A recent experience in an ersatz “leaderless” organization helped bring home the message in this post that true leadership is distributed.
Conversations are key to releasing the potential in developing an abundant, productive community that builds trust. Avoiding or overly-controlling conversations results in a community that loses creative traction to individual agendas and fragmentation. Silo-ed activity and group think tend to prevail. Bureaucratic, imperialistic leadership, granted as much by followers as leaders, and muted, controlled conversations are often the result. Innovation and creativity suffers.
Peter Block’s early work on empowerment & community, beyond the fads, has inspired many a long-suffering internal professional (including former Organization Development internals like myself) battling the productivity malaise existing in persistent silo-ed behavior as well as structure in organizations.
Excerpted material from the Seeing Systems blog helps illustrate this. It features a great mash-up of Oshry’s classic work based on his Tops – ‘Elites’, Middles and Bottoms workshop which configures well to the stewardship theme of Peter Block including the message of simplifying leadership and seeing it as a quality that exists in all human beings.
From the full post by John Watters, Guest Contributor
…Those who are familiar with Barry Oshry’s thinking will find Peter Block’s most recent book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, a stimulating and challenging read.
…Too many people left at the margins with their gifts and contributions to society unrealised…
Translating Block’s language into ‘Oshryese’, he critiques current North American society, the analysis certainly applies to the UK too, as over-individuated (isolated and self-interested) and over-differentiated (public and private institutions operating in silos in their own parallel worlds). This detachment and disconnection results in too many people left at the margins with their gifts and contributions to society unrealised, with detriment to them and to the wider community.
You could read the book through Barry Oshry’s systemic lens as describing: ‘Elites’ retreating to “the allure of gated communities, quaint and prosperous small towns” with increasing wealth, ‘Middles’ alienated and competitive running the siloed institutions of government, private and not for profit sectors, and ‘Immigrants/Bottoms’ playing their part to keep the cycle going, having fallen into a torpor of consumption, passive complaining about their lot, left cynical and powerless.
…Block argues strongly that we need to strengthen the vitality and connectedness of our communities and the degree of relatedness and belonging that exists everywhere. There is no easy positioning of Block’s work in terms of left or right in party-political terms. The book …is also very challenging, as we come to see our part in the dynamics, the way we contribute to the fragmentation in the world.
…key points Block makes in the book:
Conversations matter! This includes the stories inside our heads as well as how we listen, speak and communicate meaning to others. Block’s focus on shifting the conversation mirrors a similar emphasis in Barry’s work: how do we shift the conversation from the Side Show to the Centre Ring?
Block’s focus on shifting the conversation mirrors a similar emphasis in Barry’s work: how do we shift the conversation from the side show to the centre ring?
Too much attention has been placed on the individual! “Naivety exists in the belief that if enough individuals awaken, and become intentional and compassionate beings, the shift in community will follow,” says Block.
…Block generously references and explains the essence of a range of well-tried approaches, not his own, which offer practical methods in bringing about the process of collective change, of which he says too little is understood.
We need to simplify leadership and see it as a quality that exists in all human beings. From Barry Oshry’s writing we know that leadership is distributed – Tops, Middles, Bottoms and Customers each hold distinct system power – different contributions that are all needed to create a robust, high performing organisation.
“As long as we see leader as cause we will create passive, entitled citizens” ….Perhaps that’s the mindset which keeps an unproductive Top-Bottom dynamic going in organisations as well as in our communities.
….“As long as we see leader as cause we will create passive, entitled citizens” Block concludes. Perhaps that’s the mindset which keeps an unproductive Top-Bottom dynamic going in organisations as well as in our communities.
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