Archive for the ‘Leadership Articles’ Category

Something to Think About

08 Dec

Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.”

Mahatma Gandhi


 

Do you agree or disagree with the following?

Did you know your thoughts control what happens to you? That’s right. There have been many books written on thought and how powerful it is. Thoughts do affect us in so many ways. Thoughts help us create the reality we experience. Whether that experience is good or bad, all of it is determined by our thoughts,

Thoughts create our emotional state. They affect our health. Thoughts even influence what we do and say to people. No matter what the situation or circumstances, everything we do stems from thought. Then the thought turns into feelings, which turn into actions, to finally results. There are actually three classes of thoughts we experience each day of our lives. These thoughts include positive, action, and worry.

Now, consider the following . . .

For years the conventional wisdom in neuroscience was that the brain you were born with was the brain you’re going to carry with you for the rest of your life and the brain’s structure couldn’t be changed. Essentially it’s written there as you were born. And once you killed brain cells – perhaps by a stroke, for example – that was it, you weren’t coming back. And it was the structure and function of your brain that affected how you think and feel and not the other way around.

Well, all that’s beginning to change. In the last few decades, scientists have shown that you actually can re-grow brain cells and you can change the structure and function of your brain by the way you think. The new science of neuroplasticity argues the brain is much more flexible than previously thought. Science writer Sharon Begley talks about her new book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

 

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What is TRUTH?

06 Feb

A number of years ago, a young man was on trial for his life because he claimed to be who he really was. It appeared a group of influential men in the community wanted this young man killed because he was disrupting their culture and challenging their positions of prestige, power, and authority.

When brought before the local ‘judge,’ nothing could be found that warranted a death sentence or any other type of punishment, for that matter. When the judge asked a question, the young man would respond by saying he was telling the truth. In frustration over the volatility of the situation and possibly of continuing conflict, the judge asked the young man, “WHAT IS TRUTH?”

Good question . . .

What is truth?

Is it our own individual opinion?

Is it our perception of a situation or an idea or an ideal?

Is there really TRUTH that does not change?

Or, does truth change with new experiences or new decisions?

Is truth relative?

Do we choose to disregard the truth when it conflicts with what we want to believe?

While working with a non-profit organization, some members sued the organization because they were at odds with the new CEO. The charges filed in the lawsuit were baseless (supported by a court’s ruling), just intended to force the CEO’s resignation. Although their ‘unwritten’ complaints had merit, when asked about the lawsuit, this response was significant to me:

“Perception is truth.”

Perception is truth? Really?

So, what is truth? Is there really TRUTH that is unchangeable? And does it matter? Is perception all we need? If we ‘feel good’ about what we believe is it good enough?

Truth . . . are there any answers?

Truth, as defined in dictionary.com, is,

  1. the true  or actual state of a matter
  2. conformity with fact or reality; verity
  3. a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like
  4. the state or character of being true.
  5. actuality or actual existence.

 

In Funk and Wagnall’s College Standard Dictionary dated 1992, truth is defined as “the state of character of being true in relation to being, knowledge, or speech.” And, true is defined as “faithful to fact or reality; not false or erroneous . . . faithful to the truth.”

So, there must be truth somewhere. There must be facts, figures, events, etc. that are true, some that are indisputable. Some even try to dispute that 1 + 1 = 2!

If we accept the classical philosophical approach, we would be inclined towards rationalization. Plato said that we can know truth if we “sublimate our minds to their original purity.” Arcesilaus said that our understanding is not capable of knowing what truth is. Carneades stated that we can never comprehend truth; and, not only that, but even our senses are inadequate in assisting us in the investigation of truth. Gorgias chimes in with the following, “What is right but what we prove to be right? And, what is truth but what we believe to be truth?”

More recently (1996), University of Oxford professor Peter B. Lloyd (1996) stated . . . “Truth is a very simple and handy concept. It is the correspondence of a pictorial or symbolic representation to the thing being represented. In the case of a symbolic representation, the correspondence may be massively complicated, but it is nonetheless similar in kind to a simple pictorial representation.”

Confused yet?

Truth appears, at best, to be a very hazy concept if you agree with classical philosophy or adhere to Lloyd’s statement. It seems to be a philosopher’s subjective interpretation or, perhaps, just an illusive notion.

I will admit . . . I am pretty black-and-white when it comes to things being true or false. There are simply truths and non-truths. And, if there is a non-truth purported, I’m more than willing to point it out, especially when I know I’m right (or am convinced I am right). And, sometimes I’m damn right – doing neither the person I’m in disagreement with or myself any good.  And, sometimes I am wrong . . . and, hopefully, willing to accept my error (though reluctantly at times). Thus the contention I make is that there is truth and there is untruth. Can this, however, be substantiated?

The question still shouts loudly to us, “What is TRUTH?”

If we surmise, “truth is that which conforms to reality, fact, or actuality,” this definition is incomplete because it remains open to interpretation. Furthermore, additional questions surface; what is fact? What is Reality? What is actuality? And, how does perception affect truth?

Matthew Slick, an apologist, offers a great response:

We could offer answers for each of these questions, but then we could again ask similar questions of those answers.  I am reminded of the paradox of throwing a ball against a wall.  It must get half way there, and then half way of the remaining distance, and then half of that distance, and so on. But, an infinite number of halves in this scenario never constitutes a whole.  Therefore, it would seem that the ball would never reach the wall if we applied the conceptual truths of halves.

The ball-against-the-wall scenario simply illustrates that defining and redefining things as we try to approach a goal actually prevents us from getting to that goal.  This is what philosophy does sometimes as it seeks to examine truth.  It sometimes clouds issues so much, that nothing can be known for sure.

But, even though it is true that an infinite number of halves (1/2 of “a” + 1/2 of the remainder + 1/2 of the remainder of that, etc.) does not equal a whole, we can “prove” that it does by simply throwing a ball at a wall and watching it bounce off.  Actually, the “1/2” equation above does not equal a whole — mathematically.  The problem is not in the truth but in its application, as is often the case with philosophical verbal gymnastics.

In order for truth to be defined properly, it would have to be a factually and logically correct statement.  In other words, it would have to be true.  But, perhaps we could look further at truth by determining what it is not.  Truth is not error.  Truth is not self-contradictory.  Truth is not deception.  Of course, it could be true that someone is being deceptive, but the deception itself isn’t truth.

The debate can continue to include a discussion of relativism, but it too can be interpreted depending upon cultural and personal preferences and experiences.

So, again, we seem to have a conundrum. Or do we?

For us who are followers of Jesus Christ – Christians – the ultimate expression of truth is anchored in a short statement made by Jesus, as recorded in John 14:6, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life . . .”

Skeptics and philosophers will dismiss this claim, but the Apostle Paul warns us when he writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world (emphasis added), rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

The young man standing before the judge was Jesus. The judge, Pilot. The influential men who wanted Jesus killed (and succeeded) were the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees – the Jewish rulers of that day. The men who were eyewitnesses to the things Jesus did wrote what they saw. They were some of his followers, his disciples: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are credible witnesses!

We quickly affirm and embrace writings of philosophers, historians, and scholars but are skeptical and disbelieving of writings by witnesses who experienced first-hand the events surrounding this man called Jesus. We readily accept the writings of a man who, at the conclusion of his book, stated his claim is false if no scientific support is provided. The man, Charles Darwin. His book, The Origin of Species. His claims have never been scientifically substantiated yet thousands choose to believe his hypothesis regarding evolution.

If TRUTH does conform to reality and Jesus did what was written, this reality would compel us to accept his claim and we are then confronted with what to do with him.

If Jesus is TRUTH, truth must begin with him, his claims, and what he accomplished. And we are also confronted with the questions, “Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?”

As leaders, we are compelled to seek truth and act upon that truth responsibly. Truly authentic transformational servant leaders need this foundation.

 

This article is neither all-inclusive or the final word. It is a starting point, meant to engage you in further dialogue. I challenge you to join the discussion and journey to discover TRUTH.

 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Oregon Ducks Football . . . not a “REAL” Team ! ? !

04 Jan

I live too close to the State of Oregon to be asking such questions or making such claims. In fact, tonight, when class resumes at an Oregon college where I teach, I may be tarred and feathered by Ducks fans. Even those who are die-hard Beaver fans may join in on the festivities since – at first glance – this heading is disparaging.

However, stay with me for a moment. Put away the knives, ropes, guns, clubs or other instruments of destruction you would like to use on me.

Let’s take this from a purely ‘theoretical’ approach.

By the way, congratulations to the Oregon Duck football team for winning the Rose Bowl. It is certainly a notable achievement by the coaches and players who, after a 95-year hiatus, bring the trophy back to Oregon. It was quite a game . . . quite an achievement against a formidable Wisconsin team.

Teams . . . this term has been around for years. Particularly used to describe groups of athletes working together to accomplish a common goal – a win – the term has migrated into the workplace. It is in this environment confusion takes place.

But first, back to the Oregon Ducks.

Did the Duck’s football team work together to accomplish this win? Yes. Is the football team really a team by the definition we use in a business setting? Maybe this is questionable . . . a good discussion question for theorists.

The definition of a ‘real’ team, given by Katzenbach and Smith, is: a team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Let’s break this down. Certainly, the football team is not a small group . . . it is made up of over 100 players, coaches, and support personnel. You can, however, argue, while on the field, there are only eleven players at a time. This certainly meets the first criterion for being a ‘real’ team.

That’s stretching it a little, but let’s press on.

The definition requires members to have complementary skills. This is certainly met. If all players were quarterbacks, or linemen, or receivers . . . you get the drift. Yes, this requirement is met quite handily.

The team is certainly committed to a common purpose AND to a common performance goal AND to a common approach. AND, I would guess, they hold themselves mutually accountable.

So, what is the problem? How can I claim the Oregon Duck football team is not a REAL team?

Let’s take a look at some requirements. For a group of individuals to be an ‘effective’ group, they must meet the following:

  1. An understandable charter (agreement) . . . why does the group exist? What are they going to accomplish?
  2. Good communication . . . there are no barriers amongst members in ensuring information is shared.
  3. Defined member roles . . . every one knows what they are suppose to do.
  4. Time-efficient process . . . there are time constraints imposed – there is not a liassez faire approach taken.
  5. Reasonable accountability . . . there are expectations for each member and each is held to them by themselves and others.

 

Certainly the Oregon Ducks football team meets the criteria for being an effective working group. And they proved themselves very effective in the Rose Bowl. How about a real team? This is where the conflict occurs, right?

To be a real team, a group must meet ALL the following:

  1. Compelling performance purposes exceeds the sum of the individual goals.
  2. Members work jointly (cooperatively) to integrate complementary talents and skills.
  3. The work products / outcomes are mostly collective efforts.
  4. The adaptable working approach is shaped and enforced by the members . . . not by one individual.
  5. There is mutual plus individual accountability.

 

At first review, it would appear the football team meets all the requirements to be a REAL team. Yes?

Let’s press on before we answer the question . . .

Katzenbach and Smith also list five criteria met by a group that is considered a single-leader led work unit. They are:

  1. Each individual’s goals add up to the group’ purpose (reason for existence – performance outcome).
  2. Members work independently on individual tasks that match their skills and abilities.
  3. The work products – or outcomes – are mostly individual. They are not a result of collaboration amongst the members.
  4. The rigorous working approach is driven by the leader.
  5. There is strong individual accountability – the individual to himself and the individual to the leader.

 

WHO IS THE LEADER? Is there one individual who determines the plays, determines who ‘plays’ certain positions, determines who enters or leaves the game, determines who calls plays on the field, sets the rigorous working approach?

I’ll let you answer the question.

Maybe this discussion isn’t even relevant to sports. It will be a lively discussion tonight!

This discussion, however, IS certainly relevant to work environments, whether the situation is with a religious or other non-profit group, a private business, a corporate setting, or a multi-national conglomerate.

The implementation of a ‘real team’ approach and/or a ‘single-leader’ work unit discipline may determine the sustainability of the organization with which you are associated, especially in this fast-moving, ever-changing, uncertain world.

Remember, a single-leader work unit can act and produce much quicker than a real team. However, the output of a real team far exceeds that of a single-leader work unit. Sustainability in the 21st century will be achieved only by the appropriate implementation of both.

 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

The Church Community

02 Apr

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Acts 8:1b

 

God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of the Jewish nation while they were captive in Egypt (recorded in Exodus) catapulted them out of slavery and towards the land He promised them. It was during this journey, God instructed Moses to make a sanctuary for His presence. The tabernacle was constructed as God commanded and the people of Israel worshiped Him according to His prescribed dictates, as recorded in Exodus 25 – 30. These events began the custom of a meeting place for the congregation of worshipers.

