Last week, signs of serious relational troubles came to the surface in an organisation which have my concern. Management and personnel can’t find mutual ground. Cooperation has become ever more difficult. Disagreements make complex what is already complicated. The consequence has been that mutual understanding is neglected and dialogue is rejected. Trust is sacrificed for purposes I can only speculate about.
Sadly, I have noticed that organisational relationships are wounded every day, sometimes badly sometimes it is smaller scratches - and too often the leadership spirit which could heal the wounds seems absent. What organisation can perform in this kind of atmosphere? Who are the people who thrive when communication burst and conflicts escalate? Leadership is to pay attention to the state of mind in the organisation and how it is changing. Leadership character is to judge wisely when it comes to the nature of people, communication and trust.
I bring in the overloaded metaphor “angel wings”. It is a pretty radical choice, which I use to tap into the aspiration of better leadership, especially when times are touch and we tend to loose our way with harmful attitudes towards other people as a result.
Leadership as a concept is a multifaceted phenomenon. I came across Yukl’s definition from 1989 which says that leadership is “…influencing task objectives and strategies, influencing commitment and compliance in task behavior to achieve these objectives, influencing group maintenance and identification, and influencing the culture of an organisation.” (Yukl, G., 1989:253, Managerial Leadership: A review of Theory and Research, The Journal of Management, Vol 15, No. 2) We all know there are many ways to try to achieve this and many management books to choose from. My intension is to invite to reflect on the leadership repertoire we offer in our leadership practice.
Yet, I am not a leader, in the traditional sense I am not. I have no personel and no budget. I don’t decide what tasks to take up and which to complete. And I don’t find myself at the end of the table, speaking the last word in a crowd of people - setting the standards of quality and culture. Yet, I have had many relationships with leaders, and leadership is what concerns me the most in my professional life. How leadership is practiced and what I can do to mirror leadership and contribute to expose what makes it beautiful.
In organisations, relationships are the strongest and the most fragile we have to get the work done. Alright then, money, technology and other materials might also be important. But without people to add knowledge and ideas, to find new ways of building, producing, creating, developing stuff, there would be no need for organisation. An important part of leadership is to be concerned about the organisational well-being and how the wounds of everyday business can be healed, to nurture relational resilience, to make people willing to do their best together. Leadership is about listening, it is about sensing what is needed next to better prepare for fulfilling aims and objectives, and prepare for future accomplishments.
When leaders become numb they lack good judgement and they fuel cultural decadence. When leaders are in their feelings, they tend to lead from the point of self-centeredness. Is that what is best for the business? The same can be said about personnel, only the burden of doing the right thing is more heavy - the more authority, the more power.
The organisation I told you about seem to have forgotten that leadership is a social activity. They seem to be stuck in misunderstandings and “I’m right - you’re wrong”. Maybe something really important is at stake, which might be worth such a disastrous fight. Maybe they are well aware what they are doing to each other. Maybe it is pure revenge.
To wear angel wings is my way of saying, that leadership requires attention to the influence we have on others. To be responsible for the leadership repertoire, the intensions and positioning, and adaptive to change as this leadership is challenged. This means listening carefully to the messages available - the organisational resonans - what can be heard, what can be interpreted, what can be learned. The sounds behind the every day noise, the collective knowledge coming to the surface, the emerging answers to the struggles we are facing as organisations and as people. It is a way of lobbying for a leadership approach which raise the sight and listen louder. It is leadership from a greater place than just muddling through - operational blindness - self-sufficiency and survival of the fittest.
It is in the breach of different interests and perspectives we build or damage trust. This is when our character is revealed. The angel wings can be a reminder of taking a bigger view, a way to accommodate inappropriate outcomes of other peoples limitations. I know we can never be a hundred procent angels, but we can worship the wealth of trust and throw ourselves into that kind of treasure hunt - the bravest will seek in difficult and dangerous land.
I don’t say I know the kind of landscape in details - but here I am. Getting my boots dirty, with a biding wind in my face, which keeps me alert. My contribution is to look for different leadership spaces, to take some speed out of everyday business and to reflect about what leadership is made of and to engage in sharing this kind of thinking. Ambitious - or naive. I will stay with it for a while. Maybe there are greater findings to be found.