Social intelligence, leadership and what Tavistock approaches can teach us

Daniel Goleman has written a thought-provoking article on social intelligence (see link below), which for me sparks this idea: collaborative leadership, of all leadership approaches, values and nurtures the “synergising and synergistic” skills of leaders. Ethics and practicality are brought together when an organisation recognises that it is a business need for leaders to tap fully and sustainably the resources at their disposal, and weave them together to produce meaningful results. If you want superficial results, you treat people as a means to an end; if you want lasting results, you treat them as ends in themselves. Machiavellian duplicity and manipulation will not achieve such a desired end-state, nor will silo’d, competitive and defensive working. On this model, collaborative leadership ceases to be a nice-to-have, and becomes a must-have. A great thinker on collaboration and practitioner, John Carlisle, one of the founders of the Civil Society Forum (a remarkable coalition of the questioning and the questing), once told me that change to be externally effective needs to come from within. I find that there is a golden thread running through Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence, and now “social intelligence”. To draw it out, one needs to see that a healthy, synergistic, collaborative society taps into a combination of independence, interdependence and dependence. This exists at a microcosmic level, and at a macrocosmic one. The world, in this sense, is its people, and each of their individual choices. The difference between “being fated” and “contributing to our own destiny” lies in good part in being aware of our relation to others and the whole, particularly of how we interact, evolve and adapt – or fail to do so. In common with many other people, under a pretty accommodating manner, I have a stubborn streak – a source of great strength, but also weakness, for stubbornness can shut off the senses, including common sense. Far from splitting good and bad in people, we should see how the combination works in them. “Playing to one’s strengths” is all the rage; but a bit of realism and humility would not come amiss in embracing -and indeed, celebrating- some of our weaknesses. This does not mean not being tough on lines being crossed, nor being clear about what is acceptable, and not acceptable. But seeing a person as a rounded, complex being, capable of reaching for the skies, as well as falling to the ground, is a good test of social intelligence. We love taking sides, and writing off others, as well as ultimately ourselves. One of the finer qualities we can develop is gratitude, and with it, generosity. Dr. Mannie Sher, Principal Social Scientist and Director of the Group Relations Programme at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (1), embodies this life-long commitment to inform his practice with a deep ethic. Mannie has recently published a remarkable compendium of his work, The Dynamics of Change: Tavistock Approaches to Improving Social Systems (2). Typical of Dr. Sher: a dry, business-like title masks a forensic insight into the way groups work, and his own warmth and generosity of spirit, which create the bonds of trust and confidence that make him a much respected and loved figure in his field. The Chief Executive Officer of the Tavistock Institute, Eliat Aram, last December held a touching and memorable event to mark his achievement. I learnt much from one of the Leicester Conferences (April 2010), partly thanks to Eliat and Mannie. Mannie summarised the effect of the Tavistock approach in a rich conversation we had on a train, during a break half-way through the Conference. I noted it at the time. One of Mannie’s observations, which I am sure he has shared with others, “Learning from the use of reflexive methods outlasts, and reaches further than formal didactic ones”. Responding to one of my concerns (about introducing what I thought relevant to my group discussions), Mannie said, “If you do not know how to introduce issues of the outside world into the here-and-now experience of your group, I would advise: just do it, even if at that moment, your thoughts about outside world issues (the Middle East, financial crisis, etc) do not seem connected. Just announce it, because your thought is your thought at the moment, and see where and how it is taken up by others and yourself in producing further thoughts, dreams, associations, or ignored – and if so, why?”As a Liberal Jew (3), I value freedom and responsibility, and do feel part of something bigger, some unseen, much of it invisible. I would like to think that my faith is one based on a deep appreciation of the past, a firm anchoring in the present and an enthusiastic aspiration for the future. I am the kind of liberal, with a small “l”, who considers that the problem nowadays is not with tradition, but with modernity. Rights have to be matched by responsibilities. For those who still use (or even remember) VHS tapes, the danger (Western) humanity faces is that in its zeal for the new, and its impatience to “have it all”, it is pressing so hard on the fast-forward button that the tape will soon hit the end, and fast-forward backwards. Trotskyite maximalism – escalating demands that cannot ever be met so that leaders are doomed to fail- is quite successfully eroding the capitalist system, without much nudging from the Trotskyites. I can understand why Stalin – his lust for power notwithstanding- got so infuriated with Trotsky, but equally how the two were two sides of the same coin.There are similar strands running through Judaism, pyschoanalysis and theoretical physics, particularly complexity science. One insight – call it Insight X- is that the world has never stood still: it is inherently dynamic, and fresh interactions produce new challenges and opportunities, often unforeseen. In my work, I never see strategy only as “planned” (here is a plan: now go off and implement it): it is also “emergent” (having a plan is just a start: more interesting is what we learn from its application, and critically, how we respond to what actually happens, review our plan and adapt). I am of the school: to be effective, you have a good strategy, but you need great execution. The trouble about the words “execution”, “implementation” and “delivery” is that they do not of themselves give any of the sense that doing is not “done to”, but “done with”. So it is easy to be carried away with the mistaken belief that a job has been done, regardless of its consequences and implications. Insight X also has implications for other debates. The debate about free will and determinism is somewhat contrived, and presents a needlessly binary, if not dichotomous, choice. The truth is that rather than just working with rules and laws in our lives, we observe and shape “patterns”, where the issue is less to do with what we can control, and cannot control, and more to do with how we appropriately respond. The test is the quality of response, and in this lies human freedom, and within that, a stillness, a sense of the eternal. When I act as a mentor, discussing job or career issues, one of the first set of questions I ask is, “What are the patterns in your life? What recurs that you particularly enjoy, you find you are good at? What are the challenges that come up again?” Any job or situation in life can be constructed as a step along a journey uniquely designed to explore our relationship to the wider scheme of things, where roles are implicit – victim, victor, rescuer, hero, etc- but when made explicit, give us greater purchase on our relationship to ourselves and others. This was unmistakably another gift of the Leicester Conference. What “social intelligence” now means to me since the Leicester Conference is deeply listening, and engaging at as many levels as possible with the other, particularly on what emerges through open and authentic interaction – in sum, what the art of conversation is all about, and which also lies at the heart of companionship. Conversation is not just words, but being present, whilst also mindful of a broader and deeper context. And t
other is often the other in ourselves, split, waiting to be reunited, reformed and released again……….(1) I was Chair of Council, Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, between 2003 and 2007. (2) For more information about the Tavistock Institute, see or follow @T_I_H_R(3) For more information about Liberal Judaism, see or follow @LiberalJudaism

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One Response to Social intelligence, leadership and what Tavistock approaches can teach us

  1. mim pi says:

    great blogkeep up the good work

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