Seven Core Realities of Leadership
Newsletter #5
From Diana's Desk

About Diana

Look at your Life

        This is the fall newsletter. I wanted to get this out before the snow flew. But as it turns out, I recently traveled to the snow. I checked into the Mt Washington Hotel in the mountains of New Hampshire on a Friday afternoon in preparation for giving a talk that evening about Balancing Your Wheel of Life. The talk was to kick off their spa weekend. Naturally, I took my own advice about balance and went down for a swim, sauna and Jacuzzi. For quite a while, I was the only person there. I sat alone in the Jacuzzi and watched the first snow flakes descend upon the heated outdoor pool, giving the impression of dry ice steam. By the time I left to go to my room, the lawn, trees and mountainsides were covered. The next morning at breakfast we were surrounded by a 4-inch snowy vista, the first snow of the year. The air was very frosty and the valets were not only fetching cars, but also clearing each one of snow, which they did with much good cheer. As we drove away down that beautiful drive, I reflected upon how fortunate I am to do such rewarding and enjoyable work.

On the Topic of Leadership

        On several occasions recently, clients have asked me to present short speeches about leadership or leadership theories. One reality of speaking is that a short speech usually requires more work because there is the challenge of shrinking the time but keeping the content rich. Every word counts. The process of personal leadership development is my field, and I am fascinated by the study of whole systems and complexity science. Taking from both, the following are what I believe to be core leadership realities. These core realities can apply to us personally as well as professionally. After all, we are the leaders of our lives.

Seven Core Realities about Leadership

  • Who you are is how you lead.
  • You are not in control.
  • There are no observers.
  • All organizations are complex adaptive systems.
  • Chaos and change are the order of the day.
  • Changing the structure does not change people.
  • People in relationship to other people change the structure.

Who you are is how you lead

        When you know your values and live according to them you are congruent. Your leadership actions flow from a central core of congruence and your actions are based upon principles. You are authentic, not playing a role. Rudolph Giuliani exemplifies this congruence. Acting upon his values and beliefs over the years did not always endear him to everyone. But during the 911 crisis it was his being authentic by acting congruent that revealed his transformational leadership qualities. Here is a representative list of the traits of transformational leaders.

Visionary, charismatic, inspirational
Able to cultivate relationships
Have excellent communication skills
Build coalitions across lines
Engender motivation in others
Empower others
Trustworthy, purposeful
Operate according to principles
Identify own values
Take risks
Are self-reflective
Balance work and life

        When you live and lead congruently, you are more at ease with yourself and others. You free up energy to take action to develop the traits listed here. Some degree of self- reflection is essential to uncover and reinforce what your values and beliefs really are before you can live authentically. Then the more congruent you are, the easier it is to “grow into” these traits. You might ask, “while I see all those traits relating to building relationships and being authentic, how do I DO charisma? Don’t you just have it or not?” While there are people who are naturally dynamic and charming, the truth is that often charisma is in the eye of the beholder.

You are not in control

        As hard as we resist the idea, we really can only be in control of our own actions and ourselves. We want to believe that there is a neat cause and effect pattern: I do this and you will do that. Early management thinking was based upon that premise. Cultivating the quality of detachment can help to accept the reality that you are not in control. Detachment isn’t a matter of not caring, but of noticing the issue, and taking action, but not overreacting. And think about this: If you are not in control of others, ultimately, no one is in control of you!

There are no observers

        Physicists now know and tell us that everything in the universe is connected in one self-organizing system. It is impossible to NOT be part of it all. We are, in effect, each other’s environments. A small event in one part of a system can generate an enormous effect in another part. There is constant change in all living systems that move through growing chaos and disorder and into new order. All of this is effected by relationships of chemicals, gases, and electric impulses coming together and making new substances or structures. They then fall away, dissipate, and reorder again into other more complex systems and structures. People and organizations are no different.

        David Peet, physicist and author once reflected that even physicists find it hard to believe that no thing or being can be an outside observer, that the minute we look at something, we influence it in some way. So it is not difficult to see why we have trouble accepting that we are all part of this soup of interacting energies. Ever walk into a meeting in a great mood, but soon find yourself feeling gloomy? That is the energy field of those already in the room influencing you.

       James McGregor Burns’ classic description of the transforming leader Leadership (1978) brings the two concepts of personal development and new science into focus. He describes the transforming leader as one who fully engages with others in such a way that the leader and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.

       Clearly, within the framework of these ideas, we can’t be transformational leaders without entering into the process in an authentic way. Then we as well as others will be transformed. What do you think about Mr. Giuliani? From a basic value/action congruence, he lead through the crisis in such a manner that he also changed.

All organizations are complex adaptive systems

        Margaret Wheatley in her workshops builds upon new science concepts to describe organizations as self-organizing systems. All living systems have the ability to organize themselves into patterns and structures without any externally imposed plan or direction. The more encompassing term in complexity theory today is complex adaptive systems (CAS). Wheatley and Myron Kellner- Rogers write in a Simpler Way (1996) that when we view our organizations as people in relationships able to create systems and solutions, we can nourish them with information and remember that they self- organize and they can be trusted to do so. Furthermore….

        “When we work with organizing as process rather than organization as object, it changes what we do. Processes do their own work. Our task is to provide what they need to begin their work. Do people need resources, or information, or access to new people? If they had these, could they then get on with the work? And would we let them?” pg.38

        Leadership in a CAS is often counterintuitive. The tendency when there is uncertainty and complexity is to be directive to fix the problem. When in reality, that is the time to encourage creative input from people close to the work. In Edgeware, Insights from complexity science for health care leaders, (2001) Zimmerman, Lundberg and Plsek describe this phenomenon well.

Chaos and change are the order of the day

        That is just the way this complex adaptive system of a universe operates, however hard we try for stabilization. Spencer Johnson’s (1998) Who Moved my Cheese is a delightful book that really illustrates that reality. We can’t control. Stability is a myth and can be dangerous because we may miss opportunities to avoid disaster or to create better situations.

         Kevin Kelly wrote about living systems such as termite mounds, beehives and organizations in his 1995 book Out of Control, the Rise of the Neobiological civilization. He terms the rational logical machine type activities as clockware and the more creative, complex messy events as swarmware, (based on those bees) He contends we need to use both in our organizations. We can work with others in relationship to set up systems that are tightly organized enough for safety and production but loose enough to be flexible to adapt to change and free enough to create change in order to grow.

Changing the structure does not change the people

       We still somehow believe that if we just change the structure, move the reporting boxes around, build a new building, give out new titles, offer bonuses, the people will change. This comes from the old idea that we can do to others and they will do our bidding. “If I do certain things and act in certain ways I will change others.” Transformational leadership is about “doing with” rather than “doing to”. It is setting the climate for people in relationships to create the best structure and systems. In a complex adaptive system, the structures emerge from the process, not the other way around

People in relationship with others will change structures

Again, this is counterintuitive. But our lesson from complex adaptive systems is that new structures emerge from relationships, whether gases or chemicals, or people. When the situation is complex and new thinking is needed, two or more people coming together, each with an idea will create something better than each one could alone

So, how do you Do charisma?

  • Act in congruence with your values- be authentic.
  • Create opportunities for people to form rich relationships.
  • Lesson hierarchy through free flow of information and communication.
  • Accept that we live and work in a complex adaptive system, people do self- organize.
  • Celebrate people’s self- organizing creativity.
  • Be willing to change and grow along with those whom you lead.

And, as they take credit for all the good work, they will be heard to say, “There goes one charismatic leader”

I welcome your ideas and questions about this complex process called leadership. Anyone for starting a dialogue?

Warm regards




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