Careers

Leading from a ‘shared’ platform

The illustration is from the book ‘The Happy Prince And Other Tales’ by Oscar Wilde (and illustrations by Walter Crane), 1888, accessed at “Project Gutenberg”.

The illustration is from the book ‘The Happy Prince And Other Tales’ by Oscar Wilde (and illustrations by Walter Crane), 1888, accessed at “Project Gutenberg”.   | Photo Credit: Illustration by Walter Crane

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To benefit from the dialogic leadership model, two challenges have to be met first

“Why are you weeping then?” asked the Swallow; “you have quite drenched me.”

“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “...My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.”

— “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde

There is no panacea. Every solution will throw up new problems that require fixing of their own. However, the human mind can’t digest this truth, and so the search for panaceas continues.

In the corporate world, the hunt for panaceas is often about “that all-encompassing leadership approach”. The truth is every approach comes with a smidgen of kryptonite. Yet, when we try out one, we often think it has been cobbled just for our organisational shoe, or times; and that we have found “The Soultion”.

Though not of recent origin, “dialogic leadership” dominates leadership talk today. Beyond the uncertainties of the business world, the popularity of the model largely has to do with the complexity of the various environments we inhabit. We expect straws more than planks to float our way, and are therefore naturally wary of “pat solutions”. To make sure we hold on to a life-saving plank, we want solutions to be run from multiple thinking processes.

That is how “dialogic leadership” got to be where it is today, in the context of organisational development. In its basic functions, it is about inviting views from a broad spectrum, especially contrarian ones, before arriving at solutions.

It throws out the bath-water of top-down decision-making. And it keeps the baby, which is hierarchy. However, in this new context, it becomes a difficult baby to keep.

Dialogic leadership presents two challenges that have to be forded, one at the personal leadership level, and the other at the larger organisational level.

It requires the leader to be willing to die to a large part of himself, so that there is room for others in the solutions-finding process.

In Oscar Wilde’s timeless classic story, The Happy Prince, we notice that the protagonist truly begins to rule the subjects of his city only after he is dead.

As a statue placed atop a towering pedestal that overlooks the city, he sees it for what it is, for the first time, with all its suppurating problems. There is understanding born out of familiarity with what is going on in the lives of his subjects.

That may be non-verbal, but it is still dialogic leadership at work. In its process, this model of leadership is both outward and inward. Besides understanding other viewpoints, there is also the inward look that enables change in focus and course.

Dialogic leadership sounds like the idyllic tree of knowledge, but growing it requires a tilling process that is hardly idyllic.

Understanding can happen only in a non-judgemental environment. So, it requires a huge shift in organisational decision-making, making it more elaborate than it usually is to ensure multiple viewpoints are weighed in.

At every level, an organisation has to create a system that will support and promote no-agenda dialogues, prior to any decision-making or systems-appraisal exercise.

In organisational development, “Bohm Dialogue” is widely acknowledged as being capable of creating such an environment, though the physicist David Bohm after whom the concept is named, used this model to explore social and philosophical questions.

It is about talking and listening, without any compulsion to arrive at any particular destination, or even its nearabouts. Bohm Diagloue is based on the notion that just exploring the thought processes non-judgementally will organically open up the path to the right decision, that too in a conflict-free manner. The dialogues that Bohm had with philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti are illustrative of how this is done.

So, for dialogic leadership to work in the corporate domain, the organisation should set aside sufficient time for no-agenda discussions, with nothing to moderate them except a willingness to understand various viewpoints, so that everyone is a bit wiser for having participated in the process.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 9:37:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/careers/leading-from-a-shared-platform/article30095322.ece

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