Bosses, Leaders and Systems LO5650
Thu, 15 Feb 1996 12:56:28 -0500

Replying to LO5595 -- was Bosses vs. Leaders

William Hobler's critque of my points regarding the role of formal
authority in organizational settings.

Bill many of the points you articulate are ones which I agree with as the
role of someone exercising leadership. They are not the behaviors
characteristic of someone invested with formal authority when an adaptive
challenge confronts an organization. I was pointing out the pattern of
role expectations for someone invested with formal authority. These role
expectations can result in 'mis-leading' rather than leading when a system
is put under stress.

An adaptive challenge occurs when we face a situation of interacting
problems (Ackoff's wicked mess for example) where there is fear, tension,
uncertainty and ambiguity. In those situations leadership is required and
exercising it will put formal authority at risk.

If it did not do so then politicians and other authorities would not
promote the simplistic solution of building more prisions to control
crime. When I speak to them privately they admit it is a dumb idea but
argue the public wants it. Educating people and providing a 'container'
for them to move through a period of loss (that crime and a citizen's
safety from threats couldn't be solved by simple cause-effect relations -
for instance) is at the heart of what leadership is all about.

Failing to provide a proper container for the change process leads to the
one attempting to exercise leadership getting 'killed off' by the systems
reaction at the threat the leader presents. When Hillary Clinton convened
a group of experts to redesign the health care system 'in secret' and left
out certain voices and points of view the adaptive work to change a
complex system couldn't get done. Nelson Madela is succeeding at getting
South Africa to do adaptive work. When the peace process in Israel raised
the temperature in the container to unbearable levels for some
stakeholders in the both countries previously unthinkable responses
occured and real assasination became possible. When a company embarks on a
quality initiative and isn't willing to adapt the norms, processes and
systems to make a quality orientation viable and opts for the quick fix of
training, slogans, programs and nice speaches, once again we are in the
domain of cause-effect relations and simplistic, non-viable solutions.

How does someone with formal or informal authority lead when a system
confronts a turbulent, uncertain situation?

1. Instead of setting the direction, the leader might provide hard
questions which lead the system to discover an updated view of where it
wants to go.

2. Instead of protecting us from threat, the leader must cause us to feel
the pinch of the threat to generate the energy and motivation for facing
the discomforts and challenges of change.

3. Instead of maintaining norms, processes and systems the leader might
say:'We have to establish new norms, processes and systems because the old
ways don't work so well anymore".

4. Because conflict is a precious source of new ideas, instead of
surpressing the expression of conflict the leader must regulate its
expression within a range that productive work occurs.

5. Instead of orienting people, the leader might consciously disorient
people as a means to push toward the creation of new roles, structures and
ways of operating.

It is important to me to be extremely rigorous in defining the role
expectations of formal authority, the nature of formal and informal
leadership and to articulate and test in action the workable processes
which help a system to learn, grow, change and adapt. I hope these
comments were helpful.

Steven Cabana
Whole System Associates
P.O. Box 254
Lincoln, MA. 01773
508 466-6884


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