Mutuality vs. the Larry Siegel Vortex

Leadership is about influence and passion – creating, changing and sustaining organizations.  Whereas management focuses more on implementations and processes, leadership focuses on people and creating value. It goes without saying that without strong processes, leadership cannot move forward.  However, today’s schools are facing new and unpredictable challenges.  What was relevant in the past – having the answers, controlling performance – seems less relevant today. I call this past practice the Larry Siegel Vortex.

In dealing with ambiguity and the unexpected, we need to get out of “The Talk Show”of past practice and start creating contexts for innovation and inclusion. In creating these contexts, people want to know what ties them together. They want to be challenged in ways that are intriguing and memorable. They want access to broad and multiple participation patterns in finding answers. They want mutuality.

In a recent HBR article, “How to Cultivate Engaged Employees,” Charalambos Vlachoutsicos, of the Athens University of Economics and Business, argues that with each interaction between manager and employee, the vital, particular ingredient in impactful leadership that buoys employees and builds loyalty and trust is the fostering of mutual dependence, or mutuality. He offers a few thoughts around achieving this mutuality – straight forward ‘day to day’ suggestions that, if followed, can help us lead with impact and allow us to reinforce the connective tissues that bind us in our learning communities.

  • Be modest.

Specifically, avoid talking about your track record and instead focus on your team’s present needs.  No one needs to hear about how you reorganized the special education delivery system at your last school, they want your ideas and advice that can help them now.  Try to share both your mistakes and successes so that your ‘realness’ comes through.

  • Listen seriously—and show it.

Ensure that your outward signs reflect it.  People tune in to your body language, where you look, what you do with your hands and managing these signals is essential.  In actively listening, the leader can in turn pose questions that are ambitious and novel – questions that rest not on position and on authority but on drawing others into solution finding paradigms.

  • Invite disagreement – you don’t have all of the answers.

To be successful, leaders must see themselves more as catalysts for problem solving than as problem solvers per se.  An exceptional skill is a willingness to admit not having the answer.  In doing so, elicit direct feedback, particularly disagreement, from your team. Disagreement provides another lens and a chance to tap the expertise of others, encouraging them to express what they really think.

It’s time to start viewing appreciative inquiry as appreciative diversity. In doing so we consciously recognize the legitimacy of different and multiple points of view.  We acknowledge that there is no reason to grant any one viewpoint special significance or value.

  • Don’t insist that a decision must be made.

Give the decision-making process time to breathe, even if that sometimes means delaying a conclusion.  Remember that multidimensional problems don’t lend themselves to crisp, categorical solutions.

If you can’t get agreement on a decision, don’t rush to impose one. Think instead about putting in place a process that yields decisions, even slowly made ones, which everyone can accept even if agreement is not unanimous. That way you won’t lose anyone’s goodwill for the next round.

In following Vlachoutsicos’ suggestions, I see that in doing things ‘right’ I can focus on a leadership style that is about doing the right things. It is a style that asks for collaboration in finding answers and deals openly with complex issues, seeking perspectives that challenge the established point of view.

The essence of leadership, as I see it, is to articulate visions that create trust and bind people together. It’s about what you do and how your actions impact the perception of who you are.  Simply put, if through your actions people understand what you stand for and perceive you as a caring individual, they will respond with loyalty and trust: mutuality.