Leader-Led Change

Have you got what it takes to lead change?
Have you got what it takes to lead change?

Planned organisational change may be driven by many factors. Examples include seeking efficiencies and greater productivity, addressing dysfunction and conflict, revamping inadequate processes and systems, merging with a business partner, or setting your mark on the organisation as a previous manager has departed.

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in their Harvard Business Review Primal Leadership article in December 2001 wrote: “A growing body of research on the human brain proves that, for better or worse, leaders’ moods affect the emotions of the people around them.” However, leaders not only set the mood and have a direct impact on the emotional worlds of their people, as the article describes, but also set the culture and behavioural tone and norms of the organisation. So, when considering change, what do you need to change about yourself and how you function for your organisation to perform better?

W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru, suggested that 85% of the responsibility for quality rested with management, to provide the appropriate tools, training, processes and other enablers, and after all that was provided, 15% of the responsibility rested with the workers. I believe that also applies to the mood, attitudes, behaviours and norms of the organisation as a whole.

Enormous energy is exerted in organisational restructures. Poor performance is identified and rooted out. Ineffective systems replaced. Reporting structures are adjusted. However, for all the effort a significant and often poorly addressed issue is the cultural and behavioural conserve held among the management team. While the organisation is being driven through significant and often unnecessarily painful change processes, the attitudes, behaviours, and cultural norms within the management team remain unchanged, unrecognised as contributing to the overall organisation’s performance. The decision makers are able to say “the problem is out there” and rarely take a critical look at their own contributions.

Consider:

  • What do you do to set the tone and culture within your organisation? Are your words and actions aligned?
  • Do you demand and expect respect without extending the same to those who report to you?
  • Do you demonstrate the loyalty you expect of your team? Or do you excuse your choices and actions that perhaps sideline and disenfranchise individuals, while calling for everyone to engage fully and authentically, and wonder why there is a disturbance within the rank and file? Do you permit others’ to spread rumour and conjecture, or undermine the work of those in your team?
  • Do you provide a high performance environment? Do you cleanly delegate work, providing clear boundaries on how the work should be performed and what the measure of success are, and allow the team member to grow and develop in the role? Or are you a control freak, driven by fear, who micromanages and strangles growth potential? Do you honour the established boundaries around agreed packages of work or do you allow scope creep to erode the authority of those under you? Do you then also hold them responsible for failure to perform?
  • Are you professional in your behaviours and relationships? Do you excuse angry outbursts, unreasonable demands and other corrosive behaviours because you’re busy and under stress? Do you meet the commitments you make? Do you hold yourself to the same standards you expect of others? Do you walk your talk?
  • Is your decision-making clear, calm, fact-based and rational? Do you expect this of your team, but when faced with a decision you rely on management imperative to make a rushed “gut” decision, rationalising it is from your years of experience, flying in the face of all you claim you want practiced within your organisation? Worse, do you then change your decision when next posed with a new opinion (perhaps without informing those impacted)?
  • Do you provide clear direction and leadership? Have you noticed the puzzled expression, or disdain, across your team as you issue instructions? Do you lack clarity, such that you are not able to understandably express what you want? Or have you changed direction yet again? Do you respond openly to questions seeking clarification or do you expect subordinates to read your mind (perhaps even when you can’t)?

It has been my observation from a couple of decades of consulting that these and other such issues are frightfully common. Why? Because leaders are human and no one is perfect. The problem is when a leader chooses to avoid checking on their way of being. In my opinion it would be ideal for the leadership of an organisation to honestly assess their behavioural and attitudinal contribution to the performance and mood of an organisation as part of any change process. Obtaining valuable, truthful feedback takes more than demanding it. Few leaders are blessed to be surrounded by people willing to say, “You are not wearing any clothes”, so obtaining such insight requires time, a sense of safety among those asked for input, and trust that negative feedback will not jeopardise the position of the person offering the feedback.

As a leader, are you leading from the front, enabling others to follow? Have you assessed your own short-comings in relation to the direction and practices required within the organisation and established a roadmap for your own development? Or are you metaphorically barking instructions through a megaphone on what the team should do, and excusing yourself because you’re a coach, not a player.

If you want to create positive change, be part of the change process, not separate from it. Ensure that your capacity as a leader and manager is maturing and developing, and that you have made some conscious, positive changes to your style, that you’re not as you were ten years ago. If you are not emulating the behaviours you expect your team to portray, get real with yourself and stop excusing your own poor performance.

Options available to you include coaching and mentoring, personal and professional development, primarily targeted at the long-overused patterns of behaviour and attitudes that hold you and your team back from truly excelling.

