15 Jan

When a Society Falls Madly in Love With Hating Enemies

Trump

Robert Hall, an author and consultant and recent speaker at the Relational Thinking International Conference, recently published an article in the Huffington Post entitled When a Society Falls Madly in Love With Hating Enemies. He writes:

Enemy: it is the ascending relationship of our time. Terrorism, a Presidential election, and racial strife are but some of the forces that propel “enemy” as today’s hot stock in a turbulent relationship marketplace. The list of enemies seems to grow endlessly…Increasingly we are defined by the enemies we hate. We express love by how much we hate our common enemy.

We risk becoming an enemy-mongering culture as our ability to wound overwhelms our ability to heal. When our political engagement is primarily animated by our disdain for enemies, civil communities transform into angry tribes driven by endless conflict…

In fact, research shows that those most educated and informed are the ones most staunchly divided and least susceptible to influence. It seems enlightenment has been hijacked for the cause of division.

Hate always carries this risk: that we become what we disdain in others. A person recently posting on Facebook asked everyone who supported Donald Trump to de-friend her adding “we have nothing to talk about.” In the name of wanting more love and inclusion of other religions such as Islam, this post expressed contempt and exclusion of supporters of Trump. Hating haters is still hate.

Robert Hall suggests three keys to reversing this course:

New Language

We need language that outs those who mass-produce hate and enemies. Let’s invent a word that captures what is going on. ‘Enemiation’ (enemy+ation): the process of transforming differences into hate, objects of our differences into enemies, and the wounded into victims by blaming those enemies for all that is wrong.

‘Enemiating’ leaders probe wounds and seize power by trading on victimization. History provides many examples: Hitler blamed Jews and Russians as the source of Germany’s ills. ‘Enemiating’ leaders are dependent upon wounded followers as emotional fuel for their own empowerment. Time to call them out.

New Intention

The decision to disagree is a completely different decision than to hate. To reverse our state of hate requires a new intention regarding our differences. It is simple: we don’t condemn the color red because it is not blue. We don’t hate one of our children because he is different from his sister. We don’t criticize our hand because it is not like our foot. Differences have the potential for great synergy – hybrid mostly outperforms in-bred. A culture that espouses love of racial and ethnic diversity must apply it also to political and religious thought. If boxers, football players, and basketball players can physically battle for a couple of hours and then hug afterward, surely we can embrace our differences without making bitter enemies.

New Leadership Model

A new direction will require new leadership. We must upgrade our broken ‘enemiation’ leadership model to Relational Leadership – intent on engaging diverse groups/stakeholders to build productive relationships and outcomes. Relational Leaders prioritize bringing people together versus being wedge-merchants promoting issues designed to produce division, victimhood and dubious outcomes. Oracle’s Meg Bear calls empathy – standing in another’s shoes, acknowledging their perspective even if you disagree – the critical skill of the 21st century. Unfortunately empathy scores among college kids has declined 10 percent since 1979. As voters we can start by electing a President with Relational Leadership skills including empathy and rejecting ‘enemiating’ leaders who use leadership as a weapon to grow hate.

We must lose our love for hate and find our love for productive relationships and leaders who help produce them.

Photo: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (By Gage Skidmore from Flickr)

27 Nov

The time to build Relational Leadership is now!

Timothy Wolfe

Robert Hall, an author and consultant and recent speaker at the Relational Thinking International Conference, has recently published a fascinating article in the Huffington Post about Relational Leadership. Entitled ‘The Follower Revolt: What’s Eating Leaders for Breakfast?’, he writes about the growing distrust from followers in leaders and the increasing incidence of followers rejecting leaders whom they are no longer willing to follower. You can read the full article here.

He recommends three steps for leaders in the light of this developing distrust:

Relational Risk — Name it

Leaders must begin by identifying and naming Relational Risk as a new, compelling component of risk management. Often the signs are present but ignored. The New York Times reports “Volkswagen’s command-and-control structure probably made it difficult for Winterkorn to escape responsibility, even if no direct culpability. Critics long faulted a company culture that hampers internal communication and discourages mid-managers from delivering bad news.” Millions of customers threatening class-action lawsuits were a product of a leader’s unidentified Relational Risk.

