Democracy, OD, and Ukraine

The President of Finland told Putin to “Look in the mirror.” We in the US should do the same. Please grant me your time and attention as I make the case for, and the connection between, democratic values in leadership, in organizations, and in our national politics. As Putin continues his brutal war on Ukraine[1] it’s the right time to reflect on our own democracy and the democratic roots of OD. OD emerged from multiple sources, but the biggest influence was Kurt Lewin’s social science, itself forged by Lewin’s expereince as a Jew in Germany during the rise of Hitler, and further tested by his expereince in his eventual home, the United States. Far from welcoming, the US government erected a series of hoops for Lewin to navigate through, despite fleeing obvious persecution and holding a PhD. He was unable to secure safe passage for his mother, who died in a Nazi concentration camp.

Lewin, like his contemporary John Dewey (and Aristotle long before them) believed that “Autocracy is imposed on the individual. Democracy he has to learn (Lewin, 1939[2], 1997, p66).”  We must each “…learn to play a role which implies, among other points, a fair share of responsibility toward the group and a sensitivity to other people’s feelings (Lewin, 1944, 1999, p289).” “Learning democracy means, first, that the person has to do something himself instead of being passively moved by forces imposed on him (Lewin, 1942, 1997, p223).” Lewin continues (in this small sample of his writing on the subject), “It is a fallacy to assume that individuals, if left alone, will form themselves naturally into democratic groups—it is much more likely that chaos or a primitive pattern of organization through autocratic dominance will result. Establishing democracy in a group implies an active education…What holds for the education of democratic followers holds true also for the education of democratic leaders. In fact, it seems to be the same process through which persons learn to play either of these roles, and it seems that both roles have to be learned if either one is to be played well (Lewin, 1944, 1999, p289).”

Where can this learning take place? In the family, in the workplace, but most importantly, in the schools. “…for educating future citizens, no talk about democratic ideals can substitute for a democratic atmosphere in the school. The character and the cultural habits of the growing citizen are not so much determined by what he says as by what he lives.” Citizens must learn to think for themselves, not simply follow rules and memorize answers, to become effective members of a democracy. We teach the most important lessons to the next generation by what we do, not by what we say. We fall far short of that standard in the United States, and we reap what we sow.

OD professionals and organizational leaders take heed. Lewin convincingly established that the same skills of leadership and followership essential to democracy also lead to high performance and morale in organizations. Are you encouraging active participation in the organization, or passivity? Are you supporting effective leadership and followership? Leaders must know how to be in charge and allow as much influence as possible from their followers. There must be freedom AND structure. Attempts to create “leaderless” organizations come from anti-authority immaturity and ironically are often imposed in an authoritarian manner (“You will run this manufacturing organization without supervisors”). As Lewin saw with clear eyes, “Few aspects are as much befogged in the minds of many as the problems of leadership and of power…power itself is an essential aspect of any and every group…(Marrow, 1969, p. 172).” In organizations and in society we need effective democratic minded leaders and followers. We won’t create that by eliminating leadership. We need to develop leaders and followers who can reason together: “To believe in reason is to believe in democracy, because it grants to the reasoning partners a status of equality. It is therefore not an accident that not until the rise of democracy at the time of the American and French Revolutions was the ‘goddess’ of reason enthroned in modern society. And again, it is not an accident that the very first act of modern Fascism in every country has been officially and vigorously to dethrone this goddess and instead to make emotions and obedience the all-ruling principles in education and life from kindergarten to death (Lewin, 1937, 1997, p67).”

One need look no further than the current war to see the systemic effects of totalitarianism versus democracy. Morale and initiative amongst the Russians is apathetic, while moral and initiative amongst the Ukrainians is passionate.

Democratic values are vital to the health of organizations and nations. Early OD and robust democracy are both built on dialogue and appreciation of each person, each role, and respect for independent (often critical and divergent) thinking. Passivity and compliance, convenient in the short run, fosters dependence in the long run.

Lewin witnessed and wrote about the post WWI collapse of democracy in Germany. The rights made possible by democracy were used by those intent to undermine it. In a nation where many citizens craved “strong” leadership, economic chaos (including inflation) and other sources of fear were easily preyed on. Scapegoating, antithetical to true democracy (and to organizations, and to OD), rose to new and horrific levels.

