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Accountability and the Role of Leadership: Are You Sharing the Power?

November 12, 2017

Accountability 1

Accountability has become one of those words used in organizations that make people wince. Many years ago, when I was getting initiated to the leadership field, it seemed that almost every second word emanating from people’s mouths was ‘accountability,’ tangled up with another popular word: ‘empowerment.’ The two became almost brother and sister, rolling off people’s tongues as if to signify their enlightened understanding of leadership. However, if accountability is to have any substantive mean in organizations, a lot of work is needed to restore its credibility.

To begin with, we need to understand just what is meant by the word accountability. Perhaps we need to reposition it in the vocabulary of organizations. In some ways it’s become a pejorative word. When organizations introduce initiatives aimed at empowering employees while ensuring that they are accountable, they’re in effect bureaucratizing the effort to foster initiative.

To engage the hearts and minds of people requires, among other things, the creation of an environment in which they want to take initiative, be creative, and accept the consequences for their actions. This points to the dominating factor in organizations, and it is leadership: how it is espoused and practiced.

To advocate accountability among employees while in the same breath not modelling the necessary behaviours undermines management’s efforts. When employees truly believe that they’re able to share power and decision-making, there will be the beginning of a torrential release of creativity and innovation.

People cannot be empowered; instead, people empower themselves. Creativity and innovation will only happen when people feel safe to experiment and take calculated risks to improve work processes and serve clients and citizens better.

Confident Business Team

It’s important to underscore the distinction between empowering people and people empowering themselves. Too often, we hear about staff being empowered by managers. But are people really ‘empowered?’ Or is it a process of self-initiation, in which the individual personally assumes the responsibility to take initiative and to motivate herself? Managers set context, an enabling environment. This is a cornerstone role of managerial leadership.

In his book The Oz Principle: Getting Results through Accountability Roger Connors presents a definition of accountability:

“An attitude of continually asking ‘what else can I do to rise above my circumstances and achieve the results I desire?’ It is the process of ‘seeing it, owning it, solving it, and doing it.’ It requires a level of ownership that includes making, keeping, and proactively answering for personal commitments. It is a perspective that embraces both current and future efforts rather than reactive and historical explanation.”

The essence of what he’s saying is that we need a mental shift in how we approach accountability. Trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions only leads to further frustration and stress on the part of everyone. Management becomes frustrated with how long it’s taking to change behaviours and to see results. Staff are suspicious of new initiatives, riding them out until new ones come along. Middle management feels torn between the two groups as it tries to respond to the needs of both. The consequence is stressed out middle managers.

To transcend to a new state of co-creation means that the culture of victimization must end. Connors describes this culture as the refusal to take ownership for one’s behaviour and actions. Excuses are the norm, with blame being attributed to wherever it flows the easiest. There’s a creative tension between the rights of employees, which is well established, versus responsibility and accountability, which is less well developed.

Until we collectively achieve a common understanding of the issues surrounding accountability, it’ll be very difficult to realize the creation of strong learning cultures in organizations. Here are six questions that will contribute to the dialogue that’s necessary in organizations. Of particular importance is to approach such a dialogue from an integrated perspective, in which the elements of the learning organization are included.

1. How do we get off the turntable and begin to collectively co-create organizations that are founded, in part, on the principle of personal responsibility and accountability?

2. If we fail to embrace the idea of individual accountability, what is the impact on service to customers and clients?

3. What are the long-term consequences of not paying heed to this and initiating a dialogue and action to make change?

4. What is the role of managerial leadership in this regard. In particular, what are the consequences when managers abandon their staff who take risks but who make mistakes?

5. How do we distance ourselves from a culture of blame and embrace a culture of learning from mistakes?

6. How do we transcend from the level of personal accountability to one of mutual accountability (i.e., among teams)?

As we proceed along the path towards personal and collective enlightenment, we need to continually remind ourselves of the interconnection among the many elements that are affecting the future of our organizations. Accountability is intertwined with the components that form the basis for the creation of learning cultures. Of importance is that we must constantly remind ourselves that accountability is not a thing; rather, it’s about people. And as such, accountability needs to become part of this important conversation.

