Dealing With the Problem: The Link Between Personal and Organizational Development – An Introduction

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I have a theory – and it’s not good news.  Simply put – you are a part of the problem.  No one is talking to you about it because they’re not sure how to tell you or maybe they are just too afraid of what might happen.  Maybe they’re afraid they might get fired (if you are their boss) or maybe you will not want to be their friend anymore.  Whatever the case – they know.

If it’s any consolation to you, I’m part of the problem too.  I’m bringing my baggage to the table every day.  I’m bringing it to my workplace, my family, my community, my social media page, my business networking group – you name it.  Maybe it’s a quirk or a mannerism.  Maybe it’s my disposition or attitude.  It’s probably something I’m in denial about.  Just ask the people who know me, they’ll tell you – Ron is definitely part of the problem.

Sound harsh?  Well – let me offer a personal example.

Let’s go back in time to process some of my early parenting decisions.  As a new grandfather I’ve had time to do a bit of that.  As I look back over my parental life there have absolutely been times when I powered up on matters that really didn’t need that much power.  I decided to make big issues out of things that didn’t really need big issues made of them.  I was going to be “in control” – I was going to be the “boss”.  I was going to “nip it in the bud.”  And it was too much.  Ask my wife and children – they’ll tell you!

Now – in true noble fashion I could totally justify my actions – “I was doing my kids and the world a favor”, “I was teaching them the hard facts about living in the real world” – or my favorite – “I’m not near as bad as those other parents.”  But hindsight has offered me a different perspective – a perspective that is likely shared by my wife and kids – I over did it.

Did I do the best I knew how to do at the time?  Probably.  Do I know better now?  I hope so.  But just because I was ignorant doesn’t disqualify me from the consequences of my actions.  My temper impacted my family system.  Was it “terrible”?  That’s all a matter of interpretation.  But what I’m saying is – as I look back on some of my early decisions – I think I could have done better.  I know it…and my family sure knows it.  I regularly tell my adult children now – when you speak to your therapist – and it becomes clear how your father negatively impacted your emotional development – just send me the bill.

The interesting thing about my personal stuff – and yours — is that it isn’t just relegated to our home lives.  We carry this stuff everywhere!  If your family knows about your big issue guess who else knows?  Probably everyone.  Everyone you connect with at work, in your community, at church – you name it.

In the first few chapters of the book, Immunity to Change there is this creative storyline about a couple of organizations that decide to figure out why change is so hard in their context.  In one of the stories the CEO has an epiphany (humorously confirmed by his wife) that he is actually a “control freak.”  Having been in denial about this issue he is sure that no one in his organization has been overly impacted by it.  He was wrong.  Listen to his epiphany.

“Basically, I said to people, “Look, if this really is your ‘one-big-thing’ (your issue), if you’ve really dug deep enough, if you’ve really gotten personal, everyone already knows it.  I know.  Others know.  So, there’s this sort of illusion out there that you are sharing something so private, that nobody knows.  Trust me, they know!  They know and they talk about it.  Now, where do they talk about it?  Behind closed doors, at lunch, after work, but they talk about it.”*

Now – let’s keep things in perspective.  I don’t think that every screw up of our lives needs to be purged by some act of public confession or penance (although some might).  But let’s face it…if everybody already knows (our issue) then is there any value in trying to deny or reduce it?  Yet many of us work diligently – day after day – to convince those around us that we are not the problem – it’s all those other crazies out there that are screwing everything up.  Right?

Maybe.

So let me offer an experiment – for you and me.  How might the systems that we currently function in be impacted if we began to entertain the possibility that WE were actually a part of the problem?  Even just a little bit.  What if we began to get curious, when we saw something that rubbed us the wrong way, about what our part of the “rub” might be?  I’m not saying that we blame ourselves for the world’s problems – God knows there is enough blame to go around on those.  But I am wondering what it might look like if each of us kept the possibility open that some of the work – was ours.

