The Change Leaders volcano and dinosaurs

Lawyers, Volcanoes, and Change

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!’’ Henry VI, W. Shakespeare

Opinion by Roberto Saco

We have a problem in America, and it has to do with change. Consider the following data. Thirty-nine percent of the members of the House of Representatives are lawyers; fifty-seven percent of our Senators are lawyers; all of our Supreme Court Justices are lawyers; thirty-two percent of our Governors are lawyers; our current VP is a lawyer; and so is our past President. And yet, attorneys comprise less than one percent of the US workforce. Some could argue, I guess, that it makes all the sense in the world for the legislative and judicial branches of government to be chock-full of lawyers.

But does it really? People trained in the law can be articulate and logical for sure, but maybe a bit too predictable in their thinking, no? Do Law Schools teach students to be creative? To be agents of change? To be future-oriented? Perhaps they should.

I have not studied the comparative numbers for other countries, but I do know that the formidable German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is a Ph.D. quantum chemist. Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, is a mathematician with a long stint in the military. Early in his career, Justin Trudeau was a teacher. Simonetta Sommaruga, the Swiss President, studied music and language. The lack of professional diversity in the American political ruling class is an issue. It is true that outside of politics — in technology, business, the arts, and science — there is much greater leadership diversity. But what if we had the artists, and the scientists, and the teachers, and the technologists in Congress? What if Bill Gates were President?

Every professional discipline has professional training. It teaches its subjects to think in a certain way; they’re marked when they’re young. While life experience and family background, as well as personality and passions, all have their influence, professional training plays a crucial role in how people envision the world. So, what’s the issue?

Imagine a problem-solving session by two different groups of people, one a coterie of attorneys and the other a diverse group of professionals. Will anyone venture a guess as to the results of the session? The attorneys will come up with a neat, tidy, and logical brief on how to solve the problem. The diverse group will, of course, actually solve the problem.

Question: “What are 500 attorneys at the bottom of the ocean?” Answer: “A good beginning.”

So the old joke goes… But before anyone at this juncture accuses me of being a lawyer-basher, the point is not that people who practice the law should be unceremoniously dumped in the ocean. My point is that professional diversity in ruling classes is a good thing. The US Supreme Court has nine judges, all attorneys, which, by the way, is not a prerequisite to be a Supreme Court judge. But in addition, of the nine judges, all of them went to two Law Schools: Harvard and Yale. All of them. We can have racial, religious, and gender diversity, but what if they all think the same?

I am reminded of these structural barriers to societal change by the uncanny times we live in. We have black swans and grey swans, we have climate change and political disruption (Trump, Brexit), we have single-issue lobbies dancing around political parties, we have the promise and threat of AI, we have new, large-scale, complex problems and mediocre, almost farcical global leadership. We’re in the midst of a pandemic. In fact, we have intractable 21st-century issues being faced by 20th-century leaders.

On a personal level, I have retreated from televised news channels. I cannot bear to watch the talking heads, the know-nothings frothing at the mouth, leaders with lots of bravado and very little science, and now to boot, we’re being bombarded by the prediction game. Already politicos are talking about easing up on the lockdown. People with lots of time on their hands are using the future as a Rorschach test on which to project their own personal dreams and fantasies. “We’re going to have telemedicine in every home!” “No more commuting, as maybe half of the workforce will work from home!” “The time has finally come for online education!” “You actually go shop at a market? How quaint!” And in the meantime, of 435 members of the House of Representatives, 168 are lawyers.

Who knows what life will be like after COVID-19? Too many people are working on solutions (good!), and at the same time, too many people itch to misbehave (not good) and head to the beach for beer and volleyball. Some, rightfully, are headed to a job bank, desperately looking for a steady paycheck. These are opposing forces. What I think I know is that whatever emerges, it won’t be nice and tidy, like a lawyer’s brief.

