Ten Functions of a Leader

1.      Help interpret the meaning of events

2.      Create alignment on objectives and strategies

3.      Build task commitment and optimism

4.      Build mutual trust and cooperation

5.      Strengthen collective identity

6.      Organize and coordinate activities

7.      Encourage and facilitate collective learning

8.      Obtain necessary resources and support

9.      Develop and empower people

10.  Promote social justice and morality

-Gary Yukl, Leadership in Organizations

Fritjof Capra’s Dual Nature of Organizational Structure

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Fritjof Capra, in The Hidden Connections, poses a dual nature of business organization. (In the term “business” I am including any group of people that constitute a workplace both for profit and not for profit companies.)

Businesses are both 1) social institutions designed for specific purposes (such as making money, managing distributions of political power, transmitting knowledge, or spreading religious faith, and 2) communities of people who interact with each other, build relationships, help each other, and make their daily activities meaningful at a personal level.

Peter Senge (in Capra) characterizes one as a “machine for making money” and the other as a “living being.”

The first type of organization is mechanistic. It comes from classical management theories of the early twentieth century. All the thinking is done by the managers and designers, leaving all the doing to the employees (Taylor, in Capra). A fast food chain is a perfect example of the first type of organization. It doesn’t matter who is hired, they fulfill the same role each time. It is characterized by formal structures–clear lines of communication, coordination, and control. This approach has been successful in increasing efficiency and productivity, but workers in these types of organizations feel animosity and resentment to the organization.

At the same time, there exists the second type of organization in any business–the informal living organization comprised of human beings. This is a fluid and fluctuating network of communication. This is where the organization’s flexibility, creativity, and learning capability reside. Skills are exchanged; tacit knowledge, “common sense”, and meaning are generated. When new people join or leave the organization, the informal network changes or breaks down and restructures itself. Smart managers recognize that there is an interplay between the organization’s formal structures and its informal living networks. Typically, they will allow the formal structures handle the routine work while relying on the informal structures to handle work that doesn’t fit within the routines.

Interesting Quotes:

“People [in organizations] do not resist change; they resist having change imposed on them.”

“If organizations were truly living communities, buying and selling them would be the equivalent of slavery, and subjecting the lives of their members to predetermined goals would be seen as dehumanizing.”

“A machine can be controlled; a living system . . . can only be disturbed. Working wtih the processes inherent in living systems means that we do not need to spend a lot of energy to move an organization. There is no need to push, pull, or bully it to make it change. For or energy are not the issue; the issue is meaning.”

“…intelligent, alert people rarely carry out instructions exactly to the letter.”

On the profound conflict between biological time and computer time:

“People feel that they have hardly any time for quiet reflection, and since reflective consciousness is one of the defining characteristics of human nature, the results are profoundly dehumanizing.”

“What to do with that spare time [created through technology and increased efficiency] becomes a question of values. It can be distributed among the individuals in the organization–thus creating time for them to reflect, organize themselves, network, and gather for informal conversations–or the time can be extracted from the organization and turned into profits for its top executives and shareholder by making people work more and thus increasing the company’s productivity.”

Is the belief in efficiency getting in our way?

In reading the book “Walk Out, Walk On: A Learning Journey Into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now“, I am reconsidering the idea of efficiency and how it might be a hindrance to our ultimate success in organizations and communities.Author Wheatley talks of an unreachable “optimal state” and how this makes efficiency elusive. She advocates instead for a resiliency model. Such a system, “…has the capacity to rebound from disturbance…by increasing its diversity and redundancy, by forgoing growth and speed in favor of sustainability, and by engaging in a wide range of small local actions that connect to one another.” A resilient agricultural system might be local so as not to rely on a single element like supply of oil to transport food grown far away, or it might practice a labor intensive form of agriculture like permaculture. A resilient community might use local herbs to treat disease rather than relying on access to pharmaceutical drugs that are made far away and are in short supply.

Similarly, a resilient business might embrace the “local” concept by cultivating leadership and a diverse skill set in its employees–and spread out decision making authority beyond its executive team so as not to rely on the “oil” to spread leadership from the executives to the other workers. It would consider the strengths of its workforce, and consider paths toward its purpose utilizing these skill sets. It would empower its employees to find ways to get their work done without relying too heavily on organizational policy or other departments.