“Accountability:” It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.
—Molière (French playwright and actor)

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What’s Next on Baby Boomers’ To-Do Lists? Time to Think About Our Succession Plans

November 5, 2017


I admit to being a task-oriented type of guy, despite being known for generating ideas and preferring the big-picture over details. And as a Boomer in his early sixties, I’ve been down the proverbial “Been-there, done (most of) that” routines. Let’s take a look, and if you’re a Boomer compare notes.
Caution: If you’re Gen-X (37 to 51) and you’ve done all the below, then you’re a Boomer-Wannabee.

• Wanted children? Yep, had four (now between 28 and 38). None of that 1.9 kids per family unit for this guy
• Grand kids? Check, have six (for now)
• Built a successful career? Did okay on that front
• Did the obligatory graduate studies? Earned two masters while helping to raise four kids
• Went fitness crazy? Yeah, for a long-time, but have come to my senses, where health and moderate activity are more important. Proud of my love handles
• 40th birthday (stage one mid-life) crisis? Oh yeah! Went nuts with outdoor recreation, from whitewater canoeing to off-trail mountain biking to camping.
• 50th birthday (stage two mid-life crisis)? Of course, but got smart this time and embraced my childhood passion of playing the piano. Now own two. Still cycle, but more sedately. Camping? No more of that sleeping on the ground; I like my back
• Downsizing/re-orged to death? Yes, but fortunately didn’t suffer as much others who were dealt with brutally. But got fed up with being told to bend over (you know the rest)
• Went consumer-spending crazy? Nope on that one, but not completely innocent either. Too busy supporting a family of six on one salary for many years
• Love being an empty-nester? Entered that world a few years ago.
• Feeling really sandwiched? You bet–between our kids and a 98 year-old mom
• Feeling ready for retirement? Oh yeah. Check that off
• Want a simpler life? Pleeeaaase yes! Essential to not just a post-corporate career but also to practicing more stewardship in helping care for our planet
• Anything I’m missing? Add your comments


Senior Couple Exercising In Park
As we Boomers begin to exit from the labor force in increasing numbers over the next ten years, it will provide much-needed opportunities for Gen Y to secure employment. This generation has had (to be blunt) the crap battered out of it since the onset of the 2008-09 Great Recession. Last-in, first-out, as the saying goes in organizations.
Gen X, which has had to endure living in the Boomers’ omnipresent shadow, is actually fortunate since they will succeed the exodus of managerial Boomers. Their situation may possibly reflect the job market my dad faced post World War II, during which a pulse was all you needed to find a job.

For us Boomers, our next task is to create a new task-list of what we want to accomplish during our silver years. Here’s an idea: why not commit to becoming leaders of stewardship for our planet? Many Gen Yers already get it; it’s now our turn.

I can’t imagine anything more important than air, water, soil, energy and biodiversity. These are the things that keep us alive.
—David Suzuki (Canadian environmentalist and broadcaster)


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GOT MY BACK? Mean What You Say–Why Promise-Keeping is Key to Your Inner Leadership

October 29, 2017



Trust Fall

When was the last time you said to a co-worker, friend, family member or even an acquaintance, “Don’t worry, I got your back.”

But did you?

Sure, we can say it’s a figure of speech, representative of today’s hip expressions, in effect a worthless statement of support or promise-keeping. But there’s more to this expression than that.

Would those who like to utter “Got your back” want to admit that it’s as substantive as a balloon full of hot air? Probably not. Yes, it’s said in humour at times, such as when my 34 year-old son says it to me on occasion. However, we both know the context in which it’s said.

I like to think that Gen Y, enthusiastic purveyors of “Got your back,” generally mean what they say. Having raised four kids to Gen Y status (one of whom is borderline Gen X), I see a very different set of values than my peer self-indulged Baby Boomers. Gen Y does seem to be more supportive of one another than older generations.


With over three decades in the workforce and battle scars-a-plenty from downsizing exercises and office politics, my view is that Baby Boomers are not the nicest people with whom to work. To have said during my career “Hey Frank, I got your back” would have been laughed at, for we Boomers learned to excel at backstabbing, deceit and self-promotion. There were too many of us in too compressed a time period, during which it was very competitive to advance in the workplace. Unfortunately, Gen X has learned some of our bad habits, being the generation that has been forced to live in the shadow of the Boomers.

