Joan Baez sang, “No man is an island, no man stands alone,” echoing John Donne’s “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” There is fundamental truth in these powerful quotes, yet our Western culture has deeply socialized us into believing in a tacit philosophy of individualism and its attendant value on independence—as if there were such a thing. A belief closer to reality is that there is little or nothing of any significance that a single person has or can accomplish alone! When I offer this idea during one of my programs, I often get a question like, “What about an individual competitor like Usain Bolt?” He certainly runs (and wins!) his races alone. But could he have accomplished what he has without the support of several coaches, training partners, a manager, and parents who travel with him? I don’t think so. I generally view myself as a Lone Ranger; however, I don’t need to think very hard to identify the hosts that have been important to success. So today we explore support systems in two related flavors.
A systemic planned change effort will succeed when the support for that change reaches critical mass among the members of that system. The success of your planned change efforts depends on our ability to develop empowering partnerships across a full range of differences using the infinite perspective of power. This is the very essence of the work of effective leaders and organization development practitioners. Of course, coaching leaders, bridging communications gaps, managing conflict, developing accountability, and facilitating groups are a part of the process of building a support system to critical mass!
Personal Support Systems
The doingness of “coaching leaders, bridging communications gaps, managing conflict, etc.” requires conscious use of self, systems thinking, sound and current data, and the five other disciplines that this series has been exploring. However, applying eight disciplines to all of the tasks of managing change can be daunting. Those who choose to take on this task must develop strong personal support systems. I know that I cannot be trusted to consistently use myself effectively, to seek sound and current data rather than trust my assumptions and interpretations. Likewise, under a bit of stress I all too easily engage in win/lose power dynamics when curiosity would serve me better. Accordingly, my personal support system recruited from among friends, clients and students alike has the job of reminding me that I can get off automatic and become effective again when such is needed. They often need to be persistent when I become defensive, and they do because I’ve asked them to. Our personal support system needs to have a balance of comrades who share my concerns, friends who will console me, challengers who will challenge me, and role models whom I can follow. With such a support system conscious use of self and the other disciplines move within me toward deeper competence.
Change in human systems is never created alone. Support systems are required. An initial support system might be one or two confidants. This small informal group might evolve into a larger group willing to take direct action and contribute to the critical mass that is crucial to success. We cannot manage systemic change—or ourselves—alone. Develop support systems to help you strategize and operationalize your change strategy and to support you in using yourself effectively.
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