Why a Paradigm Shift is Needed: Current Trends in Organizations
Some companies are organizing around teams and making teams responsible for their own work without management supervision. In such a situation, each team is accountable to all the other teams with which it is interdependently linked. This creates a kind of marketplace accountability in which the work of each team is appraised for its quality and timeliness by the other teams with which the team has connections. The meaning of such a system starts with satisfying the needs of the customer, both internal and external. Each person, and each team, and all the interlinked teams that make up the organization participate in this leadership.
There is often literally no one “making decisions” from a ,”higher level” in order to control the work of the teams. In many cases, the various teams are coordinating by something very close to mutual adjustment. In the past, mutual adjustment as a method for gaining coordination and shared direction has been limited to relatively small groups of tightly integrated people. The idea of expanding mutual adjustment to include larger organizational units is fostering a significantly different idea of leadership.
In a related vein, many organizations are trying to break down the strict barriers, the silos, that have separated and defined different functions. Boundaries do not go away, but our ideas about the nature of boundaries can change. In most organizations, functional boundaries are the product of coordination from above, from a level of more abstraction – the classic bureaucratic hierarchy. As organizations try to create a context in which functions can work together more closely, coordination from the top seems to be giving way to coordination from the side-from workgroup to workgroup instead of from manager to manager. This makes the leadership task significantly more complex and requires an approach to leadership that embraces the differences within and among groups. A model of leadership that acknowledges and accommodates the need for direction and meaning between functions seems to be called for.
Increasing diversity in organizations also suggests the need for a new paradigm in leadership. If organizations are going to embrace differing cultures, they need to be able to embrace differing values, philosophies, attitudes, ideas, and feelings all at once, seeing differing values and perspectives as mutually sustaining. Older approaches to leadership depending on the idea that a leader can generate a vision to guide, motivate, or gain the commitment of others are unlikely to serve this need
very well simply because the vision of a leader – even if it is informed by the ideas of followers – is of necessity the vision of a single culture and a single worldview, because it is expressed from a single point of view. Vision in diverse organizations needs to be multifaceted, and meaning in diverse organizations needs to be reciprocal, forged in continuous interaction, An idea of leadership as shared process may be a step in this direction. This process is the Creative Interchange process.
The need to make organizations more directly responsive to customers is leading to the practice of granting increased no routine decision-making authority to operational people. This move also seems to call for a new paradigm in leadership. Making people more directly responsible for their work and the outcomes of their work puts the identity and reputation of the organization into the hands of many, rather than of a strategic few at the top. As operational employees take responsibility for making decisions in direct communication with customers, depending less on following a script and more on their own living of the Creative Interchange process, the enacted strategy of the organization unfolds in the day-to-day actions of a multitude of people. If the strategy of the organization is to be effective, people at all levels and doing all kinds of work need to be participants in the evolution of that strategy. Again, an approach to leadership as a shared process is being called forth.
Finally, the whole set of ideas implicit in what is being called the learning organization may depend upon a new idea of leadership. We wrote in part II of our book ‘Creative Interchange’: “We have to make the Creative Interchange process a discipline (our way of doing business) and a daily reality. Only then will the learning organization become a flourishing reality. In other words, we are convinced that the Fifth Discipline of Peter M. Senge can only become a success if it is essentially based on the ‘Sixth Discipline: Creative Interchange’.
Fundamentally, the difference between the learning organization and the traditional organization lies in the concept of open and closed systems. he traditional organization was conceived as a more or less closed system, with a goal of stability in the face of environmental change. The learning organization is being conceived as an open system that evolves continuously as it interacts with its environment. Although the traditional organization was well served by a model of leadership that emphasized a single, controlling vision created by a leader who had a highly abstracted view of the enterprise-the leader created the leadership that kept the organization stable – the learning organization needs a model of leadership that points toward continuous adaptive change: “The [Creative Interchange] Process is the Leader”.
This suggests that somehow we have to figure out how to achieve flexible navigation that adjusts to changes as they happen, not in annual or other time-specific cycles. It’s an image of a ship on which the sailors are calling out to one another what they are doing and what they have learned about the sea in which they are sailing. Instead of regarding a sea captain as the leader; the entire ship-sailor system is seen as leadership. If companies are to steer by this kind of large-scale mutual adjustment, an approach to leadership is needed that enables direction to emerge from the reciprocity of interrelated work.
In recent years the theory of leadership has been building toward a new view in tandem with the practice of leadership. The final step in understanding how these changes in the idea of leadership affect the practice of leadership development is to describe in more detail just what such leadership might look like. How is it different from the traditional idea of influence and the modern idea of shared commitment?
Leadership as Shared Meaning Making
The idea of leadership that is emerging calls for rethinking the source of leadership. It will no longer be thought of as something initiated by the leader (or by followers) but understood to begin in the reciprocal connections of people working together. This is a significant change from even the most current ideas of leadership, which are still rooted in the idea that leadership is a product of individual initiative and action. Even in the modern idea, it is still usually presumed that the leader initiates the shared process.
The idea that leadership is initiated by interactions of people (which is the creative interchange process at work between people) instead of by people as individuals goes well beyond the idea that leadership is a personal trait. It also goes beyond the idea that anyone can be a leader. It even goes beyond the idea that leadership can and should be shared between leader and followers. It is the idea that the process is the leader.
This new idea says that leadership begins and ends in the interrelations of people working together. It is not that the process is most effective when it is shared by a leader with followers; sharing is where the process comes from. It doesn’t come from leaders and it doesn’t come from followers; it doesn’t come from any one person alone. The Creative Interchange process is the natural learning process. It comes instead from what goes on between people, from people making reciprocal meaning (promises, commitments, interpretations, agreements) when they work together. This is leadership as shared meaning making.
What exactly do I mean by “shared meaning making?” Without getting too entangled in philosophy, I suggest that it refers to joint or reciprocal interpretation of experience, especially experiences that are readily open to multiple interpretations. To use the old analogy of the blind men and the elephant, I mean the synthesis of all the partial observations. This is more than a summary of the various views-the size of the leg, the length of the trunk, the feel of the tail. It means that all those who hold the various observations from differing points of reference arrive at an agreed-upon view of the whole animal. shared meaning making then, refers to the reciprocal social processes by which a group of people agree on how to understand some phenomenon and what value to place on it. I hope this becomes clearer as the paper progresses.