Leadership Emerging

Russ Volckmann

Milton Friesen. Ingenuity Arts: Adaptive Leadership and the New Science. Airdrie, Alberta, Canada: Ingenuity Arts, 2009.

Friesen models his topic by integrating a variety of topics into a perspective on leadership. Essentially drawing on complexity theory his focus is on approaches to organizational leadership that goes beyond theories and models and has relevance as well in the implementation of transformational activities. This involves charting and following a course of action into a future we cannot see, but only assume. It has in common with integral notions of development that there is a conscious commitment to evolve, to grow an adaptive approach to leadership.

The future we face is best understood and engaged through a reliance and reflection on emergence (unpredictability), self organization—adaptation to new forms by commitment to allowing innovations to emerge, and attending to scale by allowing multiple agents to generate possibilities. This includes capacities to see not only systems, but also systems of systems. Leaders and systems must learn resilience and adaptability. Friesen explores many complexity theory concepts, including

  • Critical State
  • Sensitivity to Initial Conditions
  • Path Dependence
  • Non-Linear processes
  • Prospective Mind (foregoing illusions of control)
  • Recursive Motion (multidirectional feedback), and
  • Catagensis (new growth emerging from breakdown).

Friesen offers a model on which to focus development involving

  1. Eye, including act, zag and deliver,
  2. Cord, including farm, nurture and guess, and
  3. Pencil, including play, scribble and simplify.

Read the book to learn more about these, but note that the latter, simply, offers much for those interested in integral approaches to consider. A number of these items represent techniques used in organizations for some time (e.g., brainstorming), the party about simplify has considerable resonance for me. Recently, I have been paying more attention to “design thinking.” There is a group (online) of designers with many orientations to design who are interested in transformation. There is so much in their approach to design thinking that I believe would be well informed by bringing and integral perspective. But so does design thinking have value for us who are interested in integral theory and application.

I wonder how design approaches to simplification might help us, how building a capability (is this a line of development?) in design thinking might lead to integral equivalents of Euclid’s tetrahedron, Fuller’s geodesic dome or Thomas Heathersick’s table or bridge. How would it impact our understanding and actions related to ecology, global warming, violence and war, leadership. Friesen has offered a model for beginning to explore these and other considerations. He has done us a service.

^––––––– ^

Bob Johansen, Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2009.

From a small, self-published volume (Friesen, above) to an established publisher’s new issue of a book that addresses some of the same themes. To begin with, I really like this book. An integral lens reveals that it addresses multiple quadrants, is suggestive of perspectives and offers some useful for both individuals and organizations in practicing and developing individuals leading and leadership more broadly. Based on The Institute for the Futures’ Ten-Year Forecast, here are the “overarching messages in this book”:

  1. The VUCA world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity will get worse in the future.
  2. The VUCA world will have both danger and opportunity.
  3. Leaders must learn new skills in order to make a better future.

VUCA represents these principles:

  1. Volatility yields to vision.
  2. Uncertainty yields to understanding.
  3. Complexity yields to clarity.
  4. Ambiguity yields to agility.

Familiar themes, nicely presented.

Among the drivers for the future, these may be most important to “leaders”:

  1. Diasporas: New Emerging Economies. These are not just the diasporas of geography, but also of climate, rural-to-urban, cultural, corporate, bio-diasporas (health, biometrics), and financial.
  2. Civil Society: What Will We Choose to Do Together? Large consideration to the roles of communities, governments, corporations and their mix in addressing the future.
  3. Food: The Flashpoint for Rich/Poor Conflict. We have the food, distribution is the issue.
  4. Ecosystems: Navigation of life. Consideration of ecosystems is essential for the future.
  5. Amplified Individuals: Extending the Human Body. The integral community if replete with amplified individuals, as is all of the social networking going on. Here is a Big Assumption: Those who master amplification skills will be more effective leaders.

The skills:

  1. Active Attention
  2. Readiness Discipline
  3. Urgent Patience
  4. Story Telling and Listening
  5. Humble Strength
  6. Synchronicity

Not the usual list and I will l leave it to you to check the list. All in all the approach in this book seems quite fresh and valuable.

