Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Catalysts and Coagulants of Leadership. Jozi 2008

Adewale Ajadi British Council :African Science Cafe Catalyst and Coagulants of Change 04/02/2008

Miles Davis was one of the greatest trumpeters and Jazz musicians the world has ever known. In fact he recorded the most successful and top selling jazz album ever called ‘ Kind of Blue’. This album was recorded in mostly one take with a cast of characters who were diverse and contradictory including pitting his regular pianist against another one in order that there would be competition. It was also one of the earliest shift of jazz to African based tonal music using George Russell’s theory. Amidst all of these was Miles pulling together the many dimensions of the complex matrix and dynamics to create something so fluent and exquisite.
Dr Martin Luther King arrived in Selma Alabama to support and encourage the bus boycott that had emerged out of Rosa Parks refusal to go to the back of a segregated bus. He used his approach of non-violent confrontation to raise the moral difference between the victims of Jim Crow Laws and the perpetrators of racism. It not only captured the imagination of the broader American population but it also accelerated the enactment of desegregation laws across the USA.
Both stories are not the same in magnitude they are also different in the process that created the desired change. In our conversation here we are raiding the ‘library’ of sciences for metaphors that capture complex human dynamics. In the process we are moving away from a tradition of using the metaphor of machines that breaks things down into component parts. We are replacing it within the metaphor of natural phenomenon that is holistic and capable of capturing the interconnection as well as the evolution of things. Essentially we explore how we engage in a process of transforming any arrangement that we are part of as either a catalyst or coagulant. Without going to much into depth people are generally self organising i.e they naturally seek order and patterns. The real challenge is how do we productively or constructively intervene in this process to either fast track their efforts or re-orientate their interaction to a greater purpose.
A catalyst agent or facilitator is especially powerful where the ingredients are in place. The people are already signed up for a change because the reality they have, makes the status quo untenable to them. They also have an idea of what alternative they prefer for themselves. They might not have the process of change thought out or the passion to make things happen plugged so that their energy is regularly replenished. A catalyst makes the process more efficient towards the ultimate change goal. To be an effective catalyst an agent or facilitator should have the capacity , competence and attitude to:

1) Understand the dynamics or chemistry of the group that you are intervening with or trying to facilitate. This means that you understand the different roles and relations that underpin the approach of the group.
2) Have questions that helps the group to deepen their insight into what, why and how of the change they are engaged in so that their choices connects with their personal motivation rekindling their passion and aligned enthusiasm for transformation.
3)Have data and information that increases their foresight . Especially opening up dialogue about pattern recognition on trends as well as past habits.
4) Empower effective and timely decision making so that their choices addresses challenges in prompt and definetive ways.
5) Maintain momentum through the use of an holding space in which focus is maintained on the root causes rather than the symptoms.
6)Maintain constructive discomfort so that the pressure to reform is not replaced by complacency.

An effective coagulant agent or facilitator is quite a different space completely to the catalyst. The
challenge here is both self evolution as well as intervening in a system to transform it. It often means
that unlike the catalyst where there is a common purpose here there is most likely a disparate set of
interest and constituencies who are far more in conflict and competition rather than co-operation. It is the coagulants own commitment and vision that inspires the bonding and transformative result
which will be delivered with fingerprints and elbow grease. To be effective the Coagulant has to
have the following competency, capacity and attitude:
1) A conscious incompetence or vulnerability about the limitation of what they know compared to what they do not know. This opens the mind to the world of possibilities. It is no accident that this is the first element in the Omoluwabi , character evolution model which can be seen at http://
2) A proper understanding of the hungers and drivers that fuel their passion for transformation, their area of focus and the process that they choose to make things happen. This an area where most coagulants get tripped up. If you are not familiar with your own hungers others will expose them to the detriment of the change you seek. It is critical to have the discipline to engage the most productive aspects of these at any given time.
3) Understanding of the context is critical especially what the environmental drivers e.g the politics, sociology , economics of the issue.
4) Building the coalition especially understanding the difference s between allies and confidants. It is quite dangerous to have a confidant within the coalition you build for change. the turbulence of the process is too much to make anyone so loyal they are asked to betray their own interest.
5) Facilitate original thinking by disrupting conventional wisdom. It often means being unpopular or taking a contrary stance.
6) Use scale to see the difference in dynamics of individual or constituent parts and the whole process. In short be able to see the woods from the forest, they are not the same things nor are they sending the same message. It allows you to harvest a vision that emerges from all the interactions and dialogue with the credibility that it is not exclusively yours.
7)Inspire others about the power of the vision to respond to intractable problems whilst being open to the wisdom of the multitudes to edit and even fundamentally change it in parts. The dialogue here is shaped by your own capacity to recognise when the essence of your commitment is under threat which means you exercise your authority as opposed to when your ego is being bruised.
8) Protect the sceptics from true believers because just like the in the oyster it takes an irritant and heat to turn grit into a gleaming pearl.
9) Orchestrate the dynamic equilibrium between competition and co-operation to ensure transformative work gets done.
10) It is not about you personally so ensure there is enough distance between your role and yourself to take feedback about how it is playing.
11)Know when your role becomes redundant and adapt accordingly
Many of these thoughts are shaped out of my education and reading of Dr R Heifetz on Leadership especially his book Leadership on the line ; also by my education and reading of the work of Professor Yaneer Bar-yam ; in my own 12 year practice as a leadership educator and form a cornerstone of my yet to be published work on Omoluwabi organising system.

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