Wednesday, March 1, 2017

More Questions Than Answers: A Leader's Plight

I sat through a meeting earlier this week where an executive in one of my new client groups revealed the department’s new research indicating that having good engagement between leaders and their direct reports was extremely critical.  I can imagine what you’re thinking … “this is not news!”  At least that was what I was thinking.  But the executive went on earnestly and others nodded with conviction.  They committed to do something about this crucial discovery.  Driving back to my office I was thinking about how disappointing it was that the group found the engagement data surprising.  Then I paused and began to consider that maybe I had better take a new look at my own assumptions about engagement.    We have repeatedly seen, during this class, how so many of our assumptions about how to achieve work and personal success are changing.  How will I ensure that engagement continues to be front and center if my attention is constantly alternating between the demands of technological and humanential?  I think, moving forward, motivation and engagement may prove more and more difficult as a leader.    We certainly tend toward distraction.  I wonder how many people in the “engagement” meeting were actively engaged …

Debra Edwards-Onoro reports that 64% of employees visit non-work websites every day adding that 75% of these employees spend upwards of an hour a day on Facebook.  Although companies try to limit this in various ways, I feel I’ve learned in this class, that connecting is necessary.  As a leader I need to figure out how to build on this tendency toward distraction and re-channel or integrate this energy.  It seems people are very engaged with their connection and maybe less and less with their work and/or their leaders.  I think on some levels humans tend toward laziness and inaction when it comes to change and in many ways the internet and technology enable this.  Which means, we committed leaders may be working against inertia.

 Yet it is critical that we do!  Consider Gerd Leonhard’s message in his Change2  animated video.  He implores us to embrace technology not become it – to transcend it.  To achieve this I believe as leaders we will need to emphasize helping people become more flexible, curious and to deal with ongoing change more confidently.  We will need to develop environments which allow people to make mistakes and experiment.   As leaders a main goal will be to help those around us get to a point described by Weinberger where“… our hyperlinked infrastructure will give us a self-understanding that makes it easier for our curiosity and compassion to overcome our self-centered fears.” (p. 193) Weinberger also emphasized the importance   of guiding people toward learning to love difference.  As I previously noted, noted, in many ways we prefer sameness and routine; to be re-affirmed in our opinions. We, as leaders, must learn to deal with this discomfort and push ourselves and others past this barrier.  On a personal level, Weinberger recommended we could do this by putting ourselves in very different situations, and exposing ourselves to multiple works of literature, art and people.  Why not do this at work?  Certainly encouraging diverse collaboration and stretching people for project work is possible.  Why not literature and art?  People are probably checking out Instagram and Pinterest at work so I will look for opportunities to see how I might build on that impulse and channel that interest/energy into work related goals.

Michele Martin’s essay is very inspiring and I really appreciated her discussion of Meg Wheatley’s differentiation of hero as leader and hero as host.  She describes the hero leader as one who encourages us to be passive.  The host leader, on the other hand, encourages everyone to find their inner leader.  The Hero leader feels she is responsible for finding and executing solutions.  The Host Leader creates space for conversations to happen allowing new connections and relationships to form.  The host leader would focus more on the overall process of leading rather than being a leader.  This is somewhat analogous to the old form of wisdom where knowledge and wisdom sat on the pile of data and information where only one interpretation won out.  Now everyone has access and multiple interpretations abound and as Weinberger reminds us we need to rethink knowledge.  In the same way we need to rethink leadership more along the lines of being the host.     

Michelle’s essay also draws on the work of Etienne Wenger discussing social artists, which align nicely with the host leader.  Throughout the essay the need for leaders to establish space for dialogue to take place is discussed.  The first three items listed for social artists reinforce establishing a conversational space: they invite participation, relinquish control, and create environments of high trust and aspirations.  This is aligned with my discussion of conversational space from week 3’s blog.  As Baker, Jensen, and Kolb (2005) explain conversational space is both a physical and psychological space created with the purpose of enabling diverse opinions to be expressed, reflected upon and transformed into new knowledge by the group.  With this being such a constant theme throughout our readings I feel it is an imperative for me to provide thought leadership to establish this level of conversational space at every opportunity.

