I know a company that developed a widely held assumption: “These union people do not want to work, and there is nothing we can do about it.” The assumption that the employees were unreachable became a part of the culture and then it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The large company eventually went bankrupt.
The statement about the union employees is the equivalent of a schoolteacher saying, “These students are from a minority group, and they do not want to learn. It is impossible to teach them.” It is the equivalent of a professor saying, “These MBA students are just here to get jobs. They do not want to learn. It is impossible to teach them.”
In most social settings, when a person makes any of these claims, the claim usually goes unchallenged. The listeners tend to nod their heads. In doing so, they become creators and preservers of conventional culture.
In conventional discourse, we do not expect people to exercise inspirational motivation, that is, create the authentic desire to learn and the authentic desire to work. In conventional organizations–politically correct rhetoric to the contrary–there is no belief or expectation that the people in authority positions will be practitioners of inspirational motivation.
Such an aspiration, we conventionally believe, would be unrealistic and doomed to fail. After all, the average manager or teacher does not know how to exercise inspirational motivation. Yet without inspirational motivation, a manager is not a leader, an instructor is not a teacher, and a business or a school is not an institution of excellence. The sad truth is we do not believe excellence is possible, so we do not expect excellence.
Conventional culture is a living system that orbits around the norms. Culture functions to preserve the norms. Conventional culture works to prevent the emergence of leadership in organizations. It generally succeeds because there is no one to challenge and alter the culture. Because we so well know mediocrity, because we so well accept mediocrity, because we so well expect mediocrity, we unwittingly collude in creating the culture that ensures mediocrity.
The few people who master teaching or master leadership not only aspire to reach the unreachable, they hold themselves accountable to reach the unreachable. In the positive lens, a starting point is that a leader or a teacher will create a genuine desire to learn and contribute. Inspirational motivation will turn the hierarchy into a system of learning, adaptation, and high performance. The unreachable will be reached and the organization will become an unconventional system of excellence.
- Are there unreachable people in our organization?
- Do our leadership development efforts produce people who can reach the unreachable?
- What does our answer say about our culture, our aspirations, and our leadership ability?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?