What might that look like?

Stay tuned…

*Kegan, Robert & Lahey, Lisa Laskow; Immunity to Change, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009. p. 81 (emphasis mine).

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Who (or what) are you for?

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I find it curious in today’s political climate that entire platforms seem to be based on who and what we are against.  As a point of reference, for the last several years it feels like most of the Republican commercials that I’ve seen around election times have all had a common theme – “I hate Barrack Obama – vote for me.”  Not so much vision or strategy regarding the future.  Just a solid commitment to not do it the way Obama did it – whatever way that is.

I’ve been listening to some of the Republican National Convention this week and the same theme seems to be continuing.  Although there may not be unanimity regarding whether Donald Trump should be the nominee (which he now is) there does seem to be unanimity regarding who should not be president – Hilary Clinton.  Thus the entire choice seems to descend into the pool of who we hate as opposed to who or what we like.

If I might say so – it doesn’t take a lot of effort to build a platform off of what or who you hate.  What feels a lot harder is the work of deciding what we are for.

Now – this isn’t all about republicans.  Democrats can be found doing the same thing.  But to push even farther – this isn’t just about politics.  There are all kinds of other categories of this life that are so much easier to take the role of “hater” in.  For instance – all those problems at work – let’s find a scape goat.  Is it the boss?  The secretary?  That coworker?  They are really screwing this place up!  Am I right?  I mean – I don’t know who I’m for here – but I sure do know who I’m against!

Or how about religion?  Surely the world would be a better place without those Muslims.  Am I right?  I mean – even if I don’t know much about religion of any kind – it doesn’t matter – it’s just so much easier to blame “them.”

The list of opportunities to cast stones is unending – our parents, our kids, our neighbors, our circumstances, the temperature outside, the direction of the wind….do I need to keep going?

Sometimes I think that the default of hate and blame are so attractive because the work and effort of a positive movement is so hard – and it’s so risky.  I just read about a picnic that happened in Wichita, KS yesterday.  There was a group or two that was wanting to hold a protest/march surrounding the killings that have been happening around our country.  But the local police asked those groups if they would be willing to meet them at a park for a picnic instead – and they did it!  The police even fixed food for everyone.  From what I have read and seen – it seems like it was a well-attended and positive event.

That feels like the hard work to me.  The gutsy work.  Wouldn’t it have just been easier to have used the police invitation to affirm an argument that cops are just trying to manipulate the public again?  To undergird the argument that they are just trying to buy off the public’s trust – to try to make nice when they’re really the source of all of our problems?  Wouldn’t it have been easier for the police to just blame those who wanted to protest?  Surely they are the problem.

So – I’m renting an idea these days and this is it – hate has its place – but only for a moment.  Hate is only productive when it motivates us to clarify what we are actually FOR – what a solution could actually look like.  And let me clarify – I do not consider more hate to be a solution.  Hate that blesses another act of hate doesn’t feel productive to me.  It feels oppressive.  But it is the work that moves us beyond hate to experimentation and ultimately progress that changes the tide.  Just like the picnic put on by the Wichita police…and the decision to attend that picnic by those who were going to march – both acts are heroic in my eyes.  It feels like they decided to declare what they were for – more than what they were against.

So what are you for?

Managing Ourselves – Frustration!

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I spoke to my oldest daughter recently.  My one year old grandchild has been testing her limits.  From time to time the child will demonstrate her dissatisfaction by swinging at or biting her mother.  I’m proud to say that my daughter has found this behavior unacceptable and has taken steps to deal with it.  She tells me, “I think she is just frustrated.  It’s okay to be frustrated, just don’t bite or hit mommy in the process!”

Frustration is not a disposition held exclusively by children.   The prerogative to get frustrated is non discriminant.  Sooner or later – given enough time – all of us are going to get “frustrated”.  Someone or something is going to push against our preferred trajectory and then it begins to happen – the slow burn – the simmering pot – the boiling over.

