The 3A’s At The Intersection Of Change

Embed from Getty Images

 

“Leaders must maintain a panoramic view of the world to discern the direction their efforts should take.  Their ability to see intersections, relationships, and themes ensures that the organization will undertake the activities it needs to thrive.” -Porter-O’Grady and Malloch Quantum Leadership

A key to organizations, as well as individuals, adapting and evolving in today’s often volatile and accelerated change world, is the ability to thrive at intersections.  The space and place where “old” world meets “new” world.  Those junctions where the past, present and future can clash and collide, often in complex and chaotic ways that create more and more uncertainty and ambiguity of the future and of next steps.

It is at this intersection of change, that leaders need to begin building up a deeper sense of awareness, a greater understanding of their reality or actuality as it currently exists, and synthesizing those learnings towards determining next steps and future action or actions, at both an organizational and individual level.  These 3A’s serve as guidance posts when we reach these intersections.

  • Awareness: is not only in grounding the organization, individuals and leaders in a deeper sense of how the world is changing, but how those changes, which can be playing out both internally and externally, can and will lead to new challenges and pressures in the focus of the work of the organization and how that work is engaged currently and in the future.  Awareness allows us to pause at these intersections to better determine how external forces of change are having effect on the internal focus of the organization.
  • Actuality: is truly determining the skill and ability of the organization, and the individuals within, to adapt and evolve in response to those internal and external change forces they are and will be facing in the future.  Realization of that reality, will allow the organization to lean on its current strengths in moving forward, while still determining areas where capacity-building will be necessity in moving forward.  Actuality brings us face to face with the truth of what we are experiencing and how our mental models are, or are not, coming to terms with that experience and how we are, or not changing in response.
  • Action: is not founded in creating a plan that marches the organization forward in a linear and predictable manner, based on current understandings and knowledge, that provides a sense of assurance and safety to the organization.  But rather, a synthesis of these current understandings and knowledge, strategically integrated towards next steps with the realization that those understandings and knowledge will change and adaptation will be necessary in ongoing action steps that lead the organization and its individuals towards that future plan, and or narrative and vision.  Action requires adaptation, as well as understanding the necessity of data and knowledge in determining those action steps, but not being so overwhelmed by that data and knowledge that stifles or paralyzes individual and organizational action.

As Porter-O’Grady and Malloch share in Quantum Leadership, “When a plan is constructed, the future looks a certain way at that moment in time, and the context at that moment creates the foundation for what is anticipated.  However because change is constant and the greater environment is forever in a state of chaos and creativity, the context is shifting rather than stable.”

It is in understanding, that for all intents and purposes, knowledge is no longer a commodity as much as it is a tool…and for that matter, a collaborative tool.  Knowledge is no longer something to be hoarded as an organizational, individual, or leadership advantage, but a force that drives the needed and necessary understandings and ongoing capacity into and throughout all levels of the organization.  Injecting knowledge into the system, and allowing it to course and flow through both the formal and informal networks of the organization, allows the individuals within the organization to gain a deeper sense of why a change may be required, as well as what that may require of them.  As knowledge is injected into the system, it not only builds greater awareness and actuality of current circumstances, but prompts the need for an actionable change.  It is not enough for just leaders to only build up individual and organizational awareness, as it also requires actuality and action.  Cascading these understandings and knowledge across all levels of the organization, provides individuals with a deeper coherence of the why, what and how of a change, as well as the collective interdependence required for that change to be effective in moving the system, as well as the organization forward.

As Porter-O’Grady and Malloch add, “A good leader can read the signposts that suggest a change is imminent and can discern the direction of the change and the elements indicating it’s fabric.  The good leader synthesizes rather than analyzes and views the change thematically and/or relationally, drawing out of it what kind of actin or strategy should be applied or trajectory embraced – that is, the response that best positions the organization to thrive in the coming circumstances.”

As leaders gain greater competence of reading those intersectional signposts of change, they also begin to see how their own mental models, as well as the mental models of the organization and each individual within, can often create cognitive road blocks that attempt to dismiss those signposts as unnecessary to their current circumstances, or find fault in seeing the necessity to heed the messages being amplified out.  Unfortunately, there is often a difficult price to pay when an organization or even a leader is unwilling to see the writing on the wall or find themselves or the organization unable to adapt and change even though they are able to read that writing.