Of the University of Missouri, the New York Times wrote, “Wolfe didn’t do himself any favors. A former corporate executive, Wolfe possessed a command-and-control style that didn’t jibe well with campus life. And he clearly didn’t know how to respond to the protests.”

Relationship crisis does not devolve from a single incident but from a series of episodes where relationship damage accumulates because it is ignored or handled ineffectively – incubating risk.

Spineless acquiescence or reactive overkill are traps for leaders who fail to name and respect relational risk.

Relational Leadership — Lead it

Relational risk demands relational leadership. I define Relational Leadership as the ability to deliver and sustain productive engagement with widely different groups. It means being engaged with your employees, your customers, your shareholders and especially with outspoken groups that feel powerless – that may seem oppositional or even hostile. Yesterday’s wisdom was: Hold your friends close and your enemies closer.

Today’s wisdom requires leaders with the humility to recognize that those who oppose them constitute one of their most valuable resources. Competitors push leaders to perform better; philosophical opposition introduces differences that may reveal blind spots or opportunities for innovative improvement. Critics push them to get clearer on what they believe and why. A recent study found that highly regarded CEOs were six times as likely to be viewed as humble when compared to least-highly regarded CEOs.

Leaders coddled by uncontested power are often unprepared to lead during a relational crisis. In fact coddled leaders often unwittingly make coddled followers stronger. Today like never before, in both selecting and developing leaders, Relational Leadership skills must be a priority for successfully addressing this new risk of highly critical, sometimes entitled followers.

Relational Metrics — Measure it

The growing relational risk that leaders face is changing the metrics that boards, key shareholders and regulators pay attention to. I recently spoke at a Relational Risk conference at Cambridge University in England with attendees from about 20 countries. A fellow speaker addressed a growing movement requiring more integrated reporting from public companies beyond just financial information to include metrics regarding social and relational capital – a Relationship Scorecard, you might say. This broader reporting is now mandated in Brazil and South Africa and voluntarily being addressed in 20 percent of the FTSI 100 companies in the UK. Governments and shareholders recognize that financial reporting is a pretty narrow, after-the-fact instrument for understanding and anticipating relational risk with customers, employees, communities and the environment.

Instituting a Relationship Scorecard to track and understand the strengths and weaknesses of key constituent relationships is an important step to proactive Relational Leadership.

If we want a more accountable, less-entitled society, it must start with leaders competently and plan-fully addressing follower dissonance.

Simply blaming the “victims” will not be a viable strategy. In medicine it often leads to medical malpractice. In leaders it risks leadership malpractice. Leadership is similar to medicine where what most often gets you sued is not substandard medical treatment, but callous relationship treatment.

The risk of followership revolt is real. Self-righteous dictators, Pharisees, and command-and-control leaders are no more attractive than self-righteous followers. Relational leaders must be the grown-ups that engage proactively, productively, and relationally; anything less fuels revolt. Relational leaders will view these challenges as opportunities to strengthen leadership, build relationships with dissident groups and grow their relational currency. The time to build Relational Leadership is not in the midst of a crisis – it is now!”

Photo:  Timothy Wolfe, who resigned as President of the University of Missouri amid a race row at the University. (By UKMC from Flickr)

04 Sep

What is on the agenda for Relational Leadership? Values and skills for navigating relational risk

Two business men shaking hands at international business meeting.

Written by Marie-Anne Chidiac and Sally Denham-Vaughan from Relational Change, an organisation that promotes a relational approach in all walks of life.

In the April issue of this blog, Robert Hall, one of the speakers at the rapidly approaching Relational Thinking International Conference, introduced the topic of Relational Leadership, reminding us that if you can get “the right WHO” in a leadership position, the agenda of “WHAT”, (direction, strategy), will emerge in a qualitatively different, and urgently needed, way: a way that is, we believe, much more aligned with a sustainable future for our planet.

