Potions and Pills – The Modern Consultant at Work?

snake-oil-salesman

I notice a thread running through my blogs. I’ve become more passionate about interrupting, in myself and others, a superficial kind of patter; I’ve become intolerant of over-simplistic models and explanations of change and leadership which are still being hawked around.

Let me give you an example of unhelpful formulas. I’ve been working this week on issues of personal, team and organisational transitions. I’ve been struck by how many so-called ‘Change Curves’  take Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s work on grief and transitions, distort the basic insights and create their own magical thinking on how they hope people will handle transitions. ‘Anger’ gets transmuted into the more palatable feeling of ‘Frustration’, and the ups and downs of transition get smoothed away into a single upwards journey towards ‘Acceptance’. This kind of fantasy thinking won’t help our clients.

The theme of last week’s blog – Madness and Magical Thinking, Everyday Life in Organisations – struck a chord with many people. One former colleague wrote to me:  “I agree with your article. Most organizations are toxic because people build some sort of “persona” to survive or strive in there… more and more I avoid working with them, or, at least, with those where I feel it is not possible to get beyond this curtain”. We need to create the conditions for more authentic conversations. Authenticity is easy enough to put on a leadership competencies framework, but not so easy to create in reality in the context of highly politicised organisations.

I am looking in different places for insights. Poetry is helpful; as I prepare for this session on leading organisational transitions, I’m reminded by the poet, Juan Jimenez, that identity is not a simple concept.

I am not I.

                   I am this one

walking beside me whom I do not see,

whom at times I manage to visit,

and whom at other times I forget;

who remains calm and silent while I talk,

and forgives, gently, when I hate,

who walks where I am not,

who will remain standing when I die”.

 

So how do we proceed?

  • With passion and humility,
  • With fierceness and compassion,
  • With clarity, doubt and not knowing,
  • With a smile
  • As we navigate the complexity and contradiction that is organisational life…
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One Response to Potions and Pills – The Modern Consultant at Work?

  1. Danny says:

    Great reflections John. I found myself thinking more about what we mean by authentic……..remembering Heifetz’s insight about that it has the same root as authoring and authority……so asking who is authorising my sense of self? Is it someone deep inside me( the romantic western idea of a true self lying buried within each of waiting to be discovered), or is my sense of self authorised by a continuing set of ‘relationships in motion’…….something that is socially constructed and therefore constantly being renegotiated in relation to others. Or both?

    Reading about the change curve, I remembered the idea of the ‘useful lie’……like many (all?) models they are an approximation, a projection, of a truth which can be helpful in prompting further cycles of thoughtful experimentation/action but should never be seen as the ‘truth’……which is inevitably more contextual, ephemeral, contradictory, paradoxical and just plain messy!!!

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