Technology As Control #WorkingOutLoud

Another #WorkingOutLoud post today as i continue writing the book: this is about ‘Technology’ being applied as a mechanism of control. It’s part of the ’16 Resistors of Change’. I share this, unedited, typos and all, as i’m trying to focus exclusively on the structure of the book and plugging some gaps this week. Feedback welcome. Enjoy…

The 16 Resisters of change

It’s a mistake to think that technology is simply about systems, devices, and other aspects of infrastructure: in fact it can be an indicator of mindset, agility and control. The core question here is what role technology serves within the organisation and how it is experienced on a day-to-day basis. Is technology experienced as a facilitating feature of organisational life, or experienced as a mechanism of control? Does the organisation subscribe to a model of heavyweight infrastructure, or lightweight, adaptive, and fluid technologies that can be swapped out at speed?

In Resistant organisations IT as a function is largely experienced as a mechanism of control: they are the people who give you your laptop when you start the job, and the people who tell you what you can do on that laptop whilst you have the job.When you leave the job, they are the people who take the laptop away from you.

In Resistant organisations there is a tendency technology to be locked down, that very expression being one that is used in prisons when we wish to restrict people’s movement. To go on lockdown is to hold everything in a perfect state of stasis.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation and Agility

There is a significant challenge if organisations: in the old world technology was expensive and complex, building and maintaining systems was difficult, so procurement decisions tend to be significant and semipermanent. That may still be true today for large offenders, but in social spaces, in our personal lives, something very different occurs. We are used to highly diverse ecosystems of apps where the barrier to entry of us trying a new piece of technology is very low, and the consequence of abandoning it almost non-existent. In this new space, we experiment more, and experimenting is a core feature of agility.

When technology is expensive and complex, organisations tends to move towards control. But the control that they exert often goes beyond simply keeping the system safe, or protecting valuable data. Often it veers into social engineering, veers towards censorship, or simply is expressed as a mean-spirited desire to stop people doing the things they want to do. In a world where people are answering emails from home, and engaged into organisational spaces whilst still on holiday, should we really be preventing them from booking a holiday whilst sat within an office, an office which is itself simply an artefact of a time gone by.

It’s this type of control which is most significant in the resistant organisation: the mindset of control based upon the false premise that the organisation still somehow owns people and has a right to control every action that they take. In age of portfolio careers, the gig economy, and a fractured Social Contract, we can attempt to exert control, we may even be able to enforce some control, but it is at the cost of engagement and contributes directly to the erosion of trust.

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#WorkingOutLoud On The Dynamic Change Book

I’ve put this week fully aside as i work towards completing a first draft (alpha, early stage, preliminary and suitably caveated) manuscript of the next book, which is about organisational change in the Social Age. It may be called the Handbook of Change for the Social Age. Or the Dynamic Change Handbook. Or something else. As i said, it’s evolving.

Working Out Loud on the Change book

So, no new writing this week (at least, not in a coherent and stand alone format). Yesterday and today have mainly been about the overall structure, which is driving me mad. Whilst i’ve completed around 35k words of content, i’m still playing somewhat with the structure, and i find it hard to hold it all in my head at once. There’s a lot of other unrelated stuff floating around in there. My head, that is, not the book. I hope that once the book is finished it will be both lean, relevant and actionable.

I’ve already worked extensively #OutLoud to get it this far, through fifty original articles which have morphed into the first version. I’ll continue to #WorkOutLoud as i complete it, but give me a few days of incomprehension before i feel able to see where it’s landed.

Yesterday was easy: i’d printed out what i had so far and marked it up with minor amends and typos, so just updating core text. But today it’s more about restructuring the core sections: i’ve got about half way through and ground to a halt, so it seemed like a good time to share.

Writing is funny: for me, the hardest part is remembering if i’ve said something before, and, once you restructure things, it’s easy to get out of sequence (for example, i wrote the section about ‘Elasticity’, then later discovered the section where i first introduced the concept, out of sequence). Errors like that are hard to avoid, but to do the restructuring, i have to plough through it and count on the fact that i can correct later.

So: overall, i’m pretty pleased. This was the first time i’ve read it end to end in one shot and it actually held up better than i’d thought. I reckon about eight days work to finish it, but then i’m an optimist, so we shall see…

The Change Curve: Generating Momentum in Change

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Disrupting Power

I am writing today about power, about different forms of power, and the structures that it is held within. This relates to a number of strands of work that I’m exploring at the moment, from resilience, to Social Leadership, and the limits of hierarchy. In this piece, I’m going to consider three forms of power: ‘individual’, ‘hierarchical’, and ‘networked’.