Here’s a question for you to reflect upon:

To what extent would you go to back a colleague or subordinate at work if the individual were in trouble but not necessarily guilty of anything? And what would be your limits?

The greatest lessons learned as we develop our personal leadership come NOT during the easy times of economic growth and workforce expansion, but when we are under personal stress as aspiring leaders and when we’re facing uncertainty. I’m a testament to this, but only realized this decades later in life.

We can quickly obtain technical skills and a certain degree of knowledge. However, wisdom comes only with time as we reflect upon our experiences, synthesize our learning, practice patience and move forward. There is no other way to acquire wisdom–it’s not instant pudding. Take a moment to read Paddling in Organizational Whitewater.

So, I ask you again: “Do you have my back?”

Please take a moment to comment and share your experiences.

You never find yourself until you face the truth.
 –– Pearl Bailey

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11 Elements of Courage: How to Lead with Integrity

October 22, 2017


We’re living in crazy and uncertain times, where it’s more and more challenging to maintain balance and to lead with integrity. However, this is precisely when we want to be at our best in our workplaces and communities.

The following elements of courage are intended to help you stay true to your life’s purpose and passion, and in turn your contribution and effectiveness as a leader in your daily work, whether it’s for pay or community service.

Paying daily attention to these elements and reflecting on whether you’re staying on course towards your goals will enable you to deal with the volatility of change and the stress is brings.

Be sure to share these elements with your co-workers and your team.

1. Tell the truth to our superiors, to one another, and to ourselves.

2. Live our lives with integrity, being consistent with what we say and do at home, at work, and in our communities.

3. Ignore those who attempt to infect us with their cynicism.

4. Take responsibility for our own learning and personal growth.

5. Initiate change at work for the betterment of our organizations.

6. Persevere in making our organizations enjoyable places in which to work.

7. Lead balanced lives between work and home.

8. Be inclusive leaders, actively ensuring that others have the opportunity to lead.

9. Be followers, knowing when it is time to move to the side.

10. Celebrate our accomplishments.

And when you fail at any of these elements, don’t forget the 11th one:
Don’t give up, keep trying.

What would you add to showing courage in our workplaces and communities?

I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.
– Angela Davis

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From Transactional Leadership to Reflective Leadership

October 14, 2017

Coaching 1


“Hi Dan,” Sheila called as she poked her head into the office of one of her managers. “Are you interested in taking a two day coaching course next week? It’s aimed at helping managers become better coaches.”

“Sure, why not. Sounds good,” Dan replied. “I could learn a few tips to make myself a better coach. But to be honest, Sheila, everyone’s talking about coaching and mentoring. Just look at the shelves in the bookstores and the business sections of newspapers. Coaching’s hot stuff. Some of us were talking about this in the coffee room last week, and we basically agreed that this is probably another fad. Next year they’ll be on to something else.”

“Maybe so,” Sheila responded. “But try to go into the workshop with an open mind.”
“Okay,” Dan sighed. “What about you? Do you plan to take it sometime?”
“Nah. I’ve been in management long enough,” Sheila said. “I’ve read some books on coaching and mentoring and have plenty of experience managing people. Besides, I’m too busy to give up even two days. Gotta run to a meeting. See you later, Dan.”
“Right…oh, and thanks,” Dan muttered, scratching his head in puzzlement at his boss’s reply.

Coaching 2

This fictional conversation serves as a segue to delve into the inner side of leadership. Leadership development has traditionally been based on an externalized approach: People take training courses that instruct them on the desirable characteristics, or qualities, of leaders and how they should act. Moreover, training has relied to some extent on old assumptions about leadership. In particular, the “heroic” approach to leadership (i.e., the strong individual leader) still prevails in many areas of leadership development.