When Jerusalem was established as God’s holy city, King David longed to construct a permanent structure but God gave that privilege to David’s son and successor, Solomon (2 Samuel 7). The construction of this permanent Temple, and subsequent synagogues, perpetuates a place for worshiping God. This continues through the life of Christ until after the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 1. Since followers of Christ no longer adhered to the Levitical law ascribed for worshiping God because of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus – the New Doctrine – Luke, the writer of Acts, records the Christians’ form of worshipping God did not center around the temple (although the Apostles still taught and proclaimed “the good news that Jesus is the Christ” – Acts 5:42) but was conducted in homes. Believers “were in one heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32a).

On and following the day of Pentecost, many people believed in Jesus as the Christ. However, persecution began against these new converts. Pharisees and other Jewish leaders sought to dispel this heresy, proclaiming these followers of Jesus were speaking against the holy place (temple) and against the law. It is in this hostile environment that a zealous young Christ-follower, Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8) is seized by members of the Synagogue of Freedom. These Jewish rulers secretly persecute some men until they claimed Stephen was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God. They stirred up the people, elders and teachers of the law, and subsequently stoned Stephen to death. This event perpetuates great persecution against the followers of Christ in Jerusalem and they are scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. This event, in essence, forces the Christians into areas of the then known world where the Gospel of Jesus had not been spoken thus accomplishing the commission Jesus gave (Matthew 28:19 – “go into all the world”).

 

The Apostolic Church

How then, was the early Christian community structured to flourish in the hostile environment of persecution? Charles Handy presents an organizational theory that is representative of the structure of the early Christian community – the Federal Organization. Distinguishably different from a decentralized organization (“the center delegates certain tasks or duties to the outlying bits, while maintaining overall control” (p. 118)), this organizational type is represented by the center being low in profile while the initiative, drive, and energy comes from the parts (Handy, 1990).

The early church was scattered following the death of Stephen but continued meeting in houses and grew in numbers. To provide guidance to these ‘churches,’ letters of instruction and encouragement were written and sent to these outlying regions, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Galatia, Rome, etc. However, the Apostles the Church Counsel remained Jerusalem. Although not a governing body, the Counsel at Jerusalem brought doctrinal stability and interpretation during disagreements. An example of this is recorded in Acts 15.

It was during this period that the first missionary journeys began. Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, was transformed into the most prolific writer of New Testament letters following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. His five missionary trips, recorded in Acts, and his letters (epistles) provided the support new believers needed to continue their faith journey.

The structure of the church did not change during the first three centuries following the life of Christ. In spite of severe opposition from the Roman Empire, Christianity spread to the remote reaches of the Empire, into Africa, Persia, mainland Europe, and into Britain by the end of the second century. Even with the conversion of Constantine (A.D. 288-337), Christianity remained a minority religion and the majority of Christ-followers continued to meet in homes (Pfeiffer, 1979).

 

The Contemporary Church

How can our contemporary church utilize the principles used by the early church? Today’s church structure does not look like that of the Apostolic Church. There was no clergy-laity distinction in the early church although different members served different functions. We now have levels of hierarchal bureaucracy with clear clergy-laity distinctives and hierarchy within the clergy. With no overt persecution in most countries, this structure has remained intact for centuries. However, when the Church experiences severe persecution, resulting in the disbanding of meeting places and martyrdom of believers, this organizational structure is rendered impotent, if not fully destroyed. During such intense persecution, an apostolic church structure continues to flourish.

This phenomenon is evident in China. During recent interviews with the former U.S. Director of Asian Outreach, Dr. James Swanson, he revealed the (underground) Church in China has grown significantly under communism. It had been feared all Christians had been killed during the first years of communist rule. However, it has been reported that in this land of over 1.3 billion people, there are multiple millions of Christians meeting in homes throughout China. The church organizational structure that grew under persecution in the apostolic age is flourishing today under intense persecution in China. It is apparent the Church of Jesus Christ will prevail under any situation as long as Christ-followers are intentional with their faith journey.

George Barna makes an interesting observation about a new revolution he sees within the Christian community in America.

“There is a new breed of Christ-follower in America today. These are people who are more interested in being the Church than in going to church. They are more eager to produce fruit for the kingdom of God than to become comfortable in the Christian subculture. They are focused on the seven spiritual passions that facilitate their growth as genuine people of God and citizens of the kingdom. These people are Revolutionaries” (The Barna Group, 2007).

Barna posits these Revolutionaries are more inclined to meet in homes instead of the organized church. Their spiritual practices are those Paul highlights in his letter to the church in Rome; constant prayer and worship, personal faith available for whatever the Spirit of God requires, firm and focused perspective on live to produce spiritual fruit, an assured appropriately righteous and upbeat attitude, a character of humility and empathy, the intense desire to honor and serve others, and a transformed mind that is evidenced by a clean and productive life (Barna, 2005). Although he attributes these characteristics specifically to Revolutionaries, they are exemplified in many individuals who attend and participate in the ‘traditionally structured’ church organization and are fervent in their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

 

Concluding Thoughts

The early church faced intense persecution and was forced to adapt a Federal style organizational structure for survival. As such, believers met secretly in homes, catacombs, and other nondescript places. As persecution decreased and Christianity became a prominent religion, the organizational structure evolved to meet the needs of the members and to facilitate the mission.

The organizational structure of the church is the same throughout the world. The structure varies depending on the culture and traditions of its members. The term simply refers to how the church is set up, how it is organized. Should it have committees or boards? Should it be affiliated with a denomination or independent? Who chooses the teaching/preaching elders, ruling elders, the deacons?

The structure is significantly different under severe persecution, as seen in the apostolic church and church in China. Scripture does not dictate the organizational structure of the church but gives it its mission (Matthew 28:19), responsibilities and functions of those within the church (Galatians and Ephesians), and principles for life throughout scripture. It is incumbent upon us not to denigrate various organizational structures but to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1a-3).

 

Bibliography

Barna, George 2007; Introduction to George Barna’s book Revolution, The Barna Grouphttp://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Resource&ResourceID=196. Accessed October 6, 2007.
Barna, George Revolution. Wheaton; Tyndale House Publications, Inc., 2005.
Handy, Charles The Age of Unreason. Boston; Harvard Business School Press, 1990.
Lang, John Peter Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical – Acts. Grand Rapids; Zondervan Publishing House, no date.
Malina, Bruce J. The New Testament World: Revised Edition – Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Louisville; Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.
Pfeiffer, Charles F. Baker’s Bible Atlas. Grand Rapids; Baker Book House Company, 1979.
Reicke, Bo The New Testament Era: The World of the Bible from 500 B.V. to A.D. 100. Philadelphia; Fortress Press, 1964.
Robbins, Vernon K. Exploring the Texture of Texts: A guide to Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation. Harrisburg; Trinity Press International, 1996.
Spence, H. D. M. and Exell, Joseph S. The Pulpit Commentary – Acts and Romans. Grand Rapids; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, no date.

 

 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

The Creativity and Innovation Experience: a delicate balancing act for leaders in a turbulent environment

19 Mar

Every organization’s leadership desires success and, with limited resources in a slowing economy, tight budgets drive creativity and innovation.1 For-profit organizations strive for sustainable competitive advantage. Non-profit organizations, not motivated by earnings, endeavor to achieve their mission and vision by inspiring participants and donors to contribute to a cause “bigger than themselves.” Whatever the motivation, organizational survival requires the articulation of a clear, emotionally engaging, and consistent vision, and an organizational culture that stimulates creativity and innovation.2 This article shows the interdependence between creativity and innovation and that organizations working in an environment with positive turbulence orchestrated by transformational leadership generate more creative ideas and original solutions.3

 

The typical business organization in the mid 20th century highly valued predictability and repetition. In the name of efficiency, its configuration was intended to maintain order and reduce variability. “Keep it the same and everyone will be happy” was the mantra of the day. Post WW2 consumers were content to receive whatever was available and competition was minimal, almost nonexistent. Although labor unions meted out demands for fair labor practices, employees, for the most part, made few demands on their employers and were happy to have a steady job and regular paycheck.4

 

The climate of the 21st century, however, is entirely different. Deregulation, social change, environmental issues, foreign competition, a national and global economic crisis, and overwhelming advancement in technology have shattered the stability of the 50s, leaving a fast-moving uncertain new global environment. It is a world that is unpredictable, and sometimes terrifyingly so.5

 

As leaders try to cope in this volatile environment by seeking to impose order, organization, and focus, their organizations pay a high price: lack of creativity and innovation. Although training, intuition, and habit lead in this direction, a counterintuitive approach is needed. Leaders must see in new ways, come up with new ways of doing things, and change direction.6 The challenge for leaders is towards effective people management – enhancing, releasing, and harnessing their creativity. It is to look forward with optimism, reflect on the past, and determine what shift is needed now and in the future.7

 

The Dynamic Duo: Creativity and Innovation

When we have an idea that works, it is common for us to dispel alternatives. We tend to develop tunnel-vision about what will work or what can be accomplished, sticking with the familiar till proven wrong.8 Consider Thomas Edison. In 1879, he was a bold and courageous innovator. However, by 1889, when his invention of the incandescent light bulb was challenged by the fluorescent bulb, he was a cautious and conservative defender of the status quo.9 Thus, it appears that it is at the center of any tradition where individuals become blind to alternatives.10

 

Transcending this dilemma requires a willingness to embrace the uncertain, a willingness to move beyond the comfortable into the realm of creativity; creativity being defined as, “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” 11 Simply stated, creativity is about ideas. It includes discovery or invention of a significant idea, pattern, method, or device that gains recognition.12 Creativity requires that we step away from first impressions and, as Leonardo da Vinci believed, learn how to restructure problems and situations to see them in many different ways.13

 

Creative thinking also refers to how people approach existing problems to come up with a variety of solutions.14 It is carefully coordinated efforts that put existing, conventional ideas together to create new ways of solving problems. Therefore, it does not necessarily come just from an individual’s intellectual capacity but it is an outcome of their creative thinking skills and expertise, based on past experience.15

 

Innovation is as much about escaping old ideas as it is about the successful implementation of creative ones. The success of the organization does not come just from the articulation of vision, strategy, and objectives, but from their execution. As such, innovation is about getting it done.16 It is a central determinant of longer-run success and failure for organizations.17

 

Creativity and innovation have been considered the cornerstones of healthy organizations.18 It is the dual capabilities of creativity and innovation together that engender success. And, this combination is important to an organization for two reasons. First, creativity and innovation are not adjuncts to organizational life, they create the future. They excite employees by focusing on what is possible.19

 

Second, creativity and innovation are crucial capabilities for successful organizations that cannot be simply dismissed. They form fundamental organizational processes that together are an essential competencies for their leaders. Together they are central to effectiveness because they form a process of generating ideas and possibilities and transforming them into reality. Imagination and implementation, possibilities and products, ideas and impact – these are everyday terms that talk about creativity and innovation.20

 

Leadership that Encourages Creativity and Innovation

It has been asserted that creativity and innovation are the most important sources of economic growth. However, despite this growing acclaim, there remains an interesting paradox: organizations need innovation but usually resist it because innovation and organizations have conflicting aims. Innovation tends to unsettle the established order of organizations. At its very core, the entrepreneurial process of innovation that brings about incredible change is at odds with the administrative processes of organizations which are designed to ensure consistency and repetitiveness.21

 

As previously stated, creative thinking refers to how people approach existing problems and come up with a variety of solutions.22/23 It is a person’s carefully arranged efforts to put existing, conventional ideas together to generate new approaches to solving problems.24 As such, it does not just come from an individual’s intellectual capacity to invent something new but is also an outcome of their accumulated creative thinking skills and expertise based on experience.25 However, although an individual has creative thinking skills and expertise, a high level of creativity cannot be achieved if they lack motivation26 or the opportunity to engage in creative processes.

