No Mindset Shift. No Culture Change. It’s that Simple.
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide

“We will never transform the prevailing system of management without transforming our prevailing system of education.” W. Edwards Deming.

You might not be familiar with the name of W. Edwards Deming. You might, however, have experienced the fruit of his work: Deming is the father of Total Quality Management which entered and dominated the management scene in the 1980s, before Six Sigma and the like entered the stage of quality management. At the end of his career, Deming had pretty much stopped using the language of TQM, because he had realised that it was used in a superficial way which prevented the transformation that he had intended to happen in organisations: Managers were using TQM as a toolbox in pursuit of short term goals. And if you are acquainted with TQM, this is most likely how you have experienced it in your career.

What Deming realised was that only a profound shift in mindset would allow organisations to transform into humane places. And here is where the link between the systems of management and education comes in:

Managers and subordinates both are educated in schools. So what?

At school, the teacher sets an objective, and the student responds to that. First and foremost, what students learn at school is not how to learn.

The mainstream school system as we know it, still rests on the industrialisation model of turning people into factory workers.

Factory workers who don’t ask questions but do as told. In short, this old school system educates children to become people who function well in a command and control system. It is not about turning intrinsically motivated little people into purpose driven leaders. Instead, schools quench the intrinsic motivation that every baby is born with and that has us fall and get up again and again, gasping with joy in our pursuit of learning how to walk.

What school ultimately teaches students is what it takes to please their teachers, because that is what gets rewarded.

“School kills creativity”, as Sir Ken Robinson has eloquently argued in his book “Out of our minds” and his seminal TED talk.

What’s the link to organisations?

What happens at schools, keeps unfolding in organisations, and the familiarity of the system is likely what makes this a blind spot and prevents people from rebelling against still being treated like a child. How so?

Intrinsic motivation is largely ignored and replaced by reward and punish systems. “The best” are rewarded, and “the rest” are punished for their less than outstanding performance. Like at school, what makes good and bad performance is defined top down, and oftentimes it is not even clearly communicated, but remains arbitrary.

The point is that our organisation’s culture is deeply embedded in a top down power structure which inhibits motivation and has people care more about their boss’s opinion of them than what serves their customers best, is ethical and is fair.

What gives you status and recognition is getting ahead, not creating value. The lucky ones manage to achieve both.

The fear of not getting ahead is what holds people back from speaking up, what has them actively please others or silently withdraw whilst cashing their monthly paycheck. It is an organisational culture of disempowered people, with a few who have learnt how to play the game of pleasing the teacher and getting ahead.

Why does it matter, when organisations function well in the current system?

In a world as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous as ours, everyone, really everyone, is called forth to show up as a leader. Only then can we meet the big challenges of our time. Apart from that, it is energising and fun to interact in a group of vibrant people who are driven by passionate creativity and who own their agency – which unfortunately is not how most teams would describe themselves and their team meetings.

Organisations are places where many people come together regularly to create something larger than what individuals can possibly contribute to solving today’s problems and to creating tomorrow’s delights.

It takes a big shift for everyone to be willing and become able to show up as a leader and contribute their whole creativity and energy to the shared purpose of an organisation. And for that shift towards an “Everyone Culture” we need to first turn our attention to the mindsets that drive individuals and whole organisations.

The neuroscience on mindset is unambiguous: Mindset shifts can happen. In fact, mindset change is what a lot of coaching is about. We see mindset shifts all the time in our daily coaching practice, for instance the amazing shift from a fixed to a growth mindset.

Mindset shifts can occur really fast, and they are transformative as they unleash agency and optimism!

As the success of the coaching rests on an individual’s commitment to take a closer look at the thought patterns and beliefs that drive them, transforming an organisation cannot rest simply on leadership trainings, but must start and continue with looking at the organisation culture as it is at that moment. Seeing what unspoken beliefs and values are driving them, allows organisations to consciously shift those beliefs and values, conversation by conversation, team by team, habit by habit.

Creating new, sustaining habits, and dropping old, energy sucking habits, is what culture change is all about, on an individual as well as on a collective level. It is that simple.

Yet culture change often fails because the key players choose to remain unconscious about their own mindsets: the very filters which determine what they see and hear, how they interpret the world around them, and how they make decisions based on their unconscious thinking. Carl Jung’s observation is instructive: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Leaders need to make the unconscious conscious if organisations are going to change.

Do you want to shift your mindset? Get in touch for leadership coaching!

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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