It’s only in recent years that a growing portion of the literature is concentrating on leadership development from the inside out. That’s to say, getting people in formal or informal leadership positions to take a hard look at themselves: “Who am I as a leader? Why do I behave as I do?” are questions that we need to periodically ask ourselves. When we pose these questions, it takes us to a deeper level of inquiry and reflection.
In the conversation between Dan and Sheila, each holds a different mental model (set of assumptions) about leadership. During their interaction, Dan and Sheila are each having unspoken conversations–what’s going on in their heads, which reflects their unconscious assumptions and beliefs.

Dan’s unspoken conversation:
“I’m still pretty new to my job as manager and feel kind of inadequate. This coaching stuff sounds good but people issues make me feel uncomfortable. I’d rather just focus on the technical parts of my job. But Sheila sure could use some training. She micro-manages all of her managers. No wonder she puts in ten hour days.”

Sheila’s unspoken conversation:
“This coaching stuff’s B.S. I know how to get people to do things, and I know the work inside-out. My managers do what I tell them to do. None of this warm and fuzzy stuff for me. I’ve worked my way up the hard way, and I didn’t need a fancy degree to get where I am.”

Coaching 3.jpg

Sheila perceives herself as a competent director, who doesn’t need to learn a new skill. Her self-image is one of “I’m already there. Been there, done that.” But yet she is insecure with the changes underway in the organization, in particular the growing emphasis on the “soft” people skills. Her unconscious fear is leaving what’s secure and comfortable for something that requires personal insight and discovery.

Dan, on the other hand, is ambivalent. He knows down deep that to be an effective managerial leader that he has a lot of work to do. Yet he is apprehensive of the commitment he must make to go into this unknown territory. He’s not yet comfortable with having to develop a deeper understanding of himself.

One of the most difficult realizations we have as human beings is that we are never there. Even the manager who has been in her job for 15 years and knows the issues, processes and technical aspects inside out still has more to learn. What does she really know about herself?

The assumptions we carry with us*call it our personal baggage*affect how we interact with others, whether it’s at work, home or in the community. These assumptions, developed and cemented from our life experiences (good and bad), form our mental models. These in turn distort our leadership lenses through which we see the world. How we lead people is affected profoundly by our lenses. If a manager’s lens is skewed by the debris of hardened assumptions, this makes it that much harder for him to be open to other views and possibilities.

In her book Transformative Learning, Patricia Cranton states:
“Adults will resist contradictions to their beliefs and will deny discrepancies between new learning and previous knowledge. In response to a challenge to their assumptions, many learners will entrench themselves even more firmly in their belief system and become hostile or withdrawn in the learning environment.”

Reflect on these questions:
• How often have you seen this behaviour in your organization?
• How do we get beyond this type of response by people?
• What does this mean for leadership?
• If managers, as leaders and coaches, engage in this type of behaviour, how will organizations ever take the necessary leap of faith to become more inclusive about learning?
• What do managers fear?
• And what do staff fear in expressing their leadership abilities in their daily work?

Coaching 4

How, then, do managers transcend from a traditional, transactional approach to leadership, in which the manager negotiates with the subordinate: “Do this, and this is what I’ll give you.” Often, these are not explicit conversations, but rather implicit understandings. The employee knows that if he does ‘this and this,’ and not ‘that and that,’ he’ll receive something in return. Does this method of “leadership” build commitment from staff? Does it enroll the individual in a common purpose and vision?

Or is it oriented more towards compliance and implicit consent of not rocking the boat?

The leader who understands herself and who does not fear sharing her strengths, gifts, weaknesses and warts with her staff is on the path to becoming a reflective leader. This person understands*and values*the human dimension of leadership. It’s an inner journey, one that each of us struggles with for life. We’re never there, but continuously striving towards a personal vision of enhanced self-awareness and service to others.

This makes leadership a not-so-easy discipline to follow. The books, tapes, seminars, etc. promise great things to make us effective leaders. But leadership, the kind needed for learning organizations, cannot be sold over-the-counter. It’s not about techniques and gimmicks. When we understand that it’s about lifelong personal growth, filled with struggles and stumbles, we’ll have made one significant step forward.
Genuine inquiry starts when people ask questions to which they do not have an answer. -
- Peter Senge

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The Aspirational Class as Tomorrow’s Leaders

October 8, 2017




The human race is an odd species. Adaptive to immediate threats and catastrophes, we as humans have also time and again shown ourselves to be slow learners. Whether it’s the sickening loss of life from war (eg, Vietnam, Iraq-Afghanistan), hurricane disasters on America’s East and Gulf coasts (rebuilding in flood plains), or financial crises (eg, 2008-09), people keep repeating the same behaviours. We’re poor learners as a species.

