03 December 2012

Appreciative Performance Remediation

I happened to see an interesting post on my Facebook timeline that originated from a posting on Dharma Comics:
I was recently told of an African tribe that does the most beautiful thing. When someone does something hurtful and wrong, they take the person to the center of town, and the entire tribe comes and surrounds him. For two days they’ll tell the man every good thing he has ever done.

The tribe believes that every human being comes into the world as Good, each of us desiring safety, love, peace, happiness. But sometimes in the pursuit of those things people make mistakes. The community sees misdeeds as a cry for help.

They band together for the sake of their fellow man to hold him up, to reconnect him with his true Nature, to remind him who he really is, until he fully remembers the truth: “I Am Good.”
This tribal practice offers some important ideas for organizations facing the challenge of “performance remediation” and its many euphemistic incarnations with respect to dealing with problematic employees. It is essentially the basis of Appreciative Management practices.

Traditional performance reviews involve “checking the boxes” against achievement and development goals that are more-or-less arbitrarily set in an annual exercise (that is mostly dreaded by managers and employees alike). Such practices are based in a control and regimentation mentality that assumes that all achievements can be quantified (that is, they are measurable), that they can be translated into specific, observable “action,” and that they conform to deadlines (“timely”). Given the complexity that defines most that happens throughout contemporary organizations, such goal-setting exercises that to not recognize the fact of emergence are not really very “smart.”

Even worse is that the reward and punishment mechanisms that surround and support such performance management regimes more-often-than-not lead to abusive and non-productive behaviours that tend to diverge from the organization’s tactility – whom it intends to touch and how it intends to touch them – in favour of achievement of goals that are abstractions of what seemed like good ideas at the time. It is particularly authoritarian mechanisms of discipline and control that become problematic.

In contrast, Appreciative Management practices are inherently strengths-based and founded in continual reinforcement and support of “catching them doing it right”—especially important when part of doing “it” right involves organizational members autonomously determining what are the right things to be done.

Particularly, when traditional organizations are moved to discipline (or the very many euphemisms thereof), Appreciative Management approaches are far more effective in sustainable correction of problematic behaviours. When the “tribe” reinforces an individual’s strengths, and the good that they are and can bring to organizational environments, we see remarkable turnarounds in both direct behaviour and sustainable engagement and commitment.

21 November 2012

Employee (Dis)engagement

Back when I was doing my research that led to the development of Valence Theory, I came across a curious phenomenon among two of my participants, both senior leaders – CEOs, in fact – of their respective companies. In many instances, they said nearly the same things but their intention and meaning were almost exactly polar opposites of each other. For example, both spoke about consultation and collaboration with employees, yet one’s intention was to impose his beliefs, worldview, and sense-making on employees who held dissenting opinions. The other leader consulted and collaborated – especially with those who held opposing views – to discover what she was missing in her own understanding of business situations. One leader was confident in what he knew to be “true.” The other, actively sought out to fill the gaps in what she didn’t know that she didn’t know. In McLuhan language, same figures with different grounds (contexts) yields different meaning; meaning being the interplay of figure against ground.

I’m reminded of this idea that we can construct very different meanings from a given observation depending on the ground or context against which the observation is interpreted. Take employee satisfaction surveys, for example. Every leader wants to believe that her or his employees are engaged, satisfied, willing to go the proverbial extra mile or kilometre, and would happily stay even if offered a somewhat better job elsewhere. Leaders want to score high when employees consider whether their company is a Great Place to Work. They survey employees regularly, solicit feedback from workers at every level, and herald high scores through self-congratulatory email blasts thanking staff for their great teamwork, support, dedication, and loyalty in the face of adversity and constant change. What could be wrong with that?

And indeed, all may be well in the state of the company. Equally – thinking back to the example of the two leaders saying the same thing from completely opposite intentions – all may not be as well as the survey results might suggest on the surface. Here are some telltale signs that great results in an employee satisfaction survey might be masquerading some serious, systemic problems:
  1. Response rate is low or delayed: Most such surveys require a minimum response rate from workers to be considered valid. Those sponsoring the survey monitor responses and strongly encourage managers to get their employees to respond, especially as the deadline draws closer. Generally speaking, people are more reluctant to share bad news and eager to provide good. A delayed response – a “hockey stick” shaped response graph – might indicate underlying dissatisfaction.
  2. Small granularity of samples: If response units are fewer than ten people, it’s often easy for a manager to figure out who are the naysayers (or non-responders); framed another way, those who are not “good team players.” In an environment in which employment safety with respect to reprisal, career limitation, or risk of firing is a concern – especially when there is a culture of “no bad news” (see below) – employees will give neutral to mildly positive responses rather than share their true feelings. It’s a tough job market out there!
  3. Functional favouritism: Especially in companies that favour one function over another – engineers and developers in a tech company, sales people, researchers in knowledge-based organizations – satisfaction results may be skewed by overwhelmingly high scores among those who enjoy privilege who also tend to dominate in numbers as well. When average-to-mediocre results are clustered in particular functional areas, there is useful information that management is missing.
  4. No bad news, a.k.a. Emperor’s new clothes: Employees quickly learn whether honest opinions – especially those that express disagreement with the senior leaders – are welcome or not. They learn whether dissenters experience reprisals via lack of promotion or salary raises, limited access to funding or opportunities, or whether they become members of madogiwazoku “the window ledge tribe” of people who are stripped of responsibility and forced to spend their days in triviality until they resign (assuming they can find alternative employment). In such environments, employees know that there is no percentage in telling the emperor s/he has no clothes. It’s much easier, not to mention safer, to tell him/her what she wants to hear.

Sadly these conditions and others create conditions in which leaders are unable to hear and observe what is really going on right under their noses: compliance rather than commitment, apathy instead of innovation, putting another one over on the boss as opposed to providing inspired guidance.

The bottom line: High employee satisfaction and engagement survey results are meaningless if they are not understood in the context of the real environment in which they are taken.

20 August 2012

Video Trailer: Adler's Certificate in Leadership & Organization, Development & Coaching

What an exciting program we have planned beginning January, 2013. Our new Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching is officially announced and registration is open. Have a look at the video trailer and imagine yourself enrolled in this dynamic program. Better yet, imagine yourself as a 21st century leader, with expertise in Organization Development Fundamentals, Critical Perspectives, Complexity Theory and Applications, High-performing Teams, and Professional Practice (coaching/business strategy/consulting). “Your future will never be the same!”

16 August 2012

How to Become a Bad Boss

Over at the HBR Blog, there’s an insightful post about the top ten things you should do if you want to become an INEFFECTIVE leader. (The authors don’t actually frame it that way, but it’s good… err… bad guidance nonetheless.) From “most to least fatal” here are the killer ten:
  1. Failure to inspire, owing to a lack of energy and enthusiasm. 
  2. Acceptance of mediocre performance in place of excellent results. 
  3. A lack of clear vision and direction. 
  4. An inability to collaborate and be a team player. 
  5. Failure to walk the talk. 
  6. Failure to improve and learn from mistakes. 
  7. An inability to lead change or innovate owing to a resistance to new ideas. 
  8. A failure to develop others. 
  9. Inept interpersonal skills. 
  10. Displays of bad judgment that leads to poor decisions.

For all leaders, it’s worth taking a few minutes to pause and reflect on which of these might hit home (and if you happen to notice that you’re in a bit of denial, that is probably another red flag, too).

