In times of transformation, leadership is asked to explore new territories because solutions are often not found in systems that created the problem.
It can mean letting go of the existing structures and rules to allow new inspiration to come through.
But can we let go and launch into new territories? And will we?
Two Stories of Choice
A Dutch organization was in need of help. For over a year and a half one of its departments had been battling with a disproportionately high absenteeism.
Senior management decided to come up with an ultimatum:
Either a three-day group session would ignite a significant change or all ten employees had to find new jobs.
And I was asked to facilitate the three days.
Day one immediately exposed the crux: the work pressure would be too high due to existing expectations. These expectations were caused by the organizational culture of rules and structures.
This was my cue to rattle the cage a bit:
What if everyone threw the current structures, frameworks, systems, job descriptions and logistics overboard?
It might pave the way for a new way of working together that could support the individual and collective needs and values.
The lid came off. My suggestions backfired. They wanted to know how could I suggest such a thing?
Rules were a necessity; people and organizations simply cannot function without. As a matter of fact, even stricter regulations were needed…
This was the same department that perceived to be a victim of the over-regulated, rigid organizational structure. These were the same people who felt like they had to fit a mold, that there was no room for their natural qualities to come to the surface. I just pulled the plug on it, I let the overflowing bath of rules and regulation be emptied. It was met with utter panic and pure resistance!
A few weeks later I received a message from a colleague. An international leadership platform was asking for innovative articles from anyone working in the leadership field and my colleague thought that I should submit an article on Leadingship.
3000 words and quite a few hours later I tried to find out where to send it.
I was treated to a ‘submission guidelines document’ of no less than 3700 words i.e. 9 pages. When I worked my way through it and assumed that I had complied with every single rule, I hit ‘send’.
That same day I received a very short reply:
“Please resend it per procedure, Entry #1 Email submission … We may disregard received submission…” End of message!
As far as I could ascertain, after two hours of going through the guidelines again and again, I had forgotten to put my phone number and address in the email. It wasn’t sufficient to have them included at the top of my article. I double-checked my overall compliance and resubmitted my article the next day.
What came back was another impersonal message saying that they were “not interested in my submission… it ‘needed’ support from current literature; otherwise the reader may have some doubts…”
Oh the Irony…
The intention of my article was to question beliefs around traditional leadership. It was inviting the reader to explore the non-personal essence of inspiration rather than building on theoretical assumptions of personal influence.
Reference for it was not to be found in existing literature and rules, but in self-inquiry and out-of-the-box contemplation.
When I first read the editor’s online call for submissions, I was immediately inspired by what they were looking for:
“…new and unique leadership paradigms, as well as fresh leadership development programs, courses and curricula, need to be and have been created to meet such postmodern demands as increased flexibility and inclusion, the embrace and use of diversity, the need for creativity, the need to create and manage change, the achievement of social justice, and the need for leadership authenticity…”
Unfortunately it seemed that following the rules was more important than the unique paradigms, fresh programs, flexibility, inclusion, diversity, creativity and leadership authenticity that he was talking about.
Following the rules killed another possibility for new inspiration.
These two situations are certainly not stand alones. In my work with organizations I keep coming across a human dependency on rules, regulation, structures, job descriptions and responsibilities.
Allegedly they are in place to create clarity, to keep us safe and secure.
But the times that we live in have been bringing up global feelings of unclarity, unsafety and insecurity. No regulation has been able to prevent it. Still we keep referring to it as if it’s the main objective to the work we do and the life we live.
Especially these times have made us hungry for inspiration and innovation. But for that to happen, we first want check how viable existing rules still are. It requires letting go of what doesn’t serve us anymore, even when it means saying goodbye to the status, authority and power that are linked to it.
Umm, has my attachment to inspiration just created another rule?!
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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders™
Arnold Timmerman is Author and Founder of Truth Unmlimited
He provides “Leadingship” training & coaching throughout all organizational levels
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