An Inclusive Perspective

In my MBA class, I do not seek to inform students so they can recite concepts. I seek to transform students so they are empowered for life. The emphasis is not on memorization. It is on the internalization of positive power. We spend the semester learning how to see and change who we are. Because most students succeed they see the process of influence in an entirely new way. An illustration may be helpful.

One year, for the last session of the semester, I asked the students to prepare a case about an organization that was in a truly dreadful condition. Instead of debriefing the case as we usually did, I asked them to become consultants. I would be the head of the troubled organization and their job was to advise me.

I then asked them to prepare two lists. The first list needed to be a set of guidelines for approaching me as they would have on the first day of the semester. The second list needed to be a set of guidelines reflecting what they had learned during the semester.

Here is the first list indicating the steps they would take in consulting with me as the organizational leader.

  • We would seek credibility (acquire knowledge).
  • We would help you clarify the real problem.
  • We would analyze the problem.
  • We would set realistic goals people could meet.
  • We would establish metrics.
  • We would increase accountability.
  • We would seek new resources.
  • We would realign the reward system.
  • We would increase discipline and hard work.
  • We would provide training to improve the staff weaknesses.
  • We would identify and deal with the resisters.
  • We would eliminate the low performers.

The second list, the one they would pursue on the last day of the course, was quite different. In the following table I placed the items in the two lists next to each other.

Two Orientations to Consulting

Conventional Positive
Increase our credibility Increase our moral power
  Clarify the real problem   Clarify your highest purpose
  Analyze the problem   Look for what is already going right
  Set realistic goals people can meet   Expect excellence from everyone
  Establish metrics   Model integrity and build trust
  Increase accountability   Empower the people
  Seek new resources   Realize existing but unseen resources
  Realign the reward system   Align people with a higher purpose
  Increase discipline and hard work   Increase belief and commitment
  Improve the staff weaknesses   Get staff to work from their strengths
  Identify and deal with the resisters   Address our own failure to inspire
  Eliminate the low performers   Increase challenge and support

In our discussion, I told them that the conventional list on the left is very useful. The list reflects the basic problem-solving model that underlies conventional consulting. More refined versions of this problem-solving template can be found in the handbooks of most consulting firms. It appears in many textbooks.

Then I made a more important point. They did not only bring the conventional model to the first day of the fourth semester. They brought it to the first day of the first semester. They entered the business school with this conventional problem-solving map.

Three semesters of study did not alter their underlying mental map.  Three semesters of study–mostly under professors holding the same conventional model—simply served to reinforce their core assumptions.  In the next week, 430 of their peers would graduate with the same underlying, conventional template they brought to the business school. This would also be true for the graduates in most every other business school.

I told them they were different from their peers. They had acquired a new perspective. In gaining it they gained the power to see and do things their 430 graduating peers would not be able to see and do. They could envision and pursue the positive organization.

While the conventional perspective is exclusive, the positive perspective is inclusive. In gaining the positive perspective one does not lose the conventional perspective. The positive leader holds both perspectives and is therefore more powerful.

I told the students that they now had become something that every organization desperately needs. They were leaders who could envision and create positive organizations.

Reflection

How often do you see people operating by the conventional problem-solving perspective?

How often to you see people operating by the positive perspective?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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