Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blaming the Victim

Several themes threaded their way through the discussions that surrounded this blog. Two main themes reoccurred – business has the right to make as much money as possible for their stakeholders and people who become very highly qualified (over qualified) should realize that might be becoming less relevant as they become more skillful… and that everyone needs to be ready to re-career several times in their lives. Notice that the implication is that once one is skillful in one area, it’s time to ‘give that up’ and take on a whole new career simply because others see you as being over-qualified. That, like the bell jars in photo, individuals become outmoded, useless, and, therefore, disposable.

Taken together these positions create a unique form of “blame the victim”.

Peter Senge of the Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization sets Personal Mastery as one of the key disciples of a Learning Organization. The website recaps Senge’s Personal Mastery principle as follows. I want to quote this exactly because it provides a dramatic counterpoint to the idea that anyone can be over-qualified and, in some way, reinforces the observation that people pursuing personal mastery may never see themselves as over-qualified, at all; that this perspective is uniquely the perspective of the “other” person – the leader, human resources specialist, the organizations.

Personal mastery. ‘Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs’ (Senge 1990: 139). Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively’ (ibid.: 7). It goes beyond competence and skills, although it involves them. It goes beyond spiritual opening, although it involves spiritual growth (ibid.: 141). Mastery is seen as a special kind of proficiency. It is not about dominance, but rather about calling. Vision is vocation rather than simply just a good idea.

People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’. Sometimes, language, such as the term ‘personal mastery’ creates a misleading sense of definiteness, of black and white. But personal mastery is not something you possess. It is a process. It is a lifelong discipline. People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas. And they are deeply self-confident. Paradoxical? Only for those who do not see the ‘journey is the reward’. (Senge 1990: 142)

On the one hand we have organizations that feel the need to remove this expertise and individual driven toward continual learning from their team because individuals who pursue personal mastery have become “too expensive” to keep on hand and because, as some point, they are perceived as no longer moving up in the organization and must, therefore, be seen as moving out.

On the other hand, we have the individual for whom personal mastery is a continual quest where the journey is reward. When they see an organization moving in a direction that they are not moving, they look elsewhere for challenges that match their personal mastery. Or, if they see alignment with their current organization, they stay put and continue their mastery journey in the context of their current organization… until that organization dumps them for lack of upward mobility.

In the end, we have leaders and organizations who blame the individual for not realizing that their continued development of advanced skills – that personal mastery –is not what the organization wanted, when what the organization wanted was younger and cheaper resources in whom it could invest in developing the same basic skills over and over again.

This brings us nicely to Senge’s archetypes for repetitive organizational issues. Two that apply here are the Shifting the Burden (i.e., blaming) archetype and the Growth and Underinvestment archetype. The second is subtle. Organizations believe that they are investing in their growth when they focus those investments of new hires and novices. This investment is necessary, valuable and important. However, by never learning how to invest in the master performer, they build in a limitation to their growth.

Senge, along with many other leaders in organizational development, is promoting organizational sustainability in the conference, Leading and Learning for Sustainability. Another view of organizational sustainability is the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), which is attempting to move organizations away from the intense focus on this quarter’s financial bottom line and the need for today’s financial investors to earn huge rewards at the expense of future investors. The new focus in on balancing financial rewards with environmental and social factors. It’s about time.

In the mean time, if you are among the highly qualified, watch your back. If your organization earns a great deal of their money on the backs of their newest hires, you may quickly be among the over-qualified (and looking for work in a new career… or just for a new employer who might value you enough to pay a wage that reflects your mastery.)

On this note, I think that I’ll move from the focus on the “over-qualified” to personal mastery and how we could be identifying mastery in meaningful ways.

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