Commenting on my post about SUCCESSFUL CHANGE NEEDS COURAGE FIRST, you showed interest in knowing what I had “to say about courage and change if I continued to dig into it”.
It has been 5 years now that I am digging. Never did I dare to order these thoughts, and certainly not to write them down. You kind of push me to undertake what is for me the most difficult task, trying to summarize my thinking in writing and publicly. First of all, it’s not digging that I am doing, it is scratching the surface of places where others have been digging deeply. Taking a horizontal view of where we are. Kind of what Frans Johansson would call, searching for insights at the intersection of Ideas, Concepts and Cultures….
Secondly, the post on which you reacted was written with a rather gloomy mindset, after a so called World Forum, the objective of which was to envision a “Responsible Economy”. It was organized “by economic and social actors who want to help out”. I felt well-meaning intend. But at the same time, I felt an immense gap between intend, and what these well meaning actors are actually able to bring about. And my gloom sprout from the fact that I didn’t feel they were seeing this gap.
So this brings me on the subject of change. In my mind change is first of all a very personal and challenging process.
Otto Scharmer would say it first requires an ability to see with fresh eyes, then sense from the field. I don’t see many people in organizations doing that. It requires time, attention, humility – suspending what we take for granted, redirecting the attention to the unknown, in order to be able to then letting go all temptation to command, and control, thereby connecting with our “inner source”.
Carol Dweck speaks of cultivating a growth Mindset – instead of sticking to the fixed mindset, spoon-fed since the early age by our well-intended parents, in school by well-intended teachers, and in social and professional life by well-intended leaders. How many are capable of shifting?
Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey speak about the adaptive challenge humanity is facing, the gap between what the complexity facing us required from our minds, and what our minds are actually like .
Heifetz says the biggest error leaders make is when they apply technical means to solve adaptive challenges.
Esa Saarinen looks at it from yet another angle: his thesis is that we Humans are naturally endowed with “systems Intelligence”, but that we are cannot express it given the constraints (systems of holding back) that the systems in which we live are imposing on us.
And I have mentioned only a few researchers here: from every corner serious research and thinking lead to the same diagnosis. The systems we’ve created and in which we live have enslaved us, and remain beyond the control of Man.
As Fritjof Capra writes in “The Hidden Connections”, we are faced with an existential question. Interestingly he quotes Vaclav Havel as he who has given the most inspiring answer:
The kind of Hope that I often think about… I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the World. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the World or estimate of the situation… Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
And this brings me to my first point about courage. The courage to believe. Which I associate with courage to hope. Paradoxally the kind of belief, or hope, Guillaume d’Orange was evoking when he said: “One need not hope to begin an undertaking, nor a guarantee of success to persevere”.
It also brings me to the second point about Courage. You need courage to admit you need to learn to change. As stated above, our social environment leads us to espouse a fixed mindset. Carol Dweck explains:
“a person with a fixed mindset believes we are all born with a certain set of skills and competencies. We either have a talent for something or we don’t. It’s all binary. You have artistic ability or not; you have language skills or not; you are a great natural leader or not. There is nothing in between, nor is there the possibility for serious personal development and growth. Why put a lot of effort into learning something you’ll never be able to master anyway? Time and energy are better spent further honing your existing skills. The dangers in thinking and behaving this way are as varied as they are predictable. It means success is all about showing how smart or talented you are. It’s all about validating yourself. Something new is something to be avoided, as it may expose weakness. And the last thing you want to do is acknowledge and address a weakness. You’d rather pretend it doesn’t exist. On those rare occasions where you are forced to confront one, you resort to the key weapons of the fixed mindset: blame, excuses and the stifling of critics and rivals” And in many instances I have observed treason, lying, cheating, bullying, and worse….
Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey in “Immunity to Change” learn us that:
“meeting adaptive challenges requires, first, an adaptive formulation of the problem (i.e. , we need to see exactly how the challenge comes up against the current limits of our own mental complexity) and , second, an adaptive solution (I.e. we ourselves need to adapt in some way).”
I’ve not encountered many leaders today who are willing to admit that they themselves have to change in first instance, if they want to allow their people and their organization to change. The whole industry of individual and group coaching is geared towards changing the people (not the leaders) – for in most leader’s minds, it is to the people to adapt to organization forms imposed on them from above. The change challenge is fundamentally different in case you strive to allowing organic organization systems to develop: allowing these organizations to change by themselves. This is achieved:
• By allowing the people in them to change by themselves (i.e. to express their natural endowments if systems Intelligence), freeing them from the “holding back” constraints imposed on them,
• By motivating them intrinsically by letting them self-determine their development,
• By fostering this by creating environments conductive to satisfying three essential human needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy (Deci & Ryan: self-determination theory).
The role of leadership in order to bring about the two first conditions is to let go of command and control, suppressing the methods and procedures which go against autonomy and self-determination. The role of Leadership in thze third instance is hence to create an environment in which people and teams can grow and develop, can co-determine their work autonomously.
Gary Hamel in “The Future of Management” and Carney and Getz in “Freedom Inc.” have documented the miracle effects of this paradigm shift, effectively achieved by a large and diverse number of enterprises, big and small, high-tech and low tech, service and industrial, clean and smokestack, in all part of the world – whatever the culture.
Going through such paradigm shifts in behavior and mindsets requires a lot of courage, humility, patience and consistency, a real learning mindset. Sometimes I wonder how to help more leaders to embark on this change journey.
A proverb says: “where there’s will there’s a way”. The way is not as hard as it appears at first sight. But wanting it is key, and it requires a lot of courage to pass that hurdle.
You will understand, dear Christine, where my gloom came from. I see so many people with good intend, I see so few people with the courage to believe in their possibilities, who admit the absolute need for them and their organizations to grow and change, and who want to go for it….
This leads to what was often evoked during the summit, a lot of green-washing, despite the best of intentions. And this will not change the world in which my grandchildren, and their own grandchildren, and all living beings with them will live and die.
So, dear Christine, have I answered your question? At least I have further relieved my frustration. Thank you of having pushed me. And you can push me further, if you want.
Cheers and hugs,