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

A conceptual tr…

A conceptual trap is to the thought world of the mind what the astronomers’ black holes are to the universe. Once inside, there seems to be no way of getting out or seeing out…Margaret Mead said that when she journeyed in her anthropological studies from tribe to tribe she discovered that it did not matter what was done in a particular tribe–it only mattered who did it. If the weaving in a particular tribe was done by men, it was an occupation of high prestige. If twenty miles away weaving was done by women, it was of low prestige…It is interesting that [most economists] thought this way too. When they speak of labor creating value and about payment for that value, it is very clear the labor they are talking about is not the labor of women in the home. The labor that creates value and is “productive” is industrial labor and in most generations has been the labor of men. The labor of women in bearing and caring for children, for example, was not considered, despite it being absolutely fundamental to an entire economy and culture.

From “Patriarchy as a Conceptual Trap” by Elizabeth Dodson Grey

You know best w…

You know best who you really are by watching what you do rather than listening to what you say. The only way you can really know what you believe in comes from the times when one belief comes into conflict with something else you say you believe in. It does not mean much to say you believe in something if it is so far down on your list of cherished values that you never have to act on it.

Heifetz, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, p 45

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?

It’s Official–I’m starting my Master’s degree in Organizational Development!

After much deliberation about graduate school, it’s official. I am starting my Master’s degree in Organizational Development this fall.

“What is Organizational Development?” I can hear my friends, family, and colleagues asking this question for years to come.

Organizational Development is the process of helping organizations solve problems and reach their goals. The field is interdisciplinary and draws on sociology, psychology, and theories of motivation, learning, and personality.

I am interested in this degree because I want to help people and organizations by making work more enjoyable. When people enjoy what they do, they do better work. I’m especially interested in studying leadership.

I chose this particular program at Antioch University Seattle because I am excited to work with the professors and students there. My advisor Barbara Spraker is working on a project on international women’s leadership, and I hope to become involved.

I will travel to Seattle one weekend a month for three and a half days of classes. The rest of the time I’ll be reading and writing, working on community projects in Santa Cruz, and working on the management team at MAPS.

This semester I’ll also be TA-ing a class on Leadership at Hult International Business School in San Francisco.

I’ve bought my books and signed up for classes. It’s exciting to be in a structured educational environment again. I’m looking forward to meeting the other students and getting started!

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!

Two bottles of water and 75 cents: generosity breeds generosity

Generosity breeds generosity.

This is one lesson that stuck with me from SEOmom Gillian Muessig at the MIVA conference last weekend.

Evan Fishkin, her son, echoed this same lesson in his presentation on SEO. You share more, you get more.

On the train to Tucson after the conference with Josh, I contemplated this lesson. We arrived in Tucson at midnight, and I was thirsty. A woman was fumbling with her wallet in front of the drink machine, looking for a single so she could buy a soda.

“Do you have five 1’s?” she asked me.

“No, I only have four” I said as I brushed past her to purchase a bottle of water.

I put in a dollar and 25 cents and pushed the button, but the water was sold out. I pressed the return button, but it didn’t give me my change back–it only beckoned with a choice of soda, which I did not want. It also asked me for an extra 25 cents. Should I buy a soda that I didn’t want or walk away and leave my money in the machine? The lady was still in the lobby, asking people for change.

“Hey, you can have a soda, there’s already money in the machine,” I offered.

By now she had found five singles, so she put her dollar in. I got 75 cents back, and she got a soda for only a dollar. Win-win.

We took a taxi to our hotel. The driver was exceptionally kind. In the eight mile ride, he shared with us his philosophy on life, his spiritual beliefs, and his religious practices. He didn’t charge us the 15-minute wait time when he was parked waiting for our luggage at the train station. I pulled out the fare and a modest $1 tip. Then I saw an extra dollar in my wallet and I thought of the lesson on generosity–why not. I got the extra dollar out and handed it to him too.

By now it was almost 1AM, and I was really thirsty. We checked into the hotel, put our luggage in our room, and I headed to the vending machine with my last dollar. Luckily the water only cost $1 here instead of $1.25 because it’s all I had left with the extra dollar I had given the taxi driver. I put the money in the machine and pressed the button: a water came out. Then the machine made a bunch of noise and a second water came out!

You share more, you get more.

With my $4, I could have lost a $1 at the train station, tipped the driver $1, spent $1 to get a water in the evening, and inevitably spent another $1 on a second water in the morning when I was thirsty again.

Instead, I bought a woman a soda, tipped the driver $2, and got two waters.

Win-win, win-win, win-win.

When was your last win-win situation? What has been your experience of “generosity breeds generosity” at work or in life?