15 August 2012

Officially Announcing: Adler’s Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership & Organization, Development & Coaching

After many months of challenging and interesting effort, involving great collaboration with many from among Adler’s multiple constituencies, we are very excited to announce our new, Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching, which we affectionately call “C.LODC”. This is the first offering from the Faculty of Leadership and Organization at Adler Graduate Professional School that begins its first class January, 2013.

The underlying philosophy of the “L&O” faculty is that contemporary leadership is about enabling a conducive environment where people engage to create a shared experience in which an alternative future becomes possible. That environment itself is necessarily complex, reflecting the reality of all organizations throughout today’s massively interconnected world. Enabling that environment for the type of participation required for true engagement among people from diverse backgrounds and experiences necessitates a respect and appreciation for difference and paradox—a leader being able to hold the “tension of the polarities” of two (or more) disparate experiences in her or his mind. And, it requires both a foundational understanding of how we arrived into our current situation, and practical ways to approach organizational and people challenges, many of which are brand new for our times.

Our certificate program is specifically designed to address these needs. Comprising five courses taught over twelve months in our central Toronto location, current and future leaders will gain a new understanding of what it means to truly lead (not merely manage) in the 21st century. In designing the certificate, we selected courses from the curriculum we are submitting to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities for a proposed master degree (obligatory disclaimer: accreditation of a future master degree is subject to government approval and cannot be assured). That curriculum has been called innovative and unique in the world by academic and practitioners reviewers whom we invited to review our design. Needless to say, we are very excited about being able to exercise some of our courses.

As we say on the C.LODC website, “Adler’s Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching is a unique program for those who would become unique leaders. We invite you to join us beginning January, 2013 for this exciting innovation in contemporary leadership education. Your future will never be the same.”

Space is necessarily limited. And, we’re offering a special, discounted price of $6,750 for the inaugural year (regular price is $9,000). Come download an application for one of the few spots remaining in this great, new program. Indeed, your future will never be the same!

Update (20 Aug 2012): Here’s the great video trailer for the program:

06 August 2012

Advice for the Leader-lorn: When to Skip the “Skip Level”

“Advice for the Leader-lorn” is an irregular series in which Dr. Mark answers your leadership questions. If you have a thorny leadership situation that you’d like Dr. Mark to address, send your question to Dr. Mark.

Today’s question comes from A.Y. who writes: “I’ve recently come into a company in a Senior VP position. It didn’t take me very long to observe that morale among the managers and staff isn’t up to what it might be. In fact, people seem to be pretty demoralized. In my last company, we used “skip-level interviews” with staff to hear what was really going on two or three levels down in the hierarchy. I’d like to do the same here, but the moment I mentioned the idea, people turned pale, fumbled for their Blackberries, and excused themselves to head to a meeting (and people here absolutely hate meetings!). I get the feeling that jumping in to this program may not be the best idea right now, but I’d still like to know what’s really going on. How should I proceed?

Your powers of observation serve you well, A.Y. You’ve saved yourself a lot of time filled with awkward moments, and your staff painful facial muscles as they feign smiles and pleasantries. Skip-level interviews can be an effective means of hearing “the truth,” unfiltered by layers of management well-trained in obfuscating corporate-speak. But as actor Jack Nicholson famously reminded us, “the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” And many employees can’t handle delivering the truth, especially when the implications of the uneven power relations are not perfectly clear as being safe.

Your previous company seemed to have made good use of skip-level interviews, the opportunity for more senior leaders to reach down into their organization and spend some quality, one-on-one time with employees farther down the reporting hierarchy. It’s likely that the organization culture was one of openness and safety. No one there had ever experienced reprisals from their direct manager (or manager’s manager) for reporting anything other than a rosy picture of complete competence. The culture was probably a strong learning culture in which reflective learning accompanied every decision—without witch-hunts, post-mortems, or the type of inquisitions meant to ensure that “this (whatever may have gone sideways) will never happen again.” In a culture of Appreciative Management with Positive Leadership, all levels of the organization expect to hear frank exposition of what’s really going on from everyone, irrespective of their level of responsibility or seniority, and positively reinforce that openness and honest. I would go so far as to say that in such a culture, skip-level interviews are likely unnecessary, since everyone typically knows what’s “really happening” anyway, through regular check-ins in an environment of individual autonomy and agency, collective responsibility, and mutual accountability.

The reactions you’ve received at your new company suggest that it may be too soon for a person with legitimated authority – you – to embark on a program that requires a high degree of trust and safety to be effective. Everyone knows that it’s not safe to talk to strangers, and in the context of that organization’s culture, you are still a stranger. My invitation to you is to begin slowly in your quest for knowledge. There are likely those who are organizationally close to you whom you can ask first for frank opinions about what needs to change to improve the work environment—your admin assistant (if you have a person in that role) or other person in a relatively lower-level position. Follow through on your promises to them and you begin to build trust. Next, hold a mini-town hall meeting among those people’s organizational peers and listen deeply to their experiences of the organization. Find an opportunity to give them autonomy and agency in enacting the changes that will make their roles more effective and more satisfying.

After that, spread out to those of higher hierarchical rank who are connected to the ones who are beginning to trust you, again listening deeply, granting autonomy where possible, taking the opportunity for action whenever you can. By all means, recognize and reward those who speak the truth – especially difficult truths – and invite a strong “culture of inquiry” to emerge. Rinse and repeat until you notice that people are regaining the colour in the faces and putting away their Blackberries when you approach. Only then will you have gained sufficient trust and established the requisite safety for skip-level interviews to succeed.

Except by then, you won’t need them to know what’s really going on.

13 June 2012

Owner Capitalism. The New Absentee Landlords

I’ve never quite subscribed to the fictitious idea that contemporary shareholders of public companies are truly “owners.” They may own the company’s stock, and by virtue of placing a bet on an arcane future outcome based on an alchemic expectation (and actual delivery) of future profits, relative degree of satisfaction or disappointment (irrespective of actual success), and what Apple or Google have recently announced (or perhaps literally, the price of tea in China), may be entitled to a financial reward from time to time. But that reward is more akin to a bet at the craps table in the casino called Bay Street, Wall Street, NASDAQ, or similar. The overwhelming majority of company stock purchases are simply about money making more money based solely on the movement of money. Aside from angel investors and venture capitalists investing in start-ups, long gone are the days when a so-called investor is authentically investing in the success of the enterprise, as opposed to the financial return of the supposed investment itself.

This premise is the basis of a new book by Yvan Allaire and Mihaela Firsirotu, A Capitalism of Owners, reviewed today in the Globe and Mail.
In an era where companies must be flexible and strive for change, the authors say corporate leaders face a stressful paradox. The more competitive the markets for goods and services, the more businesses need time to adapt, innovating and putting in place new strategies (as Ms. Nooyi was attempting) without speculators breathing down their necks.

“Yet, in these very times of a raging competitive battle, contemporary financial markets, the supposed ‘company owners,’ pile on widely held publicly listed companies, bullying them for short-term results and then exit the stock en masse, leaving the place to speculators, financial jackals, and buzzards,” the authors note.

Note the phrase “supposed” owners. Under capitalism, ownership belongs to the holders of shares. But the authors question whether today’s stockholders are share owners or share flippers, speculating on the market. They note that in the 1960s, a share was held, on average, for seven years by its owner. Today, on the New York Stock Exchange, shares are held for less than a year – roughly the level at the time of the 1929 market crash, the authors note. Other major exchanges have seen a similar transformation.
Exactly my point. Taking a more theoretically grounded approach to the analysis, I would argue that, according to Valence Theory, most shareholders are not even members of the organization; how on earth could they be considered “owners” qualified to participate in decision making? Indeed, the company’s customers have stronger, more pervasive ties to the organization and would theoretically be better qualified to contribute to good decision making on behalf of all constituencies.

