Findings on organisation, leadership, and counselling in change

Tragedy of change – simultaneous erosion of organisation and leadership

Tragedy of change – simultaneous erosion of organisation and leadership

The dynamic interplay of leadership and consulting accelerates the speed of its own questioning: the internal complexity of organisations increases circularly with each pass. This ultimately undermines the legitimacy basis of leadership in two ways: on the one hand, fundamentally in the two‐​sidedness of organisation and leadership, i.e., in the very essential leadership functions, and on the other hand, in the personal credibility of its role holders. The attempt of leadership and leadership consulting to »sail before the wind of change« reveals an existential tragedy. The increasingly liquefied organisation is threatened with drowning in contingency that no longer can be controlled in this way: the loss of its ability to resonate is threatened with the infarction of frenzied standstill, the loss of connection is threatened with loss of the world, to here follow the interpretative patterns of Hartmut Rosa (2020, 2018).

Stefan Kühl (2015, 44) describes such »chronically unfrozen systems« as follows:

»The organisation, having thawed its existing structures, has not succeeded in »freezing« the new structures again. The organisation is permanently in turmoil, nothing runs its regular course. Everything seems problematic because past experiences are seen as risky and the belief in unambiguity has been lost. In critical situations, the permanent production of new things can destabilise the organisation to such an extent that no collective action is possible any more. So many changes can be carried into a social system that at some point it collapses in the face of what are perceived as massive disturbances. The organisation tends to degenerate into a mere set of barely coherent decisions.«

According to Karl E. Weick (1985), organisations are sense‐​making systems. Their meaning is generated from a continuous look in the rear‐​view mirror. The focus on the ›where from‹ and the ›why‹ constructs a social reality in the present moment, which at the same time should carry into the future but is always tied to the past. As soon as, in view of the current organisational challenges and circumstances in the ›here and now‹, looking back at the decisions that once gave meaning no longer allows the members of the organisation to construct meaning together, the organisation plunges into an existential crisis – and with it the members of the organisation.

In their existential distress, leaders and followers cling to each other and keep each other trapped collectively in a kind of ›ratchet effect‹ in fear of finality, isolation, lack of freedom, lack of self‐​responsibility and meaninglessness. Leaders and followers then seek their salvation – as outlined – in all kinds of ›tried and tested‹ coping patterns, of which the most common are probably escape (from responsibility), negation (ignorance and blind spots), activism (distraction, disengagement, symbolism) and catatonia (rigidity and non‐​action declared a ›virtue‹).