You know, it would be grand to have telemedicine, so I won’t have to waste four hours of my time to see a doctor for a 10-minute routine check-up. For those who can, it would be great not having to commute two hours a day and to give up the payments on one of the two or three cars parked out front. Since I’m going to be at home more often, maybe it does make sense to do more things from home. The micro-changes, which could well accumulate into constellations of changes, are welcome. Many changes will happen quickly and relatively effortlessly.

Now, the hard stuff.

It seems that the more vulnerable one is, the harder this pandemic is hitting. Be it the poor, the minorities, or the elderly abandoned in nursing homes, they are suffering disproportionately. The question remains: of the plausible societies that could be, what kind of a society do we wish to be? There’s always the notion of self-interest — the tragedy of the commons — but such fragile societies simply don’t pan out. The next pandemic, with a much higher case fatality rate, could wipe out an entire country. And let us not forget climate weirding, as the weather turns more unpredictable and more violent with every passing season. As a denizen of hurricane alley in the Straits of Florida, I look forward every year to the hurricane forecast of the Colorado State University, and this year “the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Is Expected to Be More Active Than Normal.” Great. Maybe out of a need to preserve our homes — all of them, not just yours or mine — we will create a more resilient society. This would have implications regarding income inequality (lower), tax burdens (higher, possibly on the wealthier), consumption (lower), and social isolation (probably higher, at least for some populations).

I cannot help but think that we’ve been living in a bubble for too long. We have come to accept the unacceptable, like homelessness, as the cost of doing business in society. In 1816, Europe had “the year without summer.” A natural disaster the year before on the other side of the world, namely the volcanic explosion at Mt. Tambora in Indonesia, was the culprit. The eruption, known as the VEI-7 event, sent ten billion metric tons of volcanic ash into the atmosphere, some of which eventually traveled to Europe. Weather patterns were disrupted for months, the skies darkened, crops were decimated, and there was widespread famine. That’s the same summer Lord Byron vacationed with his bohemian posse at Lake Geneva. With horrendous weather and probably bored silly, they decided on a parlor game. All of them had one night to write a ghost story to be read the next day. Mary Shelley, a precocious 18-year old, wrote Frankenstein, or the story that later became the novel. If you do read the book, subtitled The Modern Prometheus, you will not escape the nature of the cautionary tale Mary spins for us. Our supreme arrogance, she warns, and self-contented inattention as a species promises to be our downfall. I learned all of this at a glorious exhibition a couple of years ago: “It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200” at the Morgan Museum & Library on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue. Today, socially isolated, I wonder when I’ll ever go back to the Morgan or to any museum exhibit for that matter.

This brings us back to the lawyers.

You see, micro-changes also require macro movements. We will require big and bold structural changes. And we cannot rely on structures designed for the 19th or 20th century to hold up very well in the fluidities of today. Zygmunt Bauman, the Polish philosopher and author of Liquid Modernity, has said: “Real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you.” Or, I may add, who think the same way as you. If it’s simply too hard to redesign our institutions, like Congress with its too many lawyers, then we may have to harness our political imagination to create new ones.


The Change Leaders crisis 2020 graphic

Framing a Crisis: How You Get There Matters

Within the rhythms of life, the swinging gateway opens and novelty emerges spontaneously to revitalize the world, tempering whatever has moved to an extreme, and reclaiming whatever has strayed from the path. Whatever is most enduring is ultimately overtaken in the ceaseless transformation of things — Tao Te Ching

In the welter of threads that make up the tapestry of our world, we are so very fond of naming each and every single strand. This thread is you. This thread is me. These colorful threads are us. Those drab threads are them. These threads comprise our economic policy, these are our monetary policy, and these here are our regulatory policy. We forget that the threads are all wrapped up with one another, interacting, impacting, and changing one another in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to predict.