Lewin was clear that racism, sexism, and all forms of prejudice are indelibly anti-democratic. Any who carelessly attack reason, free speech and a free press, immigrants, ethnic groups, women, and minorities of any kind, to further their own political ambitions, are gnawing away at the fabric of democracy.

Within the OD profession careless attacks on the beginning of OD likewise gnaw away at the roots, weakening the one profession that has the science of democracy at its core.

The struggle for democracy and against authoritarianism will likely never be done. We must do what we can to protect and strengthen democracy here in the US (an effort that need not be separate from how we apply OD) and to support democracy abroad. Long live democracy! Long live OD! Long live Ukraine!

Lewin, K. (1997). Resolving Social Conflicts & Field Theory in Social Science. Washington DC. American Psychological Association.

Lewin, K. (1999). The Complete Social Scientist. Washington DC. American Psychological Association.

Marrow, A., (1969). The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin. New York, NY. Teacher’s College Press.


[1] It’s the least we can do out of respect for my Ukrainian colleagues who are literally preoccupied with seeking weapons right now instead of spreading knowledge.

[2] I have added the year that Lewin’s articles were originally printed, along with the year of the publication listed in the bibliography from which I am quoting.

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A Personal Declaration of Independence from Racism, Sexism and Greed

1. I do not identify with the power structure in the US built upon skin color and gender. I do not deny it has and does exist, and that I have and do receive direct and indirect privileges from it even though I find it repulsive.

2. I refuse to be known by the socially constructed classifications of race used by that power structure even though I am superficially known that way by most of my fellow humans. Categories like “white” and “people of color” are not accurate, and I refuse to accept them.

3. I do accept being known by my biological gender even though I am deeply troubled by the sexism now and throughout history by my fellow males, and I fully support any who do not want to be known by classifications of gender, or any other classifications.

4. I know myself as a living being that is one with all of existence, connected to all past generations and answerable to all future ones. I see in myself all my ancestors from the countless places, cultures, circumstances, and shades of skin from which I came. I hold as a sacred trust the future generations that depend on our actions today. That’s my real identity as I know it, and I’m not willing to settle for less.

5. I declare my opposition to all prejudice, now and throughout history, both personal and systemic, and I will fight to my last breath to eradicate the cancer of prejudice from myself and from human society.

6. While acknowledging and confronting historic and current systemic racism and sexism, I do not accept that one’s position in the system frees one from responsibility in personal interactions. I hold that we are all poisoned by inequality, whether we are in a relative position of power or the lack of it and that the illogical thinking that is prejudice breeds more of the same while also causing confusion, self-doubt, blame, and defensiveness. Rather than further separating us by prescribing different behaviors from the oppressors and the oppressed, I endeavor to treat all adults as adults and thus I will not collude with excuses for individual or group behavior, especially the holding of prejudices and stereotypes, regardless of one’s position in any system of oppression.

7. I am deeply troubled by the history of greed, violence, and waste that intersects with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. I believe that prosperity can be shared, and I will work towards a more equitable, non-violent, and sustainable world.

8. I am deeply troubled by the ugly side of the history of the human race, and yet I love us deeply and will strive ceaselessly to bring forth our better angels so a day can come when future generations live in harmony, free from the social diseases of greed, racism, and sexism.

9. I recognize that the human race may yet destroy itself. I am against any and all excuses for doing so locally and globally.

10. I am deeply troubled by the ugly side of the history of my own nation and yet I also love it deeply and vow to work tirelessly towards our higher ideals such as democracy, religious freedom, freedom from tyranny, and the right of all to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This is my Declaration of Independence, my plea for collective action, my Declaration of Interdependence, and my vow to stand for a better world.

Gilmore Crosby

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Keys to Success (in Citizen Involvement)

A new article by our founder on his application of OD to citizen involvement in government!

https://www.spokesman.com/…/2021/aug/03/keys-to-success/

Posted in Change, Change Management, Citizen Involvement, Community Organizing, Organization Development, Robert P Crosby | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Democracy in politics and in the workplace

The following is in response to an on-line discussion between several colleagues which started with a post about the possible decline of democracy in the US, and went on to ponder whether that was caused by capitalism:

