Open Leadership

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“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.

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Laugh it Up

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Laughter Yoga.
You are having a laugh, right?
I am inwardly groaning; silently seeking a wall to gently bang my head off.
I’m cynical about the widely smiling woman who takes the mic to talk to us about the Power of Laughter… an outright rejection of whatever she is going to say before she even says it – yeah yeah yeah.
Laughter.
Fun.
Happiness.
Important.
I got it.
Blah.
It’s a dark and blustery October Sunday in Edinburgh – the wind is blowing a whoolie and it looks grim and grey out there.
I think it’s safe to say I’m not precisely feeling peace n love n joy.
I’m defended and resentful.
What does this have to do with the everyday ups and downs of my life?
This overly simplistic “laughter is the best medicine” stuff….
Come on. Really?

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Learning Echoes

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What goes around comes around.
I kind of do experience that.
The stuff I don’t deal with well first time returns to me until it is properly sorted – the life equivalent of faulty goods being returned until they are replaced with something fit-for-purpose that will last.
I’ve realised of late it is the same with my learning – something I didn’t understand or grasp first time it was seen, read, heard, experienced somehow pops back into my sightline at a random point and the lightbulb flickers on: “ohhhh… it’s thaaaaat..”   Learning I have run screaming from because “it’s just too hard” is precisely what is required to be successful in an interaction, a decision, an outcome …. Go figure.

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Core Strength & Organisational Sit Ups

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She firmly, yet not unkindly, pats her hand on my midriff as I try to “stand normal”. She is assessing my posture. It is unnerving.
I’m literally head and shoulders taller than her and as I pull myself up to what my Gramps used to call my “fighting height” I feel like I’m a giant.
This is awkward.
For me
But seemingly not for her.
This tiny, compact Vietnamese woman has been scrutinising me with laser precision. Walking round me, head to one side sometimes. Peering at my back, my sides, my arms…occasionally moving me this way or that – gently pushing me here and there…
She stands back and, after an achingly long pause, says firmly: “You have no core”
Me: I’m sorry?

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Focus Shift

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When mid-year swung into view a couple of weeks ago, I found myself doing one of those Scooby-doo double takes… Huh? How? What?

Perhaps this has been the cause (or the symptom?) of some recent conversations I’ve found myself in about focus. I’m not a precision junkie by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a lover of life, a connector of ideas, someone who relishes experiences over hypothesis. This means, fairly often, I am playing with and working on all sorts of things – seemingly disparate – and I have to remind myself, as I would my clients, about balancing my focus and my energy.

At a recent Leadership Retreat run by Wendy Palmer, I reconnected with the embodied part of my practice. This is the bit where, when I’m coaching or facilitating, I ask you to pay attention to yourself more fully… to lose some of the rapid thought, ambition, judgment, fear, busy-ness, that stuff….  It’s the bit where I invite you to breathe a little deeper, stand a little taller and cut through a lot of the crap you sense around you. It’s the bit where I invite you to focus on what is real, what is important for you and then work on how to make that bigger, more figural, more present in your life.

I’m not sure what the technical or academic term is for this. To me? It’s focus shift. It’s the part where we work together move your focus either up and out – way way beyond the issue at hand to look at the broader picture…. Or it’s the part where we move from the broad morass and life-stuff-hubbub to focus in on the quiet spaces and begin to unpick what matters most.

This is my job – to work with you in a way that is meaningful; to cut to the very crux of what action you want or need to take…. Then to cheer you on as you move to action. This is my job and I love it.

So it was I found myself wondering where my own focus has been so far this year – noticing the lack-of–contact I’ve had with certain friends and family and how others have absorbed me. The folk I feel I have let down, the folk I know I haven’t. The work I’ve done that has delighted, the work done that has distracted. The miles clocked up. The money spent. The conversations.The learning. The dissertation that I both love and loathe in a bizarrely complicated fashion. In the midst of all of this gloriously full-on life of mine, I found myself pretty knackered and a bit… hmmm…. Where did my year go?

Now I’m all for physician heal thyself. The last time I checked I wasn’t perfect and dropping back in on myself more fully of late, it seems that still stands. So I have been lucky enough and hopefully discerning enough to get into some conversations with people who have helped me focus more (shout outs in particular to Amanda Ridings, Jon Bartlett @projectlibero, David Goddin @David_Goddin, Liz Tyson, Rhona Graham @rhonaoGraham, & Joanna Pirie) – to pick what is important and true for me, at this mid point in the year.

Focus shift? It’s the way forward.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to experience it….

Oh… and the peacock? He was strutting around Samye Ling whilst we were on the retreat. Is this boy a master of distraction or focus I wonder?

Please?