I may sound like a broken record, but the book does suffer from a common problem with most leadership books: conflating formal role and leadership. Certainly, Johansen gives lip service to the idea that leadership is important everywhere in our systems and leadership may emerge from those willing to step into leader roles at various levels and phases of organizational action. However, the presentation of much to this material seem clearly directed to those in positions of formal authority. Nevertheless, this book is well worth the read.

^––––––– ^

Henry Mintzberg. Managing. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, forthcoming.

It seemed almost unbelievable. Thirty-six years later I would be reading a book by Henry Mintzberg—about Managing! What’s the big deal? Well, it has been thirty-six years since the first book of his hit my desk while I was teaching at the University of Arizona. At the time, one of the classes I was teaching was called “Bureaucracy” and I was certain that Mintzber’s work would be worth at least a lecture or two. This seemed a high payoff bet. I had read articles by him and had a lot of respect for his scholarship. And I was right. He had models and categories and all those juicy things that help turn a lecture on a relatively “dry subject” into food for thought. Students ate it up. They took copious notes and prepared to answer questions on Mintzber’s work in the midterm exam. After all, many of these students intended to go into local or state bureaucracies and become managers. That was the career path.

Well, he has done it again. After 29 days of observing managers in several different types of organizations in several different parts of the world, Mintzberg reflects not only on what he observed, but how his and others work on managing and on leadership could be informed by his findings.

Note: I am reporting on a prepublication version of this book, so something may change before it reaches your favorite source for reading material.

Key questions addressed by this scholar are:

  1. Are managers too busy managing to contemplate the meaning of management?
  2. Are leaders really more important than managers?
  3. Why is so much managing so frenetic? And is the Internet making this better or worse?
  4. Is the whole question of management style overrated?
  5. How are managers to connect when the very nature of their job disconnects them from what they are managing?
  6. Where has all the judgment gone?
  7. How is anyone in this job to remain confident without becoming arrogant? Or to keep successes from becoming failures?
  8. Should managing be restricted to managers?

Already we can see that Mintzberg asks provocative questions.

He begins by observing that there is remarkably little systematic study of managing.” And this in the face of the reality that managing is central to life. Yet the focus is on leaders, not managers. “Frankly, I don’t understand what this distinction [between leaders and managers] means in the everyday life of organizations. Sure, we can separate leading and managing conceptually. But can we separate them in practice? Or, more to the point, should we even try?” Here he clearly states his bias and argues that we should be worried more about “macroleading” and over managing. He indicates that he believes

  1. We are now overled and undermanaged.
  2. Leadership cannot simply delegate management; instead of distinguishing managers from leaders, we should be seeing managers as leaders, and leadership as management practiced well.
  3. The more we obsess about leadership the less of it we seem to get (leadership is earned, not anointed).
  4. This book puts managing ahead, seeing it together with leadership as naturally embedded in what can be called communityship.

With this last point, Mintzberg almost escapes our suggestion that he is trapped in hierarchical models of organizations in which position authority is the basis for leadership. Certainly these organizations and the conjunction of some leadership with formal positions is real. And work such as that by the other authors in this edition of Leadership Emerging suggest that there are other approaches to organization that do not eliminate the importance of management, but see it, as well as leadership, as a integrally systemic dynamic, if I may use those terms in this way.

The breadth and depth of Mintzber’s explorations here make it difficult to summarize. So, by way of communicating the freshness of Mintzber’s thinking, not the following:
“If geese can rotate their leadership, and bees can work vigorously without having to be empowered by the queen (which is our label, not theirs), then surely we human beings can achieve such levels of sophistication.” He goes on to conflate leading and managing, while suggesting that managing can be distributed. Thus, he points the way to a more integral perspective on human systems.

Finally, he points to a long list of conundrums of managing involving thinking, information, people, action and “overall conundrums.” Here is the latter:

The Ultimate Conundrum:
How can any manager possible cope with all these conundrums concurrently?
My Own Conundrum:
How do I reconcile the fact that, while all of these conundrums can be stated apart, they all seem to be the same?

There is so much to this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough, since it represents some rich thinking and analysis, as well as the conundrum faced by researchers whose thinking is embedded in the complexity of human systems.