Leading From Within

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the statesman
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the statesman

Many powerful people have discussed and described leadership. The hallmarks of leadership include creating a vision, establishing a direction, and demonstrating by example how to pursue the path. As I reflect on those I consider great leaders I think of people such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi. Certainly they were vocal, strong in presenting and pursuing their visions and voicing their passion, most definitely important aspects of leadership. However, they each learned leadership through the crucible of life which honed and prepared them for their mission. They first had to lead from within, so that their integrity shone forth and their personal power established. Without first mastering themselves, and demonstrating leadership of themselves, they would not have had the same power to shape nations.

Imagine spending over 20 years in a prison cell. The courage and the conviction required to abide the appalling conditions Mandela suffered enabled him to emerge as the statesman he is. Gandhi’s did not invent his ideas on nonviolence on a whim but as a result of years of struggle, including imprisonment, and demonstrated conviction to his values. Martin Luther King grew up with a full understanding of oppression, and knew it was dangerous to seek change, but had a vision, a dream, and was willing to back it.

To achieve leadership greatness one must, I strongly believe, lead ourselves first and foremost through and out of our own darkness. All through our life we have built up layer upon layer of programming, training, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, addictions, emotional responses, social expectations etc. These cover up and detract from our clarity over our life purpose and the values that are core to us. We establish protective mechanisms that keep us safe, maintain security and levels of certainty, but which also rob us of the ability to align with and act in accordance with our core purpose. Cutting through the façades we have built around our soul so we can shine forth in the fullness of who we are is a powerful process and requires deep commitment to self, and personal leadership. Success in this endeavour provides the substance for and basis of our personal power. It enables us to manifest leadership to others because we have triumphed within ourselves.

Fundamentally it is pain and pleasure that motivates us to action. We avoid pain and seek pleasure, with pain taking precedence over pleasure. We grow up with experiences shaping our beliefs, attitudes, values and perceptions. We learn who we are and what behaviours are acceptable, and which are not, from our primary care givers. We associate pain with non-conformance, from failure to work within norms and social boundaries. We associate with groups (friends, colleagues, gangs etc) and learn of the rules for reward by these groups. Obedience to norms carries rewards. Breaking from the norms, being odd or different, carries penalty and pain. But a leader cannot work in the norm, as an average person, as part of the group. At some point they must assert themselves, separate from the group, and come into their own space.

Most people start learning this as teenagers, rebelling from parents and choosing another tribe to belong to. They move from one social group to another, establish different patterns and norms, and feel they are closer to being themselves. Later they discover it was their desire to belong that motivated them so they were still being managed by groups. Some never get over this, looking outside themselves to satisfy their need for acceptance and belonging rather than from within themselves.

When pursued further, the maturation process eventually leads us to question who we are, why we are here and what greater purpose we serve. The recognition of our individuality, our uniqueness, and the possibility that we have value enables us to seek within for our gifts. Discovering and being true to who we are becomes important. There is a shift from seeking love and acceptance from outside to a place where we provide that to ourselves, and become less bound to the whims of our “tribal” groups and roots. However there is also pain in this process.

Shifting our focus from outside to inside us requires us to meet and confront all our fears, insecurities, debilitating attitudes and behaviours, and find ways of putting them behind us. Some of us have powerful inner critics that berate us as our parents may have. We hear the piercing criticism from within with greater clarity than the scolding we may have experienced in younger days, which can stop us in our tracks. Whether it is the voice of our inner critic or the rigid walls of protection we have erected over the years, they stop us shining, and to truly emerge we must overcome them. If we stay bound to our insecurities we shun the opportunity to change and to transform ourselves from part of the pack to the leader we can be. If we seek to change ourselves through coercion and internal aggression and anger we have simply substituted the voices of our experience with our own tormentor. We emerge when we have found ourselves to be lovable, acceptable and perfect as we are, and truly believe that. That is not saying we are perfect. Goodness, what is perfection and who can judge that? It is saying that we are entirely acceptable as we are, that we have our own uniqueness based on who we are and what we have experienced, and everything has brought us to this point in life, and all of this is perfect and right as is.

