leadership


Whether technology implementation, process improvement, or cultural transformation, implementing change is hard.  It involves engaging the human dynamics of an organization; dynamics that are complex, social, and unique to each community.  In their 2021 International Journal of Engineering Business Management research article, reviewing an array of change models, Abdelouahab Errida and Bouchra Lotfi, ascertain that using only one model may not provide a full description of the change management process… [that] several change models could be combined to best fit the particular situation of change or the circumstances of an organization. Angela Lee of Columbia Business School proposes that resistance to change is rooted in psychology and neuroscience which reveal that our individual brains are wired for laziness, limited capacity, and [simply] don’t like change.  Though the psychology and neuroscience claims may be valid, if cynical, I advocate David Cooperrider’s observation that, People don’t resist change. They resist being changed. 

Fundamentally, the human dynamics challenge seems rooted in the context of individual choice.  The popular Prosci® model emphasizes and coaches around the individual need to desire change. I have, throughout my time engaging change, intuitively sought to leverage available value propositions to influence individual choice for change.  Revealing genuine individual benefit can serve to counter the grief of loss that comes when change feels imposed.  Even leaders must choose to willingly lead the way and model new behavior.

Given these human dynamics, development and change agents remain challenged to discern and affect the human factor of each particular environment seeking to make a change.

I learned of the Milgram Experiment (https://youtu.be/nexpwnwonRc) in my Research Methods class, and I revisit that learning to this day. Coming out of WWII, the experiment was set up to research obedience. It has been performed many times since, and the outcome continues to be the same. Somewhere around 50% of followers will abdicate responsibility for their actions to authority willing to take that responsibility from them. Why? This remains a question, and one I continue to ponder, along with whether humanity might be able to evolve from it.

Where it made sense, much of my writing through that same education referred to what I call personal or self-leadership. There are many attributes we look for in effective leaders that are important for effective leaders and followers alike:

  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Self-Awareness/Self-Agency
  • Integrity
  • Effective Communication/Feedback

There are others, certainly, but these are a good representation. And, when followers possess these traits, we are better able to hold our leaders accountable, as noted 25 years ago by Ira Chaleff in Courageous Followership: Standing Up to and for Our Leaders. In it, he defines Courageous Followership as follows:

Any organization is a triad consisting of leaders and followers joined in a common purpose. The purpose is the atomic glue that binds us. It gives meaning to our activities. Followers and leaders both orbit around the purpose; followers do not orbit around the leader. Courageous Followership recognizes that to be effective at almost every level of an organization, individuals need to play both the leader and follower role adeptly.

Further, Ira discusses Five Dimensions of Courageous Followership:

  • To Serve
  • To Challenge
  • To Participate in Transformation
  • To Take Moral Action
  • To Speak to Hierarchy

And, how well these concepts align with the self-leadership attributes listed previously:

  • To Serve requires taking Responsibility
  • To Challenge requires an understanding and practice of Accountability of both self and others
  • To Participate in Transformation requires Self-Awareness which leads to the Self-Agency to choose to change
  • To Take Moral Action requires Integrity to Purpose
  • To Speak to the Hierarchy requires effective skill in Communication and providing Feedback

With unemployment trending low for the foreseeable future and many employees seeking new opportunities to better fulfill a need for agency and autonomy to manage our lives across work, family and personal needs, it behooves us as a society to recognize that supporting an evolution to better followership through personal growth opportunities is in our best interest. In so doing, we develop better followers who in turn can better hold leaders accountable to purpose, whether organizational or societal.

As Leaders, we do well to develop and leverage Courageous Followership within our organizations to attract talent as well as define and remain true to organizational purpose. Developed followers could also better contribute to fluid leadership situations like self-managed and -directed teams. Whether stepping into fluid leadership or holding leaders to purpose, better followers make better leaders.

Organization Development (OD) is the scholarship and practice of applied social sciences to cohesive groups of people – organizations, communities, unions and the like. OD professionals tune into and assess an entire social system with an aim to guide and coach it to discover and evolve itself, bringing people-based processes to do so.  To clarify, OD professionals are not hired to fix a system like a doctor or manage it like human resources (HR). We might work with individuals and teams, though usually with ALL of them or those identified as requiring support to fit the organization as it needs and wants to be as a whole.  Those who practice are typically systems thinkers, with a view on how people, process and systems work (or don’t) together. We discover how a system may work against its own interests and support it to evolve to serve those interests instead, not in doing anything to the system but by supporting its development of a more effective way.

We support pursuits like strategy-culture alignment and employee engagement through a variety of aforementioned people processes, including:

  • Strategy development
  • Leadership and management development
  • Team development
  • Coaching and facilitation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Large group interventions
  • Succession planning
  • Talent acquisition, retention and development
  • The list goes on…

…but OD professionals do not typically specialize in a single process. We usually have a capacity for multiple processes. Our specialty is in getting to know the system and what it may need, then figuring out the process to support it through research, drawing from our professional community, and trial and adaptation.

As a coach supports an individual to their own growth and development, so do OD professionals support an organization and all its individuals to its whole growth and development. To do this, we must start by engaging the very top level. If leadership is unwilling to change, there is little hope for the whole system to do so. That is the rub. On the subject of employee engagement, for OD, it isn’t about managing employees to engage; it’s about engaging employees, and we can support leadership and management to develop the capacity to do so effectively. Transformation of an organization requires every single member to develop new capacities. We can support that process, too.