I do think that the strength of US democracy should not be taken for granted, but I don’t view capitalism as the threat. We have been democratic and capitalist for a long time. Granted, capitalism and democracy are two different things, and they don’t automatically support each other. A strength of capitalism is that you can profit, and that possibility is available to…I won’t say anybody…but to many. A weakness is that if you don’t, you and all the people that depend on you are screwed. Unfortunately for the system, that seems to be unavoidably cyclical. It is also unfortunate that it is easy to get seduced by quick ROI increases through short-term maneuvers such as cutting people and expenses (such as maintenance and R&D). It also appears to be true that without government intervention, wealth and the ability to profit consolidates into fewer and fewer hands, hands with a disproportionate ability to influence the government. With that in mind I personally favor a capitalist economy with a government that has strong checks and balances to detach itself from the influence of money (a need which the founders didn’t pay much attention to, and which the US currently lacks), and a government which redistributes a high percentage from the wealthiest to the rest of society, much as the tax structure did in the US in the 1950s (when we built much of the infrastructures that we rely on today).

While much more could be added to my simplistic analysis, it is certainly a cold hard fact that organizations functioning within a capitalist economy have to meet the requirements of that environment.  

Going back to the comment on the possible decline of democracy in the US and elsewhere, Kurt Lewin was clear that democracy must be learned and renewed with every generation, and that it is easier to adapt to totalitarianism than to being a citizen in a democracy. We need look no further than Lewin for lessons on failures of democracy. He wrote several articles pondering the failure of democracy in post WWI Germany. While there were many variables, one that stands out was the misguided belief that freedom of speech must be extended to all, even those who would spread hate and rule autocratically if they were in power. The initial German experiment with democracy was too weak to stand up to the rise of Nazism. Germany “tolerated the intolerant.”

We have done that for far too long here in the US imho by tolerating white supremist groups for example. Democracy in Lewin’s mind must be strong. The representative government must act, as FDR did during WWII, and as Lincoln did when he arrested the Maryland state assembly rather than allowing them to secede from the union. That was decisive action by a democratic leader, and the lack of the same would have led to disaster.

That doesn’t mean that every action will work the away it was intended. Some will have negative consequences. The same is true of inaction. democratic leadership is not for the faint of heart because the free press and the armchair quarterbacks, myself included, will voice our opinion of every decision.

Applying Lewin’s democratic principles of leadership to organizations, I am not so quick as some of my colleagues to label most US corporations as essentially “totalitarian.” relentlessly pursuing ROI is a challenge which must be pursued for an organization to exist within a capitalist environment, but it does not have to be done without a soul. In Lewin’s model (which works for me) the democratic leader is in charge, and then allows as much freedom and influence as possible. This combination of leadership and freedom consistently results in high productivity and morale, even within a capitalist environment. As his research further showed, many mistake “hands off” leadership, or laisse-faire, as democratic. Such passive leadership, even if the leader is “nice,” consistently leads to confusion, infighting, and low productivity. A democratic leader can allow a high functioning team to operate without supervision. A laisse-faire leader will try that with every team and create chaos. The OD industry imho too often doesn’t make these distinctions, instead favoring the flat self-organizing laisse-faire model as somehow morally superior.

Turning back to politics, we’ve been laisse-faire in the US about racism, militias, police violence, poverty, etc., for too long, much as in post WWI Germany, allowing a small vigorous minority to poison our political a social discourse. I for one say “enough!”

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Values

A colleague asked:

“Does anyone have a case study, article(s), or other resources that explain how a retail bank with branches got their people to internalize and demonstrate values? Hoping for some guidance also on what kind of metrics they used to get people to focus on the values through the performance measurement.”

To which I responded:

IMHO values for the most part get taught at a very early age (already internalized for better and worse), and having a corporation “teach” values like integrity to the employees is paternalistic and insulting. Also a hugely popular way for corporations to look as if they are doing something. The employees that have the desired values look at the list and sit through the meetings judging upper management as lacking the very things they are preaching, the employees that don’t have the values will not be influenced in the slightest. Far more useful to start at the top and cascade team sessions in which bosses and their direct reports self-assess team and systemic functioning and give frank respectful feedback to one another. Done well, that will improve the perception of the leadership within the system. If the leadership is perceived with disrespect (because the employees feel disrespected by the leadership) “rolling out” values aint going to make a whit of difference. 

If you proceed anyway (which you probably will), then behavioralize the so-called values (does integrity include the boss seeking feedback on a regular basis?) and use the roll out for team dialogue and devolvement. Each team could do a force-field analysis on what are the restraining forces that will prevent the values from being a reality, generate solutions, and implement what they can do locally while elevating what is systemic (like getting rid of the annual performance reviews as per Demming’s last suggestion to the world).