Of the threads that make up the science and art of leadership, we do the same. This changeling thread is transformational leadership. This lovely thread is authentic leadership. This one here on the bottom supporting everyone else, this is servant leadership. This thread running throughout an organization and helping to solve problems is adaptive leadership. Even my colleagues who’ve taken up the mantle of complexity science and theory have embraced the practice: This thread, the one that is scanning and anticipating, the one that is empowering the collective and harnessing its intelligence, the one shouldering ambiguity and uncertainty with grace, the one that is collaborating, adapting, and tailoring, this one is complexity leadership.

So be it.

But what of the thread we call crisis leadership — have our enduring notions of what it means to lead in a crisis been overtaken by today’s circumstances? Does our understanding and our practice of it need to change? Let’s pull on some threads and find out, shall we?

We asked a group of experts — academics, business leaders, and practitioners, all alumni of the University of Oxford Said Business School and HEC Paris, their thoughts on the subject, starting with, “What do we mean when we say ‘crisis,’ and what kind of crisis might we be experiencing right now?”

Of course, what rocks one person back on his or her heels might be but a nuisance to the next. I remember my mom once left a casserole on the stove for us boys, my dad included, to eat. Ah, but the dish tasted like what I’d imagine roadkill to taste like. What to do? This was the only dinner we had — a veritable crisis indeed. But my dad just shrugged and said, “I can fix this.” He opened up the fridge, grabbed a bottle of ketchup, and squeezed a liberal amount into the questionable casserole, mixed it all up with a wooden spoon, and voilà! The casserole was now more than just edible, it was delicious. Crisis averted by Dad, who never once sweated, and Heinz. Personal leadership behavior combined with a ready-made technology (ketchup) to avert disaster — or at least hunger.

What about a firefight — the exchange of rockets, bombs, bullets, and enmity between two peoples bent on destroying each other? Some might call that a crisis. It can be a bit unnerving. But I have been in those situations where I’m sure had I measured the breathing and heart rates of my teammates, they would not have budged much beyond the normal range. The bullets whizzing by were no real cause for concern. But what if I took those same steady teammates and put a ticking bomb in front of them. Would they react so calmly? Probably not. They would likely, and rapidly, call for the explosive ordnance disposal expert — another teammate, and one who might not be quite as comfortable in the gunfight but thinks nothing of the ticking time bomb in front of him. Just another day at the counterterrorism office.

What’s going on here is rather simple: Mastery in any domain can help us avert a crisis or keep us from framing an event as a crisis in the first place — so long as the crisis occurs in that domain. If it does, then mastery is a resource we can draw upon to mitigate the stressors in the environment and put us back on the path to recovery. In other words, an event or series of events is only a crisis, or often only framed as a crisis, if mastery is not an option in averting or solving it. As such, true crises are typically novel in some way, if only to the participants directly involved.

Hearken back to the Great Recession of 2008. It was a systemic banking crisis that came about because of emergent circumstances (or emergent greed?) brought on by new, or novel, deregulation, which then precipitated an economic crisis. Lots of things coincided in the economy, some novel and some not, that put us in a Clooney-esque “tight spot.” (See “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou”). “Lots of things coincided” is just my imprecise way of suggesting yet another aspect of an emerging crisis: turbulence or volatility. But in 2008 the turbulence — and the mess — stopped there, at the economy.

Today, no systemic banking failure exists (although such a failure remains a possibility, even if only remotely). Instead, we have a healthcare crisis that has precipitated an economic and geopolitical crisis as well. A lack of supply (of tests and PPE mainly) has led, strangely, to a lack of demand. Businesses are failing because people are staying at home. Talk about entanglement, only in this case it’s turbulence and novelty, not subatomic particles, that are all tangled up. This is Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance,” but that distance is now at arm’s length. It’s on our doorsteps, in our nursing homes and hospitals, in our places of work, worship, and study. And yet no mastery to untangle the mess exists, or if it does, it’s in short supply, which only adds to the uncertainty and the ambiguity.

