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Posts Tagged ‘authenticity

Psychology blossomed in the noughties

Positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, and mytho-poetic tradition are well understood and taught in psychology and management classrooms in all corners of the world.

But we need a name

Paradoxically though, the technical names for these fields are relatively unintelligible to lay people. If there is anything we want to achieve in this field, it is to be intelligible to ordinary people.

Would personal leadership do as name?

Eventually, I settled on the term personal leadership.

We are concerned about styles of leadership that are personal.  What I do, for example is not strictly relevant to what you do.  And what I do today, has little bearing on what is relevant tomorrow.

And does the name contribute to our understanding?

Having described the rationale of this new field in these words, is it truly a discipline that belongs in the professions?

How can this definition of leadership generate a theory that is useful in practice? After all, if what is relevant today and is not relevant tomorrow, what use is that theory?

We have an ontological challenge

The difficulty is less in the epistemology, that is in the way we study leadership, than in the ontology, the nature of leadership.

We used to think of leadership as something we do.

Now we look at ourselves in context. Our unit of analysis, as researchers say, is “ourself in context”.

What are the practical implications of defining leadership as ourselves in context?

We don’t exist when we don’t see

David Whyte refers to attention. “When my eyes are tired the world is tired also”. We are our habits of attention. We are what we attend to. We are our capacity to pay attention.  When our way is lost, we find ourselves by paying attention. By becoming mindful and “touching and feeling” what is around us.

The big change in our understanding of leadership

Who we are is not what we do repeatedly and well.

Who we are is our frontier. Who we are is the place where we are curious about the world. Who we are is the frontier we cannot ignore.

Paradoxically, often when we feel tired, it is not because we are at our frontier, it is because we are not. We are not at a place where we are confronting the unknown carried by the energy of compulsive curiosity.

Leadership is not a spectator sport

We feel alive when we are in a place where “we want to know”. We are leaders when our curiosity about a situation leads us to ask questions. We are leaders when our compulsive curiosity asks questions which holds a mirror up to a situation.

We are leaders when our questions allow people to ask their questions.

How can we understand leadership in a way that allows us to share knowledge?

This question has two goals.

#1  What is the knowledge I can share?

There are many ways of sharing knowledge and we know stories are much more effectual than dry statistics answering questions that were unlikely from the outset to produce a practically significant answer.

We also know that knowledge is also more likely to be absorbed when people trust the presenter – when the presenter shares the journey of the students.

#2  What can I charge for my knowledge?

And probably more important is the heretical question of what can we charge for our knowledge. How can we claim and sustain status for our knowledge?

It is this question that personal leadership answers. We share knowledge not because we are right, but because we are willing to share in the gains and losses of a decision.

It is here that the field of personal leadership enters into the spirit of our age. Authority comes from being willing to share the gains and losses of a decision.

Are we so curious about the people we are with that they are willing to be changed by them ~ without notice and without guarantee?

That is knowledge to be passed on. Am I willing to act with you right now?

Computers have never put anyone out of work!

I got my first job using a computer before I could use one!  I had been given a massive job calculating a correlation matrix for 500 or so people on 35 variables and I had 6 weeks to do it.

I didn’t fancy spending my summer doing clerical work, so I took a week’s course in programming, barely understood a word, talked my way into the University’s computer centre, found a programme, and finished the job in 3 weeks instead of the 6 weeks allotted. Two of those weeks were spent looking for a comma, though I didn’t know that then.

The last three weeks of my 6 week job were spent teaching at the Institute of Personnel Management, administering psychological tests to select junior bankers, and writing up the manual for a set of tests.

Herein, I learned three important lessons about IT

#1 Computers really can cut out the drudgery of office work.  Think how nice it is to cut cutting out 90% of the time you spend on paperwork.

#2 When you don’t know what to do, ask. Often the problem is something trivial that is obvious to someone who has done a similar job before

#3 Computers have never put any one out of work.

But will social media or web2.0 put people out of work?

The troubles of newspapers in today’s world has led me to wonder if it is still true that computers have never put anyone out of work. We hear of newspapers shutting because of competition from bloggers and Twitter.

Is it possible that web 2.0 will put people out of work where web 1.0 didn’t?

After some thinking and scouting around, my best guess is no. Work will change and some newspaper owners may not achieve ‘rents’ they achieved in the past. But the work is still there.

Big institutions need to manage an institutional voice

Today I looked at the NZ Labour Party blog and really, they could do with some professional journalists on their staff.

What does it mean to be authentic when you represent an institution

I know we all want an authentic voice on web2.0. I love it that Paulo Coelho is on Twitter and has real interviews every night.