One of Western society’s characteristics is the human propensity for material fulfillment. However, that quest to climb the aspirational ladder has proven to be an exercise loaded with conflicting results: material acquisition accompanied by growing consumer debt levels; a middle class with stagnant incomes; and a disenfranchised, low income stratum of people.

In his book The Affluent Society, Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith talked about how the economic growth model of the United States is flawed and no longer useful as the means to lift people out of poverty. Inequality prevails, and indeed the income gap is currently growing between rich and poor. Galbraith’s book was released in 1958. Fast forward to today and his core message is even more relevant.
Yet, the beat goes on as people strive to improve their material well-being and status in society.

Witness the steady increase in middle class people with modest family incomes buying huge, expensive houses (accessorized with quartz counter tops, hardwood floors and high-end cabinets); luxury cars (eg, BMWs, Audis and Porsches) on lengthy instalment plans; vacations to tropical resorts. The list goes on.

PrincessMeet the aspirational class.

Someone who has researched this subject is University of Southern California professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett. Her new book The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class provides an intriguing tour from British economist Thorstein Veblen’s work on conspicuous consumption and what he called The Leisure Class in the late 1800s to today’s growing class divide, fuelled by the Aspirational Class and its efforts to reproduce wealth and upward mobility. She looks at what has changed in the intervening century in society. In particular, greater accessibility to material goods to reflect social status has improved, in turn weakening its power. The consequence is a shift towards more discrete spending that portrays status and knowledge.

It’s important to note that her book is based strictly on U.S. data. However, there are lessons to learn from her analysis and observations. Two broad trends may be distilled from her work. First, conspicuous consumption is declining among the wealthy, now that most of American society is able to do it. Second, what she calls “inconspicuous consumption” is becoming the new conspicuous consumption. Take a moment to read 5 ways to tell if you belong among the new elites.

Currid-Halkett makes a number of astute observations in her book. Here are some samples:

…in the twenty-first century, social status emerges not simply from cards and watches but from inaccessible cues, information, and investments. For the aspirational class these signifiers are… more subtle, less materialistic forms of conveying status, particularly to others in-the-know.

…the lower gradient of the aspirational class [are] hipsters—those young, 20-something-year-old urban denizens working in film or screenwriting or publishing—who barely make enough money to pay the rent, let along attend the parties with the Queen of England or the head of Citibank.…information about what is cool or in the know is all they have and thus they too engage in non pecuniary means of inconspicuous consumption that allows them to define their social position.
Much of aspirational class shared experience is based on information that costs money, even if it is materially invisible.

America’s aspirational class has rejected many of the material means by which status has been historically revealed. They eschewed materialism, aspiring to what they believe is a higher social and cultural platform….this dominant cultural elite prefers to engage in conspicuous production, conspicuous leisure, and inconspicuous consumption, all of which produce much greater class stratification effects than the acquisition of material goods.

As we understand what motivates how and why we consume, we also learn more about humanity, how and where it organizes itself, the implications and limitations to these decisions, and, finally, what matters to us as individuals and society as a whole.


Along a somewhat similar path, Rachel Sherman conducted indepth interviews with 50 affluent ($250,000 plus annual incomes) Millennial parents in New York City on their perceptions of wealth. Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence is a compilation of these interviews. Of particular interest, the findings include these parents perceiving themselves as being hardworking and responsible, in contrast to the undeserving wealthy who are lazy. Indeed, the guilt these Millennials have concerning their purchases prompts some of them to remove the price tags of expensive items (from food to home furnishings) so that their nannies and housekeepers don’t see them. They see themselves as middle class, despite their being classified as part of the one percent, and being “comfortable” and not rich.

