The world needs you now more than ever!
In August, I wrote a brief blog about the need to build bridges and move from what I call the versus debates to genuine dialogue, where we focus on AND. As we head towards the end of 2016, the American election saga and results is only one more in a series of international events this year that has reminded us we need more dialogue, more empathy, more respect for each others’ dignity and more love in the world today. There is so much fear, conflict, grappling and jostling at the extreme of belief systems where there seems to be no common ground. But it is also true of human dynamics that in this space, where the status quo as we know it is falling apart, there is potential for something new and beautiful to emerge.
The practice of Leadership and Organization Development (LOD) is the application of the interdisciplinary social sciences to develop leaders and to consult and intervene in human systems to influence organizational/system effectiveness and the capacity of people to thrive. In addition to technical knowledge about how human systems work and change, group psychology and how best to develop leaders, LOD practitioners are trained in processes characterized by humanistic values that promote human development, such as fairness, equal participation, respectful dialogue and choice. That is why I am calling on all LOD Practitioners. In this world where we need more respectful dialogue and empathic engagement, the world needs you now more than ever!
You know that when the scales keep tipping between unbridled extremes, respectful dialogue and empathic engagement to promote understanding is required to restore balance. You are trained to facilitate in a way that sets conditions for this true dialogue. You know how to read group dynamics and intervene in a way that allows the undiscussables to emerge in a psychologically safe way. You are trained to guide people through processes that help all parties to be engaged in the quest of a new way forward, when they find themselves stuck in unfamiliar and complex territory where no one person knows the answer. You understand how to develop leaders in a way that uncovers blind spots and requires them to take courageous action in the face of ethical dilemmas where the greater good is at stake. You know that when a system (right now, the world system) is dominated by ideologies that promote fear, divisiveness and hurt, acknowledging the pain and losses, encouraging forgiveness and working together is required before we can find the new normal. You know that amplifying the places, spaces and situations where all sides have laid down their arms and are working together already will help balance the despair and inspire many more to look for ways forward. You know that all this requires the ability to talk, listen, host difficult conversations and facilitate collaboration across the divides.
That’s why the world needs you and I, LOD Practitioners. Facilitating these types of processes and dialogues and building leaders’ capacity to do so is what we do. However, I believe that if we are to make any difference in the world today, we must get out of the margins and be willing to lead. Here are some thoughts that have been rattling for me about our role in organizations and the world lately.
- Move to the Centre: We talk of our field as being on the margins – homeless, undervalued, easily dispensable. When we are internal to organizations, we are in Human Resources but not Human Resources. We are sometimes situated in Information Technology, sometimes in Finance, sometimes in Innovation Centres. I know where we are structurally situated absolutely makes a difference to our ability to do our best work in organizations. However, at this point in the world, if we think we are displaced, we do not have the luxury of waiting to be moved to do our best work. Wherever we sit, let’s align ourselves with the most senior executive that sees the value of our work. Let’s move back to being the trusted advisers we call ourselves to influence making a difference. Let’s not wait for it anymore, let’s demand it. Let’s do our best work to build leader and organization capacity from wherever we are.
- Accept the Leadership and Advocate hat. I most often talk of myself in the role of Consultant, Facilitator or Subject Matter Expert/Specialist. For colleagues primarily in Leadership Development, there’s also Coach or Trainer. I rarely hear us refer to ourselves as Leaders or Advocates. The implication of these two roles scare me, believe me. But how can we develop leaders if we ourselves never lead? And how can we remain bystanders and not be advocates for better leadership in our organizations and world at a time like this?
- Move beyond firing our clients. We love ‘firing our clients’. When the going gets tough, when our clients do not listen, when we can take it no longer, we fire the client. I think there is a time and place when it is appropriate to exit a client system. However, I wonder if I have sometimes done so too easily or sometimes for the wrong reasons in the face of hardship and adversity in our work, especially when failed leadership or hurt to many is a consequence. I am now advocating that we try, try, try again, to iterate, adapt and innovate new ways before we quit. Because when we think systemically, whatever dynamics and struggles we see happening in our boardrooms and communities is representative of the leadership patterns in our homes and in the world. Let’s work to raise this consciousness and not give up so easily.
- Create capacity, not dependence. Many in our field have said this. Building capacity and not dependence on our skill-sets should be a hallmark of our work. I know this is easier said than done, but what if more leaders made decisions with impact on people in mind? What if more leaders facilitated dialogue as opposed to selling ideas? What if more leaders engaged all parties in change as opposed to imposing it? What if more thought about the impact of the process they engage in to achieve outcomes? I could go on a while, you get the picture. I want to specifically advocate here to higher education institutions cutting Leadership and Organization Development Programs. This has been a worrying trend lately – please bring them back.
- Step into community and social spaces. What a time it is to be in this field! Our field emerged after World War II, out of a desire by Kurt Lewin and others to understand and prevent the groupthink that led to that catastrophe to never occur again. I feel the weight of this charge heavily at such a time as this. Let’s do the work we were called to do. Let’s venture beyond our organizational work into our schools, communities, governments, national and international levels and all the social spaces that need respectful dialogue and better leadership now.
- Get ready to look at our own practitioner readiness. I ask myself – am I ready to lead? Am I ready to advocate? Am I ready to push my own boundaries? My answers are sometimes yes, and sometimes no. However, in a field where we often speak of ‘client readiness’ and ‘the system’s readiness for change’ as factors in success or failure, it’s time for us to assess our own readiness to do our best work in today’s world. Are we ready?
Dr. Michael Broom received the lifetime achievement award for contribution to the field of Organization Development at the 2015 Organization Development Network Conference. In his acceptance speech, he passionately advocated [and I paraphrase] that our field has the best technologies with which to support the world in addressing and advancing beyond the major social change issues we are now facing. Dr. Broom repeated this same sentiment at this year’s conference. I agree with Dr. Broom. Let’s heed this call. Our collective futures, and that of our children and future generations, depends on how well we emerge from the impasses that we are now standing in. And I say this not to further induce fear, but out of a conviction that catastrophe is not the only possible outcome of the current state of the world system. If we hold our pain and fear for a moment and dare ourselves to imagine, dream and hope, isn’t it equally possible that we can transition from our current state into:
- A world where we can talk, listen and be heard?
- A world where all people can walk and live in safety?
- A world where we treat everyone with respect, dignity and honour?
- A world where we speak our truths without defaming and demeaning others?
- A world where we can collectively mourn, forgive and right wrongs and injustices and heal?
- A world where more people with privilege and power use their influence for the greater good?
Even though it is hard to see through the current fog of fear, this beautiful world already exists in places and spaces. So Dear Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, we are needed now more than ever to play our part in reminding the world that we can deliver a future to our children and their children after them, that all can thrive in.
Please. Do not despair. Let’s do what we encourage our clients to. Let’s lead.