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Leadership Flow

April 26, 2010

What does it take for Leadership to ‘flow’ within an organisation? For Leaders and Followers to move in the same direction and be willing to explore the the difficult questions or even formulate new ones?

I have been pondering these thoughts whilst exploring the world of innovation via a company called Systemic Innovation and the very interesting Darrel Mann. For many of the organisations I work with, Lean or Six Sigma and Continous Improvement, is the in thing. The work that Darrel does states that Continous Improvement, only get you so far and delivers you more of the same. Getting incrementally better until it doesn’t. You can only improve so far, until the point that the cost of improvement isn’t worth the effort. Innovate or die is their mantra.

So at some point Continous Improvement, fails with the byproduct of getting you a leaner and meaner organisation. It doesn’t value creativity and innovation and those skills wither on the vine. So when you really need that different kind of thinking, when Six Sigma and its ilk no longer delivers,  it is no longer there. You are left with a transactional rather than transformational organisation.

Innovation  is the world of  ‘S’ curves. It needs constant innovation to succeed. It is the world of discovery and leaps of faith. Discover your something new, then improve it (or even continously improve it, if you must) and then know when it has done its job and innovate again. This will mean that your performance might dip in the short term and  in the long term you will have something much better.

And it got me to wondering – what would it take for an organsiation to take that leap of faith to really transform? For an organisation to voluntary tolerate that kind of dip in performance? For the wise course of action, is to take that leap of faith before the dip that kicks in, instead of letting ego hang on to the last dog days of glory. To continously develop rather than continously improve. For me this is what transformational change is really about. Having the courage to lead uncharted territory, to be comfortable with not knowing and to hold the confidence of your followers when yours might waver.

So what does it take? It takes a Leader who continously invests in their own development and that of its followers. Where space is given to learning and thoughtful reflection rather than blindly and frantically trying to hit the next target without considering if it is the right target.  Where there is the courage and skill to ask the difficult questions or even to have the time to formulate the question. Where the system is pulling in the same direction.

I don’t profess that this is an easy place to get to and it would require the Leaders and Followers to display a kind of co-operative group maturity, rather than working in competitive silos, but when you get into this place of flow, magical transformations happen. Where the conditions of flow or being in the zone (as described by Mihaly Czlhszentmihalyi) are met:

  • Where people are focussed and concentrated and truly involved in what they are doing.
  • Where there is great inner clarity and people know what needs to be done and how well they are doing.
  • Where they know that it is doable, even if it is difficult and they have the skills
  • The boundaries of ego don’t exist
  • Where people are motivated and that they know it is a job worth doing.

Now that would be an organisation worth working in…..

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