Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Realizing Shared Purpose

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Realizing Shared Purpose

In the posting Creating Catalysts, we left Susan, a Lean practitioner, learning to operate at the Catalyst level. A Catalyst leader focuses on establishing a vision and mobilizing a breakout effort. The Co-Creator level draws upon her own evolving sense of life purpose to developing a shared purpose with others, whether in a team or organization. In order to create this sense of shared purpose, the Co-Creator develops a keen level of self-awareness, leads with a balanced power style and understands and integrates multiple perspectives.

Let's follow Ken's approach to bringing about transformational change within the division of a company he is responsible for. During a recent trip through Africa, Ken noticed a shift in his thinking and world perspective. Since his return, he's been spending more time reflecting on what he has, who he is, and what he might be able to contribute to the world. He's not ready to or interested in setting up a venture that might bring about fundamental change in the world, but he has begun to wonder what he might be able to do to enhance the lives of others around him. While remaining as committed as ever to delivering the short-term business results of his division, Ken focuses his attention on how his division can create products and services are created and delivered to the customers with social and environmental sustainability. He's starting to believe that if he can link the concerns and self-interest of people in his organization with a larger identity and purpose, they can create fundamental change.

Ken knows that in the past, he's been seen to be a collaborative leader, getting input from others in order to gain buy-in and get to a better decision. But to bring about a fundamental shift, he's going to need his team to own more than the decision, they need to have shared responsibility for the outcome and be willing to take initiative individually and collectively to make it happen. That's going to happen only through developing a leadership team that is excited by, and shares a commitment to the mission and values of the organization.

The change starts with Ken. He's learned that everything he does and thinks becomes visible to the organization, and worse, that his flaws are often exaggerated. He's enlisted trusted advisors, including his wife, a long-term friend and his coach, in reflecting back to him the behaviors that are inconsistent with his stated intentions. He's learning in that safe environment to acknowledge his mistakes, experiment with new behaviors, and to take on new approaches. He is working up towards a consistent modeling of the behaviors he wants to see in the organization and a willingness to acknowledge his mistakes.

Ken's sales director, Sarah, arrives in his office one morning, frustrated by all of this "purpose nonsense". The leadership retreats, the talk about mission and vision, the coaching about working collaboratively with the rest of the team, is, in her words, "Distracting the division from getting out there and making sales. If the leadership team spent a tenth of this time talking with customers, we're achieve record sales within a month." As Sarah worked herself up, she nearly started yelling at Ken that he wasn't walking the walk, wasn't following through on his commitments to her and others, and wasn't seeing the situation realistically.

Ken found Sarah's criticisms hard to hear and considered jumping in to defend himself. However, he sat back, let Sarah finish, took in her criticisms, and then asked if she would be open to discussing her perspective. Later he commented to his wife that it is was difficult to continue to listen when Sarah hit on issues that he's working on, but he chose to listen to her perspective and not add his own negative reactions to the mix. In the end, he admitted to working on some of the issues Sarah mentioned, cleared up some misunderstanding, and asked for her to be open to trying out his way. Ken's aware of a shift in his behavior from one of reacting and then adjusting, to being able to use the negative feedback as an opportunity to look more deeply at his own inner conflicts.

Ken is intrigued that to create the shared purpose with his team, he needs to move beyond being able to see the work through the framework of the other stakeholders. He needs to begin to imagine life as someone else experiences it. And then, he recognizes that there is mutual casuality - actions affect what others think and do. It's only in continual meaningful dialogue, adjusting for unintended consequences and establishing shared responsibility that organization can co-create the outcomes.

Let's leave the story of Ken and contrast the Catalyst and the Co-creator.

Vision: The Catalyst articulate a vision and empower and facilitate others to achieve the vision. The Co-creator collaborates in the development of a shared vision that links to each individual's purpose.

Power: The Catalyst balances advocacy and inquiry in order to arrive at better decisions. The Co-creator leads when necessary balancing assertiveness with sense of what others need; and develops a team that feels responsibility to share leadership for both their part and for the collective whole when appropriate.

Self Awareness: The Catalyst notices unintended behaviors in the moment (e.g., interrupting, stopping to examine assumptions) and adjusts. The Co-creator is able to examine with his own difficult feelings in confrontational settings, becoming aware of his own inner conflicts and actively experiment with new perspectives and behaviors.

Collaboration: The Catalyst seeks meaningful participation in decision making; knowing that differing perspectives will lead to greater buy-in and better directions. The Co-creator establishes an environment of authentic and open dialogue, working through differences to create a shared vision and purpose. This creates a sense of shared responsibility in co-creating the outcome.

Many leaders operating at the co-creator level have stepped out of larger organizations in order to more fully life within their sense of purpose; but many are found within organizations, even as individual contributors. Consider the researcher who actively mentors people across levels and functions, who sees others as people in professional roles, coaching them to look at work as an opportunity for self development and service to others. Consider the plant manager who takes a confrontational union shop to a high-performing work team. As you consider your values, dreams and purpose, consider as well what you do best. If leadership is a service to others, how can you make that a reality from where you work today?

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