Life has developmental stages. In our teen years many of us move into the natural search for independence and control. Later, some of us transform. We begin to search for interdependence, higher purpose and meaningful contribution. This change includes increased consciousness and leads to an awareness and transcendence of some difficult paradoxes.
I was teaching a group of senior executives about positive organizing. I said much about our inherent need for independence and control and I pointed out that our culture deifies the expert role. I showed that we are externally conditioned to see leadership as the acquisition and wielding of authority and expertise. This is partially explained by the fact that expertise is functional. We need to have knowledge and control. Yet to reach our full potential as leaders we have to eventually transcend the natural inclination to always be in the expert role. Until we do we cannot envision or create positive organizations.
Early in the week there was resistance but it started to fall off. Trust began to grow and learning accelerated. During one of the breaks a man approached me with genuine concern.
He explained that his entire career was devoted to becoming an expert and the idea was at the center of his identity. He said he was genuinely fearful of giving up the personal strategy that had made him successful.
I was touched by the courage it took for him to express his fear. I felt an immediate bond and had a strong desire to help.
I pointed out that the developmental change I was advocating was not about the surrender of expertise but the transcendence of expertise. It was not about the surrender of authority but the surrender of ego. He would never lose his knowledge base and he would always be able to flip back into the expert role when and if necessary.
I was advocating growth. By letting go of the expert role, he could become a facilitator of emergent, collective intelligence. This means he could challenge people while helping them feel safe. He could create organizations of authentic dialogue. He could ignite the capacity for collective learning and collective knowing and collective doing. Instead of being the expert in control, he could learn to be the facilitator of high collaboration. In doing this he would be both an expert and a creator of expertise.
He seemed to welcome the words. Later he spoke publicly and shared both his fear and the concepts we discussed. I told him he just engaged in a great act of leadership. By sharing his fears and hopes he was injecting purpose and care into the classroom. He was creating a space in which his peers could feel safe in looking at their own fears and feel the courage to move forward on their developmental journey. He was moving into a new stage of development and he was transcending and beginning to understand a difficult paradox.
Who do I know who is fixed on independence and control?
What are they missing and what do I learn from their example?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?