We all know the problem with absentee landlords. Owner capitalism is equivalently problematic, and far more pernicious in its effects on society in general.

08 June 2012

And the Researcher Impact and Effectiveness Award Goes to: Marina Gutman!

Regular readers will know that when I refer to “effectiveness,” I specifically mean, “are we enabling and creating the effects we intend among our various member constituencies?” Effects occur along the various valence relationships—Economic, Socio-psychological, Identity, Knowledge, and Ecological. In my own work, I apply this guidance specifically towards the challenges of contemporary leadership and transforming the cultures of 19th and 20th century organizations to become organizations consistent with the 21st century. But similar reasoning can be applied towards any other functional aspects of an organization: finance, operations, sales, human “resources” (which I would reframe as “resourcefulness”), and most of all, marketing. In fact, marketing has always been more about effects than goals or specific outcomes (which are more accurately considered as emergent consequences of marketing effects). Marketing asks the simple question, what effects do we, as a brand, want to have on consumers—both those who currently are, and those who are not yet, “ours.”

Exceptional marketing goes one step beyond that, recognizing that valence analysis creates an equivalence between consumers “out there,” and employees - say brand managers, for instance - “in here.” This realization, in turn, necessitates turning great data analysis into great storytelling both inside and outside (because, in valence-oriented organizations, there is no inside or outside; we’re essentially all on the same ’side!). It is the rare marketer indeed who truly understands and embodies this realization. How rare you ask? So rare, that the Market Research and Intelligence Association has held the award for Client-Side Researcher Impact and Effectiveness open for three years since its inception waiting for just such a marketer.

I am so very proud of my dear friend (and dance partner), Marina Gutman, who is the very first recipient of this award. In creating and awarding this honour, the Association
recognizes a member, employed at a client-side researcher corporate member of the Association, for outstanding achievements over the past year which have served to elevate the stature of marketing, survey and public opinion research and market intelligence at senior decision-making levels of his or her own organization. The nomination received for this award this year was absolutely compelling in terms of the nominee’s stellar impact and effectiveness within her organization, and the respect and influence she has garnered for the research function at senior decision-making levels. A brief excerpt from the nomination tells the story well:

Through strategic guidance, research prowess, outstanding relationships with research partners, and sheer will and passion, this individual has been able to elevate the stature of marketing research and decision-making from only very basic key performance indicator tracking to best-in-class levels. Her work is now being held up as an example for the other two business units at Coca Cola Canada [!], and is being widely used in organizations such as Nielsen and Millward Brown as best demonstrated practice and in training materials for developing researchers. She excels at identifying and focusing business questions, then building comprehensive research plans to operationalize them. She is an expert project manager capable of managing a huge workload with a limited budget and often even more limited timelines. Her exceptional relationships with her research partners enable her to pull off miracles regularly. Perhaps her most differentiated skill, however, is her ability to “tell the story” simply and concisely in plan business language, not “research-ese.”
I’ve seen the entire nomination brief and it left me in awe. Among the things that impressed me was Marina’s ability to market to brand teams with true effectiveness, creating the desired effects of transformative change in the way the organization and its managers think about, and act on their brands, resulting in satisfaction ratings for decision analyses catapulting from 40% to 100%. This translated into stellar brand performance and repositioning (against a well-entrenched competitor), highly successful new product launches, and perhaps most near and dear to the heart of an old OD pro (and prof) like me, “a critical strategic thinking partner to the business teams offering an unparalleled level of strategic thinking which both challenges and inspires them.” I really like that “challenges and inspires” part!

Congratulations, Marina! Well done, and so well deserved!

05 June 2012

How - Not Who - Do You Hire?

Like most people whose digiSelf has a presence on LinkedIn, I receive the periodic “Jobs You May Be Interested In” email. Not that I’m actively looking to relocate at the moment (fans of the proposed M.LODC program can breathe again!), but there’s the whole “make me an offer that I can’t refuse thing,” too. In this week’s edition, there was a notice for a “Senior Manager, Leadership Development Strategy” position at Scotiabank. Reading through the description, I came to the conclusion that I would be eminently qualified, and completely unhireable for that position.

Let me explain: First, I lack the number one desired qualification, namely, “at least 5+ years experience within the financial services industry.” Reframing this qualification suggests that leadership within the financial services industry is somehow uniquely different than leadership within any other industry segment. In other words, according to Scotiabank’s standpoint, leadership is fundamentally instrumental in nature as opposed to transcending the instrumental to become – as I argue – environmental. Moreover, this Scotiabank position is intended to, “oversee the Bank´s approach to Executive Recruitment.” (As an aside, I think their choice use of capitalizations is interesting in the way it transforms certain abstractions into proper nouns; but I digress.) It is clear that the “Bank” considers hiring somewhat more traditionally, as an instrumental exercise to find the right candidate who best meets the job description and requirements. Or, expressed another way, an exercise to find the machine component whose specifications most closely match those preconceived by the industrial machine itself.

Clearly, I would be a disaster in that role. For me – and for UCaPP organizations – recruitment and hiring is far less about the candidate directly, and much more about the aspirational intentions of the organization itself.

Say what?

Let’s unpack that last idea: According to Valence Theory, organizations are fundamentally emergent entities that arise from the relationships (of which there are five) among the people (or more generally, the member constituencies). Change the people and you necessarily change the nature and quality of the relationships. Therefore, each new hire irrevocably changes the organization. Although it seems relatively obvious that if you change, say, a major persona at a relatively higher hierarchical level in the organization – the CEO or a senior director, for instance – you’ll create a change in the organization, it is also true that introducing any personnel change effects emergent, transformational change – most often subtle change – in the organization. The so-called ripple effects of changing even a hierarchically low-level position introduces the potential for large systemic transformation throughout the complex system that is the organization.

Here’s a somewhat, but not entirely, contrived example that illustrates the point: An organization hires someone for an entry-level position who happens to be really enthusiastic about softball, or cycling, or possibly even salsa dancing. That person takes the initiative to organize social events that feature their interest which, in turn, brings people together in a social environment who previously may never have directly interacted. That recreational interaction in turn recreates the nature and quality of their workplace interactions and stuff happens that enables new, and unexpected, business-related effects. As I said, the so-called ripple effects of changing even a hierarchically low-level position introduces the potential for large systemic transformation throughout the complex system that is the organization.

Thus, the question of hiring becomes (among other things) a question about what we, as an organization, want to become. Into what do we aspire to transform and evolve? What effects to we intend to create and enable among our member constituencies and how will that new person contribute that creation and enablement? Or, more succinctly, what is our tactility? Hiring decisions are, in effect, organizational evolution and tactility decisions—how will we touch the person we are inviting into organization, and how will that person will touch us? The hiring process is about enculturation—how will that individual assimilate and embody our organizational culture, and how will our organizational culture embody the effects introduced by that individual?

So, hiring me, for example, into an organization means that the organization has some pretty inspired, far-thinking, and unconventional aspirations for the future of its leadership. Just the sorts of things we’re playing with here in the Faculty of Leadership and Organization at Adler Graduate Professional School.

