Contrary to desire, culture is not so much changed, especially by a leader or leadership alone, as it changes. Culture changes based upon the changing dynamics of its participants. Culture change is organic and must be nurtured.  When forced, weeds of resistance are grown in among any viable plants and flowers.  The more nurturing we are with change, really of any kind, the more productive the outcome.

When it comes to planned change, transactions do not, can not, in and of themselves,  yield transformation.  Yet, this seems to be the default of too much IT and HR change management in organizations – that change has occurred enough times, a formula of transactions to manage change is now readily applicable.  This is not to say that transforming an organization does not involve transaction, it does.  It just doesn’t work the other way around, not really.

Seth Godin and Krista Tippet of On Being, revealed a great insight in an interview:

MR. GODIN: Yeah. People impart a lot into the notion of evolution — some of which wasn’t Darwin’s work itself. But what is important here is not only do times change, but those times change, not just our stories about ourselves and our expectations, but they actually are changing our brain. So you know, when the Industrial Revolution came, there were 20 years when basically everyone in Manchester, England, was an alcoholic. Instead of having like coffee carts, they had gin carts that went up and down the streets. Because it was so hard to shift from being a farmer to sitting in a dark room for 12 hours every day doing what you were told. But we evolved, we culturally evolved to be able to handle a New World Order. And so when we talk about evolution as a metaphorical thing where we have memetics and ideas laid on top of this idea of survival of the species and things changing over time, what fascinates me about it is that this bottom-up change in the world is everywhere all the time. So much more common than change that gets put down on us by a dictator or by someone who’s putatively in charge.


MR. GODIN: And yet we ignore this bottom-up thing when in fact it’s the thing we are most likely to be able to touch and change.

MS. TIPPETT: Also I think what you’re pointing at in a lot of your work is that because of the way the world has changed subjectively, because we’re living in a post-geography world. That’s a phrase you use. Because we have what you call a connection economy, we — technology is actually empowering that bottom-up change, right, and kind of dismantling the hierarchical overbearing leader model that a lot of us actually still grew up with.

MR. GODIN: And at the same time that is what’s empowering technology. So they’re both feeding on each other. The Internet wasn’t built by 30 people who are working for a boss. It was built by 300,000 people, many of whom have never met each other. And that this protocol and that technology work together even without a central organizing force. And that’s happening to every industry. And it’s happening even to the way our communities organize and the spiritual organizations that we get involved in.

What this reveals is that creating sustained change requires the involvement of an organization as a whole, starting with leadership.  A gate-keeper approach to change cannot work because an organization does not transform by the will and direction of leadership (or HR on its behalf for that matter), but the empowerment of the individuals of the organization to take it in a new direction.  Yet, so long as leaders prefer to command and control, this cannot occur.  A new ERP system may be rammed into the organization, but thereby creating a level of ignorance, even resentment, rather than empowerment.  HR may address employee engagement with various communications transactions but that will likely get scoffed at.

No, transformation comes through evolving interactions, addressing emotion and developing rapport, even relationships 😱, across the organization.  As leaders, are you willing to enter these realms?

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

I would like to say a few words here about meaning that I have found myself sharing in comments of social media posts.

We don’t seem to realize that the truest meaning of an action or words used is derived from the person speaking or performing the activity.  A great example of this is the kneeling for the flag.  So many have been projecting their own context and meaning onto the meaning of those kneeling.  There is no consideration given to the meaning of it by those doing the kneeling.  I read an exceptional letter by a military person who bothered, and with the understanding he gained, he is now a supporter of those who choose to kneel.  He realizes, as do I, that I am not called to kneel nor does their choice to kneel take away from my choice to stand for the meaning it has for me.

To those who may identify with meaning projected by those un-involved with the activity, please consider, for even a moment, that the meaning projected on the activity or words has nothing to do with your own context, that it does not take away from your reason for doing otherwise, that you need not choose to join.  This goes for so much of the auger thrown around on social and marketed media anymore.  If someone says or does, have the decency to ask “how come”, to seek to understand their reasoning.  No, it may not be yours, and it does not have to be, but with understanding, I’m willing to bet, we could start letting the anger go and maybe start respecting our differences which have everything to do with making a rich experience of society.

If you need the rest of society to look like and do as you do, to believe as you do in order to live in it, then you might consider that to be your personal issue to address rather than that of those onto whom you project it.

The concept of respect and obey for a long while, most of my life actually, left me with a feeling of trepidation. I think it has to do with the way I learned its meaning and use. I was taught to respect and obey my elders, those in authority.  Something never felt right with that as a requirement of my childhood.