I continued to find guidance in all the social artist guidelines: helping people to access their full potential is the primary reason I became a learning professional.  I’ve done that successfully in the analog world.  Now my challenge is to figure out how to utilize technological connectivity and AI to enable this discovery.  I am fully aligned with having a vision but also being aware of obstacles and limitations to achieving the vision.  I see this as strength, particularly when significant change is required.  I imagine I will need to refine and demonstrate this skill even more in order to lead effectively in coming years.  At the moment I am having some challenge reconciling the two. In order to be strategic and more inspirational I need to be more in the vision space yet the furious pace of my current situation (and the world in general) has me mired in tactics to navigate obstacles. And finally social artists get things done by collaborating.  This is enabled by our enhanced connectivity, yet I also see areas of opportunity for me to grow here as well.  I value collaboration, but again am influenced by the pace of my life and find that the most efficient method wins out.  And often just getting it done myself or delegating parts is more efficient than collaboration.   

Michelle outlines what she considers 4 Patterns for Guiding Career Moves which I think are also pertinent for leading into the future because they help build resilience which given the pace of change, may prove to be a top need for us to help our employees develop.  These patterns include:  Clarifying, Connecting, Creating, and Coping.  Clarity involves being aware of what is going on in the world and setting your goals based on your self-awareness as well as reference to the anticipated changes.  Connecting refers to  much of what we have been discussing – and reinforces the need to find the right connections who will help us grow and get work done as well as affirm who we are. Creating involves making a framework for our time management, priorities, taking risks, and making plans which uniquely enable us to thrive. Coping requires us to nurture ourselves in ways to help us manage the vicissitudes of life.  All of this wraps up with helping people find their sparks that which helps individuals light their inner fire.  Which brings us full circle back to engagement.  How do I hope to foster engagement moving forward?  By encouraging  employees to be  curious, empowered, resilient, to form opinions and express them in a safe conversational space and guiding them (as I guide myself) to find the proper balance between technological and humanential. 


Baker, A. C., Jensen, P. J., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Conversation as experiential learning. Management learning, 36(4), 411-427.

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.


  1. Tricia:
    Your story at the opening of your post reaffirms something that has caused me concern in the past few years. Has "engagement" become the new management/leadership buzz word? Not only do leaders strive to engage with followers, but brands try to engage with consumers (via social media) and companies are developing engagement scores to rank outbound communications. I thought you might enjoy this article about how engagement can mean so much or so little depending on its use and the audience:
    As we lead through this engagement conundrum, I appreciated your approach to driving this outcome. It seems as though today's leaders must learn along the way.

    1. Thanks for the reference Krista. The read was helpful because sometimes I feel that I'm being cynical yet the evidence in front of me speaks differently. I want to do all I can to encourage those around me to feel respected, motivated, and to know I see their potential and want to enable them to maximize on it. As for your comment about we leaders needing to learn along the way ... you hit that on the head. We are going to need to be learners front and center - and then leaders - in order to be most effective. Great interacting with you this session! ~Tricia

  2. I had not seen Gerd Leonhard's video so thanks for sharing that. His visualization of leadership as "liquid" is intriguing! I also appreciated your reflection to start this post. How many of us are guilty of not engaging because our assumptions suggest things are already self-evident? Your point to be learners first and leaders second aligns with the flow of this course...a necessity in a digitally evolving world.

    1. Glad that I was able to share something new with you! There are many takeaways from this course, one certainly being that things are anything but self evident. It's a tad anxiety provoking to fully confront not only how much we don't know, but how "knowing" itself is not what it once was. So learner first is absolutely my ongoing philosophy. Thanks for a very engaging course.

