Leadership — How We Get to What We Have and Where We Could Be

Leadership.  While everyone has a different definition of what leadership is, how one achieves it, and what it does, it might be much simpler than that.  You know it when it is there, and when it is not there.  From the perspective of the choices we have in the agreements we either unconsciously accept or consciously choose, what does leadership look like?  Can this picture help us see how we ended up with the leadership examples we have today?  Can it help us see where we could be?  Let’s see.

To lead is to get someone to go with you.  This is an agreement, an interaction between two or more people.  In an interaction, there is a future possibility–a desired state–a pathway towards that desired state, and an outcome.  Elsewhere I refer to these as the three levels of perceived reality.  We can look at this interaction through four lenses, big questions that millions of people dedicate their whole careers to: how much resource is available in the interaction; who decides and who enforces; what values are used to decide; and what are the principles of the interaction, the rules of the road?

Where are we today with most leadership?  We can take the three levels of perceived reality (possibility, pathway, outcome) and the four lenses (how much, who decides, what values, what rules) and see how simplifying assumptions give us much of what we experience in leadership today.  Let’s start with what we can see from the three levels of perceived reality.

  1. Most leaders focus primarily on outcomes.  What did you do today?  Did you get the desired results?  Leaders like this are typically given authority to represent the whole group, of whatever size, and they are held responsible for the outcomes.  Get the results however you need to.  Do what I say.  No potentials or learning here.
  2. Many leaders have begun to focus on the outcomes and the pathway to them.  How can we learn and adapt to get the best outcomes, given the changing landscape?  These leaders try to bring out the best of the people and processes they have, learning over the time and space available and developing capacities with the whole and for the whole.  They try to increase the efficiency with which the work is done.  No potentials here.
  3. A few leaders focus on the outcomes, the pathways to them, and the potential.  What can we see that is possible, what pathways can get us there, and what feedback do we get from the outcomes along the way?  These leaders bring people together to see new possibilities, sets of relationships to achieve them, and then focus on what feedback they can get from intermediate outcomes, so that they can adjust the possibilities they see and the pathways they use along the way.

This simple formulation shows us that as we begin to subtract levels of perceived reality from our leadership model, we move from potential, pathways, and outcomes to pathways and outcomes, to outcomes, losing the capacity to choose how we adapt to what we have learned about ways to manifest, to make tangible the possibilities we saw.  When we focus only on outcomes, we lose access to possibilities and to learning.  While many say that they don’t have time for anything other than making sure they get the results–we don’t have time for seeing possibilities and learning–good engineering practice shows that these people spend most of their time correcting for easily avoidable mistakes, and they greatly increase the risk of becoming obsolete.  Learning and adapting does not have to take much more time, and it helps avoid extraordinary wastes of time in correcting mistakes late in the game.

Now let’s see what happens when leadership uses only one of the four lenses.

  1. Some leaders focus primarily on the economics of how much resource is available.  How much do we have, how much do we need, how much do we generate?  What is the net result?  How do I control more of the resources?
  2. Some leaders focus principally on the politics of who decides and who enforces.  Who has the right to make what decisions in the hierarchy?  Who enforces them?  What power do the decision makers and enforcers have?  How do I get more of that power?
  3. Some leaders focus on the cultural values used to decide.  What do we most care about?  How deeply do people live into these principles?  Do the people clearly understand and live by these principles?  What culture do I think we need?
  4. Some leaders focus on the social rules of the game.  What are the rules?  Does everyone know them and obey them?  How can I work the rules of the game to my benefit?

This simple formulation shows us that we can easily focus our leadership on the economic, political, cultural, or social forms within our interactions.  And that we do this at great risk, losing the value of the other perspectives.  With any one lens, we easily go astray.  We try to get power through resources.  We try to get resources through values.  We try to set the rules through power.  We try to set the values through the resources we control.

