zen, learship, and what i learned about organizer energy

Gold-lit leaves in no hurry to reach the ground, join woody ground-smells as summer’s growth becomes fall’s carpet. Exploding senses, deep-rooted training, and a profound community connectedness made magic in our recent Leadership Zen program at IZL. Leadership Zen is an annual gathering of alumni who have participated in one of our foundational programs and have some experience with how Zen takes the “I” out of leadership, and leadership puts the rugged compassion of Zen to work in the world.

The theme for this year’s program was Evolving our Work and Workplaces beyond Fear. We often work with fear in these programs because fear is what gets us in our own way and makes leadership too small and self-serving. Demming wasn’t the only one who recognized that to drive quality into a work culture, one has to drive out fear. Combining Demming’s principles around processes with systems thinking and the stages through which both individuals and organizations develop, Paul Barnard led the IZL group through exercises to create more evolved processes in our workplace.

He started with a process almost everyone hates: the performance review. After letting us vent some descriptors from our various experiences with performance reviews – punishing, box-ticking, de-humanizing – he challenged us to devise a better process. But rather than make it a purely cognitive exercise, he had people move into each of the 4 energy patterns (honestly, I didn’t put him up to it), and articulate what the process needed to include from that perspective. In Visionary, we spoke of learning, creativity and future-orientation. In Driver we called out rigor, clarity and accountability. The Collaborator state added a view to celebrate successes and humanize the conversation in a comfortable setting. And then we called on Organizer to lay out the steps, build a plan, and schedule conversations.

We then moved onto a process emerging in more evolved organizations, according to the research of Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations, namely the Seek Advice process. As organizations evolve away from strict control hierarchies – which they must do to match the agility demands of fast-moving times – it becomes increasingly incumbent on people throughout the organization to be able to make decisions that affect their work, and also Seek Advice from others who are affected by those decisions. One can imagine an immature implementation of this process where seeking advice is a cursory, cover-your-ass email. But of course, such organizations would quickly break down. What Paul challenged us to come up with was a robust, mature expression of seeking advice, again by visiting each of the 4 patterns. The Visionary, for example, would seek common purpose in seeking advice, and the Driver would be clear about goals and what matters most. The Collaborator would help us see both sides of any tension points and, together with the Organizer, might build in some measures, processes and next steps to make sure we don’t go too far in only one direction.

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