Leadership: The Practice Of Granting an A

What way of showing up and travelling (being) lies at the heart of human-centred leadership?

This is the question that I have been pondering over the last month. It occurs to me that it comes down to one’s embodied stance towards one’s fellow human beings and in particular the human being one seeks to lead or is leading.

As a leader what is your stance towards your people? How do you relate to and treat your people? Do you see your people as defective – lacking something is some or other domain? Or do you see your people as whole, complete, and perfect? Do you treat some of your people as A’s, others B’s, many as C’s and some as D’s? Or do you grant each and every person in your organisation as an A and treat him/her accordingly?

What is it that I am getting at here? I invite you to listen to and reflecting on the following (bolding mine):

“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept …… it would be pointless to compare one … to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of …. developing skills, mastery and self-expression.

We call this practice giving an A. It is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them ….

An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life …. When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect ….. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.

This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art Of Possibility

Allow me to make this real for you. In a recent Customer project, the folks in head office were doing all the decision making and not involving anyone from the branches where customer interactions took place. As I probed and listened I found that the head office folks listened to the people in the branches as being unskilled, lazy, selfish, resistant to change. That is to say that they had granted these folks C’s and Ds. And treated them accordingly – excluded them.

I had never met any of the folks in the branches. Yet, I granted them A’s just as I granted the head office folks A’s. After several weeks of encouragement, the head office folks invited several people from the branches into the discussion – to review the prototype that had been built and provide feedback. What was the outcome?

The folks from the branches were delighted to be asked for their point of view. The came to head office, they worked with the prototype, they provided useful insights into the way that work occurred in the branches and suggested a number a tweaks that would make the prototype useful and thus increase adoption. In the process respect and relationship were cultivated between all and a bigger team was created. The leader of the head office team became enthusiastic about my suggestion: involving the folks at the customer coalface early and deep in the analysis and design of any and all changes to the ‘way we do things around here’.

Listen To These Words of Wisdom: Transformative Wisdom

I wish to end this conversation by leaving you with the following words of wisdom (bolding mine):

The freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork and relationship. It is for wholeness and functionality, in the awareness that for each of us, excess stone may still hide the graceful form within…

The practice of giving an A both invents and recognises a universal desire in people to contribute to others , no matter how many barriers there are to its expression. We can choose to validate the apathy of a boss, a player, or a high school student and become resigned ourselves, or we can choose to honor in them the unfulfilled yearning to make a difference ….

When we give an A we can be open to a perspective different from our own. For after all,  it is only to a person to whom you have granted an A that you will really listen …

In the measured context of our everyday lives, the grades we hand out often rise and fall with our moods and opinions. We may disagree with someone on one issue, lower their grade, and never quite hear what they have to say again.  Each time the grade is altered, the new assessment, like a box, defines the limits of what is possible between us.”

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility

Summing Up

It occurs to me that a human-centred leader calls forth the very best from us through the ‘granting of an A’.  Through focus-alignment s/he amplifies the power of this ‘very best of us’ in the service of a possibility that leaves us (human beings) elevated: moved, touch, and inspired.  And thus creates a context that call forth the extraordinary accomplishment from a team of ordinary human-beings.

I thank you for listening to my speaking and wish you a great day.  If you find yourself inspired to show up and travel as human-centred leader then I encourage you to get hold of a copy of The Art of Possibility.  And learn-embody the practices that are outlined in this delightful-transformative book.

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published in November 2014 at CustomerThink.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

2 thoughts on “Leadership: The Practice Of Granting an A”

  1. Interesting post Maz, are you familiar with “the Pygmalion effect”? A number of behavioural studies that demonstrate exactly what you say.

    It makes me wonder why so many organisations are so hell bent on forced distributions and officially classifying people as A’s, B’s, C’s or D’s.

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    1. Hello James,

      Yes, I have heard about The Pygmalion Effect. Fascinating – if anything shows that we are not rational beings, this shows it. Our reality is shaped by the set-up, by the situation, by the context, by the last word a person said to us before an event….

      It occurs to me that managers in organisations are hell bent on the forced distribution because these managers operate from a model of scarcity. There are only so many people who can be promoted. There is only so much money to be share. If we reward everyone then there is nobody left to punish. And we do not punish some then we cannot keep fear in the background – to motivate the rest to over perform.

      All the best
      maz

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