Friday, November 13, 2009

Do we Need Leaders who Focus on Engagement rather then Vision setting?

In preparation for some upcoming work, I am revisiting my favorite sites for literature and other resources on facilitation and the art of conversation. This has led me through a number of sites and postings that discuss dialogue, conversation, engagement, and whole system processes as approaches to changing the conversation and the way that we make meaning so that we can be open to new possibilities for the future. Many of these articles reflect the belief that the intractable problems of today cannot be solved by the same frameworks that caused these problems in the first place.
In my journey, I happily stumbled upon a document by Peter Block - a well known organizational theorist. In this article (Civic Engagement and Conversation - ) the author states that we need to "...shift our thinking of leadership. The dominant belief system is that the task of leadership is to set a vision, enroll others in it, and hold people accountable through measurements and reward. The shift is to believe that the task of leadership is to produce engagement. To engage groups of people in a way that creates accountability, which is to care for the well being of the whole, and commitment, which is to make and fulfill a promise without expectation of return."
It seems to me that this is a substantial change in how we think about leadership as our society/ culture today is not fond of personal accountability and commitment (we do like these concepts for others though). While the article presents a stirring perspective on engagement and provides many ideas on some tools for engaging, I am left wondering how this shift in viewing leadership would shift our perceptions of the core competencies for a leader who chooses to lead from the place of engagement. My thoughts are that listening (deep listening), being open to what unfolds through the conversations, personal accountability and commitment, deep curiosity, and a rare ability to stay open to what may emerge would be some of the competencies. In fact this seems to be a good fit with Theory U (Uncovering the Blind Spot of Leadership by C. Otto Scharmer) as he writes on the importance of a leaders ability to operate from the future possibility that emerges. It sounds generative and hopeful for those of us who are ready to shift and scary for anyone that has been mentored and is comfortable in an authoritative and command style of leadership.
I am curious to hear from others as they reflect on their assumptions, practices and hopes for their own leadership and the leadership of others.

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