In 2010, as part of a certification in Organizational Development (OD) and Consulting, for the class in International OD, the reading included a chapter on Confucius. Confucius observed a number of ways the senior and junior relate. In the Chinese societal structure, seniority was assumed by the eldest male in the relationship. Husband in authority over wife, son and daughter, eldest son over siblings, etc.

What intrigued me was while the junior was observed to respect and obey, the senior was observed to consider and protect the junior. This seems to have been lost in translation over the centuries, because how many of us have ever learned that part of the equation? There does exist the observation that respect is less demanded than commanded. I venture that respect, and any resultant obedience, is commanded by those in authority when they are considerate and protective of their subordinates.  I have gone on to realize that the senior and junior roles appear more fluid in Western society.  Seniority can exist simply where one person has a knowledge advantage over another, for instance. Seniority is also all too often taken for granted when dependent upon positional authority, even as parents. We have a tendency to wield authority too easily rather than exhibit leadership, by considering and protecting those in our charge and our care.

Respect and obedience are earned from followers when leaders consider follower capacity and protect their best interests. In that, I observe a deficit of leadership in positions of authority in the western culture with which I am familiar, especially in the U.S. How often do those in positions of authority, perhaps simply more intelligent or informed than another, take advantage of ignorance rather than look after the other’s best interest?

We may all find ourselves in the position of senior at various points in our lives. It is justice to consider and protect those in our charge and care if they are to respect and obey us as followers.

Most respectfully…

I recently shared on social media a Gallup discussion on their regular poll addressing What is the Biggest Problem Facing the US.  At this time, the responses refer to the president, to the government, and this has been a top concern since before our current administration.  What has been determined is that our issues are not what some of our government representatives market it to be, that of the government being too big, but of its dysfunction.  But we knew that, some of us anyway.

In my philosophy of government, it exists for the common good of all its citizens and interests.  It does well to regulate in the interest of a level playing field for private interests including opportunity for of all its citizens along with protecting public interests from the overreach of private interests.  If we are paying attention and not emotionally hijacked to false belief systems, it should be easy to see that the dysfunction with government is it being more and more beholden to private interests over the public good.  It has itself been snagged in the snare of power mongering – that very thing that  religious founders, authors and philosophers alike have been warning us against over the ages.  And, we know that, too.

I confidently venture that money, second only to attractiveness, is the main position of power extolled in the US (perhaps elsewhere, but I’ll stick to the familiar).  And, according to Hofstede’s research on power distance in the US, this is widely accepted as the norm.  What if we were to extol instead the power of the intellect?  Of moral character?  I think we did once, and there is evidence that we still do, but power has a way of strategizing toward more power, and the financial ilk has become a cancer in our political system.  The question remains, is it extractable?  And if so, how is that done?  We have much playing against the public good in the likes of gerrymandering and Citizens United alone.  As a democratic republic, it is necessary for each of us to take an interest in and play our best part in our political system, for it simply cannot function to the common good without us, all.  But you know that, too, especially if you’ve read to here nodding your head.

The development of our ability to function as citizens for the public good in our political system is and will be key.  Civil discourse of civil responsibility must ensue and permeate our social being, and in pockets especially, this has been lost, much to the strategic work of power mongering to emotionally hijack with soundbites over echo-chamber and social media.  Read books, take classes, earn another degree, talk with strangers, get away from what you know and support others to do the same.  Go to the lost pockets and “spread the good news” for our goodness’ sake.


An understanding of human systems can be applied in a number of ways.  The better economists observe them.  Social science analyzes and tests them.  Organization change and development practitioners develop them.  Marketers influence them.  Social-serving leaders lean more toward developing them.  Self-serving leaders at least seek to manage them and at most to strategically manipulate them.

I heard Dr. Edgar Schein remark in his closing statement of a lecture series I attended at Benedictine University that it remains in our field difficult to support an organization to overcome its dominant culture.  Though speaking of organizations, as someone who studies human systems, I have long realized that what applies at one level of a human system applies at all levels, from individuals to communities to organizations to society at large.

To achieve their goals and results, self-serving leaders strategically manipulate the human systems they lead.  In many to most cases, it is simply that these personalities are innately strategic.  Strategy is not always applied wittingly but from human need to obtain a personal vision for themselves, often with disregard for others, though not always.  The ones who are conscious of their skill are often able to manipulate even other manipulators.  This is a style of leadership enamored in US culture and beyond, portrayed in television and movies.