Far too often, the past can have a very deep cognitive, structural and process stronghold on the present, and eventually on the future.  Finding ways to help the organization and those within reflect on those deeply held beliefs and mental models is vital to determining direction at the intersection of change.

As Porter-O’Grady and Malloch put forth, “One responsibility of leaders is to help others mourn the loss of practices and roles that are becoming irrelevant.”   “Their idealization of the past might be keeping them from embracing the emerging and far different future.”  For which they add,“What they might not know is that holding onto practices that are no longer relevant endangers their ability to succeed in the future.”

It is, however, not only the knowledge that we infuse into the system, but the questions that we are also asking that allows the organization and the individuals within to begin to reflect deeply upon and deconstruct those mental models in order to determine a new plan, a new vision, a new narrative for the future.  Creating greater awareness and deeper actuality for the organization is not enough to move it towards action, as it also requires ongoing reflection on the strategies, structures and thinking that keeps it entrenched in stasis and status quo ways of acting and reacting to that awareness and actuality.

Questions not only create new awarenesses, they also have a tendency to disrupt those mental models and obstacles that keep the organization mired in the current constancy of thinking and doing that reflects and deflects any notion of change from current reality.  Questions that push us into new ways of thinking and new considerations for the actions we take in the present, to remain more relevant in the future.  Such as…

  • Will the teacher and classroom cease to be the main hub of learning in the future?
  • How will the focus of learning in a highly digitized world change in the future?
  • How will educational leadership skillsets need to change in response to today’s societal shifts?
  • How will the core practices of our profession need to be altered to better meet the external changes we are currently and will be witnessing in the future?
  • As lifelong learning becomes much more of a necessity, how do we get everyone (students to stakeholders) to see how they have to become more accountable for their own ongoing learning?
  • How will the progression of technology effect education over the next 10 years (2030 – Which puts a lens on the world our current kindergarteners will graduating out into)?

Today’s leaders need not only these understandings, but new skillsets, as well as the capacity to lead individuals and organizations into the future more effectively, especially in the midst of such heightened complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and chaos we find in today’s world.  It is no longer enough to just see those signposts of the future, that information must be understood, analyzed, synthesized, and incorporated into building a real understanding of what is to come, how that will have effect and affect on everyone within the organization.  When awareness and coherence is built around those intersectional signposts, when clarity is deepened on the actuality of current circumstances and the imminent need for change, there is greater collective commitment to change, as well as the individual changes that are necessary to support the organization in that change.

“Good leaders live in the edge land between now and the very next thing and can engage folks in the journey of the whole access across the landscape of a preferred and optimistic future.”  

“The ability to thrive in this potential distinguishes good leaders from the rest.  Good leaders are always on the edge of chaos, looking over the horizon, looking just beyond the precipice.”  

“Their real gift is their ability to backtrack to where those they lead are living and working and translate what they have seen into a language that has force and meaning for those who can hear it.” 

-Porter-O’Grady and Malloch Quantum Leadership

Advertisements

Designing For Disequilibrium

Embed from Getty Images

 

“In today’s world, change is inevitable.  And if you’re only striving for equilibrium – which is all but impossible – you will merely continue doing the same thing, year after year as the world moves on.”  -Chris Cancialosi via Forbes

Too often, we see variance and disequilibrium as a problem to be eradicated in our organizations, rather than an opportunity for change that comes through the experimental and discovery learning that leads to new knowledge.  Rather, leaders often spend their time striving for the safety of organizational equilibrium, stability and sustainability, especially in the face of a world in the throes of accelerated and volatile shifts, growing complexity, and very often, the chaos of constant change.  And yet, according to Porter-O’Grady and Malloch in Quantum Leadership, “In systems language, stability is another word for death.  Absolute stability is the absence of life.  The leader always walks a tightrope between stability and chaos, tending to favor the latter.”

However, only striving for organizational equilibrium, in a subtle way, emphasizes a sense of individual and organizational complacency that often leads to behaviors and mindsets that mire the organization in status quo ways of being and doing.  Instead of gaining more agile and adaptable ways of responding, the organization that focuses only on stability and equilibrium, instead tends to recoil from the constancy and volatility of change, forcing itself towards a much more insulated and polarized stance towards the change forces that we are all facing in today’s world.

