Professional Pragmatism

When simply being you may need nuancing!

Reflecting on new ways to function well and influence your work culture

Do you sometimes find that there are times when your desire to achieve something or to even hold a good and open conversation in the workplace is compromised by organisational culture and individuals in that culture and does this disappoint or frustrate you?

This can lead to a feeling of personal frustration where you feel compelled to be true to yourself or perhaps even more deeply, due to jarring with your long held values, the outcome can become conflict or disassociation from your organisation. Leadership theorists would state that true leadership requires you as an individual to always tackle this situation through challenge, to walk your values every day. However, professional pragmatism and Machiavelli can equip you with a real world view and with an empowering solution to this dilemma.

Machiavelli suggested the potential to adopt a different route to managing such a situation. Adopting professional pragmatism, a sense of wisdom about the way your organisation functions practically or through entrenched culture, may lead you to deal with such compromises differently. This may also allow you to exercise different leadership skills to negotiate and influence a solution. Negotiating and influencing is a recognised means to reaching mutual solutions that are successful. This solution may be imperfect in leadership theory but adopting the realism of the culture you work within will achieve results and importantly avoid the head on collision that you may feel that can cause catastrophic disillusionment leading to you seeking other employment or to finding yourself in a destructive conflict in any case. This approach can then be better seen as influencing and changing culture from the inside.

Values make us and they can change culture positively

Machiavelli is often associated with dark practices but this aspect of achieving ambitions and objectives through pragmatic means is often overlooked as a viable and successful means to keep personal control and to achieve results in the real world. Another way of potentially viewing this is the concept of not trying to ‘win every battle’ but rather look to the longer term in order to nuance your leadership influence. Ultimately, success has many facets and by maintaining working relationships, reaching a team based practical solution then the longer term success of an individual and the wellbeing flowing from that may potentially demonstrate greater maturity and less naivety.

The theory on professional pragmatism

Badaracco is a contemporary academic who has written on this subject. He has taught this subject for some time at Harvard and describes the awareness that this approach almost represents a ‘worldview’ which can function in the reality of the imperfect workplace. This of course does not deny circumstances in which compromise may not be acceptable and a stand should be made for several different reasons.

Occasionally, this thinking allows the notion that the pursuit of all values and personal aims and objectives might be viewed as idealistic or naïve and that the truth in an imperfect world might be as challenging as ‘what if there is no right answer?’. This may mean that the right answer is the one that best accords with organisational values and the circumstances prevailing at that exact time to achieve the best outcome possible at that moment. This also recognises that changing an embedded culture cannot be achieved overnight and requires careful work to influence.

Leadership is a struggle by flawed human beings to make some important values real and effective in the world as it is

Joseph Badaracco, Harvard.
Pause for thought!

Self-limiting beliefs and coaching

A fundamental role for an executive or business coach is to engage with their client and to assist them without leading them to find positive solutions and to be able to ‘unblock’ any of the issues that may be preventing them from being their better selves. An aspect of this is to challenge and explore any self-limiting beliefs that might be expressed by clients. These can originate from a range of diverse sources such as childhood, interpretation of learning or life experience amongst many. The individual can start to assume these self-limiting beliefs are unassailable facts over time and they become custom and practice. One such self-limiting belief might be a literal martyrdom to feeling that values must always be unswervingly followed and that there can be no successful personal or professional relationship had with those that do not exactly share those values. This can create an environment of winning and losing for the holder of this self-limiting belief and leading to a belief that true self-worth comes from being the source of knowledge that guides others. In some senses this can become egotistical or judgmental to the casual observer yet to the individual practicing such self-limiting beliefs in fact it feels righteous and true.

Coaching can support you to express values differently and better

Having a sense of personal ‘agency’

In mythology, the ‘Fates’ are a group of three weaving goddesses who assign individual destinies to mortals at birth. The Fates were Clotho (the Spinner), Lachesis (the Allotter) and Atropos (the Inflexible). It is possible that in waging a direct battle on individuals in an embedded culture that Atropos is the one to blame for leading the actions of the individual. However, I would like to suggest something more updated on this internal conflict, the idea of ‘agency’.  Wanting to be ‘me’ regardless of the consequences shows a lack of faith in personal agency.

So what is agency? It is the ability to take action or to choose what action to take, to influence your own life, to change your own thoughts and to have faith in your ability to handle a wide range of tasks or situations. Having a sense of agency is also associated with being able to take responsibility for your actions and having an ‘internal locus of control’ over what happens.

Of course there are many things outside of our control. We may think that we should be 6’4” and look just like Brad Pitt, or have a wonderfully slim body, long flowing hair and look like Scarlett Johansson but such dreams are outside of our control, and as such we should focus on ‘controlling the controllables’. This means that you can acknowledge a different way to influence the jarring of personal values with embedded organisational culture.  One of the things you can control is that moment when you say: ‘This is who I am. I’m me. What do I do about this situation?’

Being true to yourself but thinking differently retains personal agency

When simply being you may need nuancing!

In their soon to be released marketing book, ‘Just Evil Enough’, the authors, Alistair Croll and Emily Ross talk about how a successful marketeer of the future needs to be prepared to “subvert systems to create attention that can be turned into profitable demand”.

My contention here is that this thinking is relevant to how we view ourselves and the choices that we make to tackle situations and to achieve what we want to. In other words, how we achieve a sense of agency, of controlling our controllables, and tackle some professional dilemmas with pragmatism. This allows us as individuals to turn subverting systems around and to point that insight to ourselves, rather than the market. So what could subverting your usual way of seeing a values based dilemma look like? This may mean demonstrating the bravery to step outside of your known mediums to find new, creative and more challenging ways to think.

The authors propose that to do this effectively then our traditional normative thinking must be replaced by more radical formative thinking in which norms are challenged. This may include the limitations of our own ego, unconscious bias, our desire to be heard and of course our desire to be right.

If we simply respond to our ego and its need to just be us then this may result in us reacting instantly to our fight or flight instinct. This inevitably limits us, may create a bias in our judgement and propel us to think we are right without mounting a challenge to react and respond differently. Remember therefore by using professional pragmatism, by subverting our thoughts that we can be much more than our thoughts. In these circumstances when we gain agency and control, when we do more than react to our instinctive deeper self, then we instantly create a different dynamic, try it, it may change your career.

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