In the Leadership Mode, Chapter Summaries
PART ONE Foundations
Chapter 1 Three Vines in the Forest of Leadership
Drawing on the 1994 discovery of the Wollemi Pine, a species thought to have become extinct two million years ago, we invoked the image of leadership as a forest representing the diversity of books, frameworks, and other materials generated over the past half century. Most of the forest is ensnared with “vines” representing conventional assumptions about leadership. These assumptions include the idea that leadership is the province of leaders, that leadership involves the exercise of authority, and that leadership is essentially an influence process. (Another vine concerning the relationship between leadership and management is discussed in Chapter 4.) Although most of the forest is covered with these vines, nearby—but difficult to see— is a gorge where a different form of leadership grows.
This chapter explored some ways in which these vines (assumptions) constrict our contemporary concepts of leadership. We looked at how the terms leadership and leader tend to be used interchangeably, making it difficult to conceive of a concept of leadership without leaders figuring centrally. As well, we discussed how the common confusion between leadership and formal authority limits our thinking about possible leadership contributions from those not in the upper levels of their organizations. One common theme, which we examined with reference to Kouzes and Posner’s book, The Leadership Challenge, is the notion of the leader having, and communicating, a vision that inspires others. We considered some of the difficulties common to a transformational approach, including the possibility that the leader may not receive critical feedback from those he or she is trying to influence.
The aim is not to do away with conventional perspectives, but to notice and contemplate them, and to offer some critical appraisal, particularly in terms of how such perspectives constrain our ability to work with contentious problems. Understanding these current realities—and then setting them aside—will enable us to see more clearly our alternative, a learning-centered perspective on leadership.
Chapter 2 Leadership from a Learning Perspective
The chapter featured a case story in which Bernardo sought to get his executive colleagues to engage with the issue of fostering innovation in his company. Using the case as a launch pad, we considered learning-centered leadership as involving people in jointly constructing meaning in relation to a contentious problem by drawing out, examining, and integrating diverse perspectives.
We saw that a relational orientation is critical to learning-centered leadership processes. This is characterized by intentional efforts to put processes of joint thinking and action ahead of direct task achievement; it also entails a willingness to pay attention at a deep level to the views of others, as well as to reflect on one’s own views and assumptions. A relational orientation is critical in view of the pervasiveness of defensive behavior patterns in most organizations. Only through relational processes can we possibly tap into the unspoken wisdom and intelligence that stakeholders to a contentious problem possess.
We looked at learning-centered leadership through two “lenses.” One lens emphasizes the “higher-level” leadership processes that need to unfold in a group over a period with a contentious problem. This work involves people jointly establishing current realities, clarifying a preferred future (including sound purpose and shared vision), and harnessing energy for deep-reaching change. The second lens focuses on the same processes, but emphasizes learning-centered leadership interventions—actions taken by individuals at specific points in time. These interventions, which must be made relationally, primarily involve acts of speaking, such as giving voice to previously undiscussed topics, or asking questions to reveal deeper aspects of issues, in order to help the group move toward the changes it desires. When we make these learning-centered leadership interventions, we are functioning “in the leadership mode.”
We drew on the case story to illuminate the higher-level processes of establishing current realities, clarifying preferred futures (purpose and vision), and harnessing energy for deep-reaching change. In relation to current realities, an image of an iceberg was used to suggest that the work of establishing what is real to stakeholders involves delving below the waterline to surface hidden, implicit, or subtle aspects so that they may be scrutinized and integrated with other insights. We looked at how the work of engaging with implicit aspects is made difficult because of pervasive defensive practices and patterns. This creates some risk, which we must acknowledge. Relational working helps ameliorate these threats, as we saw with Bernardo.
In relation to clarifying preferred futures, we saw, firstly, the importance of being clear about our purposes. Learning-centered leadership implies a purpose that involves making a worthwhile difference for others, that can be stated explicitly, and which is contestable. The second aspect of clarifying preferred futures was developing a shared vision. Here, we emphasized the importance of vision as a process, distinguishing it from vision as a product. Building momentum for change was presented as an ongoing process of creating and sustaining intrinsic motivation through actively engaging stakeholders in change-related processes.
While the processes of establishing current realities, clarifying preferred futures, and harnessing energy for change may unfold over an extended period, we recognized that making learning-centered leadership interventions is something done in the present moment. Undertaking such action is the essence of acting “in the leadership mode,” which we defined as intervening relationally toward building shared meaning in a context of efforts to enable deep-reaching change with a contentious problem.
We also reviewed the differences between learning-centered leadership and transformational leadership. We noted that while learning-centered leadership has its own challenges, it offers particular benefits, including the prospect of involving more minds in the work of leadership, and bringing more of the available intelligence to bear on the contentious problem.
