Open Leadership


“Looking up, letting go and getting out of the way are, I think, essentials of leadership now. From my experience that is much more difficult to get your head around, and do well, than it sounds. I found it feels wrong, and can be hard to stick to when pressure is on, but does produce amazing results.”  Fuchsiablue Blog Comment, Nov 10th  2014 – Emma Browse – Senior HR Officer – Leeds City Council
I am nodding as I read Emma’s blog comment. Yup.
When we ask for new ways of leading in a world which seems to shift and change both rapidly and all too slowly, what are we actually asking for?
In the last blog I wrote:
You have to stay open and aware. That is Open in every sense. Open to new ideas. Open to deleting & scrapping stuff. Open to mistakes. Open to ditching old models of thinking and behaving. Open to being generous to your staff. Open to Learning.
Wow. That is a whole lot of open.
Now I understand the implications of what I’m writing there, I’m privileged enough to coach and facilitate enough folk to understand up close and personal what is required to stay open. It is risky. You run the risk of showing you don’t know, can’t do; you surrender bits of your power and status – often bits of power and status you fought damn hard to get… and that can make you feel foolish, naïve even. Your identity as Leader, as Expert, as Person in Charge becomes uncertain.
This “Open”, good people, is unnerving stuff.

The good news is, “open” is also hugely freeing, once you get over yourself & get beyond your fear-of-losing-control. Because, frankly, you often don’t know (and that’s understandable & OK – why and how would you know everything? Seriously?)
And newsflash – You can’t do everything– certainly not alone, no (wo)man is an island and all that. It’s irrationally overly egotistical/ narcissistic/ choose your psychological flaw of preference to lead alone. It’s an oxymoron – to lead alone. Who are you leading if you are alone? If you are not connected? Networked? Surrounded?
Your power and status are fragile, if they are externally given. If you rate yourself by car, money or the whim of the Board, you are vulnerable every day. You know this stuff. You have heard it plenty times. But how do you stay open in the face of being vulnerable everyday?
These are big questions, of course – bigger than a blog space.
One solution, organisationally, if I may offer such a thing in the face of these enormous existential type questions, is to offer opportunities for some real, deep reflective work for leaders. We are in the territory here of building resilience – in the face of threat to our status and identity, can we respond with maturity and wisdom? Can we hold ourselves strong in the face of others’ worry and fear? Can we learn how to be bigger, stronger, more gracious? Can we role model life-on-the-other side of change? Can we give the good people in our organisation, the brightest and best who have sought to lead, the opportunity to develop that maturity?
This is not fast work – this is take a week, or a period over a year, (or more realistically a few years – sorry, I speak the truth) type work to allow leaders and managers to come to terms with what is being asked of them, organisationally, commercially and personally.
And let me be very very very clear and precise. I am not for one split second suggesting reflective time for leaders is the answer to everything – we still need just-in-time, fast access, get this stuff learned & talked about learning, of course we do.
And we need more.
We are asking our people, ourselves, to lead people through Change. Often people hate the change, didn’t ask for it, don’t understand it, would rather just get on with life as was. We are reviled, distrusted, misunderstood, suspected of ulterior motives. We are ignored in corridors, muttered about in pub corners.
Oh… and did I mention we need to be Open?
At the CIPD conference recently, Dr Alan Watkins (see his TED talk here on how to be Brilliant Every Day)  tapped into the relationship between the body, the mind and emotion – how totally clueless we often are ( I am speaking from experience here, trust me) about our emotional or physical states as we blithely make decisions. We operate from a place of defense, when what is required mostly is the very opposite. His word was “sophistication” – we developing sophisticated leaders who can operate in a range of situations with clarity and consistency. The trick? Is to understand this stuff, experience it, work with it – we become better leaders, humans and all round less bruised beings. Then. Then you can be open.
And as ever in here there is a plea to my Profession – in the rapidity of our learning environment, fight for your leaders and put aside the time, space, cash to give them the deep support and sustaining development they need. Find excellent providers who you trust, who will work mind/body/emotion with your Leaders (they will be reluctant, perhaps, they are oft beaten up – this is where you need to Lead, L&D folk – this is where you bring your best knowledge. Push them.). Work with Experts who will care for your Leaders as much as, if not more than you do.
Do it because, as Emma says from her own experience, being open:
“It produces Amazing Results”

2 thoughts on “Open Leadership

  1. Good blog Julie and time for reflection seems to be a theme at the moment. I was lucky enough to be working with one of the big banks last week and they are wrestling with the cultural issue of how do we make it alright, to take time out to reflect? Particularly, as the culture doesn’t appear to reward or encourage that behaviour. No surprise, that a major part of the answer is that it will take leadership and modelling from the senior executives to start to change the behaviours. We left them thinking about what will senior leaders need to know, so that they think this is worthwhile?

  2. It’s a paradox – the need to slow down to go faster is something we rarely rate or consider. I’m glad you are in those conversations in this institutions, though – feels like a good thing.

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