Disrupting Power

I’ve previously written about ‘social’ and ‘formal’ types of power: social being that which is contextual and consensual of the community, formal being held within the hierarchy of the organisation and codified in rule sets and process. In this piece I’m more concerned with how that power is held, and hence it’s vulnerability to disruption or subversion. This is fairly early stage #WorkingOutLoud, so expect these thoughts to continue to evolve.

Individual power is likely to be social, based upon reputation, or formal, based upon position within a hierarchy. For example, a political figure may hold individual power and influence through their position, whilst an author may hold power and influence through a social authority that they have been granted as a result of what they have written. So whilst one is a social form of power, and the other formal, we can consider how they are rooted in the individual, and may be disrupted as a result.

Socially moderated individual power may be entirely disrupted if the individual is incapacitated. Formerly moderated individual power, where the individual resides within a hierarchy, may be reasonably resilient, as the individual could be replaced, although there will inevitably be delays as even within formal power there are personal networks and knowledge required to be truly effective, and these take time to learn.

Disrupting Power in Networked Systems

Countering individual Social Authority may therefore be reasonably easy, unless that Social Authority is also a networked type of authority based upon ideas. This is where things can get complicated. Take some recent examples, such as those of Julian Assange or Edward Snowden. Both have individual Social Authority granted to them by the community, whilst lacking or being in active opposition to formal authority. But both also have a form of networked power through their ideas: a global community united around shared interests, purpose, and intent. The reaction of the formal system to the stories that these individuals have told, is to attempt to remove them from a position of authority, but in both these cases, the social power has been amplified, and indeed attempts to control their personal authority and freedom may have resulted in a strengthening of their networked power and authority.

This is a significant challenge for formal organisations, be they companies or governments, as they attempt to influence, subvert, or control social voices. As I’ve said before in the work around Social Leadership, Social Authority can always and fully subvert formal, whilst formal can never fully control and silence social voices.

So hierarchical power, that which is codified within hierarchy, rule, system, and process, may be fairly resilient: this is the type of authority we see in most organisations, and in military contexts, where the hierarchy can be carefully drawn and mapped out, and people placed within the system. As I said, this type of authority may be fairly resilient to disruption, if we allow time for induction into the system.

Power and Control

Contrast this with networked power: in truly networked authority there may be no central node, because the type of power wielded, the Social Authority, is far more fluid, dynamic, and contextual. In this situation, it is extraordinarily difficult for formal authority to disrupt or subvert the Social Authority.

We can remove nodes within the network, but those nodes are typically connected through many and diverse bonds, be they tribal, social, formal, or simply needs-based bonds. Removing one node may be counterproductive, especially in a network of ideas and ideals: it may simply cause power to emerge in other parts of the network. Indeed it may even amplify the effects of the network: networked power may thrive on disruption and be amplified by attempts to control it.

I suspect that in most cases, in most organisations, and in most contexts, the true picture is a combination of all these types of power: even within a formal system, there was individual authority, and that individual authority gives the formal system some kind of networked resilience. But it’s limited.

Truly networked and social forms of power by contrast, cannot be controlled or subverted by formal authority, nor can they be disrupted through direct, kinetic, political, or other formal power-based action. This is the classic dilemma of idealism versus authority.

There are situations in which we need to counter this networked Social Authority, the most obvious being around the threats faced by extremism in the world today. There are other, possibly less serious, contexts in which we need to understand how Social and networked authority can be curbed: for example, when we need to find consensus in peacekeeping roles, or negotiating settlements, we need to fully understand the types of power at play, and how we can align to them more closely. This may not be about trying to silence social and networked voices, but trying to find consensus and agreement, in service of pragmatic ways forward.

I maintain that networked and socially moderated authority can largely only be disturbed through engagement. Take the example of white hat hackers: if we view the world in simple terms with software companies being good, and hackers being bad, we condemn ourselves into a cycle of conflict perpetuated through socially moderated systems of respect and power. By contrast, if we create space for white hat hackers, spaces where people can carry out hacking activities, be recognised and rewarded for them, but be recognised and rewarded by the formal system, if we create spaces where subversion and disruption can become useful, but still operate outside formal system, process, and control, we can create a middle space of engagement.

