Magazine article Work & Family Life

An Upsidedown View of Leaders and Leadership

Magazine article Work & Family Life

An Upsidedown View of Leaders and Leadership

Article excerpt

We may accept in theory the certainty of constant change, but that doesn't make it easy to live with on a daily basis. Wouldn't it be great if everything would just settle down? How much more could we accomplish in a less chaotic workplace?

The notion of "smooth sailing" on the job is a fantasy, says business consultant Peter Valli. As he sees it, stability is more the exception than the norm. It's "permanent white water" for many organizations - but that's not all bad. The trick, he says, is to accept the "uncomfortable learning curve" that accompanies endless turmoil.

Psychologist Richard Farson, Ph.D., goes a step further in his well-known book Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership. He says we would all like to think of human affairs as essentially rational - but often things just don't work out as we expected. And because organizations are complex and paradoxical, Dr. Farson urges us to take a philosophical approach and turn our thinking about the workplace upsidedown. Here are some of his challenging ideas:

* Recognize the limitations of communication. We give lip service to the notion that all sorts of problems can be solved by better communication. But if you encourage open, candid communication in a workplace where there's a huge disparity in power, you could make the situation worse. Trying to "clear the air" with the boss might be risky. For truly candid communication to take place, the balance of power has to be relatively equal.

* Praise isn't always motivating. Sometimes it can make people defensive. That's because praise is an evaluation and to be evaluated can make people uncomfortable, even if it's positive. Instead of reassuring people, giving praise can be perceived as a way of gaining status. It establishes that you're in a position to sit in judgment. Often, when you praise people, you're trying to motivate them to mow in a IK« direction .in«.l the idea of change can be uncomfortable.

* Sometimes a big change can be easier to make than a small one. Granted, many people like to take a gradual approach to change, saying things like "we have to walk before we can run." But good ideas about major projects can be hard to come by - and they are often recognized as big and bold. People may be more likely to buy into a change they see as "important."

* Improvement does not necessarily make us happy. …

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