We have talked to many leaders about their attempts to create organizations of higher purpose. One of them told us the following.
Building a positive organization is a challenge. I spent years trying to create one. One day I received a call reporting that one of my people had made a major mistake. I had just given intensive training on the very issue. My first thought was this, “He is a problem.”
At that instant I had an unusual experience. I was stopped in my tracks. I knew I had just done something wrong but I had no idea what it was. I sat down and examined the brief incident. A clear message came to my mind. “None of your people can ever be seen as a problem.”
The notion was so strong that it transformed me. From then on I refused to define any one as a problem. A problem is something you solve and make go away. A human being is someone you cherish and develop.
With this change I began to observe other administrative situations. Many administrators define people who violate their expectations as problems. Most people who are defined as problems detect the negative orientation of the senior person and they see only two choices; disengage or rebel. With either choice, the organizational culture begins to turn negative.
The conventional mental map suggests that an administrator is a person of power and expertise who fixes problems by acting upon others. The authority figure is separate from the system and acts upon it. Good management is a function of a brilliant mind.
The positive mental map suggests that authority and expertise, taken alone, make us ineffective. The leader is actually a part of the human system that the leader seeks to change. Our ability to elevate human systems is a function of our ability to love and learn with others.
Andy Hoffman understands this connected, dynamic, and reciprocal perspective. He argues that to bring sustainable change, one might draw inspiration from the world one is trying to change (2016:22). He cites E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web:
“Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way savoring must come first.
To savor is to enjoy, relish, appreciate, cherish, treasure, value, and delight in. When we authentically appreciate the people we work with we orient to them with love, particularly when they make mistakes. If we do not, we see them as problems and we promote fear.
It is said that students do not care how much a teacher knows, until they know how much a teacher cares. It is trust that leads to learning and authenticity that leads to trust.
In the end, the leader is part of the system the leader is trying to change. In that system everyone is interdependent and success is predicated on the collective ability to learn. Success is a function of the leader’s integrity and virtuousness. Courage, sensitivity, caring, forgiveness, and authenticity are just of a few of the virtues that make a leader effective. Such a leader is oriented to appreciation and not to depreciation.
Why is it natural to define people as problems?
Why does objectification destroy a positive culture?
How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?