The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Competing commitments

The masterful way people have to live their life will regularly be misunderstood as being ineffective and irrational.

Observers, as leaders belong to them, usually only have the outside perspective. They only have the lens of what seems to be the understood target. They fail to pay attention to other details people are addressing and possibly seeking to achieve in the same go.

The most obvious ones being for example to achieve the work results they are working towards and at the same time to attend to the team’s morale. But these are only two of many. People have an understanding of what achieving means, how it happens. They have an idea of who to be loyal to and how. They have a sense of identity that impacts how they will relate to the different groups they connect with. None of these are limited to work.

It means that individuals have to deal with a complexity of priorities as well as levels of trust they will have in attending to them. That is what they will use beliefs for, they automate priorities. Some of them have become truths, that is assumptions that will not be questioned in any way. They have moved out of sight.

As Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey describe it “these assumptions put an order to the world and at the same time suggest ways in which the world can go out of order.”

Beyond being out of sight, they also connect with very personal feelings. They are deep-seated fears, simplistic views of human nature, or perceptions of self as having superior abilities making it difficult for people to be aware of them and even more to share them with others.

It thus takes quite some skill to uncover them. However, doing so can lead to a welcome aha effect.

Our commitments are intertwined with these assumptions. Every new commitment will be intuitively related to these assumptions triggering behavior that people have developed allowing them to keep the stability of their worldview. These competing commitments, as Kegan and Lahey named them, established habits and ways of acting making it difficult to achieve the primary commitment.

Finding ways to see the competing commitments and the underlying assumptions is work leaders can undertake in their quest for effective management. Taking it up allows teams and individuals to overcome their limitations and understand the masterful way individuals solved them until then.


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