Sunday, 29 March 2009

The "secret" to leadership in uncertain times (3)

In uncertain times like these, anxiety and uncertainty abound because what we thought were the answers, what we thought was logical and reliable, has failed. People we trusted to know clearly don’t know. Things we thought were sensible clearly don’t make sense any more.

The climate of uncertainty is ripe for the soothsayers, snake-oil salesmen and quack doctors who are out in force - this time let loose in the virtual communication space of the internet as well as in the usual success-secret shelves of the bookstore.

As the cacophony of chatter and advice in virtual communication space reaches a seeming white-noise crescendo, it all seems to me increasingly unlikely to yield transformation. All manner of self-proclaimed, self-promoting experts are in there looking to make a killing in the confusion: peddling their various solution lists; tools and levers without engines; re-packaged, re-positioned versions of failed recipes of the last 30 years.

I find it difficult to find anything new, any significant discussion even. The twittering social networking phenomenon looks to me increasingly hysterical: like a throng mesmerised in a Matrix-Reloaded-like stream of often uncritically repeated information, misnamed “knowledge”.

My experience is that the knowledge that enables and feeds collaboration exists only between people in relationship – as interactively generated shared-meaning. At its best, in a high performing team, it is dynamic, changing, growing through the robustly shared experiences of diverse team members - in an open, supportive communication climate where people have learnt to trust each other enough to tell, listen to and face the brutal facts as they see them.

An effective leader helps the team learn new things by reflecting on practice in the light of new perspectives; encourages the team members to discover new perspectives, bring them to the team and use them to make new, rich sense together of what they’re doing.

There is no band aid – no quick fix. The healing process is richly systemic. The result is the miracle of a “team on fire”: doing good things together.

It’s like Irish singer Bono says (quoted by writer Bob Gass): "I would be terrified to be on my own as a solo singer… I surround myself with… a band, a family of very spunky kids, and a wife who's smarter than anyone… you're only as good as the arguments you get. So maybe the reason why the band hasn't split up is that people might get this: even though I'm only one quarter of U2, I'm more than I could be if I was one whole of something else."

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