..We talk a lot about leadership and we have created many different names or styles of leadership: servant leadership, spiritual leadership, transformational leadership, kinetic leadership, situational leadership, and transactional leadership it name just a few. Then we get into styles: charismatic, authoritarian, democratic, coercive, coaching to name just a few. Confused?
As a leader you are someone who has people reporting to you or you are leading or creating a company or you are creating a change through an organization or group. You have a vision and are working with others to make something happen. Even as a CEO with a stable paying position where you might feel you have the time and resources to delve into finding out what kind of leader you are and what kind of leader might work better in your situation, it can feel a bit like extra work and a deviation from your 'real' tasks - figuring out all this leadership stuff.
I've worked to make it simple for the folks I work with. What is the impact you want to have and then how do yo get there? It doesn't really matter what the form or style is called, what really matters is are yo getting the results, the actions from others, that you need to see? If not then maybe it's as simple as reflecting on the language you use.
We communicate in words, with the assumption that the words we use are understood in the same way by everyone. We know that's really not true. Add in tone of voice and everyone's history and family baggage brings in additional meanings that you have not even considered. The words we use make a huge difference! Fortunately, what we are learning about how our brains work through chemistry and neural networks, is easily translated into a more precise understanding of how people are impacted by words.
Our brains are hardwired in certain ways. When we feel the need to protect our selves, or when we feel distrust, our Amygdala is activated by the chemical cortisol. In this state we are only paying attention to the words that help us deal with the fight or flight responses we feel we need to use to be safe. Visioning doesn't cut it, but rewards or penalty's are relevant.
On the other hand, if we trust the situation and those around us then our Prefrontal Cortex is activated by the chemical oxytocin and suddenly information that was hidden or seen as irrelevant in the protection mode becomes available and we become innovative and willing to co-create. It is the words that we choose to use that enables us to 'up regulate' or 'down regulate' our brain chemistry.
So, think about the words and tone of voice you use. Are you stimulating a felt need for self protection or generating trust and innovation? The choice is yours...
What's Changed, for Me, In This vision
John and I are old friends, and as such we think in similar ways. When I first listened to his new video I was in complete agreement. Then I got to thinking.
Leadership is all of things he says it is. That said these are new and different times. One of my lessons in the past year has been an increased sensitivity to the pain almost half of our Nation feels that had been invisible before. Part of that pain has been fed by this wonderful vision that both of us share.
For some that vision has been received as an Earth quake. Something that has shaken the ground under them, something that makes them afraid. They see life as they knew it disappearing. they see things they believed being disparage by others. They have felt ashamed for being who they are.
It is for these reasons that I have come to believe that leadership is not just about vision, but about the ability to heal and nurture as well. Leadership is not just about the future, but also about the ability to look back, to slow down and to work to bring others along instead of just expecting everyone to follow along.
I see leadership as being able to translate that future vision into language that feeds the hear and now. Leadership, in these times, requires the skill of connecting the past and present to the future. Instead of 'breaking' with the past, the past needs to be intimately connected to the future. The language that expresses the new vision has to respect the past while clarifying its limitations in ways that do not disparage or denigrate, but explain the limiting implications without blame.
Blame is not the same as responsibility and taking responsibility is not accepting blame. Responsibility is responding with ability to shift and change in productive and healthy ways. If we can get past right and wrong and speak instead of healthy and thriving, whole new options become apparent. What is 'good' is what contributes to health. Thriving is different from growth, but it contains the learning that makes health possible. Making people feel bad does not contribute to health unless there is the support and respect that leads to healing.
Leadership has to evolve to address the needs of the times. We need a North Star, but we also need to care enough for each other that we don't make the journey alone.
This is a beautiful and scary video of what a year in the life of the planet looks like as the trees breath and inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. Each leaf on every tree has millions and millions of 'lungs' that make this cleansing possible. Trees need CO2, but they are getting more than even they can use.
As they loose their leaves in the fall the CO2 in the air remains and builds up. You can see this happening in the video. Is planting more trees the answer? Here in Spokane we lost 2,000 trees to the wind storm in November 2015. The city is planning to plant 10,000 trees each year. i'm sure there are other cities in North America that are doing the same or a similar thing. is it enough?
I think that planting trees is a bit like dieting. When I work to lose weight I know that if I exercise I can eat more food and still stay within my caloric range. When we plant tress does that make us feel that we can keep on producing CO2 because the trees will mean it out of the air? Do planting trees ease our conscience and helps justify our resistance to change?