And therein lies the broad framing of a crisis. This is known to us — it’s old hat, as it were. Some call it VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). Some say TUNA (Turbulent, Uncertain, Novel, Ambiguous), if only because VUCA is redundant. “Complex” necessarily entails volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Regardless of the term we choose, though, we are saying the same thing regarding a crisis: a situation that is to varying degrees turbulent or volatile, uncertain, ambiguous, and novel. Those are the threads — the ones we can see and conceive of anyway.

To be sure, there are other threads, or aspects in our environment, that we don’t see or can’t see or don’t want to see that also contribute to not only the framing of a crisis but to the emerging crisis itself. For instance, several economists presaged the financial crisis of 2008. And Bill Gates did the same in 2015 when he declared, in a speech, that it would not be a nuclear war that upended us but a pandemic. And Ian Goldin, the former VP of the World Bank, predicted not only a pandemic, but an economic crisis as a result of it. In none of these cases, though, did any of these budding Nostradamuses know the details of the impending crisis. They glimpsed an emerging trajectory, and they anticipated vague outcomes, but they couldn’t see the nitty-gritty. Ah, this is complexity: We’ll never accurately see the long-term details, but those among us — in our families, teams, companies, countries, and planets (heck, why not?) — those with the gift and skill of fore-sighting and anticipating are worth their weight in gold several times over.

But why didn’t we listen to them? The signals were there, so why did we miss them? Was it merely because the signals were too weak to rise above the noise? Maybe. That’s certainly part of it. But it is also because the whole of who we are, as individuals and collectives, decided those signals and those prophets were unimportant. The “why” of it — why we, or many of us, deemed those signals irrelevant — is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, though, that as we attempt to make sense of our experiences and the situations we find ourselves in, we each of us tend to see and hear not only what we want to see and hear but what our social networks want to see and hear as well. Our narratives, as compelling as they can be, as uplifting as they can be, sometimes not only limit what’s imaginable and achievable but also what’s believable and worthy of our attention. And it takes a heady degree of collective wisdom, courage, mindfulness, and humility to overcome those biases.

You’ll see these words again — wisdom, courage, mindfulness, humility, and collective— as they comprise some of the inner tools of leadership that, imperfect as they are, can help us prepare for and lead through a crisis, regardless of how we frame it. They are the focus of future articles in this series.

But for now, the biases such inner tools help us manage also wend their way into our framing of a crisis. I have suggested TUNA as a broad means of framing what is and what is not a crisis. And I have suggested there are other threads as well, other variables, some that we see and some we do not, like Bill Gates’s warning. And of the variables we see — time horizons and constraints, the degree of immediacy in our actions, the complexity of the ramifications of the crisis or lack thereof, and the role that inequality plays, as the poor and minorities are often disproportionately affected—for all of these variables and more, our personal and cultural biases will dictate their order of importance. This is Aristotle’s pathos — the preconceptions of the spectators, those who are the recipients of the message. And mixed up in all that diversity, in all those many threads, are the seeds of both solution and conflict. I suppose that means we can add paradox to the threads as well.

Even our perceptions of the damage a crisis might engender are dictated, to some extent, by our biases. Those in the throes of an optimism, outcome, or normalcy bias might suggest opening up the economy and going back to school and work pronto, as that “2% death toll” isn’t that bad. Moreover, bad things only happen to other people — the “thems.” While others wrestling with attentional or interpretive biases might suggest heading for hills because the whole thing is about to come crashing down.

Unfortunately, there’s no single person or group with the mastery to tell us how to frame a crisis. I sometimes wish there were. Instead, we look to people we trust to help us with that. And that’s fine — we all do it. If you believe Bill Gates manufactured this virus in 2015 to further his other business interests, so be it. But we should all do ourselves a favor when it comes to framing: Challenge it. And when new information comes in, we should continue to challenge how we are framing the crisis in light of that new information. And we should resist setting out to confirm or prove that our framing of the situation is correct; instead, we should set out to disconfirm it. Challenge your assumptions and look for alternative sources and explanations. Hopefully, you will judge those sources based on the science behind them, science that includes not only results and conclusions (which can be manufactured or misconstrued) but methodology and limitations as well. And beware the extremes — find the virtue of the middle ground, as vast and shifting (and uncomfortable) as that middle ground may be.