That’s the New York experience, and only a subset of a large country of some 330 million people. However, the findings of Sherman’s research are interesting.
When it comes to those outside of the one percent, Millennials (ages 20-36) face a number of issues. Their plight with job insecurity and absence of pension plans (whether defined benefit or defined contributions) have long-run implications for the economy. Their aspirations to own a home (even just a small garden, starter home) is being shattered by run-away real estate prices. Yet they strive to portray a “cool” factor by being seen in Starbucks and other trendy coffee shops working on their MacBooks.

Hipsters (typically in their twenties and thirties), the target of gentle gibes from social commentators, come in different shapes and sizes: some have the jobs and incomes to live an upscale life while wannabe Hipsters live a pretend affluent existence. At the heart of the aspirational class concept, or what some have called affluenza, is one word: Status. It’s all about people seeking—aspiring—to become something they are not, and perhaps never will be.

Millennials Coffee.png

The key point that many social commentators and journalists miss out on is the long-term consequences of North America’s infatuation with consumer excess, whether you have the necessary income or not. And that’s something called aggregate demand, of which consumer spending plays a key role. In Canada, consumer spending drives just over 60% of the country’s economy. In contrast, such spending is responsible for almost 70% of the U.S. economy.

For the past several decades, consumer indebtedness, fuelled by insane credit card growth, enticing automotive financing deals (ie, low interest rates and very long payment plans), and extremely low mortgage rates, has reached epic levels. Canadian consumers owed $1.69 of debt for each dollar of their disposable income as of March 31, 2017. A survey done by the Canadian Payroll Association during the summer of 2017 found that 47% of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque, with 35% feeling overwhelmed with their level of indebtedness. One third of the respondents stated that their mortgages are the most difficult to pay down, while one quarter said the same of credit card debt.

Outside of North America, other countries are in on the aspiration-indebtedness game. For example, households in Great Britain owe on average 150% of their incomes, with three quarters of this in the form of mortgages. The financing of motor vehicles has more than doubled in the past four years, and borrowing on credit cards rose 10% in the first half of 2017. Consumers are lured into electronics shops and other retail stores with signs proclaiming 0% free credit with £500 minimum spending.

Couple in Car.jpg

So where does this situation leave us as a society, where the paucity of political leadership—and indeed corporate leadership—is failing to provide the necessary shared vision to propel us forward to address such issues as climate change, socio-economic disparities, women’s rights, immigration, international aid and development, and indigenous people’s rights?

This is all occurring, to extrapolate from Currid-Halkett’s research findings, in a broader societal shift to a stagnant middle class (declining according to some) and an elite wealthy class that is increasingly disconnected from the rest of society. Witness Sherman’s research on trendy, well-off Millennials. What seems to get lost in this trend by politicians and business leaders is that it’s the middle class that is the source—and indeed engine—of a nation’s innovation capacity. The really rich don’t innovate. Nor do the poor. It’s the middle segment of society where creativity and ideas, based on education and knowledge, are applied to benefit a nation.

It’s a sad commentary that a segment of society, typically well educated, is innovating on ways to separate itself from the rest of society through how it consumes products and services, all in the pursuit of enhancing status and power. The implications for leadership are growing in importance as societal divisions grow and as the labour market begins a post-industrial transformation to increased automation and higher skill sets.

Is the aspirational class ready to lead?

In itself and in its consequences the life of leisure is beautiful and ennobling in all civilised men’s eyes.
—Thorstein Veblen

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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Constructive Conflict: Advice from the Mother of Modern Management

October 3, 2017



Two angry business colleagues during an argument, isolated on white background

When we look back to the 20th Century and reflect on great leaders, whether leading nations, organizations or social movements, there’s a tendency to produce a list with mostly male names. However, when one attempts to create a list of who were the great management thinkers during this period, it becomes even more skewed towards males. Names like Peter Drucker, John Kotter, Peter Senge, John Garner, James MacGregor Burns, Robert Greenleaf, Henry Mintzberg and Warren Bennis typically come to mind. But so, too, do names like Rosebeth Moss Kanter, Sally Helgesen and Margaret Wheatley.

