Cancer cells don’t know they are cancerous! Though this may be an obvious fact even a so what fact to many, if we think more critically about this we realize that it is quite significant. Why? Unlike other cells, cancer cells grow uncontrollably and without limit and in so doing attack the viability of the body they live in thus leading to the death of both their host and themselves. So if they knew they were cancerous then they’d stop killing the body upon which they so much depend. No reasonable cell would behave in a way that diminishes its viability. Continue reading
A recent HBR Blog post by John Kotter speaks to the confusion surrounding management and leadership. He continues by outlining three key mistakes people make in confusing management and leadership: 1) using the terms interchangeably; 2) using leadership to refer to those at the top of the hierarchy; and 3) thinking leadership is about personality characteristics (i.e. charisma). Let’s critically think about these mistakes to better understand their likely causes. Continue reading
Stephen Covey’s The 7-habits of highly effective people presented a discussion on Habit #1 about the relationship between one’s circle of concern and one’s circle of influence as a way of explaining the difference between being proactive versus reactive—the subtext being that effective people (such as leaders) are proactive. In the presentation, which is based on the premise that “we each have a wide range of concerns—our health, our children, problems at work, national debt and nuclear war”, the circle of influence portrayed is within and smaller than the circle of concern.
Because the circle of concern was larger than the circle of influence it seems Covey, in referring to the circle of concern, was actually offering a way of discerning what is in one’s control. However, if one’s circle of concern is larger than one’s circle of influence then there is an increased likelihood of experiencing a sense of helplessness and angst. Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” offers great guidance in this situation.
Effective Relative to What
The implication for those aspiring to be a leader is to become proactive by expanding your circle of influence in order to ensure you are working on things you control and can do something about, thus improving your effectiveness.
But effectiveness is not an absolute term: Its’ meaning is always connected to the desired end of one’s efforts—often reflected in what one uses to measure effectiveness. The measures most often used guide us to place focused attention on one thing rendering us blind to the unintended consequences of our actions. Thus depending upon what one is seeking to do being effective can be either constructive or destructive.
Al (Chainsaw) Dunlop was effective in realizing the single-minded end he desired—maximizing shareholder value thus reaping gains for himself and major shareholders—but in his wake he left considerable destruction. Though he severely diminished the viability of companies such as Scott Paper and Sunbeam, destroying the livelihood of many people, he made for himself a fortune and was proud of it!
If we look through the lens of systems thinking we see because of inherent interdependencies we influence far more than we realize. Thinking systemically reveals to us that everything is connected to everything else; that we can’t do just one thing. In other words our actions reverberate throughout the system.
The implication here is, if ones’ circle of concern is less than one’s circle of influence then there is a increased probability that acting solely in consideration of one’s concern will lead to the degradation of one’s environments—which includes social, industrial, economic and natural. In light of the many social and environmental problems created through past decisions and policies set by those in authority, the circle of concern has been considerably less than the circle of influence for far too many in these positions.
In regards to corporate executives primarily concerned, if not solely, with increasing shareholder value—coupled to the fact that they have a considerable influence upon the lives of others—pose a considerable threat to the wellbeing of people and society as a whole. It appears most of these executives believe the corporation stands a part from and independent of everything else and its survival alone is paramount. What seems to be not understood is the unit of survival cannot be the legally defined corporate entity but rather it must be the corporation plus its environments. Polluting the environmental systems—nature, humankind, society—as a way of satisfying self-interest and getting what you want will not make for a livable world. The concern must be more than shareholder value if there is to be a viable future.
Therefore, those aspiring to be a good leader mustn’t limit their concerns to that which is in his/her (direct) control. They need to expand their circle of care thus bringing the wellbeing of those they effect into their circle of concern. Leadership requires increasing one’s circle of care, especially as one’s circle of influence expands with the attainment of higher positions of legitimate authority. To do otherwise would no doubt increase the likelihood of harm and destruction.
When people are given the legitimate authority associated with a position in an organization or society’s government, he/she is necessarily required to demonstrate care and concern for those over whom he/she has been given formal authority. Sadly far too many become intoxicated with their newfound circle of control—and correspondingly the prospect of getting it all for themselves—that they ignore their responsibility for the care and concern of those whose lives they touch. Upholding this latter responsibility—bringing into congruence the circle of influence and the circle of care—is in large measure what separates the heroic leaders from the toxic leaders.