Does this mean that we are doomed as society with leadership that tends to focus on the outcomes level of perceived reality and only through one of the four lenses?  Maybe.  And, we see that are many examples of leaders who are beginning to do something that is actually easier to do and gets much better results.  They are starting with the assumption that they are leading with other people who actually care and have something to contribute.  From this perspective, they co-host people coming together to look for the possibilities they can see from the richness of perspectives they each bring, finding pathways they can use together to manifest those shared possibilities, and then see what they learn from the feedback they receive in the outcomes they achieve.  What happened?  What did we learn?  How can we adapt what we initially saw, given what we learned in the process?  These leaders also use all four lenses, at the same time, to ask one question, using the four lenses to see the subtleties:

  • how do we manifest the possibilities we see, with the resources we have and can develop in our potential and in our learning,
  • each making decisions for ourselves, for each other, for the group, and for the process, as is appropriate along the way,
  • with a deeper shared purpose and a set of values for those decisions that bring out the best we have to offer, in our potential, in our learning, and in our outcomes,
  • collaborating towards this shared purpose, uniting our best contributions, potentials, and learning.

This is not more nuanced than any other form of leadership.  All leadership forms take great energy and lots of resources.  Some just achieve far less impact, far less engagement, and far less resilience than others.  And it does not need to be that way, as leadership is more natural to human beings when it acknowledges possibilities, development, and outcomes, as seen in what resources are available, who decides and enforces, with what values and what principles of interaction, all at the same time.  It is not harder, it is built into who we are as human beings, if we can only see it and choose it.

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A Glimpse at High Vibrancy Leadership — Recommended Reading

Pontefract, Dan, Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. 2013, Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.  

[You can see chapter 1 of Pontefract’s book here.]

With over 2,400 responses to the Vibrancy survey from 92 countries, we find that the quality of leadership in a group is highly correlated with the ability to sustain a specific level of experienced vibrancy in the group.  It is not clear whether leadership leads to the experience or the experience invites the leadership.  And, we do see that they are both present to the same degree.  Great experiences are accompanied by high quality leadership.  Many authors are now pointing at the attributes of this high quality leadership.  One of those authors that I really enjoyed was Dan Pontrefact in his recent book Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization.  I will pull a few quotes out of the book to show you what Dan has to say about the qualities of leadership that support more vibrant groups.

“DDI’s research indicates that ‘organizations with the highest quality leaders [are] thirteen times more likely to  outperform their competition in key bottom-line metrics such as financial performance, quality of products and services, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction.'” (Flat Army, p. 4, click text for original source of quote)

“If you really want an engaged workforce, treat [people] as fellow grown-ups working together for a shared purpose.” (Flat Army, p. 11)

“cooperating puts things into a whole new perspective…The harmonious state of leadership occurs when both the leader and the team are open.  To achieve harmony in the team or organization is also to act by cooperating with one another.  There must be cooperation between leader and team; harmony is the end destination.” (Flat Army, p. 102)

“In research conducted for her book Hot Spots: Why Some Team, Workplaces, and Organizations Buss with Energy and Others Don’t, Lynda Gratton summarizes a team environment that is effectively cooperative as follows: ‘[T]he energy of the cooperative mindset comes not from a mindset of competition but rather from a mindset of excellence.  The focus is on the excellence toward which people are striving together rather than the competition of beating everyone else to the goal.” (Flat Army, p. 102, click here to see Gratton’s book Hot Spots)

You can read related observations in my earlier posts about engaging people, harmony, cooperation, competition, shared purpose, and energy experienced.

 

Mindful Leadership

Ritchie-Dunham, James L. 2014. Mindful Leadership. In Amanda Ie, Christelle T. Ngnoumen, and Ellen J. Langer (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness, Volume I, First Edition. John Wiley & Sons: Chichester.

Leaders face great uncertainty in addressing social change.  Langer’s approach to mindfulness suggests three leverage points leaders can use to embrace this uncertainty.  We use the case study method to show how these mindfulness insights were applied in four case studies of leadership.   We use the mindfulness lens to diagnose each leadership situation and suggest a mindfulness solution.  We translate the mindfulness solution into organization practices, which we use to resolve the four cases.  These include the importance of new perspectives in an electric company, new categories in a school board, new information in a textile company, and the use of all three in a statewide project.  Click on the article title or here to access the article.

