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The Courageous Leader in a Modern Organizational Context

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Communication patterns often involve the distribution of “air-time” among members of a group (whether meeting in person or meeting virtually via email or conference call). Who is expected to (and allowed to) dominate the conversation? Who is expected to offer information and who can offer options? How is the communication managed? Does someone serve as “gatekeeper” ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak? Are there many attempts to clarify the communication that does occur? Is there much paraphrasing? Is active listening engaged? To what extent does each person who is speaking (or writing) build on the ideas being presented by the previous speaker or writer? Empowering communication typically involves candid conversations about these patterns (a process that is often described as “meta-communication” or communication-about-communication).

Once communication has been addressed successfully by a courageous leader and her associates, attention should focus on ways in which conflict is being managed. Typically, it is only when communication is clear and when all parties are given an opportunity to voice their own opinions and share their own assumptions, that differences among these parties become clear. We might assume that our perspectives and desired outcomes differ from those of other people; however, we don’t really appreciative the differences that exist until such time as we can truly listen to the words being spoken or written by these other constituencies. This means that it is not unusual for conflict to increase or at least become more evident once empowering communication has been established.

Conflict is best addressed in an appreciative, empathetic and empowering manner when a leader of courage seeks a higher level of agreement between herself and the other party. We seem to agree about the need for XXX. Given this agreement, we can shift our attention to finding a common path that leads to this goal. Alternatively, the modern leader of courage may chose to work with a conflicting party by reaching agreement with this party about a sequence of actions: we will first seek to achieve your goals and then seek to achieve mine. A third alternative is to shift attention from the issue of direct priority (which goal is most important) to the issue of enablement (to what extent does each goal enable other goals to be achieved). My goal may be inherently more important than your goal; however, if we achieve your goal, we will more readily be able to achieve other desired goals (including my own).

With the resolution or at least effective management of conflict, a courageous leader is ready to address the pattern of problem solving in her department or organization. Is there a focus on the current state (realism) or on the desired state (idealism)? Is there a tendency to move quickly to action or to spend considerable time in reflection on alternative actions (as related to the assessment of current or desired state)? To what extent is there a focus on rational and convergent processes of problem solving or to what extent is there a focus on creative and divergent processes of problem solving? Empowered problem solving requires a balance between realism and idealism, a balance between reflection and action, and a balance between rational and creative processes. An empowering leader of courage encourages (endows with courage) and embraces multiple problem solving strategies.

Finally, with an empowering and diverse set of problem solving strategies in place, the leader of courage is ready to engage effective decision-making processes in the organization. The existing patterns of decision-making are often the most challenging to reform. The courageous leader must be willing to identify and openly discuss the benefits and costs associated with current patterns of decision making in her organization and identify ways in which her specific department or organization might most successfully make decisions in specific areas. When should consensus be reached? Consensus decision making is usually only needed for very important decisions that require not only the understanding and consent of all parties, but also the active engagement of these parties in implementation of the decision. When can a small subgroup make the decision? When is it appropriate for the leader to operate in a unilateral manner? When are votes to be taken? What constitutes a “working” majority?

For empowerment to be successful, the courageous leader must encourage (en-courage) ongoing reflection on the communication, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision-making patterns in her department or organization. This successful modern day leader is guided by the principle that form follows function. The particular pattern to be engaged by members of her department or organization should be based on the specific function(s) being served by this department or organization. Does this department or organization need to respond rapidly to shifting environmental conditions? How much risk can be taken? Is there a high or low level of clarity with regard to the current challenges being faced by the department or organization? The answers to these fundamental questions will help to guide the processes of communication, conflict-management, problem-solving and decision-making that are being engaged by the modern leader of courage.

 

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