Joe Biden has a damn hard job waiting for him when he walks into the Oval Office on Thursday morning, January 21st, 2021. His first full day as president of the United States.
A list of items sitting on his desk include the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the US democracy, the roll out of Covid vaccines, a lurking economic recession, restoring some sense of the US’ standing in the world, climate change, unemployment and his self-professed core issue, restoring the soul of America.
It is regularly stated that the President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. I think that is a fuzzy description. I’d suggest that POTUS is “potentially” the most influential person in the world, but it’s all down to how well he (can’t wait to write she) uses himself and his craft of mobilizing other people to do the important work for the Common Good.
What Biden will actually find sitting on his desk is a world in pieces. A world of fractures, fragments and factions.
This post is about those factions.
Ron Heifetz defines a faction as “a group with a shared perspective that has been shaped by tradition, power, relationships, loyalties and its own narrative and system of internal logic. All this defines the stakes and solutions that work for members of a faction.”
If you are someone in authority and you are committed to a change initiative you know resistance will emerge. That is because to commit is to alienate some faction of the larger group you lead. The alienation stems from pending losses, and threats to values and loyalties. It’s understandable that a faction of the larger group would push back and protect themselves. This is the hard-win situation Joe Biden will experience starting next week.
Let’s look at how you might more effectively address the needs of the factions you could face for the sake of the Common Good.
First, the ability to identify and orchestrate the interactions among factions is a crucial competence. It is a leadership craft and can be learned.
What else to consider:
- Mapping factions is a useful way to see the various groups at play. Name each faction and list their loyalties, losses and values. The map will begin to reveal the system at work.
- The interactions among the factions are more critical than the interactions among individuals. It’s common that an individual concern may represent 10-20% of the group. Pay attention to the weak signals.
- There is no shortage of factions in a group. Keep looking. Factions can emerge at any time.
- You will discover there is a faction that will challenge you and a faction that will defend you. But assume this is not a frozen state.
- There is likely a faction sitting it all out or using it as a business case study, but be clear, they are not really learning anything because all deep learning happens inside the change process. This faction lacks the grit to engage.
- Always look for minority factions who believe their needs are not being heard. Their silence can produce the marginalization they fear and prevent the progress they seek.
- Another faction are civic activists, people with government or executive experience who think they know more than anyone else about leading and leadership because of what they have done. This will be experienced as unrequested opinions and not many questions.
The central rationale for understanding factions and mapping their needs is to sharpen a leader’s capacity to diagnose and interpret the system she is seeking to mobilize for the Common Good.
Diagnosis means inquiry, which means asking questions of deeper purpose. Here are a few, courtesy of Sharon Daloz Parks:
- What is the purpose of our organization? (Covid has taught us all that purpose changes).
- What is our core work? Consider looking at what work is important vs. interesting.
- What is the nature of the problem we are trying to address? Wicked or tame?
- What are the factions and what are their values, loyalties and potential losses?
- Where is the authority and who is choosing to lead? They are not the same.
- Who understands the issues?
- What is the Common Good that connects the factions? Focus here.
Joe Biden will begin teaching a master class next Thursday on how to lead, how to deploy authority and how to bring factions together. It will be an educational process for all of us who seek to lead.
Remember, we learn more from our leadership failures than from our successes.