Sunday, September 19, 2010

Leading From the Middle

In the past couple of years I have developed a few workshops that I have now taught multiple times. While each basic workshop always addresses the same premises they are always slightly different because the members of each group bring their own experiences, insights and questions to the discussion. I set up a structure and purpose, but the interactions between me and the participants and, even more importantly, between the participants themselves create the real dynamic and benefit of the workshop. As a general rule, my workshops and conference presentations are highly interactive and usually that makes for a very fun and creative learning session. However, the quality of each session depends much more on the willingness of the participants to step out of their comfort zones and interact with each other than it does on what I have designed. The workshop called the Leadership Dance which is designed to help participants experience the dynamics of leading and following is a great example of this reality. If no one was willing to get up and dance with me, the workshop would be a complete flop.

In the same way, if the members of an organization are unwilling to work to their highest potential, if they are unwilling to take responsibility for the success of the venture, if they are unwilling to be creative, there is no way for a leader to be successful. During the workshop, I often hear myself saying, ‘If you hear yourself complaining about your organization’s leadership, perhaps you need to stop and see how you are contributing to the success or failure of the leadership dynamic’.

Which brings us back to the title. Now, I know that in big organizations many of us don’t have a chance to create the structure or to change the rules in the Big Book of Rules that all large organizations have. Nor can we all serve as President. However, as a speaker I heard this past week said– all systems are perfectly designed to create the results we observe – therefore, if we don’t like the results we have to figure out someway to change the system. And the very simplest way, and one that is completely under our control, is the one suggested by Mahatma Ghandi - “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” So if you hear yourself complaining about the leadership of your organization, stop for a moment and examine your own leadership. If we don’t like the results we are seeing in the work of our organization, it’s worth taking a look to see how we are contributing to those results. And then we need to take some time to consider what we might change in our own behavior or department that will improve things.

Change in any organization comes slowly. The change I make won’t create change in the organization tomorrow and it may be a while before the response becomes obvious, but when one part of a system changes, the rest will change in response in some way or another. The reality is that the only change over which I have any control is the change in my actions or my area of responsibility. When we make positive changes in ourselves or our departments and thereby create the possibility of change in the larger organizations, that’s leading from the middle and it is a powerful form of leadership available to all of us.

Good luck,

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