The conflict becomes intolerable; the requirement is now in danger of becoming vacuous. – We have got on to slippery ice where this is no friction, and so, in a certain sense, the conditions are ideal; but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground! – Wittgenstein (PI 107)
Where there is no friction or discord, there is no movement or learning
Consulting a 12-month long corporate leadership process, we bring experts from various areas to talk with the participants. I enforce a 50/50 time (50% for lecture 50% class discussion and interaction) on every speaker; this goes for me as well.
In a recent leadership discussion on ‘Systemic Human Resources Policies that Help/ Hinder Leadership,’ I felt it would be a bore. But the class got engaged and kept openly challenging the speaker.
At one point, the vice president of Human Resources (the person who contracted me) looks at me and states, “I don’t like how this is going, Mike, do something. We have to stop this. I’m going to say something.” I calmly responded, “Let it go a bit longer. The class is learning. The speaker is fine.” We let the discussion go, and it lasted almost 2 hours, an hour longer than scheduled.
During our closing processing and application from the day, most of the class mentioned how much they enjoyed the HR and leadership discussion. Many stated it was one of the best class experiences they’ve had in the last 8 months.
While we were at the bar afterward, many came up to the speaker from HR, the VP of HR, and me to thank us and continue the conversation. Someone even said, “For the first time, I can see how as a leader bringing together multiple people to create a shared, known and useful organization is tough. Hearing the class today, I now better understand the point of this leadership process.” I smiled and thanked him. The VP of HR told me, “I still did not like the day, and it made me very uncomfortable.” “That’s the point,” I said.
Learning happens in the messy friction of interaction. Leadership cannot exist in and of itself separate from the environment and the discord of followership. When we all agree utopia is realized, we have no movement because we are satiated. Leadership is about moving people towards what’s working and away from what’s not working. We need discord. We need friction.