Archive for October, 2011

The case of the homeless charity

Friday, October 28th, 2011

by Philip Boxer

In the previous blog I introduced the whole economy of leadership.  Here I outline a case showing my diagnostic use of this economy.

The case is about a non-profit organisation that had developed a model for providing long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy to the street homeless.  It was par excellence an edge organisation, providing an organisational platform that sought to align the needs of funders, psychotherapists-in-training, homeless shelters and traumatised individuals. The following describes the four different forms of ‘truth’ within a domain of relevance with which members of the organisation were identified:[1]

The members of the organisation were identified with different aspects of the work of enabling the homeless to bear their traumas through the use of long term psychodynamic psychotherapy.  Within this chosen domain,

  • Volunteer psychotherapists in training worked with homeless persons for up to 2 years – the ‘WHAT’.
  • Management used a model that provided assessment (of need), supervision (of volunteers) and support (to the whole process) – the ‘HOW’.
  • Driving all this was the relation to the particular form taken by the needs of the street homeless, for example shaping where and how these needs could be encountered – the ‘WHY’.
  • Who the organisation could be for whom was determined by the way funders were prepared to fund its work – the ‘WHO/M’. So what was the problem?

I was a Board member, and the challenge we faced in common with many other non-profits was a change in the way funding was made available, with the attendant changes this demanded in strategy.  This case was essentially about a failure of strategy – hence the homelessness.

Previously, funders had been prepared to pay for the whole service as a ‘good thing’ – this was the history that both the Director and the Board were familiar with.  But funders were increasingly wanting to link their funding to outcomes related to specific projects. The difficulty was that the needs presented by the homeless were multi-sided, and not easily fitted into simple output measures.  To be effective, the work being done had not only to address the homeless person’s direct need, but also to meet their indirect needs by the way the work ‘fitted’ alongside other things being done, for example arranging accommodation and food, managing addictions and addressing health needs.  This was not only a complex ‘narrative’ that was difficult to get funded. It also demanded edge-driven collaboration between multiple organisations.

The organisation needed  to get funders involved with its work. But to do this, it needed to make its models more dynamically responsive to the multi-sided nature of the needs being presented by the homeless, so that its role within the larger ecosystem could become clearer.  In terms of the network-forming leadership roles, this demanded triple-loop learning of the organisation.  In practice, however, the attachment of the Director and the Board to old ways of thinking about the service made this impossible, the organisation continuing single-loop behavior under its founding model. It was not able to be strategic:

A closer look at the full economy of leadership shows why this was the case.  The full economy adds in the network-enabling forms of leadership and the relationships within the economy as a whole, the anti-patterns of leadership being shown in square brackets.  It shows how the organisation was split:

  • The ‘heart’ of the organisation was in the volunteers’ work with the clients under supervision.  For the volunteers this was a valuable extension to their training. ‘Management’, whether in the role of the Senior Management Team (SMT) or by Administrators, belonged to a different kind of agenda, being inimical to the volunteers’ work but suffered by them as necessary to complying with Board requirements. The disconnect between the work with clients and the SMT was symptomatic of this. Equally, the agenda of the volunteers in extending their training had no real relationship to the Board’s view of the organisation.
  • The ‘head’ of the organisation was in the work of the Director and her administration supported by the Board, all three of which were more identified with the past ways of doing things than current pressures for change.  Given that the allegiance of the SMT was more to working with volunteers than with the Director’s or Board’s agendas, their demands for super-reasonableness reflected their resistance to engaging with the demands for change emerging from the work with clients.  The members, who constitutionally elected the Board, were also irrelevant, with no real involvement either with the Board or with the work of the organisation, other than voting at their Annual General Meeting.

So it was a classic case of clinicians working on a Faustian basis, with ‘management’ and ‘Board’ split off and responding to a quite different set of agendas – agendas that nevertheless would ultimately determine the demise of the organisation.