El Liderazgo Consciente (Mindful Leadership)

Future-cast Series — Sharing upcoming publications

Langer, Ellen J., & Ritchie-Dunham, James L. (2014). El Liderazgo Consciente (Mindful Leadership). En C. Díaz-Carrera & A. Natera (Eds.), El Coraje de Liderar: La Democracia Amenazada en el Siglo XXI. Madrid: Tecnos.

¿Qué entendemos por “liderazgo consciente” o “mindful leadership”? Liderar implica generar un sentido compartido que impulse los cambios necesarios para enfrentar problemas difíciles. La consciencia, como la definimos en nuestra investigación, consiste en detectar lo nuevo. Cuando estás consciente (mindful), buscas el cambio y lo aceptas.  Tanto si lo aceptas como si no, la vida es cambio. Dada la realidad del cambio, es mejor saber lidiar con él que tratar de evitarlo o ignorarlo.  Por lo tanto, el liderazgo consciente tiene que ver con la utilización de procesos conscientes enraizados en una cultura también consciente. Y ello con el objeto de detectar la incertidumbre y sacarle partido.

Este capitulo aplica la amplia investigación de Langer al contexto del liderazgo consciente aprovechando tres experiencias de liderazgo que hemos tenido con ejecutivos. Este diagnóstico sugiere una solución consciente y unas prácticas organizacionales. Veremos tres casos en donde se aplica esta solución.  Así, comprobaremos la importancia de estas nuevas perspectivas en una empresa proveedora de electricidad; de las nuevas categorías en un consejo escolar y de la nueva información en una empresa textil.

Mindful Leadership

Future-cast Series — Sharing upcoming publications

Langer, Ellen J., & Ritchie-Dunham, James L. (2014). Mindful Leadership. In C. Díaz-Carrera & A. Natera (Eds.), El Coraje de Liderar: La Democracia Amenazada en el S. XXI. Madrid: Tecnos.

What do we mean by mindful leadership?  Leadership focuses on building shared meaning for the purpose of enabling change to deal with contentious problems.  Mindfulness is noticing new things.  When you are mindful, you are looking for change, and you embrace it.  Things are always changing, whether you embrace the change or not, so you are better off understanding how to deal with it, versus believing that you can hold it still or run away from it.  Putting these two concepts together, mindful leadership is about using mindful processes in a mindful culture to see, name, and work with uncertainty.

This chapter focuses the lens of mindfulness research on the context of mindful leadership through four stories of leadership.  We will use the mindfulness lens to diagnose each leadership situation and suggest a mindfulness solution.  We will translate the mindfulness solution into organization practices, which we will use to resolve the four cases.  We will see the importance of new perspectives in an electric company, new categories in a school board, new information in a textile company, and the use of all three in a state-wide project.

Harmonic Vibrancy – How Does It Show Up in the World? Results from a Survey

Harmonic Vibrancy. People are quite adept at explaining their experience of the many textures of harmonic vibrancy they encounter in any set of agreements among humans.  They feel its existence, they sense its vitality, its balance.  They can taste it, smell it, see it, and perceive its warmth.  They can hear it.  There are places they love to go, homes they enjoy visiting, conversations they relish.

As Homo lumens – beings of light – people are highly sensitized receptors of the infinite textures of harmonic vibrancy, the human experience of the flow of spirit.[1] Harmonic is the fitting together, the experience of something extra, something special emerging.  Vibrancy is the experience of vitality, exuberance, flourishing.  People know when they are in the presence of higher or lower harmonic vibrancy.  They use this knowing, whether conscious or unconscious, to guide their interactions with other people, always seeking greater harmonic vibrancy, greater social health.  Quality of life, often described in terms of happiness, is the experience of the flow of light, not the temporary attainment of a specific amount of light.

Why Care. Thousands of years of human experience show clearly that scarcity and abundance are perceptions – perceptions of one’s relationship to the flow of life.[2] Everyone is clear that they suffer most when in the presence of the perception of scarcity and that they live most fully when in the presence of the perception of abundance.  Everyone is seeking greater abundance.[3] The challenge comes in how to achieve it, with an infinite number of philosophies and frameworks for achieving it.  Most pathways do not lead to greater abundance: some do.  More and more people are discovering pathways that do.

