Creative Leadership

Interpersonal Accountability

Assignment 10.1B – 3 Blog Posts

What affects a leader’s capability to speak their truth? One may find this question vague, as the answer could be found in so many places, and in so many things. However, this question begs more than simply “their weaknesses” or “their context”- it examines the true nature of leadership within the contexts of interpersonal accountability. In the same way that the well-known anecdote regarding falling trees and the verification of sound, is the impact of a leader’s actions valid unless verified by the follower?

This week I was delighted to find that Neil Crofts had posted something recently – as his most contemporary post was from several months ago. In true vulnerability he admitted his desires to remain apolitical in his blog postings, and in doing so neglected to update his thoughts. It was only when two readers approached him separately did he come to understand that regardless of his political feelings on the matter, his followers expected his words to continue to flow forth. He offered this inspiring perspective regarding the current political climate, where the power of the interpersonal leaders of the world continue to have the responsibility to push forward. He reminds us that “every country gets the leadership they deserve, and if they don’t like it, its up to us to do something about it.”

 Zen Habits Leo Baubata surprisingly backed this cry for interpersonal accountability with an account of an exercise performed in a community context. Competition, in this context, is when his brother holds the space and accountability for Leo to reside in that-which-is-uncomfortable, to notice when his mind is trying to run from the current moment. Really, to run from pain. The two of them held space for each other to reside there, to continue to reside there, to exhibit the courage for the sake of each other, and to exude a sense of vulnerability rare in two men “competing”. They pushed themselves forward, together.

Never to be disregarded, CultureSync maintains similar perspectives through their pre-defined tribal striations, reminding readers that Stage 3 tribes stand to gain so much more if they move past general spewing of expertise in favor of collaboration. Using the example of Mount Everest with all its concomitant experts, CultureSync outlines interpersonal accountability as the foundation of lasting cultural change. For Fender, it was reframing the “why” of the company that began the snowball into cultural synchronicity. 

In light of these life-giving readings, I’m reminded of what is needed in the cultural climate today. I’m sure it is easy (like me) for most to stay indoors, in their jobs and their places in their current lives and forget that there are larger landscapes and struggles. Neil Crofts outlines this as “The First Maturity War”, and arguably, this cannot be something we ignore. If the world could be run by Stage 4 leadership, how much better would it be to go to work? How much more fulfilled would we feel? And, more concurrently, how much could we accomplish, together?

3 Blog Posts, and Some Tribal Leadership

This week in "Theresa's Journey Inward" we see three different perspectives from her three thought leaders in Zen Habits, Culture Sync, and Neil Crofts "Holos". 

Zen Habits, "A Guide to Getting Good at Dealing With Chaos" 

In classic Zen style, Leo Baubista sets up another way of applying his wisdom in creating habits surrounding being okay with chaos. In the same vein of understanding that the source of all our problems comes from our own "mind movie", that is, the "ideal life" that we have set out to ascribe to the world, the source of our problem with chaos comes from our own aspirations for things to remain in and fit inside the box. He ascertains that, given some time and practice, we can fix this disjoint between the ideal situation and the situation at hand to give us more immediate joy in the present moment. 

Culture Sync, "A New Hope" 

From the firm that gave us "Tribal Leadership", Culture Sync unpacks moments where revamping internal culture can break open silos. Through an example of breaking down a traditional hierarchical organization, Culture Sync highlights company reaction to the restructuring as "hopeful", and makes some pointed references to Star Wars: Rogue One. Through rebellion at the ground level, Culture Sync strives to point the current social sphere towards a new era where teams are trusted to run organizations through Tribal Leadership. It concludes with a call to action for newbies to take-no-prisoners when creating open discourse in incumbent company culture. 

Holos, "The Opposite of Safety and the Source of Success"

Neil Crofts in this post regarding obedience claims that its opposite isn't anarchy, it is thinking and empowerment. By addressing fear as the main motivator behind unsuccessful business thinking in the age of contemporary thinking, Crofts demerits the ideology that organizations are only for the gain of monetary value and capitalist idealism. Through breaking down what organizations are for, through the codification of cause and code in specialist applications such as education and crisis, we start seeing that the current mode of thinking does not allow for organizations to be more than simply tools for gain. He ends by asking the question again, what are organizations for?