To lead others we must lead ourselves. We must be able and capable of dealing with adversity, the naysayer, and find ways through and out of those difficulties. Our ability to deal with and manage external adversity and opposition is much greater when we have mastered the opposition that comes from within us. Our ability to lead with clarity and conviction in public is greatest when we have already managed that within ourselves in isolation. Perhaps being in prison for 20+ years is something that could benefit everyone. Certainly it provides time to reflect, see ourselves more clearly and deal with our personal demons. However not all of us need to change whole nations. We have good we can accomplish by remaining engaged in the world, but the battle within is just as real. A growing number of people are learning the benefits of meditation, yoga etc for stress relief. Some find it painful because they slow down a little and start to see themselves more clearly, and find things they judge as unacceptable or wrong with them. If we wish to lead others effectively then we must have already learned to lead from within. We must have confronted ourselves and been victorious in engaging with and being comfortable in the presence of our own voices and messages from within. We must have learned about tolerating and working through the issues that surface from our past. We can be hampered by insecurity and doubt or develop a powerful love of ourselves, warts and all. None of us can become entirely free of these things, but we can develop comfort for and appreciation of the fog we create in our lives, and find ways of charting through them. For as we move through our own internal fog we develop the capacity to lead others through theirs.

I have always found the following an inspiring statement:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson, “A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles”

The more we connect with ourselves, and manifest the greatness within, the greater our capacity to work through life, deal with issues, and exhibit personal power that will inspire others. If you wish to lead others, then first lead yourself.

Where are you in the process of developing personal power and governing yourself? What barriers have prevented you achieving the success you desire? What behaviours and attitudes diminish your ability to lead others and create change within your organisation? As you learn to lead from within you also gain greater understanding of the issues and barriers faced within organisations and how to work through them.

Do The Impossible

While sitting in a project kick-off meeting I listened to a senior manager introduce a new project. He set the scene by telling us that we had 10 weeks to accomplish the project, that he wanted a premium result, and that any deviation from the perfect solution must be detailed in papers that explained the reasons for failure to deliver the outstanding result. It was the integration of a supplier’s system with their own. This had only just been completed with another supplier who had a more advanced environment, and it had taken 18 months. The team were clear that what was being asked was not possible. The manager was clearly ignorant of how the system and business operated, and arrogant enough to believe that saying it must be so was sufficient. It was an unhealthy way to commence a project. The team did achieve significant outcomes because of lessons learned from the previous experience, but by no means the ‘perfect solution’, and these were driven by the team’s own interest in realising the best result possible, and not this manager’s erroneous pep-talk.

While the above story is based on a particular event, it is not unique. All too often project teams are placed in situations where they swallow the bitter pill of stressful time-frames, unrealistic expectations, and unnecessary pressure. They judge their management as out of touch with the reality of their organisation and as having failed to take early action in what was an obvious, prudent and timely fashion, and who then speak platitudes in an attempt to solve their own ineptitude. From the outset of such projects there is already an environment of distrust, conflict and blame which undermines the natural desire and motivation of people to perform their work in a satisfactory and fulfilling manner. Compare this “normal but unsatisfactory” environment with the following experience.

2007 ‘The Archetypes’ Oxfam Trailwalker team successfully finished

In March 2007 I did the impossible, or so I had been told by a number of people who knew me, successfully walking 100km (62 miles) in 25 hours 4 minutes as part of the Oxfam Trailwalker Challenge. For years (at least 20 years) I was a desk potato. I sat behind my desk, worked on my computer, and “prided” myself in having a body that mostly did what I needed without any maintenance. Over time its capacity diminished due to my lack of fitness apparent through tiredness, shortness of breath, and unresponsive, easily injured muscles.

Six months earlier I first heard of the Challenge. Within 60 seconds I had volunteered myself on to the four person team. I was more than surprised at my decision. Something unfamiliar within me took over. Time for a change.

I was part of an endeavour with others relying on me. Though a team event it was not a relay. We all had to complete the entire distance together, and I was the weakest link. My team mates included a marathon runner, an actively competing cyclist, and a mountaineer. On electing to participate one of them made the comment: “You know your own body.” Never a falser word spoken. I had no clue about my body, but something had called me and I felt compelled to answer.

My busy schedule, always too full previously for exercise, suddenly changed. Training was undertaken. I struggled with 3–5 kilometre walks, pulling muscles on a regular basis. Anger and frustration were common feelings. My body did not perform as I demanded. It rebelled. Then I started to listen to it, dialogue opened up, and I sought outside advice. New shoes were tried. I defined regular training routes, distance goals, and I partnered with my body so we better supported each other. After a month I walked over 10km and I felt totally wiped out by the effort.

At just under three months, the week of Christmas, I achieved a goal of exceeding 70 km within one week, including a 20km walk. A month later I walked a marathon. Serious pronation required specialist shoes. Blisters halfway through a 40km walk took 4 weeks to heal – wrong specialist shoes. My knees gave out under the strain of carrying me the distances being asked. However, I got to the event with the issues resolved and in the best shape I had been in since I was a teenager. As a team we ran over the finish line together. I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

What got me through? Irrational belief in myself, determination and commitment, and an incredibly supportive team. I am sure there were times when they felt major concern about the overall success of the team because everything that could go wrong for me with my body seemed to. My result would impact them, yet they persisted, worked with me, encouraged me, and at the end of the event we did cross the line together.