Whether manipulating or developing, similar avenues are applied: communication, policy and procedure, process and learning.  The vision, and whether it is self or social serving, depends on the nature of the leader and whether applied with integrity or not.  A self-serving leader may easily say one thing while doing quite the opposite so long as it serves the final result s/he is after.  Where a social serving leader typically seeks to develop individual capacity and awareness, a self-serving leader may withhold learning and information in order to diminish the same.  Followers may be left feeling disenfranchised, but the resultant lack of context will allow the self-serving leader to deflect being seen as the cause.  While social serving leaders will seek to create an environment of self-determination, self-serving leaders seem to prefer to create an environment to be managed toward their cause.  And, there may be followers to the cause, at least as communicated; and if those followers are deflected from observing the leaders’ actions, the reality of any resulting detriment to them may be lost on them.

Integrity is key, though not easily established.  We must learn to not only listen to our leaders, but to witness their actions, as well as seek broader context than simply rely on the interchange or relationship between one’s self and the leader.  In that case, emotional detachment is required.  Any of this is more easily said than done, and if our system is about withholding our development, we may not even be aware of it.

A Fish Doesn’t Know It’s in Water is attributed to David Foster Wallace, and is most likely a play on the Chinese proverb If you want a definition of water, don’t ask a fish.  What it means is that we can rarely see – objectively, at least – that of which we are a part, for example, ourselves, our families, our communities, where we work, our society, especially what we would rather not see about any of these.  Our beliefs about ourselves and that of which we are a part are incredibly potent, and it is important to note that beliefs seek reinforcement and so are reinforce-able, by way of simply learning that others believe in a similar way or being presented with even false evidence of what fits with what we believe.  Our beliefs will hold sway even in the face of reality that contradicts it.  This is known as cognitive dissonance.  I have noticed that we often react with negative emotion to reality presented that threatens to distort or nullify belief, while we react with positive emotion to that which bolsters existing belief.

Now, please don’t get me wrong.  Emotion is full of information to which we need to be giving our attention.  The problem is that emotion is messy and difficult to understand, so in US society in particular, and in our organizations especially, we have taken to ignoring its worth and as a result, our ability to work with it, to hear what it is trying to tell us.  As a result, we remain vulnerable to being manipulated by emotion in reaction to single source sound bites and quippy memes that support our beliefs, whether based in reality or not.

So what can we do?  Well, we can start by simply asking ourselves the question, what is true?  Then, take time to check our sources.  Is it a source we prefer because it makes us feel right?  Does the source provide a variety of viewpoints or only one, one we already accept as true?  Acknowledging another viewpoint does not require us to believe that viewpoint, but it should at very least pique our curiosity to ask, what is true?  If something we read or hear supports existing belief to the point of an emotional response, like “yeah, that’s right!”, it might just be too good to be true.


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.

Valid, effective decision making involves a gathering and consideration of all data points. Emotion can certainly be a factor, but there is always danger of emotion clouding judgment so it is not advisable this be a singular consideration. Gut instinct, too, can often prove less than valid when one is missing critical input on which to digest toward it.

There are some troubling factors around the data portion of the consensus decision that Brexit ultimately was. Those who led and marketed the exit argument apparently put forward a shallow and targeted number of facts in order to influence their cause, tapping into fear triggers in their messaging. And although the remain leaders marketed economic facts, they fell dry upon an emotional portion of the populace, if the data even got to them.

Messaging is critical to effective leadership, especially involving consensus decision making. Messages must be transparent and broadly acknowledge and address all factors. It is not clear to me that either side did so. As a result, a phrase coming from voters out of the aftermath is “but I didn’t know that…”. So tell me, how can a consensus vote be wholly valid when so many were apparently un- or ill-informed?

Leadership, to be effective in such an instance, does well to take decision making back, ensure it is based on all information, decide what is right for the common good then transparently inform reasoning. In the case of Brexit, how does it serve the common good to blindly follow the will of an un- and/or ill-informed voting population?  Is that not a large reason the vote was non-binding?  Personally, I vote for representatives I trust to make the best decision for all concerned, even if I don’t immediately understand from my personal context. So, why do so many seem hell bent on micromanaging their representatives to personal whims?  I can only consider addressing that in a separate blog.

The vote in Brexit was simply too close at a 4% margin, especially since there seems a good lot of reconsideration occurring in the aftermath of the vote. The question is, will leadership blindly follow what on so many accounts appears to be a less than valid decision by consensus or do what is right for the common good then transparently message well their reasoning? I am hoping for the latter.

For the common good and all those involved in it,
~ Jacqueline Gargiulo, scholar-practitioner of human systems

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