Tribal Leadership: Reading Summary

"Tribal Leadership" explains five tribal stages in their leadership dogma, helping creative leaders identify which actions affect their organizations, and advising on which strategies will enable the tribe to upgrade to the next level. The authors discuss how each stage has a unique set of leverage points and why it is critical to understand them. The five stages include:

  1.  These are tribes whose members are despairingly hostile—they may create scandals, steal from the company, or even threaten violence.
  2. The dominant culture for 25% of workplace tribes, this stage includes members who are passively antagonistic, sarcastic, and resistant to new management initiatives.
  3. 49% of workplace tribes are in this stage. It is marked by knowledge hoarders who want to outwork and outthink their competitors on an individual basis. They are lone warriors who not only want to win, but need to be the best and brightest.
  4. The transition from “I’m great” to “we’re great” comes in this stage where the tribe members are excited to work together for the benefit of the entire company.
  5. Less than 2% of workplace tribal culture is in this stage when members who have made substantial innovations seek to use their potential to make a global impact.

"Tribal Leadership" claims that leaders, managers, and organizations fail to understand, motivate, and grow their tribes, finding it impossible to succeed in an increasingly fragmented world of business. The often counterintuitive findings of Tribal Leadership are designed to help leaders at today’s major corporations, small businesses, and nonprofits learn how to take the people in their organization from adequate to outstanding, to discover the secrets that have led the highest-level tribes to remarkable heights, and to find new ways to succeed where others have failed.

My personal learning from this book stem primarily from a nice, packaged framework from which to understand company culture. Because I already operate in a fragmented, 1099 work environment, I have more than once only ever interacted with Stage 1 or Stage 2 in my contracting work as a freelance theatre and fine artist. I have been truly lucky in some capacity to have a company culture at the moment that allows me to be vulnerable and part of a key team of people aimed at serving the students in an education role. I know that ultimately I will be a lifelong learner, and will have a long and fruitful career as an educator, but at some point I wish to return to the corporate world and see what that has to offer. When I do, I will take the toolkit I have from this book and create some noise where I see fit. 

Exiting the Silo

Week 5

This week in Creative Leadership, we understand what it means to be linked to community.  

Talented colleagues in my course have had insightful perspectives regarding their connection to the world, and so far it has been a privilege to understand how interconnected we are to a variety of different modes of thinking.  

Mark Chamberlain’s Week 4 post regarding Scott Belsky’s “Making Ideas Happen” provided some valuable insight into the inner workings of in-house design teams. Mark’s insights around the power of an introspective approach when confronted with the myriad responsibilities one has within an organization revealed the importance of knowing yourself before being able to push change from within. While Belsky affirms multiple times in his novel that creatives posses the qualifications to lead, and to organize, teams of people, I appreciate Mark’s honesty in expressing discomfort in this role, in part from whole-heartedly relating to experiences in my own practice. Managing teams of designers, I have found, is the most uncomfortable hat I have had to wear. And yet, of all the validation-seeking and self-marketing tactics I have striven to adopt, this “leadership potential” feels like the least obnoxious hat to wear.

Olivia Pederson, in her expose on three blogs, unpacks transparency within organizations. While I am familiar with understanding social media within context of … well, social situations, I had not fully grasped the capability for it to work as a feedback loop within communications systems in an organization. Her notes on the power of the consumer to influence a company’s stance and production power gives me hope, and affirms that local organizations in town that are tackling the achievement gap are on the right track.  

In fact, in related trends, I’m inspired by social justice organizations that are fighting the good fight. For those who are interested in learning more of this social transparency and diversity, Reve Academy and TheBrandLab are two organizations that are doing amazing work in Minneapolis.

In applying what I’ve learned from Belsky to these two perspectives, I find that my personal reality lies in a multitude of factors, stemming from a disjoint from what I have within, and how to relate to without. What I have appreciated about Zen Habits, both the blog and the book, is this perpetual emphasis of the internal workings of your process. By thoroughly watching what the inner life is doing to sabotage the ability to learn from external sources, and by continually shying away from weakness, the creative professional gets nowhere, fast.

I’m reminded in this moment about a yoga practice called ‘jnana yoga’, or “The Yoga of Wisdom”, which addresses the path of the mind used to inquire into its own nature and to transcend the mind’s identification with its thoughts and ego. And while this may be a turn off for the more logical-minded folks, what has been most helpful in this practice is the fairly straightforward comparison between stretching and fear. I find that my mind has a tendency to get lost in the confusion fear brings. If I use fear as just an indicator, things like growth tend to be less scary. It is your mind’s job to create fear to let you know you might get hurt. The same thing is true for stretching. In my creative pursuits, fear then becomes a form of stretching. Into these things – leadership, organization, self-discovery – I, therefore, lean.

My Inner Child

Week 4

 

I suffer from what Belsky describes in his book “Making Ideas Happen” as pure idea intoxication. I find it extremely difficult to stop the flow of ideas in favor of pushing forward the ones that are life-giving, employing all the resonance that I have as a creative professional. I have resonated inordinately with so many of the concepts he discusses, and am at danger of plowing through the entirety of the book in one sitting.