Obviously standard procedure is to incorporate the values (behavioralized or not) into the performance review system so that everyone can aspire to them (i.e., live in fear of being judged as not living up to them). Is “drive fear into the system” one of the values?

That’s a joke, son.

Does anyone have any measures that demonstrate that corporate values provide a return on investment? That I would like to see.

Regards,

Gil

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Change at Warp Speed

The future calls us to a new paradigm…a reality shift from the limited socially constructed thinking of the past into a nimble engagement with the ever-shifting present. Change at Warp Speed.

Change at Warp Speed happens as it begins, in a whirlwind of freedom and creativity that dances within the field emanating from its core. Shifts in the environment are adapted to faster than lightning, absorbed and transformed into new action. Groups organize within the ever-shifting field in which they operate around the principles of skillful dialogue. Each member influences as they explore reality through the lens of collective wisdom. Each member creates and is created by the ever shifting whole. The warp field is sustained even as the quasi-equilibrium of the environment ebbs and flows.

Freedom within structure is the Change at Warp Speed mantra generating productivity and morale. Decision-making is consciously organized and spread throughout the collective. The entire community experiments, yet the experiment is not random chaos, but rather focused energy aligned towards goals. Yes and No remain timely clear binary responses, with as much freedom as possible granted to the ever adapting collective.

Change at Warp Speed is ancient yet ever emerging. It begins with first contact and quickly absorbs and is absorbed by each field of forces it enters. There is minimal diagnosis or gathering of data, maximum integration of thinking and doing, with deeper dives as needed. Change at Warp Speed has happened by the time it has begun, and is continuous in a never-ending spiral of dialogue, acting, and learning from the action. Change at Warp Speed releases the dampened energy in the organization, spreading initiative and responsibility in a powerful wave, like a meteor striking a pond.

From whence came this new and transformational model? From a universal social science that applies equally on a micro and macro scale ranging from individual behavior to nation states and planetary dynamics…so much so that a real-life version of Star Fleet Academy will surely make it the basis of knowledge in the not-so-distant future.

Change at Warp Speed begins as the change agent walks in the door or beams down to a planet. Interviews are not so much to gather data, but rather to establish rapport and begin to influence thinking. That reality in terms of beliefs and behaviors is socially constructed is clear, and change begins by shifting from patterns such as blame and defensiveness (which fuel each other) towards owning misunderstandings and taking responsibility for one’s own reactions and emotions.

If sensors initially indicate an object as a potential threat, most (not all) in their fear-based reaction will sound the alert, raise shields, and even arm weapon systems. If further scans reveal the object poses no threat, fear will be followed by relief and a return to normal. Did the object cause the fear? Future generations will know the answer is a resounding “no.” It is perception that precedes fear, and misperception often creates needless drama, especially if the mind is befogged by the presence of authority relations. Change at Warp Speed is possible when perception shifts from the false hypothesis that hierarchy is the issue to clarity that reactions to authority are the issue. Freed from generational emotional binds, this reconstruction of reality allows empowerment of authority throughout the system and generates a vital portion of the field needed for change at warp speed.

The Change at Warp Speed change agent is more focused on unfreezing the quasi-equilibrium of mistrust and on influencing the social construction of reality. They know that warp speed will be built on a change in the level of functioning of groups through dialogue and group decision (influence on one another and commitment to actions). Unfrozen by effective change agents working in alignment with formal and informal leaders, the group can begin their own analysis of the field of forces within which their own performance and morale are held in stasis. The laws of physical science will guide the change. Pushing harder on the field, as many organizations do, only increases tension, and strengthens the restraining forces. Change at Warp Speed happens through group dynamics, with the restraining force of overfunctioning by management and experts (a petri-dish for underfunctioning by everyone else) instantly replaced by local analysis and solution generation. Groups take action and do research on the effectiveness of their actions. As groups identify and address their own restraining forces, change happens in the moment, and a transformational ability to adapt to new challenges and opportunities spreads through the system like electricity. In a flash resilience is no longer a catchword but rather a behavior-based reality. A new homeostasis freezes the fields and replaces the old.

