I know a consultant from Asia who works with senior business leaders. In his national culture, there is an extreme emphasis on hierarchy and seniority. People in his country are careful to defer to people of higher status.
He told me the story of a large company that was struggling. One reason for the struggle was that the CEO tended to receive little honest feedback from his direct reports. The CEO was operating with many blind spots, and the corporate difficulties were growing in magnitude. The company was moving toward a slow death.
The pain grew so intense that the senior team invited the consultant to work with them. He spent much time with the direct reports. He worked hard to get them to embrace the common good and to take the risk to give the CEO more honest feedback. He trained them on how to be simultaneously respectful and honest.
A two-and-a-half-hour meeting was scheduled. For the first hour and a half, the CEO was uncomfortable. He communicated his discomfort, and his many implicit messages were clearly interpreted by the direct reports. The meeting was teetering on the brink of disaster.
The consultant described his own anxiety. In his country, a man as powerful as the CEO could easily destroy the consultant’s career. Performing this sort of intervention was a great risk.
Fortunately, in the last half hour of the meeting, there was a change. The CEO began to see the value in what was taking place, and he opened up. Authentic communication began to flow both ways. People were amazed with the change. The meeting became a positive intervention that led to a lasting shift in the communication patterns of the top management team. The people were becoming more focused on the common good, and the culture was turning more positive.
The problem facing this organization is common. Armies of professionals live in fear of speaking truth to power. Unfortunately the pattern is hard to change, because it is driven by the desire for self-preservation.
Operating from the self-interested assumptions of the conventional map, one survives by competing for limited resources. Life is a game and you win by being clever, not by embracing a higher purpose, living with integrity, serving the common good, and co-creating the emerging future.
By operating from an eco-perspective, the consultant was modeling moral power. He was inviting the CEO and the executives into a repaired moral system. As they chose to change, they also moved from the ego-perspective to the eco-perspective. Because they did, they could turn their organization more positive.
When have I observed a problem like the one described here?
When have I shown the kind of leadership shown by the consultant?
How could I use this passage to create a more positive organization?