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10.23.14

The Moment You Can’t Ignore

A leader once told me, “We’re stuck.” It was an un-ignorable moment that reflected a cultural issue within the organization. In this case, it hinged around a destructive, persistent, self-perpetuating organizational belief about what leadership should look like that had plagued it for decades.

Change
Un-ignorable moments, write authors Malachi O’Connor and Barry Dornfeld, “typically occur when an organization is teetering on the brink of a cultural shift.” They share four characteristics: they are public in nature, they are irreversible, they are systemic, and they challenge the identity of the organization.
What makes an un-ignorable moment so powerful is that the clash of cultural expectations doesn’t stop with the individuals engaged in the incident. Because identity is formed in part through group memberships, the moment calls into question the identity of the entire group—not just the identities of the people directly involved. It often shakes up the groups involved in ways that call into question why they work the way they do, and this can be very disturbing.
Being stuck is not an entirely bad thing if you can use it to propel you forward. But of course it takes a secure and selfless leader. The challenge is “not to tamp the energy down but to draw it out and channel it.” It helps if you think of it this way: “The tensions and bottlenecks inside your organization can act as a source of creative energy. This is often not the case with places in the organization where everything is running smoothly, everyone feels comfortable, and there are no tensions or pressures. Those places rarely stir up change.” And therefore they don’t grow.

When you feel unsettled it is a good sign that something new and interesting may be happening. Listening becomes a key quality. If you lack it as a leader you will miss it and the price you pay may be your own irrelevance. The authors encourage us to look within the organization itself for answers. “Where does the solution already exist? Where is the future already happening in your organization right now?”

To successfully lead through a cultural shift, leaders need to command and collaborate. But not a command style that displays a “dictatorial disregard for the capabilities of others,” but “by creating a commanding presence and a commitment to developing the capabilities of others throughout the organization.” They recommend you focus on two central tasks: “protect the organization by keeping it within its safety zone during times of cultural transition, and guide and direct the organization as a conductor artfully leads an orchestra.”

The Moment You Can’t Ignore helps us to look at those things we often don’t want to address if organizational success is our primary focus. O’Connor and Dornfield note that “Culture is not the solution to every challenge, but it is the source material from which solutions can be drawn.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:45 PM
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