 

As such, there are a number of personality traits that research has indicated help people increase their level of creativity skills. For example, if a person feels comfortable disagreeing with others, creativity can be enhanced not only for themselves, but for the entire group or organization.27 Consequently, creativity can be achieved when organizational processes encourage individuals to try different approaches that depart from the status quo without the unnecessary fear of being punished for negative outcomes.28 The creation of such an organizational environment (discussed later) may assist employees in generating diverse perspectives on addressing old problems as a matter of normal process.29

 

Research also demonstrates that intrinsic motivation is perhaps one of the most important factors that increase creativity among individuals and that it can be enhanced substantially by making subtle changes in the organizational environment. Since individuals may have to spend enormous amounts of time and effort to increase their intellectual capacity, expertise, and creative-thinking skills, the creation of such an environment/culture may be an excellent strategy for introducing innovation into an organization.30

 

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the leaders to leverage the creative energy of the workforce and, at the same time, find new ways to create an organizational culture that is less resistant to the change required to carry out ensuing innovations.31 It is the responsibility of leadership to make it okay throughout the organization to be risk-takers,32 to be creative, and then make it part of people’s responsibilities.33

 

In this process of reshaping the organization’s environment to assist in the generation of creative ideas, researchers have emphasized the important role leaders play in this process. It is the leaders that define what the organization’s mission and vision are and facilitate the whole process of motivating followers to apply their maximum efforts to cooperatively achieve the objectives. They also have a strong impact on how their subordinates engage in achieving their goals. As such, it has been hypothesized that certain leader characteristics are important determinants for enabling creative behavior and divergent thinking in organizations.34

 

Of the numerous studies conducted on leadership, creativity and innovation, more than 35 have found that transformational leadership is positively associated with higher levels of follower performance and creativity.35 These leaders tend to exhibit distinct behaviors that promote creativity: intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, and inspirational motivation.36 By definition, intellectual stimulation promotes creativity by developing members’ generative (divergent thinking, including remote association and pattern switching)37 and exploratory thinking (refining of ideas through elaboration and successive improvements of ideas). Individualized consideration recognizes each member’s viewpoint and ideas and leads to an expanded source of knowledge and information for group members to use in solving problems. Inspirational motivation helps elevate member’s goals above the ordinary. This network broadens the knowledge base throughout the organization that may stimulate an additional creative idea.38

 

Transformational leaders also inspire followers to link their self-concept to the collective interest of the organization and its mission, which increased followers’ intrinsic motivation to work collectively. As such, there is a direct correlation between this intrinsic motivation and creativity that enhances and encourages the idea generating processes. 39

 

As seen, transformational leaders engage in the active and emotional relationships with followers at whatever level they operate.40 They are able to mobilize and sustain energy and activity within their organizations by taking specific personal actions. They influence their colleagues’ values, goals, needs, and aspirations through their relentless attention to shaping interpretations and creating a sense of purpose and energize the organization by finding ways to motivate its members to achieve the mission. They demonstrate empathy, listen, understand and share the feelings of others and express their confidence in their own ability and in the ability of others.41

 

Transformational leaders create events to signal and celebrate transitions and turning points by providing contingent rewards.42They also express support for individuals struggling with the pressures of change efforts by reinforcing the new vision and culture. They provide an emotional focal point for the energies, hopes, and aspirations of people in the organization. They also serve as powerful role models whose actions and personal energy demonstrated the desired behaviors, a standard to which others aspire. Through their commitment, effectiveness and consistency, they also build a personal bond between themselves and the organization.43

 

Within this leadership style, there are a number of tools used to generate creativity among workers. And a large amount of literature on creativity, discovery, design, innovation, and composition can be classified into three intersecting schools, identified as structuralists, inspirationalists, and situationalists. Shneiderman identifies the characteristics of these personalities as follows:44

  • Structuralists believe people can be creative if they follow an orderly method, typically described with several stages, such as preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Structuralist thinking encourages systematic tools that include progress indicators with reminders of what is still needed.
  • Inspirationalists argue that breaking away from familiar structures elicits creative solutions. They advocate working on unrelated problems, getting away to scenic locations, and viewing random photos or inkblots. Inspirationalists promote meditation, hypnosis, dreaming, and playful exploration. They seek to liberate thinking from old habits so as to break through to the Aha! moment of inspiration. This school of thinking advocates sketching to quickly explore possibilities, concept mapping to discover unexpected relationships, and visualization strategies to see the big picture.
  • Situationalists recognize that creative work is social. They seek to understand the motivation of creative people, their family history, and their personal relationships with challenging teachers, empathetic peers, or helpful mentors. They understand the need for distinctive forms of consultation at early stages when fear of rejection, ridicule, and rip-off are high versus later stages when validation, refinement, and dissemination are prominent. Situationalists seek to understand the motivating roles of rewards and recognition, as well as completion vs. collaboration.45

 

While these schools of thought are not prominent within the discussion of transformational leadership, each is unique, distinctive, and offer different approaches to innovation and creativity. It is again emphasized, however, that research supports the transformational leadership style as one which provides a greater opportunity and  better environment for creativity and innovation among employees. And while the Aha! moments of discovery and innovation are typically very personal, the processes that lead to them are often highly collaborative. As such, it is essential the organization develops communication systems that enable users to expose their uncertainties in a safe, trusting environment.46

 

A New Culture/Environment

At the center of any tradition, it is easy not to see the alternatives. On the edges, however, where lines are blurred, it is easier to visualize that the world might be different. It is from the place of uncertainty that vision and new direction sometimes arise. As such, organizations must acknowledge this different, uncertain world and perceive this new unstable environment as a reservoir crowded with new creative possibilities and ideas.47

 

In addition, the survival of an organization does not depend so much on the degree to which the employee sees eye-to-eye with their leaders, except, of course, with regards to some core values like honesty and fairness and agreement as to what their strategic goals are. It often depends on the degree to which people differ from one another, or even seek conflicting information. It is typically out of respectful dissention that creative ideas come that form the basis for organizational growth. Diversity, varied viewpoints, diverse styles, and opposing opinions: all of these variations are necessary if an organization is to renew itself and move ahead. 48 Thus, the task of leaders is to create a safe haven for new thinking, a culture that encourages a broad range of ideas, including those not immediately seen as feasible or even sensible, but from which birth seeds of creativity and innovation.49

 

This environment can be an energizing climate that upsets the status quo but impels people toward change. Purposefully engineered to create an environment compatible with change and filled with members who can adapt to the change opportunity,50 leaders recognize the need to make creativity part of the culture.51 This is where positive turbulence is generated. Based on a counterintuitive notion that turbulence can be introduced to organize the chaos out on the edges of the organization, it provides a process of turning change into a productive force that can lead to creativity, innovation, and the on-going revitalization of an organization.52

 

It also fosters a culture where uncertainties and new information are embraced, not feared.53 And leaders can ease the fear by building in stability. Even as the change occurs, by preparing key people for change, and providing information and detail on the change in advance, it mitigates the destructive aspects political behavior may cause. Thus leaders must always be honest and candid, and constantly sending consistent messages to lessen uncertainty. Also, critical to this process of forming new culture is the need to be clear about what is not changing – what people can hold onto in the future. This helps lessen fears of the future and must be communicated and reinforced early on in the process.54

 

Generating an environment with positive turbulence and creating a culture receptive to change, leaders can actually create stability within an organization. Although it has a negative connotation, turbulence is used to describe the constantly changing environment in which modern organizations must operate. It is in this chaotic frenzied environment, which threatens all organizations, where new ideas are birthed. And it is out of this disruption and change that useful information, new perspectives, and new ideas are generated. As leaders identify new trends and assimilate new information, they introduce it to the organization and work with it, thus guarding the organization against being blindsided.55

 

One additional consideration. Since an organization’s culture is key to both short-term and long-term success, managing stability for today and introducing uncertainties for the future are essential. The development of an ambidextrous organization that can celebrate stability and incremental change as well as manage experimentation and discontinuous/sporadic change simultaneously may help lessen the likelihood leaders will be trapped by the successes of the past. Although culture provides competitive advantage, it can also create obstacles to innovation, creativity, and change needed for successful sustainability.56 Balancing these by generating an environment with positive unrest and creating a culture receptive to change may help mitigate the scenario of short-term success but long-term failure.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Tushman and O’Reilly make this significant observation; “The stultifying, innovation-numbing effects of success are a global phenomenon. Managing by guiding internal congruence, strong culture, and continuous improvement is not sufficient for sustaining competitive advantage. Worse, under a remarkably common set of conditions, it can trap an organization in its past and lead to catastrophic failure as technologies and markets shift. Erhard Pfeiffer, who has transformed Compaq, succinctly notes that “nothing is harder than casting aside the thinking, strategies, and biases that propelled a business to its current success. Companies need to learn how to unlearn, to slough off yesterday’s wisdom.””57

 

As the global environment becomes more turbulent, more competitive, and as creative and innovative people become more integral to an organization’s success, one of the most important roles leaders can play is to find out how they can inspire subordinates’ creative potentials in the 21st century.58 Leaders identified as having this characteristic and those necessary for an organization to move past yesterday’s successes exemplify transformational leadership traits. Transformational leaders accomplish this by communicating a clear, consistently articulated, and engaging vision and by creating environments where creativity and innovation can be freely explored.

 

As such, the most effective organizations are the ones in which creativity flourishes. And success comes less from knowing the right answer than having the ability to pursue multiple courses of action generated from creative ideas and to innovate quickly. It is leadership that is the most important dynamic that affects organizational creativity and innovation and who must also recognize the unsettling nature of turbulence, even though it is energetic, forceful, catalytic, and unpredictable. These leaders recognize that what is needed to turn the turbulence into a positive force – generating an environment with positive turbulence – and creating a culture receptive to change.59

 

End Notes:
1Maddox, K. (2007). Tight Budgets Drive Creativity, Innovation. Business to Business. Vol. 92, Issue 10, p.25.
2Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002). Winning Through Innovation: A Practical Guide to Learning Organizational Change and Renewal. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
3Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998). Transformational Leadership and Dimensions of Creativity: Motivating Idea Generating in Computer-Mediated Groups. Creativity Research Journal. Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 111-121.
4Gryskiewicz, S. (1999). Positive Turbulence: Developing climates for creativity, innovation, and renewal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
5Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
6Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
7Bichard, M. (2000). Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management. April-June, p. 41-46.
8Michalko, M. 2001). Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
9Utterback, J.M. (1996). Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
10Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
11http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/creativity, accessed September 2008.
12Shneiderman, B. (2007). Creativity Support Tools: Accelerating Discovery and Innovation. Communications of the ACM. Vol. 50, No. 12, p. 20-32.
13Michalko, M. 2001).
14Amabile, T.M. (1996). Creativity in Context: Update to the Social Psychology of Creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview.
15Amabile, T.M. (1998). How to Kill Creativity. Harvard Business Review. Vol. 76, No. 5, p. 77-87.
16Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
17Utterback, J.M. (1996).
18Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
19Nissley, N. (2007). Good Leadership Demands a Combination of the Two. Leadership in Action. Vol. 27, No. 2, p. 21-22.
20Nissley, N. (2007).
21Nissley, N. (2007).
22Amabile, T.M. (1996).
23Amabile, T.M. (1998).
24Jung, D.I. (2001). Transformational and Transactional Leadership and Their Effects on Creativity in Groups. Creativity Research Journal. Vol. 13, No. 2, p. 185-195.
25Amabile, T.M. (1998).
26Jung, D.I. (2001).
27Amabile, T.M. (1998).
28Amabile, T.M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., and Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the Work Environment for Creativity. Academy of Management Journal, No. 39, 1154-1184.
29Jung, D.I. (2001).
30Jung, D.I. (2001).
31Nissley, N. (2007).
32Bichard, M. (2000).
33A GMJ Q&A with Jim Clifton (2006). Is Your Organization Creative Enough? Gallup Management Journal. Release date Thursday, May 11, http://gmj.gallup.com.
34Jung, D.I. (2001).
35Kirkpatrick, S.A. and Lock, E.A. (1996). Direct and Indirect Effects of Three Core Charismatic Leadership Components on Performance and Attitudes. Journal of Applied Psychology. No. 81, p. 36-51.
36Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998).
37Guliford J.P. (1984). Varieties of Divergent Production. Journal of Creative Behavior. No. 18, p. 1-10.
38Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998).
39Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998).
40Jung, D.I. (2001).
41Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
42Sternberg, R.J. (2005). A Model of Educational Leadership: Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity, Synthesized. International Journal of Leadership in Education. Vol. 8, No. 4, p. 347-364.
43Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
44Shneiderman, B. (2007).
45Shneiderman, B. (2007), p. 25.
46Shneiderman, B. (2007).
47Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
48Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
49Goveno, J.A. (2001). Six Steps for Encouraging Employee Creativity. Innovative Leader, Vol. 10, No. 7, Article 533, accessed November 2008 at http://www.sinstonbrill.com/bril1001/html/ article_index/articles/501-550/article533_body . .  .
50Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
51A GMJ Q&A with Jim Clifton (2006).
52Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
53Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
54Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
55Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
56Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
57Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002), p. 158.
58Jung, D.I. (2001).
59Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Lost in Space: Organizational Design Agents

21 Feb

A 21st-century organization with a structural model designed for the 20th-century limits how well it can perform and creates massive unnecessary and unproductive complexity that frustrates employees and wastes money. It is the leader’s responsibility to redesign an organization that takes advantage of today’s sources of wealth creation; and, it isn’t easy. By redesigning an organization to marshal the ‘mind-power’ of its workforce and tap into its talents, knowledge, relationships, and skills, organizations help their people undertake more rewarding, productive work and create sources of new wealth and opportunity (Bryan, et..al, 2007).