A personal story: In 2011, when I was “read in” to the bin Laden mission — to the fact that bin Laden was holed up in Abbottabad that is, I went up to one of the lead analysts and asked, “What have you done to disconfirm that it’s him?” I did that because it’s so easy to confirm our biases — too easy. And this mission wasn’t my first bin Laden rodeo. The very first time we went after him, nearly 10 years prior, the decision was made to drop cluster bombs on the “tall guy wearing white robes,” a decision that was made despite the protests of the operators. The outcome — as a result of the oldest bias in the books, the confirmation bias — was a score of dead women and children. And the tall guy wearing white robes, also dead, was only tall because the people around him, the women and the children that is, were so short. We see what we want to see, or, as we sometimes say, “Believing is seeing.”

So in 2011 when I questioned the lead analyst, I was pleasantly surprised when she unfurled a laundry list of things she and the team of analysts had done to disconfirm that the man in the compound was bin Laden. Each of their attempts failed, leaving all of us, though, with a framing we could work with: There was a man cloistered in that compound who was, for various reasons, very likely Osama bin Laden. Not 100 percent, but very likely. The rest of that uncertainty, to include what the Pakistanis might do if they caught us in their backyard, the guys on the ground could deal with through the responsible use of their own mastery.

Framing matters, but how you get there matters, too. And that framing, then, becomes the platform for action. And as the crisis unfolds during that critical period and new insights are gleaned and the framing of the situation is adapted, so to must our actions be changed and adapted.

Alas, change is hard.

In the next article, we’ll address the kinds of approaches to leadership that are useful in a crisis.

Contributors: Rachel AmatoDarine NajemRoberto SacoUte BockMark Clark

Editors’ note: If you wish to contribute to the Change Leaders Lab, please contact us at editors@thechangeleaders.com. We’d like to hear what you have to say.

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WRITTEN BY: 

Dave Cooper
Dave is a former Navy SEAL, proud member of the Change Leaders, and the founder of Verge. He specializes in facilitating change for organizations big and small.


The Change Leaders Evolve

Graeme Findlay — Evolve: How Exceptional Leaders Leverage the Inner Voice of Human Evolution

This is the fourth article in The Change Leaders series: Reimagining Work

The Change Leaders owe a debt of gratitude to Graeme Findlay, one of our very own and the author of Evolve: How Exceptional Leaders Leverage the Inner Voice of Human Evolution.

Borrowing a line from Dr. Jean Boulton (Cranfield University, UK), Graeme reminded us that: “The future is path-dependent. How we got here matters.” From this fundamental tenet of complexity theory, he took us on a whirlwind tour of our cognitive evolutionary history, pointing out key tipping points in our non-linear progression through the ages that have led us to where we are today concerning our collective ability to lead groups of various sizes and collaborate in ever more significant numbers.

Graeme’s insight is not in the standard (i.e., tired) deconstruction of leadership behaviors over the millennia, something that can be rendered in a 2x2 matrix, but in viewing our ability to cooperate through an expansive, systemic — and even holistic — lens. When viewed through such a frame — the synergistic human ecosystem — patterns of leadership behavior have indeed emerged over vast stretches of time. And those patterns have much to do with our evolution as a species.