Of course numbers of things were done to try to build positive connections across the economy as a whole [2] in order to try and overcome these difficulties, examples of which were:

  • the (w)edge management process, developed to provide a better alignment between the work of the organisation and the way it could be held accountable to funders.
  • Board members spending time ‘in the field’ with members of the SMT and volunteers in order to better understand the work of the organisation.
  • Research commissioned with Peter Fonagy on the long-term benefits of the work with the homeless, to better inform funders of the nature of the needs being dealt with.
  • Alliances built with the other organisations alongside which the work was done, for example St Mungo’s, so that better collaborative alliances could be built, with these other organisations becoming Members.
  • A group relations conference design by Barry Palmer enabling the organisation to develop a relationship between  its different parts and itself as a whole.
  • Research commissioned on the system dynamics between street homelessness and the behavior of the larger social care system, for which homelessness was a symptom, in order to better situate outcome measures within the context of this larger dynamic.

Ultimately, however, attempts to develop an effective relationship to strategy failed, with an attendant failure to create a place for this particular form of long-term work in the minds of the funders.[3]  The consequence was that rather than closing the organisation, the Board merged it with a larger not-for-profit within which it’s work could form a part of a larger whole, within which the multi-sidedness of its work could be better addressed.[4] The absence of an effective relationship to strategy continued, however, and the work of the organisation was eventually closed down.

[1] The ‘truth’ of a discourse is an effect of its structure. It is what the speaker subject to the discourse’s structure feels to be ‘true’.
[2] From the perspective of the Board, these demanded consulting interventions.  The diagnostic status of the economy of leadership could therefore be thought of as framing the nature of the need for these interventions.
[3] Fundamentally, the anti-patterns on the left side of the economy were never overcome… personally, I never really grasped the extent of (and basis for) the resistance that persisted to the end. In retrospect, using volunteers in the way that it did probaly compounded this by rendering invisible much of the real demands at the edge.
[4] The merger addressed the funding issue by placing the operating model alongside a number of other services, enabling the multi-sidedness of homeless needs to be managed more effectively. The merger was an intervention’ that changed what the organisation identified itself with. But it didn’t change the economy of leadership that persisted into the new organisation.

The economy of leadership

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

by Philip Boxer

I describe an economy of leadership as the relationships between eight patterns of leadership in the way an organisation relates to its environments, four that address the development of the networks from which the organisation is formed, and four that are enabling through the way they sustain its existing networks.[1] This economy includes eight anti-patterns of leadership (patterns of resistance) through which individuals resist taking up a relation to the other leadership patterns. The relationships are between each network-forming pattern and the other four network-enabling patterns, so that the whole economy appears as follows. The anti-patterns resist these relationships being formed:

These four types of relationship define the ways in which each network-forming pattern (or its anti-pattern) relates to the four network-enabling patterns:[2,3,4]

  • Pairing: the relation to wiRgo of the network-former becomes the governing assumption of the network-enabler – the enabler understands what the network-former really wants. The network-enabler realises the parts that the network-former cannot reach for himself/herself.
  • Affiliation: the governing assumptions articulated by the network-former become the letter of the law followed by the network-enabler  – the affiliated enabler works at sustaining the espoused practices of the network-former.
  • Dependency: The wigo/wiRgo relation of the network-former becomes the basis on which the network-enabler forms their relation to ‘truth’ – the enabler tries to emulate not what the network-former says, but what s/he does.
  • Fight-Flight: the relation to ‘truth’ of the network-former disrupts the network-enabler’s relation to wiRgo for him or her, creating a tension that makes the network-enabler uncomfortable/anxious.

Of course these are hopelessly abstract, so in the next post I will use a case study to show how all this gets put together diagnostically.

