Cultures of Fear. Is ‘Old School’ still in session?

Staring up the Corporate Ladder. With much at stake, do we dare take a step?

STARING UP THE CORPORATE LADDER. With much at stake, do we dare take a step? Original art by Robert Winkler 2012.

CHARLOTTE, NC. September 2013, by

Seems risk is everywhere in the world these days, and the work place is no exception.  Not long ago we could count on the corporate world to provide a secure income and career track. Today we so often find ourselves vulnerable, unsure of our next steps, with our professional future uncertain.

SEPTEMBER FRAME

I just picked up a copy of Smart Tribes by Christine Comaford, the NYT best seller that does a great job of focusing on this topic anew. She relates traditional views of leadership to ‘old school’ management styles that are based on fear: “Perform, or we’ll remove your ability to pay your mortgage ..” (p.16).

At some time or another, we’ve all witnessed situations where fear has been a factor at work.

To me, the question is how do we escape the destructive gravity of these situations, especially when there is so often critical mass pulling everyone down. Misery, they say, loves company.  Comaford offers solutions that track well with Goleman’s Primal Leadership as well as CollabDNA .. namely .. creating emotional connections, and working to influence the culture.

Let’s frame some questions that might help us on this path:

  • Q1. What are the org dynamics or management styles that make fear possible?
  • Q2. What is the difference between ‘commitment’ and ‘compliance’?
  • Q3. When is the notion of ‘accountability’ effective? Is it sometimes misused?
  • Q4. Can you describe actions, behaviors and challenges of leaders you’ve seen who were actively working to dimantle fear-infused culture?

Thanks as always for your time, insights and energy. See you at the chat, the week of 9/16. Watch for timing.

AUGUST FRAME

As I recently turned the pages of Susan Jeffers’ classic “Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway” I found both comfort and common sense in the logic of “pushing through.” But in the work context, it seems the risks can so quickly outweigh the benefits. Do we dare raise radical new ideas? Think outside the safety of conventional wisdom?

Can we dare to be different?

Thanks to Scott Smith for his comment in July in the post of leaders who resist change. It caught my attention, and inspired this post.

In our Monday 8/12 edition of #CDNA, let’s ask a few questions about fear in the organizational context, to see if we might bring some new light to a area so often shrouded in the dark inner reaches of corporate politics:

Q1. Argyris (1980) spoke of fear as the unspeakable; has this changed, or is still prevalent?
Q2. Jeffers (1987) spoke of the need to “unlearn negative programming” .. is it safe for us to proceed when others around/above us have not?
Q3. Which is the more difficult fear to unlearn: survival? not knowing? or not fitting in?
Q4. As a leader, what is the first step in elminating fear in the workplace?

The 2nd week of each month at 8pm or 9pm ET, the #CDNA crew seeks to bring open minds to our ongoing conversation on organization change.

Sure, we’ll try to tap industry knowledge and the wisdom of sages along the way. But we favor a common sense approach. Challenging “what we think we know” and suspending our favorite paradigms is, almost always, the first step to new thinking.

Looking forward to seeing you at #CDNA.

Chris aka @sourcepov


Why Do Leaders Resist Change?

Our path to the present has seemed a steady march. Sure, we’ve taken detours and followed many courses. But from our factories to our business schools to Wall Street, the lessons are still loud and clear: a repeatable result, with minimal deviations, is the winning model.

Repeating what's worked, however imperfect

Repeating what’s worked, however imperfect

It’s generally true in manufacturing, when you’re making widgets. And it can work if the past holds all the secrets to our future success. There’s comfort in the formula. Within the long-stable walls of the organizations and brands and empires we’ve erected, we know which bricks need replacing.

But turning away from the familiar introduces new variables. The old rules are often irrelevant. Think about IBM. Microsoft. Kodak. When it comes to our mental models, significant change is the enemy. In our high-stakes, increasingly connected world, the risk of embracing change, or even talking about it, can send shivers down the spine of any executive who is held accountable for results. And that’s pretty much all of them. Risk of gambling on the wrong future looks greater than the risk of taking small steps from a proven though imperfect past.

We talk often on the “how” of change. But so often we assume the “why” is a given .. and go on to assume we have the critical change  mandate from the top.

Usually we don’t.

So amid the familiar chorus of embracing change for a sustainable future, it’s time to look at why that cry often falls on deaf ears.  Let’s look at the brick wall of uncertainty facing the modern executive, and ask:  Why do Leaders Resist Change?

