04 April 2011

Leadership in Complexity - Introductory Seminar Next Monday, April 11

You probably don't need me to tell you that the world is a complex place, and assuming the role of organizational leader is, among other things, challenging. Navigating amidst the complex ebbs and flows of what seems to be a perpetual sea of the unexpected is, nonetheless, the order of the day for organizations, their leaders, and indeed all of their constituent members.

As Marshall McLuhan so aptly observes in his book, Laws of Media,
As the information that constitutes the environment is perpetually in flux, so the need is not for fixed concepts but rather for the ancient skill of reading that book, for navigating through an ever uncharted and unchartable milieu. Else we will have no more control of this technology and environment than we have of the wind and the tides.
"Uncharted and unchartable" sort of sums it up, doesn't it? In my work with organizational leaders, the complexity challenge appears to be threefold:
  • To be able to perceive the complexity of the environments with which we have to deal;
  • To be able to focus appropriately on the critical factors that influence complex relationships;
  • To be able to resolve the tension between intention (i.e., planning and execution), and emergence.
Next Monday evening, April 11, from 17:30 to 21:00, I will be offering a public, introductory seminar on Leadership in Complexity that addresses these three issues with some very practical tools and techniques. The seminar is sponsored by the Canadian Organization Development Institute, and will be held in Toronto, at OISE, 252 Bloor Street West, Room 12-199. The cost is only $10, and you can register here.

If you are, or know of, a leader who would like to gain a better understanding of some of the issues, I invite you to join me and other leaders and organization development practitioners for a couple of hours of fish stories, Emergence Brainstorming, and Tactility. For more information, you can download the brochure, or just sign up and come out!

Update: (11 April 2011): Thanks to everyone who came out and played with us - it was a wonderful crowd and a more-than-full room. For those who are interested here are my notes from the presentation.

What Slutwalk Can Teach Organizational Leaders

Today was the inaugural Slutwalk Toronto, and by all accounts, it was a great success. Slutwalk Toronto was spawned by some rather unfortunate – some would say uninformed and downright stupid – comments made by Toronto PC Michael Sanguinetti, namely that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Even though he prefaced his outrageous comment by admitting that he probably shouldn’t say it, and the Toronto Police Service has officially apologized, it’s actually a Really Good Thing that PC Sanguinetti was explicit about his deeply held beliefs. It’s a Good Thing because it makes the entire issue of stereotypical attitudes towards sexual assault, and the blame-the-victim mentality that pervades the Police Service discussable. It’s a Good Thing because anything that helps society initiate conversations about sex positivity, acceptance, and the boundaries of consent is welcome and needed. And, it’s a Good Thing because the Toronto Police Service’s bureaucratic response to the emergent Slutwalk organization is highly illustrative of a lesson that can be learned by all leaders among all organizations. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, for the record, here are the ten reasons why I joined with sisters and brothers (and other self-identified gender relations) in Slutdom and walked today:
  1. Because women have the right to be safe. Period.
  2. Because all people, irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation, or sexual preferences and proclivities have the right to be safe. Period.
  3. Because no one "deserves to" or "asks to" be raped under any circumstances.
  4. Because it is time that men in positions of authority come to terms with the fact that women are sexually assaulted irrespective of what they are wearing, where they are, or what they are doing as sexual assault is, first and foremost, a weapon of power and violence.
  5. Because blaming the victim of any crime is wrong.
  6. Because blaming the victim of rape is an especially pernicious repeat act of violence.
  7. Because characterizing men as slaves to their supposed unbridled sexual desire is demeaning.
  8. Because those charged with enforcing the law cannot be allowed to hold biases that impede their ability to do their jobs.
  9. Because it is beyond time for us as a society to finally grow up and stop considering sexuality as we did back in junior high.
  10. Because Slutwalk should not be necessary, yet it is.

When confronted with PC Sanguinetti’s faux pas, the TPS apologized, as one would expect they would. According the CBC’s reportage, “when the story first broke in January, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said Sanguinetti's comments highlight a ‘training issue’ in the force. ‘If that type of, frankly, archaic thinking still exists among any of my officers, it highlights for me the need to continue to train my officers and sensitize them to the reality of victimization,’ he said.”

Indeed. A training issue. But what we heard today at the rally is that there is considerable training being done by the TPS in this topic. Some nine seminars—probably with quizzes! What’s wrong with this picture is that the seminars themselves are delivered by police officers who have themselves been enculturated in the police culture, mindset and worldview. What’s wrong with this picture is that the training materials were not developed by people who themselves have adequate training in issues of sexual violence, survivor psychology, managing women in traumatic crisis post-rape, or even adult education! And when confronted with these relatively easy-to-understand deficiencies, the Toronto Police Service responds by merely pointing to what they are already doing, as if accomplishing the training itself is the desired effect.

BAH organizations, like the Toronto Police Service, manage according to measurable outcomes to satisfy a plan that accomplishes the objectives or primary purpose of the organization. To the TPS, “serving and protecting” the public means that officers have to be adequately trained. Adequately trained means that officers are ordered to attend a certain number of classes, and must demonstrate that they have adequately learned the material (through a measurable means, like taking a test or performing a skill). At that point, the TPS has achieved (one of) its objectives, and the leadership have done their job. Sanguinetti’s lapse clearly indicates that he needs additional training—or perhaps he was simply too busy thinking about “sluts” in provocative evening wear during that part of the seminar (as they used to say in the old radio show, "who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?"). That the training itself might be inadequate simply cannot be the cause, because that would lay an accusation of incompetence on the senior leadership. Worse still, is the possibility of revealing the complete failure of the basic premise of BAH organizations like the TPS: the fundamental philosophy that objectives are achieved through specific outcomes; outcomes are measurable and their completion can be planned; the success of the organization depends exclusively on the success of executing the plan; and, any failure of that success is a failure of the organization’s senior leadership for whom dire consequences await.

Either way, the leadership is at fault, and that simply cannot be.

But here’s the thing: BAH organizations that achieve success through executing plans to accomplish specific outcomes that achieve objectives are great in complicated environments. Policing isn’t complicated. Policing is complex. In fact, most organizations do not exist in complicated business, market, and human environments. They exist in a world filled with seemingly intractable challenges, unexpected occurrences, and unpredictability at every turn. In other words, they exist in a world of complexity.

In complexity, specific outcomes are unpredictable because they are emergent, based on a large number of uncontrollable – not to mention unexpected – factors. However, we can anticipate the nature of the effects of the things we do based on the nature of the relationships that exist among the various elements at play. It’s really pretty simple when you get right down to it:
BAH organizations manage for outcomes.
UCaPP organizations manage for effects.
That's why UCaPP organizations do so much better when faced with complexity
With this understanding, it’s clear why the Toronto Police Service believes it’s doing a reasonably good job in training (most of) its officers, and why the thousands of people who marched today at Slutwalk Toronto beg to differ. It’s equally clear that because the TPS manages for outcomes, it will never be able to actually enable and bring about the effects for which they sincerely believe they are striving: effects like actually creating a safer Toronto for all of its citizens; effects like enabling women who are sexually assaulted to feel empowered to come forward and report those crimes without feeling victimized by the police themselves; effects for which the measurable proxy of “officer training hours per year” will necessarily remain woefully inadequate.

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If you are, or know of, a leader who would like to gain a better understanding of some of the issues surrounding Leadership in Complexity, I am giving a public introductory seminar sponsored by the Canadian Organization Development Institute next Monday evening, April 11 from 17:30 to 21:00 in Toronto, at OISE, 252 Bloor Street West, Room 12-199. The cost is only $10, and you can register here.