[1] This economy of leadership is a Libidinal Economy of Discourses (LEoD) that forms through the way individual use the structures of the organisation to support their identifications, expressed in the form of ‘truths’ about the organisation.  This use reflects individuals’ valency for the way the LEoD supports their relation to desire.
[2] Pairing (baP), Dependency (baD) and Fight-Flight (baF) are ‘sophisticated’ forms of the Bionic basic assumption behaviours from which they derive their names.  Affiliation is ‘sophisticated’ form of the Oneness basic assumption (baO) developed by Lawrence, W. G., A. Bain and L. Gould (1996) in “The Fifth Basic Assumption.” Free Associations 6(1): 28-55.
[3] The network-enabling patterns are the perverse discourses, and the different types of relation they have to the network-forming patterns are based on how the quadripod is supported by the way the structures of the organisation. The anti-patterns, described in leadership counter-resistance, are forms of the Meness basic assumption (baM), also described in Lawrence, W. G., A. Bain and L. Gould (1996) in “The Fifth Basic Assumption.” Free Associations 6(1): 28-55.
[4] Sandy Henderson, Director of OPUS, argues (in Henderson, S. (2017). Taking the group to task, OPUS.) that the three basic assumptions (baP, baD & baF) are responses to challenges to shared social purpose (impotence, undecideability & incommensurability respectively – my wording), the consequences of which give rise to Baburoglu’s forms of maladaptation (superficiality/monothematic dogmatism, segmentation/stalemate & dissociation/polarization respectively).  I would add that baOness is a response to the absence of authorisation, and in its maladaptive form gives rise to Hopper’s aggregation/massification.

Leadership resistance: conserving identity

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

by Philip Boxer

My blog on Leadership at the Edge drew on eight leadership patterns in order to begin to describe the conditions for a successful edge organisation. Leadership resistance, or anti-patterns, were originally formulated in the context of software development, but are a way of thinking about patterns of behavior that have bad or unintended consequences through the way they involving asserting the position without relation to the other positions.  Here I am using it to refer more specifically to the way these anti-patterns resist change.[1]

Any of the network-forming positions might seek to introduces some new direction in its relation to the way way others are working together within an organisation.  Resistance is the refusal or blocking of the new direction being introduced, but from the perspective of the person resisting, resistance is conservation of (their) identity. Rick Brenner has identified eight organisational coping patterns based on the work of Virginia Satir, that serve well as patterns of resistance (anti-patterns) opposite the eight network-forming or network-enabling patterns identified in the previous blog.  In what follows, I align these to an economy of leadership in which these anti-patterns (shown in square brackets) are the other side of the network-forming or network-enabling patterns:

Again, I relate four of these patterns of counter-resistance to resisting change to network formation (the quotes are from Brenner):

  • Visionary x Infatuation: The Infatuation anti-pattern “displays complete devotion to a particular person, idea or organization. It remains dedicated in the face of almost any contradictory data, which can lead it to decisions that expose itself to inordinate risk or even to organizational disaster.”
  • Exemplar x Narcissistic: The Narcissistic anti-pattern “is driven by its love of itself and disregard for everything else. No other organization, no person, nothing external to itself is of any worth or value, except perhaps as support or utility to itself. This anti-pattern is prepared to use, abuse or exploit anyone, any idea, or any other organization, including its organizational parent, to further its own ends.”
  • Connector x Loving/Hating: The Loving/Hating anti-pattern “is driven by its relationship with other organizations, people or ideas. Whether finally to destroy that organization, person or idea; or to attach itself thereto in permanent adoration and ethereal bliss, it ignores almost everything and everyone else external to the focal relationship.”
  • Truth-Teller x Incongruent: The Incongruent anti-pattern “disregards one or both of the following:  the relation between the organization’s internal representation of reality and reality itself, and the relation between its internal reality and the organization’s representation of itself to the outside world.”

