Sunday, October 7, 2012

Interpretation: Creating Leaders – An Ontological Model

Werner Erhard, Michael C. Jensen, Steve Zaffron and Kari L. Granger have created a fascinating course that teaches leadership. Teaching is probably the wrong word since they use an ontological approach (ontology is the science of being and their model "reveals the actual nature of being when one is being a leader and opens up and reveals the source of one’s actions when exercising leadership.”)

         Erhard          Jensen        Granger

I would be way over my head trying to summarize or fully understand this model. But I’d like to write about it; it helps me to think and discover. (Read the paper here: via HBS Working Knowledge:
Why did this research fascinate me?
  • I personally experienced that knowledge about leadership was an obstacle when trying to be the leader I needed to be. Knowing about leadership and being a leader are two different things.
  • It answered many questions that I had.
  • It’s executable.
As I’m exploring the concept further, this shall be my playground to make sense of what I’m reading. In an attempt to wrap my head around the ideas, I’ll share what I’ve digested/perceived/thought this far. (Access the course materials here:

The course, first taught at the University of Rochester Simon School of Business, consists of three parts.
I. Foundation – master the factors that form the foundation for being a leader.

The three factors are integrity, authenticity, and being committed to something bigger than yourself.
Three of my favorite quotes:

Integrity is achieved by "honoring” your word when you will not be keeping your word.
The only actionable access to authenticity is being authentic about your inauthenticities.
Leaders are ordinary people who are given being and action by something bigger than themselves.

II. Framework – build a framework that becomes your context for leadership situations; your leadership lens.
The framework has four aspects. When you have built the framework for yourself, it becomes the context that uses you (as in: you can drive a car without thinking about it).
It is essential to realize [that you might be on Shutter Island]: "The way a situation occurs for me is colored and shaped by my context for that situation, and my way of being and acting is correlated with the way that situation occurs for me.”
The four aspects of the framework are illustrated here:

Now it gets complicated. In essence, your leadership lens needs to be clean to be effective. What these four walls mean to me (thoughts to myself):
1. Possibilities – don’t let leadership knowledge/ideas/speculations get in your way/limit your actions or being. In this realm of possibilities, you are free to be and free to act.
2. Perceptions – how leadership "is lived”. Leadership is experienced in the sphere of language: speaking, listening, thinking ("a certain mastery of language is required”). For example, "authentic listening leaves the speaker with the experience that he or she has actually been ‘gotten’”.
3. Future – ‘spend more time’ in the future and create a new context for the present that is not derived from the past, but from the future. Leaders create new realities so that a shared vision will be the output value. "Being a leader and the exercise of leadership is all about realizing a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway.”
4. Definition – leadership defined as a term:
Bring into being as a reality a future that,
in the prevailing "context” was not going to happen,
that is, did not occur as an authentic possibility
(did not call into effective action those required to act
in order to realize that future),
which future fulfills (or contributes to fulfilling)
a matter of fundamental interest or importance
to the relevant parties
including those who granted the leadership
(those who lead you and those you lead).

III. Constraints – remove or manage what limits or distorts your natural self-expression (so you can respond spontaneously and intuitively as a leader).
This is where you have to dig deep and find out what gets in your way; learn what runs you. Three categories: physical perceptual constraints (‘you see what your brain sees’), ontological perceptual constraints (‘your frame of reference constrains your perception’), ontological functional constraints (behavior triggered by threats real or imagined).
Yes, all this sounds highly abstract and I don’t understand a lot of it. But it seems that this model can give you access to who you are as a leader. That’s pretty cool.

Is your foundation already poured? Do you know what integrity, authenticity and being committed to something bigger than yourself feels like? Do you know someone who is authentic and complete as a person?
Have you started building your framework? Tossed out concepts that limit you? Learned to perceive information untainted? Eliminated patterns from the past to make room for the future? Spent time in the future? Do you know a leader who has achieved mastery of his/her leadership framework?
Do you know what runs you? Are you aware what can delude your perceptions and behavior? Do you know someone whose ‘being and acting’ is in-a-dance-with ‘how a situation occurs for them’?

You can't be somebody that you're not.

What are your impressions/thoughts/corrections? Is the model too abstract to become popular/too lengthy to be taught at Hamburger University? Can/should it be said simpler? Which of these (foundation, framework, constraints) feel most distant to you?

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