The stresses and strains of operating a business have grown considerably over the past twenty years. One of the outcomes is the changing role of leadership. Throughout history, a leader was thought of as a person of influence. What is influence? Really. What is it? How do you measure it? Is this a perspective that will serve us well as a global community with an uncertain future?
When I first came up with the idea of the Circle of Impact two decades ago, I was responding to the patterns of behavior that I saw in people and organizations. In a real sense, their problems originated in the way they thought, the way they related to people, and the way they organized their world.
Out of that perception came the notion that there are three aspects of our lives – ideas, relationships, and structure – that represent the connective tissue of who we are and the world that surrounds us. I called them, The Three Dimensions of Leadership. At that time, I did not actually know how they were connected. I just knew they were. I could see it. It took many years to fully understand how fundamental a perspective I had discovered.
Nothing is inevitable, except change. Nothing happens in a uniform or complete manner. Every change creates the conditions for its opposite. This is where opportunities abound.
Entrepreneurs understand this and then when they reach a point of establishment, promptly forget about it. Entrepreneurs want to decentralize power in order to create new opportunities. Then they want to centralize power believing that absolute control produces efficiencies that secure the future of the business. Is entrepreneurial ‘creative destruction’ only a starting point? Or, can a business instill the practice of entrepreneurial opportunity-seeking throughout the organization? I believe that it can.
This is one facet of the tension between centralization and decentralization in society. It has grown in intensity as technologies emerged that support personal endeavors and the control of people through surveillance technologies. The context of this global dynamic I call the Two Global Forces. This post consists of selections from my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative to Ignite Change, on this phenomenon in our world today. I have more to say about this at the end.
I came to realize through working with leaders and their organizations that their problems were not just organizational. Within their teams and workforce, there were philosophical differences that made creating a culture of trust more difficult. I found that when the ideas that we identify as values were treated as secondary or optional aspects of the business, it also contributed to difficulties in how people worked together. Trust in relationships is a product of clarity of not just the why of the company, but the how. It doesn’t take long talking with people from any business to discover if they are clear about the company’s values and goals. When that clarity is missing, there is reticence on the part of employees to give their best each day.
I was at a transition point in my life. I was asking questions that you may have asked yourself at some point in your life. My transition point had me looking at decisions about where I would live, how I would financially support myself, and what difference I would make with the rest of my life. These decisions followed a time of loss where my consulting practice slowly dried up, and then, after moving from being a board member into the executive director role, I was terminated from the nonprofit organization that I led. During this time, my marriage of thirty years ended.
Sitting in my apartment one night, the question of what my life was to be in the future became crystal clear to me. I saw myself starting over. I realized that my life was not done, there was much to do, and that my best, most important work was yet to be. So that evening, I decided that for me to start my life over, I had to move.
In the mid-1990s, I started my consulting practice with the aim of helping leaders strengthen their organizations, with the larger goal of strengthening their local communities. As one project after another came, a pattern began to emerge. Problems presented to me often turned out to be symptoms of more complex problems. These were not isolated incidents. The situations and the kinds of organizations were not similar. Their problems were similar. But more importantly, they were not getting resolved by the way we have all learned to solve problems. For as long as I’ve been working in organizations, the belief has been that the solution is in the problem itself. This approach failed to understand that there is always more going on than the problem itself.