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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.

I have long observed, since my formative years living overseas in fact, that a driving force in US society is its uncanny ability to sell and market, with an emphasis on marketing.  I see it as a fundamental driver of our consumer based economy.  The purpose of marketing is to get us to buy, and the industry has long figured out how to manipulate us into doing just that.  Problem is, this capacity has also long since permeated well beyond advertising into, among many areas it might not belong, politics.

Marketing could be seen as notorious for tapping into our belief systems and our emotions in order to do its job.  The problem I see is that those, and there are many, unaware of this, become and/or remain malleable.  Couple this with the fact that we, as a society, are generally inept at managing emotion because it is just so uncomfortable to address, especially in professional life, and we have a foundation for emotionally hijacking great swathes of the US population.  Despite a discomfort with emotion, or perhaps because of it, we love to be emotionally involved.  We crave passion for what we do, due, I would argue, to being trained to buy or pay attention to what others are selling.

There is a reason we deem people in an emotional state irrational.  Emotion, despite our discomfort and its greater value than we give it, can and does cloud our judgment.  We get caught up in the romance of feeling passion for a political candidate.  It’s a version of falling in love, really, to feel the chemistry of connection.  But if we check ourselves, we realize that we eventually have to live with the reality, the rational version of that relationship.  Now, if the candidate, much as a lover, has both charisma and stability, that really is the preferable option.  But love, and hatred for that matter, are blind and emotional attachment or disenchantment can have us overlook, or even avoid looking, at a whole candidate.

In the recent national election, the emotional connection and disenchantment were highly evident.  Those who fell in love with Bernie Sanders were devastated at the loss of their emotionally connecting candidate, and left with over-rational Hillary Clinton or emotionally volatile Donald Trump so driven to the rebound option of a third choice.  There were many more factors at play, of course, like identification by way of similar beliefs, but, as mentioned, tapping into our belief systems is another marketing ploy used on us on a regular basis, so ditto the effect.

There are those who will remain enamored with Trump and continue to overlook his instability.  And there are those who are not enraptured by him who simply didn’t or couldn’t align with Hillary’s version of stability.  But just as in relationships of all kinds, we must come to terms with the fact that not one of us is perfect or ever a perfect fit, and so it goes with political candidates.  In light of the options, it may behoove us to forego our passion and disenchantment for simply making the best rational decision.

A Fish Doesn’t Know It’s in Water is attributed to David Foster Wallace, and is most likely a play on the Chinese proverb If you want a definition of water, don’t ask a fish.  What it means is that we can rarely see – objectively, at least – that of which we are a part, for example, ourselves, our families, our communities, where we work, our society, especially what we would rather not see about any of these.  Our beliefs about ourselves and that of which we are a part are incredibly potent, and it is important to note that beliefs seek reinforcement and so are reinforce-able, by way of simply learning that others believe in a similar way or being presented with even false evidence of what fits with what we believe.  Our beliefs will hold sway even in the face of reality that contradicts it.  This is known as cognitive dissonance.  I have noticed that we often react with negative emotion to reality presented that threatens to distort or nullify belief, while we react with positive emotion to that which bolsters existing belief.

Now, please don’t get me wrong.  Emotion is full of information to which we need to be giving our attention.  The problem is that emotion is messy and difficult to understand, so in US society in particular, and in our organizations especially, we have taken to ignoring its worth and as a result, our ability to work with it, to hear what it is trying to tell us.  As a result, we remain vulnerable to being manipulated by emotion in reaction to single source sound bites and quippy memes that support our beliefs, whether based in reality or not.

So what can we do?  Well, we can start by simply asking ourselves the question, what is true?  Then, take time to check our sources.  Is it a source we prefer because it makes us feel right?  Does the source provide a variety of viewpoints or only one, one we already accept as true?  Acknowledging another viewpoint does not require us to believe that viewpoint, but it should at very least pique our curiosity to ask, what is true?  If something we read or hear supports existing belief to the point of an emotional response, like “yeah, that’s right!”, it might just be too good to be true.

 

When it comes to change, whether planned or perhaps just keeping up with change inherent to the global business environment, it is well discussed and debated that the success of change has held steady at a rate of around 30%. If we consider the fact that change is typically viewed and managed from a technology and logistics perspective, this might very well make sense. Whether a merger and acquisition, installing a new system or imposing process best practice, without an understanding of the people dynamic of the organization, what gets missed is whether a desired merger, system or process is a fit for the environment.

