practice.

Remember, those traditions and culture forms are nothing more than tools for making our values tangible in our daily life and work. Develop new tools, hold true to your values.

Three Things We Want Now and in the Future

I've written before about my observation that people want three things in their life. They want it to be Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilling and Make a Difference that Matters. Ask yourself today the following questions.

1. Where do I find meaning in my life and work? What are the values that matter to me most in what I seek to do each day? What activities do I regularly do that support what is meaningful to me?

2. Who are the people that matter most to me? How am I fulfilled by being with them? What are the values that matter to us? How do we practice them together? What are the traditions and cultural forms that we use to celebrate the values we share with one another?

3. What do I do that I feel makes the greatest difference to people? Where do I see my actions creating change? If I was to continue to develop the confidence and skills to make this difference, what do I see myself doing in the future that is different from today? Am I at a transition point in my life and work as it relates to the impact that I am having?

What then is the tangible future that you can begin to create today?

The Future is Now. The future is an idea, a tangible idea that provides for us a point on the horizon to lead us forward. Our idea is a value or values that defines for us meaning, fulfillment and the difference we can make.  When our idea becomes clear then we know what we must do. And a tangible future becomes a reality that we can reach.

Picture: Attribution Some rights reserved by H.L.I.T.


What is Good?

Moran-sunrise -KathrynMapesTurner Moran-Sunrise by Kathryn Mapes Turner

This is the question that was the basis for the only philosophy course I took in college. The course, Philosophy of Art, I had hoped would explore the artist impulse that people have to create. And to be able to define what distinguishes a good piece of art from one that isn't.

Unfortunately, the course was neither about art nor how to distinguish what is good. Instead, it was a course in semantics, of how one talks about art, and why art can't be defined.

It wasn't that the professor spent portion of every class denigrating people who had religious faith. It was rather that we talked around subjects, never about them, and therefore never reaching a point of understanding or resolution.

He would take a seemingly innocent or benign idea, like goodness, and through a process of analytical reductive reasoning show us how there is no true idea of goodness. This simple and effective tactic left most of us in the class scratching our heads about what the class was about rather than questioning what we believed about anything.

For probably ten years, I would occasionally dream about this professor. Dream about us debating in class, and me changing his mind. I don't think the professor was so clever to think that he'd make philsophers of us all by tearing down our belief systems. Rather, I think he was convinced that truth could be understood in the analysis of language. And yet, that truth was not true in a values or universal sense, but true to the use of the words in that context.

I think he was an intellectual nihilist, yet did not live that way. He believed in something, and for him it was his art and athletic endeavors. It was what he truly valued. And I'm convinced they gave him a social context of friendship through which universal values were evident in their interaction.

What I understand today is that my professor's approach to understanding could not produce a kind of understanding that is whole, but rather small and fragmented. 

As a kid, did you ever take a part a toy, and then try to put it back together, only to have some parts remaining? The toy is something whole. Something more than the sum of its parts. Language is something whole, more than grammar and patterns of word usage.  

Say the word tide, and it conjures up a range of images. But you don't know what I mean. If I add high or roll to it, two very different images come to mind. The words are parts. Sentences, paragraphs, essays, chapters, and books are wholes. Not necessarily complete wholes, but some whole none-the less.

Art Loeb - Pisgah trailsTo describe the whole of something, or to describe an object as good, is not to describe its parts, but something else. 

For example, this image is of a portion of a map of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. For many of you, it is just lines, shading, markers and names. You can tell it is a map, but it doesn't go much further than that.

The map can serve as a guide, an introduction, to what a person can find here on a visit.  Come this summer, you can visit the Fish Hatchery or swim in the cold waters at Sliding Rock or hike up to John's Rock. Each place is represented on the map. Each a place that has meaning for people who visit here.

For those of us who have spent time here, the map is much more. It is a visual connection point to memories and images of places, people, situations and experiences that we've had in locations noted on the map.