Toxic leaders are effective in turning organizations and societies over which they exercise control into black holes wherein potential is trapped and people are unable to develop and flourish. Until a sense of caring grows beyond concern for what’s in it for me those to whom we give positional authority will effectively do what’s good for them alone. Such effectiveness can’t help but to be detrimental to all concerned.
What we need is an increasing number of people striving to expand their circle of care and to bring it into congruence with their circle of influence. When people do this invariably they come to acknowledge their I-We nature. With this acknowledgement comes a deep and wide sense of caring and so those upon whom we bestow legitimate authority within our organizations and government will most likely exhibit the leadership we so desperately we need.
Until more begin to care about more of us our best efforts will continue to fall horribly short. To paraphrase Deming, best efforts absent of knowing what to do—without the guidance of principles—will result in a lot of damage. As Deming said, “think of the chaos that would come if everyone did his best, not knowing what to do.” Well look around, chaos is quite evident, is it not! We should remember that a narrow focus of attention is nothing if not a limited sense of caring. Need we continue holding onto our self-interest maximizing ways?
Faced with mass murders (e.g. Columbine, Aurora, VA Tech, Tuscon, Oak Creek)—62 over the past 30 years—coupled with the gun violence that happens every day we haven’t sought to understand these horrific events within the larger context from which they emerge. Until very recently America has been unaware that it has a problem.
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, firearms were used in fully 2 of 3 murders in 2011. Not only is the U.S. a more violent society it also presents a strong demand for guns: By about 3 to 1 there are more licensed firearms dealers in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s restaurants. Though we love burgers we just adore guns!
What have we been thinking?
Being individualistically oriented and tending to reductionism as a problem solving approach we’ve turned our focus on the individual who committed the murder—as if these are all independent and unrelated to our culture. Thus we have turned a blind eye to the societal context only seeking information about the characteristics of the individual person committing the crime—asking why did he do it. We frame each event as the specific individual’s problem and this keeps us from understanding the system of causes, and so the pattern continues.
In the case of recent mass killings, some have brought attention (and rightfully so) to the fact that mass murders in the U.S. are not just a gun control issue but rather they are reflective of a mental health issue. Because of our society’s proclivity for reductionism and its associated either/or thinking many have shown the light of attention on mental illness as the problem thus keeping the prevalence and loose regulation of guns in society in darkness. Unfortunately this can be the seed of a growing miss-belief that guns have no causal effect here that it all resides with mental illness.
Guns don’t kill people; people kill people! The argument continues: Yes mentally ill people with guns is a danger but (and here lies the kicker) we can never eliminate the possibility of mentally ill people from committing mass murder with guns so we mustn’t infringe upon the right of law-abiding citizens to own any kind of gun they desire. What this is saying is that a gun is neither good or bad it is just an object that people use; so it isn’t the gun but the person that is the problem. The implication being that guns—buying, having, owning, and carrying guns of any sort—are not the problem. It is the particular person that is the problem. Is this argument reflective of good solid logic and problem solving or is it reflective of avoidance behavior and problem deflection? Would we be reasonable if we made the same argument about drugs and drug use?
Further there are those who don’t wish to see any real change so they employ a line of thought—that is a defense—where the only real solution is a 100% solution. The only solution they will support must completely eliminate the chance of murder by gun. In other words if whatever is proposed will not stop with 100% certainty every person who might want to use a firearm to kill innocent people then what is proposed is grossly inadequate, it can’t be a solution. Until such a solution is provided nothing should or can be done—status quo is sustained.
Yet another argument reflective of the relationship we as a society have with guns goes something like this: if more people carried a gun (to protect their self and others around them) then there would be fewer murders—it would be a deterrent to gun violence. The answer to too many guns in the hands of some people is to have more people with guns. Apart from the fact that accurately shooting a gun is not as simple and easy as what you see on television and in the movies, this argument rests on the false logic that having a gun deters others from bringing a gun to a gunfight.
An argument based on false logic is simply a strategy to turn the attention away from the system of causes and the creation of an effective solution to a well-defined problem. Offering up a red herring keeps people from defining the problem, identifying the system of causes of the problem and taking appropriate and meaningful action. It is no wonder we’ve been mired in this for so long.