This middle space of engagement does not disrupt networked power, but it significantly reduces the power that you can wield, because there are now two choices: people can engage in fully subversive activity, or they can retain their freedoms but still engage in certain types of activity, which are more aligned with established or acceptable social systems. We can de-power the system. We can create a middle context, indeed, a context that we can learn from in the formal system.

In the work around ‘Black Swans and the limits of hierarchy’ I explore the difference between known frames and unknown frames, known scripts and unknown scripts, and known power and unknown power. I also introduced the notion in this work of how we can de-power certain scripts, and this notion of disrupting networked power is relevant in that context.

Understanding different modes of power is not about enabling formal systems to exert absolute control over social ones, indeed, as we have noted, that is simply not possible. More it’s about understanding how systems can coexist, and how we can exert influence within both.

The Social Age has changed everything: broadly speaking, it has eroded formal authority in favour of socially moderated, divergent and contextual Social Authority. This has eroded the purpose of organisations themselves, as distributed social mechanisms of production have empowered individuals and small groups, whilst making large organisations less able to react to the ever-changing nature of the world today. If you are interested in this aspect, look at the work around the Dynamic Change Framework which covers this in detail. I argue principally that the Social Age is a matter of evolved sociology, not simply technology, hence my interest in evolved forms of power and authority.

I’ve been writing about some of this in the context of the Socially Dynamic Organisation: an organisation which understands the new ecosystem of the Social Age, and also understands devolved forms of power. To be Socially Dynamic, we need to understand and engage with multiple sources of power. And in certain contexts we need to understand how to counter them.

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Curation in Social Leadership [part 2]

Yesterday I started to expand out some of the ideas around Curation in Social Leadership. I discussed how Social Leadership is a style of leadership suited to the Social Age: it’s contextual and consensual and founded within our communities. I introduced four aspects of curation: ‘values’, ‘content’, ‘voice’, and ‘pace’. In yesterday’s article, I explored values and content in more detail: when we choose a space for our reputation, we must consider our values, the stance that we take, the ways that we co-create culture, how we earn trust, and how this affects our actions. I also looked at ‘content’, the more traditional notion of curation, considering how we choose the type and quality of content that we will share, and the ways that we interpret it to be both relevant and timely in the shape of stories that we tell. Today I want to consider the other two aspects: the way that we find a ‘voice’, and our ‘pace’.

Curation in Social Leadership

We considered how the values that we exhibit (rather than the values we aspire to) are a conscious choice expressed through our actions every day. Similarly the stories that we tell, the content that we curate, are conscious choices. In much the same way the voice that we choose is a conscious choice, a choice over which we can exert significant control.

There are many aspects that we need to consider, such as the tone that we use: will this be formal or social? Will you be speaking from a position of authority within a formal system, or as an equal within a social system? Will you be speaking as a subject matter expert, or somebody helping in the sense making process, or possibly a storyteller, or possible all three? Within curation, the tone of voice that we choose in any given situation impacts on the type of story that we tell, and the way that those stories will be received. Some stories warrant a formal tone of voice, whilst others a more social one, but we should bear in mind that the tone that we use may dictate how the story is received.

The NET Model of Social Leadership 2nd Edition - Reputation

When considering voice, we should also consider our temperament: how will we respond in any situation? Will we leave this to chance, to randomness, or history, or will we actively take control of it in service of building a Social Reputation and, hence, Social Authority? Temperament can be expressed both in the tone of voice that we use, the stance that we take in a response, but also in the way that we support our arguments. For example, do we always try to bring in supporting evidence, or always link people to others who may be able to support them? Again, this can be a conscious choice, and can explicitly relate to the strength of reputation that we build.

The accessibility of the tone of voice that we choose is also within our control: the more jargon that we use, the more specialist language, the more it may tie into particular communities, whilst also excluding certain people from the conversation. Both these things may have value: sometimes we need to use specialist language as a shibboleth of our belonging within the community, but sometimes those very shibboleths exclude people. We should be mindful of which effect we are having.

The authenticity of our voice is something that cannot be cheated but has to be earned, or something that we have earned through experience. Authenticity is about lived experience and an innate honesty in a tone of voice and conversations. Authenticity is highly significant: when we hear stories, we use the authenticity to judge how seriously we should take the story. Organisations using formal voices often have low authenticity, whilst individuals, with high authenticity, may find that their stories are amplified and spread.

