Leading into the Future II: A Tale of Three Societies
Any contemporary organization may choose to work from its mission and foster both learning and continuous improvement as a central feature of its organizational culture. In adopting this strategy, a contemporary organization is positioning itself for a postmodern world in which organizations must become increasingly flexible regarding boundaries. These postmodern organizations can shift with the changing nature of their constituencies, while preserving a distinctive identity and purpose. They are likely to be much more open to changes in clientele and to moving across previously restrictive boundaries (such as product or service area, or even regional or national boundaries). In dropping their boundaries, postmodern organizations are likely to be more fully responsive to changing technologies, and changing customer and community needs.
The challenges for contemporary organizations operating in these postmodern times are exceptional. On the one hand, change and newness can be a motivator. New conditions force people to think in new ways and break out of old thought patterns. On the other hand, change and newness are frightening. Postmodern conditions require that we listen to the “other”—those who have long lived outside the comfortable confines of our Western institutions. With the collapse of a dominant meta-narrative that has been created and sustained by Euro-American males we are faced with many competing narratives, none of which can claim foundational credibility.
We long for the past when things were simpler and less demanding in our organizations. This often leads us to a new conservatism and to a form of nostalgia that fails to take into account the new realities of our religious institutions. Given that our organizations are deeply embedded in the values, structures and vocabulary of modern life, we are particularly vulnerable to the critiques of postmodernism and to the threats of radical change in an emerging postmodern world. We become frightened when the old structures fall away and we are left standing alone, without a sustaining tradition and without predictability. The challenge for any contemporary leader is to confront the newness with wisdom, courage and vision. We must be able to understand, appreciate and live with the troubling ambiguity of our emerging condition if our organizations are to thrive in the new postmodern era.