Friday, February 19, 2016

leadership as a stochastic art

In light of a busy day (and having been sick last week), I thought I would dig out a past blog written in April of 2010...enjoy!

This weekend I finished an awesome book entitled Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford. Crawford has his PhD in Political Philosophy from the University of Chicago - and presently owns and runs a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, VA. Without going too deeply into his ideology of the work ethic, suffice it to say that I have a whole new respect for the plumber and carpenter who come to my home to repair that which I cannot - or chose not to. To "rank" certain vocations, or to give them names such as blue collar and white collar, does injustice to everyone and creates a society that is often less than fully functional.

That being said (and I do encourge you to read the book), Crawford speaks about the stochastic arts, referring to Aristotle who wrote, "it does not belong to medicine to produce health, but only to promote it as much as possible..." The doctor (or mechanic, in Crawford's world) deals with failure every day becasue they are only FIXING, never building or creating. They fix things not of their own making. Crawford writes, "Because the stochastic arts diagnose and fix thing that are variable, complex, and not of our own making, and therefore not fully knowable, they require a certain disposition toward the thing you are trying to fix. This disposition is at once cognitve and moral. Getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration" (p. 82).

Consider leadership as a stochastic art. Leaders lead people, none of whom they have created. Leaders lead organizations, few of which they have created. Leaders influence people, all of whom have their own worldview and understanding of how life should function. Leaders work to make change happen, all the while wondering how others will respond to that change. Leaders see a different future for their organization, a future which can only be achieved through changes in people, all of whom the leader has not created or made. People and organizations are, in Crawford's words, variable and complex...they are not fully knowable...they react on their own...they react differently in different situations...leaders cannot produce change, they can only promote it.

So consider what it means for a leader to be "attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration." Skills needed to do this include listening, asking good questions, collaborating, inviting different voices to the table, observing, believing one might be wrong from time to time, letting others take the lead, being transparent, being optimistic, showing empathy, and working to develop others. As you watch other leaders (and yourself) over these next few days, see how many times these people engage in demonstration rather than conversation. When you observe one or the other, ask yourself why that happened that way - and what you can do to promote a change of behavior in that other person...or in the organization...or in yourself. If you catch yourself demonstrating rather than conversing, stop and apologize to the other person, and see if you can exhibit behavior which is more conversational than demonstrative. 

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