We received a message from a person who has been in a senior role for ten years. Because of external circumstances the current year has turned very dark and difficult. The writer states that after so many years there is isn’t very much to learn from the technical standpoint because the emergent technical problems tend to be variations on problems that have been solved in the past and so it is easier to know what to do.
Leadership is a different issue: “However, even in my tenth year, there is a lot of opportunity for learning how to lead. And, of course, the more challenging the situation, the more there is to learn about leadership. This past year has been an immensely challenging one for me as a leader and for the entire team. But, I am starting to see how we have learned our way through this and we have risen to the many challenges inherent in this final year.”
The connection between leadership and learning is important. In one huge organization, we were told that it was decided not to waste money for leadership development on the top management team, “Once a person has risen through so many levels, they already know how to lead. People of this stature do not need leadership development.”
This appears logical. Yet it reflects a conventional assumption that is fundamentally incomplete. Leadership is far less about knowing and far more about learning in real time. The above person says, “I am starting to see how we have learned our way through this and we have risen to the many challenges inherent in this final year.”
In the conventional mindset, the organization is a technical system. The objective of management is to control the technical system. Knowledge is at a premium. In the positive mindset, the organization is also a complex, adaptive, social system that is always changing. Learning is at a premium. A leader values knowledge while constantly engaged in learning.
There is another point to be made about this learning process. The message from our friend ended as follows: “As a result, we have continued to accomplish much during a period when momentum can, and often does, stop. Seeing our progress as a leadership team and as an organization from this vantage point has convinced me that celebration of our efforts and accomplishments is not only proper but necessary.”
In very dark times stress goes up and we hold tightly to what we already know. Failure and the awareness of new challenges breed fear and reduce the capacity to learn.
If we live in the conventional mindset we see our failures and the emerging threats with fear that we deny. Our implicit signals become inauthentic. The positive mindset changes this. It makes us bilingual. We can see the failures but we can also see the accomplishments born of collective learning and progress. Strangely, celebration is “not only proper but necessary.”
Celebration in dark times sends an unexpected message. It calls the attention to the small wins they have been created. Doing so creates hope in the midst of despair. Leadership is about learning and a leader who is learning feels gratitude and creates hope. Hope is a rare and precious commodity in a dark organization. It calls people to purpose, integrity, communication and learning.
When have I been in a very dark, collective experience?
What did the people most need?
How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?