Is it possible that material self-interest maximization is playing a role? How much does the profit motive relate to what an industry, businesses within the industry and policy makers who receive funding from the industry (i.e. elected officials) impact what they are willing to do? That is, could it be that the gun industry (and its lobbyist and those who profit from a strong demand for guns) just can’t let anything get in the way of the profit that can be derived from having widespread availability and unregulated sale and use of guns?
It’s the System
Clearly the usual arguments have done little toward developing an understanding as to why we have a pattern of gun violence in U. S. society—which by the way is the most violent among OCED countries. Yet we seem unable to understand the system of causes of the pattern because we are unwilling to honestly look at how the society we’ve created contributes to this phenomenon as well as others. Our problem goes far deeper. Why don’t we go there? Could it be that at some level those with the authority to affect fundamental change realize that what they believe and advance is no longer valid—what they know ain’t so—and that they too will have to change?
If a system doesn’t encourage and support something from happening it won’t continue to happen!
Unfortunately policy makers don’t appear to use both systems and statistical thinking, so they don’t continue asking why are the trends we have in society, such as gun violence and mental illness manifesting? We must cease trying to do a better job of inspecting individual events and turn attention to the system that supports/promotes the events continuing.
In their book The Spirit Level Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett discuss the strong positive correlation between income inequality by country and: the index of health & social problems; the index of child well being; children’s experience of conflict; imprisonment; the percent of people with any mental illness; and the number of homicides per million. Negative correlation is shown between income inequality and social mobility and income inequality and level of trust. Each pairing shows the U. S. to be at the high end of positively correlated pairings and at the low end in negatively correlated pairings—not a good report card for America.
Although a correlational relationship does not imply cause-and-effect it suggest that the variables are linearly related. That is, as income inequality varies so too do these other societal characteristics—they aren’t independent, they move together and so one may affect the other or both are influenced by the same cause or causes. An understanding of the causes of the patterns begins with an understanding of the patterns caused, and so additional analysis leading to deeper understanding is needed.
We need to change
Unless people have the courage to let go of their attachments and the will to collaborate toward seeking a greater and deeper understanding of both the individual and collective (i.e. both cultural and policy/process) causes then the solution coming forth will be just re-action and compromise. Systems thinking, collaboration and deeper understanding, not compromise, will lead to understanding that can inform changes in policy to positively affect life in society.
As discussed in Hey Einstein Solve This recurring problems such as gun violence, mental illness and poverty are not structured and well-defined problems. If they were we’d quickly dissolve them and they wouldn’t recur! These problems require soft systems methods whereby we identify and challenge the underlying assumptions, beliefs and the sought after objectives that have guided current policy and action.
We should be asking: what is it about our system of orientation—not the values we espouse but the beliefs and values-in-practice and the ends supported and sought—and correspondingly the way we structure life and define success that is giving rise to these symptoms? What is the complex of causes—not the one cause or the one that various special interest coalitions are willing to compromise on—that is most likely at the root of what we are experiencing. Until this is done, all we will get are re-actions that pacify the masses and keep things essentially as they are.
The cultural change that is required won’t be easy and because of that it won’t happen without heroic leadership. However, the history of major change happening in America (e.g. women’s suffrage, civil rights, environmental protection, gay rights) shows that heroic leadership won’t emerge unless there is a critical mass of people that put their foot down making it very clear that we the people won’t accept anything less. This could take awhile, especially if few of us become part of the critical mass.
Many elected public officials formulate legislation favoring those who provide large sums of money to them (in support of their election/re-election) irrespective of the legislation’s impact on the citizens—the collective ‘we’—they are elected to represent. What is the consequence of such action? Essentially there is no consequence! Why? Because those who could take action are reticent to do so since they too benefit from this quid pro quo system. So they cooperate—if not collaborate—with special interest. If lobbying weren’t effective, why else would the number of lobbyist have grown?
There are corporate executives who create and manage an organization that behaves in environmental and/or socially damaging (if not fraudulent) ways. More often than not this way of managing provides the executives and their minions significant material gain and the citizens of the country significant devastation. What is the consequence of such practice? None to very little! Why? Because those who could take action are reluctant to do so since they too benefit from the way things are. So they cooperate keeping things as they are. This is likely why regulating agencies and corporate boards overlook rather than provide oversight.
