March 20, 2012

GUEST OPINION: In complex times, persevere

From the Des Moines Business Record:
3/16/2012 7:00:00 AM
GUEST OPINION: In complex times, persevere

Jann Freed
Jann Freed
By Jann Freed

“If a company is only as good as its people, companies today have much to worry about,” says Margaret “Meg” Wheatley, an internationally acclaimed writer, teacher and speaker.

As an author of several leadership books, Wheatley was one of the pioneers of “systems thinking,” viewing organizations as organic and living systems, as explained in her book “Leadership and the New Science.” In her work with organizations, communities and nations, she has encountered caring, intelligent and well-intentioned people who are finding it challenging to do what they know is best.

“We are being asked to work faster, more competitively, more selfishly, and to focus only on the short term,” Wheatley said. “These values cannot lead to anything healthy and sustainable, and they are alarmingly destructive. I believe we must learn quickly now how to work and live together in ways that bring us back to life.”

If what I have shared interests you, take advantage of the opportunity to attend Wheatley’s presentation at the State Historical Building on April 18, sponsored by the Chrysalis Foundation.

Wheatley’s conclusion that “companies have much to worry about” is based on her extensive work in large-systems change – helping organizations become more committed and productive, and with the full engagement of people at all levels.

She has witnessed how pressures on leaders have increased dramatically. Leaders no longer have time or flexibility. They feel caged and exhausted. The demand for quick results and pressure from boards of directors have left them no time for development or learning. Leaders have told her: “Forget about values, learning or participation. We just need to execute.”

Based on Wheatley’s consulting work, she concludes that leaders need to be fearless in order to tackle the complexities in today’s world. This emphasis on becoming fearless led her to write about the significance of perseverance for people at all levels so that we can each contribute to making things better for the people, places and issues about which we care the most.

Perseverance is the capacity to keep going long after the passion for our work has dissipated. It is a continuous choice not to give up, no matter how difficult the circumstances. It is a choice we make to be aware, to be awake, to take in all of the information needed to do our best work. Wheatley calls perseverance a “life-saving skill for this time.”

Drawing on wisdom, Wheatley will explain how to confront the dominant energies of our time – aggression, anxiety and fear – in a way that allows us to do good work, serve others and care for ourselves, even when exhausted and overwhelmed. Wheatley said she has repeatedly observed that in the midst of the greatest tragedies, when people are working together and feel their connectedness is when they discover true joy.

Her work complements the efforts being made in our community to practice civility at a time when so many issues are being polarized, often preventing people from working together effectively.

Jann Freed is a leadership development and change management consultant at The Genysys Group.

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