Questions This Raises. If people care about the harmonic vibrancy they experience, what are the characteristics of this harmonic vibrancy?  Can people discern higher and lower levels of it?  What is the role of leadership in the experience of harmonic vibrancy in a group?  Do all groups have access to this higher harmonic vibrancy or does it depend on the resources the group has?

What We See. We surveyed 126 individuals about groups of people they had experienced.[4] They told us the following story.  In some of the groups, they experienced total scarcity, in others some scarcity and some abundance, and in still others they experienced deep abundance (see Figure 1a).  They told us that the groups where they experienced greater harmonic vibrancy, they also experience a higher quality in the group’s leadership (see Figure 1b).  They also shared that where they experienced greater overall harmonic vibrancy, they experienced a greater harmonic vibrancy in their relationship to their own self, to others, to the group, to nature, and to spirit.  These relationships are experienced at similar levels of health – when any relationship is strong, the others are also relatively strong, and when any relationship is weak, the other relationships are also relatively weak (see Figure 1c).

Implications. These findings go directly in the face of prevailing theories of economics, where one relationship (e.g., the self, the other, the group, nature, spirit) prevails over all relationships.  This changes how we deal with the resources that sustain human life, how we organize our work together, and how we exchange value in our agreements.  If there are indeed groups where people experience the deeper abundance all humans desire, and these groups seem to have similar characteristics, what does this mean for how we engage in groups together?

Recent Observations. Our recent read puts the number of collectives experimenting with new agreements based implicitly on ecosynomic axioms at over ten thousand.  Some are well known as radical departures from simple economic principles, while others are just being discovered because of their much greater performance outcomes, described in exceptional terms under traditional indicators and with additional expressions of much higher vibrancy and harmony.  These collectives are redefining health, how it is assessed, and how it is achieved.  They are sustainably doing what others thought to be impossible, in the most normal of ways.  A school in El Salvador has tripled the local percentage of young girls entering and staying in primary school.  A community health center in Texas maintains top-hospital level services for an increasingly uninsured population, when all other centers are cutting even basic services.  A textile mill in North Carolina pays living wages to its high-craftsmanship shop workers in an industry that has outsourced its low-margin, commodity products to low-skilled workers in Asia.  A small town in New York created the equivalent of hundreds of jobs by circulating millions of dollars of trade with its own local, complementary currency.  A private currency system in Japan has replaced a large percentage of expensive, hospital-based elderly care not covered by the national insurance plan, with people exchanging “caring relationship” credits.  These collectives are redefining ordinary, by acknowledging and stepping further into the multiple manifestations of light.

Next Steps. To identify, connect, and support these experimental collectives, the first step is to begin to define a model of health.  We have developed a model of ecosynomics, a first step in this direction.  With this model of health, we are working on two pathways to identifying the 100,000 collectives: through observers and through surveys.  We are connecting with and engaging observers on the fringe of many different disciplines.  As thought leaders in their own fields, they are aware of many of the emerging models, which we hope to connect across disciplines. We are also expanding the survey.  We invite you to join our exploration of ecosynomics and the agreements humanity is discovering to save itself, by taking the survey yourself, or visiting our website (www.instituteforstrategicclarity.org).


[1] Understanding the human experience as Homo lumens – a being of light – leads to very different observations than Homo sapiens – being of wisdom or understanding.   As a knowing being, once we know something, we think we are done – I studied, now it is time to do.  I already know what to do.  As a light being, we are always on the path to more light, an infinite source.  While knowledge could also be seen this way, it is usually not experienced this way.

[2] From the Oxford English Dictionary, we can distinguish among scarce, sufficient, and abundant.  Scarce means restricted in amount.  Sufficient means an amount adequate to the purpose, enough.  Abundant means overflowing, more than sufficient, plenty.

[3] Interestingly, this seeking of abundance is directly in contrast with the economic observation that something is only of value, from a supply-demand perspective, if it is scarce.  Others will want it because I have it.

[4] The 126 people surveyed come from 17 countries, range from 21 to 77 years old, and tend to have a graduate education.  They described groups ranging from less than 10 people to over a 1,000 people.