In contrast, efficiency models try to get the most done in the least amount of time. Wheatley says, “The more you optimize elements of a complex system of humans and nature for some specific goal, the more you diminish that systems’ resilience. A drive for an efficient optimal state outcome has the effect of making the total system more vulnerable to shocks and disturbances.” An efficient organization tries to eliminate redundancy and streamline decision-making and processes through specialization and hierarchy.

In order for an organization to value resiliency over efficiency, there would need to be a shared understanding about the illusion of the optimal state. The optimal state does not exist!

When I am planning a project, I try to build in extra cushions of time to make up for the unexpected setbacks that are, in fact, to be expected. As the author said, “Life always bursts through the door–why not expect it?” When I try to explain my cushions in the project plan to someone who wants to or needs to believe in the idea of the optimal state, they want to decrease these cushions and get the project done faster and for less money. If I remove the cushions, then the project ultimately comes in behind schedule. The response then is that we need to work harder, do more, and next time make sure that nothing unexpected happens or gets in the way. Inevitably, something happens again the next time–someone on our team gets sick, our outside vendor is behind schedule, or a computer breaks, and the cycle continues. This leads to discouragement when people work harder and harder, but still see that they are not meeting the goals.

The optimal state illusion is embedded in our political systems, our agriculture systems, and our organizations. Is the drive toward greater and greater efficiency getting in the way in our organizations? How do we break out of this cycle and come to a shared understanding about the illusion of an optimal state so we can work towards resiliency?

Open-ended questions

On my second day of mediation training (halfway done with the full training!), I received an awesome compliment from one of the facilitators. She said that I have a talent for open-ended questions.

I especially appreciated this compliment because I really like asking open-ended questions.

What is an open-ended question? (Yes, that was an example of one.) An open-ended question is any question that cannot be answered with a “yes”, a “no” or another one word answer such as a number or color. An open-ended question provokes a meaningful response.

It reminds me of a management lesson I learned from the Interactive Institute for Social Change when I took their workshop, Managing with Impact, a few years ago.

The main thing I took from the management workshop is that it is important for a manager to balance inquiry with advocacy. When we advocate as managers, we give people advice, direction, instructions, or solutions to their problems. When we practice inquiry, we use open-ended questions to help the person being managed to find insights into their situation or problem or come to a solution.

My feedback from the management workshop leaders was that I could do more advocating, and a little less inquiry. I think I am still on the side of being more of an inquirer than an advocate, but I have become better at advocacy as my experience has grown. In some situations, I have been too far on the advocacy side of the balance. Advocating feels like a lot of pressure sometimes, because as a manager I don’t usually have as much information to advocate for a solution or an approach, and I need to rely more on my intuition.

A mediator’s job is only to reflect, reframe, and inquire. It is unlike a manager’s job in that no advocacy is expected or desired. I am really enjoying the opportunity to practice open-ended questions and inquiry with mediation training. I recommend it for managers who want to become better at the inquiry side of the balance.

Life cycles of an organization

Organizations, just like individuals, undergo seasons in life. Each season is characterized by certain opportunities, challenges, and ways of operating. It has been helpful for me as a manager and Deputy Director to think about organizational life cycles and how our organization, like any other, is in a state of becoming rather than just being.

It was helpful for me to also have some perspective when things get tough and to know that this is normal, other organizations have experienced this before, and many more will experience this again.

As the Persian proverb says, This too shall pass.

I discovered these resources and the idea of Non profit life cycles thanks to one of my talented staff members, S.C.

The Fieldstone Alliance offers the Nonprofit Life Stage Assessment online for free. It takes about 20 minutes.

I’m curious to hear what you find out. If you take the test for your organization and post your results here, I’ll post my results and interpretation, too. :)

Saying no is the new yes

Today I want to share a great article by Tony Schwarz at The Energy Project on productivity and prioritization. On March 18, I took Tony’s challenge to take back my lunch for the rest of the month. I got so much out of it that I am not continuing well into April with my full hour long lunch breaks daily, usually offsite in a beautiful location such as the beach, the mountains, or the park. (I love living and working in Santa Cruz since each of these is only 5 minutes away.) I’ve been coming back from lunch full of energy and thinking clearly. People have remarked that I seem relaxed amidst the chaos.

In this article on saying no, Tony urges us to break the vicious cycle of the “madness loop” of back-to-back meetings, endless email, and putting out fires and instead take time to pause, reflect and prioritize.