It was a potent experience. I did achieve what health professionals and others had said I could not do in the time I had available. The event was not easy. It did pose its challenges, but I always knew I would succeed, and fortunately did not have to deal with lessons associated with failure.

The contrast between the unfortunately common project environment and my experience in the 100km walk is quite stark from which I draw the following. The “impossible” can be achieved when you foster within yourself and your team:

  • Unreasonable belief in your capacity to succeed
  • Desire and intention focused on the outcome
  • Commitment, dedication and the intelligent application of hard work
  • A great support network
  • Ownership and responsibility individually for actions and collectively for results
  • A genuine possibility that success is possible even if it does require extraordinary effort
  • Resilience to setbacks; they become failure when we succumb
  • Inspiration and motivation based on genuine desires, interests and beliefs shared by participants

So what seemingly impossible endeavour or insurmountable problem are you engaged in or going to be?

  • What resources can you draw upon (people, knowledge, techniques, tools) that can make a positive difference?
  • What negative elements can you offload so they do not hold you back?
  • How can you communicate objectives, seek commitment and garner support that builds on and extends a shared concept of success, value and possibility across the stakeholders?

Success comes from knowing what you want, committing to it, and always getting back up. Getting back up is motivated by finding reason to. A leader builds ownership of the reason among their team and stakeholders. Together the impossible may become possible. Personally and with your team, make a commitment, honour the commitment, and DO IT. Do something impossible.

Am I Ready for Coaching?

Coaching session
Am I ready for coaching?

The greater your responsibility, the greater the pressure on you to focus on and address external matters. You focus on meeting work and family obligations and duties, attempt to satisfy and maintain the demands of many relationships, and then you address what matters to you with whatever time remains. Do you wish you had time and space to delve into what really matters to you? Do you have facets of your business and personal life and performance that would benefit from genuine attention? Could you benefit from a safe, confidential space with a trusted confidant? If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you can definitely benefit from coaching.

Coaching is a fabulous way to take charge of your life, improve personal performance, own a new work role, strengthen relationships, deal with conflicts, manage a transition, develop personal capabilities, pursue stretch goals, and manifest dreams.

Getting the most out of coaching requires preparation. Having the right mindset and approach enables you to gain the most from coaching. You are READY or best prepared for coaching IF you are willing to:

  • take real action to create your own results;
  • eradicate old, redundant and limiting habits, thought patterns and beliefs;
  • be challenged in thought, feeling and behaviour;
  • take responsibility for your own results;
  • drop excuses for poor performance;
  • be open to self-directed learning of new skills and ideas.

OR

  • at least wish to occupy this growth space and develop these capabilities.

As your coach, I create a confidential space within which you experience unrestricted self-governance. You set the agenda. You work on what matters to you. It may be quite an unfamiliar experience to be in an environment where you focus solely on what matters to you without anyone else taking any degree of responsibility for what you do or create for yourself.

Coaching will enable you to enter new, previously unexplored, territory. I support and enable you by walking alongside you as your guide. I use questions to assist your exploration, expand your thinking, and confront new possibilities. I provide space for you to consider and reflect, generate insights, and develop approaches and ideas that work for you. Being with “not knowing” is integral to the coaching process. It precedes insight, the generation of one’s own solution that meets your unique approach and learning style, and which you own because they are your own ‘Eureka’ moments. A major outcome of coaching is your strengthened self-awareness and your capacity to intervene on yourself when you recognise you are undermining your own performance. Coaching is offered to support you generate ideas and pursue solutions. Are you ready for the benefits that coaching can offer you?

Being “ready for coaching” also considers how to prepare for a session, the first in particular. One of the tools that can assist you be ready for coaching is the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire. It is a simple process to assist you clarify and focus on what matters to you. While it provides me, your coach, with useful information, it is primarily offered to support your preparation for coaching. You benefit from completing it more than I do.

Coaching may be used to establish and pursue goals over an engagement (an agreed series of coaching sessions) or to address burning issues a session at a time. It can also be a combination of these and other possibilities. When you turn up for a coaching session, it is great if you already know what you want to work on, and are prepared to work. If you are not clear on what to work on, at least be prepared to work, to think, to be challenged, so that I may assist you gain the clarity that is eluding you. We will partner together in creating the purpose of the session, and ensuring you walk away satisfied with the time we spend together.

If coaching is right for you, or you wish to explore how it may help you, fill in the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire (click here for the questionnaire), and book a free initial coaching session with me, Stephen (click here to book a coaching session).