What I’m trying to say is this: consider an ecosystem. It does not set out, per se, to be resilient. Rather, resilience emerges from the interactions of a diverse set of actors or species in a given environment, each of which is struggling to survive. Leadership is similar: we do not set out to produce leaders necessarily, yet leaders and leadership emerge as higher-order patterns nevertheless. What Graeme maintains is that our ability to cooperate at levels unheard of anywhere else in the animal kingdom is tied, directly and indirectly, to the coevolution of our language and cognitive skills. Specifically, the ratio of the size of our neocortex to our overall brain size is perhaps a fundamental cause of our ability to work together in ever-larger groups. And those larger, more cooperative groups of our ancestors, with some leading and some following, outcompeted other groups, like the Neanderthals and Denisovans perhaps, that cooperated less well and, consequently, didn’t live to tell about it (though they do live on in our genomes).

Here, chimpanzees offer us a contemporary example. Living in fission-fusion societies where subgroups break apart during the day to hunt and forage for food but come back together at night to sleep and socialize, a chimpanzee subgroup (or troop) will reach a certain size before breaking apart. Some simple math reveals that relationships grow exponentially with each new member added to the group. Thirty individuals produce a possible 435 pair relations, but when the number of individual chimps grows to 50, the number of pair relationships shoots to 1225. At some point, the number of relationships becomes so vast that the leader (or alpha male in this case) loses control, and the group breaks apart — and not happily either. If chimps had such things as separation agreements, theirs would likely read: “irreconcilable differences.”

We humans, of course, are much more complex than our simian cousins — and we’re more complex than our human forebears as well. A human from 200,000 years ago might look like we do today, but his or her brainpower was nowhere near ours. For about 150,000 years or so, humans marched along in groups of about 30, but about 50,000 years ago, we experienced a step change. In a flash, relatively speaking, the size of cooperative human groups went from 30 to 150, or thereabouts (Dunbar’s Number).

Why? Because of evolution. Namely, the random mutations in our DNA that accrued and were selected over time and engendered greater linguistic and cognitive capabilities. And those enhanced capabilities rendered unto us the ability to manage burgeoning numbers of relationships over the eons. The first and second cognitive revolutions that took place thousands of years ago (not the intellectual movements of the 1950s and 80s) produced at their height 100 million Romans cooperating without the means of electronic communications. Today, we are in the midst of what some call the third cognitive revolution, one characterized by advances in technology that are speeding up the pace of change beyond what evolution can conceivably match.

What that means for the future is uncertain. But Graeme offers an insight into what he calls the four modes (or outer voices) of leadership that proved critical at different points in our evolutionary past as groups grew in size, and the number of relationships between and among people increased exponentially. As Graeme tells it, these four modes or voices got us to where we are today — they matter — and exceptional leaders and leadership teams have mastered each one of them.

The foundation of this modal hierarchy is what Graeme refers to as the Heartfelt Voice. Leader narratives that create strong relationships based on trust among their closest allies characterize this mode (and recall that narratives aren’t just scripts, they are acts as well). This is the place of psychological safety, that mix of trust, respect, and care that affords people the opportunity to take interpersonal risks and to speak their minds without fear of reprisal or embarrassment. The Heartfelt Voice is the stuff of high-performing leaders at the team level.

Next up is the Command Voice. While this outer voice certainly compliments the Heartfelt Voice, it’s more about planning and execution through the responsible use of power. Leaders and organizations adept in this mode are disciplined operationally. That is to say, they get things done responsibly.

The Prosocial Voice is next and marks an egalitarian advancement over the Heartfelt and Command Voice. Characterized by shaping a collective sense of identity, and by helping to instill a deep sense of belonging and commitment, Leaders adept in the Prosocial Voice build relationships across traditional silos and tribes to create synergistic wholes, where different teams not only interact well but celebrate each other’s successes. The Prosocial Voice is far-reaching and includes formal and informal channels of communication. Organizations that are a reflection of the Prosocial Voice, then, can be measured by how people treat one another when the boss isn’t around.

And rounding out these evolutionary modes is the Futurizing Voice — a leader’s ability to weave a story of the future. But not just any story. A future-story is one that draws people in and invites buy-in and commitment. This is the voice, as Graeme tells it, of complex adaptive systems where communities of people are inspired to embrace change and strive toward the achievement of shared goals.

