The Big 10 for personal and organisational development

I am passionate about personal development and growth, and it never ceases to surprise me how the same personal growth principles apply to organisational development. Organisations are human systems, so it makes sense that this would be the case.

We are built as human beings to grow and develop. We feel fully alive when we learn and grow, even when growing involves inevitable pain. It makes life meaningful. To not grow and develop is to feel flat and uncommitted. The same is true of any organisation: for profit or non-profit.

In my reading and study of growth and development I came across three essential systems that made a world of sense to me: 3 major questions from Simon Sinek, 3 functions of the brain from Dr. Henry Cloud, and 4 core skills from Dr. Scott Peck. These form the Big 10 for personal and organisational development. Here they are, in a brief overview through my own lens:

– Three Questions: Why, What, How

1. Why?

This is where it all starts, according to Simon Sinek. We have to start with figuring out why we are doing what we are doing. This is true of individuals, and of organisations. The why is related to the most basic values and beliefs that govern who are we as individuals and organisations. This is also something we keep having to go back to, evaluate and ask questions individually and as a collective. It has to be clear what our purpose and goals are. In the words of Simon Sinek “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Clarity is paramount here, as is the need to keep going back to the question. As a human being, what do you believe in? What is your purpose in life? As an organisation, what are the common values and beliefs that define you? What is the company about? And: do all members own it, or is it shared across the board? Continue reading

(Re)Thinking about leadership

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a lot about leadership. From the launch of iTunes U I’ve been watching lectures from several universities on the issue of organisational change and leadership. There seems to be a very strong wind of change blowing in the management world. The recent credit crunch and recession may have something to do with that rethinking. The paradigm seems to be shifting dramatically, at least in academic circles. Corporations and governments better change, or the economy will hit a brick wall within our life times. This seems to be generally accepted in economic circles. But it applies to all areas in my view…

When we think about what makes a leader, generally we think about a person who has a vision and is able to both communicate it clearly and get people to buy into it and implement it. Sounds familiar? That’s what I used to think about leadership. In many ways I still do at the instinct level; but now I think I am wrong. The emphasis is on vision building and planning. If you have a good plan, if you implement it well and stick to it, you will have success.

There’s a new thinking in management beginning to emerge. It has to do with how we imagine organisations in the first place. The ‘visionary leader’ makes sense only if we imagine organisations as wholes, as unitary entities. But they are only wholes in our imagination. All organisations, commercial or charitable, are made of people, and people are complicated. Rather than think about the whole and how we can get it to move in a certain direction, we need to take its complexity seriously. I wish I had known this when I started ministry.

Complexity is important because THAT is what we experience in organisations, and not the other (unitary) bit. What we experience in reality is the local interaction of people (or agents, as they’re called in the complexity sciences) and the ideas that emerge from these interactions.

For instance, think of the 10 billion (or so) neurons in the brain: There is no single neuron commanding all of them. Rather every single neuron interacts with 15,000 to 30,000 other neurons who do the same. Every single neuron thus interacts with only a fraction of the whole. What emerges out of all the local interactions is a ‘population wide pattern’. There’s a lot to say about that, but I’ll just leave it at that and look at the local interaction for now, which has been neglected to our peril.

If we apply this to organisations, the leader is the person who can best identify and articulate what is just emerging from that local interaction, and keep the conversation going.  He/she may have a vision, but that only serves as a conversation starter, and not as a governing principle or the end of conversation. A good leader will not kill the conversation by negotiating some kind of ‘shared values or vision’. This stifles growth and movement, ultimately leading to death. A good leader will keep the conversation going at all times, aware that nobody can anticipate with any certainty what the outcome of our actions will be. It assumes a complex world, it involves risk taking and ongoing conversation.

Does this make sense as we think of our leadership role in the church? (I’m not only referring to ministers. Leaders emerge in local interactions all the time, even if we don’t call them that. The implications for pastoral care and local ministries blow my mind!)