In summary, you are ready for coaching when you:

  1. recognise that you will benefit, get real value, from coaching;
  2. have the mindset and attitudes, or the desire to have such, that would make coaching work for you; and
  3. are prepared to get as much from a session as you can, knowing what you wish to work on, or at least being prepared to work with your coach to develop that clarity.

Offer: Free Coaching Session With Stephen

If you have never had a coaching session with me, you are invited to experience a free coaching session. To take up this offer, complete and submit the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire (click here for the questionnaire) and then book the free (up to 90 minutes) session (click here to book the session).

Trust: Essential for High-Performing Teams

"High"-Performing Team
“High”-Performing aerobatics team working in unison

Whether strategic, project-based or operational in nature, organisations want high-performing teams. Why? High-performing teams are recognised for the quality and quantity of work, and their capacity to solve problems and create solutions that are not tenable to a lesser team. With several decades of experience in team settings, I can count on one hand, without repeating the use of fingers, the number of teams I have been part of that were truly high-performing.

My absolute favourite team was a short-duration team of 4 of us brought together for a very specific purpose. None of us had worked together before, or even known each other. For the six weeks we were together we spent most of our waking time together. We were in Twizel, highly remote back in the 90’s, and effectively we only had each other. We were individually and collectively committed to success. We worked tirelessly on our individual tasks. We collaborated whenever we dealt with interfaces or one of us had struck a problem that was anything more than routine. We had rich conversations about problems and possibilities, potential solutions and validating client expectations against our deliverables. As the project manager, I managed the work, not the team. Other than attending to issues and concerns as they arose, team management was not needed. In the context of what we were doing, I was an equal member of the team to everyone else, with my ‘technical role’ consisting of work, delivery and customer management responsibilities. We were peers. We trusted each other thoroughly. We knew all the others had our backs, were supporting us, and that if we were straying from what we were there to do, one of them would respectfully bring us back in. It really was hard work. Being on that team was fantastically rewarding. As much as I would love to claim ‘I created a high-performing team.’ I cannot. It was high-performing, and I certainly ensured that my contribution did not thwart it being high-performing.
High-performing teams result from the team as a whole creating the environment and enabling it to happen. If anyone opts out, or gets in the way, of the process, the fullness of a high-performing team cannot occur.

Why do I put such stock in trust that I name it as an essential ingredient? You can manage teams, assign tasks, ensure roles and responsibilities are clear, establish clear decision-making and problem solving protocols, and monitor performance. The bigger the team, the greater the management burden, which may also extend to ongoing recruitment, performance management and other human resource processes. While all that is in place for a high-performing team, you don’t “manage” the team. You facilitate it. You lead it. You allow and encourage and attend to the culture, values and interpersonal relationships within the team. High performance is nurtured and developed, not mandated. It is established through leadership and owned by everyone. It requires commitment, shared purpose and values, and a willingness and capacity to name and deal with whatever is getting in the way. Those behaviours within a team environment require significant trust. High-performing teams really are all about trusted relationships.

Common behaviours that erode team performance include one-upmanship, back-stabbing, political positioning, withholding from others (relative to team function and work space) and irresponsibility for self and to others in the team. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. What other behaviours have you observed that undermine trust and interfere with achieving cohesion and performance?

Developing high-performing teams is a prime area for team coaching. The coach, as an impartial outsider, is able to observe team functioning and dynamics, and call attention to behaviours that are getting in the way. A coach cannot make a team high-performing. That requires the team’s effort and commitment, but a coach sure can make it easier for those committed to the process, willing to receive feedback, and open to personal growth (adjusting their own attitudes and behaviours where necessary). High-performing teams can and do occur, and the experience of being on one is an incredibly satisfying and fulfilling experience.

Contact me if you’d like support in developing the performance of your team.

 

The Next Step is My Responsibility

Taking the next step
Whatever my next step, I am responsible for taking it.

Whatever situation we find ourselves in, whether organisational strife, a need to change our own circumstances, estranged children, meeting the consequences of previous action or any number of other possibilities, the next step is, in my world, my responsibility, and in your world, yours. That may seem sweeping and bold as a statement. It is. If it is not your responsibility to create the difference needed in your world, whose responsibility is it?

If I am in conflict with my partner, and I don’t take responsibility to take some positive action, at least attempt something towards a reconciliation, the message is “Darling, I don’t care and it is your responsibility.” If I am in a work environment and observe an injustice, and choose to do nothing, in the inaction I am saying, “I accept and support this form of injustice.” If something I value is being eroded, and I do nothing, I am declaring “I don’t really value this thing.”