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I was at  a Napier University Event at the Scottish Parliament last night – I’m alumni of Napier  and it  holds a special place as one of the four Universities in Edinburgh – much of the emphasis is on knowledge & research into practice –  linking students with commerce & work, but with an academic underpinning. It’s a model  that worked well for me when they put me on placement in HR at Russell Athletic and I was shadowed by an excellent HR professional, who really helped me see how the theory needs to be adapted and used lightly to fit with the reality of the HR Practice ( a Twitter conversation I sort of had with @HR_Cass recently about using SWOT & PESTLE lightly… anyway)

Professor Helen Francis is passionate about dialogue. Through Napier University business School and the Edinburgh Institute, she is looking to set up a cadre of practitioners that can work with big business and SME’s in Scotland to improve the quality of conversation, raise the capacity for holding difference and debate in the workplace and get a better working life for the majority of people in organisations. This is music to my ears. I attended her Professorial debut a few weeks ago where she mapped her research and thinking for the future and I got really enthused about what could be on offer here in Scotland. Helen used to tutor me when I studied my CIPD at Napier, back in the day and I have the utmost respect for her, so I sought her out at the Scottish Parliament event we attended last night.

We started talking Dialogue – what fuchsiablue is up to, what Napier & the Edinburgh Institute are up to – and  we reached a conversation about David Kantor’s 4 player model of conversation ( a foundation stone in some of the work we do – much like the GROW model in Coaching or SWOT in strategy). I’m fond of the Kantor model. I like it’s simplicity, it’s fluidity…. so I’m nodding as we talk about how this can be used….

and then we reach a point in the conversation where Helen is talking about a questionnaire and tool to help measure the extent to which folk move, follow, bystand….. and how we can use this tool to analyse conversation in organisations and offer gap analysis to Boards… and I  made this noise: ” nooooooooooooooooooo”  and then I blushed deeply…..

here was my response ( not all spoken out)

Please? Please not another tool to measure and analyse? Not another MBTI/ Here is your box solution?  Please don’t let’s keep going to Boards and pointing out the gaps? Please let’s not do this with Dialogue? My Dialogue is lively and human and contextual. My Dialogue depends on who is in the room, who speaks, who shuts up. It is dynamic and unpredictable. It is emergent and creative and connected and argumentative and edgy. As a practitioner, I want to be able to stand in front of Boards and say quite simply and categorically that you cannot measure the dynamic of a team. You can watch it and nurture it and nudge it and challenge it but you cannot quantify it.

this is about joie de vivre, je ne sais quoi, magic, chemistry – the chemical reaction you have in your body when you are angry or lit up. The chemical reaction I had in my body when I said NO and blushed to the roots of my hair at the boundary I’d overstepped.

Please? Can we just trust ourselves as human beings that we “know” intuitively, intellectually, emotionally – what is going on around us and whether that is right or wrong, with out a measuring stick or a sodding tick box?

And trusting ourselves, can we then go back to leaders and Boards and shareholders and say “you know what? this just doesn’t feel right”

Oh Lord… I can Hear John Lennon again…..

 

Day Four – Dialogue? It’s a Whole-Body Thing

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Last week I ran a “Bring your Body to Work” session in a leadership programme. The invitation to participants was to pay attention to how interactions at work generate physical responses (altered breath, tension, knotted gut, racing heart) and how learning to work with that can help us respond well or differently in-the-moment.

It’s my challenge to the whole “sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” adage. Actually? Words can hurt and wound. Or lift and inspire. There is a physical impact, often, in the talking we do. Pretending otherwise kind of seems counterproductive, especially if you are striving to be a leader. So dialogue absolutely has an embodied element to it….

Body Works
I have been privileged to work with the deeply wise and generous Amanda Ridings, author of Pause for Breath, for over 3 years now. She is mentor, friend and teacher. Amanda brings together her experience in business, her t’ai chi and mindfulness practices and the embodied/ somatic work of Wendy Palmer; linking these elegantly with dialogue and leadership. Her work is fiercely powerful.

You know you’ve worked with Amanda when you find someone pushing gently against you (physically or conversationally) and your body becomes rock-like and unyielding, stubborn and unwilling to budge (in my case) and you suddenly realise you’re not quite as flexible and open as you’d have yourself believe….

The work throws up great questions: How does my body respond under pressure? Or under praise? What effect does this have on my capacity to talk well or respond well to others around me? What’s my body up to when I feel fight-y and scared? What working conditions help me to be expansive and generous? How can I understand these and work with them more often?

Bring Your Body To Work
Amanda’s work really forced me to understand that I work with head, heart and instinct. I am not a “brain on a stick” as she would say. How people speak and respond to me and how I speak and respond to others has an impact. It matters. If I want good outcomes for me, for my business, for my family, some awareness of my-whole-self-in-conversation is not just useful… it’s absolutely bloody essential.

