Leadership resistance: conserving identity

by Philip Boxer

My blog on Leadership at the Edge drew on eight leadership patterns in order to begin to describe the conditions for a successful edge organisation. Leadership resistance, or anti-patterns, were originally formulated in the context of software development, but are a way of thinking about patterns of behavior that have bad or unintended consequences through the way they involving asserting the position without relation to the other positions.  Here I am using it to refer more specifically to the way these anti-patterns resist change.[1]

Any of the network-forming positions might seek to introduces some new direction in its relation to the way way others are working together within an organisation.  Resistance is the refusal or blocking of the new direction being introduced, but from the perspective of the person resisting, resistance is conservation of (their) identity. Rick Brenner has identified eight organisational coping patterns based on the work of Virginia Satir, that serve well as patterns of resistance (anti-patterns) opposite the eight network-forming or network-enabling patterns identified in the previous blog.  In what follows, I align these to an economy of leadership in which these anti-patterns (shown in square brackets) are the other side of the network-forming or network-enabling patterns:

Again, I relate four of these patterns of counter-resistance to resisting change to network formation (the quotes are from Brenner):

  • Visionary x Infatuation: The Infatuation anti-pattern “displays complete devotion to a particular person, idea or organization. It remains dedicated in the face of almost any contradictory data, which can lead it to decisions that expose itself to inordinate risk or even to organizational disaster.”
  • Exemplar x Narcissistic: The Narcissistic anti-pattern “is driven by its love of itself and disregard for everything else. No other organization, no person, nothing external to itself is of any worth or value, except perhaps as support or utility to itself. This anti-pattern is prepared to use, abuse or exploit anyone, any idea, or any other organization, including its organizational parent, to further its own ends.”
  • Connector x Loving/Hating: The Loving/Hating anti-pattern “is driven by its relationship with other organizations, people or ideas. Whether finally to destroy that organization, person or idea; or to attach itself thereto in permanent adoration and ethereal bliss, it ignores almost everything and everyone else external to the focal relationship.”
  • Truth-Teller x Incongruent: The Incongruent anti-pattern “disregards one or both of the following:  the relation between the organization’s internal representation of reality and reality itself, and the relation between its internal reality and the organization’s representation of itself to the outside world.”

The other four patterns of counter-resistance relate to resisting network enablement (the quotes are again from Brenner):

  • Enforcer x Blaming: The Blaming anti-pattern “seeks people or things to hold responsible for any problem, not to learn from its mistakes, or to prevent them in the future, but to preserve its view of its own infallibility — and the fallibility of others.”
  • Fixer x Super-Reasonable: The Super-reasonable anti-pattern “emphasizes context, usually through a devotion to “objectivity” and at the expense of human considerations or considerations of relationship.”
  • Gatekeeper x Placating: The Placating anti-pattern “shows undue concern for possible negative consequences, being so driven by avoidance of discomfort right now that it’s willing to exchange it for far greater — even inevitable — discomfort in the future. This anti-pattern avoids confronting issues or people, preferring instead to take full responsibility itself for any disappointing outcomes”
  • Facilitator x Irrelevant: The Irrelevant anti-pattern “is coping by flight. In the face of adversity, it copes by avoiding not only the adversity, but any recognition of it.”

So far, all I have done is to set up correspondences between three sources of insight into behavior within organisations, albeit surprising in the extent of the fit.[2]  They provide a way of thinking about how leadership is exercised at the edge, and how existing anti-patterns within organisations may resist changes. In my next blog I will describe how leadership patterns and/or  patterns of resistance lock together as an economy, using some case examples.

[1] These anti-patterns, through relatedness to other positions is blocked, may be thought of as exhibiting the Meness basic assumption (baM) described by Lawrence, W. G., A. Bain and L. Gould (1996) in “The Fifth Basic Assumption.” Free Associations 6(1): 28-55. For more on how the other basic assumptions affect the relationships within the economy, see the economy of leadership.
[2] My hypothesis is that these eights are revealing of an underlying structuring of the relations within an economy of discourses, both of these sets of eight being based on extensive research into practice within and between organisations.

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