Monday, 1 November 2010

The New Leaders: Humble Warriors Part III

by Tom Heuerman, Ph.D.

Jobs Vacancy, Employment, Employment Jobs

Richard Knowles, Ph.D., consultant and former executive with the DuPont Company, about his leadership experience at the Belle, West Virginia plant:

I was a tough, command and control manager, setting high expectations and driving the people in the organization very hard. I was seen as cold and tough minded. I had to get good business results; this is the way I thought I had to be to get things changed.

I tried to be rational and analytical--there was no place for emotions. But I did lose my temper with people, especially those who worked most closely with me. I felt I had to drive people to get the best results quickly. I was hard on them and myself.

Even though it was awfully rough, we made a lot of progress and our performance got a lot better. Many people hated me-- several wrote letters to the DuPont CEO telling him I was a bear and that they should get me out of there. I even had a couple of death threats. I knew I had to change. A painful and difficult time of personal growth as a leader began.

My role shifted from being the standard setter and driver to cheerleader. I started to spend a lot more time with the people in the plant. I paid a lot more attention to the processes we were using. I began to go much deeper into the way the organization worked, learning a lot about what was really going on. I opened up to how people were feeling: our caring and feelings for each other grew. I spent a lot of time trying to help people see the meaning in what we were doing. As more and more people discovered that they could make a difference, huge energy and creativity flowed into the organization.

I learned that it was much more effective for me to ask questions, helping people to understand what we needed to consider than to try to have all the answers. I found that I just needed to ask questions and invite the people to come in to help. They always came! Their answers were usually better than those I came up with. Further, the answers were theirs so they helped to create our future together. Resistance to change just melted away.

During this time the people at Belle made one improvement after another. Our safety injury rates dropped by 95%, and we became the third safest DuPont Plant in the world. Earnings tripled. Productivity rose by about 45%. In every way, we saw exciting performance improvements as we learned together. Several families adopted us into their extended families; we still go to reunions.

Richard Knowles grew from a mechanical man to a complete human being.

The mechanistic world-view teaches us that we are separate and distinct from nature and from others. This world-view even teaches us that we can disconnect from our spirit and emotions and rely on our rational minds only. We seek to control and dominate nature and others. We believe we are responsible only for ourselves and others must fend for themselves. Such beliefs alienate us from others and ourselves and allow us to harm others with no sense of personal responsibility. Many leaders manage from this view of life. In positions of power and influence, and justified by ambition and the bottom line, our organizational leadership damages many people.

We learn that success and promotions often go to the strongest and most ruthless--not the most caring, creative, or competent. Individualistic employees identify with and defend their fragmented jobs and/or departments. Relationships between people in organizations are often dishonest, conforming, competitive, paternalistic, and politically correct. Often we create enemies who we demonize and scapegoat to justify our own bad behavior. We act like living machines, each in conformity with one another. Rigid and impermeable boundaries maintain and protect our disconnection from others. The beliefs that drive these behaviors are false.

Quantum physics teach us that relationships are primary in the universe. Elements in the sub-atomic world are life-like, exchange information constantly, and transform based on these dynamics. They exist only in relationship to other energy. They are not separate, distinct, or atomistic as we once believed. These unseen connections are the essence of creativity. Life is relationships. The same dynamics occur at the human level. Like sub-atomic particles, people are created to be in relationship with others. When we understand this truth we internalize that what we do to others we do to ourselves.

In the workplace connections are made around the shared identity (vision, values, and purpose) of the enterprise and shared information that allows employees to self-organize around the vision for the future. Richard Knowles averaged 5 hours a day, over 5 years, out of his office teaching the plant's vision, values, and purpose to employees. Enlightened leaders see the importance of relationships to family, leadership, and to creativity and self-organization in our enterprises.

To take advantage of life's natural dynamics in our organizations, we must utilize this knowledge and move from being machinelike to being complete human beings as Richard Knowles did. This is difficult. For first we must see ourselves as we are. Our denial, rationalizations, and need to blame people, combined with a lack of honest feedback about our impact on others, make it hard for us to realize and admit the destruction we do to the spirits of others. We do not see how our leadership behavior brings forth sub-optimal performance even as we try to enhance performance. We can choose to open our hearts and see beyond positional slots to the humanity of those around us.

