Humans in Organizations: Leadership, Conflicts and Learning

elements of systemic change

“Leadership today […] is about unlearning management and relearning being human.”

This thought-provoking quotation is from an article, published a few days ago at Harvard Business Review‘s website under a title “Why do so many managers forget they are human beings?” . The quotation got me thinking of the foundations of my own research, which is at its finest helping to understand and uncover what it means and requires to relearn how to be human in organizational life. Moreover, the approach of leadership psychology, one of the most important approaches from which I am deriving in my research, foregrounds humans and their experiences and interaction in everyday organizational life.

So, what has this got to do with Conflict Stories, you might ask.

The answer is: everything. The underlying assumption in all my thinking and articles is, that the reason conflicts are often attempted to be controlled, managed or even avoided, is because we as leaders, employees and organizational scholars have, indeed, forgotten that we all are human beings.

Then, the attempts to manage, control and avoid conflicts becomes an attempt to manage, control and avoid the emotions of uncertainty, anxiety, fear or frustration aroused by people having contradictory opinions, values, and beliefs. And often, leaders attempt to overcome these disturbing emotions by implementing traditional ways of management, of which do not work very well in settings of uncertainty and complexity. What I am calling for is increased understanding of how being a human makes the organizational life full of complexity and conflicts, and how transformation can happen through reflexivity towards differences.

The limits and beauty of time.

Relearning being human in working life might involve for example realizing your own limits. One thing that is quite hard to remember while being enthusiastic about work, is the limits of time. For example, I have been planning to write this second blog post for a month now, and other tasks, deadlines for articles, teaching responsibilities, meetings, planning the fort-coming activities, advising students, administrative work and, last but not least,  the life outside academia just kept getting in the way.

However, whilst time restricts our opportunities to act and work, it, at the same time, offers a much needed possibility for reflexivity. Time is needed so that we can have a chance to think about what we are doing and what is going on in our organizations.



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