Choosing to Create Symbiotic Systems

In recent months I have turned to showing people that they already have a theory of excellence. I do this by dividing the class into four segments and asking each one to answer one of the following questions. What is the difference between a good and a great conversation; marriage; team; culture? After I debrief their answers, I point out that all four are social systems. I then ask them to combine all their answers into a theory of how to create greatness in a social system. Their collective product is often stunning. I then point out that I did not give them their theory of excellence, it came from within them. At least unconsciously, they know what greatness is, and they know how it is created. We discuss the implications of this important insight.

When I initially assign one segment of the class to a particular question, there is a different reaction than the other three. The reaction is a painful groan. The topic that brings this groan is the exploration of the difference between a good and a great marriage. Often there is a humorous comment like, “I cannot even get to normal, much less good or great.”

Occasionally in the discussion there is an important insight about greatness in marriage. This happened recently. A man raised his hand. As he spoke he did so with a sense of awe and exploration. It was as if he was discovering and speaking at the same time. He said, “I had great trouble analyzing the notion of marriage and coming up with lists of adjectives or characteristics because my marriage is so symbiotic, so mutually reinforcing, that I see my wife and myself as one inseparable system that cannot be broken down for analysis.”

The comment transformed the classroom.   There was not only stunned silence, there was visible inspiration. As I glanced around and took in the sense of collective awe, I made a joke. “Every woman in this room is leaning forward in her chair, I think you will be the most popular man at lunch.” Everyone laughed. Yet the observation was true. The authentic statement was, in the words of my colleague, Kim Cameron, “heliotropic.” It was so inspiring and it attracted and held the attention of all.

Reflection

  • Use your imagination and write a description of a symbiotic marriage then write a description of your own unit as a symbiotic system.
  • Specify how your life would change if you were a part of two such symbiotic systems.
  • Now write a strategy you could use to bring about both, then integrate the two into a theory of personal leadership. Based on the theory write one thing you will do differently today.
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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