Falling Short….

He’s read another leadership article.. and he falls short.

This time it is about Creating Happiness in the team, last time there was an urge for compassion… or was it the importance of focus? I can’t recall… what I notice is that this reading and observing of things he Should Be Doing is…distracting and sometime debilitating for him.
The article is from a reputable source. It’s backed up with good evidence. It must be right. He falls short. Again. What else is out there?

I’m saying I used to have what I think are comparable feelings when I read lots of women’s magazines (I don’t read them any more)
– Pressure to look amazing (but in a particular frame of amazing).
– Assurances that being yourself is enough (if yourself is more like this incredibly high-achieving glossy person who appears to have it sorted).
– The mind-bending phenomena of both inventing and advising me how to solve an issue I didn’t know I had in one short feature….
Leaving me with mixed messages and a sense of my own massive shortcomings– Wanting to strive to be better, but woefully aware of the impossibility of a large part of the task….helpful-not-helpful stuff.

I’m not sure he’s that impressed with my women’s magazine analogy… but hey, I work with what I have, at times. The invitation to him is to look at what he is being sold here and what he is choosing to take in. What is that doing to him? What are the messages and the subtext to what he is taking on? How helpful is all of this? Why is it so derailing for him, when others might not take it on board so? Where is he in all of this?

It seems like a bit of a theme emerging at the moment with a couple of clients (and friends in informal conversations who have been promoted or moved jobs etc) about Who Am I As A Leader?
Generally, these are friends/ clients who soak themselves in Leadership Stuff…they’ve done courses, read HBR articles, sought out business books and worked hard to keep up that side of their development – but somehow this research is unsatisfying…. For me, it’s because the fundamental question of Who Am I doesn’t get answered… if anything it gets obscured.

The meaningful bit, the part where they get to express with comfort and maturity: THIS is who I am in all of this, as a Leader; THIS is how I can and will contribute, THIS is how I will behave, conduct myself & deliver; THIS is what I won’t do …. that’s the bit there seems to be little time for.

When we design Development interventions, are we really giving people time to hone and articulate their own message? We seem to spend A LOT of time telling people what a leader is or could be or should be…. But what does that mean for an individual? Who ARE they, really as a leader? As a person? What are they bringing? How do they see the world? What culture are they creating around them? And can they get OK with that?

It’s about action and reflection – in whichever order you prefer, but hopefully in never-ending lovely loops – and I can’t help thinking this is the key to much of the behavioural change, confidence and capability building we reach for in our talent programmes and development approaches…. For me, the reflective part – sit down (or wander about) express what happened and why and how and what you chose and what was around you and chew it over a bit and refine it – this is so much more relevant, potent and long-lasting (and less judgemental?) than seeking the answers from an article. He wants to Create Happiness? He can’t do that by reading about it. There has to be action and consideration….and places for that to happen.

So go create spaces virtually and face to face which invite and insist on folk showing up as themselves – where flaws and fears can be thought through, where strengths and successes can be too.
Don’t throw too much content or concept in your programme design – let people bring what they have… it’ll be rich enough.
Work with really good, sorted coaches or facilitators, ones who have done their own reflective work and understand their own stuff enough to be able to sit with others’ fears or brilliance… you’ll know who they are… they’ll be recommended to you by people other than themselves.

And for leaders? Maybe get them to detox from some of the messages that are around. Pick one TED talk a year & mull on that deeply… something like that… it might help them know they are not falling short.

——

About me:

I’m a Organisational Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, Speaker, Blogger & Dialogue Guide. Founder of #facilitationShindig Working with people & organisations to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue and @Shindiggery1

Facilitation: We Move Folk… or Try To…

Much of the work, when we are facilitating, is about moving people’s “states” – working to move their learning, how they see the world, their current story…. this isn’t something we talk about widely in the training of facilitators… but for me it’s a no-brainer. We move folk… or try to.

So Movement is an interesting one – as humans we can be as stubborn and immovable as donkeys. We can be deeply entrenched, utterly unable or unwilling to shift our position or thinking…. And yet we are predictable, persuadable, biddable, impressionable….so somewhere in here is possibility.

I’m clear, when I facilitate (and coach), that I mostly cannot move you if you are not open or able to be shifted. Your life experiences, your wiring, your world-view are there and if you choose to remain within those – if the defences are up – there is little I can do.
I can learn how to persuade and influence. I can make a good case, rationally and emotionally, for a shift. I can ask good questions. I can create experiences and conversations that compel. I can create a little smoke & put you in front of mirrors (not so much my style, but it’s out there, if you pay attention) I can set the environment and the “tone” which give you the opportunities to shift. I can set something up that is as enticing and beguiling as it is possible to make a thing… and still you have to meet me someplace toward it – you need to move.
(and even if you move.. you might move back… so long-term sustained states are better than short term fixes?)