  3. Tricia,

    What a beautifully constructed and insightful post! I love the story about the executive clarifying the importance of leader-follower engagement, and the heads nodding in agreement. Like you said, how many of those in the room were actually engaged? With an invisible Bluetooth earpiece, workers can nod their heads while listening to music or audio books. ( Given the Edwards-Onoro statistic that 64% of employees visit non-work websites every day, I wonder what problem needs to be fixed. Do workers want to be more engaged, or do they just want time to connect? A Gallup report suggests that 55% of Millennials are indifferent about their work, less than half strongly agree that they know what their coworker’s jobs are, and only a third are connected to their organization’s mission. ( The report noted that leaders should meet with Millennials at least once a week, and help them see how their role fits with the organizational mission. I think this aligns with Martin’s idea of the host leader who helps everyone find their inner leader, but I am puzzled about what causes the inner leader to go into hiding in the first place. (

    Your comments about social artists are inspiring! When I read the top three things that social artists need to reinforce when establishing a conversational space—invite participation, relinquish control, and create environments of high trust and aspirations—I thought of our course. To me, the design of this course and the manner in which everyone has engaged fits with a conversational space. What a great learning environment! I am going to share the Wenger article you referenced with my colleagues. ( Thank you for bringing Wenger, and so many other fantastic resources, and especially your ideas, into my thought leadership!


    1. CatOnKB - so glad you found some inspiration and new ideas in the blog. This class (and our dialogues) have been so thought provoking and insightful. It has also been anxiety provoking - pushing us to confront the reality that we do not really have a grip on this reality. Your question regarding what needs to be fixed is excellent. I'm not sure we understand what's broken either - or has so much changed that everything is broken and we need to start over in many ways from the ground up? Have we been band-aiding when we really need surgery? Appreciate the Gallup information you shared regarding meeting with millennials once a week to help them understand how the work they are doing fits into the larger organizational goals. AS to your question regarding the "inner leader" going into hiding ... does it go into hiding or is it waiting within waiting for the right conditions to emerge? And the leader as host or the social artist creates those conditions. I would love to hear more about how your colleagues respond to the Wenger article. And fully agree - the design of this course was a wonderful space to interact, explore, support and challenge thinking. I am very sorry for it to end. Thanks for so many thoughtful and enjoyable dialogues!! ~Tricia

  4. You felt like you were in a “Captain Obvious” commercial, I am sure. My inner voice would have been screaming it.
    My current job is to help customers with the adoption of technology changes. The framework that we use is one of the more popular, and from a group that does a lot of research around the topic, Prosci (Prosci Change Management Learning Center, n.d.). I also teach the framework, and one highlighted point that you touch on is resistance to change. We often remind students to never underestimate the power of comfort in the status quo – even when everyone complains about it. It has a lot to do with being more accepting of the devil you know, rather than risk getting to know a new devil. But it is amazing how many customers feel that having a resistance management plan is unnecessary.
    The difference between knowing and actualizing is always an issue. Even in our team, I can say that we often are the cobbler’s kids – lacking the shoes we make for our customers.

    Prosci Change Management Learning Center. (n.d.). About Prosci. Retrieved January 23, 2016, from

  5. LOL - "Captain Obvious" - You got it! My inside voice was saying "Are you kidding me?" Along with "Keep a poker face." I have also witnessed similar challenges around change and, as you and I are both discussing, there is often direct resistance to explicit change and then there is the implicit change we may not even be aware of that provokes a level of discomfort which cannot necessarily be pinned on anything but just leaves us a bit out of step. We may want to be on top of all the change and even leading the charge - but missing some signals. Appreciate your sharing the Prosci information. I'd not been aware of them. Great connecting with you again in this course. ~Tricia

  6. Tricia,

    I enjoyed your post this week, especially the portion concerning the difficulty people have in pushing past the "sameness and routine" in both our work and personal lives. One thing I took away from the readings these past couple weeks is how critical it is becoming for leaders to branch outside of their specialties. Not only because the interconnected world is increasing complex with the lines of various disciplines being blurred, but also because the "next big thing" might be a discovery in a different field that has interdisciplinary applications. You mentioned how Weinberger recommends doing this by expanding our exposure to other types of literature, which with the internet should be quite easy. Besides simple complacency, do you think there is another barrier to pushing past our comfort zones?


    1. Homophily, functional fixedness, associative barriers, biases, fear ... to name a few. It would seem that we are wired to protect ourselves and must learn to re-wire ourselves in order to function in an integrative fashion. Best to you ~ Tricia