Home > Uncategorized > Leadership, organizations, and change (May 26)

Leadership, organizations, and change (May 26)

How to lead change is both a mystery and a science. People have been studying the phenomena of leadership and change for many years. There are many books on the subject; some using data; some using cases; some using stories. Part of the difficulty in describing leadership is that it comes in so many styles, from the great leaders like Alexander the Great who conquer whole worlds, to quiet leaders in a small community that galvanize people to work together. There is no easy way to learn to be a leader. The readings just represent an eclectic mix of ideas to get you to think about leadership, organizations, and change. We all spend our whole lives watching, doing, and learning about these things. Our hope as teachers is that you find the leader in yourself, and make change happen. Humanity will certainly need plenty of it to get through the 21st Century in respectable shape.


So reflect on what you’ve read; connect it to what you’ve been thinking about these days; and let us know what’s on your mind!

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Dan Hale
    September 8, 2010 at 11:07 am | #1

    I found the interview with Meg Wheatley to be a little abstract. When she tells that it’s impossible for individuals to take direction, it’s a bit hard to swallow. Still, some insights made an impact on me. Some things I took home are that participation is not a choice, and democracy is inevitable. The way she related organizations to organisms, people to cells and molecules, made some good sense. It was strange to hear that she was so amazed that people still want to go to work. It seems to me that people go to work to survive, and that interdependence is inevitable. There is only so much that can be accomplished by the individual.

    In talking about leadership, Wheatley quoted Mort Meyerson in saying first, “Everything I know about leadership is wrong.” and next, “Make sure the organization knows itself.” The first is an admission of ignorance and a statement of humility. Makes perfect sense to me. The latter is certainly a good first step. Next Wheatley said something that threw me off. She said the reason we don’t have leaders is because we don’t want them, and later that soon we will have no leaders. While I can see how people would like to have power and a say in the decision making process, leaders are and have always been a part of the equation.

    Leadership is something I’ve always struggled with, despite extensive exposure to it. I’ve led trips and service projects for the Boy Scouts, and participated in the outing club’s semester-long leader training program. Still, it’s hard for me to act as the authority figure, making difficult decisions. It’s something I’d like to work on, and these readings are exposing me to some new ideas and techniques.

    The next reading, the Great Turning, outlines our current state of affairs very aptly and succinctly, and goes on to show three dimensions of what we can and should do to improve it. I learned about our economic system as it is and as it should be in NR 104, Ecological Economics. This was a good reminder, and the outline of steps needed for change was thought provoking. The steps grow in complexity and move toward addressing the roots of our problems. I’ve witnessed these steps in my own life without putting a label on them. First is working to combat the immediate environmental degradation, next is to look at the infrastructure that’s perpetuating this damage, and third is to realize that everything is connected and to examine our own lifestyles and values. One of the reasons I like studying the environment so much is because by definition it is everything around us. The natural world is reality, and we are connected with it even if we are not in sync with it. I’d like to do what I can to bring us to an equilibrium with nature.

    Finally, Derrick Jensen’s article was challenging. He started by saying that we’re in a lot of trouble, “losing badly, on every front.” This is true, but tough to digest. Next he said that hope is useless, that he’s denounced hope. He goes on to explain that hope is unrealistic and paralyzing. In hoping for some unrealistic future condition, we are finding an escape from our own accountability. Instead of hope, Jensen suggests doing work. He praises despair as a stimulant for action. He stresses that as complex beings we are able to feel many emotions at once. He is in despair for our situation and glad to be alive simultaneously.

    Next Derrick goes on to say that in giving up hope something dies inside you. You’ve detached yourself from the system and are able to act on your own accord. The exploiter – victim relationship is gone. He speaks of living independently from culture’s teachings and practices, of fighting for what you love, and of being a part of the land you live on. These are generally good advice for anyone, and things I’ll keep in mind and practice. These readings have provoked me to be more mindful, of the world around me and the effects my life has or could have on the world.