Think about it, how many individuals read books about the success of leaders only to discover that mimicking their actions does not work for us? How many successful leaders in one environment have been hired into another only to meet with failure? This phenomenon holds true for teams as well as whole organizations. If leaders lack an understanding of the socio-cultural aspects of the people they lead, how can we be sure the latest system or process is a fit for the organization? Taking this a step further, if we do have a level of understanding, do we see a path for developing our people to transition to the change we desire to make?

The most successful system changes of which I have been a part have typically been home grown. They take into account successful process already in place, driven by the unique dynamic of those working in the environment. The most unsuccessful changes I have observed are those “latest and greatest” off-the-shelf options that are imposed on existing workforce dynamics un- or ill-prepared to take them on. Others lie somewhere in between.

For change to be successful, leadership must make the connection between the system or process and the particular human dynamic of the organization. We must then consider how much the workforce will need to be developed to meet the requirements of a desired system or process, or perhaps what it will take to evolve the existing workforce dynamics to organically update existing systems and process to meet the goals of desired change. If we are adamant about installing or imposing externally allocated systems or process, then we must be prepared for the cost of customization as part of implementation. I have yet to witness a culture changed simply by overlaying an ill-fitted system or process structure. In fact, this is where a 70% rate of change failure may very well lie.

If a leader wants a fuller sense of the human dynamics of the organization, there exists a field of professionals who can support seeing, understanding and developing the people dynamic of the business. These professionals might be found in human resources (HR), though HR professionals are traditionally adept at and focused on managing legal, policy and other types of transactions with employees. Their view is rightly based on protecting the business from missteps around regulations and benefits to employees required by law. When it comes to change and transformation, the mindset and professional capacity of those prepared to bring a growth and development lens to the environment are those educated and practiced in organization development (OD) or organization effectiveness (OE). In fact, OD/OE professionals might be considered the original change agents because we have always approached change with an understanding that it isn’t imposed so much as it is coached and facilitated. OD/OE professionals don’t do change on a leader’s behalf; we support a leader to lead change.

Valid, effective decision making involves a gathering and consideration of all data points. Emotion can certainly be a factor, but there is always danger of emotion clouding judgment so it is not advisable this be a singular consideration. Gut instinct, too, can often prove less than valid when one is missing critical input on which to digest toward it.

There are some troubling factors around the data portion of the consensus decision that Brexit ultimately was. Those who led and marketed the exit argument apparently put forward a shallow and targeted number of facts in order to influence their cause, tapping into fear triggers in their messaging. And although the remain leaders marketed economic facts, they fell dry upon an emotional portion of the populace, if the data even got to them.

Messaging is critical to effective leadership, especially involving consensus decision making. Messages must be transparent and broadly acknowledge and address all factors. It is not clear to me that either side did so. As a result, a phrase coming from voters out of the aftermath is “but I didn’t know that…”. So tell me, how can a consensus vote be wholly valid when so many were apparently un- or ill-informed?

Leadership, to be effective in such an instance, does well to take decision making back, ensure it is based on all information, decide what is right for the common good then transparently inform reasoning. In the case of Brexit, how does it serve the common good to blindly follow the will of an un- and/or ill-informed voting population?  Is that not a large reason the vote was non-binding?  Personally, I vote for representatives I trust to make the best decision for all concerned, even if I don’t immediately understand from my personal context. So, why do so many seem hell bent on micromanaging their representatives to personal whims?  I can only consider addressing that in a separate blog.

The vote in Brexit was simply too close at a 4% margin, especially since there seems a good lot of reconsideration occurring in the aftermath of the vote. The question is, will leadership blindly follow what on so many accounts appears to be a less than valid decision by consensus or do what is right for the common good then transparently message well their reasoning? I am hoping for the latter.

For the common good and all those involved in it,
~ Jacqueline Gargiulo, scholar-practitioner of human systems

Fascinating read: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/a-dialogue-with-a-22-year-old-donald-trump-supporter/484232/.  Kudos to this dialogue occurring and to its publication.  We could certainly use much more of it.

