Making the Personal Public

One of my favorite sentences comes from Peter Block (1995). He writes; “Allowing the personal to become public is the act of responsibility that initiates cultural change and reforms organizations.”

I have shared this sentence with many executive groups. It is usually met with a blank stare. It makes no sense. When it comes to executing change, executives make two normal assumptions. You get people to change by telling people why they need to change. You get people to change by building structures and processes that force people to change.   These two assumptions are so common they are unquestioned. They are, in fact, the unspoken theory that drives most management change efforts.

Yet, on most important issues, people do not change when told why they should change. Neither do they willingly change when structures are placed upon them. When this happens they comply, as long as they are observed, but use every means available to sabotage the structures and processes when they are not observed.

Block follows his first statement with an equally challenging observation; “Real change comes from our willingness to own our vulnerability, confess our failures, and acknowledge that many of our stories do not have a happy ending”

These are two keys of transformational leadership. When we become internally directed, we find the courage to make the private, public. We express what we really feel but were previously afraid to reveal. To do so is a transformational act. It shifts the focus from pretentious invulnerability to the reality everyone recognizes but is afraid to discuss. People recognize such revelation as a welcomed act of integrity. In stating our emotional truth, we make a space for conversations that could not otherwise occur.

When conversations become more emotionally congruent, trust goes up, conversations are enriched, and co-creation becomes a greater possibility. This is critical because as leaders we are vulnerable, failure is a distinct possibility, and our story may not have a happy ending. When we enact Block’s second sentence, we also engage in an act of integrity. Again trust goes up. In doing these things we are inviting others to join us in the co-creation of a more productive community.



How do I feel about Block’s first sentence, what does it mean to me?

How do I feel about his second sentence, what does it mean to me?

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


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