The irony behind this is that the individual who is recognized as what Peter Drucker called “The Prophet of Management” was a woman: Mary Parker-Follett, who was born in 1868 and died in 1933. Because of her foresight and innovative thinking, the effects of which are still being examined today, Follett may rightly be called the Mother of Modern Management.

Unfortunately, Follett’s writings and numerous lectures were set aside for several decades. It was not until the 1990s when her writings and concepts were reinvigorated. I was introduced to her work by my advisor for my Master’s leadership thesis in the late nineties. I was amazed that someone 60-70 years previously was urging such concepts as shared (participative) leadership, constructive conflict resolution through what was called “integration,” and “power-with” opposed to “power-over.” Indeed, my Master’s thesis was on the subject of shared leadership.

Let’s hear a few passages from some of Follett’s writings and lectures. Once you read them, reflect on their relevance to today, especially whether her concepts are being practiced.

1949: (Freedom & coordination: Lectures in Business Organization)
“Some writers tell us that the leader should represent the accumulation and knowledge and experience of his particular group, but I think he should go far beyond this. It is true that the executive learns from everyone around him, but it is also true that he is far more than the depository where the wisdom of the group collects.

When leadership rises to genius it has the power of transforming, of transforming experience into power. And that is what experience is for, to be made into power. The great leader creates as well as directs power. The essence of leadership is to create control, and that is what the world needs today, control of small situations or of our world situation.

I have said that the leader must understand the situation, must see it as a whole, must see the inter-relationships of all the parts. He must do more than this. He must see the evolving situation….His wisdom, his judgement, is used, not on a situation that is stationary, but on one that is changing all the time.”

1925: (Paper first delivered to Bureau of Personnel Administration conference)
“There are three ways of dealing with conflict: domination, compromise and integration. Domination…is a victory of one side over the other. This is the easiest way of dealing with conflict, but not usually successful in the long run, as we can see what has happened since the War.

The second way… [is] compromise, we understand well, for it is the way we settle most of our controversies; each side gives up a little in order to have peace…or that the activity that has been interrupted by the conflict may go on. Compromise is the basis of trade union tactics….But I certainly ought not to imply that compromise is peculiarly a trade union method….

There is a way beginning now to be recognized: …when two desires are integrated, that means that a solution has been found in which both desires have found a place, that neither side has to sacrifice anything.”

Conflict 2.jpg

Follett gives several examples of how to find integrative solutions to problems. For example, she uses a personal problem she had one day at the library. Seated in the same room with a man who wanted the window open for fresh air, Follett objected because she didn’t want cold air blowing on her. The integrative solution? They opened a window in the adjacent room. The man got his fresh air while Follett didn’t get a draft.

So here are three examples for you to find integrative solutions:

Case #1: Mr. Tuna
You work in a typical cubicle farm. Your neighbour enjoys eating tuna fish sandwiches several days a week. You’ve mentioned on a few occasions that the smell is nauseating, but he’s not getting the message. What would be an integrative solution in this case?

Case #2: Ragtime Blues
You live in a condo high-rise. During the early evening, the person next door pounds out ragtime on her piano. She’s not breaking any bylaws or condo policy. What is the integrative solution?

Case #3: He Shoots, He Scores!
You like your neighborhood where you’ve lived for many years. But there’s a problem. Every fall, the kids set up their nets on your cul de sac and play ball hockey for the next five months. You love your BMW and fringe every time you hear the slap of a stick. What’s the integrative solution with these youngsters?

Be sure to post your solutions for others to see and comment on. And sure, include any humorous solutions. If we get enough, we’ll have a contest to vote for the best one.

There you have it, folks, a few illuminating bits from an amazing woman who was far ahead of her time. What’s unfortunate is that despite so much pain and suffering through the rest of the 20th Century after Follett’s death, and during the first two decades of the 21st Century, we don’t as a society seem to have learned much.

Conflict in the workplace and communities is worse, organized labor and management continue to grab for one another’s throat, and municipal politics is as nasty as ever.
When it comes to the practice of leadership, the heroic mindset still prevails: “Do as I say, not as I do!” Role modelling is in short supply. Exceptional leadership is, as the saying goes, scarce as hens teeth.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.
—Peter Drucker

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