Building Trust on Your Team Part II
In a perfect world, leaders would have enough self awareness to own their own bullshit and bias. But, since we don’t live in a perfect world, we have to resort to Plan C (LOL). What is Plan C? Plan C is the principle of creative tension. As I mentioned in Part I, Senge defines creative tension as the gap between vision and current reality. Creative tension can be used to vet ideas and create better outcomes. Creative tension allows the organization to become honest about the gap between its current reality and future vision. The entire organization benefits from creative tension. How do you operationalize creative tension? Before I provide you with an answer, we have to understand a few foundational concepts.
Foundational Concept #1: People Create Systems. Let’s say that again, People Create Systems. We can go further, People Create Systems AND perpetuate them. It’s a reinforcing causal loop. Show me a dysfunctional organization and I will show you a dysfunctional leader. Sit in the discomfort for a minute. Breathe.
Foundational Concept #2: Organizational Capacity is a Corollary of a Leader’s Capacity. When a leader is limited in their thinking, the organization becomes limited in its thinking. If a leader is locked in a certain mindset, the organization becomes handcuffed in that mindset. If you are a leader and there is no pushback on your ideas, you my friend are the emperor with no clothes.
Conversely, if the leader is visionary, the organization becomes visionary! If the leader is open to ideas, the organization becomes open to ideas.
Back to creative tension. How do you operationalize it? First, you start to operationalize creative tension by building a culture of honesty.
Years ago, when I was involved community work in Ferguson, I attended a meeting with a variety of stakeholders with the goal of creating better outcomes for kids. As we went around the table soliciting opinions regarding a way forward, there was the standard meeting speak “I think we should…” and “We need to…”. When it was Steve’s turn, he paused and said “My bias is…” Holy shit! When Steve made that statement, something magical happened…it allowed most of us to revisit our initial replies and become more honest. That honesty saved us from deciding on a surface solution. If you are a leader, it starts with YOU. YOU have to create the space/gap for your team to give honest feedback. Honesty has to be a meeting protocol. Test it out.
What do you do when you are not the leader? What do you do if your staff meeting is your leader’s personal TED talk? What if the members of your team are afraid to speak up? The same principle applies, YOU have to be honest. Hopefully, your honesty will provide the space/gap for others to be honest. Of course it’s risky, but that’s a decision that you will have to make.
Questions Leaders Need to Ask
If you are a leader, you can start by offering the following open ended questions to your team:
How can I become better?
Help me with identifying my blindspots?
Help me understand?
Is there something I missed?
We will explore reinforcing causal loops and more in Part III.
Raghib Muhammad is an innovator, thinker, and educator.