Focusing only on sustaining forces keeps our individuals and organizations from engaging in and equipping themselves with those processes and learnings that lead to greater agility and adaptability.  As Gary Hamel shares in The Future of Management, “In the 21st century, regularity doesn’t produce superior performance.”  Which we may want to add, we exist, especially organizationally, in a world that is expecting its individuals to equip themselves with greater creative and innovative thinking in order to engage the critical and complex problem-solving skills that allow for the solving of problems and challenges that we have never experienced previously, in new, novel, and often unpredictable ways.

When we design and prepare our organizations with the understanding that perpetual volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (vuca) is becoming the new normal, we don’t try to exist under the “false” interpretation that we will eventually be moving back towards what we previously understood to be “normal.”  Rather than fighting for regularity, predictability and stability, the organization takes on a mindset that drives the mindset and accompanying behaviors towards seeing greater agility and adaptability as the new “normal” for moving forward.  There is no longer any false pretense of working towards an environment and world that no longer exists and, for the most part, is not coming back in the near future.

In many ways, the less disequilibrium individuals and organizations learn to deal with, the less effective they become over time, especially in world that is changing at an accelerated and often exponential rate.  When individuals and organizations continuously avoid the disequilibrium and instability brought on by the uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity of today’s world, they become much more rigid and inflexible towards change, often acting irrationally towards change, choosing for and becoming more receptive to keeping the status quo in place, even when it is not in their best interest, even in the face of oncoming disruption and irrelevance.

As Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky share in Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis, “People who practice what we call adaptive leadership do not make this mistake.  Instead of hunkering down, they seize the opportunity of moments like the current one to hit the organization’s reset button.  They use the turbulence of the present to build on and bring closure to the past.  In the process, they change key rules of the game, reshape parts of the organization, and redefine the work that people do.”

For which Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky add, “Keeping an organization in a productive zone of disequilibrium is a delicate task; in the practice of leadership, you must keep your hand on the thermostat.  If the heat is consistently too low, people won’t feel the need to ask uncomfortable questions or make difficult decisions.  If it’s consistently too high, the organization risks a meltdown: People are likely to panic and hunker down.”

In leadership, as in life, individuals and organizations must ride that tension between the necessity for both equilibrium and disequilibrium.  Move too far too one side and we find ourselves sliding into comfort and complacency, move too far to the other side and we find ourselves and our organizations saddled to unbridled chaos.  In many ways, equilibrium and disequilibrium exist in much the same manner as pioneers and settlers. As both are necessary and needed.  Without pioneers, we fail to discover new lands, without settlers, we fail to settle and move into those lands.

As Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky share, “The art of leadership in today’s world involves orchestrating the inevitable conflict, chaos, and confusion of change so that the disturbance is productive rather than destructive.”

It is in engaging individuals and organizations around that conflict, chaos and confusion, rather than avoiding and recoiling from it, that our organizations not only gain the ability to adapt, but create the ongoing capacity to adapt in a much more adept and positive manner.  This does not mean that there will be periods of difficulty and discomfort, but rather, individuals and organizations learn to see these as opportunities for growth and change that moves the organization forward in a much more effective and relevant manner.

As Chris Cancialosi shares in Forbes, “People who are able to view disequilibrium as an opportunity (rather than a threat) will be best suited to lead in today’s business environment because an organization that leans toward chaos is primed to find creative solutions to setbacks.” 

Today’s world is requiring of individuals and organizations new levels of learnability, agility and adaptability.  Insulating the organization in regularity, stability, and equilibrium does little to create the processes that will drive individuals and the organizations to greater levels of learnability, agility and adaptability.  When leaders fail to engage the tension brought on by disequilibrium, they end up creating future situations where individuals and the organization become both unwilling and unable to change, when change is necessary and needed.  It allows the organization to become ingrained in legacy practices and inflexible to change, in a world that is constantly changing.

As Heifitz and Linsky put forth, “In a chaotic period, when deconstruction is occurring at the same rate as construction or even faster, the dust of change makes it difficult for leaders to even see the goal.  Instead, they must read the signposts of change, explain to others what they mean, and engage these others in activities that will move the organization in the direction indicated by the signposts.” 

It is not enough for today’s leaders to ride the tension between equilibrium and disequilibrium.  Rather, those tensions must be used in a way that pushes both individuals and the organization towards the necessary urgency, understandings, and behaviors that lead to positive change that moves the organization more effectively and relevantly into the future.  Which requires a deeper level of awareness, agility, adaptability, and learnability, at all levels of the organization.

“The leader lives in the space between action and potential, anticipating the next step and translating the process for others.” -via Quantum Leadership