The young man I was speaking with was clearly very bright. He had his own consulting firm and he was having much success. He told me in detail of the expertise and methods of the firm and of the sophisticated processes for problem identification and data generation which they use to attract client firms.
He told me his people listen to the symptoms that concern the client organization and then they do a root-cause analysis. The real issue is almost always embedded in the culture and leadership of the organization. This is often a message the executives are unwilling to hear. They insist on dealing with the symptom. When this is the case, he and his colleagues terminate the relationship. They see it as a matter of integrity.
I was deeply impressed with the last fact. I only know of a very few consulting firms that have operated with this level. Most are transactional and are willing to do what is necessary to make money. When I question their assumptions, they often take offense. Virtue and morality makes no sense. They see me as naive.
My friend asked me about my intellectual tools for organizational change. I replied, “My content is only an excuse to be in the organization, to form a relationship. The objective is not only for them to see the root-cause but to also acquire the courage to address the root cause. Courage is one of many virtues. The problem is an issue of insufficient moral strength. Leadership is a moral action initiated from a virtuous stance. Real change requires a learning journey that most people are afraid to engage. My job is to lead them, to simultaneously build trust and offer challenge. My job is to do what they cannot do: lead the change process.”
My friend fully understood. He was delighted with the words and responded with enthusiasm: “Yes, life is an emergent process. We all live in the uncertain now. It is natural to be fearful and we are socially expected to deny the fear, to appear as experts when it is impossible to be an expert. This produces endless posturing in executives. Our expertise and credentials are an excuse to be with them, to form a relationship, to have grounded conversations.”
I told him I loved his statement about living “in the uncertain now.” I said, “A grounded conversation is a conversation of excellence. It is far from the norm. It is a conversation that itself is emergent and virtuous. It is a conversation in which purpose, authenticity, trust, and vulnerability give rise to increased collective intelligence. The change journey must be a process of emergent understanding and collaboration.”
Our conversation was unusual. It was an exchange between two people seeking to transcend conventional, transactional assumptions. It was a conversation of excellence, one worth writing about. We ended with the hope that we could speak again in the future.
- Why is culture and leadership the root cause of most organizational problems?
- Why do people not want to deal with the root cause?
- What is relational excellence and what role does it play in learning and change?