Got Generational Issues?

You too could be roadkill. Photo courtesy of aanimalcontrol.com

You too could be roadkill. Photo courtesy of aanimalcontrol.com

The new reality for leadership is that traditionally-run organizations, as they focus on control and rigidity, lose the ability to move fast and think on their feet, demotivating innovative and creative thinkers, and creating morale issues that are hard to shake.  Even the military recognized these issues as they evolved some teams into joint forces, realizing that the current models of persuasion date from the 1950’s and have not incorporated the latest insights from modern research about what causes people to embrace ideas.

Alex Pentland, in Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread, defines “social physics” as “reliable, mathematical connections between information and idea flow on the one hand and people’s behavior on the other”. Top-down hierarchy only serves to suppress critical thinking by telling individuals their ideas are not valued; that they need to stand on the line and do what they are told.  With the diversity of knowledge base as well as of culture, authoritarianism serves to foster group-think and stifling creative dissent.  Solutions that could revolutionize are kept in the closet for fear of offending the bosses.

The military began to realize that understanding adversary culture was beneficial and saw that talking to others, even the people we were supposed to be warring with, delivered insight to how situations were viewed differently.  This insight has actually saved the lives of warfighters, by enabling them to see how values and mores we hold could actually exacerbate a situation.  Talking and relating to others, rather than dictating to them how to solve problems, results in engagement and understanding.  But dogmatism locks us into rigid solutions that confound the issues when the problems don’t meet up with what we find, either in station or on the emergency scene.

As a fire chief, I was fortunate enough to have mentors who shared paradigm-challenging ideas of our profession early in my career. We came to realize that the paramilitary structure of the fire service was outdated over a decade ago. That top-down hierarchy is great and even necessary in the chaos of an emergency, but on the other hand, those same values suppress the viewpoints we need to institute ideas like crew resource management, human factors analysis, and more collaborative problem solving models.  As our probies begin to lean forward in their careers to be our new officers, we have to be careful as leaders and encourage more independent thought, because limiting them to that dogmatism will not produce the leaders we really need right now.

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