  2. Deane
    May 27, 2010 at 11:36 am | #2

    As Jessica indicates, large scale, coordinated change of human societies may not happen. However, we do have good examples of incremental change that over a relatively short period of time make a lot of people think differently. Silent Spring made a lot of people view the world differently, though clearly perhaps not even a majority of people. However, enough people caught on so we could pass landmark legislation like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Wetland transformed themselves from mosquito hatching grounds to valuable functioning parts of the landscape protected by law. Insurance companies are changing their policies to accommodate climate change, even if many politicians still don’t believe it is happening. Change is happening for the better… can we help the rate and direction of this change?

  3. Jessica Fefer
    May 27, 2010 at 9:37 am | #3

    This blog may seem a bit scattered, more of a free write about what was going through my head at that moment. I apologize if it doesn’t quite flow….

    Although change is happening around us at all times, it isn’t something that we necessarily notice, or think about. Some changes are quick and simple, while others are on a much larger scale, the bigger changes that we can’t exactly ‘see’, these are the changes I’m concerned with here. For instance, the article ‘The Great Turning,’ focuses on the environmental change that is happening, or needs to start happening, all over the world. It is described in three dimensions, including 1) taking action to slow environmental damage, 2) providing structural change in both politics & economics, and 3) a shift in consciousness. It’s interesting that in this short, 2-week class, I have read about multiple professionals with the same idea of changing our consciousness, or paradigm, to change the way we interact with the environment. Although this is a wonderful idea, and there is no doubt that paradigm shifts happen to people everyday, I am concerned with the notion of having a so-called ‘mass paradigm shift.’ I’m not sure how realistic it is to sit here and hope that one-day society will have changed its mind and change directions, all at the same time, and all in the same direction. I understand that social movements happen, and that groups of people become unhappy about an institutional situation, and they fight to change that. But the environmental movement is very unlike most other movements, because there isn’t one person to blame, or one person to lead the fight. In fact, there isn’t even one goal, there are many different goals that lead to the similar outcomes, all-fighting for a more sustainable and structurally equal future. These are the reasons why it seems less likely that people will have a uniform paradigm shift towards protecting the environment. My theory is that it takes some huge change, some sort of catastrophe, to make people take environmental action. I can compare this to environmental policy. There is a window of opportunity in environmental policy, where a bill for an environmental law will either pass, or it won’t. This window of opportunity is simply the time in which something major has happened, so the public is both aware and upset enough to make the government take action. I think that a societal paradigm shift would happen the same way: first something scary and eye opening needs to happen, then people will realize how much change is necessary to pull our society out of this.

    Everything I have said so far is a bit morbid, and I don’t mean to sound like I don’t think we can make it. There are many people all over the world fighting for sustainability, equality, justice, etc…and all of these efforts are fighting towards a similar goal. There are many leaders who have ideas that could change the way we think about the world. For instance, the interview with Margaret Wheatley was quite interesting. The fact that she uses science to determine management and organization is not something I have thought about before. She says that quantum physics allowed her to view the world as relationships, which is something I have been hearing more and more about. The simple fact that ‘no sense of an individual exists independent of its relationships,’ is a truth that people really need to adopt when they think about the actions that they take, and their impacts on the surrounding environment. These days, people tend to care more about themselves than the people, or environment, around them. And according to Derrick Jensen, this may be because people are stuck with a false hope, a false hope that something will soon be done to alleviate the problem. Jensen suggests that this hope leads to inaction, and forces people to stay stuck in the current system, telling ourselves that the system, or government, will work itself out, and everything will be ok. This can connect back to my thought about a major catastrophe happening, and the response people may have in taking action. Maybe, just maybe, people would give up this false hope and take action if they saw the government fail them, or realized they had to take action on their own to see results. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see some major changes in our system once we can figure out how to alleviate the massive oil spill happening right now. Maybe this oil spill is just the catastrophe we all need to wake up.

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