Did you know there are no straight lines in leading?

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Leadership Distinction #40: Circularity

Of equal importance to your observational power as a leader is your interpretive power – how you explain to yourself the meaning of your experience. Borrowing once again from the Pragmatists, the meaning we draw from of our world equates with the action we will take in it. When you apply what I refer to as Circularity to your leadership interpretive practice you will advance through the web of complexity that encircles you.

When Systems thinking emerged as a way of interpreting the behavior of organizations or any other systemic structure it needed a language to gain a shared understanding. The words and images of this language emphasize circles of causality, or causal loops. The linear thinking of our past had got us into quite a few messes; it was high time we assessed the workings of our world as circular flows.

Perhaps the single most significant detriment of linear thinking is the view that any one of us acts as an isolated agent in the mix, acting independently outside of the flow, unaffected by our own actions. When we perceive our actions as being within the circle, as being part of the system affecting the forces that in turn will affect us we derive new meaning from our circumstances.

When you lead, you cause intended change to occur, by definition. But only with the committed participation of followers. You affect them; circularity reveals that they affect you. And as the circle and its causal loops flow the exchange seeds new leaders who may emerge from of this dynamic, affecting your leadership, and fostering still more circularity in its wake.

As you go about generating intended change, the spawning of new leaders may not be your intention. But when you come to see the early germination of leaders among your followers you will become more conscious of the example you set for others, and come to interpret that your individual agency, crucial though it is, does not operate in isolation outside the circle. You are both cause and effect. 

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Episode 39