I say kudos, because I have long held that the PC movement has caused more harm than good in that it has driven underground  this kind of critical dialogue. I am also intrigued at yet another revelation that the left disregarding the views of our fellow citizens on the right as “less than” has helped to create a divide unhealthy to American society.  Now, it is not lost on me that there are those who have purposely influenced a creation of ignorance to be exploited, so perhaps we could treat the situation more appropriately by acknowledging the requisite disenfranchisement that now exists?

Another observation brought to mind by this article is that men have long enjoyed dominant status in American society, and in any number of other societies around the globe. There is currently underway a global challenge to patriarchy. Some countries have made progress on what I witness to be a leveling off to a more egalitarian community. As the US traverses this process, males are undoubtedly experiencing a loss of status, and especially white men. The change is already in process, and those resistant perhaps see in Trump an uber-caricature of (white) male dominance they simply crave to save, and keep in mind this is most likely a subconscious reaction. Bias is not often in awareness, which is why it can be so potent.

It might also be debated that the decades long scrutiny of the Clintons, especially Hillary, plays into this as well.  Obama basically came out of the blue, so without Hillary’s requisite “baggage” from her longer term exposure to the existing elements, as a representative of minorities in American society.  Is the vitriolic reaction to a minority president not obvious by now?  And here comes, has been coming, a dominating female challenger (note that a black man usurped her long anticipated rise) to male dominance.  Is it possible the decades long scrutiny of her has been a subconscious effort to make her take her submissive place in patriarchal society?

The question becomes, how do the rest of us assist the transition? Help men see that they are simply experiencing what pretty much the rest of society has dealt with under their dominance? It must be an extremely sobering event for them, and let’s face it, it is not human nature to swallow pride so easily. Nope, that’s as vulnerable a position as apologizing.

Be well.  Be kind.  Bring compassion.

~ Jacqueline, Scholar-Practitioner of Human Systems

Have you ever seen those memes come around about being spanked with hand, belt or wooden spoon and how it means one learned respect for elders?  Well, that was not my experience.  I learned deference perhaps, but no respect was generated within such encounters.  Respect is either granted or earned not demanded or enforced, at least not in my experience and observation.

According to the definitions of each, deference may be granted respectfully and respect may be exhibited through deference, but there exists a difference, doesn’t there?

Respect:

                – esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability:

                 I have great respect for her judgment.

Respect is esteem granted.

Deference:

respectful submission or yielding to the judgment, opinion, will, etc., of another.

Deference is the submitting or yielding that may be done in a respectful manner but not necessarily involving actual esteem for another.

                 – deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment:

                  respect for a suspect’s right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly.

Deference is an outward behavior associated with respect.  But the two, true esteem and outward acquiescence are not necessarily always entwined.

When Confucius observed the respect and obedience of the senior by the junior, he also observed consideration and protection of the junior by the senior.  Elders may choose to respect youth to enhance their self-esteem despite their outward manner revealing a lack thereof and perhaps earn respect in return.  But this seems to have been lost in Western culture during earlier generations where “children should be seen but not heard” was one of several such expectations of the day.  Deference to authority via behavior modification tactics, like spanking and emotional manipulation, had been the norm, and this had cascaded into most authoritative relationships, whether patriarchal structures in business and religion or police and school teachers.  But I will continue to argue that deference is not respect.  It is deference, an outward behavior of acquiescence regardless of whether true respect is involved.

In later generations, parents are learning new ways to treat children as their own people, as emotional beings who deserve guidance and support versus punishment and behavior modification.  We now have the opportunity to model consideration and vulnerability to the enhancement of our parent-child relationships.  Therefore, positions of authority – elders, police, business leaders and management – are less granted the deference to which they may be accustomed or expecting, for all their years of deference to their own authority figures.  They are faced with having to exhibit consideration and protection of their subordinates and underlings to earn actual respect.  And this is a tough space to be.

In social science terms, we discuss personal and positional agency.  There is a greater requirement now for personal agency even within authoritative positions because the position itself does no longer necessarily command deference.  The person in authority is more required to exhibit respectful behaviors themselves so that respect becomes a reciprocal aspect of a relationship based in mutual esteem.  This is where love resides and productivity excels.

If you are one of those in authority – a parent, manager or leader of some kind, it will do everyone well to let go expectations of deference (or in some’s terms, respect) and rather develop mutually respectful relationships.  For despite the agency we may have traditionally afforded positions of authority, is it real or beneficial to keep faking it through mere deference?

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