Formal and Social Stories - amplification effects

Finally, let us consider pace, the pace of our interactions with communities, the pace with which we share our stories and respond to the comments and interactions that others have with them. Pace itself can be a conscious choice, and in the case of pace, fastest is not always best.

For all of their benefits, social communities can end up being significant draws upon our time and resource: this needs to be managed in line with all other priorities. It’s the synchronous nature of conversations in social spaces which can make them both relevant and timely, but the very synchronicity can be at odds with our concentration in other areas. So we have to make a decision: as we curate space, we can choose how synchronous we wish to be in our interaction.

The tempo of our interaction is also important: better to have a lower tempo but a regular one, than erratic periods of engagement followed by long periods of silence. Social spaces favour a strong but constant pace. The reward is earned over time, and so the effort has to be put in over time.

Finally, how will we engage? For example, around this blog and my other social spaces, I try to live to a value of responding to every comment, and to do so constructively. It may be simply a case of thanking people for passing by and sharing their thoughts, or it may be about sharing additional information, or learning from the wisdom of others, but the principle is that I always try to engage.

We don’t always have to do this, but we may as well make it a conscious choice, as it directly impacts on our ability to build community and to earn reputation. Engagement is also something significantly affected by tone of voice and the authenticity of how we respond. If I get an automated response on Twitter, I view that with low authenticity, and whilst it may not actively degrade the reputation of the individual, it certainly does not enhance it. Authentic engagement, by contrast, can significantly build reputation. It shows that you are truly engaged in the conversation, and, if we engage with the humility that Social Leadership requires, it shows that we are willing to learn.

The NET Model of Social Leadership

So there we have four aspects that, together, make up Curation in Social Leadership. Curation is the foundation for everything else, it’s where we choose our space, build our reputation, and are able to act from in the future. The values that we hold here cannot be aspirational, they have to be lived. We have to choose our stance, act with integrity, earn trust, and co-create the culture that we deserve through the actions that we take. We must choose the area in which we are going to share content, curate material of a suitable quality, and an accessible type, unique, timely, and relevant, and interpret it for the audience that we wish to share it with. The stories that we craft should be shared with wisdom, not just volume.

As we share those stories, we must choose the right tone of voice, the correct level of formality, we should use language which is accessible where accessibility is relevant, or which employs relevant shibboleths where exclusivity is required. But these should be active choices, not accidental arrogance of membership of an exclusive community. If we find the right tone and temperament, and we act with humility, we will be taken as authentic, and with that authentic tone of voice, our stories may be amplified and heard more widely.

The pace with which we engage is under our control: it needs to be sustainable but also synchronous enough to be relevant in the moment. The sense making of our Social Age communities relies on them being accessible at speed. We must find a tempo to our actions, one which is both sustainable and yet still relevant day-to-day. If we get all of this right people will engage with our ideas, if we get all of this right, we will build reputation, and hence Social Authority.

This piece is one of a series that I’m writing exploring the nine components of Social Leadership, timed to coincide with the release of the second edition of the Social Leadership Handbook. The handbook itself is in three main sections: first, the foundations of the Social Age, secondly, a detailed tour through the nine core skills of the NET model, and finally, stories of application. You can order the Social Leadership Handbook here.

Social Leadership Handbook 2nd Edition Cover

A unique property of writing in the Social Age, is that ideas are ever evolving, so the writing that I do now, to share the second edition of the book, will directly contribute to a third edition when it finally surfaces. Painful as that is, it’s as it should be: in the Social Age knowledge itself is adaptive, co-created, and dynamic. A core skill we need is the ability to curate content, but also to evolve our views over time.

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Curation in Social Leadership [part 1]

Social Leadership describes a type of authority that applies in communities, outside of formal hierarchy, and based upon our reputation, earned over time. It’s not an alternative to formal leadership, it’s complimentary to it: but it’s reach extends where formal power cannot go. It’s important because, in the Social Age, so much of our sense making and performance is rooted around co-created knowledge, around socially moderated learning, around storytelling and sharing. Today, as i prepare to launch the 2nd Edition of the ‘Social Leadership Handbook’, i want to expand on the notion of ‘curation’, which is the foundation of Social Leadership.