It is, therefore, the interaction between leader and employee and how the interaction transpires that affects organizational sustainability and competitiveness. Debbie Bigelow (2007) challenges leaders to recognize the power of business’ most valuable asset: people. Her model emphasizes relationship and the importance of acknowledging people as intellectual assets rather than the so-called “hard” assets of the Industrial Age.

Microsoft, for instance, emphasizes the importance of Bigelow’s assertion in their on-line People-Ready publication dated September 16, 2007.

“People drive business success. Human imagination creates the ideas that move business forward. Human conversations and human effort shape those ideas into products and services for the market. The unique ability of people to listen, respond, persuade, and think for themselves enables companies to sell effectively, serve their customers, and work together with their business partners in rich, satisfying ways that create lasting, high-value relationships.”

Leaders must actively recognize people as the most critical resource in any organization and create a common culture that aligns employees to a common goal while retaining the flexibility to alter its organizational design to meet the demands of a changing business environment (Overholt et.al, no date).

Facing Change

Leaders who wish to benefit from more of the opportunities available to them now and in the future understand change is occurring and change is necessary. “You have a choice” is a statement most have heard many times. W. Edwards Deming once stated, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” Deming’s statement is even more applicable today. Change is not an option if organizations want to survive. Strategic change is essential for organizations to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage. Leaders are the organization’s design change agents. They are responsible for translating theory into practice.

In some instances, organizational structure is confused with organizational design. Structure refers to the location of the decision-making power while design refers to the creation of roles, processes, and formal reporting relationships within an organization. Galbraith writes that design is a continuous process, not a single event, which involves a sequence of decisions. These  decisions include; strategy, structure, key processes, key people, roles and responsibilities, information systems, performance measures and rewards, training and development, and career paths (Galbraith, 2002).

Taking design theory and incorporating it into an organization is a ‘delicate dance/’ Change is typically disruptive, causes stress, evokes skepticism, can result in chronic instability, and distract management (Nadler et.al, 1997). The larger and more complex an organization, the more potential there is for obstreperous behavior and chaos. As such, if people are the organization’s most valuable resource, it is incumbent upon leaders to incorporate transition management principles to minimize potential turmoil.

Managing Design Change

     Leadership Style

There are several approaches to studying change implementers but the most promising approach has come from transformational leadership since it has been explicitly defined around the concept of change. Transformational leaders operate by the higher-order needs of employees and ‘transform’ individual employees to make them more receptive to, and build capacity for, bringing about organizational change. To accomplish this, leaders articulate a clear vision for the future, foster the acceptance of group goals, communicate high-performance expectations, provide intellectual stimulation, model appropriate behavior, and display supportive leader behavior (Bommer et al, 2005).

Characteristic of transformational leadership is the implicit communication of the leader’s confidence in the employee’s ability to meet high performance expectations. As such, these positive, confidence-instilling actions are generally associated with increased employee self-efficacy and, in turn, trust in the leader. Subsidiarity is also a characteristic of a transformational leader. They are willing to extend the decision-making power to the lowest possible level – to be trusted is to trust (Bommer et. al, 2005).

     The Learning Approach

Handy posits that most people do not like change. However, he contends change does not need to cause chaos and does not have to be forced on employees by crisis or calamity. He argues change is a learning opportunity (discovery) and, if approached from this perspective, will encourage employees to become the architects of new ways, new forms, and new ideas. He suggests three ‘lubricants’ that will help employees navigate through change:

  1. Those who learn best and most, and change most comfortably, are whose who take responsibility for themselves and their future, have a clear view of what they what the future to be, want to make sure that they get it, and believe they can achieve their goals.
  2. Those who have the ability to see things, problems, situations or people in other ways are able to perceive them as opportunities, not problems. They address these issues directly but have the capacity to reframe them for their benefit and the benefit of the organization.
  3. Those who have the capacity to live with mistakes and failures without being defeated are those who understand that ‘getting it wrong is part of getting it right” (1990).

 

     The People-Centric Organization

This organizational model has characteristics similar to those found in the transformational leader. The culture of this organization, this theoretical modeling technique, enables executives to build the organization centered on the emotional and psychological needs of individuals. This model recognized that organizations are living, ever-changing and adapting systems organized around its survival strategy. This design model creates structures and processes that link the individuals to the organization producing internal cultural alignment and congruence and is composed of seven interactive, interdependent components:

  1. the individual or group of individuals who are the decision makers,
  2. the decision maker’s publicly stated and articulated values and beliefs of the organization,
  3. the hierarchal structures, reporting relationships, reward systems, and control systems of the organization (organizational design),
  4. the constraints and demands of the organization’s technologies and processes that determine daily operations and the links that provide the information for the decision maker,
  5. the interactions between individuals and groups,
  6. the informal network of friendships, acquaintances, and alliances that link individuals together, and
  7. the established culture of the organization, the normative set of beliefs of how the organization operates.

A stronger bond between the individual and organization is created when more threads are designed and implemented by the organization to meet employee needs. These threads emerge from the leader as they establish vision, set strategic direction, shape the organizational design, and make decisions as to how much information is available to employees and the degree of individual decision-making allowed (Overholt et. al, no date).

The Danger

In September 1965, the three year TV series Lost in Space launched it’s first episode. Among the cast of interesting personalities was a robot. Its function was to provide technical and informational support to the crew. During the series, the writers chose to formulate a friendship between the robot and the young boy, Will Robinson. Invariably, during every episode, you would see the robot waving its mechanical arms and voicing, “Danger . . . danger, Will Robinson, danger!”

Leaders who choose the status quo / laissez faire approach and ignore the ‘danger’ signs of the continuously changing environment around them do injustice to their organization and their employees. They must learn, as Galbraith posits, that organize is an active verb, it is a continuous event. “Organizational design is a process; it is a continuous process, not a single event. To keep the process continuous and current, a sequence for changing design policies is required. But the right mind-set in leaders (managers) is required” (Galbraith, 2002, p. 154).

In the beginning (Genesis 1:14), God established lights in the heavens to distinguish the day from the night, to serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years. In Exodus, God used Moses and Aaron to give the Pharaoh signs to encourage him to let the Israelites leave Egypt. Pharaoh ignored the warning signs and suffered a great loss. Church leaders and Christian leaders working in a secular environment cannot abdicate this mantle of responsibility, cannot ignore the danger signs of a continuously changing environment as they lead people and organizations.

The Apostle Paul is directed by the Holy Spirit to address the church in Rome concerning living lives of transformation. In Romans 12, verses six through eight, he discusses different giftings God has given. In the latter part of verse eight Paul writes, if it is leadership to (to which you are called), let him govern diligently (assiduously, conscientiously, thoroughly, carefully, attentively, meticulously)” (NIV). The responsibility to be transformational in leadership is apparent. The potential for loss is too great. “If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously” (Rom. 12:8b NLT).

Bibliography
Anonymous 2007; About People-Ready Business. Microsoft Business & Industry. Sept 16, 2007. http://www.microsoft.com/business/peopleready/overview/default.mspx?WT.mc_id=B, Accessed September 16, 2007.
Bate, Paul, Khan, Raza and Pyle, Annie 2000; Towards a Culturally Sensitive Approach to Organization Structuring: Where Organization Design Meets Organization Development. Organization Science. Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 197-211.
Bigelow, Debbie 2007; Power to the People. Chief Project Officer. http://www.chiefprojectofficer.com/column/163. Accessed September 8, 2007.
Bommer, William H., Rich, Gregory A. and Rubin, Robert S. 2005; Changing Attitudes About Change: Longitudinal Effects of Transformational Leader Behavior on Employee Cynicism about Organizational Change. Journal of Organizational Behavior. Vol. 26, p. 733-753.
Bryan, Lowell L. and Joyce, Claudia I. 2007; Better Strategy Through Organizational Design. McKinsey Quarterly. Issue 2, p. 20-29.
Galbraith, Jay R. Designing Organizations: An Executive Guide to Strategy, Structure, and Process. San Francisco; Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Ghosh, Dipankar 2000; Organizational Design and Manipulative Behavior: Evidence from a Negotiated Transfer Pricing Experiment. Behavioral Research in Accounting. Vol 12,    p. 1-30.
Greenwood, Royston 2000; How Investment in Organizational Design Impacts the Effectiveness of KM. Knowledge Management Review. Vol. 3, Issue 4, p. 10-11.
Hagan, Abdalla, Wilkie, Macil and Haj, Mahmoud 2005; Progressive Management Practices as Predictors of Organizational Future Performance: Empirical Evidence. Academy of Strategic Management Journal. Vol 4, p. 41-59.
Handy, Charles. The Age of Paradox. Boston; Harvard Business School Press, 1995.
Handy, Charles. The Age of Unreason. Boston; Harvard Business School Press, 1990.
Lewis, Laurie K., Schmisseur, Amy M., Stephens, Keri K. and Weir, Kathleen E. 2006; Advice on Communicating During Organizational Change. Journal of Business Communication. Vol. 43, No. 2, p. 113-137.
Lockwood, Thomas 2004; Integrating Design into Organizational Culture. Design Management Review. Spring, p.32-39.
Overholt, Miles H., Connally, Gerald E., Harrington, Thomas C. and Lopez, David (no date); The Strands that Connect: An Empirical Assessment of How Organizational Design Links Employees to the Organization. Human Resource Planning. P. 38-51.
Overholt, Miles H. (no date); Flexible Organizations: Using Organizational Design as a Competitive Advantage. Human Resource Planning. P. 22-32.
Nadler, David A. and Tushman, Michael L. Competing by Design. New York; Oxford University Press, 1997.
Walton, Thomas 2004; Managing Design to Leverage Organizational Objectives. Design Management Review. Summer, p. 6-9.
 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Creative Organizations Through Leadership and Innovation

29 Jan

People around the world have become increasingly perceptive and have been offered much more choice in recent decades.1 Concurrently, we are experiencing unprecedented change, huge uncertainty, unparalleled connectivity, and the birth of the global village, all courtesy of the internet. This fast-moving uncertain environment demands fast-moving creative organizations. The challenge then is towards effective people management – enhancing, releasing, and harnessing their creativity.2

Is creativity important in your organization? Your church? If your answer is yes, and I trust it is, imagine the effects leaders and the design of the organization can have on creativity. And, there are barriers to creativity we have established that need removing to increase the level of creativity and innovation, thus improving our organizational success, its ability to accomplish its mission and vision.

The beginning of a new decade is a great time to look forward with optimism, reflect on the past, and determine what shift is needed in our organizations.3 There are three key issues we will discuss as we address this topic. These key issues are creativity, leadership, and innovation.

Creativity

Creativity is, “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.4 Simply, creativity is about ideas. It can be thinking about familiar issues in a different way or coming up with absolutely new ideas.5 It is also an act of courage because it may require making connections that are, by definition, out of the ordinary and expose the organization to potential ridicule and to above-average levels of risk. Although ridicule is an inherent response we experience because of our Christ-centered message, we may be reluctant to be risk-takers in many areas once we have some “success.”

However, as we review our mission (Matthew 28:19-20) and determine how our message is designed and delivered, creativity must be applied throughout the entire strategy process – beginning with the formulation of the vision. As such, truly creative organizations must break down the barriers that hinder the continuous creative process. Some of these barriers include; organizations that are hierarchical, judgmental, highly prescriptive, risk-averse, poor listeners, controlling, and status conscious.6 Other barriers include  punishing employees for thinking creatively,7 a culture where – right or wrong – the boss is always right,8 and organizational environments where there is a lack of challenge, lack of trust, lack of resources, lack of freedom, and lack of motivation.9

We must recognize that “creativity flourishes when there is a free flow of ideas around the organization; where ideas are valued because of their intrinsic worth, rather than the status of their sponsors; where people are encouraged to connect up their thinking with others . . .”10 As Christ-followers, more than anyone else, we need to foster environments of creativity in our churches and organizations. And, the type of organization most likely to be creative have fewer organizational levels, high leadership trust, an active flow of ideas, effective idea management processes, leaders who challenge, a balanced view of risk-takers, leaders who delegate, and leaders who actively involve others.11 We must foster an environment where ideas can freely flow, recognize all ideas have some merit but realize, and clearly communicate that some are more doable than others.