If you love the Earth - then commit to changing your life so that your life style produces less carbon. support organizations that work to change agriculture in ways that help increase the ability of the soil to absorb carbon. soil is one of THE best ways to cleanse the air of carbon. doing so also increases the health and fertility of the soil, so it's win-win. Take action, be conscious, be a leader!
We are in a situation where those who are paying attention are terrified and those who are not are resistant to change and even in denial about what the future holds. As humans it is very hard to see something that is not within your experience. That is why they say, “You can only teach what people already know.” That does not mean that what cannot be seen is not real, only that the framework for seeing and understanding the new and extraordinary has not yet been built.
When a young child is found wandering in the street, we yank it out of the street, we don’t engage on a program to teach it about cars and the effect of an impact. You can’t do this with adults, especially adults who think: they already know what they need to know; that they are right; that they are too embarrassed to admit that they don’t know. Add to that the timetable for change that the planet has versus the timetable it takes to educate learning phobic adults, and you have some understanding of the issues we face.
I’m part of the ‘yes we can’ crowd and I’ve spent years learning the subtleties of natural systems, so I have some grasp on the crisis we are facing, enough to be very daunted by the task at hand. I vacillate between committed enthusiasm and dejected despair. The task of rebalancing the planets natural systems so that we can return to the regular and comfortable environment we have lived in for the past 65,000 years, appears to be impossible now. It still appears that we may have the ability to slow down the shift and re-balance those systems at a slightly higher temperature range than we have experienced in the past. This is a hope and desire, I’m not sure exactly how real it is, but assuming that we can do that, the implications for the rest of the life on this planet is not at all clear.
Most life forms (us included) live within a fairly narrow temperature range. We are already seeing the migration of birds and animals and in a few cases plants toward the cooler regions of the globe. There are now robins in the arctic. The Eskimos do not have a name for the bird. We may be looking at a decimation of life at the equator as life pushes toward the polar-regions. The impacts on farming and our ability to produce enough food are at particular risk. What to do?
As Dylan Thomas said, I do not expect to ‘go gently into that good night’ but to rage, rage on. It is to that end that I write this book.
Systems thinking is the ability to see patterns, the dynamics formed by the interaction of wholes with each other. We are trained to see only parts and pieces of things. We see ourselves as separate and distinct objects with little or no connection to anything else. Yet we claim to be ‘all one’ and we claim to be a part of a species (humanity) that appear to have some similarities between all of the various objects we call human. We float in and out of wholes and parts when we think about people, or the environment, but for the most part it is pieces we pay attention to. This is very misleading. Because we do not see connections, dynamics or patterns, we are often surprised by our experiences. There is no place where that is truer than in the realm of ethics and values.
What I see most needed at this time in our existence is a love of Life. We are so caught up in fear, or in trying to ‘get it right’ or in ‘success’ that we have forgotten the why. Why are we here? Why do we even care about anything? It seems to me that everything is screaming for love. Everything is seeking love, but we are looking in all the wrong places.
When I look at how we have managed to understand ethics and morality, most of our approaches have been anchored in fear. Fear of others, fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of punishment, fear of appearing silly or unimportant or…. You cannot be in fear and still love Life. In fear you rationalize behavior under the pretext of becoming ‘safe.’ Love is letting go of fear. Christ very famously said, “You can’t serve two masters” and that is true. We cannot serve the ‘master’ of fear and still serve the ‘master’ of love. The only ethic that serves love of Life is the same ethic that nature uses to develop more and more complex life. It is an ethic that makes more important the relationships between life forms, than the life of the individual life forms themselves. The health of the whole is more important than any small part or piece. It is through the health of the whole that the pieces and parts find their health and well-being.
Seeing values as systems is an unusual approach to ethics. This piece is the introduction to my new book, the Evolution of Values. If exploring ethics and values form this fresh and provocative pain of view interests you, then join me. If you would like to help me write by offering feedback as I write, then join me. If you are interested in reading this book as it takes shape and form, being among the very first to engage with these ideas, then join me! Sign up here and let's get started!
I’ve been spending some time recently, ruminating on control. This is a subject I’ve been engaged with since 1995, when I developed my Control, Power, and Strategy workshop. Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve our problems at the same level of consciousness that created them." And there is no area where that is more true than control.