Curation in Social Leadership

Curation is where we choose our stance, where we decide what we will be known for and how we will build this reputation. It’s a conscious first step where we decide to move beyond formal authority alone and invest in our social reputation. In this illustration, i’ve split out four aspects of curation: choosing our ‘values’, selecting ‘content’, finding our ‘voice’ and selecting a ‘pace’.

Within a formal hierarchy, roles are mapped out and interconnected: i may be senior to you, parallel to you, or beneath you, and with that position come assumptions about power, about decision making, about importance and seniority, about longevity and control. Hierarchies are codifications of power: we are placed within them and subject to their vagaries and moods, empowered and disenfranchised as the winds blow.

Aspects of Social Leadership #2 Curation

Social spaces are not without hierarchy, but it’s informal and far more fluid, reputation based and dynamic. To build Social Leadership, we need to earn reputation, and that’s what the NET model is all about: a development pathway to build our reputation and hence Social Authority, based upon the fairness, humility and consistency of our actions and responses into the community over time.

The NET Model of Social Leadership

Whilst Social Leadership is neither guaranteed nor bought, the point of a framework is to give us spaces to think and work within, spaces and approaches whereby we can earn the right to exercise authority, earning that right through our actions over time. Let’s look through each of the four aspects of curation in turn, starting with ‘values’.

Values are our core principles: the ways we wish to frame our behaviour and, hence, our reputation, although ‘values’ are not deterministic. They are lived. I may have a ‘value’ to be honest, but it’s in my execution of my everyday life that i determine whether that is true or not. If i am given too much change buying my morning coffee and fail to point out the mistake in the moment, then i may not be being honest. I can rationalise it in all sorts of ways (“it’s not their money, it’s the international coffee shop who don’t pay enough tax. This time i won”), but that doesn’t change the fact that i have failed to live my values. Values are always aspirational until tested in the cold light of our everyday reality.

In practical terms, this means we have to curate our values as part of curating our space: we have to choose actively those values, not that we aspire to, but that we will live. Now: already you’ll see that i’m moving away from seeing ‘curation’ as simply about choosing ‘what’ to share, because for me, curation is about choosing your space and learning to inhabit it. Certainly part of that will be to select content to share, but it’s only a small part of it. We have to start by considering our core purpose and intent.

Consider ‘stance’: what position will we take around, say, fairness in our organisation? It’s one thing to stand up when we are affected directly, but what about when we see someone else being treated unfairly. Take yesterday: it was hot here in the UK, record breaking hot. One of my friends works in an office, and a decision was taken to wear shorts: not a formal decision, but a decision by the men in a team. Fair enough, except that the women on reception were told that they had to remain formally dressed. So one group of men had made a spontaneous, internally moderated decision to wear more comfortable clothes, and the organisation had not sanctioned them, but it had ensured that it told the women on the front desk specifically that they could not do so. Is that fair? More importantly, if my values are ‘fairness’, should i intervene? Indeed, if i don’t intervene, am i fair? Or do i just aspire to fairness as a value?

Values contribute directly into culture: if culture is co-created in the moment through the actions of every individual then the values that we display contribute directly to the culture we inherit. In this model, it is the actions that we take, more than the aspirations we claim for ourselves, that really count.

Aspiration vs Culture

So at the foundation of Social Leadership, we consider ‘curation’, and start with values: what stance will we take, what reputation do we wish to earn, and what actions will we take, with integrity, to build trust, to deliver the culture we truly deserve.

There is often a tension between the aspirational values of the organisation, as codified into handbooks and rules, and the values exhibited by formal leaders. Social leaders may need to unpick this dynamic tension, helping formal leaders to be fairer, and helping the organisation evolve its understanding of what ‘culture’ truly means.

Further into the Social Leadership model we talk about reputation as the thing which is earned: at this stage, at curation, we are mapping out the reputation that we wish to earn.

Typically when we consider ‘curation’, we think in terms of content, and that’s certainly a key part of it: what will you share, how will you ensure it’s relevant, and who will you share it with. This ties into some core aspects of community: what’s relevant, what’s timely, what’s shared with authenticity and high social authority, as opposed to what’s abstract, biased, and aimed at influencing us. Formal organisations tell formal organisational stories: they may be good, they may be engaging, but ultimately they are always formal. By contrast, individuals may use more divergent social voices (no brand guidelines here), may not speak as loudly as organisations (we use relevance, not volumes to amplify social stories) but may have high authenticity (independence and social validity).