Chapter 3 The Roots of Leadership-Mode Action
This chapter delved into three concepts underpinning learning centered-leadership and leadership-mode action: relational working, mindful working, and practice-basis. The story of Alice’s efforts—with the assistance of her external coach, Juanita—to bring about change in teaching and learning practices in her school illustrated these concepts.
Relational working implies seeing yourself as at least partly within the system that concerns you, and acting accordingly. As well, it asks you to inquire into others’ views while also holding your own views open to review. Relational working asks you to adopt a receptive stance even in situations where you have already established, and perhaps difficult, relationships with other stakeholders, and to accept the reality that others may not reciprocate by displaying receptiveness to your views. Detached working, in contrast, sees the intervener as an external agent operating upon the system, applying strategies and tactics to bring about change involving others.
The discussion of mindful working drew on the work of Ellen Langer to look into two aspects: the need to work towards differentiation in perceiving—rather than applying sweeping generalizations and unchanging categories—and the necessity for attention to process. Process was considered both in relation to the subtle change-related dynamics occurring over a period, and—at a more micro level—the dynamics occurring within a particular conversation. Critical to process work is the ability to step outside of the conversation’s content to deal with shifts in mood or atmosphere, such as when someone (ourselves included) displays anger, or the conversation seems stuck or stalled.
A practice-based perspective goes to the idea that the leadership-mode concept is about taking actions of a particular type (relational, deep-reaching, and change-oriented). The question is not how good a leader any particular person is. The more relevant question is, What kinds of interventions they are making? And, How well are they making those interventions? As with any discipline, practice is a critical element. But this is not just a matter of trying harder. The challenge is to engage with the inner dimension: to become more adept at observing one’s internal processes, at intentionally trying out different approaches, and at reflecting on the results—without adopting an overly self-critical stance.
Chapter 4 Reinterpreting the Leadership-Management Relationship
In this chapter, we set about untangling the fourth “vine in the forest of leadership,” the assumption that leadership and management cannot be gainfully separated. We recognized a need to set aside questions of leaders and managers in order to distinguish leadership processes from those of management. Without a process emphasis, we would bump up against the problem of leader-manager comparisons relegating managers to a second tier. We saw also how the other vines—those identifying leadership with authority and influence—contribute to confusion regarding the leadership-management relationship.
The management mode was defined in terms of a focus on the explicit aspects of problems and a concern with task accomplishment, with its legitimacy deriving from authority. The leadership mode was defined earlier as involving relational thinking and action in order to build shared meaning on contentious problems in the pursuit of deep-reaching change.
While both modes are necessary, it is the management mode that predominates in most organizations and settings, often overwhelmingly so. Some reasons for this dominance were canvassed. One consequence of the pre-eminence of management processes is that leadership can become little more than an espoused value, while most action reflects a management-oriented way of seeing.
The leadership mode is different to, but not the opposite of, management; they are complementary. Maintaining an awareness of the differences between the modes—while recognizing a degree of overlap between them—opens up the prospect of making much more informed and intentional choices in our use of the two modes. We can utilize one or the other mode, or interweave both, in particular circumstances, as well as become more aware over time as to the relative attention we are giving each mode. Some examples were provided to illustrate how interventions can draw upon the complementary nature of the two modes, and to show the power of doing so.
Chapter 5 Active Choice and the Leadership Mode
Our attention in this chapter was on the choices and consequences of intervening in the leadership mode as distinct from the management mode. We focused first on the challenges of so-called “underground rules.” These are the unwritten organizational codes that people intuit about “how things get done around here.” By following these rules they minimize the prospect of harm for themselves and others. To function in the leadership mode, one needs to be aware of these underground rules and be prepared to bring them out in the open and scrutinize them; not in a blunt or confrontational way but in a manner that helps people talk more authentically about how they work together. We used a case story to examine two possible courses of action, one in the management mode, and another in the leadership mode.
We then looked into choice in the context of undertaking leadership- and management-mode interventions when others are behaving in ways we find difficult. In discussing the case featuring Maria and Ivan, we saw that management-mode interventions can have particular value in controlling or limiting a problem (in this case Ivan’s aggressive behavior). Leadership-mode interventions, though, potentially give us greater traction in making sense of the problem from a variety of perspectives.
We saw that our learning-leadership interventions can be less risky for both others and ourselves if we follow these guidelines: work from observation, attribute reasonableness to others, and seek to act authentically. We also considered some pointers to assist in weighing up the risks and opportunities of possible leadership-mode interventions. These included: being alert to situations of heightened risk; preparing well, without over-preparing; adopting a learning attitude to setbacks; and recognizing the possibilities and opportunities for action, not only the risks.
PART TWO The ARIES Framework —