Action Research: Exploring Leadership Dilemmas.

Primal Leadership vs. Disruptive Leadership

We see a general trend of frustration in many organisations today. Frustration that most likely will be taken out on the Top Management. This frustration often leads to decreased engagement and could undermine the trust in the organisation.

Consider this case (a real event): Employees of a large global company were explicitly asked to “act as business owners” in a recent memo from their CEO. In the same memo, the CEO announces that the delegation of decision authority is decreased. This created a lot of frustration among employees. (full story on this case here Are CEOs Stupid )

At a first glance, it can appear to be both contradictory and irrational to publish such a memo. However, we know that there are strong leadership forces pulling in opposite directions today. On one hand, Leaders are expected to provide Order, Protection and Direction (Primal Leadership) to the organisation. This is the glue that kept tribes together for millions of years. On the other hand, Leaders need to enable Innovation/Exploration, Individual Freedom and Empowerment (Disruptive Leadership) to respond to external change. These two expectations are contradictory in nature.

Being contradictory is not necessarily bad though, in our opinion. The tension between these two forces could be something constructive and positive, challenging the organisation to develop in a certain direction, and at a certain pace. However, it appears from anecdotes in many organisations that the tension rather leads to misunderstandings, frustration and resistance…

We think that an improved understanding of how the organisation reacts to the contradictory nature of the above-mentioned leadership forces could enable trust.

Join us Exploring Leadership Dilemmas

We are looking for participant organisations to explore and discover the leadership dynamics at play. If you would like to participate, we need ~30-50 members (or more if you would like) of your organisation to respond to a short survey (~10 min to respond to a few questions). The responses will be 100% anonymous and confidential.

We will produce a written report with analysis and conclusions from the survey. We will also offer a face to face or video conference debrief of the results to all participants sponsors and the report will be free to use and distribute by the participating organisations.

Our Research question: Can we build trust through exploraiton of dilemmas?

Are the symptoms of frustration and employee disengagement that we see today in many organisations a consequence of how we perceive the leadership dilemmas that are at play?

Our research question is based on an underlying assumption that there are dilemmas (that might be identified and well known, or completely out of awareness) in most organisations, that are directly originating from the contradictory nature of the leadership forces below.

Primal Leadership: Human beings need a primal form of leadership, providing Order, Protection and Direction. This is the leadership that kept tribes and groups together for 100.000’s of years.

Disruptive Leadership: Organisations need a disruptive form of leadership, enabling Innovation/Exploration, Empowerment and Freedom. Without it, organisations cannot respond to change in the environment adequately.

Hypothesis: If members of the organisation are not aware of and understand the nature of the leadership dilemmas that exists, then they might perceive Top Management as contradictory, false and irrational (or worse), and they might show symptoms of frustration, disengagement and stress. Reversely, if the leadership dilemmas are identified and named, and even discussed, then we think employees will have a higher tolerance for ambiguity, “contradicting messages” and a higher level of trust.

Impact and benefit for the participating Organisation? Change the conversation and build trust.

Increased awareness and understanding of the dilemmas at play in the organisation can set the stage for a powerful but non-intrusive dialogue in the organisation on how to make and work with difficult choices and decisions:

  1. Acknowledgement and understanding of dilemmas allow for new perspectives and enables dialogues that can create trust and confidence at any level in the organisation.
  2. It triggers discovery of needs of safety vs. needs for disruption.
  3. Provides a frame to assess willingness and ability to cope with ambiguity, take risks and change behavior.
  4. Organisation can create a general comfort of living with dilemmas and the uncertainty that comes with it, leading to decreased stress and ultimately to a more productive work environment.
  5. The Research Report may serve as a starting point to spark the relevant dialogues in the organisation.

What we need from you, and what we give back

If you and your organisation is participating in the research and responds to the survey, you will have the opportunity to learn both about how the dynamic plays out in your organization and in general (there will be organisations from diverse industries, size and type)

The benefits:
1. You will receive a written report with the results of the survey and our analysis and insights of the results. This survey might be a good trigger point to change the conversation in your organisation (if you wish to do so).
2. We will present the results in face to face meeting (in Geneva Region) or Video Conference (Rest of World).
3. We will curate a discussion on potential actions and strategies to cope with dilemmas with you and team members of your choice.

What we need from you:
1. You distribute the survey to the members of your organisation and make a reasonable effort to ensure there is an adequate participation level.
2. You act as a point of contact for the participants in your organisation, to answer possible questions, and you share the results and findings at your discretion.

Check out the Survey here

About T.H.E Action Research Program

The Hybrid Experience Action Research is a program intended to verify common belief, investigate curiosities and test hypothesis that are of interest in the field of Management, Leadership, Organisation Development, Change and Transformation. While it is not academic research as such, a certain level of rigor in the research methods is applied, to provide reliable insights. The purpose is to explore and discover (true to the action research philosophy) in an interactive and playful manner, for a mutual benefit of useful insights and learnings.

The project and survey on Leadership Dilemmas is a starting point, that may lead to further research to understand how we as humans react to being in a state of ongoing transformation over an extended period… Do we ‘get used to change’? Or do we build defense and resistance? Do we go crazy? Can we do something to cope better, or is effective change management and leadership just an illusion? We have many questions… but for now, we focus on Leadership Dilemmas.

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