I suspect when we design stuff, this shift of state is what we reach toward, consciously or otherwise.
I’ll come back to this in a bit….

I’m a social scientist by training. Sociology taught me a lot about understanding social systems. We as humans pull toward being interconnected, interacting, joined-up-in-more-ways-than-we-act, social. We influence each other – someone commits an act of terror in London, there is a wider social ripple that effects us all. Someone restructures the organisation… new team and power dynamics run….
We can’t live without cause and effect – movement is inherent in all of this – changed states, shifts and patterns.
Systems are, by their very nature, dynamic. They move and respond in order to survive and thrive. Bits waste and fall out of favour (atrophy) bits develop (emergence). It’s a dance of sorts.

When you facilitate, in the room, it is no different. You work the system, often dancing in the moment, whether you know it or not.

If you work with a group from a single Organisation, folk replicate the system the come from – they carry the rights/wrongs/ culture of the place they come from. It’s in their thinking and actions, in their behaviours and their energy – the system you work with in the room is an echo of a wider system. What is favoured one place, is a bit “meh” elsewhere.

For example, if you’ll forgive the broad-brush stuff, when I’m working in Oil & Gas sector in the Middle East, I might get a repetition of engineering thinking in the room, Sector thinking (lots of emphasis on safety), the cultural mix of Northern European liberalism, Ex-pat nomads and Middle Eastern conservatism, … brought under a shared purpose of pulling oil out of the Gulf safely, which is where the cultural differences must be dropped a little. What might be valued/ permitted in this room is expertise, proven theory, certainty, formal process and action – creativity and innovation might be viewed with a little scepticism… or flat fear.

In a UK Local Authority, the emphasis might be more on social thinking – systems, social care, social justice – what might be valued/ permitted in the room might be freedom to explore ideas, acknowledging complexity, collaboration, creativity and relationship-building… formal process and theory-based slide decks and definitive answers might just not work.

Or when working with a group from lots of different systems, an Unconference or a cross-sector workshop, I know that individuals tend to replicate the social system they know – the norms and behaviours from their world – and group work here can be more hectic, less settled for a while, especially if norms and permissions collide…..

None of this is right or wrong .. You mostly roll with it- but going back to the point above, if you are looking for the shift, if you want to successfully facilitate Movement (of learning, ideas etc) understanding the System & what it tolerates, values or rejects can greatly help your design & approach… and you can’t absent yourself from it – you will have an impact on the group you work with…

Movement & The Facilitation Shindig

we’re going to work with the theme of Movement at the May #FacilitationShindig. I’m going to use a couple of things to explore Movement in and around the system.  (If you don’t know about the Shindig yet, have a look at www.FacilitationShindig.com or follow @Shindiggery1 ) Broadly, a breakdown of what we’ll cover looks like this:

  1. As with every Shindig, one of the core principles is It Starts With You – we’ll look at what moves you and what keeps you grounded. The system is about to get mobile around you in the room – you need to be a stable point, not dragged about by others’ stuff – to be able to stand, relaxed, open, not-anxious, curious…
  2. Practical activities help you do that (be organised, understand your “flow” etc) and we will focus on physical elements which help – practices of physically centring and re-balancing. I’m drawing from Embodied Work from my teachers in this field, particularly Wendy Palmer and Amanda Ridings. Wendy looks at the physical, embodied nature of being in the world and asks how we can actively connect to our strength dignity, and warmth. In the room it is this: can you connect to the Good Stuff and extend it out, extending your personal space, creating a felt-sense of calm, inclusion etc ?
    You can find out more about Wendy’s work here:

  3. Beyond-self. Looking at understanding and moving the system. We’ll look at mapping – using 3D System Sculpting – and some stuff around movement in the room (what do we need to think about/ try when we move folk round? What happens if we are faced with physical restrictions?)
  4. Finally we’ll look in to and use Constellations – roughly speaking, this is about experiencing where we stand in relation to each other, to the sytem, to a situation or a pattern – looking at it from a number of perspectives.

So we are looking at Movement – in every sense of the word – and how that fits in our practice as facilitators and what more we can do with the dynamics we work with and are influenced by.

register your interest for the event on the 4th May click here

 buy a ticket for 4th May Movement session click here

 

 

 

Staying Upright

We are facing it again – the illness of a loved one – my family kicked in to an oddly known pattern, following a phonecall… bad news… information…response…. we gather in Scotland. We talk and speculate, we have terrible gallows humour about the grimness of the situation. We crumple. We recover. We hold each other. We separate and stay in touch – messages, phonecalls – we manage the conversations – medical, social, relatives, practical. It runs as it needs to – a strange stream – not a linear pathway – not a torrent of a river, but a small, determined stream, bubbling in a mostly-predictable direction – with sudden bursts of flow and then back to something steady.

