Friday, December 19, 2008

Of Ends & Beginnings: Implications for Leaders

According to our patterned way of reckoning, one 12 month period ebbs to a close and another peeps in. But have you thought about what, if anything ends or begins; and exactly what that means? Suddenly, what we don’t know seems more glaring than what we do know! Small wonder we depend on rituals to mitigate our unspoken wars between known and unknown. Perhaps with better answers we can make meaning of year end hullabaloos like a falling ball, gunshots, bursting bamboo, new curtains, painted homes; even sex at midnight December 31st
Despite various cosmetics conveying end and beginning sentiments at this time of year- truth is, nothing stops or starts except our patterned calendar designations. Life and time go on undisturbed, unbroken, and unabated. Nothing essential really stops or starts at the interregnum we call old/new year. So let’s be honest, there is nothing to put down at midnight on December 31 and absolutely nothing to pick up on January1. Why then persist with resolutions that lack resolve, as rituals of New Year transitioning?
Hoping to bring change to your life for the New Year? Hoping to ride the clock or falling Time Square ball into newness? The greatest New Year gift you can give yourself is to finally realize that one minute into the New Year you will still be the same person you were the last minute of the old year. No magic force attends a recycling calendar despite many handles of sentimental euphoria suggesting otherwise!  
I’m not necessarily discouraging resolutions for betterment at the restart of the calendar cycle. But understand that the greatest good will come from a deep seated continuing resolve to be a better person on a daily basis in your ongoing quest of life. Whether a year ends or begins matters very little with regard to personal change.  The secret of personal change is to become a reflective practitioner of living. As convoluted as it sounds, a more helpful and critical element of genuine self improvement is to develop the art of continuing while changing!
The unfolding Blagojevich scandal does not suggest an evil individual or someone worse than us. Instead, it signals what we’re all capable of (as leaders or persons of responsibility whose everyday lives touch others) if we don’t pause long enough to reflectively inquire what values drive our aspirations and interactions. 
A notable hindrance to behavior change in leaders and responsible persons is the strange situation they all seem to find themselves in. That is, surrounded by pretense opportunists only interested in providing genuflection and mind guarding feedback. What leaders really need (though not always want) are genuine colleagues/friends who adequately and caringly challenge them to personal development and growth in critical areas of need. 
This strange situation suggests that for leaders and responsible individuals to undergo personal change they must of necessity develop greater individual capacity and responsibility for self awareness, emotional intelligence and self regulation. For many interesting reasons (another discussion) help simply does not, perhaps cannot come from those who typically surround leaders or with whom leader often surround themselves. 
How then can leaders and responsible others increase inward awareness and extend self regulating capacity in order to arrive at more noble leadership behaviors? This is a loaded question that comes without easy answers (and unfortunately not even a New Year transition can bring add value!) In pursuing this loaded question, let’s first acknowledge any attempt by leaders to move from long held dysfunctional practices to more transcendental and noble behaviors is quite a challenge and nothing short. 
It is particularly challenging because leadership must often be exercised in complex environments. Further, it is particularly challenging because issues surrounding behavior change in leaders cannot be simply reduced to the domain of learning and unlearning leadership skills.  Instead, personal behaviors are often intertwined with dynamics related to mental models, perceptual realities, long held habits and emotional constructs. In effect we are addressing the notion of managing personal change amidst complex realities.  
Sometime ago, Time magazine, in discussing the need for a major public figure to alter his abrasive self serving leadership style, concluded by lamenting that unfortunately there is no such creature as a changed human being.  Can self serving leadership orientations be changed into more noble and transcendental leadership practices (bearing in mind the adage: there is no right way to do the wrong thing)? Despite the odds, I believe it is possible for leaders with long established patterns of dysfunctional behaviors to transition to more noble leadership practices. To deny this is to deny concepts of essential goodness, individual renewal and transformative grace. For leaders seeking transformation, I suggest two possible approaches as likely facilitators for desired change. Both approaches emphasize greater personal responsibility for individual change.
In the first scenario I suggest a silent project of personal transformation. Here leaders pursue quiet but steady incremental change by developing the discipline of early rising for libation exercises. That is, the pouring out of themselves in deep self reflection. This reflection must include a review of the previous day’s conduct including self talk on how things may have been handled more nobly. Early morning exercises should also include projection. That is, a preview of coming events along with the noble leadership wished to be exhibited in each coming situation. Elements of trial and error are to be expected but must be accompanied by studied personal review and remedy.  Eventually followers/others will come to see and appreciate your makeover.  
The second approach features assisted transformation. In this scenario the leader carefully selects a support group (a key qualifying criterion must be mutual non-dependency); and fully discloses a desire for a new direction to his/her leadership practice. The leader must spell out the feature values/characteristics that he/she desires and should entertain questions and suggestions from the group for implementation.  Of course the leader must continue to seek out review and feedback support from this group regarding his/her transitional progress.
In both approaches, it can be expected that the leader will move back and forth between behaviors to which he/she is accustomed and the noble behaviors to which he/she aspires. In other words, there will be good days as well as bad ones.  Focus and commitment however must remain steady; and learning should result from missteps.  One way of minimizing missteps is to frequently increase self reflective exercises and also catalogue instances/behaviors for review with support group.  In this way, mindsets and behaviors to be avoided as well as developed are kept sharply in focus. 
Better leadership in Caribbean circles is possible! Happy New Year and blessings for success to all!

Dr. Raymond S. Edwards President/CEO, MOHDC Raymond Edwards, Ph.D. Organizational Psychologist & Minister of Religion: is an international development consultant and executive Leadership behavior specialist.