Control is a relic of past times. Of a time when fear reigned and the only antidote appeared to be control. We, as a species, felt at the mercy of the weather, of animals and even other people, so taking control seemed like the most natural thing to do. Ah, but what, exactly, did we control? Certainly not the weather and only occasionally were we able to control animals or other people, yet the myth of control persists. In fact we have spent the past many hundreds of years working diligently to control nature and other people. We have failed miserably at both.
Control as Power Over
We have succeeded at changing some of our experience with nature by damming rivers, cultivating crops, and building better houses, but the myth of control has really been about protection, we really haven’t changed Mother Nature. Have we had a better experience in controlling other people? We have learned how to make people obedient, at least for a time, through fear. The ‘might makes right’ approach has been applied to everyone from our children to people of other races and other lands. We have threatened, beaten, and incarcerated millions of people and achieved some temporary respite from their threatening behavior, but it just doesn’t seem to last. It appears we’ve protected ourselves, but not really made any real changes in people’s beliefs, desires, or even long-term behavior.
From a systems thinking point of view, control is always imposed from outside the system. It is done to – someone or some thing. That is why it is never permanent or ultimately very satisfactory. It offers temporary relief and protection from uncomfortable situations, but the consequences can be unpredictable (climate change), even horrific (political uprisings), and unwanted (death of salmon because of warm water or blocked spawning grounds or ruptured personal relationships).
We are not skilled in making the changes we seek. Our need for comfort has resulted in our habitual stepping out of the system to act on it, which makes immediate relief possible, but often adversely impacts long-term success. Control often looks like punishment, instead of a request for consideration or help.
Control, Values and Culture
It is interesting to look at how control manifests in the three value systems: protection, effectiveness and sustainability. In the Protective Value Set™, the point of view is one of ‘us versus them’ so control is exercised on ‘us’ (loyalty, obedience, vengeance) so we can depend upon each other as we try and protect ourselves from ‘them.’ In the Effective Value Set™ control is exerted toward clear communication (not using force, contracts, honesty) so that the responsibility for success is shared. In the Sustainable Values Set® control is focused on relationship (right relationship, all actions create the conditions that support life, keeping the integrity of the whole). The locus of control shifts from me to us to we. With each iteration we become more integral to the system and more aware of our impact upon it.
The same progression holds true when you look at corporate culture. The Three cultures: Command and Control, Collaborative, and Co-Creative shift in a similar way from ‘me’ (my way), to ‘us’, but the Co-Creative culture can get high-jacked back into ‘me’ if there is not a shared purpose that underscores the ‘we’. The three Value Sets support the various cultures, but the Sustainable Values Set® offers the vision that ensure the Co-Creative culture moves into ’we’. This is one of the strategic strengths of becoming a zero waste and rigorous company. The need for every to participate is also why the need to control processes shifts from controlling people to people engaging in self-discipline.
Control and Discipline
Discipline is how conscious parts of the system maintain control from within the system. Discipline is expressed in each of the three cultures and value systems a bit differently: in the Protective Value Set™ and the Command and Control culture people discipline themselves because of their commitment and loyalty to the leader; in the Effective Value Set™ and the Collaborative culture it is the desire to maintain productive relationships that provides the desire for self-discipline; where in the Co-Creative culture and the Sustainable Value Set® it is the commitment to something greater that makes self-discipline seem worthwhile.
The need for protection is inherently separated from the system, but the desire to co-create is inherently an inside the system position. Changing the system to meet our individual needs is inherently temporary, time consuming and expensive. Co-creating using the dynamics inherent in the system, is more likely permanent, becomes part of our lifestyle or time is not an issue, and is even more economical in the long-run, yet it appears slower to start and feels like a distraction from the immediate release sought from the presenting irritation. Like any journey we have to learn to raise our sights from the excitement of the journey to a focus on long-term success if we want to avoid the unintended consequences inherent in a short-term point of view.
When we control ourselves – our own emotions, thoughts and actions, instead of trying to control the ‘other’ the whole world changes from one of danger to one of interest, from one of protection to one of learning and from a place where we are victims to a place where we are co-creators of the future. Which place would you prefer to live in?
Kathryn Alexander, MA: futurist, speaker, author CIQ coach, her systems thinking approach to values and ethics enables deep change by impactful leaders.