A NZ Labour Party blog though, represents an institution. There is nothing wrong with MP’s dictating their blog post, or drafting it, and sending it to an editorial team who sub it and check it for coherence (dotting the i’s and making sure it toes the party line).

That’s what Obama does with his speech writers. He is in control and they work on replicating his voice.

In a political party, the MP’s would initiate content and the sub’s would tidy it up using the MP’s voice.

Because the Labour Party is a team, an editorial team would also check whether posts support or contradict each other, extract emerging teams and even hold up a mirror to MP’s about what they are saying and how it might be perceived by their audience.

There is nothing wrong with a service like this running in the background. It is no different from teaching people to write and edit, or, taking a degree in politics and history.

After all political voices aren’t ‘born’. They don’t come ready-made. They are cultured.  And we join political parties to work together on something we find important.

Social media creates better work for us all

So no, I don’t think social media puts people out of work. Social media allows us to work together and accomplish more than we did before.

Social media will not put journalists out of work. It will generate more opportunity for them.

And it may generate better work, in new career tracks, with more opportunity to influence the world.  Lucky them to lose old ways and find new.

And who sat next to me?

Many years ago, I was flying from Harare to Johannesburg and I sat, by providence, next to Dr Shahidul Alam, who I was to discover is a very well known photographer and activist from Bangladesh.  In those days, email newsletters were quite the rage, and overtime of course, we have updated to blogs and RSS feeds.

I use Pageflakes as my feedreeder and I have a page for the feeds I check first thing in the morning, a page for UK blogs linked to my profession, another page for non-UK links in my profession, a page for venture capital, etc.  And I have a page for Evening where I feed blogs like Shahidul’s from Drik Gallery in Dhaka. Whether you like to be informed about events around the world, or whether you just like good photography, I recommend it.

Today, I stumbled upon an article about the 1971 generation, Bangladeshi men and women who were disappointed by the outcomes of Bangladesh’s Independence.  Dashed hopes are sadly quite common when we have worked long and hard for change.

Is your liberation, also mine?

Today’s post began with a quotation from an Aboriginal activist group from Australia.

If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

It is attributed variously to Lila Watson and the Aboriginal Activist’s Group Queensland 1970’s

This is a sentiment I learned growing up in southern Africa with all its inherited problems.

When we are sufficiently well off, we often approach a conflict as if we have nothing to gain from its resolution.  Our patronising attitude is very irritating to the other side.  We may be surprised to find that what we think is good will on our part is generating  considerable contempt.  We may be shocked to hear that we are regarded less positively than people who are downright aggressive.

The alternative takes a lot of courage.  Can we approach conflict resolution and negotiation without any preconditions, and in particular without commitment to being a senior partner?

It is amazing how often we refuse to engage if we are not guaranteed a superior position in advance.  It is also amazing how often we project this stance onto others when they are just calling us on our unwillingness to negotiate in good faith.

So many of the world’s intractable conflicts would be resolved in an instance if we could only get down from our high horse.  And this is true too, in business.

Examples in business

For example, think of the typical networking event when people introduce themselves.  There is little discussion of common goals.  I say what I do (hoping it sounds important).   Others listen, not for something they could do for me, but for something I can do for them, pretending all the while that they want to help me!  Such social contortions!

Imagine if the atmosphere were different and we could say openly, in the next year I want to achieve X?  How many of us would dare?  How many of us listen with and offer “I can help you from there to there” without trying to be important?  I have seen it done but it is so rare that it stands out!

Think too of the typical job advertisment looking for people who are ‘the best’.  And think of the tension that implies.  I want the best but I am recruiting from the open market.   I do not employ the best? Nor I am able to train them?  Ow!  I am really very dependent on the applicants for their skills but I cannot contenance admitting that!

Imagine again phrasing a job advertisment honestly.  This is what we want to achieve this year.  Who believes they can help us?  Please reply stating how we can help you in return.

So why do we get involved with this posturing?

The simple answer is that predicating everything on a pecking order is the central characteristic of  masculine cultures. Britain and most English-speaking countries are very masculine.  And when every one else is attending to the pecking order, to neglect it is dangerous.

Other cultures though, and to some extent the culture we have bred in our midst, Gen Y, are less attached to the pecking order culture.  They are often amazed at our shenanigans and they find our collegial skills somewhat lacking.

Towards an unexpectedly prosperous 2009?

Are we able to abandon the premise that some people are more important than others?  Are we able to abandon the act, that I am safe and OK, and this negotiation affects only your position and not mine?  Do we have the courage to define our future collectively?

It may be important during 2009.

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