Yesterday I started a series on Advanced Change Theory (ACT) by discussing the first principle, Create an Emergent System. The main idea from this principle is that our leadership and followership must become purposeful and not driven by self-interest. If you have followed my blog at all, you know I LOVE that concept. Today I discuss the second principle, Recognize Hypocrisy and Patterns of Self-Deception.
Hypocrisy is the gap between what we say we believe and value and how we are actually behaving. I think the question should be “to what extent do I have integrity gaps?” not do they exist or not. Hypocrisy permeates most of our organizations. We must confront it in order to have real change, and the confrontation must start within ourselves. But that is very risky and scary:
We fear that if we admit to ourselves and others that something is wrong or imperfect, we will loose our effectiveness, our self-esteem, and maybe even our identity. Given such risks, it is natural that our defense mechanisms serve to shut down the change process, both personally and collectively. We claim we want progress, but we pursue the preservation of our current position. (p. 151).
We all are very skilled at deceiving ourselves into believing things about ourselves and our organizations that are distorted or simply not true. The root of this skilled unawareness is what Chri Argyris (1991) calls the “universal human tendency” to organize our lives around four basis values:
- Remaining in control
- Suppressing negative feelings
- Making a rational pursuit of objectives
Argyris (2000, p.7) gives an example of this pattern of deception at work:
Think, for example, of such common mixed messages as “John, be creative; but be careful” or Mary, you are in charge, but check with William.” There is an underlying logic at work here:
- state a message that is inconsistent
- act as if it is not inconsistent
- make all this undiscussable
- make the undiscussability undiscussable
- again, act as if you are not doing so
Transformational, double-loop learning is impossible at the individual and organizational level unless we can recoginze the gaps in our integrity and learn to live with the creative tension as we attempt to resolve the gaps.
This is very difficult stuff, but you have to model the way as a leader and struggle with this openly if you want to make it safe for others to do the same. The next principle of ACT Changes builds on this point, so stay tuned!