«Ηγεσία και Αλλαγές Πολιτικής» – Υπό Dr D. Sims – 04.11.2007
ΣΥΝΕΔΡΙΟ «ΣΤΡΑΤΗΓΙΚΗ 2007»
«Ηγεσία και Αλλαγές Πολιτικής»
Υπό Dr D. Sims
Με την ομιλία του ο καθηγητής του Πανεπιστημίου Σίτυ του Λονδίνου κ. Ντέϊβιντ Σιμς παρουσίασε τις απόψεις του σχετικά με τον τρόπο με τον οποίο αντιλαμβάνονται οι άνθρωποι την αλλαγή. Ανέλυσε τον τρόπο με τον οποίο προστατευόμαστε από μία αλλαγή, τον τρόπο με τον οποίο την εκμεταλλευόμαστε και τον τρόπο με τον οποίο «κατακλύζουμε» τους άλλους με αυτή.
Σύμφωνα με τον καθηγητή, ορισμένοι άνθρωποι βλέπουν την αλλαγή ως απειλή, σαν κάτι από το οποίο πρέπει να προστατευθούμε, ως πρόβλημα που πρέπει να το αντιμετωπίσουν. Άλλοι πάλι την βλέπουν σαν μια ευκαιρία, τόσο συναρπαστική, όσο μία πρόσκληση.
Και οι δύο προσεγγίσεις, είναι απολύτως φυσιολογικές, έχουν όμως και οι δύο τα προβλήματά τους.
Η αλλαγή αντιμετωπίζεται ή δημιουργείται περισσότερο ανάλογα με τις προσωπικές ανάγκες του καθενός, παρά από την ανάγκη για οργανωτική πρόοδο. Υπό αυτή την έννοια η αλλαγή αποτελεί ένα συναισθηματικό ζήτημα.
Η πρώτη από τις παραπάνω προσεγγίσεις υπονοεί ότι η αλλαγή χρειάζεται μία «ομπρέλλα», κάτι το οποίο θα την εμποδίσει να καταστρέψει τόσο εσένα όσο και τον οργανισμό στον οποίο ανήκεις, ή τουλάχιστον κάτι που θα την εμποδίσει να γίνει δυσάρεστη.
Η δεύτερη υπονοεί ότι η ευκαιρία χρειάζεται μία ιστιοσανίδα, μία σανίδα του σερφ, δηλαδή κάτι που θα σε βοηθήσει να ανέβεις σ΄αυτό και να σε μεταφέρει με ταχύτητα προς την επιτυχία.
Για τους ηγέτες, καμία από τις παραπάνω προσεγγίσεις είναι ικανοποιητική ή επαρκής. Ο ηγέτης επιδιώκει να ελέγχει τα γεγονότα, να αποτελεί ο ίδιος την πηγή και τον στόχο της αλλαγής και να δημιουργεί τον κόσμο μέσα στον οποίο επιθυμεί να λειτουργεί.
Κάθε οργανισμός και κάθε υπάλληλος έχουν την δική τους ιστορία. Η παρουσίαση του καθηγητού κ. Σιμς έδωσε απάντηση στα ερωτήματα πως οι παραπάνω ιστορίες επιδρούν η μία στην άλλη, τι συμβαίνει όταν αισθάνεσαι απηυδησμένος σε κάποιο τομέα της ζωής σου και άλλοι προσπαθούν να σου επιβάλουν επιπλέον αλλαγές, τι συμβαίνει όταν έχει βαρεθεί την ιστορία σου ή όταν έχεις χάσει τον προσανατολισμό σου.
Παρατίθεται κατωτέρω η ομιλία.
Umbrellas, surfboards and water hoses: being at home with change.
I start this paper from three fundamentally different approaches to change. These different approaches are revealed by different ways in which metaphors of water, which are prevalent in discussion of change, are used. The first takes change as a storm to shelter from – hence the umbrella. Keep dry for long enough and the change will pass, the sun will come out again, and all will be well. Change is seen not as a good or exciting thing, but as a disruption from positive and orderly activity. The sensible response is to shelter from it, and the appropriate action for a leader is to shelter his or her followers from it, enabling them to carry on with what they are doing without getting wet.
The second takes the image of the surfboard. Change is not something to shelter from; there is no point in sheltering from it, and you will only be carried away if you do, it is an irresistible force, a force of nature, and requires us to find our way to cope with or to cooperate with it. The way to cope with change in this view of the world is to ride it. Do not resist change; ride it.