Whilst it’s fair to say that Social Leadership is about much more than simply social media, the curation and sharing of content through social channels may well be part of the activity that Social Leaders undertake, but, to be clear, Social Leadership describes a socially moderated form of authority, not simply a broadcast channel of technology.

Everything done in social channels should be congruent with the values we have chosen for ourselves: as i say, choosing those values, taking a stance, is the foundation piece. Once that is set, we should curate a type and form of content most relevant to our communities (and share what is relevant only to the community or individual that it is relevant too). But the material shared is not simply curated: it’s interpreted too.

Interpretation is the silent brother of curation: first curate, then interpret (and finally, share, wisely, not just widely). Interpretation is about making something relevant for the audience, about bringing it into their everyday language and usage, so not just ‘i am sharing this’, but rather, ‘i am sharing this because…’, explaining how we feel it is relevant or important. Or, indeed, it’s ok to ask the question, ‘how could we use this?’ Key is that we don’t simply add to the noise within the system: we add signal or sense making.

The CEDA Model of Community Health

As part of ‘curation’, we should decide on the uniqueness of what we share: indeed, in the CEDA model, which i write about separately, I consider bias within social communities, where certain sources (e.g. TED, or HBR) are over represented. Is there much point in just sharing what others are sharing (that is the role of an amplifier, not a curator)?

We can actively curate the areas that we share content in, the type of content that we share, and the types of stories that we craft around them: will they be critical, inquisitive, challenging, unquestioning, etc. When we ‘interpret’, we make those choices, and our overall choice is about the flavour of our space. For example, long time readers of this blog will know that i try to abide by certain principles: to always be positive, to never criticise without offering constructive feedback, to always say ‘thanks’ and to always respond to every comment. Thats my aspiration: and it’s you, as part of this community, that will judge whether i get it right. And award or deny me reputation and social authority as a result. That’s the game we play.

Social Leadership Handbook 2nd Edition Cover

If our content is relevant, it must also be timely: something may be of great value to me, but not this week. If we are wise, we will respond to the needs of others, not simply the imperative we feel ourselves: this is partly about being mindful, partly about a mindset of performance. Helping others to succeed, without expectation of reward, which, not i think about it, is as good a definition of Social Leadership as you are likely to find anywhere.

Those are the first two aspects of ‘curation’, i’ll expand on ‘voice’ and ‘pace’ in greater depth tomorrow.

You can now buy the 2nd Edition of the Social Leadership Handbook here.

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A Legacy Of Tinted Earth

Memory is a story we evolve over time, writing and rewriting as age, detail and perspective change. Our memory is not perfect, but rather a narrative of coherence, a literary attempt to stitch together divergent aspects of our observed world. As we make our journey through life we leave imprints in the sand, both the physical environments around us and the traces of memory that suffuse our collective conscience. We write a story upon the world we live in and are written into the stories of others. This is one of those stories.

Norfolk Windmill

Image © Julian Stodd

I have a memory: a tractor, earth scared, rumbling, baked in the soft heat of late summer. One memory in a sequence, a sequence drenched in sun and painted in vibrant colours, the colours of childhood memories and storybooks. The driver, intent on his work, shaping the land, working the farm, a distant relative of mine, and one that I was sad to hear had passed away at the weekend, completing his journey through the tinted earth.

The landscape of Norfolk as a landscape of my childhood: all twisting lanes and parched fields, butterflies and swimming in the sea, windmills and waterways. Tumbledown farms and combine harvesters drawing grain from the land, ploughing, burning, slowly changing, but slowly slowly, timeless, gentle, warm, and grounded in the land.

My memories are of a man of this landscape: a guardian, a custodian, a historian. The man and the farm are inextricably linked in my memories: a farmer being what you are, not what you do.

Land is about rhythm: the rhythm of the seasons, cycles of humidity and drought, balance and tempo. It’s about coexistence: I remember learning about headlands, space at the end of the field where the plough would turn, and empty space, a space you cannot easily cultivate, a haven space, a space that is shared. Rural landscapes are about boundaries: fences and hedges, water and land, town and country.

There was a time when we ripped these hedges up, when mechanisation trawled through these landscapes, trying to drag them from something personal and bound with nature to something more artificial and owned by man. And yet the landscape has always found a balance, this landscape is still a worked landscape, one must be respected and nurtured, not simply exploited. And that is the ultimate legacy of a guardian: that the landscape they leave is the landscape that they found, but tended, trusted, and respected throughout one lifetime.