The other four patterns of counter-resistance relate to resisting network enablement (the quotes are again from Brenner):

  • Enforcer x Blaming: The Blaming anti-pattern “seeks people or things to hold responsible for any problem, not to learn from its mistakes, or to prevent them in the future, but to preserve its view of its own infallibility — and the fallibility of others.”
  • Fixer x Super-Reasonable: The Super-reasonable anti-pattern “emphasizes context, usually through a devotion to “objectivity” and at the expense of human considerations or considerations of relationship.”
  • Gatekeeper x Placating: The Placating anti-pattern “shows undue concern for possible negative consequences, being so driven by avoidance of discomfort right now that it’s willing to exchange it for far greater — even inevitable — discomfort in the future. This anti-pattern avoids confronting issues or people, preferring instead to take full responsibility itself for any disappointing outcomes”
  • Facilitator x Irrelevant: The Irrelevant anti-pattern “is coping by flight. In the face of adversity, it copes by avoiding not only the adversity, but any recognition of it.”

So far, all I have done is to set up correspondences between three sources of insight into behavior within organisations, albeit surprising in the extent of the fit.[2]  They provide a way of thinking about how leadership is exercised at the edge, and how existing anti-patterns within organisations may resist changes. In my next blog I will describe how leadership patterns and/or  patterns of resistance lock together as an economy, using some case examples.

[1] These anti-patterns, through relatedness to other positions is blocked, may be thought of as exhibiting the Meness basic assumption (baM) described by Lawrence, W. G., A. Bain and L. Gould (1996) in “The Fifth Basic Assumption.” Free Associations 6(1): 28-55. For more on how the other basic assumptions affect the relationships within the economy, see the economy of leadership.
[2] My hypothesis is that these eights are revealing of an underlying structuring of the relations within an economy of discourses, both of these sets of eight being based on extensive research into practice within and between organisations.

Leadership at the Edge: creating an economy of leadership

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

by Philip Boxer

I want to propose a way of thinking about leadership within an edge-driven organisation by drawing on the work done by John H Clippinger. In his forthcoming book on edge organisation, he states his objectives as follows:

The overall mission of this book is to provide the principles, techniques and justification for transforming hierarchical, command and control organizations, into highly agile, self-synchronizing networks. In contrast to well-entrenched economic and organizational models that assume human beings to be selfish, individualistic, and rational actors, this book considers human beings to be innately cooperative, having evolved innate strategies of collaboration, trust, and reciprocity that have proven to be highly adaptive.

His aim is to enable high-value teams to operate at the edges of organisations, focusing on the social conditions under which teams can be effective.In what follows, I propose to build on his eight forms of network leadership.

Clippinger draws on Searle’s work on the making of the social world, in which institutions are defined as contexts creating the mutual conditions under which particular propositions can be treated as being true.  He also draws on Coase’s work on the nature of the firm, which defines institutions as creating economies in the way knowledge is transferred as it relates to the coordination of particular task systems – economies that are superior to market economies.  As Langlois further elaborates, these economies apply not only to hierarchical control exercised within the single enterprise, but also to networks of coordination across independent organisations (the example Langlois uses is General Motors’ Volt electric car).  These networks of coordination are edge organisations, creating economies of alignment.

Clippinger argues that eight forms of network leadership role are necessary to creating the mutual conditions for effective joint action by a network.  In the following I organise these leadership roles in a way that creates an economy of leadership:[1]

I relate four of Clippinger’s roles to the formation of a network (the quotes are from Clippinger):

  • The Visionary – “The role of the visionary leader is to imagine futures, determine what is limiting about the present, and show what is possible in the future. The visionary leader imagines new possibilities, creating new institutional facts and realities, and therefore plays a critical role in moving networked organizations in new directions.”
  • The Exemplar – “Also referred to as “Alpha Members”, these are individuals who exemplify the standards and qualities that characterize the best competencies of the peer network. These are the role models that others imitate.”
  • The Connector – “These network leaders participate in multiple social networks, connecting not only with a large number of members, but a highly diverse number of members as well. They are critical for identifying and accessing new resources and helping to get a message out.”
  • The Truth-Teller – “In every network organization, someone has to keep the network honest. This entails the very challenging task of identifying free riders and cheaters. In knowledge-based organizations, it is also about ferreting out half-truths, spin, blunders, and lies.”

