Interview with Steve Sphar - Managing Chaos: How Complexity Creates a More Productive and Rewarding
Steve Sphar is a founding member of Raising Consciousness Now and makes frequent valuable contributions from the perspective of the modern business world. In his interview on Consciousness NOW.TV he reveals how he helps clients, managers and leaders bring deeper meaning to their work.
Steve was a practicing attorney for 12 years before turning his law and business experience to the field of leadership consulting. He helps managers and executives develop their leadership potential though one-on-one coaching, leadership training and facilitation of executive retreats.
I caught up with Steve in his busy life to interview him about work, spirituality, and the emerging management practices that use complexity and systems theory to improve the workplace.
In your work as a management consultant, you are passionate about bringing meaning and spirit into the workplace. What motivates this for you?
“I see two great needs that are currently not being met, and they intersect at the work place. One is the need organizations have for their employees to bring more of their full selves to work – their creativity, their caring, their commitment. The economic climate is more demanding now than ever. Markets have evolved to a point where companies that do not bring forth this deeper level of energy from people will be at a competitive disadvantage.
The second is people’s need for meaning and satisfaction with their life, which I would call a spiritual endeavor. For a variety of reasons, this need is not being met in modern society. The workplace is a great environment, perhaps the ideal environment, for spiritual growth to take place, for people to find meaning and deep satisfaction.”
So you see a natural link between work and spirituality that can meet these two needs. But to many people, work and spirituality don’t go together. Don’t most people think their job is a place to make money, and they should seek meaning, fulfillment or spiritual growth outside of work?
“I agree that is a common view, and it saddens me. Many people think that work and spirituality are incompatible and that you should leave your feelings, or values, or higher aspirations at the door. That misunderstanding comes from outdated assumptions that rob companies of greater productivity, and leaves people feeling unmotivated and uninspired about their work.
The assumptions I am talking about are shared on several fronts. Companies are caught in old assumptions that keep them managing at the surface level. They tend to overuse structures and practices that rely on control and predictability. Employees are also caught in old assumptions about what their work can be, how to find and create meaning, and how to respond to challenges.
For example, many people respond to challenges in their job by shrinking back and looking for safety. If management can foster the right environment, more people would view work challenges as opportunities for growth. The fact is, most of our growth comes during times of challenge. That is when we are pushed beyond the comfortable and the familiar to try something different and scary. Almost all learning comes during the trial and error we employ to meet new challenges. Succeeding through tough challenges is also very rewarding.”
If this link between work and deeper meaning is natural, why don’t more people see it?
“Assumptions, by their very nature, are invisible. Our assumptions about our job, our co-workers, our company, or “the way things work around here,” are taken for granted and rarely identified and re-examined. Assumptions build up over time because they are successful in helping us predict what will happen next. But when circumstances change, or when we are ready for the next stage of growth, the old assumptions reveal their cracks.
So most assumptions are taken as “Truth” when really they are just patterns of belief that were previously successful but now may be outdated. Challenges, for companies and for individuals, come by every so often to shake us up and show us where old beliefs are no longer serving us. Challenges are the call for our next stage of growth.”
How does “managing chaos,” or “complexity” fit into this?
“Complexity” and “chaos” are terms from systems theory and complexity science. I use ideas from these branches of science because they have practical application in the business world. For example, they help explode the myth that modern organizations run like machines.
We tend to view a company as if it was a machine with interchangeable parts. If you need a new product, or a new strategy, or a new accounting system, you take the old one out and plug the new one in, like changing the spark plug in your car. But organizations are not like machines; they are much more like ecosystems, or living organisms. Changes do not always produce linear, predictable results.
Managing complex human systems, which all organizations are, requires a different perspective and skill set than managing a machine. Human systems have mutual interdependencies and multiple causations; meaning changes are not predictable and linear. Each person in the system adds his or her own interpretation, concerns, hopes and fears into the system. This can be the cause of great novelty and innovation, or it can muck up the works.
Awareness and conscious use of these principles can help a manager guide the system more effectively. Blindness to these principles causes unnecessary friction and loss of momentum. The workplace has definitely gotten more complex in recent years. But this complexity can be viewed, really, as just the newest challenge designed to pull us toward the next stage of growth.”
How can people learn more about managing complexity?
“There are several good books out there, including “Edgeware,” by Brenda Zimmerman “Facilitating Organization Change,” by Olson and Eoyang, and “Leaders Make the Future,” by Bob Johansen. An old classic is “Leadership and the New Science,” by Meg Wheatley. These books all apply complexity science to the world of management and business.”
Steve, this is great information. Every time I talk with you I learn more about working with systems in the business world. I look forward to learning more from you about this interesting field. Thank you for participating in this interview and sharing this useful information.
The pleasure’s mine, thanks for having me.
About the Author
Veronika Tracy-Smith, PhD, PCC, BCC is an Executive and Leadership Coach certified through the International Coaching Federation and a Certified Spiritual Intelligence Coach and Trainer through Deep Change. In working with physicians, executives and teams she brings a unique set of skills with a PhD in Clinical Psychology and experience in cutting edge theories in Integral Theory, The Leadership Maturity Framework, Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence, and Polarity Thinking. Providing the support needed to handle the inner and outer complexities of being a transformational leader, Veronika has done consulting, training and presentations in the medical field, business, law enforcement, spiritual communities, Employee Assistance Programs, and with non-profit, county and state agencies since 1994 as well as a career as a university instructor.