Learn to see how the pieces fit together. The old saying is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. An obvious example is a successful marriage. Five plus five can easily equal a dozen or more depending on the level of commitment. One of my favorite books on acknowledging the multiplying effect is Seeing Systems, Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life. The author is Barry Oshry. One of his most helpful bits of guidance is his analysis of how people of different rank relate to people above and below them. Very helpful guidance, in my opinion.
The world is not what it seems. Senior people strive to appear as if they know what is going on. They rarely do because appearances are mostly an illusion. It’s not that senior people are not working hard, it is that they are trying to create a definition of reality that is unachievable. I recommend Deep Smarts, How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom. Authors are Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap.
Figuring out what is going on requires patience. It might require some time around a campfire listening to wild stories. Few executives are willing to indulge in such things. Joseph Jaworski explains it this way in Synchronicity, the Inner Path of Leadership: “Leadership is about creating a domain in which human beings continually deepen their understanding of reality and become more capable in participating in the unfolding of the world.”
I love his phrase, the unfolding of the world.
Acknowledge your weaknesses. People want to create the impression that they have patched the holes. They have not. It is not even possible. In Managing the Unexpected, Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity, Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe tell us: “The more people know about the weaknesses of their system and how to manage them, the faster they can notice and correct problems in the making.”
As a society we do not usually acknowledge problems in the making. We still have many people who deny global warming. We also consider weaknesses to be a fault that management should correct. Weaknesses are a fundamental characteristic of life. We need not place blame for them. Instead, we should be grateful to the lifeguards who are aware of the power of weaknesses, and who watch for trouble.
There is no shortage of wisdom, there is just a reluctance to recognize it. I will publish another post on this theme in the near future.