Our third image of change is that of the water hose. Change is not a problem to shelter from, or an opportunity to ride; it is something to direct, to attempt to control.
In this lecture I will look at the circumstances in which these metaphors for change may help or hinder us in the activity, and from this will go on to consider the role of the leader during change, and how these metaphorical understandings can be helpful in that role.
Metaphors about the power of water are prevalent in discussions of change. I am indebted for this insight to my colleague, Nana Gharibyan-Kefalloniti, who described some of her research on leadership on board ships at this conference two years ago, and who has a collection of images rather like this which have come from those who have talked to her about their experience of leadership on merchant marine ships. But these metaphors have strength and power much more widely than just among those with a special interest in the sea. Newspaper headlines frequently speak of companies ‘weathering the storm’, ‘being given shelter’, ‘catching the tide’, ‘flooding the markets’ and so on. Water is one of the crucial components of life, and it is not surprising that metaphors about water govern our thinking. And this is part of why I am addressing this topic; the metaphors that we use are not simply tools of thinking, but also shape the way that we think. The metaphors that we use for change will affect the way that we manage change.
Many senior leaders in organizations speak of ‘holding an umbrella’ over some of their staff. The concept is that they can protect others from the worst of the storms that are breaking, thus leaving them free to concentrate on innovating, developing, or concentrating on contributing to the future in whatever way they are most able. The more junior people will have good ideas and good skills, and will be able to deploy these effectively and to the benefit of the organization. The duty of the leader here is to hold the umbrella over those whom they lead. The storms from which they are protecting their staff may be from outside the organization, from economic, technological or competitive factors, but very often they are from within; they are protecting their juniors from other colleagues, who they think would not understand the quality of what they are doing. The leader may be under the umbrella too, as in this picture, but very often they will be holding it from outside.
As a model of change, the implication is that change is a destructive force from which people can be protected, and that such protection will enable them to get on with what needs doing. The image currently on the screen may look a little cosy, and this is not a coincidence. How does the leader know whether this is a passing shower, from which they can protect their staff with an umbrella, or a major hurricane, for which the umbrella will be totally ineffective? The answer is that they probably never do know that. Also, how does the leader know whether it would be better for their staff to have an umbrella held over them where they are, rather than for them to move somewhere that gives them a more permanent shelter. There are places where an umbrella is not much use, for example, in the New Orleans floods. New Orleans is used to the arrival of hurricanes; as the rain started, people would never have guessed that the levees might break, nor at the scale of the rainfall. However, later experience showed that this was not the time to be putting the umbrella up; this problem could not be solved by an umbrella.
This connects with one of the most dangerous myths about how to manage difficult situations. The levees broke in New Orleans, but in the Netherlands the myth is very strong about how the country was saved by a boy putting his finger in the dyke, and thus preventing a similar level of disaster. The message of such a story is that people can be protected from the worst consequences of change by heroic efforts. We have a similar myth in the UK, where the evacuation of Dunkerque during the second world war lives on as the myth of ‘Dunkerque Spirit’. This is a monument to bad planning, with the message that, however little you have planned and prepared, if your heart is in the right place and you are determined enough, things will work out all right. This was a lesson that we British learned so thoroughly that, for perhaps 20 or 30 years after Dunkerque, we thought that spirit was all you needed; this had disastrous consequences for British business, and for the economy. For a long time we devalued serious planning and all forms of professional management, believing that, if your heart was in the right place, everything would turn out right. But protecting people from potentially overwhelming forces, and being seen to do so, carries a long tradition of worthy heroism. Indeed, some leaders may take their followers into stormsto show how good they are at being protective under difficult conditions
In contrast to this, the surfboard does not protect you from change, but enables you to ride it. The image here is of a way of coping with change which does not feature a protective leader, but is based on understanding how the waves are moving and how the currents are working, and therefore being able to ride the changes. Change is not seen as a threat but as an opportunity. Change produces its own energy, and rather than resist it, or regard it as a problem to deal with, the surf rider makes the most of that energy. The image of the surf rider is an interesting one. It is a very macho image, and Google Images offered me many alternatives to the image I have chosen, most of them featuring people who looked as if they were in charge. It looks like a magnificent, independent sporting achievement, and so it is, but it is completely dependent on the flow of forces beyond the surfer’s control, and on the surfer’s sensitivity to those forces.