People who do pursue their passion and seek to correct something they see as out of whack are often labelled “Activists”. For those who are not engaged in their passion, the activist can be a real challenge to things as they are. None of us can possibly pursue every cause, right every wrong, or address every injustice. Bring any two of us together and we won’t agree across the board on what matters and how the issues ought to be addressed. Hence a variety of political parties, religions, nations, cultures, clubs and so on.

Yet, if we do nothing, sit back because we are busy or someone else can do it better, or for any other reason we concoct, we are saying “What is occurring is okay.” Creeping Normality, otherwise known as Death by a Thousand Cuts, highlights how inaction over an intrusion into what we value leads to greater acceptance of greater wrong, until our world has changed and the new normal is massively out of step, and we feel powerless to intervene. The often cited, usually as a poem, speech by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), “First they came …” speaks of inaction as first one group is taken, then another, with no intervention, until they come for “me”. Oops.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Global warming, genocide, war crimes, pollution, racism or any other –ism, political and business corruption, and a host of other intrusions into what some people value are classic examples of Creeping Normality. It occurs within organisations as well when a person imposes their values on others and remains unchallenged. It is easy for those with authority within a system to assume that they speak for the whole, or that they know best. Status is a great opiate. Many “leaders” choose to reach decisions in isolation. It is a difficult and courageous act of leadership to engage with and hear the voices of subordinates or others impacted by decisions. You may still have to make the hard call. Doing so while engaged with those affected, understanding and appreciating the values of those impacted, enables heart as well as head to be engaged in the decision. Conversely, it takes great courage to raise one’s voice and speak out against processes and decisions that appear inappropriate, especially if also seeking to maintain open and constructive dialogue. It is not unusual for those fearful of opposition to silence objections.

As with all things, balance matters. If every idea raised were to be shot down by someone else, we would have anarchy, and little chance of progress. When there is no ability to voice concern, we have a dictatorship. Somewhere in the middle is a place where ideas and counterarguments can be voiced and respected. That is a difficult and valuable place to reach and maintain. That requires willingness and commitment of all involved.

We are responsible for how we feel, what we think, what we say, the actions we take, and the behaviours we exhibit. We are also responsible to others to let them know how we feel, what we think, how they are impacting us, and what we need. After all is said and done, in any situation, we are each individually responsible for what and how we contribute to the results that are achieved.

  • Are there situations, issues or challenges that threaten your values?
  • How might you contribute to creating outcomes that reflect your values?
  • Do you value and respect the rights of others to justice and fairness? If so, what are you doing or could you do to ensure the voices of impacted individuals and groups are heard and considered?
  • How can you balance expedient decision-making and action with understanding and consideration of relevant issues and concerns of others?
  • If you choose to bypass or minimise opposition or counterarguments, what is your motivation?
  • Are you functioning from a place of personal power or reacting to fear?

Do Your Principles Matter?

James B. Donovan
“James B. Donovan” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:James_B._Donovan.jpg#/media/File:James_B._Donovan.jpg

The instruction was issued: “Your objective is to get Gary Powers”. James Donovan had recently defended a Russian spy caught in the USA. Having been “invited” the government to undertake the spy’s defence, he had then been placed under pressure to defend half-heartedly. He became a target of hate and anger from people who judged him as wrong for defending such an enemy of the state. A US pilot of a spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace and had not taken the cyanide tablet as expected of him. A spy exchange was required. Donovan was invited to conduct the negotiation. At the same time Frederic Pryor, an American student, had been arrested in East Berlin for being on the wrong side of the previously non-existent wall at the wrong time. Instructed to get the spy and ignore the student, Donovan retrieved both men in the exchange. Donovan was subsequently successful negotiating a major exchange following the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba. He was successful in achieving more than was requested because a) he held a bigger picture of what was possible than those issuing orders; b) he had principles and values that really mattered to him; and c) he stuck to his principles and values regardless of pressure from others.

Institutions and leaders often expect us to assume specific roles and deliver purely on what is requested, without question and without deviation. The higher the authority, the more strongly the edicts seem to be when issued, and the stronger the consequences of non-compliance. Questioning, challenging or otherwise apparently going against leadership is treated as a crime. All too often orders are issued with the expectation of blind, unquestioning obedience. At the same time, these same leaders hold closed sessions from which orders are issued, unwilling to share rationale and expose themselves to challenge. We are expected to not only accept the instructions but also believe they have “our best interests” at heart.

In my years of working with large numbers of organisations, and experiencing many “leaders” issue instructions that make little sense to me, the person expected to implement them, I do believe we need to maintain our sense of self, our willingness and ability to question and challenge, and not walk blindly into someone else’s minefield. All too often we park who we are at the door as we enter our place of employment and cease to practice what we believe in.