At Relational Change, we believe this change in focus from tasks first to people first cannot come quickly enough if we are to genuinely develop our leadership capacity and gain more understanding of what motivates and sustains people. Indeed, our relational approach to coaching and consulting work was prompted by the experience of trying to support organisations where people were floundering due to unrealistic, unsustainable, task-driven leadership practices that viewed staff as a particularly tricky part of the operational chain: unpredictable, emotional and prone to erratic behaviour according to changing cultures and contexts!

For example, in health care, we found numerous examples of staff, particularly senior staff, ignoring ‘evidence-based’ guidelines, not because they didn’t know or understand the guidelines, but because they believed that the “evidence” did not necessarily apply to the specific case or context. By doing this, these staff knowingly put themselves in a risky situation, but nonetheless, they strongly believed this was the ‘right’ thing to do. On closer inquiry, all these staff could cite many important reasons that led them to deviate from the guidelines, with these reasons focussed on the specific relationships, culture and contexts.

Similarly, in his book ‘Adapt’, Tim Harford cites numerous examples of leaders from a wide range of backgrounds, (including government, the American Army, Corporate Business and Education), ‘deviating’ from pre-agreed plans and strategies in favour of responding to the immediate relational context. Vitally he demonstrates that all these leaders needed to deviate, in order to deliver a successful, safe and appropriate outcome.

But, we are not advocating an anarchic anything goes/do what feels right, sloppiness.  Design, plans and pre-agreements give us a sense that we have a clear vision of the way forward, the skills to meet demand and reassuringly, a sense of control and agreement. When problems come in the complex shape and size of climate change, wealth inequity, migration and ever growing demands for health care, (to name a few), some sense of a way through is essential.

So we would want to highlight what is often, and unhelpfully we believe, seen as a tension between the ‘soft/people’ focussed aspects of leadership, and the need for clarity, transparency, focus and task attainment at work. We believe this polarisation is misguided; ‘relational’ in our book implies a contextually sensitive approach that recognises our profound inter-connection and inter-dependence. Not an approach where we are focussed on being ‘nice’ to each other, but one that recognises that our relationship with both the people and environment around us leads directly to the emergence of behaviour in the moment. This is what we saw happening in our health care situations and large global challenges will demand ever more complex collaborations that appreciate why people are behaving in these “unpredictable, deviant and erratic” ways.

Sadly, most leadership trainings do not emphasise the extent of personal development required for a leader to manage the complexity of such a relational approach. Boundaries can become less clear and contemporary leadership requires skills in ‘how to be’, how to respond and how to navigate the range of relational risks that are revealed through the necessary numerous collaborations.

At Relational Change, our theory and experience is that competence in the Relational approach is achieved by attending to three main, interconnected frameworks involving self, other and the situation, (Denham-Vaughan & Chidiac 2013, Clark et. al. 2014). Accordingly we have evolved our “SOS” model, which includes the three domains and also has global recognition as a call for assistance: lone heros’ are unlikely to survive!  Developing insight and skills in each of these three domains develops leaders with genuine Presence; able to use themselves and their relationships to leverage maximum effect in a range of challenging situations.

In our experience of coaching and consulting, we observe that being “relational” as a leader/manager requires tough skills of personal awareness, sensitivity to context and emotional attunement with others. Equally important are skills in recognising the relational risks arising from these closer collaborations and fuzzier boundaries, and being able to dialogue authentically about these in order to support and sustain change.

References:

Clark, M. Denham-Vaughan, S and Chidiac, (2014) M-A. “A relational perspective on public sector leadership and management”, The International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 4-16.

Denham-Vaughan, S. “The Liminal Space and Twelve Action Practices for Gracious Living”, British Gestalt Journal, (2010), 19, (2), 34-45

Denham-Vaughan, S. and Chidiac, M-A. “SOS: A relational orientation towards social inclusion”. (2013), Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 17, (2), 100-107

Harford, T. “Adapt”, (2011), Little, Brown, London UK.