I was a little shy about explicitly using body work in leadership and management programmes for a while. I thought clients would see my work as being slightly “out there” if I wasn’t using the appropriate models and giving due attention to the brain….But how can you run a Presentation course without due consideration for breathing and posture? Is it OK to train managers how to performance manage without dealing with the physical reality of nerves? How can we ask someone to lead a team, without equipping them with an understanding of what it might physically do to them when they step into the limelight? I’m not sure it’s wise or productive to work in this way.

So I talk about body work now. It is a firm part of my practice. These days? I bring my body to work…

And in this is an invitation – fuchsiablue is running two 2-day workshops on 5th & 6th Feb and 20th & 21st March this year designed to encourage attendees to think well and talk well together.

You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here:

If you are interested, please sign up – if you’re not, please pass this on to someone who might be – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days.

Day Three – Dialogue? It’s a brain thing….

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Welcome to Day Three of the Exploring Dialogue series. The blogs are designed to consider the impact and influence of use-of-dialogue in everyday and organisational conversations.

Writing about dialogue is a head-scratcher.

I’m trying to write about something essentially verbal and experience-based. It’s hard to find good language for this, I’m finding…..

And yet it feels important to share some of the definitions and deeper meanings I attach to Dialogue – what it might mean to converse and interact well. I’m drawn to David Bohm when he points out that:

Dialogue comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means “the word”.. and dia means through – it doesn’t mean “two”. A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of that dialogue is present…a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us.” ( Bohm 1996 ,P 7)

Making Meaning
That “stream of meaning” is processed by our brains (and our bodies – I’m coming to that bit in a later post). We hear words, attach meaning to them, respond according to the meaning we make….someone hears, makes meaning, responds…ebb, flow, ebb flow…… And it’s in how we interpret and understand what has been said, that we start to agree or disagree with each other.

My point is we don’t “just say” into a vacuum. To be understood well is to acknowledge others are there, interpreting our words and to consider the impact of what-we-say-to-people and what-they-say-back more thoughtfully. It’s the difference between talking at (monologue) and talking with (dialogue).

Change Happens in Conversation – Literally
We are changed through our interactions with people and the wider world. I understand it might seem like an obvious thing to write (the temptation to say “Duh…of course we are” might be high at this point) but I’d offer this notion of change in conversation is something important, maybe even profound. Your differences, stories, reactions, interpretations affect me. I affect you. My brain creates new connections as we talk. I have new experiences and insights. I become different. You literally alter my mind:

“ As the study of plasticity of the brain evolved, scientists noticed that the brain was capable of creating new connections on a massive scale at any stage of life and did this in response to anything that was learned….It is now widely believed that our brain doesn’t just get rewired when life-changing events occur; it happens second by second in response to what is going on around us.” (David Rock,Quiet Leadership 2006)

So the brain responds and changes in conversation. We change in conversation. We shift each other, albeit slightly, when we interact… for me, this is where understanding and working with dialogue becomes important, compelling, maybe even beautiful. Because here, in small moments of talking, there is newness. Here there is the possibility of discovery, tolerance and connection. Here stigmas can be challenged. Here “the way we’ve always done things” starts to look less solid.

Connecting and Creating
When working with groups, teams and one-to-one with coaching clients, I have been fortunate enough to experience the profound, thought shifting, insight- giving moments that can and do happen when people share meaning and talk with each other. Not AT each other – but with each other. Generating a new sense of something together through words and questions. Building on an idea. Beginning to understand something previously unseen. Making new connections. Creating.

The energy that comes from these moments sticks with you. It creates a buzz in the room. A goosebumping on the skin. A quickening of the breath. A slowing of time. Did I say it was a brain thing? Ah…sorry… Lost track for a second.

Parting Thoughts
If you like, I could map out the difference between dialogue and discussion (Bohm’s view – like percussion or concussion, discussion is about breaking things up and into parts; like a ping-pong game where we bat words about and try to win points). I could get drawn into the semantics of whether or not something is a conversation or dialogue or talking well or collective intelligence. I’m up for that conversation if you want to buy me a coffee and we have some time together, of course I am….

…and that coffee discussion we have about semantics will, if I can stay open and curious enough, allow me to understand my view better or differently and allow you the opportunity to do the same…. or you may even, in conversation, help me to utterly change my mind, creating new synapses and thoughts. You could change the chemistry and mapping in my brain and I could change yours….

How cool is that?

And in this is an invitation – fuchsiablue is running two 2-day workshops on 5th & 6th Feb and 20th & 21st March this year designed to encourage attendees to think well and talk well together.

You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here:

If you are interested in the work, please sign up – if you’re not, please pass this on to someone who might be – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days.