“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 via 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.
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 via Quantum Leadership