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Mod. 8 - Which New Leadership Paradigm Do You Mean?

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

What kind of leadership is being called for to meet the opportunities and challenges of the present and future?

This question posed to the MACL cohort by Diane gets to the core of what this course has sought to explore. A question I often ask myself when thinking about any kind of political, social or personal issue is "How did we get here?" In asking that question around the evolution of business practices, leadership and creativity in the current landscape, I found great insight in Puccio, Mance & Murdock's article from Change, Leadership, and Creativity in Creative Leadership: Skills that Drive Change. Their historical look at how business management systems emerged during the Industrial Revolution opened my eyes to how messy early businesses must have been. By focusing on a singular priority of Product and Profit, an unintended byproduct of shared company values emerged.

Their article also demonstrates how leadership practices in business evolve using a "Yes, and" framework. Product and Profit first, and as their businesses evolved, efficiency, and quality were added. Today’s businesses have added creativity, flexibility, and innovation. As new priorities gain greater value and investment, the former are assumed as being met sufficiently to provide grounds for change, evolution and growth.

Another unintended byproduct of limited values was the creation of Corporate Culture. By focusing on the company's profits, which went to the owners and managers, praising the individual who takes credit for an entire company’s success became the status quo. "He who has the gold makes the rules" as it were. Concurrently, because praise and reward for success was never allocated to the workers, a "dog eat dog" competitive environment emerged and taught workers to only look out for themselves.

The combined effect of competition and greed within the workplace for the better part of a century aligns with the Impulsive Red and Conformist Amber tiers outlined by Frederic LaLoux in his articles, The Future of Management is Teal and The Fives Stages of Organizational Development. LaLoux uses the metaphor of an army and wolf pack to embody what the worker experience would have been like as many in these early companies would have been men who came from poorly educated immigrant backgrounds or may have even been former soldiers.

Thinking further about the creation of Corporate Culture, Jason Frasca and Iain Kerr's book Innovating Emergent Futures suggests that we not only contribute to making our environment, but that our environment also makes us. Managers in power didn't have organizational theories to guide them, they were told to do whatever it took to get the work done. I imagine men self-organizing into army-like files to work and the practice was adopted more broadly because of its success.

While leadership models are certainly not static, the prioritization of Profit and Product have remained the same. Profit increases were achieved by focusing on efficiency and expansion, which aligns with LaLoux’s Achievement Orange tier, and his metaphor of "The Machine." Over time, educational, cultural, social, and technological advancements caused the working class to reject the machine-like system of Achievement Orange, due to its explicit inhumanity, and they drew from their home lives to create a new system identified by LaLoux as Pluralistic Green and metaphorically embodied as a family.

C. Otto Scharmer's work as represented in his Theory U TED Talk: Learning from the Future as it Emerges proposes some key changes to existing leadership models in order to advance to LaLoux's final tier: Evolutionary Teal. He suggests that listening deeply and shifting focus from the “I” to the “We” causes us to become more aware of the ecosystem supporting the org, and thus, more aware of ourselves. He leads us into the place of what Carol Sanford calls wholeness in her YouTube video series called: The Four Responsible Entrepreneur Archetypes.

When one's motivation is not self-advancement, but community betterment, new worlds open up that challenge the existing status quo and lead to change. The selfless practice of the Buurtzorg nurses shared by Frederic LaLoux as an example of what Evolutionary Teal looks like in practice or Stephen Preskill’s outline of Ella Baker's servant leadership in his piece Fundi--The Enduring Leadership Legacy of Civil Rights Activist Ella Baker reflect a different motivator for leadership altogether.

This shift can also be understood using metaphors from John Dobson's Three Business Contexts. The Technical can be related to the Red, Orange and Amber iterations of organizations, and the Moral enters the organizational framework in the Green. Said another way, the question evolved from "What does it do and how does it work?" to "But is it good?" Meg Wheatley's work Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host meets us in the Pluralistic Green framework and adds moving away from a “Hero” mindset to a “Host” mindset as another example of infusing morality into our organizational framework. The Host acknowledges it doesn't know everything, knows the value of others, and lifts them up. LaLoux's metaphor for Pluralistic Green of a family is an apt one here as well. Sometimes parents are wrong and the kids are right. Or perhaps a brother can see flaws in his sister's plans and helps her to address them.

When organizational paradigms shift from Profitable Leadership to Moral Leadership, the implications are huge.

Carol Sanford's Four Models demonstrate how core questions that challenge the status quo established by the Profitable Leadership model can lead to new business opportunities. With the morality of a Profitable Leadership model in question by the Moral Leadership model, a new battleground emerges. The Profitable Leadership groups respond by attacking the Moral Leadership model as less profitable, just as unethical, and deeply unsustainable because it challenges their dominance. Concurrent to all of this, culture, society and technology continues to advance and another paradigm shift emerges. Dobson invites us to consider that the Technical and Moral both provide useful frameworks for organizations, management, and profits, but they miss a third category that is at the core of the human experience: beauty. This tenet represented by Dobson as Aesthetic Leadership asks the questions "Is it beautiful? and "Is it possible?" In his book Citizens, Jon Alexander critiques the excess and constant growth of a Profit Leadership model and suggests the Moral Leadership model has gotten muddied by so closely mimicking the Profit model. He asserts that if both leaders and normal citizens ask the question of what is possible, both parties benefit from opening up their minds to brand new possibilities of what organizations can do. An example of this begins to be explored in the Department of Civil Imagination’s latest zine entry.

In trying to synthesize the writings and all of the frameworks proposed by the authors, I remain unsure as to which ones I personally align with or whose merit I question may not hold up. Exploring the questions surrounding where business meets morality and aesthetics certainly has a place, and I believe does create an impetus for change. But I find myself identifying with Carol Sanford's example of a Social Entrepreneur who asks "Where has our conscience failed us such that we are seeing a rip in the social fabric and how do we amend this?"

I am not sure I believe, or would suggest, that creating a new business to address a moral failure is the solution. Creating businesses or products that meet the culture's current morality, such as the Pride Industrial Complex, don't go far enough in addressing the core issues of homo and transphobia that permeate so many areas of modern life. To further explore the question of what might be possible, I am interested in reading works by anti-capitalist theorists, writers from indigenous and queer communities, and artists of all kinds to see what they might propose as alternative leadership and organizational styles to the ones explored here.

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