One of the more famous ethical debacles was the 1970’s Ford Pinto safety issue, where a slow-speed rear-end collision could result in the Ford Pinto to erupt into a ball of flame. The recall did not come because the $11 fix per car cost more collectively than the expected value of the human lives (estimated at about $200K) that would arise from such accidents. Prior to joining Ford Dennis Gioia was an opponent of the Vietnam war and strongly concerned about the ethical conduct of business. He joined Ford as a problem analyst and later was the field recall coordinator, yet he did not recall the Pinto. As he later reflected in papers he wrote on his own experience, he parked his thinking and challenging and principled nature at the door, and adopted the script handed to him by the organisation. He assumed the role the organisation dictated, and lost sight of what mattered to him.

We get hired for who we present at an interview, and then we take up the role, and park what we value of ourselves outside. We cease being that person who succeeded in the interview. We lose who we are in the process… unless we choose not to.

I am not suggesting “I am always right”. I do suggest that more of the instructions issued and roles defined need to be challenged, and that as each individual honours their own values and principles, and does not cower down unquestioningly to those in higher authority, some of the debacles may actually be prevented, and the quality of decisions improved. Yes, there are times to follow instructions and do what is requested. Also, if everything was challenged by everyone, nothing could progress. Sometimes what is being asked for is suspect and deserves to be named as such. Plenty of research highlights the value of challenge to improving decisions, yet challenge is often actively avoided by those making the decisions.

What are the principles and values you treasure as being fundamentally defining of who you are? Do they remain present and visible in your organisational role? If not, what is that costing you?

Reference

Trevino, L. K. and Nelson, K. A. (2011). Managing Business Ethics: Straight Talk About How To Do It Right. USA: John Wiley and Sons Inc (Fifth Edition).

Construction Zone, New Development Underway

Construction zone
Construction zone, new foundations forming

A specific change within ourselves may be initiated for any number of reasons. Two significant motivations include recognising and consciously deciding to attend to an underdeveloped or absent role that we require; and a specific situation demanding responses that we are unable to sufficiently offer. Whatever the catalyst for personal change, the more dramatic the change and the urgency or drive to change, the greater the upheaval you will experience. It can look very much like your inner being is a construction zone. Internal structure are pulled down, old patterns and beliefs that have been dormant may be liberated and occupy your psyche, even if unconsciously, and groundedness may disappear while a new foundation is formed. This all depends on the magnitude of the change. Life crises can often stimulate such upheavals, with examples of such events being birth of a child or grandchild, divorce, illness, death of a loved one, or the proverbial “mid-life crisis”.

A recent example from my own experience has been recognising patterns I have around taking leadership roles. Based on my life and experience there is no question that I can step into leadership and do well. However, my journey into leadership often takes me through one of the following routes:

  • If others are seeking the leadership role, I step back and say to myself, “Let them have it.”
  • If no one wants a leadership role (or it is an initiative I have started), I throw myself in with energy and gusto.
  • If I am invited into leadership, there is some degree of internal resistance that doubts my capacity and pushes the opportunity away.

All of those being true, I have sometimes surprised myself and moved forward with a degree of ease, though internal resistance invariably manifests at some point.

Lately, as I have recognised these patterns more fully, I have decided to develop my capacity to gracefully claim leadership, step into the space and occupy it with a sense of ease and belonging, and allow myself to be seen. Sounds easy! What a journey it is so far. In a recent situation where I was facilitating I was feeling great, owning the space, and fully there, and then familiar voices sounded off in my head that I was inadequate, should not be there, and I would surely fail. I realised that the difficulty for me serenely and gently occupying space is that I then hear the cacophony of voices that pull me down and back. That moment became a process of choosing to stay in that space, recognising all my own internal nay-saying voices, expanding my capability for intentionally remaining in leadership and cutting, or at least acknowledging and loosening, the bands that hold me to past experience and beliefs. In the meantime my internal world is in a state of relative turmoil, with anxiety and shame being merged with excitement and hope of a new way of being. This is a great time for me to appreciate my fog, recognising it is a natural part of the process of change, and that at some point the dust will clear. Then, I will have easier access to the new capacity forming within me.

What do you do when the fog arises from within? Do you allow it to be, and recognise it as a natural and necessary part of the process of change, or do you avoid the change or otherwise attempt to suppress the fog?