While mastering any one of these modes is easier said than done, effective leaders and leadership teams, whether they subscribe to Graeme’s terminology or not, master all four domains. I tend to think of this multi-modal mastery, if you will, as an ode to requisite variety: if the problems thrown at us by our environments require different levels of cooperation, from teams to countries, then as leaders we need at least an equal number of leadership tools (or voices) to be effective, to be resilient, and to not only sustain but to keep growing. In other words, one-trick (or one-voice) leaders will be hampered by an inability to evolve beyond a specific level of leadership, while the multi-modal leader will continue to adapt, learn, and thrive.

As for what comes next in our evolution, though, even Graeme doesn’t profess to know. But recognizing that the more complex the problem, the more people you need to solve it, he begs your assistance in helping him decipher the future of human leadership.

The English statistician George Box famously said, “All models are false. Some models are useful.” Even the vaunted Standard Model from physics is an incomplete rendition of the known universe. Still, it’s a powerful model, and powerful models, while they might exist in only two dimensions, help us make sense of our experience of the world — that’s the useful piece. And Graeme’s model is most certainly useful, not only because it helps us make sense of how we got here, which undoubtedly matters, but also because it fashions for us a useful metric: Which voice or voices have you mastered? Have you created a space where it’s safe for people around you to openly share their opinions without fear of embarrassment or ridicule? Are you using your authority — even if it’s only in your own family — responsibly and executing with discipline? Are you building relationships broadly and inviting belonging and commitment? Are you constructing a vision of the future that inspires others to embrace the change and chase after it freely? How do you know?

Editors note: If you would like to submit a piece to the Change Leaders Lab, contact us at editors@thechangeleaders.com

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WRITTEN BY: 

Dave Cooper
Dave is a former Navy SEAL, proud member of the Change Leaders, and the founder of Verge. He specializes in facilitating change for organizations big and small.

 


The Meaning of Work with Professor Katie Bailey

The Access to the Webinar

This Webinar ran on Tuesday the 3rd of December 2019 from 5:00PM to 6:30PM CET.

The full Recording is available for tCL Members. Please log in and access the recording here.

The Session

The Meaning of Work
Do you find your work meaningful? Why (or why not)? And does it matter? Research tells us that the quest for meaning in work is a natural human impetus and is linked with important outcomes, but it also tells us that many people fail to find much meaning in what they do. Moreover, organisations and managers seem to get in the way of meaning rather than create environments that foster a sense of meaningfulness.

In this session we will zoom in and explore together what meaningful work looks like. We will consider the seven deadly sins often committed by managers that undermine a sense of meaning in contrast with an ecosystem that encourages a holistic approach to meaningfulness. Finally, we will zoom out and question the future for meaningfulness in light of the fundamental changes affecting work today.

The Speaker

Katie Bailey is Professor of Work and Employment at King's Business School, King's College London. She is fascinated by work in all its forms. Her research aims to shed light on what work means to people and why. Her studies on employee engagement, strategic HRM and meaningful work have been published in many journals such as the Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review and Academy of Management Perspectives as well as books and the media. She is Co-Editor of the Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work (OUP, 2019) and Lead Editor of Employee Engagement in Theory and
Practice (Routledge, 2014). Katie has a PhD from London Business School and she is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, HEA, RSA and CIPD as well as an Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies. She has held a number of editorial posts and, from January 2020, will be Co-Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Management Reviews. Katie often speaks at conferences and workshops challenging people to think about whether their own work is meaningful, and what they can do to help create meaningful workplaces. She is currently building a consortium of organisations to co-create an in-depth study of purpose and meaning at work.

The Suggested Reading

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless?, MIT Sloan Management Review, Research Feature: Summer 2016 Issue
The Five Paradoxes of Meaningful Work: Introduction to the Special Issue ‘Meaningful Work: Prospects for the 21st Century’, Journal of Management Studies 56:3 May 2019

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