Leadership

Leadership is about the ability to lead. It is about creating a shared vision that inspires confidence, creativity, and initiative at the same time that it inspires traditional values of pride and loyalty.12 It is about creating structures, systems, trust, and clarity that inspires people to achieve the organization’s strategy and apply their creativity to the things they do in their work. It is about involving people in planning and implementing actions required to fulfill the organization’s vision. This necessitates inspiring individuals to contribute creatively to the common goal and align their personal values to those of the organization.13 Remember, good ideas can come from anyone, and everyone should have opportunity to participate in activities that engender the creative processes.

Leadership is about building bridges between the work lives and personal lives of people. This interaction reinforces commitment and coherence and strengthens respect and trust.14 This bridge building must be genuine and not a self-serving opportunity for the leader to prompt some secondary gain from the relationship.

Furthermore, leaders need to support risk-taking. Do people bring ideas to you? If they do, it probably means that you are a good listener, among other things. Listening is about suspending judgment long enough to hear the other person’s point of view. It is a key component of creativity and of leadership.15

One of the most significant issues related to leadership is that we need to discover our most natural and appropriate leadership style or styles in order to be effective. (Although this article will not discuss different leadership styles, I encourage you to study them, understand what strengths and weaknesses you have, and learn which styles are most effective for particular situations.) We also need to understand those we lead in order to match an appropriate style of leadership to their needs and that not all leaders can be truly effective in every situation. Let me remind us of the myth of the 60s and 70s that declared, “a good leader can lead any organization effectively.”16

Innovation

Researchers and practitioners alike have long argued that different situations require different types of leaders,17 and leadership opportunities are available for those with the creativity to conceive, the courage to make changes, and the confidence to involve others.18 However, creativity by itself and leadership by itself is not as important as creativity (and leadership) in combination with innovation. Furthermore, the success of an organization cannot be realized by investing in either creativity or innovation alone. Success (accomplishing its mission and vision) can be realized only by investing in the two together.19

It is critical that we realize we do not live simply in a world of possibilities, those grand creative ideas. Those ideas must be transformed into reality, a service or product. In combination, creativity and innovation are central to effective leadership because together they form a process of generating ideas and possibilities and transforming them into reality. This combination creates the future.20

It has generally been the young and imaginative that tend not to separate these components – leadership, creativity, and innovation. Examples of this in the world of technology are Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, and Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Computers. Although each approached the world of computers with vision and passion, they took different paths concerning innovation. Jobs inspired people to develop some of the most iconic hardware and novel software, while Dell saw early on that a direct channel to his customers was the way to go for mass-market computers and inspired his team to constantly improve the company’s operations.

In our area of service, Loren Cunningham founded Youth with a Mission after being rejected by main-line denominations with his idea to engage youth in world mission’s outreach. YWAM now sends teams to more than 1,000 locations in over 149 countries.21 Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, grew the church’s ministry attendance from 6,000 to over 25,000, and leads a ministry that reaches to over 100 nations of the world following.22 And Pat Robertson combined leadership, creativity, and innovation to establish the Christian Broadcasting Network, The 700 Club, Regent University, the American Center for Law and Justice, and other Christian based organizations.23

Some Final Thoughts

I wonder if sometimes we are so entrenched in tradition and routine we forget whose we are. Consider the one who created the universe. None is more creative than God and he has created us in his own image (Gen. 1:26-7).

Our creativity is a gift from the Creator. Our responsibility is to help develop and articulate a clear vision that inspires confidence, creativity, and initiative in others, to remove the barriers to creativity in our organizations, to encourage creativity and the sharing of new ideas, and to enable the transformation of creative ideas into reality through innovation.

Simply stated, life is “trying things to see if they work”24 and “creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”25

End Notes
1Van Gelder, Socco 2005; The New Imperatives for Global Branding: Strategy, Creativity, and Leadership. Brand Management, Vol. 12, No. 5, p. 395-404.
2Bichard, Michael 2000; Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management, April-June, p. 41-46.
3Ibid.
4http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/creativity, accessed September 2008.
5Van Gelder, Socco 2005; The New Imperatives for Global Branding: Strategy, Creativity, and Leadership. Brand Management, Vol. 12, No. 5, p. 395-404.
6Bichard, Michael 2000; Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management, April-June, p. 41-46.
7Lombardo, Richard 1988; Breaking the Barriers to Corporate Creativity. Training & Development Journal, Vol. 42, No. 8, p. 63-66.
8Klein, Arthur R 1990; Organizational Barriers to Creativity and How to Knock them Down. Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 65-66.
9Wadey, Claire 2006; Breaking down creativity barriers. New Zeeland Business, Vol. 20, No.11, p20.
10Bichard, Michael 2000; Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management, April-June, p. 41.
11Ibid.
12Walton, Thomas 2006; Leadership, Creativity, Teamwork. Design Management Review, Summer, p. 6-9.
13Van Gelder, Socco 2005; The New Imperatives for Global Branding: Strategy, Creativity, and Leadership. Brand Management, Vol. 12, No. 5, p. 395-404.
14Walton, Thomas 2006; Leadership, Creativity, Teamwork. Design Management Review, Summer, p. 6-9.
15Bichard, Michael 2000; Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management, April-June, p. 41.
16Black, Robert Alan 1990; Facts, Creativity, Teamwork and Rules; Understanding Leadership Styles. IM, Sept/Oct, p. 17-21.
17Ollila, Susanne 2000; Creativity and Innovativeness through Reflective Project Leadership. Reflective Project Leadership, Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 195-200.
18Caroselli, Marlene 2000; Leadership Ingredients: Creativity, Courage, and Confidence. OfficePRO, January, p. 20-21.
19Nissley, Nick 2007; Good Leadership Demands a Combination of the Two. Leadership in Action, Vol. 27, No. 2, p. 21-22.
20Ibid.
21http://www.ywam.org/contents/abo_introduction.htm, accessed September 2008.
22http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Osteen, accessed September 2008.
23http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Robertson, accessed September 2008.
24Bradbury, Ray; http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_creativity.html, accessed September 2008.
25Fromm, Eric; http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_creativity.html, accessed September 2008.
 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Leader-Follower Alignment

24 Jan

Let me tell you a quick story to start us off.

A few thousand years ago, the land of Egypt had a bunch of slaves. In fact, there were over 600,000 men, not including women and children. One day, a guy named Moses, walked into the presence of the Pharaoh and demanded that he, the Pharaoh, release the slaves so they could leave Egypt and find somewhere to live freely. Believe it or not, after some incredible events – that included the death of the Pharaoh’s oldest son – this murderer, shepherd, fugitive, slave-born stepson of Pharaoh’s daughter became the leader of these slaves and one of the most celebrated leaders of all time.

So what enabled this non-descript son-of-a-slave to generate the leader-follower alignment needed to get a nation of well over one-million people released from slavery and get them to follow him to a new home-land?

Before we address this question and apply it today, let me ask, “Is it really that important to have alignment between the leadership and the followers?” And, just as importantly, “Why?”

Let’s start by defining a couple of terms. First, we need to understand alignment. It is a state, condition or position of agreement or cooperation among persons or groups or nations, etc., with a common cause or viewpoint.”

With that term clearly understood, we need to have a definition for a leader. There are a number of definitions used by academes and others to describe leadership, but for our purpose today, we’ll employ the one used by Peter Northouse (2004) from his book Leadership Theory and Practice. He says, “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 3).

First, leadership is a process, which means it is not a trait or characteristic inherent in an individual but a transactional event that occurs between the leader and his/her followers. It implies that the leader affects and is affected by followers. It further emphasizes that leadership is an interactive event; it isn’t a linear, one-way occurrence.

Second, leadership involves influence; without it, leadership does not exist. It is the sine qua non of leadership; it is the main thing.

Third, leadership does not happen in a vacuum; it occurs in groups. This is the context in which leadership takes place and it involves influencing a group of individuals who have a common purpose.

Finally, leadership includes attention to goals – outcome. This simply means leaders focus their energies on directing a group of individuals towards achieving a common task or goal (Northouse, 2004). There must be vision.  Hackett and company (1998) call it the ‘vision thing.’

As the definition states, there is an interaction that occurs between the leaders and the followers that is necessary for accomplishing the goals, the vision of the organization. Without people working with you – the leaders – towards a common purpose, your organization will not accomplish its purposes. As such, you can understand that leadership is clearly a process that is centered on the interactions that take place between leaders and followers.

In leadership study, there is a theory that describes this relationship; it is known as the Leader-Member Exchange Theory. This theory makes the dyadic relationship (simply meaning a relationship between a group of two) between leaders and followers the focal point of the leadership process (Northouse, 2004).

In this theory, the leader forms an individualized, special working relationship with each of his/her subordinates. Besides providing followers the opportunity to take on new roles and responsibilities that enhance the ability of the organization to attain its goals, the leader should nurture high-quality exchanges with the followers. Instead of looking for and focusing on any differences, this model suggests that the leader should look for ways to build trust and respect with all followers, even with those individuals/followers from a different work unit within the organization (Northouse, 2004).

Reading the first four books of the New Testament, we see how Jesus implemented this special dyadic relationship with the Twelve. Although Jesus had many disciples, the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) specifically delineate the difference between Jesus disciples (all who followed his teachings) and the twelve he chose to follow him. For example, Matthew 26:14, Mark 14:43 and Luke 22:47 describe Judas (the one who betrayed Jesus) as one of the Twelve. John, however, in chapter 18, does not make this distinction.

There was clearly a special relationship Jesus intentionally created and worked at maintaining with The Twelve. And, even within these, Jesus formed yet another level of relationship with three – Peter, James and John – as evidenced in Matthew 17 and other instances where Jesus spent specific time with these three. We also see Jesus spending special time with Peter, i.e. during Peter’s denial of Jesus and specifically when Jesus challenged Peter to “feed my sheep . . . feed my lambs” in John 21. Furthermore, we see evidence of this special dyadic relationship resulting in the formation of the first-century Christian church following Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost.

In a study conducted on follower effectiveness, Miller and company (2003) looked at Fiedler’s contingency model and extended the model to include the prediction of follower effectiveness and leader-follower alignment. First, let me explain a little about the contingency model. Fiedler postulated, “Leader effectiveness is determined by the interaction of the leader’s motivational disposition with the situational favorability for leader influence. The model suggest that task-oriented leaders perform more effectively in situations classified as very favorable or very unfavorable, while relations-oriented leaders perform more effectively in situations of moderate favorability” (p. 363).

When Miller and company conducted their research, which again extended Fiedler’s model to include the prediction of follower effectiveness and leader-follower alignment, they concluded, “relations-oriented subordinates will perform better than task-oriented subordinates in situations in which they are either experienced or enjoy good leader-member relations” (p. 363).  This study also confirmed other research that found that the most powerful determinant of situational favorability is leader-member relations. This concept of relationship and alignment between leadership and followership is again emphasized.

Understanding the importance of relationship and alignment between leaders and followers is essential. The necessity of this has been established. How is this accomplished?

Communication, conversation, and dialogue have often been seen as tools for announcing and explaining issues to people and preparing them for eventual change, positive or negative (April, 1999). We tend to use communication as a one-way vehicle for disseminating information to others. Conversation and dialogue, however, allow for the interchange of honest exchanges of thought, ideas, questions and answers. It is during these exchanges that relationships are developed and alignment is reached between leader and follower. There is also a level of trust that is formed – the component vital to successful leadership.

So, back to Moses. Although identified as one of the most celebrated leaders of all time, he had his share of problems; he had to get rid of the army of a persistent Pharaoh, watched his sister be stricken with leprosy for challenging his choice of a wife and his leadership position, watched scores of Israelites die after being bitten by poisonous snakes and by being swallowed up by the earth because of their rebellion, and watched a whole generation die in the wilderness because of their lack of faith and their disobedience.

Did he communicate clearly the goal God set for his people? Yes. Did he have alignment, for the most part? Yes. Did he lead the people to the goal? Yes. Had there been alignment with the followers 100% of the time would the journey have taken less time and the goal attained with less difficulty? Yes. But he did lead the people to the Promised Land!

Remember when you were a kid; did you ever play the game follow the leader (Dalton et. al., 2005)? Your friends and other neighbor kids would all line up toe-to-heal and follow the leader everywhere he/she went; over fences, through bushes, around houses, and through barns and sheds. Everyone had a great time because they all were aligned in their purpose – follow the kid in the front wherever he/she led.