Here are 4 questions to help us unpack the discussion:

  • Q1. Executive psychology typically presumes the need to have all the answers; how can we help leaders rethink that?
  • Q2. ‘Sense of urgency’ tops Kotter’s 8-step change agenda; must we wait for failure or concoct burning bridges to drive action?
  • Q3. ‘Group think’ can be fatal at the board level; how can this be attacked?
  • Q4. Organizational cultures can embrace or resist change, but the latter is most common; what cultural elements can drive adaptive behaviors?

Join us MONDAY 7/8 at 8pET for a discussion, the next in our 2013 series on collaborative leadership in the 21st Century. We’re unpacking the challenges one brick at a time ..

Hope to see you online .. or please, share your thoughts .. we’re hoping to extend the discussion blog-side (via comments, here), our G+ page and via twitter async ..

The @collabdna team


Building Social Capital: Can Leaders Play?

Over on the @sourcepov blog, I posted tonight about Building Social Capital.  In that post, a question is framed quite simply: “Can Leaders Play?”  There’s a call to action for leadership from the rank and file, not unlike Seth Godin’s argument in Tribes, testing our courage to step forward and engage with others.

So what about corporate leaders, as we look INSIDE the organization?

Is there not potential for Social Capital to emerge there?  And the related question still applies:  “Can Leaders Play?”

Often it seems our corporate leaders are removed from the fray of social interconnections in the organization, though that very dynamic – people connecting with people – remains one of the most powerful ways to foster organic innovation.

Collaboration, at its core, is about the trusted exchange of ideas in pursuit of even better ideas.  It has implications to corporate governance and strategy.

It seems executives would want to be onto this.

Here, and in the upcoming CDNA chat, we’ll look at the internal leadership angle, as we drive conversation on the role of corporate leaders in building Social Capital across the enterprise.  We’ll start with some definitions, then look to understand what needs to happen in the modern learning organization.

  • Q1. Define. If Social Capital is “building engagement skills & trusted networks to drive value” why wouldn’t leaders care?
  • Q2. Context. Would corporte leaders buy-in to building Social Captial like they might for Human or Intellectual Capital?  Why or why not?
  • Q3. Semantics. What will it take for corporate leaders to embrace “social anything” in the enterprise?
  • Q4. Synthesis. Is Social Capital part of that solution?

We’ll hope you’ll join us, MONDAY 8pET at hashtag CDNA.  We’re monthly now.  That means we’ve been saving up for even more in-depth analysis on topics that matter.  We hope you’ll join us.

- Chris Jones, and the DNA of Collaboration Team, tweeting from @CollabDNA


Would You Recognize a Collaborative Leader?

What happens when nobody stands out from the crowd?

What happens when nobody stands out from the crowd?

Great leaders can be found in many places and many companies. Some of have spent careers fine tuning their portfolio of interpersonal skills so that they’ll be effective when the going gets tough. But let’s face it. Knowing where to turn for unique leadership skills can be a challenge.

It’s often difficult to find “the real thing” among a crowded field of would-be originals.

To shed some new light on what it means to be a collaborative leader, let’s ask a few questions to help bring the seach into better focus.  For starters, let’s take a look at the foundational semantics, and some of the critical dynamics that we think are important in this space.
  • Q1. Skills. What are the key skills that a collaborative leader must possess?
  • Q2. Styles. In “Primal Leadership” (2002), Goleman calls for adopting  1 of 6 styles: visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pace setting, commanding. Which apply here?
  • Q3. Behaviors. How can we recognize a collaborative leader from among others who are less collaborative?
  • Q4. Mindset. How can leaders adopt a collaborative mindset?

As we review the complex and evolving Team Dynamics (Ch.15) in The DNA of Collaboration, again and again we find leaders must play key roles to guide organizations through collaborative processes.  This discussion is a starting point for more to follow.

We look forward to your insight on this important thread.

Chris Jones @sourcepov


The Courage to Collaborate [FRI 4/26 CBODN 2013 Conference, Arlington VA]

The Courage to Collaborate

Join the conversation: Friday April 26th 1p at GMU Founder’s Hall, Arlington VA

Organizations in the 21st century have grown increasingly risk averse, causing many people inside them to take a defensive view of the world.

Small wonder that collaboration – the open exchange of ideas in an effort to solve problems – has a grown increasingly difficult.  More and more we hear about collaboration and it’s benefits, via sage advice from outsiders and edicts from above.  But there’s a simple question facing us.  It often goes unasked and stays unanswered.

Do we have the courage to collaborate?

