The most recent book by Organization Development (OD) master practitioner Gilmore Crosby, entitled Leadership Can Be Learned: Clarity, Connection, and Results, describes how leaders can be more effective in their interpersonal, group, and large-system interactions. During a recent conversation about his book, I asked Gilmore: “What are the traditional leadership paradigms that have consistent negative effects on work culture? How can this be changed?” Here is his complete answer:
There are two prevalent paradigms that lock leadership and work culture into a limited box:
Denial about authority issues — Everyone has them, but most don’t realize they do. We all start small and dependent, and carry emotional memories from infancy into adulthood. Having a boss, being a boss, and being in an organization all remind our brain of our early pre-cognative experiences. Wired for survival, our brain wants to protect us from experiences similar to those early moments, including the dependency and interdependency of most work. Our emotional memories (the past) intensify our reactions in the present. If one isn’t aware enough to separate the past from the present, they will be apt to blame the people they are with (the boss, the subordinates, the peers) for their own mistrust and communication gaps. Our authority issues define and limit how we lead and how we relate to the people we report to.
Lack of systems thinking — From a systemic perspective, it’s not who is on the bus that is most important, it’s how the bus is being driven. Most leaders are trapped in a paradigm of personality theory, obsessed with getting the right people on and off the bus. Many leaders I know take pride in their ability to judge people. That of course is necessary, but without a healthy dose of systems thinking, judging (and being judged) becomes the main focus. That unintentionally drives fear and defensiveness into the culture, undermining the very openness necessary for high performance. Leaders would do well to strive with at least equal energy for creating the conditions for fostering high performance in the vast majority of the people that are reporting to them. If they are constantly changing people out, they are the problem, not the subordinates. The right driver can lift an entire system, the wrong driver can demoralize and undermine performance. I’ve seen both many times.
Practical methods for bringing out the best in yourself and in others are woven throughout my book not as a program, but rather as sound leadership practices suitable to every group in any organization.
What do you think of Gilmore’s perspective? Do these leadership paradigms exist in your organization? What have been the effects?