Tony says, “We mistake activity for productivity, more for better, and we ask ourselves “What’s next?” far more often than we do “Why this?” He also quotes Ghandi: “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

I’ll let you read the rest of the article at the Harvard Business Review Blog. Thank you to The Management Center for sharing this in your newsletter this week!

Now it’s time for me to take my lunch break.

Stepping into a universe of possibility (part 2)


In my last post I wrote about the world of measurement and how beyond it lies a universe of possibility. I promised a technique for stepping outside of the world of measurement. But first, I’ll talk a little about the universe of possibility and how it is distinguished from the world of measurement.

In, “The Art of Possibility” the Zanders said, “In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.”

In the universe of possibility, “…we gain our knowledge by invention…We decide that the essence of a child is joy, and joy she is. Our small business attracts the label, ‘The Can Do Company,’ and that is exactly who we are. We speak with the awareness that languages creates categories of meaning that open up new worlds to explore. Life appears as variety, pattern, and shimmering movement, inviting us in every moment to engage. The pie is enormous, and if you take a slice, the pie is whole again.”

It is a difference between a scarcity or survival mentality and one of abundance. There are enough resources in the world to go around for everyone, but if we act as if they are fixed and limited, then we will acquire more for ourselves no matter how much we have. We will treat all others as competitors. According to the Zanders, “Resources are more likely to come in greater abundance when you are generous and inclusive and engage people in your passion for life.”

The practice that orients you to a universe of possibility does so by revealing the hidden framework from which the world of measurement springs. Once you can see how thoroughly that framework rules your life you will have located yourself in the realm of possibility beyond it.

The way to step outside of the world of measurement is to reflect on what it is.

How are my thoughts and actions, in this new moment, a reflection of the measurement world?

And how now?

And how now?

And how now?

Try it!

Stepping into a universe of possibility (part 1)

In my last post I talked about the importance of measurement for employee satisfaction. Where I work, Spring is a time of measurement. Our fiscal year ends on May 31, so we are busy evaluating our outcomes from last year’s goals and creating new ones.

It is also a time of possibility. My challenge as a manager and a leader is to call to attention in myself and for others how the world of measurement relates to the universe of possibility. What is their relationship? How do we step outside the world of measurement (last year’s goals and this year’s metrics) to imagine a world of possibility (what we will do next year and in coming years, how we will work together, what is possible)?

I turn to my favorite nonfiction book I read last year, “The Art of Possibility.” A chapter of the book was assigned reading in a class I took at a leadership workshop at UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School taught by Professor Mark Rittenberg. Therapist Rosamund Stone Zander wrote the book with her husband, Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Benjamin Zander. The couple created a theory and practice of possibility that they each use in their individual work.

They describe the world of measurement:

We propose to call our familiar everyday world the “world of measurement” in order to highlight the central position held by assessments, scales, standards, grades and comparisons. In this story of the everyday, each of us strives for success, hoping to arrive at a better place than where we are. On our path to achieving a goal we inevitably encounter obstacles. Some of the more familiar ones, aside from other people, are scarcities of time, money, power, love, resources, and inner strength. . .[Certain qualities are adaptive to safeguard us in world of measurement] alertness to danger, a clever strategic mind, an eye for assessing friend and foe, a knack for judging strength and weakness, the know-how to take possession of resources, a measure of mistrust, and a good dollop of fear…keeping our armor intact is of critical importance as well, which means resisting any challenge to our personal viewpoint. (pg 17-18)

Next I will share the technique for stepping into a world of possibility…

Three signs of a miserable job

infographic lencioni

This week I’ve been reading leadership fable writer Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job”. It’s not as depressing as the title makes it out to be, although I have received a few weird looks or comments from people who saw me reading it.

Lencioni outlines three factors that influence employee satisfaction. When people are happy at work, they do better work.

Being Known/Anonymity: When people know their coworkers, they are more fulfilled. People spend a lot of time at work, and they want to be known and appreciated by their manager and coworkers for who they are outside of work as well.

Relevance/Irrelevance: Who does your work matter to? If you are on the front line, your work matters to your customers. If you are a manager, your work matters to your employees. People need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just their boss.

Measurement/Immeasurement: How do you measure your contribution and your progress? We are not talking about indirect measurements for the company, but measurements of individual contribution. People need to be able to gauge how they are doing each day.

Here is an infographic from Lencioni’s site on the three measures of job satisfaction.