So – frustration is coming.  But here’s my question – is it okay to hit or bite in the process?

If I were asked this question I’d probably need some clarification.  For instance…define “hit” or “bite”.  Are you talking about “biting” words?  Are you talking about blows?  Are you talking about something more than that?  And “what are the circumstances?”  I’m sure that some of us would feel quite justified in “hitting” and “biting” if we felt our lives were in danger.  For instance, if someone broke into my home and threatened myself and/or my family – I would feel pretty frustrated (to say the least).  Is it possible that this frustration might justify blows or biting (or more)?

I certainly don’t dispute that desperate times may call for desperate measures or that force might even need to be met with force.  But what I am pondering today is the possibility that most of our frustration doesn’t necessarily fit into life or death scenarios.  Most of it fits into the world of inconveniences, misunderstandings and real disagreements that need to be worked out.  In other words – all frustration is not created equal and, as a result, they need different tools for progress.

Going back to my earlier story…often, when I see my granddaughter beginning to act out she will reveal herself with screams (not playful) and tantrum-like behavior – throwing herself on the floor and breaking into an angry cry.  Yes – it happens.  Sometimes my daughter will respond to her with “Use your words.”  You might say, “She’s only one – how is she supposed to use words?”  Fair enough – but in my daughter’s defense she will often offer suggestions in an effort to teach.  “Are you frustrated?”  We might say – “Of course she is frustrated!  Why else would she be acting out?”  Bottom line – I feel like my daughter is trying to teach her something.  It will take time…it will take some learning and maturing…but she is teaching.

I’d like to think I’ve already learned this lesson…using my words.  Isn’t it obvious that this should be part of a mature response to frustration?  Based on what I see in my life and the responses of others – I wonder.

As I watch the evening news I seem to see a whole lot of biting and hitting.

A couple of thoughts.  I think frustration often comes when we don’t feel heard.  If others would just listen – then my frustration wouldn’t be happening!  So it’s their fault.

Maybe.

Or could it be that we need to learn to use our words and manage ourselves in a way that help others understand.

A foundational piece of the work of words is that somewhere inside of us…and inside of the others that we are speaking with – there needs to be a sense of value for one another.  I didn’t say agreement – just some respect.  When that is missing it can seem that the only options are biting and hitting.

So – what do we do when there is no respect?  No value?  No listening?  Whose work is it to either work harder at bringing it?  Or, at what point, to declare that “We’re done talking – I no longer value or respect you – let the biting and hitting begin!”?

Does this sound messy? Is this hard work? It is!!!  Sometimes it can feel like impossible work – that’s when things get frustrating.  That’s when we can begin to disconnect – to blame – to assume – to justify hitting and biting.

So what are we to do?  I want to propose a starting place.  Responsibility for our frustration begins with you – with me.  I’m not saying we are the only ones to blame.  I’m just saying that progress has to start somewhere – and that somewhere has to do with managing ourselves.  The next time you are feeling that simmering feeling consider asking yourself some questions “Am I frustrated?”  “Why am I so frustrated?” (use your words with yourself)  “Is any part of this frustration my problem? (be honest)  “Who am I wanting to blame for this?”  “What am I really sure about?”  “What am I really not sure about?”  “Does the other person have any value at all in my mind?”  “If not, what has brought me to remove all of their value?”  “Is that really who I want to be?”

You might say – this will take too long!  I don’t have time to think through all of this.  I already know the facts.  I’m right – they are wrong.

Maybe.

As I have stated in earlier writings, all of us have grown up using tools and honing skills that are undergirded by a worldview and values that (we feel) totally justifies our actions – all of us.

Even my granddaughter.

I wonder sometimes – as I wrestle with my own frustrations – if the fifty-two years that separate us has really made me as significantly more grown up as I would like to think I am.

That thought frustrates me.  : )