Maybe I have a romanticised view of country life: whilst I have lived there I have never worked the land in the truest sense of how that connection is formed, and yet even to me as someone passing through it’s clear that the relationship is a long one where farms are not simply geographical divisions and units of production, but rather are foundations of communities and bed rocks of our daily lives.

The landscape of the farm is itself an ancient one: recent history is visible in concrete pillboxes, remnants of the Second World War when invasion seemed likely and a soft-landscape of the Norfolk Farms was hardened in preparation for a fight that never materialised. The architecture of farm buildings stretches back through the centuries: buildings erected, adapted, repurposed and, in some cases, falling to ruin. Some of these buildings persist through time, physical manifestations of community, serving a purpose that remains relevant today.

To be a farmer is maybe to be a historian: intimately connected to the landscape, it is, after all, the farmer who walks the fields, who ploughs the land and spots remnants of previous inhabitants, tools and signs of habitation given up by the earth to the sharp eyed hunter.

At the heart of the farm is a church: indeed the Norfolk landscape is littered with such churches. My own grandmother is buried there: a sun tinged place, a place of history, a place of families and peace. Names Interconnected and bound together, bound to the landscape. A gentle place of permanence, a space immersed in the landscape, a space of the landscape.

I was sad to hear the news of the passing of a kind man, a man who leaves a legacy in the tinted earth. But what greater legacy to leave than stories written through our memories, of hard work done well, of a landscape entrusted to us and handed on more strongly to generations still to come. What better legacy than to have been a farmer?

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The Tension Between Formal And Social Leadership

Organisations need strong formal leadership: the things we have always done, the power we have always used. Leadership within a hierarchy, under the sanction of the organisation itself. An expression of authority based upon position and absolute control. They still need all of this, in certain contexts, but there is one key thing to consider: formal power is not enough. It’s not enough because people have changed, and the ecosystem we live in has changed, and these two elements have denuded and eroded the power of formal authority alone. Formal leaders can operate just fine in formal spaces, but if we want to go the whole way, we need to unlock the power of Social.

Aspects of Social Leadership - formal or social

Social Leadership describes a type of power which is moderated by the community itself: it’s contextual, consensual, dynamic and adaptive. It’s the type of power, based upon reputation, which operates in social spaces: within our sense making communities and networks. Social authority is what gives our voice credibility and strength in these spaces, and by being heard in these spaces, we gain access to social filtering, aggregating and amplification mechanisms, all of which help us directly to be more effective.

If formal leadership is powered by organisational hierarchy, Social Leadership is powered by reputation: our actions, taken with humility and generosity, fairly within the community, lead to a stronger reputation, which feeds into Social Authority. With that authority, we are able to lead, to challenge, to bring new ideas, to nurture and grow existing communities, to empower and build new ones. We are able to operate within the diversified strength and unheard wisdom of the crowd.

Authority in Social Leadership

There’s a dynamic behind this: formal authority can never fully subvert social. Social authority can always encircle and bypass formal. So the new balance needs to be consensual and embedded: it can’t be imposed by the formal. It’s not a case of engaging with communities by imposing formal authority into them: it’s a case of earning the right to be in the conversations that these communities are having. Earning a right not to be heard, but a permission to listen.

In formal contexts, we may need formal power, but even in these cases, there are great benefits for a formal leader to develop Social Authority. With access to our communities, we have access to sense making potential: an ability to hear how others are operating, both within and outside of our organisation, as well as to hear new ways to solve entrenched problems. Again, if we are willing to listen.

Sense Making in the Social Age

If we are able to align the energies of both spaces, of the formal hierarchy and the social communities, we are able to transform the organisation, to become truly Socially Dynamic. But it’s not easy: most organisations fail. They fail because, no matter how well intentioned they are, they believe that they can achieve this change within a existing power dynamic, an ongoing fiction that somehow some levers of power still reside with the organisation. They don’t: they are just lodged in people’s heads still, with a little residual life to go. But go they will. There is a diminishing return for outdated and outmoded models of authority and control: the future is Social and the future is here today.

Social Leadership Handbook Cover Art 1

The 2nd Edition of the Social Leadership Handbook is about to be released: you can pre-order your copy here.

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