For example, just off the map image there is a place call Mt. Hardy.  Seen at the center of this picture.  Mt Hardy from Devils Courthouse 1 On the map, it is just a name of one of hundreds of peaks to climb. Yet, on a June night in 2003, it was a place of fascination and horror, as we watched lightning flash and strikes all around as a group of us camped.

The place on the map represents more than a name. It is something whole and complete, because we experienced it as more than a name on a map. It is a place that will forever stay with those of us who camped there that night.

When we say something is good, we are not trying to analyze its component parts to identify what makes it good. We are saying something about the whole of the object.

I'm convinced that human thought is rationalized emotion. We feel something, and our words provide us a way to connect with those deeper parts of our lives that we know exist, but have a hard to time expressing. We use things like maps and art to provide a connection between those parts of us that are only understandable as something whole and complete.

When we talk about what is good, we are talking about values that capture for us something whole and often times something that is greater than us. These connections, to me, represent the emergent reality that I wrote about here. We are not just our thoughts or just our emotions. We are not just a bank of talent or a fulfiller of tasks along an assembly line. We are whole beings who cannot be understood in any complete way by analytical reduction. Our wholeness rather is understood as unrealized potential within a particular setting. Wyoming When we look at a work of art, like this painting of Wyomng, that I found online many years ago, we can get really close and look at the technique of the artist, the picture fades and the brush strokes emerge. Then step back, and the picture takes on its wholeness again.

What is good about this painting can be described on many levels. There is the technique. The thematic material. The use of color and perspective. But all those are only parts of the picture. When they are all combined together, do they create a painting that we can say is good? Possibly, but it has a lot to do with the values that we bring to the experience.  And our values are products of our interaction with people in society.

I believe that our lives can be like this painting. Excellent in the execution of the brush strokes and use of color, but even more significant because of the picture itself. When we find wholeness in our life and work, we are more than the sum of activities that we do each day.  We become a work of art whose life and work is good. Create Goodness picture

When the Five Actions of Gratitude appeared in my mind one morning driving through northern Mississippi, this is the sort of thing I saw in the fifth action, Create Goodness.  A couple quotes from my Weekly Leader column.

The ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle taught his students that “every action and pursuit is considered to aim at some good….what is the highest of all practical goods? … It is happiness, say both ordinary and cultured people; and they identify happiness with living well or doing well.” By this he means that the actions born from our individual initiative, through our relationships, in our work and the daily course of our lives aim at goodness, defined as happiness or living or doing well in life and work. ...

Contemporary philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in describing Aristotle’s thought on this point wrote,  “ What then does the good for… (humanity) … turn out to be? … It is the state of being well and doing well in being well … . “ The word that Aristotle uses is eudaimonia (eu-day-mo-knee-a), traditionally translated as goodness. Its meaning is much more complex that simply as an adjective for describing a piece of pie or last Sunday’s football game. It touches on ideas related to fulfillment, human flourishing, happiness and completeness. The good person is one whose whole life is an integrated combination of thought, feeling, initiative, interaction, and action, resulting a good life or good work, or a better product, community or world.

What is Good?

It is a life that is complete and whole, fulfilled, meaningful and makes a difference that matters. The good life is a complete and happy life.  It is a life connected to others just as their lives are connected to ours. And when we find that completeness, our lives are like a painting that evokes values that create goodness and elevate the lives of others. We also become like a map which is a reference point, an example, of what is possible, and for those who know that we have become a reminder of what the experience of a complete life is like.


Trend Lines Going Forward

Lemhi Dawn 4 9-16-04

It is hard to believe that the first decade of the 21st century is now history. It has not been the decade that most of us expected. It has been filled with terror, war, economic disruption, political disappointment, natural disasters that showcased governmental inadequacies, and the emergence of social media as a force. In many respects, it was a decade where society did not move forward, and little prospects for broad scale improvement in the near future. 

Andy Crouch, an insightful cultural interpreter, has posted his assessment of the 10 tends that marked the first decade of the 2000's.

  1. Connection
  2. Place
  3. Cities
  4. The End of the Marjority
  5. Polarity
  6. The Self Shot
  7. Pornography
  8. Informality
  9. Liquidity
  10. Complexity

I'm in basic agreement with most of what Crouch offers here. However, it raises questions for me.

