A simple concept, often used in troubling ways. I’ve just come back from the movie Fair Game, based on actual events which gave rise to the American invasion and war in Iraq. A simple phrase used by President George W Bush described as a fact that the Iraqis had purchased uranium from Niger. This was to support the proposition, now discredited, that the Iraqis were building a nuclear bomb.  Joe Wilson, a former Ambassador played by Sean Penn knew this to be a lie – not just something that wasn’t supported – but something that enquires had established didn’t happen. So what do to?

Amy Gallo in her ‘When you think the strategy is wrong’ lists three things to do before disagreeing:

  • Understand the big picture – use your networks to understand the political complexities and assumptions used
  • contextualise your concerns – what is it about me that gives me some concern? What am I feeling?
  • Ask others for input – look to your peers and others. Explain your concerns and get other’s perspectives

These events are tragic. Countless dead and I doubt the world is any safer now than it was 10 years ago. It seems trivial to say that getting as close to the truth as you can before starting a war, might be a good idea. And if you know that one has or is about to be started based on a lie, how far do you go? Especially if those you need to confront include some of the most powerful men on the planet.

Earlier this week as I was driving into my local cafe (well the carpark) a van being driven enthusiastically with some urgency drove out: Chinese Christian Truth Church  read the signage on the side.

In a leadership role dealing with the complexities of human behaviour, change and differing mental models makes dealing with the truth, well, not really the point.

Keeping your "truth" speeches in the right place

How a team is put together, performs, strategises, implements, deals with adversity are not simple right-wrong propositions. But if there is a truth: something indisputable, the results, the findings, especially if it’s simply communicated, it can be really important for leaders to express it. And that might mean expressing both up and down something quite unpalatable.

I feel a twinge of fundamentalism when I hear someone express their views as the truth. Occasionally it has a more Monty Pythonesque feel about it, like the van, but we need to take some care. Honest we must be, but pushing forward that your honesty is in fact the truth should be saved for mission critical moments. 

Strange thought really: be honest, but spare the truth talks. Like Joe Wilson did, when it mattered. John Lennon’s Imagine played soothingly on the drive home. Beautiful song. Now that is the truth!

Honour what’s right, not what someone else made up

I had finished an appointment in town and instead of a stressful drive on the Southern Motorway to my office in Manukau, decided to cruise down Sandringham Road to Highway 20, which always seems more relaxing (I wonder: has the Queen ever been driven to the intersection of St Lukes and Sandringham Roads where the sign directs you left to Balmoral and straight-ahead to Sandringham?!). At the Wesley Community centre I came across a colourful and bustling market, prompting me to stop, grab the camera and have a look around.

A terrible tragedy has struck in the heart of Moscow. A suicide bomber declaring “I will kill you all”, detonated a large bomb, killing, well not all but 35 and maiming scores. In the weekend, a woman’s body was found burning on the side of the road near Huntly, after what appears to have been a so-called “honour-killing”. It may or may not be the case here, but whatever the circumstances are, such a terrible thing, does exist. Last week a couple in their sixties were subject to a cruel and cowardly attack in small-town New Zealand, because of their sexual preference. Like something from the small-church USA who picket gay funerals.

In our leadership work much of the growth in leaders comes form understanding, challenging and seeking to change leaders’ mental models. Compared to a suicide bomber or “honour” killer, the subject matter can seem pretty insignificant. But what happens during our life’s experiences will shape us and cause us to interpret things in a certain, blinkered way. It’s our way of making sense of the world. And we put up with some of it because “that’s the way they are” or “you need to be careful that you approach her this way” or whatever.

As I walked to the market a polynesian church service was underway inside the community hall. A chinese man, struggling to do his sales pitch to a couple who’s mother-tongue was something else too, was selling tools, gas cookers and an assortment of bathroom fittings. So reasonably priced, I soon found myself the proud owner of a trademan’s filler gun. Just had to have it. Fruit for Africa –  in fact some of the locals may have originally been from Africa – second-hand clothes and cheap DVD players. It was a colourful and vibrant scene. And the sense was of tolerance of culture and perhaps belief.

We can delude ourselves with tolerance though. Some things are just not right and we should never forget it and how that they came to be. Our species has only been around for 100,000 years. If the existence of planet earth was a 24-hour clock then our time on it is only a few seconds. So what? I reckon this can put into perspective a claim of “culture”, “ancient belief” that justifies behaviours, some that are tragic. That is, some other guys (mainly) and girls came up with these ideas in quite recent history. Like everything to do with man. Recent, really.