01 June 2012

In the Best Interest of the Students

An education-related story caught my attention yesterday, as a textbook example of how a bureaucratic mentality precludes reflective leadership and organizational learning—precisely the attributes required for being effective in the contemporary world. The details of the case are pretty straight-forward:
Lynden Dorval has been a … teacher in the Edmonton Public School system for 35 years. Last week, he was suspended indefinitely for what he says was insubordination for disobeying an order not to give zeros to students. [He says,] “…if [students] don’t hand in work or show up to write an exam … we have a comment policy where we’re supposed to put in comments indicating what they haven’t done. The problem with that is the marks program doesn’t count that for anything, so if a student had only done half the work then their average mark would be based only on that half the work. The average is calculated by whatever marks are in there.”
In other words, if a student does only one or two assignments on which s/he receives passing grades and does no other work through the term – including not taking the exam – the student will nonetheless receive a passing grade according to the Edmonton School Board policy. Mr. Dorval objected to this policy, ensuring that a student would receive a final mark that reflects both the work done and not done. The Board superintendent suspended Dorval for insubordination (notably only three weeks before the final exams when the students are most in need of a teacher familiar with what had transpired through the entire school year).

Seems pretty dumb on the surface, doesn’t it? Despite the seemingly ill-advised policy and inappropriateness of the suspension timing, what does this story have to do with leadership, and the problematics of a bureaucratic mindset? Well, have a listen to what the Board’s official spokesperson, one Cheryl Oxford, has to say about the superintendent’s decision:
“A student is to be assessed on their overall learning outcomes,” she told reporters. “So as opposed to being assessed on what they don’t know, they’re being assessed on what they do know. … All the decisions that we make are in the best interest of students. If the superintendent did not feel that this decision was not in the best interest of the students he wouldn’t have made it.”
Did you catch that? First, counting only those assignments that were done seems to ensure that students are evaluated on “what they do know,” presumably because what they haven’t done, they don’t know (as opposed to, say, simply not doing the work for whatever reason). To a system that is designed to purge human judgment – in other words, a bureaucracy – that sort of comment technically makes sense.

More significant, however, are the effects of the bureaucratic mentality. In his book, The Rise of the Network Society, Manuel Castells describes bureaucracies as, “organizations for which the reproduction of their system of means becomes their main organizational goal.” This means that a bureaucratic system cannot afford to be demonstrated to be wrong: If it was wrong, it would impede its ability to reproduce its system of means. This underlying mentality often translates into bewildering and often arcane public explanations that seem to ignore what to those outside of the system would be simple, common sense. It is the reason why so many bureaucratically minded leaders choose to “stay the course,” rather than admit that a decision was ill advised (because that would be tantamount to admitting that the system which vested in them decision-making power made a mistake). Case in point: Ms. Oxford’s comment that, since all decisions are made in the best interests of students, the specific decision to suspend Lynden Dorval must have been in the best interest of students, otherwise the decision would not have been made. It is a circular (il)logic that steadfastly defends a bureaucratic system over any potential reflection on the usefulness of the policy, practical problematics of its implementation, or – heaven forefend! – unintended consequences like depriving students of their teacher right before final exams which, according to the unique bureaucratic reasoning of the Edmonton School Board, must, by definition, be in the best interest of the students.

Besides, by creating an incentive for students to only submit assignments on material that they know and ignore everything else, we can be assured to create good bureaucrats to fill the cubicles of both public and private sector corporate bureaucracies. After all, bureaucracies exist to reproduce their systems of means, and what is the purpose of the traditional education system if not to serve that bureaucratic objective?

09 May 2012

Leadership in Complexity at the Public Service of Canada National Managers Community Forum 2012

The past two days, I had the great pleasure of performing two playshops on Leadership in Complexity at the 2012 National Managers Community Forum in Winnipeg. This is the same session that I did with the Canadian Organization Development Institute a year ago. Between the two sessions, over 200 participants experienced an introduction to complexity theory as applied to organizational leadership, beginning with answering the time-honoured question, “how are contemporary organizations like the Newfoundland cod fishery?” (Answer: Neither is complicated, although both are typically treated as such; in fact, they both are complex.) We listened to music from Sun Ra as an example of what complexity sounds like (although my son, the composer, suggested that we could have equally listened to an excerpt from John Cage’s 4’33”).

A large part of being able to perceive a complex system AS a complex system comes from being able to perceive the relationships among effects relative to a variety of contexts (or grounds) that provide the environment in which those relationships are enacted. Of course, given my McLuhan background, I suggest that the Laws of Media tetrads are among the best thinking frameworks to be able to enable that perception. This, of course leads to all sorts of applications including better brainstorming, or what I now refer to as “Emergence Brainstorming.”

Naturally, I introduced the participants to Valence Theory and referred them to the complementary talk to this session, “Take Me to Your Leaders.” And, as a cap to the entire afternoon, we developed tactility statements for the public service on each day:
Day 1: “The Public Service of Canada shares and transfers knowledge to create and support policy to enable regulations regarding social services via communications and media.”

Day 2: “The Public Service of Canada supports social identity and diversity as well as knowledge sharing through excellent governance to accomplish safety and security of the people and the environment, in addition to economic growth, stability, and health, through providing people support services.”

All in all, an enjoying and stimulating session for me and, I hope, for the participants. The notes for the session are available for download in English and in French.

20 April 2012

Don’t Manage Conflict, Engage It (and each other)!

Responding to the detailed design document for our proposed Master’s in Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching, friend and collaborator, Cinnie Noble notes the seeming absence of topics covering conflict management. She appropriately observes that,
Conflict costs organizations – financially (through litigation, grievances, absenteeism, retention etc.), AND in other ways such as the impact that ill-managed conflict has on morale, productivity, the ability to make decisions, problem solve, and be creative. Most organizations (and people) are reactive when it comes to conflict, and OD and coaching principles and practice have the potential for providing proactive approaches that prevent unnecessary conflict and help make effective conflict engagement the norm rather than something to be avoided until it is too late.

Effective conflict management is not commonly identified as a core competency for leaders, and there is a paucity of information about what constitutes conflict competent leaders and organizations. Much leadership coaching work however, is focused on helping leaders develop the knowledge, skills and abilities to engage more effectively in conflict and better manage interpersonal and other disputes.

Mission statements and codes of conduct are commonly subject to interpretation and often do not consider cultural differences. Some expectations about how staff are supposed to
behave are otherwise unspoken and unwritten. In any case there are many problems about trying to instil respectful ways of interacting. In actuality, the results of such efforts are the 'stuff' of grievances, the need for mediation, investigations, human rights complaints and so on. In the well-meaning efforts to provide a framework for staffs' communications, many workplaces do not provide the requisite training, coaching or modelling to effectively implement and sustaingood behaviour. What is more, they do not provide the ways and means for staff to easily access assistance.

Conflict has yet to be fully embraced as an opportunity for organizations to achieve more positive outcomes. Such outcomes are for instance, to examine disparate ideas in order to innovate and create new ways to solve problems, to explore possibilities based on opposing views and differences, to improve relationships so that productivity increases and staff are healthy contributors.

Imagine if we, as leaders, were able to create an environment in which the nature of conversations that occur in that environment preclude what we term as “interpersonal disputes,” disgruntlement, and generally bad behaviours; an environment in which mission statements (which I think are relatively counter-productive in most cases) and codes of conduct (ditto, especially with a disparity between espoused and in-use theories of action) are not converted into weapons with the intention of beating recalcitrant employees into submission.

