“They’ve been stealing cattle from our giant competitor’s meadows”, reports Tiv, head of your company’s task force for what is stressing everyone (w.i.s.e.). “Who?”, you ask. “The guys and girls from the legal department”, Tiv says. “Apparently, they met offsite early in the morning before work to prepare some missing documentation for the supervisory board meeting. And then they were suddenly caught leading our competitor’s cattle backwards off the grounds”.
You look out of the window. “Bring me the sunset in a cup”, you whisper to yourself. “Reckon the morning’s flagons up and say how many dew. Tell me how far the morning leaps. Tell me what time the weaver sleeps…”. You clear your throat: “Did anyone talk to them yet?”, you ask. “We tried”, says Tiv, “But they don’t answer. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense at all”.
“Perhaps you asked too large…”, you say.
Just like all of us, leaders frequently encounter people around them whose actions or words seem to make no sense at all. Unlike most of us, however, when such actions or words come from people in their organizations, leaders cannot simply ignore them or shrug them off. Having people in your organization do or say things that seemingly make no sense, is a reliable recipe for creating and maintaining an incoherent organizational culture.
While we all can smile and smirk at the cattle-stealing legal people and even Tiv from w.i.s.e. can walk away from them, just feeling thoroughly bewildered, it is your duty as a leader to understand what was driving this superficially meaningless behavior. As a general rule and with very few exceptions, what people do or say does makes sense to them. So if something others do or say doesn’t seem to make sense, a leader’s duty is to figure out why it makes sense to them – not to ridicule, condemn, or just forbid it.
Respecting every individual’s capability to produce actions and words that make coherent sense to themselves, is a leader’s key to sustainably developing their organization’s culture towards coherence and pervasive purpose. This equals consciously bowing to the excellence of people’s innate meaning-making abilities – taking the sum of everybody’s own stories as starting points for creating a shared story.
“Much madness”, you say, “is divinest sense to a discerning eye”. Tiv sighs: “I guess we need to go back to them and understand what was going on, right?”. “Yes”, you reply: “We never know how high we are till we are called to rise. Then if we are true to form our statures touch the skies”. “I wish”, says Tiv, “you’d stop quoting poets all the time. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all”.
* This is the tenth of a series of blog posts exploring some uniquely motivating mindfully elaborated ramblings (s.u.m.m.e.r.) of mine, written during my summer vacation in 2019, investigating topics and trends relevant for leaders in today’s multilayered world. All persons, situations, and dialogues quoted are purely fictional, albeit informed by what I see happening in companies I work with. If you want to know what I do when I work, read more here and here [retrieved July 9, 2019].
Respond to s.u.m.m.e.r. x: respecting