If these are trends, then where are they leading us? 

What is the line that extends from the past through the present to the future?

What should we do in response to these trends?

These trends are markers or sign-posts of changes that have been long in development.  I see these trends leading forward in the following ways.

Connection / Place / Cities / Pornography / The Self Shot

This trend line is complex because it is a mixture of several converging ones.

The need ...

for relationship,

for rootedness in a place,

for a place of openness, discovery and genuine diversity,

for intimacy, and,

for a real understanding of one's own identity.

All these are converging. Each of these trends have their problematic dimension though:

Of the shallowness of online connection

Of the disconnection of people from the physical places where they live and work

Of the economic viability of both rural and urban environments that fail to create an environment for human creativity

Of the failure of the institution of marriage to be a viable form of human intimacy for large numbers of people

Of a religious and political culture that offers narcissism rather than human community as a basis for human purpose.

The End of the Majority / Polarity / Informality / Liquidity / Complexity

This trend line is moving fast away from the social conventions and institutions of previous generations. The status of elite groups and institutions once secured by a culture of common perceptions and simple approaches is under going dramatic change. One-size-fits-all, works-for-all, and is available-to-all is no longer reflective of the way the world works, if it ever truly did.  Instead, complexity is the structure of society. As a result, no single or generic approach works. Instead many different approaches can be effective. The key here then is to understand how complexity impacts us on a daily basis.

Donald Norman writes in Living with Complexity,

"The keys to coping with complexity are to be found in two aspects of understanding. First is the design of the thing itself that determines its understanding. Does it have an underlying logic, a foundation that, once mastered, makes everything fall into place? Second is our own set of abilities and skills. Have we taken the time and effort to understanding and master the structure? Understandability and understanding: two critical keys to mastery."

Questions that I have.

What is the underlying logic that explains the meaning of these trends?

What is the "design (of the thing itself)" of the time we live?  

What is the historical movement that helps us to gain understanding of the past decade, the past generation, and what we may expect of the next decade and generation.

My conclusion is that we are in the midst of dramatic period of unprecedented change. In order to understand these trends, we need to understand the assumptions that have guided human history for the past several centuries.

For example, beginning in the 18th century a shift began that impacted virtually every country. It was the shift from aristocracy to democracy. What may not be readily evident in this shift is the continuity that was maintained throughout these great historic changes.

I wrote about this shift in my review of Lucino Visconti's masterpiece, The Leopard. It is a picture of the change from the old aristocratic order to new world order of democratic progressivism. In that post, I include a long dialogue that the Prince of Sicily and the representative of the new modern, progressive government of Italy have. Here's a portion.

The Prince: I am a member of the old ruling class hopelessly linked to the past regime and tied to it by chains of decency, if not affection. I belong to an unfortunate generation straddling two worlds and ill at ease in both. And what is more, I am utterly without illusions.

What would the Senate do with an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty of self-deception, essential requisite for those who guide others? No, I cannot lift a finger in politics. It would get bitten off.

Chevalley: Would you seriously refuse to do all you can to alleviate the state of physical squalor and blind moral misery in which your own people lie?

The Prince: We are old, Chevalley. Very old. For more that 25 centuries, we have borne the weight of superb civilizations that have come from outside, never of our own creation, none we could call our own. For 2,500 years, we've been nothing but a colony. I'm not complaining. It's our fault. But we are worn out and exhausted.

Chevalley: But all that's over now. Sicily is no longer a conquered land, but a free member of a free state.

The Prince: Your intention is good, but it comes too late.

Sleep, my dear Chevalley, a long sleep - that is what Sicilians want. They will always hate anyone who tries to wake them, even to bring them the most wonderful gifts. And between ourselves, I doubt whether the new kingdom will have many gifts for us in its luggage. Here, all expression, even the most violent, is a desire for oblivion. Our sensuality is a longing for oblivion. Our knifings and shootings are a longing for death. Our laziness, the penetrating sweetness of our sherbets, a longing for voluptuous immobility, that is ... death once again.