On Friday April 26th, at the Chesapeake Bay OD Network (CBODN) 2013 Annual Conference, from 1-2:15 pm, James Alexandar and I are taking on this topic.  The conference theme is “Courageous Leadership” and it explores how OD practitioners must challenge what we think we know about achieving success in the 21st century organization.

I’m Chris Jones, @sourcepov from Twitter, and I’ll be heading up from Charlotte to join in the conversation.

James and I will explore a variety of the key elements in the equation, but ultimately we’ll focus in on Culture, lack of Trust and Fear.  These elements invariably shape and constrain behaviors in today’s organizations, in spite of efforts in the opposite direction.  Most of the time, the odds seem stacked against us.  The ability to take on the challenges requires an immense amount of courage.  Success requires leaders who are willing and able to release their death grip on control.  The discussion on Friday will explore some core precepts of OD, then tackle the implications of key barriers.  Then we’ll share some very specific insights on how collaboration accelerates in a high-trust, low-fear workplace, giving participants hands on experience with collaboration in an open exchange.  We’ll navigate from a “risk averse” mindset to a “risk-enabled” one, tapping ideas from my book The DNA of Collaboration: Unlocking the Potential of 21st Century Teams.

Continue reading


Semantics of the Spiral, Unwound

We’ve been talking around the idea of Spiral Thinking for several weeks now, but have yet to advance the metaphor beyond a general sense that it’s an improved way to think about learning. It’s a captivating visual. But in terms of manners and symmetry, it’s clearly less well-behaved than it’s straight-as-an-arrow distant cousin, Linear Thinking.

Spiral GOLD lighted

Spiral as a metaphor for thinking

We’ve learned to date that it’s hard not to run afoul through negative connotations of tornados, flushing toilets, and more generally “spiraling out of control”. We’ve concluded there are more negative connotations for spiral metaphors than there are positive ones.

Our only saving grace so far, perhaps, has been the DNA double-helix. Or the haphazard flight of a bumble bee.

To see if we might further use the Spiral metaphor in useful ways, let’s take it apart, as we think about what it might represent for us as a visual aid, in the context of thinking and learning.

  • Q1. Could each successive band represent progress?
  • Q2. If the bands converge to a single point, might that represent movement toward a solution? (see also Q8)
  • Q3. If the bands diverge into a funnel, might we infer exploration?
  • Q4. Are we mentally beholden to what Lakoff (1980) describes as a cultural certainty: “up is good?”
  • Q5. If we view the path of any given band as a gradual curve, might we regain a preferred sense of an orderly, smooth path?
  • Q6. Does the spiral advance the notion of flow?
  • Q7. How might this metaphor most used in our thinking? our learning? how we approach collaboration?
  • Q8. Is a linear model better when it’s time to move to a solution? (see also Q2)

We know we rarely experience the world or learn from it in a linear fashion. Our lives are a round-about journey.

Perhaps our prevailing metaphors should follow that lead.

We won’t stay in the Spiral metaphor too much longer. We’re clearly testing the limits of how spatial and visual a Twitter Chat can be. But it helps to know the limits of our visual tools. If we’re going to use Spiral Thinking as a metaphor, we need know how and when to apply it, but also, as Lakoff advises (to paraphrase) we need to know when enough is enough.

See you online, MON 8pET at hashtag #CDNA.

Chris


As the Spiral Turns: From Culture to Community

As we follow the turns of our spiral thinking model, no surprise that we have considerable flexibility as to “where we go next” in our exploration.

Since Astrid led us on a very productive disussion of Culture as it pertains to Learning in the last 2 sessions, let’s follow that cultural thread into the context of Community.

This now brings into focus a discussion of relationships, place, and some sense of a common good or goal or set of goals. I like the way Peter Block broadly frames the ideal common ground of a productive, engaged community, paraphrasing him:

“In terms of possibilities, what can we create in this place together?”

As we unpack the Community dimension, let’s start first in the Social Change context (column E, in the above framework), and address questions that would be associated with cell “E2″ ..

  • Q1. What cultural forces are constructive in a community vs. problematic?
  • Q2. How important are relationships in a community vs. focus on specific topics/issues?
  • Q3. When and why do community stakeholders (aka “citizens”) participate & engage?

As we wrap up discussions Monday night, be thinking where you’d like the conversation to take us next .. back into the organizational context of OD and KM (columns C & D), or staying with the Social Change and NFP context (column E), and exploring other dimenions/vectors (rows) .. spiral thinking gives us options .. !

Thanks in advance for your engagement and input. I’ll see you online!

Chris aka @sourcepov


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