Our proposed master’s program is designed with this effect in mind. For example, one of the key objectives of our Human Thriving course is to enable leaders – right from the program get-go – to begin to think about the nature of what I would call fractal thriving: a concept recognizing that thriving people create thriving organizations create thriving societies. This leads to a fundamental, complexity-based question that can be more or less framed as, “what environmental conditions will most effectively enable the types of organizational relationships that support individuals’ ability to thrive over time?” With these guiding notions in mind, we can then begin to reconsider and reconstruct organizational practices from the ground up with these precepts as foundational design principles (which happens to be consistent with a Valence Theory conception of organization – interesting how that works! ;)

Raising and mindfully (re)considering the topic of conflict management is exceptionally useful and important because it helps us understand with a new clarity what is fundamentally important about this new program we are proposing. Additionally, it assists to emphasize what I believe must be a core value that pervades all aspects of our curriculum narrative. I
m hoping that the specific seminars on Positive Leadership principles and Appreciative Management practices in the Human Thriving course will set the tone early on. I’m also hoping – more than hoping; we’re planning for it, actually – that proactive leadership, coaching, and OD practices and principles enable organizational environments in which effective engagement among all members becomes the norm, rather than the exception, over time.

Through our program, we will plant the seeds—essentially creating an appropriately conducive environment for our participants in which whatever is to emerge that enacts these values will emerge. I am trusting in the capacity of those whom we will attract to the program to bring forth conversations that perhaps none of us can specifically conceive of from the outset. We will encourage the juxtaposition of diverse contexts (and understanding the intrinsic value in such diversity), provide a wide range of analytical tools that enable useful thinking about polarity issues, and primarily focus on the multiple ways in which a healthy human and organizational ecology can be created, enabled, and actively encouraged out in the world, especially starting from the societal mess in which we collectively find ourselves. In these ways, conflict management may well become a thing of the past, replaced by its more effective counterpart, positive conflict engagement.

05 April 2012

Adventures in Curriculum Design - Master of Leadership & Organization, Development and Coaching

Many of you have been following and participating in the development of our proposed Master of Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching at the Adler Graduate Professional School. Thanks to great contributions from a variety of collaborators, we anticipate that we are within a couple of months of submitting our application for accreditation to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities—after that, we await their review, suggested revisions, and final determination.

We have truly benefited from the ideas, insights, and guidance of many people, beginning with our Conversation Cafés last fall, and culminating with curriculum design charrettes at the beginning of this year (check the AGPS label for related postings). Specifically, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Linda Page, Marilyn Laiken, Melinda Sinclair, Peter Chiaramonte, Cinnie Noble, and Venita Indewey for their valuable contributions in helping to create what I think is a truly exceptional degree curriculum.

Now, it’s time (once again) to hear from YOU. I have posted the draft of the Program Content section of our application, and I invite you to take a sneak peak at what we’ve created so far. The complete document is quite long (the government has specific requirements for its layout and contents), but there is no need for you to read it entirely to get an appreciation of what it is we’re planning.

Here’s a quick guide on where to find specific items that you might find interesting:
  • Pages 2 through 8 are the derivation and discussion of the program learning outcomes. 
  • Page 9 is the quick summary of learning outcomes. 
  • Pages 10 through 12 map the learning outcomes to specific courses. 
  • Pages 12 through 18 outline the course descriptions by year and trimester, much like one would find in a program calendar. 
  • Pages 28 through 57 contain the “good stuff”—course syllabus outlines for all our courses (two pages per course).

The document can be downloaded from here. It will be available for the next two weeks only, that is, ONLY UNTIL FRIDAY, APRIL 20, after which we will be consolidating the comments and completing our application submission.

I invite you to download the document and read through as much or as little as might interest you. Please offer whatever feedback, ideas, inspirations, critiques, concerns, kudos, considerations, plaudits, or brickbats you think might help us bring to life what we intend to be a truly outstanding master’s degree for leaders, organization development practitioners, and coaches who are interested in a research and empirically-oriented education to augment their practice, and transform organizations worldwide for the better.

26 March 2012

Take Me to Your Leaders

A few weeks ago, I led a colloquium at Adler based on my popular keynote, Take Me to Your Leaders. During the talk, I explore the notion that it's time to rethink what it means to lead in the contemporary context of highly collaborative – and highly effective – organizations.

Throughout history, the concept of "organization" evolved according to conditions of society at the time. Unquestionably, today's conditions have changed significantly since the Industrial Age model that shaped the 20th century, and thereby shaped management education over the last hundred years. In a contemporary organization, conceived in a world that is ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate, I contend that the role of leadership is no longer to “lead” in a conventional sense (that is, create a vision, execute a mission, provide incentives to keep everyone in line), but to bring people together to create a shared experience in which an alternative future becomes possible. This realization raises a fascinating question: what does it mean to be a leader when it is no longer to lead?

22 March 2012

The Value of Complication vs. Complexity in Organizations, Management, and Leadership

I’ve been spending some time working through syllabus topics for our courses in our future Master’s in Leadership and Organization, Development and Coaching. I’m up to the course on Complexity: Theory and Applications, and have been doing some reading of various papers and journal articles I’ve amassed over the years. In particular, a number of the articles struggle – more or less – over the issue of complication vs. complexity.

As I (and others) metaphorically, if archetypically describe in several seminars I do with complexity themes, “baking cookies is simple … going to the moon is complicated … raising children is complex.” Often, common language sets “complexity” in direct, polar opposition to “simplicity.” That, in turn, has the effect of encouraging people to shun complexity thinking because – as it is often expressed with some degree of exasperation – “my life is already too complex as it is.” And, it is indeed the likely case that their lives are quite complex, especially if they live in relative proximity to any social grouping in society. We tend to be social animals, we connect via a wide variety of relationships, we remember experiences and anticipate possible outcomes that affect (and oftentimes effect) decisions. We adapt to environments, situations, circumstances, encounters with specific individuals, and the results are most often deterministically unpredictable. Contemporary life is, indeed, complex.

In order to maintain the illusion of control, we often attempt to simplify the complex dynamics by creating mental models that are more cause-and-effect, deterministically predictable. Organizational leaders – especially those who are de facto managers – do this all the time. They plan, execute the plan, achieve the prescribed results—and then execute those who fail to “meet expectations” (since, truth be told, they are the ones who reveal the fallacy of control illusions).

However, most of my Valence Theory work, and my current experiences in designing this degree program, suggest that if one navigates emergent effects on a trajectory towards the ultimate effects one intends, a complex system will tend to behave as your friend. On the other hand, the more control one attempts to impose on the complex system, the more likely it is that nonlinear, emergent effects will bite your butt in the form of so-called unanticipated consequences. Such controls recast a nonlinear, complex system into a reduced, complicated model that will likely have very different outcomes. As I have previously written, “As in the fashion of a Newtonian clockwork universe, that complexity is replaced by the complication of B[ureaucratic] A[dministratively controlled] H[ierarchical] procedures in an attempt to replicate an organic system of humanity with the equilibrium of non-human machinery.”

But why do we do it?—aside from the observation that we simply don’t know any better, that we have had between four and eight centuries of socialization in BAH. It occurs to me that there might actually be a fungible-Economic rationality behind introducing complication into a complex system:

Introducing complication into a complex system is a means through which value is extracted from the system to the benefit of the complicating agent(s).

This heuristic seems to work when applied to conventional management, governance (and especially government), investment banking, systems of knowledge and so-called intellectual property. It’s an intriguing idea, don’t you think?