What happened if you were the one in the front of the line and no one followed you? Simply speaking, you weren’t a leader. The same is true in the real life. If a leader has no follows, he really isn’t leading, and thus, isn’t really a leader.

There must be congruent alignment between leaders and followers for the organization to accomplish its purposes. Furthermore, if the leader doesn’t know where he/she is taking the organization, they all will “fall into a pit” as Jesus described in Matthew.

Remember, the most powerful determinant is leader-follower relations and these relations generate leadership-followership alignment. It is this alignment that will enable you and your organization to accomplish its goals.

Bibliography

April, Kurt A. (1999); Leading through Communication, Conversation and Dialogue, The Leadership and Organization Development Journal. Vol. 20, No. 5, pp. 231-241.
Daft, Richard L. Organization Theory and Design, Ninth Edition, Mason; Thomson Corporation, 2007.
Dalton, Catherine M. and Dalton, Dan R. (2005); Corporate Governance: Follow the Leader, Journal of Business Strategy. Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 8-9.
Ford, J.D. and Ford, L.W. (1995); The Role of Conversations in Producing Intentional Change in Organizations, Academy of Management Review. Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 541-570.
Krishnan, Venkat R. (2004); Impact of Transformational Leadership on Followers’ Influence Strategies, The Leadership and Organization Development Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 58-72.
Miller, R.L., Butler, J. and Cosentino, C.J. (2004); Followership Effectiveness: An Extension of Fiedler’s Contingency Model, The Leadership and Organization Development Journal, Vol. 25, No. 4, pp. 362-368.
Northouse, Peter G. Leadership Theory and Practice, Third Edition, Thousand Oaks; SAGE Publications, Inc., 2004.
Spinks, Nelda and Wells, Barron 1995; Quality Communication: A Key to Quality Leadership. Training for Quality. Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 14-19.
 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Creativity and Innovation

26 Dec

The creativity and innovation experience: A delicate balancing act for leaders in a turbulent environment

Every organization’s leadership desires success and, with limited resources in a slowing economy, tight budgets drive creativity and innovation.1 For-profit organizations strive for sustainable competitive advantage. Non-profit organizations, not motivated by earnings, endeavor to achieve their mission and vision by inspiring participants and donors to contribute to a cause “bigger than themselves.”  Whatever the motivation, organizational survival requires the articulation of a clear, emotionally engaging, and consistent vision, and an organizational culture that stimulates creativity and innovation.2 This article shows the interdependence between creativity and innovation and that organizations working in an environment with positive turbulence orchestrated by transformational leadership generate more creative ideas and original solutions.3

The typical business organization in the mid 20th century highly valued predictability and repetition. In the name of efficiency, its configuration was intended to maintain order and reduce variability. “Keep it the same and everyone will be happy” was the mantra of the day. Post WW2 consumers were content to receive whatever was available and competition was minimal, almost nonexistent. Although labor unions meted out demands for fair labor practices, employees, for the most part, made few demands on their employers and were happy to have a steady job and regular paycheck.4

The climate of the 21st century, however, is entirely different. Deregulation, social change, environmental issues, foreign competition, a national and global economic crisis, and overwhelming advancement in technology have shattered the stability of the 50s, leaving a fast-moving uncertain new global environment. It is a world that is unpredictable, and sometimes terrifyingly so.5

As leaders try to cope in this volatile environment by seeking to impose order, organization, and focus, their organizations pay a high price: lack of creativity and innovation. Although training, intuition, and habit lead in this direction, a counterintuitive approach is needed. Leaders must see in new ways, come up with new ways of doing things, and change direction.6 The challenge for leaders is towards effective people management – enhancing, releasing, and harnessing their creativity. It is to look forward with optimism, reflect on the past, and determine what shift is needed now and in the future.7   

The Dynamic Duo: Creativity and Innovation

When we have an idea that works, it is common for us to dispel alternatives. We tend to develop tunnel-vision about what will work or what can be accomplished, sticking with the familiar till proven wrong.8 Consider Thomas Edison. In 1879, he was a bold and courageous innovator. However, by 1889, when his invention of the incandescent light bulb was challenged by the fluorescent bulb, he was a cautious and conservative defender of the status quo.9 Thus, it appears that it is at the center of any tradition where individuals become blind to alternatives.10

Transcending this dilemma requires a willingness to embrace the uncertain, a willingness to move beyond the comfortable into the realm of creativity; creativity being defined as, “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” 11 Simply stated, creativity is about ideas. It includes discovery or invention of a significant idea, pattern, method, or device that gains recognition.12 Creativity requires that we step away from first impressions and, as Leonardo da Vinci believed, learn how to restructure problems and situations to see them in many different ways.13

Creative thinking also refers to how people approach existing problems to come up with a variety of solutions.14 It is carefully coordinated efforts that put existing, conventional ideas together to create new ways of solving problems. Therefore, it does not necessarily come just from an individual’s intellectual capacity but it is an outcome of their creative thinking skills and expertise, based on past experience.15

Innovation is as much about escaping old ideas as it is about the successful implementation of creative ones. The success of the organization does not come just from the articulation of vision, strategy, and objectives, but from their execution. As such, innovation is about getting it done.16 It is a central determinant of longer-run success and failure for organizations.17

Creativity and innovation have been considered the cornerstones of healthy organizations.18 It is the dual capabilities of creativity and innovation together that engender success. And, this combination is important to an organization for two reasons. First, creativity and innovation are not adjuncts to organizational life, they create the future. They excite employees by focusing on what is possible.19

Second, creativity and innovation are crucial capabilities for successful organizations that cannot be simply dismissed. They form fundamental organizational processes that together are an essential competencies for their leaders. Together they are central to effectiveness because they form a process of generating ideas and possibilities and transforming them into reality. Imagination and implementation, possibilities and products, ideas and impact – these are everyday terms that talk about creativity and innovation.20

Leadership that Encourages Creativity and Innovation

It has been asserted that creativity and innovation are the most important sources of economic growth. However, despite this growing acclaim, there remains an interesting paradox: organizations need innovation but usually resist it because innovation and organizations have conflicting aims. Innovation tends to unsettle the established order of organizations. At its very core, the entrepreneurial process of innovation that brings about incredible change is at odds with the administrative processes of organizations which are designed to ensure consistency and repetitiveness.21

As previously stated, creative thinking refers to how people approach existing problems and come up with a variety of solutions.22/23 It is a person’s carefully arranged efforts to put existing, conventional ideas together to generate new approaches to solving problems.24  As such, it does not just come from an individual’s intellectual capacity to invent something new but is also an outcome of their accumulated creative thinking skills and expertise based on experience.25 However, although an individual has creative thinking skills and expertise, a high level of creativity cannot be achieved if they lack motivation26 or the opportunity to engage in creative processes.

As such, there are a number of personality traits that research has indicated help people increase their level of creativity skills. For example, if a person feels comfortable disagreeing with others, creativity can be enhanced not only for themselves, but for the entire group or organization.27 Consequently, creativity can be achieved when organizational processes encourage individuals to try different approaches that depart from the status quo without the unnecessary fear of being punished for negative outcomes.28 The creation of such an organizational environment (discussed later) may assist employees in generating diverse perspectives on addressing old problems as a matter of normal process.29

Research also demonstrates that intrinsic motivation is perhaps one of the most important factors that increase creativity among individuals and that it can be enhanced substantially by making subtle changes in the organizational environment. Since individuals may have to spend enormous amounts of time and effort to increase their intellectual capacity, expertise, and creative-thinking skills, the creation of such an environment/culture may be an excellent strategy for introducing innovation into an organization.30

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the leaders to leverage the creative energy of the workforce and, at the same time, find new ways to create an organizational culture that is less resistant to the change required to carry out ensuing innovations.31 It is the responsibility of leadership to make it okay throughout the organization to be risk-takers,32 to be creative, and then make it part of people’s responsibilities.33

In this process of reshaping the organization’s environment to assist in the generation of creative ideas, researchers have emphasized the important role leaders play in this process. It is the leaders that define what the organization’s mission and vision are and facilitate the whole process of motivating followers to apply their maximum efforts to cooperatively achieve the objectives. They also have a strong impact on how their subordinates engage in achieving their goals. As such, it has been hypothesized that certain leader characteristics are important determinants for enabling creative behavior and divergent thinking in organizations.34

Of the numerous studies conducted on leadership, creativity and innovation, more than 35 have found that transformational leadership is positively associated with higher levels of follower performance and creativity.35 These leaders tend to exhibit distinct behaviors that promote creativity: intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, and inspirational motivation.36 By definition, intellectual stimulation promotes creativity by developing members’ generative (divergent thinking, including remote association and pattern switching)37 and exploratory thinking (refining of ideas through elaboration and successive improvements of ideas). Individualized consideration recognizes each member’s viewpoint and ideas and leads to an expanded source of knowledge and information for group members to use in solving problems. Inspirational motivation helps elevate member’s goals above the ordinary. This network broadens the knowledge base throughout the organization that may stimulate an additional creative idea.38

Transformational leaders also inspire followers to link their self-concept to the collective interest of the organization and its mission, which increased followers’ intrinsic motivation to work collectively. As such, there is a direct correlation between this intrinsic motivation and creativity that enhances and encourages the idea generating processes. 39

As seen, transformational leaders engage in the active and emotional relationships with followers at whatever level they operate.40 They are able to mobilize and sustain energy and activity within their organizations by taking specific personal actions. They influence their colleagues’ values, goals, needs, and aspirations through their relentless attention to shaping interpretations and creating a sense of purpose and energize the organization by finding ways to motivate its members to achieve the mission. They demonstrate empathy, listen, understand and share the feelings of others and express their confidence in their own ability and in the ability of others.41

Transformational leaders create events to signal and celebrate transitions and turning points by providing contingent rewards.42They also express support for individuals struggling with the pressures of change efforts by reinforcing the new vision and culture. They provide an emotional focal point for the energies, hopes, and aspirations of people in the organization. They also serve as powerful role models whose actions and personal energy demonstrated the desired behaviors, a standard to which others aspire. Through their commitment, effectiveness and consistency, they also build a personal bond between themselves and the organization.43

Within this leadership style, there are a number of tools used to generate creativity among workers. And a large amount of literature on creativity, discovery, design, innovation, and composition can be classified into three intersecting schools, identified as structuralists, inspirationalists, and situationalists. Shneiderman identifies the characteristics of these personalities as follows:44

  • Structuralists believe people can be creative if they follow an orderly method, typically described with several stages, such as preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Structuralist thinking encourages systematic tools that include progress indicators with reminders of what is still needed.
  • Inspirationalists argue that breaking away from familiar structures elicits creative solutions. They advocate working on unrelated problems, getting away to scenic locations, and viewing random photos or inkblots. Inspirationalists promote meditation, hypnosis, dreaming, and playful exploration. They seek to liberate thinking from old habits so as to break through to the Aha! moment of inspiration. This school of thinking advocates sketching to quickly explore possibilities, concept mapping to discover unexpected relationships, and visualization strategies to see the big picture.
  • Situationalists recognize that creative work is social. They seek to understand the motivation of creative people, their family history, and their personal relationships with challenging teachers, empathetic peers, or helpful mentors. They understand the need for distinctive forms of consultation at early stages when fear of rejection, ridicule, and rip-off are high versus later stages when validation, refinement, and dissemination are prominent. Situationalists seek to understand the motivating roles of rewards and recognition, as well as completion vs. collaboration.45

 

While these schools of thought are not prominent within the discussion of transformational leadership, each is unique, distinctive, and offer different approaches to innovation and creativity. It is again emphasized, however, that research supports the transformational leadership style as one which provides a greater opportunity and  better environment for creativity and innovation among employees. And while the Aha! moments of discovery and innovation are typically very personal, the processes that lead to them are often highly collaborative. As such, it is essential the organization develops communication systems that enable users to expose their uncertainties in a safe, trusting environment.46

A New Culture/Environment

At the center of any tradition, it is easy not to see the alternatives. On the edges, however, where lines are blurred, it is easier to visualize that the world might be different. It is from the place of uncertainty that vision and new direction sometimes arise. As such, organizations must acknowledge this different, uncertain world and perceive this new unstable environment as a reservoir crowded with new creative possibilities and ideas.47

