By Joel Jones
Yes, after 12 years of writing this column, I need titles which will hopefully entice Four Corners Business Journal readers to engage further.
The gist of this alliterative title rests in my response to a question from a loyal reader: "Joel, you refer often to various books in your column. What two or three from this past year would you recommend and why?"
A challenging question - but given the importance I place on open communication in our fast-paced world, these three books come to mind: "I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy" by Lori Andrews; "The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing" by John Perry and "How To Think More About Sex" by Alain de Botton.
The last two are quick reads, but provocative and perceptive, especially for anyone wanting to communicate effectively with colleagues and constituents. The first, Andrews' treatise, is detailed and challenging, sometimes even frightening, for
So, to leap to the somewhat red-letter word in our title, while speaking of the Internet world, I would share this so-insightful statement by de Botton in his chapter on pornography: "The entire Internet is in a sense pornographic, a deliverer of constant excitement that we have no innate capacity to resist, a seducer that leads us down paths that for the most part do nothing to answer our real needs."
And that, friend reader, is all we will proffer right now about sex and pornography though de Botton would bemoan the absence of that topic in nearly all of the thousands of books and columns dealing with leadership.
In "The Art of Procrastination," Perry tells us, both how to deal with the so-human tendency to procrastinate, and, of even more value, how to see the viability and virtue of procrastination. In a light-hearted but profound manner, he explains how to pause, to delay, to slow down in our frenetic world may lead to better communication, more effective decision making. Often procrastination may allow for more reflective and creative thinking.
Finally, if the previous two books don't make you pause before turning to the keyboard or keypad to zip a message into the cloud, Andrews' book will. She brilliantly describes in detail and depth the demise, the death, of privacy in that arena so assertively promoted by consultants these days social media.
Too many individuals in leadership roles these days spend hours at the keyboard, ostensibly communicating. On any given day thousands of words may be exchanged between that individual leader and his or her constituents by way of the keyboard and the screen. On the one hand, this electronic process undoubtedly proffers a new degree of access and speed with reference to communication.
On the other hand, though, this same communicative process, always fast, often frenetic, can lead to the cocooning of the individual, the disembodiment, if you will, of communication, the depersonalization of the word.
In our world of cyberspace and hypertext, a world of compulsive computerized contacts (too often more cacophony than communication), we must find a way to listen better, to hear more, to establish the linkage between leadership voice, individual issues and priorities, and community needs. Rhetorical skills and keyboard facility will not proffer the requisite quality of communication. To repeat my favorite aphorism: Data is not information, information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom. The personal and collective wisdom necessary for a healthy organization or community results from face-to-face communication, exposure and vulnerability, allowing for understanding, trust and love.
In a recent commencement address I commented to the graduating seniors that they would be moving into a world where social critics worry about such phenomena as "abundance induced amnesia and apathy," "cognitive overload," "paralysis by analysis," and two new recent syndromes: GNS, or Grief Nostalgia Syndrome, and IFS, Information Fatigue Syndrome.
Succinctly, IFS, the result of the exponentially exploding amount of information floating through cyberspace, often causes stress for those faced with assimilating that information as the basis for making decisions. They then succumb to GNS, in which they long for that golden age of the past, a past which never truly existed, but which in fantasy seems much more attractive than the complexities and ambiguities of the present.
As leaders in this world, regardless of the organization or the community for which we are responsible, we must risk exposure and vulnerability, must find ways to truly know the people with whom we work and let those individuals get to know us. We must find ways to reassure individuals of the meaningfulness of their work, to reaffirm the importance of caring, compassion and community, and, as both a means and an end, to raise the quality and the integrity of our communication. On occasion, that enhanced quality of communication will only be achieved by leaving the technology behind, and, correlatively, putting the human being out front.
For people to share ideas honestly and discuss issues openly, there must be an atmosphere of personal trust and organizational integrity. No leader knows it all. Every leader needs informed dissent, especially in our world of compounding complexities and accelerating ambiguities.
One of the most aged aphorisms regarding leadership states simply that an individual in a leadership role should never surround himself or herself with only yea-sayers or yes-people. In that environment, there will be no communication, there will be no sensitivity to constituent issues and priorities, there will be only glad-handing and self-serving promotion.
Open communication, that which both depends on and develops trust, requires the leader to wade into the swamp of ambiguity, listening to the myriad testimonials and multiple truths of all constituencies, while seeking the bedrock of community well-being. Summarily, then, to protect the privacy of communication and the sanctity of community, both requisite for developing trust, one must be willing to pause, to reflect, to reject the seductive ease of virtual communication, and proffer the listening, learning, loving and leading self.
Joel Jones is president emeritus of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. He can be reached at email@example.com.