And I relate the other four to the enablement of a formed network (again, the quotes are from Clippinger):

  • The Enforcer – “Enforcement can mean physical coercion, but more often entails psychological or peer pressure. Clearly, force and military means are the enforcement methods of last resort, but are necessary in order to buttress other forms of enforcement, which can vary from guilt and shame to legal redress. Most networks have their own forms of redress and enforcement that entail exclusion.”
  • The Fixer – “This is an individual who knows how to get things done and measures him or herself not just by how many people they might know, but rather by how they can get things done that others cannot. Such individuals are results oriented.”
  • The Gatekeeper – “For every network there are membership rules: criteria for being included, retained, elevated, and excluded. The gatekeeper decides who is in and who is out.”
  • The Facilitator – “In order for a network to grow and evolve, it must be able to add new members and reach across network boundaries in order to do so. The facilitator role is pivotal in creating communities or sub-networks that provide the greatest form of network value. The role of facilitator in many respects resembles that of the “community coordinator” in the development of communities of practice, a method developed for helping to create and leverage knowledge.”

In subsequent blogs, I will develop the characteristics of these leadership roles further and relate them to each other as a leadership economy – an inter-related set of leadership conditions necessary to the healthy development of an organisation.[2]

[1] The Coasian view of the network describes that with which the members of the organisation identify themselves, while the Searle view of the network’s institutional characteristics approach it in terms of discursive practices. The Lacanian ‘discourse’ adds unconscious valencies to the way discourses are taken up.  Arranging the leadership roles in this format reflects a correspondence I propose between the network forming roles and the Lacanian four discourses, and between the network enabling roles and the perverse forms of these four discourses.
[2] The strength of these inter-relationships is based on the valency the different roles have for each other and provide a way of explaining the stability of particular organisational cultures, i.e. it is the particular way in which this configuration of roles is held that defines the organisation more than the work of the organisation.

The Asymmetric Leadership Forum

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

What’s it like where you are leading at the moment?

  • Is the relationship between your organisation and its customers in balance, or are you having to work out how to handle your customers’ contexts in a more and more ad hoc way – riding your bicycle while re-designing it?
  • Are the outcomes your customers want highly dependent on others’ services as well as your own – do you need to align purpose & activity with other complementary suppliers?
  • What about the challenge & imperative of delegating more leadership and authority to those dealing directly with your customers, moving power to the edge of your organization where your customers interact directly with you…?

If any of this is recognisable to you, then you are at work as a leader in an environment of asymmetric demands, where situational judgements, exceptions, variety, differences – all of these are more like the facts-of-leadership-life than predictability, balance, controls, planning. We call this asymmetric leadership.

As an asymmetric leader you are likely to be working with some combination of

  • Customers’ escalating demands within increasing uncertainty and complex contexts.
  • The challenges of personalisation & individualisation by an increasing number of providers’ networks.
  • Aligning through-life support and condition management for the customer across organisational boundaries.
  • Reducing duplication and eliminating waste, whilst increasing the emphasis on early intervention to secure long-term benefits.
  • Trying to improve outcomes, especially in the case of complex needs.
  • Facing increasing pressure to develop greater resilience and to contain upredictability.

But how do you think and act in a context like this? What are the ways in which you can conceptualise what is happening that can provide some traction, give you a handle on the situation and create opportunities for improving the economy of your leadership effort?

We have some concepts and analytic tools, which we think can help you:

  • Map the ecosystem of organisations, customers and contexts within which you increasingly need to decide how to act.
  • Consider how to strengthen horizontal accountability in ways which hold accountable the individuals who are dealing directly with customers.
  • Develop the fractal resilience of the service systems you design and lead to cope with variation in the scale and scope of individuals’ needs.
  • Establish economies of governance in the way resources can be brought together and combined in individual interventions.
  • Define the indirect value for your customers beyond the immediate value arising from their involvement with your services.

If any of this seems topical to you, do join us here, or email us at forum at