In addition, the survival of an organization does not depend so much on the degree to which the employee sees eye-to-eye with their leaders, except, of course, with regards to some core values like honesty and fairness and agreement as to what their strategic goals are. It often depends on the degree to which people differ from one another, or even seek conflicting information. It is typically out of respectful dissention that creative ideas come that form the basis for organizational growth. Diversity, varied viewpoints, diverse styles, and opposing opinions: all of these variations are necessary if an organization is to renew itself and move ahead. 48 Thus, the task of leaders is to create a safe haven for new thinking, a culture that encourages a broad range of ideas, including those not immediately seen as feasible or even sensible, but from which birth seeds of creativity and innovation.49

This environment can be an energizing climate that upsets the status quo but impels people toward change. Purposefully engineered to create an environment compatible with change and filled with members who can adapt to the change opportunity,50 leaders recognize the need to make creativity part of the culture.51 This is where positive turbulence is generated. Based on a counterintuitive notion that turbulence can be introduced to organize the chaos out on the edges of the organization, it provides a process of turning change into a productive force that can lead to creativity, innovation, and the on-going revitalization of an organization.52

It also fosters a culture where uncertainties and new information are embraced, not feared.53 And leaders can ease the fear by building in stability. Even as the change occurs, by preparing key people for change, and providing information and detail on the change in advance, it mitigates the destructive aspects political behavior may cause. Thus leaders must always be honest and candid, and constantly sending consistent messages to lessen uncertainty. Also, critical to this process of forming new culture is the need to be clear about what is not changing – what people can hold onto in the future. This helps lessen fears of the future and must be communicated and reinforced early on in the process.54

Generating an environment with positive turbulence and creating a culture receptive to change, leaders can actually create stability within an organization. Although it has a negative connotation, turbulence is used to describe the constantly changing environment in which modern organizations must operate. It is in this chaotic frenzied environment, which threatens all organizations, where new ideas are birthed. And it is out of this disruption and change that useful information, new perspectives, and new ideas are generated. As leaders identify new trends and assimilate new information, they introduce it to the organization and work with it, thus guarding the organization against being blindsided.55

One additional consideration. Since an organization’s culture is key to both short-term and long-term success, managing stability for today and introducing uncertainties for the future are essential. The development of an ambidextrous organization that can celebrate stability and incremental change as well as manage experimentation and discontinuous/sporadic change simultaneously may help lessen the likelihood leaders will be trapped by the successes of the past. Although culture provides competitive advantage, it can also create obstacles to innovation, creativity, and change needed for successful sustainability.56 Balancing these by generating an environment with positive unrest and creating a culture receptive to change may help mitigate the scenario of short-term success but long-term failure.

Concluding Thoughts

Tushman and O’Reilly make this significant observation; “The stultifying, innovation-numbing effects of success are a global phenomenon. Managing by guiding internal congruence, strong culture, and continuous improvement is not sufficient for sustaining competitive advantage. Worse, under a remarkably common set of conditions, it can trap an organization in its past and lead to catastrophic failure as technologies and markets shift. Erhard Pfeiffer, who has transformed Compaq, succinctly notes that “nothing is harder than casting aside the thinking, strategies, and biases that propelled a business to its current success. Companies need to learn how to unlearn, to slough off yesterday’s wisdom.””57    

As the global environment becomes more turbulent, more competitive, and as creative and innovative people become more integral to an organization’s success, one of the most important roles leaders can play is to find out how they can inspire subordinates’ creative potentials in the 21st century.58 Leaders identified as having this characteristic and those necessary for an organization to move past yesterday’s successes exemplify transformational leadership traits. Transformational leaders accomplish this by communicating a clear, consistently articulated, and engaging vision and by creating environments where creativity and innovation can be freely explored.

As such, the most effective organizations are the ones in which creativity flourishes. And success comes less from knowing the right answer than having the ability to pursue multiple courses of action generated from creative ideas and to innovate quickly. It is leadership that is the most important dynamic that affects organizational creativity and innovation and who must also recognize the unsettling nature of turbulence, even though it is energetic, forceful, catalytic, and unpredictable. These leaders recognize that what is needed to turn the turbulence into a positive force – generating an environment with positive turbulence – and creating a culture receptive to change.59

End Notes:
1Maddox, K. (2007). Tight Budgets Drive Creativity, Innovation. Business to Business. Vol. 92, Issue 10, p.25.
2Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002). Winning Through Innovation: A Practical Guide to Learning Organizational Change and Renewal. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
3Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998). Transformational Leadership and Dimensions of Creativity: Motivating Idea Generating in Computer-Mediated Groups. Creativity Research Journal. Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 111-121.
4Gryskiewicz, S. (1999). Positive Turbulence: Developing climates for creativity, innovation, and renewal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
5Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
6Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
7Bichard, M. (2000). Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management. April-June, p. 41-46.
8Michalko, M. 2001). Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
9Utterback, J.M. (1996). Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
10Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
11http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/creativity, accessed September 2008.
12Shneiderman, B. (2007). Creativity Support Tools: Accelerating Discovery and Innovation. Communications of the ACM.  Vol. 50, No. 12, p. 20-32.
13Michalko, M. (2001).
14Amabile, T.M. (1996). Creativity in Context: Update to the Social Psychology of Creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview.
15Amabile, T.M. (1998). How to Kill Creativity. Harvard Business Review. Vol. 76, No. 5, p. 77-87.
16Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
17Utterback, J.M. (1996).
18Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
19Nissley, N. (2007). Good Leadership Demands a Combination of the Two. Leadership in Action. Vol. 27, No. 2, p. 21-22.
20Nissley, N. (2007).
21Ibid.
22Amabile, T.M. (1996).
23Amabile, T.M. (1998).
24Jung, D.I. (2001). Transformational and Transactional Leadership and Their Effects on Creativity in Groups. Creativity Research Journal. Vol. 13, No. 2, p. 185-195.
25Amabile, T.M. (1998).
26Jung, D.I. (2001).
27Amabile, T.M. (1998).
28Amabile, T.M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., and Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the Work Environment for Creativity. Academy of Management Journal, No. 39, 1154-1184.
29Jung, D.I. (2001).
30Ibid.
31Nissley, N. (2007).
32Bichard, M. (2000).
33A GMJ Q&A with Jim Clifton (2006). Is Your Organization Creative Enough? Gallup Management Journal. Release date Thursday, May 11, http://gmj.gallup.com.
34Jung
, D.I. (2001).
35Kirkpatrick, S.A. and Lock, E.A. (1996). Direct and Indirect Effects of Three Core Charismatic Leadership Components on Performance and Attitudes. Journal of Applied Psychology. No. 81, p. 36-51.
36Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998).
37Guliford J.P. (1984). Varieties of Divergent Production. Journal of Creative Behavior. No. 18, p. 1-10.
38Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998).
39Ibid.
40Jung, D.I. (2001).
41Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
42Sternberg, R.J. (2005). A Model of Educational Leadership: Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity, Synthesized. International Journal of Leadership in Education. Vol. 8, No. 4, p. 347-364.
43Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
44Shneiderman, B. (2007).
45Ibid., p. 25.
46Shneiderman, B. (2007).
47Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
48Ibid.
49Goveno, J.A. (2001). Six Steps for Encouraging Employee Creativity. Innovative Leader, Vol. 10, No.
7, Article 533, accessed November 2008 at http://www.sinstonbrill.com/bril1001/html/ article_index/articles/501-550/article533_body . . .
50Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
51A GMJ Q&A with Jim Clifton (2006).
52Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
53Ibid.
54Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
55Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
56Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
57Ibid., p. 158.
58Jung, D.I. (2001).
59Gryskiewicz, S. (1999). 
 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Honoring Cultural Distinctives

17 Dec

Abstract:  This article identifies some of the characteristics associated with individuals of shame cultures. Distinctively different from western culture, organizations engaged in cross-cultural communication and global enterprise with individuals from this culture must understand its attributes and gain competencies that surpass the verbal exchange of words. The repercussions in the business world for not being cognizant of these distinctives can be financially ruinous. However, for those sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, the consequences can have eternal ramifications. Remaining firmly anchored in our own cultural patterns, believing they are the best and only way, ultimately leads others to conclude we are arrogant, egocentric, and our intentions purely self-seeking.

Keywords:       Shame culture
                       Guilt culture
                       Saving face
                       Honor

Introduction

DEFINITION:  Shame. 1.1. The painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonouring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances (or in those of others who honour or disgrace on regards as one’s own), or of being in a situation which offends one’s sense of modesty or decency (The Oxford English Dictionary).

When conflict arises, individuals of shame cultures put a high value on saving face. This cultural concept has existed for centuries yet has not been fully understood by those from western countries. A value distinctively different from our western culture (typically identified as guilt cultures), understanding the culture of shame helps provide the insight needed to interact in the global marketplace. Unless we recognize that communication is more than the verbal exchange of words and grasp this concept and the ramifications of dishonoring another, our endeavors will be impeded or abruptly terminated.

Organizational survival and effectiveness increasingly depends on the ability of its leaders to interact and manage people of different cultures.1 With increased multicultural connections, leaders from western countries must understand the cultural distinctive known as the culture of shame so communication and relationship building efforts are not rejected because of misunderstandings or missed cues. It is therefore necessary to understand the concept of saving face when investing in cross-cultural relationships, understand it is not a new concept, and that it is not limited to just a few people groups.

Culture of Shame

In the January 16, 2008 edition of the Jordan Times (Amman, Jordan), the author cites the Prime Minister’s criticism of unemployed citizens who shun jobs due to their culture of shame.2 In a 2006 North American Journal of Psychology, the authors emphatically state that Japan is a shame-based culture, 3 as does Cooke in his writings.4 Hollander contends, “Anthropologists, psychologists, and philosophers have apparently concurred that shame is the most social and the most visually conveyed of all emotions. It is directly involved with one’s social serf”.5 Stephen Greer explores the topic of shame in first-century Jewish culture and Christianity in his research article6 and Konstan investigates shame in ancient Greece.7

People groups identified as having a culture of shame have existed for centuries. From ancient Greeks to first century Jews to modern day Jordanians and Japanese, this cultural distinctive is a deeply rooted social trait. Culture, defined as “the context in which we live, the windows through which we experience the world; our attitudes (judgments about people, places, and cultures), our values (desires, wants, and needs), and our identities (who we are and who they are),” influences the way we think, act, react, and interact with others.8 Thus, the need to recognize how other peoples function within their cultures is paramount if our organizations are to compete in the world marketplace.

A culture of shame is unlike a culture of guilt. Understanding this distinctive is important since western culture is considered a culture of guilt and others (some mentioned above) are considered cultures of shame. Cooke differentiates these cultures as follows:

“A society which inculcates absolute standards of morality and relies on men’s developing a conscience is a guilt culture by definition. Whereas a man who has sinned can obtain relief by confession and remorse, a man who is shamed cannot unburden himself by contrition. Consequently, shame cultures do not provide for confessions even to gods. They have ceremonies for good luck rather than expiation. Shame is a reaction to other people’s criticism. A man is shamed either by being openly ridiculed or rejected or by fantasying to himself that he has been made ridiculous. In either case, it is a potent sanction. But it requires an audience or at least a man’s fantasy of an audience. Guilt does not.” 9

Shame always comes from outside, a result of some type of public exposure. It lays in the power of others and an individual has no control to decide if they are shamed or not. In fact, it may not be one’s own actions that bring about shame but the actions or words of others.

Shame and Honor: The Connection

To help understand the concept of shame, it is beneficial to understand its counter: honor. Honor can be described as the value of a person in his or her own eyes plus that person’s value in the eyes of his or her social group. It is the claim to worth along with the social acknowledgement of that worth. Since the focal institution around which these societies are structured is kinship, the family is everything. As such, when the family is the highlighted institution of concern in the society, shame and honor are central cultural characteristics.10

The connection between these two concepts is borne out daily in the Middle East. Arabs and Muslims generally live in a shame society in which the acquisition of honor and the avoidance of shame are key motivators. As such, these values distort reality and obligate them to cancel out feelings of shame by engaging in acts of heroism. These acts are seen primarily as face saving / shame avoidance “heroics.” Although noble to them, this violence (i.e. suicide bombings) is retaliation for having their honor and dignity questioned or attacked.11

The concept of shame and honor is also a distinctive in most Asian, Hispanic, South Pacific, and African cultures, where the family is typically central. In Japan, for instance, it has been surmised that the shame of being inferior to foreigners followed the 200 years of isolation and strong family bonding during the reign of the shogun.12  Although terrorist acts of “face saving” are not typical of these cultures, other expressions are significant. For instance, during World War 2, thousands of Japanese pilots committed “hara-kiri” and hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers fought to the death instead of allowing themselves to be captured (though they had exhausted their munitions) to save their honor and the honor of Japan.