The surf rider is a completely different model for leadership, but our research suggests that it is not so uncommon. It implies that the leader sees which way things are going to go, and then leads people in that direction. This gives the appearance of them being in charge and leading actively, while they are actually following currents and waves over which they have no control. The direction that they choose is based not on strategy or principle, but on currents and trends. I have come across several leaders who claim that this is what they do, but who also say that their followers cannot bear this image. The follower wishes to see the leader as having independent, powerful status, and does not want to know that they are a surf rider.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by this. Many of the institutions of democracy require leaders to determine where their followers wish to be taken, and then to take them their. In large public companies too, the average length of tenure for the Chief Executive may be short and in the British National Health Service, it averages 18 months. Under these circumstances, it may be good for the career for a leader to try to understand where their followers would wish to go, and then to follow them there.
This may even be quite a wise and productive way to lead. Some of the recent work about ‘the wisdom of crowds’ suggests that the aggregate, average views of the many may be more reliable than the confident assertions of the few. If so, the surf rider may be just the leader you need.
Many feel that the current issues facing large organizations constitute a crisis of leadership. This view implies that sheltering from change or riding change are inadequate responses to the current period of rapid change, and that what is needed is an approach to change which creates the future. Leadership can be defined as making something happen which was not going to happen otherwise, and this means that leadership always creates a future. It turns the hose in a particular direction, and makes positive use of the water to clean things up.
This is what should be expected of heroic leaders; they should be able to create a future by taking hold of the hose and directing it wherever they wish. Water can be controlled, and that is the duty of leadership.
You will have detected that I am not completely convinced by this. You may be thinking, ‘so much for academics; real leaders would always demand to be in control of the water hose’. So let me quote Jack Welch, surely nobody’s idea of a soft, idealistic leader:
“The day you become a leader, it becomes about them,” Welch said. “Your job is to walk around with a can of water in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other hand. Think of your team as seeds and try to build a garden. It’s about building these people,” he insisted. “Only you will know the team.”
That’s right. The minute you move from being a task-oriented professional to being a manager of people, it stops being about your individual talents, your successes, and starts being all about coaching, motivating, teaching, supporting, removing roadblocks, and finding resources for your employees. Leadership is about celebrating their victories and rewarding them; helping them analyze when things don’t go to plan.”
So here again we have a water metaphor, but it is not about umbrellas, surfboards or water hoses. It is about a watering can. It is about nurturing, nourishing and developing those with whom you work. It is not about protecting them, impressing them, or directing them.
So what image can we carry away about a satisfactory way of leading change? Surely the watering can is simply not enough? Are those who are entrusted with the most senior and powerful jobs in organizations meant to be doing nothing more to shape their situations than simply to water them? How can this be a satisfactory image?
Let us return to the idea of the wisdom of crowds. James Surowiecki’s work suggests that the ideas that come from the many may often be much better than the ideas that come from the few, but there can be no question that no ideas will come from the many without the encouragement of the few. Those who exercise leadership have to learn to move on from what they did best early in their careers; something different is expected of them as leaders. Early on, they may have become well regarded because they were very good at a technical competence. In many companies, skilled engineers are highly regarded, and promoted. After promotion they are not expected to concentrate on the skill that got them to their new position. They have in their work force other, younger engineers with a more recent technical education behind them. The technical background of the senior person is still important for them to win the respect and confidence of the more junior person. But they have to learn to move on from the belief that their own ideas are still going to have technical merit; they have to learn to trust the wisdom of the crowd of people that they lead.
This is not quite the same as the surf rider. The surf rider rides forces that are beyond control, while appearing to control. The gardener with the watering can makes choices about which plants to water, which to fertilise, which to grow, but does this with humility, knowing that they cannot determine the way that the plants grow. All they can do is to choose plants, water them, nourish them, and bring in new plants when necessary. The result may be a well ordered and beautiful garden, but that is perhaps too static an image when we are talking about change. Another way to think of it is that what the effective leader of change is creating is more like a forum, an Agora, a place of discussion and debate, a place where the best ideas are valued, where disagreement is encouraged, where diversity is seen as a good. In these conditions, leadership is full of chairmanship and of influence, and requires very little in the way of control.