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The Ark of Leadership: A First Sample Chapter

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 Catherine and Peter approach the exploration of his internal context by returning to his preference for Azure Blue leadership and his comfort in engaging specific Best Practices. In what ways might Peter create conditions out in his business that call for Azure Blue leadership? Is his Azure Blue deployed as a way to manage Anxiety to be found in the challenging environment in which Peter is doing business? Are there specific Best Practices (such as Best Practice 1) that he chooses to engage regardless of the need for this specific Best Practice? Are there some Best Practices that Peter tends to avoid or that he looks to other members of his organization to engage? If he is delegating specific Best Practices, then he must determine if this delegation is appropriate. And if it is working? Catherine invites Peter, as she often does, to consider specific instances in which he has delegated leadership responsibilities. She is now encouraging Peter to not only examine his behavior (and the response to his behavior), but also to reflect on the thoughts and feelings (especially levels of anxiety) that were elicited by this delegation. At this “mature” level of executive coaching, the internal context becomes an important point of inquiry. 

 

A Contextual Model

Given the challenge of guiding organizations that operate in a VUCA-Plus environment, many leaders have either given up on the creation of a unified theory of leadership or have grown cynical of any theory that purports to tell them how to operate—or how to resolve a specific issue (let alone manage the attendant anxiety). Contemporary leaders are inclined, therefore, to dismiss any prescriptive model that identifies a right and wrong way of operating. They are beginning to turn instead to more contextually based models that address the complex dynamics of most mid-21st Century organizations.

Relationships are key here. As Margaret Wheatley suggests in drawing an analogy (and connection) between quantum physics and organizational functioning, “nothing is independent of the relationships that occur. I am constantly creating the world—evoking it, not discovering it—as I participate in all its many interactions. This is a world of process, not a world of things.”[i] We are always making decisions in relationship to the environment in which we find ourselves. There are moments and places within an organization when specific types of leadership are needed to address specific issues and manage specific modes of anxiety. In short, each of us can provide certain kinds of leadership functions in specific moments and places.[ii]

Leadership is likely to be effective in an organization if there is a good match between the leader’s needs and style at that specific moment and place, and, at that same moment and place, the organization’s needs, preferred style of operation and unique source and character of anxiety (all components of an organization’s short-term situational climate and long-term enduring culture).

The context for leadership concerns this matching process. A high-tech leader may find, for instance, that she must be capable of and willing to shift her style when working with a relatively immature work group or with a group that is highly mature. Within this context, however, and in her working relationship with members of this group, she may help to promote their maturity, thereby necessitating yet another change in style (which may or may not fit with her own ability or willingness to shift).

A long-time manufacturing leader might find that members of the production unit that he has worked with for many years are all about to retire or they are fasted with new technologies (such as robotics) that are changing the way they work and the amount they need to learn. Their boss of many years will be facing his own learning curve: he must now lead a new team of workers or an old team that is “learning new tricks” (unlike many old dogs).

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