22 February 2012

Crisis of (non-)Leadership at Toronto City Hall

Yesterday’s decision to oust now-former TTC Chief General Manager, Gary Webster, signals a potentially disastrous new twist in the incumbency of Mayor Rob Ford. Let me state up-front that I’m no fan of the current mayor and most of his policies. I’m also no fan of Mr. Webster’s style of technocratic leadership of the Toronto Transit Commission, nor his brinkmanship and inability to engage appropriately with the Amalgamated Transit Union. But those subjective opinions on the men involved have nothing to do with my deep concern over what this foolhardy decision means for the future of our city.

The firing-without-cause is explained by Councillor (and TTC Commissioner) Frank DiGorgio as follows: “Excellence in bureaucracy isn’t defined like excellence in private enterprise … . Excellence in a bureaucracy … is the ability to put forth the positions that are consistent with those adopted by the mayor.

Sadly, what Mr. DiGorgio describes is not “excellence,” but rather the root of problems in traditional, dysfunctional bureaucracies. These sorts of bureaucracies are the mindless, non-learning organizations that tend to repeat their past mistakes, in which “accountability” is a euphemism for blame and witch-hunts, whose leaders behave like Alice-in-Wonderland Red Queens—the sort of petty tyrants whose only response is “off with their heads” when s/he doesn’t get her or his way. Such bureaucracies operate under the myth that the leader is all-knowing, all-wise, and (at least in the context of the organization) all powerful. Said leader – who necessarily believes this myth – too often suffers under the delusion that afflicted the fabled Emperor whose unfortunate sartorial choices left him considerably exposed for all to see.

In the public sector, the role of staff (so-called bureaucrats), including senior/executive staff, is to provide the subject matter expertise and reasoned analysis that can give good guidance to the elected representatives, so that they can make the types of well-informed decisions the public (supposedly) elected them to make. What we want as citizens is for political considerations to be left out of the complicated and complex analysis of situations, for the circumstances to be presented as fairly and – dare I say it – objectively as possible. It’s the politicians role to add the political dimension, to justify decisions taken when proposed policy is at odds with reasoned analysis, and to ultimately be accountable to the electorate for those decisions. To insist, as Mr. DiGorgio and Councillors Vince Crisanti, Cesar Palacio, Denzil Minnan-Wong and Norm Kelly did, that the role of the civil service is to provide only analysis that conforms with the mayor’s desires and whims is to create a smoke-screen behind which cowardly politicians may hide when decisions are misguided, ill-informed, or simply turn out wrong for the benefit of the city and its citizens.

What Mr. Webster’s principled stand in providing his best analysis and honest opinion did was to say to the (political) Commissioners, “if you want to decide on an alternative course of action after hearing this analysis, I cannot in good conscience provide your cover; you must take the responsibility.” What the (political) Commissioners accomplished yesterday was to put a freezing chill on honest analysis by the municipal civil service. The message is clear: “If your analysis disagrees with the Mayor’s (uninformed-by-facts) opinions, your livelihood is at risk.” A culture of fear-induce sycophants does not a healthy, well-run, thriving city make. Certainly it does not demonstrate Mayor Ford’s vaunted “respect for the taxpayer.”

This is not leadership. This is abdication of responsibility. Sadly, would-be Emperor Ford – sans clothes – will not abdicate his role.

17 February 2012

Curriculum Development for a Masters in Leadership and Organization Development and Coaching

You know it’s working well when you step back, look at the curriculum outline and syllabi you’re creating, and think, “I’d love to take this program and these courses.”

It’s been several months and several great (and intense) conversations among a small group of collaborators. I think it’s time to bring you all up-to-date on the development of our future Master’s degree in Leadership and Organization Development and Coaching at Adler Graduate Professional School. As you might remember, last fall we held three Conversation Cafés to which I invited over forty people from among our various constituencies (potential faculty and students, and professional OD, coaching, and leadership practitioners) to contribute their thoughts, ideas, insights, experience, and wisdom about what should such a program look and feel like. What philosophy and ethos should shape a program that will enable future leaders, OD practitioners, and coaches to contribute significantly and substantially to the complex and immensely challenging environment in which we are now all immersed? The results of those engagements are here, here, and here, and enabled us to draft the learning outcomes of our proposed program:
  1. Savoir3: Referring to Savoir, Savoir Faire, and Savoir Être – Ways of Knowing, Ways of Doing, and Ways of Being. To demonstrably understand and embody the three principles of Savoir3 throughout students’ and graduates learning and practice.
  2. Emerging: To demonstrate and embody principles of self- and organizational emergence and mindful change.
  3. Knowledge Integration: To demonstrably integrate foundational or core knowledge, knowledge created via processes of formal inquiry, and knowledge harvested through active and directed reflection on practical experience in the praxis of leadership, organization development, and workplace-oriented coaching.
  4. Complexity: To demonstrate an ability to help organizations describe, assess, and enable appropriate courses of action in terms of complexity as a guiding model for understanding human dynamics.
  5. Effect-oriented Practice: To develop and demonstrate the capabilities to facilitate individuals and organizational groups towards becoming more effective with respect to navigating intended and desired effects in complex, workplace environments.

Beginning with these learning outcomes for the program, the small group of curriculum development collaborators participated in a facilitation that invited them to brainstorm competencies that we would intend for our graduates to acquire during their journey through the master’s program. We then took the eighty (yes, 80!) competencies and collectively grouped them into emergent themes (using a silent method based on grounded theory), subsequently naming the themes. Then, using curricula and course descriptions from seven other, well-established university programs that offer master’s degrees in either leadership, or OD, or coaching, we sorted their courses into our themes. This enabled us to discover both the gaps in our thinking, and the missing opportunities among other programs—opportunities that we had identified through our process.

Finally, through a series of conversations among the members of our collaboration, we discovered which themes would become courses in their own right, which would meld together, and which better served as threads to be woven throughout the fabric of our master’s degree.

Here is a preliminary outline of the curriculum that we are currently contemplating. Each course would be designed for twelve sessions. Most will comprise nine instructional or content-based seminars, two seminars in which students will present their final work for the course, and one integration seminar. The integration seminar will be a unique feature of our program, one that will set the Adler master’s degree apart from almost every other master’s program. This seminar will be designed to integrate the knowledge from the current course with all of the other knowledge acquired in the program to-date, so that the learning is more holistic and contextualized, rather than distinct and separated by course boundaries. The integration seminars will also include many, if not most, of our faculty so that our professors will understand what is going on in other professors’ courses (the lack of which is a distinct limitation in most university programs elsewhere).

The integration is not limited to course knowledge alone. One of the requirements for graduation, post-thesis, is for completing candidates to conduct “integration and emergence seminars” for incoming students. During these sessions, students near graduation will present their research, their reflections on program experiences (both in-class and from their practicum placements), and most importantly, their reflections on their personal journeys of emerging through their time in the program. Incoming students will be able to directly connect with students at the end to obtain an idea not of where they will end up, but of a possible trajectory for their own learning and development.

The curriculum design is, of course, subject to change as we continue with the development of our program. Nonetheless, it will give you a flavour of what might be coming for those considering graduate education in leadership and organization development and coaching (noting that the courses are not necessarily listed in any particular order):
  • Trajectory Seminar (orientation course)
  • Human Thriving
  • Foundations I: Context of the field
  • Foundations II: Current and contemporary models
  • Foundations III: Emergent thinking, themes, and models
  • Critical Perspectives
  • Complexity: Theory and Application
  • Human and Organizational Ecology
  • High-performing Teams
  • Professional Practice
  • Inquiry I: Methodologies
  • Inquiry II: Methods
  • Practicum I
  • Practicum II
  • Integration and Emergence Seminar (directly connected to Trajectory Seminar)
  • Thesis

If you would love to take this program and these courses (or if you might like to teach some of these courses in this program) I’d love to hear from you.

