Tending to the Dynamic Whole

Recently two very short conversations excited me. When I put them together they create a tension worth examining.

There was a conference halfway around the world. I was a keynote speaker broadcasting from a local studio. While I was speaking, one of the technicians in the studio hung on every word. After the session he approached me. He looked vulnerable, and he clearly wanted to talk.

He told me that he was retired. During one period in his career he supervised a team of technicians. Then he gave it up and returned to being an individual operator. Finally, he retired.

He spoke of his time as a supervisor. He said, “I made a lot of mistakes. After all these years, I still remember some of the things I did and I ask myself, why did I do that?”

He looked away for a time. Then he turned back. With some feeling he said, “You know very few of those issues had anything to do with producing things. They had to do with relationships. I did not understand. I made lots of mistakes. It is hard do the right thing when you only see the job to be done.”

My second conversation was with a man who does similar work in a different place. With deep admiration he told me of his boss. He said his boss has evolved into a man of wisdom. Everyone in the organization holds him in high esteem. This man told me about a performance review. His boss indicated that his performance was fine, he needed to keep up what he was doing. Then the boss said, “Let me be clear. The most important thing is your family, you stay at work too long. You need to get your work done, go home, and be with your family.”

As he shared this, this man also displayed some vulnerability. He was near tears. He said, “Can you imagine what it means when you hear words like that from your boss? I cannot believe how lucky I am to work for a man like that.”

One man saw only the task to be done and to this day he ponders his regrets. The other man sees the task to be done, and the importance of relationships. People count themselves lucky to work for him.

For years research has shown that the best leaders are high on task and high on people. Nevertheless, it is quite common to emphasize one over the other. A sole focus on the first creates a culture of conflict. A sole focus on the second creates a culture of conflict avoidance. A focus on achieving the task while maintaining relationships leads to a culture of excellence.

 

Reflection

  • Are you more of a task person or a people person?
  • In your unit is there much conflict or conflict avoidance?
  • How could you evolve into a more integrated leader?
  • How could you use this passage to create a more positive organization?
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