Aligned around group dynamics that balance freedom and structure in an ever-shifting quasi-equilibrium, leaders lead and followers follow, and everyone knows how to do both as situations demand. Dialogue becomes rich and real, with no need to restrain people from exploring what they really think. The social science holding such change in place postulates that attempting to impose what people should think or say, or shaming people about what to think only leads to false conformity. Patience at warp speed is a virtue because false hypotheses such as racism, sexism, and any other “us and them” (such as management and labor, maintenance and production, headquarters and locations, etc.) mentalities will only shift in the face of real dialogue. You can lead towards such awareness, but each must freely arrive. Once peers begin to shift from blame to respect and from fear to openness a wave of freely chosen re-education takes place.

Change at Warp Speed isn’t rocket science. Wielding a triangle of training-action-research, it can be transferred to anyone who cares. It is designed in its very essence to be shared. With a little effort you can learn it too, if you dare.

You don’t need a modified DeLorean for Change at Warp Speed to take you back to the future. Once adapted widely, humanity can move away from sociological black holes such as totalitarianism and laisse-faire leadership, and no longer tolerate power inequality such as racism and sexism. A golden age of democratic values and leadership taking many forms but always rooted in equality can dawn.

Science fiction aside, everything you just read about Change at Warp Speed emanated from the beautiful mind of Kurt Lewin (1890 – 1947), even the application of field theory. Especially the application of field theory. If you didn’t know, now you know. In the golden age to come I foresee monuments being built and children named after him. Generations will use a holographic version of the Johari Window to assess why so many were blind for so long to the potential his social science placed in our hands. The Starship Lewin will be the first warp drive vessel of a vast fleet, always seeking new knowledge, but never forgetting from whence we came.

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Gilmore Crosby on Lewin’s Situational Model of Leadership published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science!

We’re pleased to announce yet another cutting edge publication, this in the prestigious JABS! Gilmore Crosby has translated Lewin’s writings into a visual model and into a new understanding important and applicable to any leader. Here is the visual:

Read the full article here!

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The Fifteen Commandments of Crosby OD*

  1. Thou shalt not bow to the market pressures of rejecting the old and worshipping the “new”
  2. Thou shalt not impose your bias against authority and hierarchy on others and call it sound theory
  3. Thou shalt not confuse “action-research” with the ineffective expert model of gathering data and then telling people what to do
  4. Thou shalt not over-function by speaking and thinking for others (through anonymous feedback, etc.), thereby encouraging under-functioning in the system
  5. Thou shalt not only coach leaders one-on-one, or separate from their system
  6. Thou shalt have a bias toward action, and towards helping the people facing the problems come up with their own solutions
  7. Thou shalt transfer thy theory and methods throughout the client system so as to increase their capacity to solve their own problems
  8. Thou shalt work at every level of the system so thou art not blind to the whole and do not become part of the fragmentation of the system
  9. Thou shalt foster Kurt Lewin’s democratic principles of leadership throughout the system (a balance of authority and empowerment) over autocratic (over-functioning leadership) and laissez-faire (under-functioning leadership)
  10. Thou shalt help the leadership align the system around measurable goals, beliefs/values (such as Lewin’s democratic principles of leadership), and behaviors (such as single point accountability)
  11. Thou shalt be alert to pitfalls such as goal conflict (jeopardizing quality and/or safety in pursuit of production), confusing goals with activity (tasks, meetings, trainings, projects, etc.), and tunnel-vision (focusing only on what is measured)
  12. Thou shalt help foster decision clarity throughout the system, with a bias towards empowering people to take action and make decisions as close to the action as possible
  13. Thou shalt actively “re-educate” and teach “use of self” to the system via T-groups and other means – grounded in the work you continue to do on yourself
  14. Thou shalt be a catalyst for “unfreezing” the current homeostasis by decreasing restraining forces such as avoidance, mistrust, and disengagement, and for “freezing” high-performance culture into a sustainable homeostasis
  15. Thou shalt be willing to take a stand for what is right, including the effectiveness of every role and the dignity of every human being in the system

*Much of the above was handed down by Kurt Lewin and unlike Mel Brooks we didn’t drop our third tablet

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Lewin on Democracy in Organizations and Nations

My latest webinar!

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T-groups Adapted for the Workplace

Gilmore Crosby is published again! He has authored a chapter of the Collaborative Change Library that is now available on the myLibrary app (www.mylibrary.world) – you can access it on your phone, tablet, or computer. The chapter is: T-Groups Adapted for the Workplace [https://mylibraryworld.web.app/…/T-Groups%20for%20the…]. There are videos and supporting materials as well. We’re curious to learn what you think and look forward to your feedback!

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