11 February 2012

Adler Colloquium: Take Me To Your Leaders, March 2 at 18:00

Save the date! On Friday evening, March 2, 2012, from 18:00 to 20:30, I will be leading a colloquium based on my popular keynote, Take Me to Your Leaders: Collaborative leadership and trust. The evening will begin with a talk that explores the notion that it is time to rethink what we mean by leadership in the context of highly collaborative – and highly effective – organizations, followed by an active, participatory experience for all the participants.

Throughout history, the concept of "organization" evolved according to conditions of society at the time. Unquestionably, today's conditions have changed significantly since the Industrial Age model that shaped the 20th century, and thereby shaped management education over the last hundred years. In a contemporary organization, conceived in a world that is ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate, I contend that the role of leadership is no longer to “lead” in a conventional sense (that is, create a vision, execute a mission, provide incentives to keep everyone in line), but to bring people together to create a shared experience in which an alternative future becomes possible. This realization raises a fascinating question: what does it mean to be a leader when it is no longer to lead?

For current and future leaders, and anyone interested in organization development, behaviour, and the psychology of human interactions in workplaces, this colloquium offers new insights, ideas, and inspirations towards re-imagining organizations for the 21st century.

The colloquium will be held at Adler Graduate Professional School, 890 Yonge Street, 9th floor. Pre-registration is requested (and advised). (I will also be giving a brief update on the development of our proposed Master of Leadership and Organization Development and Coaching.)

30 January 2012

Are You just a leader, or Are You a Great Leader?

As Canada’s parliament returns to work today amidst a swirl of advance news concerning bold – read: controversial – initiatives concerning pensions and Old Age Security, I am moved to reflect on Prime Minister Harper in the role of leader. In particular, I imagined what I might say to the Prime Minister in my role of leader-educator if I had an opportunity to have two or three minutes with him, one-on-one.

It is well known that Mr. Harper keeps very tight control over what his government says and does. I would guess that he does it – in most, but not all cases – not out of malice but rather from a place of deep conviction that what he is doing is right for the country as a whole; that he (again, mostly but not always) alone knows what is best for the sustainability of the country as a viable, sovereign entity, and the future wellbeing of its citizens. Considerations of hubris aside, in one sense, I think he is correct:
All leaders are right—until they are not. 
The difference between a leader who merely seeks control and imposition of their vision at any cost, and a Great Leader who inspires their country (read: organization) to greatness, is that the latter actively seeks ways to understand when they are heading towards “not.”

(Mr. Harper: My perception is that you do not seek to understand.)

26 January 2012

More on The End of Vision

I’ve received some considerable feedback about my article on the Linked 2 Leadership blog, “The End of Vision.” Almost all of the feedback expresses appreciation for introducing the idea of tactility—understanding the intentional and mindful, sustained effects throughout the wider social, material, and natural environments among an organization’s various constituencies.

I distinguish tactility from vision – an imagining of objectives to be attained in the unknowable (and most certainly uncontrollable) future. I argue that vision is obsolescent in the contemporary, UCaPP world; that the pervasive proximity which is characteristic of our times precludes vision as a useful sensory metaphor because it is our only sense that necessarily requires distance and separation to work. Tactility, on the other hand, is our most proximate of senses, the one that best corresponds to today’s reality.

Those who took issue with my rather emphatic negation of vision as continuing to provide useful guidance for leaders unanimously point to the ability of vision to inspire. For example, as Dr. Tom Cocklereese notes, “vision statements have motivated people to move heaven and earth to achieve new heights.” Another commenter observes that vision provides, “passion and energy and ultimately what engages and motivates others.” Without question, I agree that passion, energy, and motivation are vital to inspiring organization members to innovate, achieve greatness, and change the(ir) world. An inspiring vision may contribute to helping people discover their passion—Dr. Tom points to the inspiring visions of Moses, Kennedy, and King Jr. But it would be a grave mistake to conflate vision with passion, inspiration, and motivation. The two are not equivalent, or even necessarily connected.

And that’s the problem: Too many organizational leaders assume that the vision statement they (and perhaps several others at the top of the organization) craft will necessarily, if not automatically, inspire passion and greatness. Sadly, often bleak organizational realities might inspire only cynicism, mistrust, and – let’s face it – mediocrity. How many of our leaders – corporate and otherwise – are truly able to inspire genuine passion that can move nations like those to whom Dr. Tom refers?

Have a look at a sampling of vision statements from well-known companies. Many of them read like the laundry list of next year’s key performance indicators, written in bland corporatese. Some of them are downright aggressive and negative, using words like “destroy” and “crush.” They might inspire the sociopaths that often tend to occupy “executive row,” but as an inspirational vision for today’s world...? The majority of them have a vision to “dominate,” or to “be the best,” or to be the “world leader,” and my favourite nonsensical and useless vision-statement phrase, to “exceed expectations” (as if the organization’s leaders have any clue whatsoever what those amorphous expectations might actually be, whether they are reasonable or rational, whether exceeding them is actually what will benefit their constituencies, and so forth). Especially when committed to paper (or screen), they are almost unanimously devoid of passion, absent of inspiration, stripped of their ability to transform cynical compliance to engaged commitment.

More important, as I point out in my article, in most cases organizational vision becomes a type of blinkered vision, with a single-minded focus on achieving the goals and objectives the vision describes. We have all experienced the destruction and dysfunction throughout the world wrought by single-minded corporate, political, xenophobic, and megalomaniacal visions over the past several decades. We have learned that what might have seemed like a good idea at the time turns out disastrously—made considerably worse by a leadership determined to “stay the course,” even in the face of so-called unintended consequences, code for “unanticipated effects.”

No one could reasonably argue against the premise that today’s world is extraordinarily complex. By definition, this means that nothing of significance in our world is deterministically predictable. Today’s “vision” that certain goals and objectives are right, and appropriate, and true may turn out to be tomorrow’s folly. The direction inspired by vision may create unforeseen, emergent effects that may be worse than unintended—they may be considerably at odds with the fundamental values of the organization, and the values of the organization’s members (which is precisely what I found in my research: in traditional bureaucratic, administratively controlled, hierarchical organizations, “individual humanity scales to collective collective callousness”).

Vision was the appropriate sensory metaphor for organizational guidance in an age that was deterministic, more predictable, more linearly explainable by clockwork, industrialized models. In other words, it was appropriate for the 19th and 20th centuries. Even though the reality of our environment has already transformed to become the UCaPP world that we now experience, people take a long time to catch up (about 300 years from the time the dominant form of communications changes; by my estimation, we’re about 168 years through the transition). Vision has had its day; it’s time to embrace the immediacy and presence of tactility in its stead.

So here’s my suggestion: Find your own tactility. Whom are you going to touch and how are you going to touch them today—and each and every day hereafter? Craft that into a statement which expresses what it is that you do that inspires you, motivates you, and most of all, expresses your passion. Take that personal tactility statement with you wherever you go. Embrace it. Live it authentically. Use is as the answer to the cocktail party question, “so what do you do?” Combine it with the tactilities of those with whom you collaborate in your workplace, enabling your organizational tactility to emerge. Most of all, be mindful of the effects you enable and create throughout your world. (For those who are interested, here’s considerably more on Vision, Values, Tactility, and Mission.)

