An understanding of human systems can be applied in a number of ways.  The better economists observe them.  Social science analyzes and tests them.  Organization change and development practitioners develop them.  Marketers influence them.  Social-serving leaders lean more toward developing them.  Self-serving leaders at least seek to manage them and at most to strategically manipulate them.

I heard Dr. Edgar Schein remark in his closing statement of a lecture series I attended at Benedictine University that it remains in our field difficult to support an organization to overcome its dominant culture.  Though speaking of organizations, as someone who studies human systems, I have long realized that what applies at one level of a human system applies at all levels, from individuals to communities to organizations to society at large.

To achieve their goals and results, self-serving leaders strategically manipulate the human systems they lead.  In many to most cases, it is simply the that these personalities are innately strategic.  Strategy is not always applied wittingly but from human need to obtain a personal vision for themselves, often with disregard for others, though not always.  The ones who are conscious of their skill are often able to manipulate even other manipulators.  This is a style of leadership enamored in US culture and beyond, portrayed in television and movies.

Whether manipulating or developing, similar avenues are applied: communication, policy and procedure, process and learning.  The vision, and whether it is self or social serving, depends on the nature of the leader and whether applied with integrity or not.  A self-serving leader may easily say one thing while doing quite the opposite so long as it serves the final result s/he is after.  Where a social serving leader typically seeks to develop individual capacity and awareness, a self-serving leader may withhold learning and information in order to diminish the same.  Followers may be left feeling disenfranchised, but the resultant lack of context will allow the self-serving leader to deflect being seen as the cause.  While social serving leaders will seek to create an environment of self-determination, self-serving leaders seem to prefer to create an environment to be managed toward their cause.  And, there may be followers to the cause, at least as communicated; and if those followers are deflected from observing the leaders’ actions, the reality of any resulting detriment to them may be lost on them.

Integrity is key, though not easily established.  We must learn to not only listen to our leaders, but to witness their actions, as well as seek broader context than simply rely on the interchange or relationship between one’s self and the leader.  In that case, emotional detachment is required.  Any of this is more easily said than done, and if our system is about withholding our development, we may not even be aware of it.

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