An example of this cultural trait amongst today’s Japanese is their concepts of Wa and Kao. Wa or harmony is the most valued principle in Japanese society. It is reflected in the avoidance of self-assertion, individualism, and the preservation of good relationships. As such, this concept is reflected in their indirect expression or avoidance of saying “no.” Kao is the notion of saving face. Preservation of a person’s pride / reputation / social status is achieved through avoiding confrontations and direct criticism.13

As western organizational leaders realize that the cultural value of shame and saving face is not emotionally based, but centered in the old imperatives of honor and shame, our approach to building relationships will change. As such, we must recognize that the very qualities that make us successful in the west often hinder success in cultures of shame and result in missed opportunities. Not taken into account is the way an individual from shame cultures think, feel, and react. Although directness is a virtue in our culture, they will typically avoid conflict at all cost.14

Our culture does not typically foster the personal side of business relationships. This trait is quite the opposite in many cultures imbedded with the idiosyncratic notion of shame and saving face. It is through relationships that ‘things get done’ in their culture. Our success in these cultures will depend on the depth and quality of the relationships we establish. Thus, developing cross-cultural competencies and investing in understanding different cultures are essential for global success.15

Implications for Business Organizations

Al St.Cyr works with AIB (American Institute of Baking) International and inspects food preparation facilities throughout the world who export their products to the U.S. During a recent conversation, Al spoke of the difficulty he had dealing with individuals from Asian countries. Specific to each business transaction was the difficulty to determine if “yes” would result in a definitive agreement or action on the part of his Asian counterparts. Most negotiations / interactions did not result in the “agreed upon”    action. 16

After a number of attempts to resolve this impasse with a Japanese company, St.Cyr sought the assistance of an American born Japanese colleague who explained to him the cultural trait of shame and the significance of saving face. In some instances, St.Cyr’s Japanese counterparts did not understand what he was requesting. Even through they spoke excellent English, they did not want to shame themselves before a “foreigner” by admitting they did not know precisely what was being asked of them. In other instances, they had no intention to do what was being asked. However, in both situations, they did not want to shame themselves or their organization by saying “no” or indicating they did not understand.17

While reading Duane Elmer’s book titled Cross-Cultural Conflict, I was reminded of an incident that occurred while serving with Bridgestone/Firestone in Liberia, West Africa. We hired a Liberian woman to help my wife care for the house since it is a cultural expectation to hire Liberians to work as house help, yard workers, and night security. Margaret was an excellent worker and we entrusted her with the safekeeping of our household. We never questioned her loyalty and compensated her more than was customary because of her integrity.

As a westerner, whenever something breaks, I typically ask what happened and who broke the item. Although there no intention of reprisal or blame, it is just my nature (custom) to get a “truthful” answer. On one occasion, Margaret was helping bake cookies and accidentally dropped a mixing bowl. When I heard the noise, I walked into the kitchen and asked Margaret if she had broken the bowl. “No, Bossman (their customary term of respect), the bowl fell and broke.”

I thought, “Of course it fell; you dropped it, it hit the floor and it broke. No big deal – no one was hurt and it can be replaced. Why can’t you just acknowledge it slipped out of your hands and broke when it hit the floor? Accidents happen all the time.”

Although there was no further discussion about the broken bowl, Margaret’s response resonated with me. “Why was she unable (or unwilling) to admit it was just an accident in which she was the human component?” It was just recently I fully understood her response. Because she lives in a culture where saving face is a social characteristic, she would have felt shame had I persisted in getting “the correct response” from her. Similar to Elmer’s situation, if I could have changed her to think and act like me, I could have avoided some of the awkwardness of adapting to her culture.18

These situations, through different in their impact, represent how cultural traits influence relationships and, ultimately, business. St.Cyr’s efforts to conduct business with his Japanese counterparts were not hindered by language but by differences in culture, which ultimately affects communication. Since he was properly instructed, his subsequent business dealings were successful. Similarly, if I had known about this cultural distinctive when living in Africa, my interaction with Margaret would not have resulted in misunderstanding.

The impact of cultural differences between westerners and those from societies where a culture of shame exists is escalated when conflict occurs. As Gudykunst and Kim posit, “our cultures influence the ways we think about conflicts and our preferences for managing them.”19

To illustrate the diverse ways different cultures respond to conflict, Gudykunst and Kim explain that members of individualistic cultures (westerners) often separate the issue on which they have conflict from the people with whom they are in conflict while members of collectivistic cultures (i.e. Japanese) do not separate the conflict from the person. As such, Japanese take criticism of an idea personally and will take the necessary action to save face personally or save face for their organization.20

Western organizational leaders who encounter a conflict when in business negotiations with individuals from a culture of shame can help defuse the conflict by being aware of this trait and engage in behavior that will not humiliate or embarrass but save face for their counterparts – especially when in a public setting. Since these individuals perceive their actions reflect on their colleagues and they consider their colleagues when managing conflict, westerners may suggest the use of a third party to mediate the conflict. Westerners also need to pay close attention to non-verbal behavior and listen more carefully for implicit messages. Finally, it may be necessary to let go of the conflict if it is perceived that individuals from a shame culture do not recognize that a conflict exist or choose not to deal with it (avoidance being a preferred strategy).21

The repercussions in the business world for not being cognizant of others’ cultural distinctives can be financially ruinous. However, for those sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, the consequences of not understanding different cultures can have eternal ramifications.

Implications for Religious Organizations

A number of years ago, I heard a preacher speak using the text Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What he missed in the text and what I did not understand was the phrase “scorning the shame.” This phrase gives a significant clue into first-century Mediterranean culture, a characteristic that exists there today.

During the first-century, the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures (and Arab) were oriented toward the approval and disapproval of others – it was a culture of shame. This trait meant that individuals were likely to strive to embody the qualities and perform the behaviors that the group held to be honorable and avoid those acts that brought shame / reproach and caused a person’s estimation in the eyes of others to diminish.22

Honor and shame are not only about the individual’s sense of worth but also about the coordination and promotion of the group’s defining and central values. It is about the strategies needed to preserve the group’s culture in the midst of a complex web of competing cultures and about the way honor or shame are attained, displayed, and enacted.23 Consequently, the concept of honor and shame / saving face was captured by the New Testament writers.

This cultural attribute is no doubt one reason the early Christian church faced such violent opposition as their neighbors tried to reclaim these wayward members of society back into conformity with traditional Jewish values or with the Greco-Roman social order.24 The insight we gain from scripture into this cultural distinctive gives an indication how we must respond today to those who live in this shame culture.

Bruce Thomas writes a compelling article titled The Gospel for Shame Cultures. His research dealing with evangelizing Muslims reveals that, according to Islam, defilement is a human problem as serious to them as sin is to others. It is more important to be ritually clean than to abstain from lying, cheating, sexual immorality, etc. Thomas discovers that shame is related to defilement in the Muslim religion the way guilt is related to sin. Shame is the feeling of anxiety about one’s presentation, the response to disapproval of one’s peers. In contrast, guilt is the self-condemnation resulting from the violation of internalized convictions of right and wrong.25

For a Muslim, it is more important to be free from the feeling of defilement than to be free from sin. Sin does not cause defilement / shame in the eyes of others; failure to be ritually cleaned following an act that makes one unclean is more importance. For instance, a prolonged state of ritual uncleanness following sexual intercourse is more unthinkable than adultery.26

Consequently, when the writer of Hebrews states that Jesus scorned the shame, it speaks more clearly to Asians, Latin Americans, Mediterranean, and Islamic countries since these cultures place a prominent emphasis on honor, shame, and saving face.27 The concept of Jesus being defiled for us (becoming sin for us) so we might be free from defilement (the righteousness of God), as written in 2 Corinthians 5:21, speaks more succinctly to Muslims since, as previously stated, it is not sin that causes shame / loss of face.

Building relationships with those from shame cultures can also place us in awkward situations that, if not responded to properly, can shame them or put us in a compromising position. A colleague shared the following story:

“One of my lecturers in college was raised on the mission field until returning stateside prematurely and without her dad. He had accepted a mistress from the locals according to their culture and so his wife left with their child, following mission board instructions. A few years later the tribe expelled him; for they now believed the Bible and considered him a phony for accepting their heathen cultural gift, against the clear teaching of Scripture.”28

The decision not to offend the locals resulted in a compromise of biblical principles. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 9 that everything (that is not contrary to God) is permissible, but not everything is beneficial or constructive. These are negotiables. However, in his letter to the church in Rome (6:1b – 2b), he emphasizes there are also non-negotiables when he writes; “Shall we go on sinning so grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin . . .”

Elmer suggests a solution hat can help to save face for those from shame cultures when we encounter a situation that could result in compromise. Taking the one-down position means we make ourselves vulnerable to another person, indicating that without their help we are in danger of being shamed or losing face. In essence, we place ourselves in a position of debt or obligation to the other person, shifting the shame from them to us.29

As we continue to encounter these cross-cultural dilemmas, it is our responsibility not to offend while building relationships of trust. However, it is our obligation not to compromise biblical principles. There are alternatives that will not bring shame to others or result in acts of sin.

Concluding Thoughts

Protecting people’s dignity not only protects them from losing face but also preserves an openness and trust in the relationship. When westerners resist change, we wallow in myopic ignorance and forfeit the opportunity to learn from others and discover cultures that differ from our own limited experiences. When we resist change, we remain anchored in egocentrism, mistakenly believing that our cultural patterns are the best and only way.30

Organizations that take notice and adapt their strategies to the way individuals from cultures of shame say and do things will see results. However, as noted, it takes time to develop levels of trust that will result in the greatest breakthroughs and return on investments whether for a profit-oriented business organization or for a religious organization.

Addressing the cultural and communication issues that are different from ours will help us bridge the gap and promote long-term relationships. It is our responsibility to develop the cross-cultural skills if we want to be effective in this culture. We cannot change how they think or act, we must change how we think and act in their environment.  

End Notes

1Robert Rosen, Patricia Digh, Marshall Singer, and Carl Phillips, Global Literacies: Lessons on Business Leadership and National Cultures (New York; Simon and Schuster, 2000).
2Mohammad Ben Hussein 2008; “PM Censures ‘Culture of Shame.’” Jordan Times (Amman, Jordan). January 16, p n/a.
3Jamie Thonney, Michihiko Kanachi, Hiroyuki Sasaki, and Toshiteru Hatayama, Toshiteru 2006; Guild and Shame in Japan: Data Provided by the Thematic Apperception Test in Experimental Settings.” North American Journal of Psychology. Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 85-96.
4Terry E. Cooke 1991; “The Evolution of Financial Reporting in Japan: A Shame Culture Perspective.” Accounting, Business and Financial History. Vol. 1, No. 3, p. 251-277.
5Martha Hollander 2003; “Losses of Face: Rembrandt, Masaccio, and the Drama of Shame.” Social Research. Vol. 70, No. 4, p. 1372-1352, p. 1327.
6Stephen Greer 2008; “First Century Jewish Culture and Christianity.” http://planetpreterist.com/news-5430.html, Accessed March 2008.
7David Konstan 2003; “Shame in Ancient Greece.” Social Research. Vol. 70, No. 4, p. 1031-1062.
8Rosen et al., p. 33.
9Cooke, p. 252.
10Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology – Revised Edition. (Louisville; Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993).
11James Bowman 2002; “The Lost Sense of Honor.” Public Interest. Fall, p. 32-51.
12Cooke.
13Japan-Guide.com; http:www.japan-guide.copm/e/e644.html. Accessed February 2008.
14Mia Doucet 2007; “Costly Western Assumptions.” Control Engineering. October, p. 32.
15Ibid.
16Al St. Cyr, Head, Food Safety Education, AIB, interviewed by author, 18 February 2008.
17Ibid.
18Elmer, Duane Cross-Cultural Conflict. (Downers Grove; InterVarsity Press, 1993).
19William B. Gudykunst and Young Yun Kim, Communication with Strategies – Fourth Edition. (New York; McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2003), p. 297.
20Ibid.
21Ibid.
22David A. deSilva Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. (Downers Grove; InterVarsity Press, 2000).
23Ibid.
24Ibid.
25Bruce Thomas 1994; The gospel for Shame Cultures: A Paradigm Shift. (first published in EQM). http://guide.gospelcom.net/resources/shame.php, Accessed March 2008.
26Ibid.
27David A. deSilva Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. (Downers Grove; InterVarsity Press, 2000).
28Art TerMorshuizen, DSL Student Regent University, dialogue during group discussion, 25 March 2008.
29Elmer, Duane Cross-Cultural Conflict. (Downers Grove; InterVarsity Press, 1993).
30Ibid.

 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.