P.S. Here’s mine: “I enable and create great environments of engagement.” And, I say it with passion!

20 January 2012

Reverse Mentoring - A Good Start in Creating Leaderful Organizations

Today's Globe and Mail has a nice article describing the phenomenon of "reverse mentoring" or "mentoring from the bottom," in which a more junior employee serves as a mentor to a more senior employee - often an executive or senior manager - in ways that "can re-energize older employees, keep younger workers engaged and improve relationships between the different generations in the workplace." In particular (and not unexpectedly) the article focuses on how younger employees can assist their more tech-challenged elders with how to employ social media and how to rethink career advancement strategies in ways that are more in-tune with contemporary "personal branding."

Stereotypes and clichés aside, the notion that good ideas, insights, wisdom, and useful knowledge are the exclusive realm of those who hold more seniority in an organization is by now long obsolesced. One of the hallmarks of more-UCaPP organizations is that employees from every hierarchical level, and all degrees of seniority are invited to contribute and actively participate in organizational venues that were once the sole prerogative of those who had climbed the latter and paid their so-called dues. In fact, my research discovered an organization in which employees from all levels and all departments were invited to take up leadership roles for various infrastructure projects throughout the organization, and invited to participate in what otherwise would be considered senior-level, strategy sessions. In the words of the CEO,
What’s non-traditional about it is the level of contribution [more junior employees] have in almost every decision of the company. They’re often amazed that they’re at the table in those kinds of conversations of these kinds of decisions.... They bring whole new ways of us looking at things. They’ll ask a question and we’ll say, gee, we’ve never thought about it that way. It might be somebody who joined the company two weeks ago as an account coordinator, an entry level position. They might have had an experience through a parent who has told their stories at work, or something they’ve learned at college, or they had an internship, or they’re very well-read or connected, and they put a question on the table that completely changes the way you think about it. And that’s what we’re working very hard not to dismiss, is how much we can learn from anybody, versus it has to be the same five to seven [senior] people, because they’re at a certain status. These decisions are no longer driven on status. 
 What such a reversal of thinking - that decisions are no longer driven on status - accomplishes is to create more engagement among employees - junior employees - especially those about whom more senior managers often have concerns about engagement and commitment. Diverse inclusion not only provides more insight in decision-making, it also helps motivate employees to be more committed to the enterprise. Additionally, such practices conveys a sense of collective responsibility and mutual accountability among all organization members that serve to encourage individual autonomy and agency. What it accomplishes is more than strengthening leadership in a UCaPP context. It sets the stage for transforming our conception of organizational leadership to become focused instead on creating leaderful organizations.

16 January 2012

An Opportunity to Engage With Me as Coach

Have you ever considered engaging the guidance of a professional coach?

Let me reframe the question: Are you feeling a connection with any of the following intentions as they might pertain to either personal or professional aspects of your life:
  • What do I want to achieve? 
  • What do I really want in my life right now? 
  • How can I bring myself to face this tough decision and move onward? 
  • How can I be an even more effective leader in my organization? 
  • How can I better integrate my professional and personal lives to be able to live more authentically as “me?”
  • How can I change the way I work (or what I do as an occupation) to be more in tune with my life’s purpose?
  • What is my life’s purpose? 
  • How can I feel more complete in what I do as a professional? As a parent? As a person? 
Or, to frame all of this more succinctly:
How can I achieve more awareness and more fulfillment throughout all aspects of my life via a guided process of learning, reflection, and focused conversation? 
I have the opportunity of a couple of openings in my coaching practice for new clients. We can engage our coaching conversations in person, over the phone, or through technology like Skype. After an initial foundational and discovery session (usually about two hours), subsequent coaching sessions typically run, on average, about 45 minutes to an hour. You should expect that our coaching arrangement would run for at least six sessions post-discovery, either weekly, twice-a-month, or monthly, depending on your schedule and needs.

For those who have worked with me in other contexts – as consultant, academic mentor, or facilitator – the coaching relationship is a different kind of engagement. Coaching is based on the fundamental affirmation that the client is creative, resourceful, and whole, and is closely connected to Appreciative Practices (in a consulting context) and Positive Psychology (in a therapeutic context). Most of all, coaching is centred in developing one's individual potential, enabling more productive and meaningful relationships throughout all aspects of one's life.

I invite you to connect with me – be it now or in the future – whenever you find yourself drawn to enabling and creating change that will lead you to your hoped-for aspirations and desired results.

Update (17 Jan 2012): If you're still wondering, "What can a coach do for you?" Harvard Business Review answers that very question!

Honest Leadership: The End of "Vision"

Over on the Linked 2 Leadership blog, I have a new post, Honest Leadership: The end of "vision." In it, I open with the controversial idea that,  
Vision is terribly over-rated as a valuable attribute of leadership... More than being over-rated, I would suggest that vision is counter-productive to providing appropriate leadership in a world that has become unfathomably complex and rife with intractable problems. Now, before you fill the comment stream with rebuttals along the lines of this: “If you don’t have a vision, you won’t know where your organization is headed…” let me suggest that knowing where your organization is heading may be of less value to society and the world-at-large than realizing the direct and indirect effects your organization is creating along the way.
Regular readers will undoubtedly recognize that in this post, I'm building the case for tactility as the dominant sensory metaphor for organizational leadership, answering the question that I suggest is paramount in today's UCaPP world: whom do we want to touch, and how do we want to touch them, today? Head over to L2L, have a read, and please let me know your thoughts.

06 January 2012

Why Johnny and Janey Can't Read - en Espanol!

Among my earlier "big thinks," and one that formed the basis of almost all of my subsequent work including Valence Theory, was my seminal paper, Why Johnny and Janey Can't Read, and Why Mr. and Ms. Smith Can't Teach. It traces the the thinking of the Toronto School of Communication and its particular take on interpreting history, and challenges the assumptive ground upon which our institutions of education – primary, secondary and tertiary – are built, and raise the real question of our time – and of any time – namely, what is valued as knowledge, who decides, and who is valued as authority.

Friend Diego Leal has taken this paper and translated it into Spanish as Por qué Juanito y Juanita no pueden leer y por qué el Sr. y la Sra. Gómez no pueden enseñar, which is quite an accomplishment. He writes:
Mark Federman, un investigador de la Universidad de Toronto que en una charla de 2005 proponía unas ideas sobre el impacto de la tecnología en la sociedad que yo no había visto con claridad antes (a pesar de que resuena con el trabajo de Marshall McLuhan o Neil Postman). Diría que su forma de exposición me llevó a ver cosas que no me había comprendido antes, y me ayudó a lograr una perspectiva más amplia, con más raíces históricas, que de alguna manera se ha integrado (de manera muy sutil) en ArTIC. La lectura fue inquietante y tranquilizante a la vez, a pesar de algunos puntos de desacuerdo y de los años que ya pasaron desde que la charla fue realizada...

Comprender esto tiene enormes implicaciones para cualquier persona que participe en procesos educativos de cualquier tipo, por lo que encontré muy valioso realizar una traducción de la charla. Como digo, aunque en ella hay muchas ideas que uno se ha encontrado en muchos otros sitios, la mirada desde la que las aborda da una perspectiva histórica que, al menos para mi, resultó invaluable.
 Muchas gracias, Diego, for your interest in my work, and even more for enabling the ideas to be more widely disseminated throughout the world.