Chevalley: Prince, are you exaggerating? I myself have met Sicilians in Turin who seemed anything but asleep.

The Prince: I haven't explained myself well. I'm sorry. I said Sicilians. I should have said Sicily. This atmosphere, the violence of the landscape, the cruelty of the climate, the constant tension in everything -

Chevalley: Climate can be overcome, landscape improved, the memory of evil governments canceled. Surely the Sicilians want to improved.

The Prince: I don't deny that a few, once off the island, may wake up, but they must leave very young. By 20, it's too late. The crust has already formed. What you need, Chevalley, is a man who is good at blending his personal interests with vague public ideals.

The picture here is of the clash between the ideals of progressivism and the exhaustion of the old order. With the former there was a belief that the world's problems could be solved, and with the latter, a realization that even in the midst of change, there is not much that changes.

What we can see here is not the replacement of the aristocracy with a populist government, but rather the transfer of power from one kind of elitism to another. It is the elitism of modern democratic progressivism that is reaching the same point that the old order aristocrats reached two centuries ago. That exhaustion is the inadequacy of the ideas and values that inspired revolution to create a sustainable society in a highly complex context. Ultimately, what happens is the loss of the ideals themselves and the adoption of a formula that is designed to resist change and perpetuate the system.

This trend suggests other trends.

The end of institutions as a unifiying force in society.

Whether those institutions are political, religious, social or educational, they no longer command the loyalty or respect by people as they once did.  Instead, communities of causes have replaced them and is seen in Crouch's Polarity trend.

This emerging trend is really the mixture of several changes.

A shift from a global to a local perspective as locus of solution making.

The impracticality of one-size-fits-all approaches to solving social and econonic problems is reflected in the persistance of the recession in its many forms.  This a product of the growing complexity of society that responds better to small, local initiatives than those applied from a single source.

A shift from a national orientation to a relational one.

As I've written previously, online technology enables us to work with colleagues globally as if we are locally connected. National origin means less, and personal values mean more in this context of local collaboration on a global scale.

The emergence of belief as the common bond that unites people organizationally.

One doesn't have to look farther than the passionate advocacy of the environmental movement or the Tea Party movement to see how traditional institutions are being replaced my groups of people who form temporary communities to advocate for a cause. This puts institutional elites at a disadvantage as institutional integrity has been less about causes or beliefs and more about process and operational integrity.

These are some trends that I see, and see them as positive developments. However, there are aspects of these changes that I don't think are quite yet apparent, yet will bring a new level of disruptive change as they emerge.

Many of the governing assumptions of our time are based on social, political and economic philosophies that were born in the era of The Leopard. I'm convinced that the ideologies of capitalism, liberal progressivism and its socialist varient, and individualism will come to be replaced by new ideas that provide a way forward.  It is my impression that we think these are given, guiding assumptions of contemporary society. I'm not convinced that these philosophies represent the future, but the past. It is why I see the two political parties as regressive, rather than visionary.  As these ideologies lose their vitality and relevance, their advocates have become more divisive and defensive. In my opinion, this divisiveness is a sign of the fading viability of these social philosophies.

If I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd wager that the future trends that we'll see emerging over the next few years are:

New organizational structures that are designed for shared responsibility and collaboration.

Values as the unifying force, not only in organizations, but in society.

New confederations of cities and organizations that circumvent the artificial constraints of state and national boundaries.

Lastly, what should leaders do to be prepared to adapt to these changes?

1. Develop the leadership capacity of everyone in your organization.

2. Build organizational community through an emphasis on and the operationalizing of the Connecting Ideas of the Circle of Impact - Purpose, Mission, Values, Vision and Impact.

3. Take time to develop an understanding of the logic of what is happening locally and globally. Test assumptions, and be positively self-critical. In other words, think for yourself by constantly seeking to develop your capacity to observe, think, assess and make judgments.

My wish for each of us in 2011 is that we find new strength of purpose, greater capacity for leadership, and an ability to make a difference that matters that changes our world for the better.  All the best to you in your leadership endeavors.