Category Archives: Reflective Leadership

Capturing the Human Spirit

Many employees are cynical, apathetic, disillusioned with their work. This is a sad truth of the workplace.

What is also true, though, is that none of us want to feel that way about our employment. We would all rather be motivated than unmotivated, rather be fired up about the work we do than indifferent.

Given that human beings have a fundamental desire to be engaged at the level of the spirit, the question leaders must ask themselves is not Why aren’t these employees engaged? but What elements of my workplace culture are preventing them from being engaged?

We have previously explored how leaders can inadvertently create the very behaviors —hostility, insubordination, apathy, indifference, etc. — they most dislike in employees, through the unintended consequences of their own leadership actions and choices.

But I’m not a tyrant, many might think to themselves. I’m not a bully. I’m one of the nice guys.

This is likely true. We have found they majority of the leaders we have worked with to be sincere and well-meaning people.

Yet it is undeniable that leaders may praise employees’ accomplishments, ask after their families, and remember their birthdays, yet still hold mental models — say, that that employees will not work unless supplied with external reasons to do so — that generate counterproductive and even destructive workplace dynamics.

The crux of the issue, it can be seen, lies in the below-the-line mental models that leaders hold. Do they — do you, as a leader – believe that the average human being can find work a source of satisfaction? That most employees have the capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems? That even frontline employees seek a sense of meaning and accomplishment in their work?

Such questions are far from mere abstractions, for fundamental views about human nature determine, in large part, the culture any leader builds in his or her human system. And that, in turn, shapes the behaviors and choices of the employees functioning in that culture.

The base of knowledge about human behavior in the workplace is not new. And if truth be told, few of its principles are particularly surprising or revolutionary. Just as studies on diet and health regularly emphasize a few well-known concepts—eat more fruits and vegetables, get more exercise— findings on the health and effectiveness of human interactions have been remarkably consistent.

Rather than seeking new answers, then, it seems we would be far better served by holding the mirror up to our beliefs, and considering how closely they match the accumulated body of proven and dependable principles.

Put simply, reflecting on what we truly believe—our theories-in-use, not just our espoused theories—is imperative in capturing the human spirit and developing the human potential of those around us.

Taking Stock: Three Critical Elements

Crucial to growth as a leader is a comprehensive process of personal stock-taking, an ongoing discipline of objectively looking at our actions and beliefs and considering the effect they have on the individuals and systems around us. Though such reflection encompasses many constituent elements, three seem to be of particular importance: knowledge, choice, and perception.… Continue Reading

Perceptions, Authority, and Perceptions of Authority

Managers today often perceive relatively little hierarchical “distance” between them and their subordinates. Yes, they might shoulder certain responsibilities and make the final call in certain situations. But they generally see themselves as part of the team. That perception, though, is in many ways a consequence of the very authority they hold (and their subordinates… Continue Reading

What We Believe, What We Think We Believe (3 of 3)

The first part in this series introduced the concept of the espoused theories we consciously believe in and the theories-in-use that actually determine our choices and behavior. The second installment explored how it is not only possible, but likely for there to be differences between those two sets of theories. But what can be done… Continue Reading

What We Believe, What We Think We Believe (2 of 3)

The first part in this series introduced the idea of espoused theories and theories in use. It also raised the possibility that the principles each of us consciously support might not be what are actually shaping our behavior and decisions. But what does this look like in practice? In our consulting work we were once… Continue Reading

What We Believe, What We Think We Believe (1 of 3)

Assessing minute-by-minute choices is a key aspect of the discipline of reflective leadership. But building a true picture of how we act turns out to be surprisingly difficult. Part of the difficulty stems from the way we think about our behavior. We all act in accordance with mental “maps” of what we believe to be… Continue Reading

The Wake of Leadership

Employee ownership, commitment, loyalty and initiative are key to any outstanding organization.  But astute leaders know that such qualities are too important to be left to chance. They must be woven into the fabric of workplace functioning. They must, in other words, be made a part of organizational culture. Take a moment to think about… Continue Reading

Guest Blog: Involvement and the Thinking and Judgement of Others

I have recently been using the Hanging the Mirror: The Discipline of Reflective Leadership in my leadership coaching and consulting work. After reading the book at my suggestion, a leader in one of my client organizations had the self-awareness and courage to tell me that he believed he was doing a poor job in the… Continue Reading

The Primacy of Choice

We previously explored the human knowledge base and its importance to building effective human systems. Unfortunately, knowing something isn’t the same as acting on that knowledge. Any roomful of leaders can rattle off a long list of characteristics that define outstanding organizations. The systems headed by those leaders, however, will often fail to manifest the… Continue Reading

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