flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘leaders

Entrepreneur, leader, space creator

The great desk tidy continues.  Professional organizational designers will instantly recognize what I am going to describe as Level 2 or C Band in Paterson parlance.

Understanding what is needed when

Let’s imagine a mechanic.  He, and increasingly she, has served an apprenticeship, gone to college, and worked on lots of cars under the supervision of experienced mechanics.

A car arrives.  They look at it.  The learn of symptoms from the driver.  They make some investigations in a manner that any other trained mechanic would recognize as methodical (or haphazard).  They take action.

From time-to-time though, the bundle of symptoms is out-of-pattern.  It may be a rare case that they haven’t encountered before   It may be a complicated case where feedback to the basic tests they carry out is obscured and muddies the decision making process.  The case may be complicated by factors not really to do with the car itself.  Spare parts might be short or the car might be needed in less time than the mechanics need to do everything as well as they would like.

When the job becomes complicated, a more experienced colleague steps in “reads the situation” and explains the priorities to the skilled but inexperienced worker.  Now that they are oriented again to a set of tasks that they know how to do, they can pick up the task from there.

In time, of course, they become experienced themselves and mentor others.

Directing traffic

In an organization, the role of the experienced worker is sometimes played by a controller who cannot do the job themselves.  The archtypical example is the Air Traffic Controller, who prioritizes aircraft and coordinates them with each other and resources on the ground.  The controller is not the aircraft Captain’s boss.  But does give orders of a kind.

The intersections of networks

In networked industries, the role of the controller is likely to become more common.  They may have rudimentary grasp of the skills they coordinate – they may have the equivalent of a light aircraft license, they could join in firefighting in elementary roles, they can do elementary electronics – but they are specialized in control.  They have the mindset to concentrate on what is in front of them for long periods.   They have good mental maps which they keep up-to-date.  They are important enough for psychologists to study them in depth.  Indeed many of the advances in applied cognitive psychology have come from studying air traffic controllers.

And so it will be with “managers” of the future.  Though that term has developed so many connotations that we may have to drop it.

We will have people skilled at managing “space” where people come together to get things done.

People in this line of work will probably start early.  We will see them organizing conventional clubs at school, working online and developing mental models about how to create cooperative spaces in a networked world.

Five competences for space creators in our networked world

As I am on a great clean up of my paper world, I want to write down five competences that the “space creators” of the 21st century will have.

#1 What needs to be done

#2 Emotional energy to connect

#3 Form a collective umbrella

#4 Delegate tasks to protect the collective

#5 Keep commitments to positive emotional space

Sort of abstract but it follows a logic to be: what needs to be done, why are we bothered and how or why would this be our priority, what is the space that we need to work together, what are the important tasks to maintain this space and who will do them, are we having fun here?

How do we learn these skills?  A post for another day, I think.  First, any comment on the competences?

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Are leaders made by their followers?

The first time I encountered this idea was 25 years ago. It assaulted my classical training as a psychologist! It was very difficult to understand that no one is a leader.  All my training said otherwise!

But we are leaders only by consent of our followers and in specific situations for a very short time.  Martin Luther King was a leader for a few years only.

It is time to ask the right questions about leadership

Over time, I came to understand that we had been asking the wrong question; and the wrong question was muddling my head.  The question “are leaders are born or made” belongs in the trash can.  I’ve put it there.  You can too.

The right question is a sociological and anthropological. What role does “leadership” play in organizing society? What concepts do we use? Why do we use those concepts and not others?

Why, in other words, are we hung up on the idea that some people are leaders and some people are not?

Leadership in organizations

As a work psychologist, I spend most of my time working in work organizations. We have been consistently mis-advising banks, schools, hospitals, factories, armies, shops, and every workplace that exists out there.

Leadership resides in the followers

Leadership does not reside in senior positions. Leadership does not reside in individuals. Leadership resides in the followers.

There are times when all the right ingredients are present.  Someone is in the right place at the right time and it all comes together. As organizational consultants, our job is to help everyone in the organization to find this sweetspot.

We chose a leader as a shorthand to tell the world about ourselves

Leadership begins when people start talking to each other in what we call a bounded space. That is the workplace or a project. The people talking together look for a leader, not to tell them what to do, but to represent who and what they want as a kind of shorthand to themselves and to the world.

A leader needs to be replaced regularly because after a while they aren’t a quick summary of what we want to tell the world

The day a leader stops being representative of our collective wishes, either because s/he has stopped listening or because s/he no longer is what they want, then the relationship falls apart and force needs to be used to maintain the position of “leadership”.

Why do we allow leaders to stay too long and use force against us?

I suppose another sociological/anthropological question is when and why we allow leaders to run away with power and to use force against us.

It has long been agreed in the democratic English speaking world that the essence of good government is replacing leaders in an orderly way.  I wish we could see the same as the standard in business organizations.

The use of force against employees is a sign that the agreement is broken

The use of force against employees is a sign that something has gone wrong. Alarm bells should go off.  And HR should be on the scene in a flash trying to understand why the leader believes so little in his or her people that s/he feels the need to bully them.  Young managers often don’t trust their subordinates. A skill that is rarely talked about is the skill of believing in one’s people and seeing their strengths.

The job of HRM and work & organizational psychologists

  • Our job is to broker these agreements.
  • Our job is to coach the group during the inevitable shift in the agreement. How long should they carry on with the arrangement? When should they renegotiate?
  • Our job is to step in immediately force is used and declare a “state of emergency”!
  • Our job is to design organizational systems where leaders are replaced regularly. How long is a good time in the organization we help? How can we design the process of renegotiation and replacement of the leader?

Leaders are only a shorthand to tell the world who we are and what we want.  We need to change them regularly and we need to manage the process to produce the leaders we deserve.

The first time I encountered this idea, around 25 years ago now, I found it an assault to my classical training as a psychologist.  Over time though, I have come to understand that the question of whether leaders are born or made is the wrong question.  The right question is a sociological and anthropological question:  what role does “leadership” play in organizing society and what are the different ways we use the concept?

At an organizational level, I have become convinced that leadership resides in the followers.  There are times when someone is in the right place at the right time and it all comes together.

The process begins with the people talking to each other in a bounded space, such as an organization.  These people talking together look for a leader, not to tell them what to do, but to represent who and what they want as a kind of shorthand to themselves and to the world.

The day a leader stops being representative of their collective wishes, either because s/he has stopped listening or because s/he no longer is what they want, then the relationship all falls apart and force needs to be used to maintain the position of “leadership”.

I suppose another sociological/anthropological question is the circumstances in which we allow leaders to run away with power and to use force against us.

It has long been agreed in the democratic English speaking world that the essence of good government is replacing leaders in an orderly way.  I wish we could see the same as the standard in business organizations.  The use of force against employees is a sign that something has gone wrong.  Alarm bells should go off.  And HR should be on the scene in a flash trying to understand why the leader believes so little in his or her people that s/he feels the need to bully them.

Young managers often don’t trust their subordinates.  A skill that is rarely talked about is the skill of believing in one’s people and seeing their strengths.

I would love to collaborate with someone on this.   It could make a great 2.0 app.


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