It is gratifying to know that a lot of the project management structures that I have in place mimic the suggestions Belsky outlines in his Action, Backburner, and Reference system. Project management for me has never been much of an issue. I typically enjoy creating reference items and a file name convention that makes sense. The problem becomes when I need to get things I’ve written down into a form that I can grasp. Project management softwares such as Slack and Trello have made it really easy to get on board with myself, my husband, and with a team. They’re also very pretty to look at, and so I’ve resonated with his note about how the means for the project management software also mattered.

So, while I feel that this makes sense and is a no-brainer way to look at the world (in that, my system already closely resembles this), I’m still running around after my child-like wonder with this system held out like an appealing mother with a laundry basket. More often than not, inner-me is just having a ball - leaving notes scrawled nonsensically all over everything she can get a hold of, throwing temper tantrums when I try to establish rituals of personal check-ins for goal-setting, and using up so much brain CPU for a Backburner tasks that it becomes incredibly difficult to keep focused on maintaining an action oriented mind state. Mind you, my super power is that if I manage to get my mind on track with the heart, it gets DONE. Period. So, how come I can’t manage to get to that state, more often, with greater success rates?

I am excited to usher in this new era of systems – using one funnel for the brain dump and tips for technological catch-alls. Emailing myself an idea was a novel new way to look at idea generation, and even better that they can get filed in an elegant way with using an idea-related “file name” convention made of Action, Backburner, and Reference. I’m already taking steps to use it and find that my brain matter has more literal SPACE to get things going and generate. Too often I kept trying to maintain a hold on all of it – rarely did I watch my energy line.

John Clease talks about this space-making as a way to provide a moment for your brain to freak out. I appreciate that he honestly and openly discusses the need to allow your brain to panic. I think my biggest problem at times is residing in that strange, tough place where nothing is happening and I’m feeling unproductive. It makes total sense of course – if you jam a space full of junk, and suffocate a seed with too much water, soil, and what-have-you's, you do not have the optimal conditions for growth. But really, in the work environs I have found myself in, this is a refreshing reminder in the importance of mindfulness in my creative practice.

3 Thought Leaders, Influences, and the Pursuit of Meaning

Week 3

It is strange, this life-journey we are all on. Regardless of our desires, inputs, meanings, and intentions to be leaders, what you put into the world and what you are focusing on has a way of injecting itself into your life in ways only you can manifest. 

Last week I expressed frustration with feeling overwhelmed with the sheer amount of "go-get-it-ness" that seems to be requisite in leadership potential. And while I've been presented with social opinion that I am a leader, or possess leadership qualities, it has always felt to me that no matter how hard I try, or how many relevant things I fill in my life, I didn't possess the stamina to keep up the pace. I was always exhausted, depressed, feeling like my art and skills had no purpose in the world, living on menial stipends for upwards of 40 hours per week. The exhaustion was permeating everything I did, and even the employers I found myself serving.

And the beautiful thing is...this week I experienced a complete shift in what I will fight for, and what I wont. 

In my experience with theatrical productions, a scenic designer leading teams of crafts people and technical directors, I have experienced several instances where the collaborative environment was toxic and dominated by a leadership structure that bred psychological terror. A systemic issue, these leadership structures operated on minimal, stipend based salaries for designers, a show-must-go-on mentality, hyper-masculine tropes, and a director's absolute ability to veto anything a designer/craftsperson had spent hours creating "in the service of telling the greater story". Often, the tight deadlines bred a culture where boundaries were not honored or respected, hours of work was discarded and trashed, directors behaved like dictators becoming really great at executing the singular task at the expense of the team, and nobody felt comfortable coming to the table with leadership issues and abuse.

Imagine my surprise when the blogs I chose to follow for Creative Leadership addressed these very issues in larger contemporary leadership, and problems I was experiencing so acutely in my current events actually extended past the theatrical sphere.  

Granted, theatre is a microcosm where great social experimentations in collaboration begin. The ideal is with a common goal, and a team dedicated to the vision, you can accomplish anything. But after cyclical abuse cycles where I was called upon to put all my vulnerability into art that may or may not get cut because it didn’t fit into a specific vision a director enjoyed, I became disenchanted with collaboration as a leadership style at all.

There must be a better way to do this.  There must be a better way to reside in leadership styles other than those remaining in Independent stages, in silos suspicious of other’s visions and talents. There must be a better way to witness a moment of transformation from speaking to a room, to for a room.

This week, as I transition into a recovering scenic designer, I look to the future with exhausted, but hopeful eyes as I rediscover my why. I have immense potential to change the world, to lead in the ways that I find important, to know that Interdependence is a valid way of collaboration. To not give up, and look forward.