If, as a leader, you are looking to take your organization to a new level or in a different direction, we can support you to evolve your organization, as a whole, to move that way. Call on us via OD professional organizations such as the OD Network or the International Society of Organization and Change as well as higher education such as Benedictine or Case Western Reserve University. You can bring us in as external or internal consultants as we do our best work in autonomy from the system, not tucked in to a department, other than perhaps the C-Suite.

We, Organizational Development professionals, look forward to serving your organization’s strategic development needs.

Be well.

I caught an interesting article recently on LinkedIn, Power Causes Brain Damage.  It got me pondering and recalling the impact the Milgram Experiment we watched in a Methods of Organizational Research class had on me where I realized our temptation to abdicate personal responsibility when someone will take that mantle from us.  Along with another part of my research on leadership, where I came upon how charismatic leaders can easily take up the responsibility of those in depressed, repressed or oppressed circumstances, it occurs to me that followers have a responsibility in the corruption of power, especially in leadership.

Effective leaders will keep those around them who are able to keep them in check and rooted in reality, even empathy.  Unfortunately, we see too many leaders who are not so effective, right?  Leadership can be isolating unless precautions are taken and that takes awareness.  Awareness takes learning.  Too often, those merely vocationally or academically skilled are promoted without learning how to lead others, let alone themselves.

Then there is the Navigating Conflict workshop I developed and facilitated based on the Peter T. Coleman and Robert Ferguson book, Making Conflict Work.  It reveals how power, relationship and goal compatibility impact how we navigate conflict.  Human sociology is naturally hierarchical, yet as even revealed in the book, we know the effective and compatible use of power when we encounter it.  Don’t we?  If we delineate power along a continuum of self-serving to common good or socially responsible, when those with power start leaning too far into self-serving, as followers, what do we do?  We appease, we submit, we navigate around.  It may work, at least in the short term, but how often do we let it become a long term proposition?  How often do we let the fear of self-serving power go unchecked?  It seems to me that in the face of self-serving power, we reflexively retreat to a follower’s version of it.  Do you witness that?  We retreat into fear and fall into protecting ourselves.  I see this retreat, however naturally human, as abdicating our followers’ version of social responsibility.  It creates an ugly cycle, doesn’t it?

I have long advocated and facilitated the idea of self-leadership being a skill for all to develop – those inclined to follow as well as lead.  It involves developing self-awareness, effective communication and relationship building capabilities, collaboration and teaming savvy, conflict navigation, emotional intelligence, and other ways of being more socially effective.  Anyone can pursue these concepts.  They can be naturally derived from effective family leaders, academic experiences that put us in circumstances that can organically nurture our need to be more effective with others.  Unfortunately, those same self-protective aspects of human nature can play out within those same circumstances, so we all need exposure to more effective and socially responsible ways of being.   This could even be the case for the more vocationally minded, whom we, in the US, have not seen fit to value and support with an educational path.

I see self-leadership as a way to developing better followers, better follower-ship, where we, with care and consideration, keep the powerful, especially those in leadership, in check, even if they haven’t chosen us to do so.

I welcome your thoughts on the matter.  Please chime in!

Most kindly,

~ Jacqueline Gargiulo, MSMOB/MA

When it comes to change, whether planned or perhaps just keeping up with change inherent to the global business environment, it is well discussed and debated that the success of change has held steady at a rate of around 30%. If we consider the fact that change is typically viewed and managed from a technology and logistics perspective, this might very well make sense. Whether a merger and acquisition, installing a new system or imposing process best practice, without an understanding of the people dynamic of the organization, what gets missed is whether a desired merger, system or process is a fit for the environment.

Think about it, how many individuals read books about the success of leaders only to discover that mimicking their actions does not work for us? How many successful leaders in one environment have been hired into another only to meet with failure? This phenomenon holds true for teams as well as whole organizations. If leaders lack an understanding of the socio-cultural aspects of the people they lead, how can we be sure the latest system or process is a fit for the organization? Taking this a step further, if we do have a level of understanding, do we see a path for developing our people to transition to the change we desire to make?

The most successful system changes of which I have been a part have typically been home grown. They take into account successful process already in place, driven by the unique dynamic of those working in the environment. The most unsuccessful changes I have observed are those “latest and greatest” off-the-shelf options that are imposed on existing workforce dynamics un- or ill-prepared to take them on. Others lie somewhere in between.

For change to be successful, leadership must make the connection between the system or process and the particular human dynamic of the organization. We must then consider how much the workforce will need to be developed to meet the requirements of a desired system or process, or perhaps what it will take to evolve the existing workforce dynamics to organically update existing systems and process to meet the goals of desired change. If we are adamant about installing or imposing externally allocated systems or process, then we must be prepared for the cost of customization as part of implementation. I have yet to witness a culture changed simply by overlaying an ill-fitted system or process structure. In fact, this is where a 70% rate of change failure may very well lie.

If a leader wants a fuller sense of the human dynamics of the organization, there exists a field of professionals who can support seeing, understanding and developing the people dynamic of the business. These professionals might be found in human resources (HR), though HR professionals are traditionally adept at and focused on managing legal, policy and other types of transactions with employees. Their view is rightly based on protecting the business from missteps around regulations and benefits to employees required by law. When it comes to change and transformation, the mindset and professional capacity of those prepared to bring a growth and development lens to the environment are those educated and practiced in organization development (OD) or organization effectiveness (OE). In fact, OD/OE professionals might be considered the original change agents because we have always approached change with an understanding that it isn’t imposed so much as it is coached and facilitated. OD/OE professionals don’t do change on a leader’s behalf; we support a leader to lead change.