What’s operative in each? Self-interest maximization; a what’s in it for me orientation. In a socio-economic system that concerns itself primarily if not solely with self-interest—not the collective ‘we’, the interdependence of living systems and society at-large—the resultant quid pro quo arrangements determine the future we all will likely experience. It is no surprise that follow the money often leads investigators toward identifying the puppeteers.
We cooperate with the system—no matter how dysfunctional. In a democracy voting is the primary means for individuals to participate and thus cooperate with the system of government thus ensuring its continuance. In organizations striving to meet the measureable goals cascaded down from the top of the hierarchy is the primary means for individuals to cooperate with the system. A profit making and maximizing system, exclusively for those directing the game, is the order of the day—so fall in line, play the game.
We Can All Hope
So we cooperate while hoping that changing the players directing the game will change the game—hence our obsessive focus on leadership. Or is it we keep the game going thinking that once we get to the top of the hierarchy we will some how change the game. Unfortunately it hasn’t and it likely never will happen!
Hope involves seeing/envisioning a way for things to get better so many have hope for change. Some hope to return to the imagined better times of the past and others imagine a new reality. In either case, people hope that the future will be better than the present. Both are holding steadfast to an imaginary reality and thus not seeking to understand the why of what is. It is the present that is most correlated with the future, yet many seem to run from it.
Game Change Requires Mind Change
Nothing will change unless the system itself is fundamentally changed! You don’t change the game by continuing rolling the dice on your turn; this just keeps the game going. Cooperating with a system ensures its continuance.
We aren’t independent individuals whose sole purpose in life is to amass as much material wealth as we can—bumping into each other as we each strive to have it all for ‘me’. It is not that self-interest is not within our nature it is that self-interest is not the essence of our nature. However those directing things would have us believe that we are at base self-interest seeking because it best serves their self-interest—they benefit most when we all are concerned about what’s in it for me. This keeps people from coming together as we—divide and conquer works most times, but only in the short-term.
I remember (many years ago) being in a meeting where the president of a division of a company I was working for said, “look to your left and look to your right because 1 in 3 people won’t be here next year. “ What’s the message? It is not I want you all to work together, but rather I want each of you to worry about yourself. This president wasn’t seeking to foster an inspired collective we but rather bunch of me’s that could be easily controlled by fear.
I left the company within several months of that meeting. Eventually the division floundered, not because I had left but because the division was never able to actualize the potential among those it employed.
Unfortunately when individuals act out of their self-interest, when there is little to no concern beyond what’s in it for ‘me’—when a sense of caring stops at one’s own skin—then the destruction of either the organization or society (which includes all individuals) is inevitable.
So why is there hope? Could it be that because the absence of hope ushers in despair and so everyone is simply deluding him/her self to avoid feelings of despair? Rather than being hopeful, I suspect we’d all be better off if we got heretical.
Have you ever heard this preamble to a management directed action plan in intended to reduce or eliminate an undesirable effect: “what we’ve planned (for you) to do isn’t perfect but….” Continue reading
Ever notice how often people frame things in dichotomous terms, like leader/non-leader, performer/non-performer, manager/subordinate, winner/loser, have/have-not, producer/moocher or us/them? Why is this so prevalent? Continue reading
If management can control things then management can be effective and efficient in realizing the desired results and sustaining the business. You will find very few who would disagree with this if-then thinking. This thinking is so common that it is rarely, if ever challenged—until now. Continue reading
The precepts of neoclassical economic theory (a.k.a. capitalism) have permeated almost every aspect of life in American society leading us to create both a materialistic and individualistic focused society. This has a tremendous influence upon how people understand society and organizations, the problems in society and organizations, and correspondingly the solutions people offer. Continue reading
The Justice Department’s $3 billion judgment against GlaxoSmithKline for criminal actions in their marketing of prescription drugs is a minor penalty to pay relative to the tens of billions they made in the process. Chock it up to the cost of doing business! What did GlaxoSmithKline do? The business of GlaxoSmithKline involved the promotion of drugs for unapproved patient populations and for unapproved purposes and lobbying doctors to prescribe their products by offering trips, tips and other perks in return. Seemingly they don’t believe in markets. They don’t believe markets will be effective and efficient in satisfying their needs, so they interfere with it. Clearly, there is no trust in markets here! Continue reading