Exploring Uncomfortable Situations in the Practice of a Swedish Leadership Consultant
Lundquist Coey, Asa Margaretha
This research examines the practice of process consultancy in Sweden with a particular emphasis on working in disturbing and uncomfortable situations. The managerial discourses that consultants are working in are dominated by an abstract language with a relentless eye towards imaginative futures in the form of visions, missions, strategies, and goals (Stacey 2011, Mowles 2014). Based on linear casuality thinking that comes from the natural sciences, the assumption is of predictability and control. Therefore, disturbing, uncomfortable, or conflicting situations arising in practice are generally overlooked, avoided, or suppressed as they⎯per definition⎯are neither predictable nor controllable. Although process consultancy in many respects gradually has changed from delivery/expertise of ready made concepts into more of conversational facilitation, speaking partnerships, inquiry and coaching, disturbing and uncomfortable moments are still generally being avoided or overlooked. This research is a narrative-based inquiry that has served as a basis for engagement in literature, reflections, reflexive inquiries, and conversations with fellow researchers, members of faculty, and other practitioners. Out of this iterative and intese process, the arguments have emerged and developed. In describing a multitude of uncomfortable and disturbing situations from my practice, and while paying close attention to them in local context, a view of these situations as problematic and avoidable has moved into a wider and deeper understanding regarding what might be taking place among us. Interpreting directives, policies, and strategies ⎯what to do and how to do it⎯in order to find the most functional ways forward is imperative in organisations. Hence, corrigibility and definite inquiries into worlds of practice and relations are necessities. As ideologies and intentions among people differ, problems and disturbances are inevitably encountered in processes of particularising (making concrete in specific contexts) generalised plans and strategies, which, in turn, creates different and new generalisations (Stacey 2011, p. 358). Utilising process consultancy in order to ‘deal’ with the above situation may, however, paradoxically enhance anxiety and disturbancies even more. In drawing attention to disturbances as central, ‘normal’, and generative (normforming), I have come to think of the actual process in process consultancy as having felt dissolving qualities. As ‘states’ of body/mind are temporary, shifting, and changing when we are being influenced and influence others and ourselves (constrain and enable) at the same time as we speak, a sense of solution often occurs in the process. Rather than solving or resolving issues⎯a more traditional approach, intentionally aiming at fixing something⎯acts of conversations and reflexive inquiries are not aiming anywhere in particular. They are explorative and mind-moving and make us re-identify or re-form our sense of self. Hence, in the process of ‘loosening up or breaking apart’ identity, a sense of solution (I refer to as dissolution) is felt to emerge. This process can be disturbing per se, and the newly gained thinking⎯also of a temporary kind⎯can be felt as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ or neither, as movements and outcomes are unpredictable. In process consultancy, the understanding of people as an elusive science⎯changeable, fluid, and plural (messy and needy rather than tidy and rational)⎯is helpful in order to understand ‘stuckness’ and enable movement by taking experience seriously rather than engaging in excessive quantification or being futuristic and idealising.