The potent force that shapes behavior in these organizations and in all natural systems is the combination of simply expressed expectations of purpose, intent, and values, and the freedom for responsible individuals to make sense of these in their own way. Organizations with integrity have truly learned that there is no choice but to walk their talk. Their values are truthful representations of how they want to conduct themselves, and everyone feels deeply accountable to them. Just as in the Chaos Game, the organization’s principles contain sufficient information about the intended “shape” of the organization, what it hopes to accomplish and how it hopes to behave. When each person is trusted to work freely with those principles, to interpret them, learn from them, talk about them, then through many iterations a pattern of ethical behavior emerges. It is recognizable in everyone, no matter where they sit or what they do. It is the nature of life to organize into patterns. This recognition welcomes us into a different approach to organizational change. We can see that it is important to look for and identify the patterns that reveal themselves through behavior. Together we can decide whether we would prefer different behaviors. If we do, we need to figure out the values and agreements that we think will support these new behaviors. Then we work together to see what it means to live into these new agreements. This work requires awareness, patience, and generosity. Behaviors don’t change just by announcing new values. We move only gradually into being able to act congruently with those values. To do this, we have to develop much greater awareness of how we’re acting; we have to become far more self-reflective than normal. And we have to help one another notice when we fall back into old behaviors. We will all slip back into the past—that is unavoidable—but when this happens, we agree to counsel one another with a generous spirit. Little by little, tested by events and crises, we learn how to enact these new values. We develop different patterns of behavior. We slowly become who we said we wanted to be.
Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World Revised
Margaret J. Wheatley