I hope that you are as offended as I am by the examples of behaviours that are driven from some part of human culture. If we want to make it to 200,000 years we need to keep demanding of ourselves that any behaviour that causes harm to another because of some belief held as true, be stomped out. And this might include less dramatic behaviours than murder of course.

Otherwise, are we any better than those sick men in my culture that murdered the women as witches in the not too distant past?

Be tolerant, but not of deluded beliefs that fuel tragedy. Ever.


Integrative thinking with Judith

Everything can be understood and is explainable. Cause and effect will explain everything we do. So if we put guns in all the police cars then that will deal with the apparently permanent increase in attacks on police. Just as more police officers, tasers, harsher sentences, more prisons, less parole have all reduced crime. Excuse me a modicum of sarcasm. Could it be that these measures actually don’t do anything? Has the crime rate reduced? The uncomfortable demeanour of the police commissioner fronting media on the proposal and John Key’s caution contrasts starkly with the forthright, simplistic “they’re armed more so we have to be” approach of the police union and our minister of police Judith Collins. Why?

The mental models that determine our world view are deeply rooted in beliefs from the last several hundred years where at times we as humans have thought that we were the centre of the universe (literally!), that the solar system was akin to a clock with moving parts, all of which were understandable, that we would eventually understand all things and that cause and effect answer all problems. If that sounds odd ask yourself: have you recently addressed an issue at work with confidence that your understood the problem, and that all was required was some creative thinking around the solution. You might even have congratulated yourself on your creative thinking.

Our police minister has said that she simply waits on a recommendation from the police commissioner and a decision will be made. Well, we know what that recommendation is going to be. So advocacy (sort of) and implementation.

Were any counter views sought or listened to? The prime minister, I would say, but for political reasons he doesn’t want to appear weak on crime. But none are asked for publicly.

So what is wrong with all of this? Integrative thinkers understand the concept of mental models – the world views that shape their thinking, they are open to other world views, in fact, they openly acknowledge that there will be conflicting systems at play. Paradox is embraced. Advocacy is eliminated and replaced with open enquiry. Integrative and strategic thinkers focus on understanding the real problem which may not be linear – in fact it almost never is in intractable problems. If it were, it wouldn’t be intractable.

In government circles there is a phrase “whole of government” which if used properly might head a government to think integratively. Imagine seeing the head of the Ministry of Social Development with the police commissioner at a press conference announcing a series of changes that were to attack crime and disrespect to the police. Maybe that sounds all soft, liberal and do-gooder to you. Maybe it is. But just maybe we might start to resolve something so serious as increased crime. Because so far, we’re doing nothing.

It’s a line of failures brought on by linear thinking and a belief that we know everything so we only need to find more solutions. What’s the problem I say.

If you find yourself thinking: well what would you do about it man?, you’ve done it. Straight to solution.

How do you value your values?

I wrote previously about values, talking about keeping the curtains open so the burglar couldn’t operate without being seen from the street. A new awareness has grown in me recently about values, especially those that have scant regard for them. Sometimes when we run courses we have the groups define the values that they will live by for the duration of the course. This is a useful check on behaviours and like everything we do on-course, something the participants can take back to home and work.

But what about our own values? Do we write a list of them and make sure we’re living by them? I doubt it and here’s why. They’re deep inside. The true values are us. Like not defining ourselves, we don’t need to record, define or articulate them to ourselves. But like the burglar who sneaks into the curtained back street office  to steal valuables, we need to make sure the curtains are open on our values. By stealth and manipulation, others less attracted to a value-centred life will rip them out if it suits them when you are vulnerable.

So why am I on about this now? In the last month several people we know have been in vulnerable positions financially. This is not uncommon now with the economy in a fragile state and business tight in many sectors. They have, each of them, been separately manipulated into positions through rumour and misinformation where they have had to make business decisions in order to survive. These are decisions that they do not wish to make, they are decisions that go against their own values, but they’ve done it to survive.

I can understand people in dire circumstances of famine commiting offences to feed their family. We see that often in Tsunamis, hurricanes and the like. All is lost and survival hangs by a thread. I do not know the personal circumstances of the people sufficiently to judge whether or not that might be their situation. And I won’t judge. But what I see is sad.

When you allow your values to be stolen for money you better hope that you can afford to buy some more from somewhere else.  I don’t reckon the thief will give you any back. Trouble is though, money can’t buy values. Strange isn’t it – you can sell them, but can’t buy them.

How do you value your values?

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