I was thinking the other day about how I/we come to conclusions in our pursuit of leadership. It caused me to formulate a new signature for my e-mails that read, "Problems and challenges are always part of organization life. In the production-oriented rush of leadership, how do we restrain ourselves from formulating conclusions in search of evidence?" I wasn't really expecting anyone to pick up on my use of the statement until Deb Hackney, one of the Cluster Facilitators from session #2 of the LeaderShape Institute this summer, commented on it. Hmmh? Maybe this is something worth developing.
There are several influences that stimulated me to think about this. One is clearly Ron Heifetz' "adaptive leadership" model. I'm sure that Jean Lipman-Blumen's and Barbara Kellerman's books on bad leadership also influenced my thinking. My work experiences have also caused me to think how many times I encounter situations where it is clear that someone's perspective is already set. It may be provisional or not so provisional but, in these cases, the inclination is to scan for evidence that confirms the hunch - thus the "conclusions in search of evidence."
I realize that I am guilty of this in my own affairs. It is the stuff of which stereotype, biases, and patterned relationships are made. The very unfortunate impact of conclusions in search of evidence is that we generally seek evidence that only confirms our beliefs rather than the information that contradicts them. It seems to me that, when we engage in leadership, it is very important to attempt to escape the old models of leading based on leaders knowing the answers. When we move out of this positivist view, engaging with others through curious exploration, we help others to create their own conclusions and possibilities. We also tap others' talent, insight, and motivation rather than falling prey to simply looking for ways to subtly or not-so-subtly impose our agenda. When we resist the temptation of searching for evidence that reinforces our conclusions, we also avoid the more catastrophic potential of arriving at false-positive conclusions that could be devastating to us and others.
In "Blink" (Malcolm Gladwell) times, when things move so quickly and impressions are so powerful, it is extremely difficult to resist falling into the trap of searching to confirm our biases. But, because of the complexity of the times, it is even more imperative that we withhold judgment so that we can discern the field of the future - the new possibilities and insights that may not even be in our present consciousness. As Otto Scharmer and others have written, the field of the future is frequently not on the surface and obvious during our initial glance. The field of the future emerges as we allow ourselves to see new and contradicting evidence, or evidence that may be totally outside of the awareness that we've previously been able to access.
Note to self - How can I cultivate the pause between my conclusions and the evidence that flows to confirm them? Maybe this could be one of the primary ways to see the new possibilities that lie before me.