If we choose to grow, then we look back honestly through the lens of new beliefs, accept responsibility for our actions, and hold ourselves accountable for our impact on others. We are mindful of the destructive patterns and dynamics of our relationships with others. We see how our behavior often brings out the worst in others. We reflect on how we harmed others mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and in their careers.

We also examine our impact as leaders and citizens on nature and the impact of our world-view on our families and ourselves. We realize that in the past we acted from what we knew and now we have new knowledge. We forgive ourselves. As we see how living from a new world-view can evolve us as human beings, we become willing to apologize, to change our leadership practices, our business practices, and our personal behavior We begin to make amends. We learn how to form and sustain relationships with others and our isolation from others begins to end.

The positional boundaries that separate us are removed. We accept others as fellow human beings worthy of equal respect because of our shared humanity. We see how relationships impact innovation and understand the power of ownership, participation, and engagement with others. We also realize that we can lead only in symbiotic relationship with our followers.

We realize that our new principles for life apply equally everywhere: in the home, the workplace, and in our interactions with all people we come in contact with. Our new growth will disrupt patterns of behavior and relationships in our families and workplaces. This may lead to considerable anguish and need for further growth and change.

This is the hard inner work of personal growth and transformation. We are at a new level of consciousness brought about by a series of spiritual awakenings, moments of metanoia, and painful, profound, and penetrating personal insights. In effect, we change our minds about how to live and lead. We begin to give back.

We share our stories, learnings, and experiences with others with no strings attached because we are servants to the greater whole of life. We become teachers and coaches, and we bear witness for others. At times we subordinate our personal wishes and do what is in the interest of the larger system of which we are a part. At other times, we put ourselves first. We give up control and create conditions where the talents of all can emerge.

We put into practice the fundamental wisdom we acquire. We learn to love wisdom and desire to live by its dictates, a life of service, simplicity, authenticity, and faith. The material world lessens in importance, and we live courageously and authentically from our souls. We experience the joy of touching the spirit of another.

We feel no need to control and are content to observe, to let things unfold, to introspect, and to ponder the meaning of things in a mindful way. Our goal is to understand. We learn to bring forth the wisdom in every group and seek to learn from people in the most humble of positions. We become continuous learners and eternal travelers into the world of higher knowledge. We hold our beliefs up for examination continually and ask others to do the same. Through our work we inspire, provide hope, open eyes, and are wise and embody the spiritual, mystical parts of our lives: we create meaning.

We learn to trust our inner voice and know things from our own experience. We do not accept the views of others blindly. We coach this capability in others. We help everyone to be who they are. We give back and institutionalize a spiritual way of life. We achieve fantastic results when we lead in this way.

I had an experience similar to Richard Knowles. I led a massive change effort at a large Midwestern newspaper for 1990-94. Little did I know when the experience began, that I would be changed the most. I began the same inner journey that Richard took. I continue it today. First year business results were spectacular including $5 million in savings and a 70% reduction in first-line supervision. All service measures improved by as much as 70%.

The work we did, and the relationships we developed within the 4,500-employee business unit, were destroyed by my successors. A significant decline in performance ensued and continues today.

Leaders are paid to deliver results. Leaders want to transform their organizations because they want them to survive and prosper. Few leadership talents are required to deliver short-term results obtained when we cut budgets, reduce staff, push people beyond their limits, and manipulate numbers. These tactics reflect mechanistic beliefs that kill organizations in the long-term in exchange for the illusion of success in the short-term.

Richard Knowles achieved fantastic results in ways that promoted the wholeness of people and called forth the tremendous latent potential in organizations. He understood early that living systems are creative and self-organize naturally around a core identity in ways that enhance sustainability. Richard Knowles learned to lead in ways that support the long-term sustainability of the organization, the economy, and the environment. I believe this is the leadership purpose, and the organizational challenge, for the 21st century.


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