Journeys of Self-Discovery

Extending self to achieve great heights of achievement
Extending self to achieve great heights of achievement

Literature is full of stories of the hero embarking on a journey into lands and worlds previously unknown, uncharted and unconquered. Some of those heroes set out believing they are unconquerable, and experience trials and tribulations that take them to the brink of their will and capability, such as Homer’s Odysseus, some of their infallibility being knocked off them. Others set off on an adventure, ignorant of the world, following something within themselves, a calling, that they don’t understand. Parsifal, who had been protected from learning his kingly heritage by his mother, eventually had his true nature emerge and he had no choice but to follow where it took him.

Whatever the initial motive, the hero had to learn who they truly were, dig deep within themselves and manifest themselves as they never knew was possible. Some of their qualities were noble and inspiring. But heroes have flaws that almost certainly interfere with the clarity of purpose and ethics and morality of what they achieve. A necessary part of the hero’s journey is as much about conquering their inner world as it is about confronting significant external challenges. In the stories they eventually overcome all and manifest a new capacity from within themselves that enabled them to succeed, and which is often what they are then known for.

The hero is an archetypal energy we can all relate to and can draw on for power and inspiration as we engage in our own life and confront the challenges that are in our way. The question to hold as you meet your challenges is ‘What new role development do I call on from within myself to succeed here?’ So often life feels cyclic. “I have been here before”. It may be familiar but it is different and it will require something new to succeed, though it may be based on familiar qualities of yourself. Life is not a circle, rather it is a helix (shaped like a spring), and when we encounter something again, we are a little further forward. We are either needing to truly learn the lesson we did not master previously, or to expand our role repertoire to achieve something more significant. And, as with the journey of the hero, you will be required to dig deep and draw on courage and resilience to conquer, particularly in the internal part of your quest.

One example of such a helix in my life relates to staying in my power in relationship with others. As a result of a teenage experience I spent some year’s shutdown against and avoiding any form of conflict. I would not engage with someone who wished to confront me, rightly or wrongly, about who I was and how I was behaving. My belief system was such that I presumed I was likely at fault. Not a particularly useful approach when attempting to lead. I then found myself in leadership positions, and I was either going to perish without any capacity to create a difference, and fail as a leader, or find a new way of being. Direct and open confrontation was one learning. Another was staying engaged in the conversation, remaining present. Yet another was to truly listen to the other party, parking my need to respond immediately, improving my capacity to comprehend the other person’s perspective. This has been true throughout my working career, and in my personal relationships. No two occasions has been the same, but the recognition of being somewhere familiar has been high, and also that I have more on offer and available from within myself. Now, I am often called in to help team’s work through conflict and strengthen their capability to work effectively together.

What are your developing lessons in life? Your themes? What has strengthened your capacity as you have brought more of yourself into a situation? Have you taken your own heroes journey and become better acquainted with yourself, both your strengths and your weaknesses? Do you love yourself and accept who you are, even your uncomfortable or ugly bits?

Am I a Leader or a Manager?

A leader introduces vision, change, new ideas, motivation to act, and others choose to follow them. They open and expand the system they are within and increases the flow of energy and life. Leadership requires spontaneity and creativity and is oriented towards love, the fuel for authentic power.

A manager provides containment, tidiness, ensuring the establishment of and conformance to cultural and organisational conserves through process and policy, with efficiencies arising from oft repeated and improved activities. These have the effect of closing the system, regulating the flow of energy and at best, maintaining the status quo and is oriented toward fear. Sometimes the manager may utilise shame, criticism and micromanage your every thought and action. There is never a good reason for that excessive and inappropriate control, and those behaviours are thoroughly fear-based.

In business, both have their place. It is important to know which is needed in a given situation and to not confuse the two. For example, a major cost cutting, people culling process is largely a management action, though successfully bringing the organisation through and out of such an endeavour requires sound leadership.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948)

The orientation toward love or fear can also be used to assess whether the outcomes achieved were the result of leadership or management, or something else. For example, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) inspired a nation and expanded the system the Indian nation was under, ultimately bringing freedom through “nonviolence” from British rule. Mother Teresa (26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997) created change in the world one person at a time.

Adolf Hitler is an interesting one. Was he a leader or something else? Certainly he had an amazing capacity to motivate and move the populous and create change. He had a great ability to put actions into motion and marshal people to create the outcomes he sought. Was it leadership or the actions of a strategic manager. Certainly much of his personal motivation and style involved fear, and he built his Third Reich on the people afraid of an alternative.

Similar principles apply to how you work with yourself. Your internal manager tends to work from a place of fear and directedness, and as a result you may find yourself anxious and experiencing contraction, holding on to what is familiar. Your leader within works from a place of love and trust, is open and spontaneous, and you are then able to remain available to opportunities and retain the capacity to create something positive and new. The manager works more in a reactive fashion; the leader with a greater vision of your long-term future. Both do have their place. Have you learned how to balance the two?