I find myself slightly annoyed with the familiarity of it. Having been through something similar with Dad, this feels like de ja vu. The crappiest roller coaster in the park. I hated it first time round. This time it’s no party either, but somehow I have a sense of “ok… this is how this goes…” so somehow even the unpredictable parts are … partially expected. And somehow that saddens me more….That I can feel resigned and stoic. That I’m not raging against the dying of the light in the way I did before.

Emotions are complex beasts.

And in the midst of familiarity, I experience my own change, my own learning, the unfamiliar shifts in my responses. Where once I was laid flat by how I felt– worried and frightened and small and furious – I find I can now stand in the maelstrom a little better. It gets a little wobbly, but I’m definitely more upright…. Where once I ignored that I was completely flattened and attempted to crawl on regardless…I find I can’t do that now… I’m not prepared to do that now…
Whilst I’d still prefer not to be on the floor, I recognise that sometimes sitting there is right. I need to stop. To take stock. To write. To articulate: I feel this. It is this way for me. I’m struggling/ I’m surprisingly ok/ I need X – and then less is pinning me down… and I can stand… and walk outside and breathe.

In all of this, I have a sense of coming face to face with my mortality – turns out I don’t ACTUALLY have super powers. The irony of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is not lost one me – I’m seeing her everywhere & I so love some of what she represents… and still, I don’t have super powers… This is old news… but it still never ceases to surprise me. My mode of being is one where I can affect change, I can create conversations, take action, have a plan B… in the world I create for myself, I have agency most of the time…
But in a situation where someone you love is dying, you have no agency. You can’t DO a damn thing. Circumstance dictates. Your phone becomes your friend and foe. The ringing brings a second of dread – what news? You are beholden.
These are lessons well learned…and I’m truculently thankful for them.

And in the face of no agency, I still need to feel I can choose. So I choose to continue working, to do good stuff that gives me pleasure and purpose – and to be realistic about what that means. And I choose to go do stuff that feels good – I choose to live, in the face of the alternative choice I think “live” is a good one. I choose to drive 4 hours for a visitation that is rationally pointless, but needed and nurturing. I choose to design team days that enable joy, creativity and thought-provocation and I choose to put stuff around me so I can deliver those well, and still be here and clear – and rest myself a bit after.

I choose who to talk to .. sometimes steering clear of folk who might help…or who might open me up – because I need to be not-open to function for a bit. I choose to lock down a little. I choose easy books and kids movies…I choose not to get political. I choose no sudden moves. I choose to go gently where I can.
You do what you do to get through. To survive and thrive.

I choose these things because I don’t want this to be the only thing. The arresting thing. The defining thing. The sole focus.

It’s the only way I know how to stay more upright.

Picture: Human condition by T Storm Halvorsen

The Truth About Collaboration

color-burst-3-610x343

So the truth is there is a way to work collaboratively, co creatively and constructively with others.
Even with people who have vastly different approaches/ preferences.
And the truth is this way can’t be defined in a top-10-tip list.
And collaboration needs worked at hard for the results to show.
And it’s the less-easy path, because self-interest, self-protection and self-centredness is pretty easy to access.
Including and involving others, trusting, sharing? Ah, now… that’s a lot more complicated.

When I want to work collaboratively, it is this:
I need enough clarity, purpose & articulation to make sense.
Know why I’m doing what I’m doing…and ensure folk know that.
State my case.
Why I think what I think & stand within that….
But not stubbornly. Not blindly or narrowly.
I have to be able to give, to yield, to be as wrong as I am right.
To be interested in others.
I have to not be a petulant child.

This is Relational Practice as I understand it.
It is stuff the oils & fuels change in organisations.
The stuff in between the process and procedure and formal mechanisms and rules.
It’s thinking with clients.
It’s working with ambiguity & knowing that not-knowing is transitory, but necessary.
It’s loving the questions.
It’s not fearing new solutions.
It’s not single handedly designing a 24 week organisational solution to be delivered like an Amazon Parcel.
It’s building in consultation, iteration & experimentation.

It’s sharing findings for bigger, more expansive outcomes, rather than tightly holding small fiefdoms.
It’s uncovering answers together… because somehow going slower makes us faster.
It’s pulling existing knowledge into being & building on together that so it’s better and stronger.
It’s getting over yourself to the space beyond you.

It’s encouraging technology for progress and positive outcomes
It’s about quiet time in the crazy.

It’s putting heart and soul in & knowing that cannot be quantified, but seeking the data to explain how it worked & articulate it as best we can & repeat if we can anyway

It’s about power.
The power we think we have.
The power we exert.
The power we deny we have.
The power we are clueless about.
It’s about how kindly or thoughtlessly we use that power.

It’s not dismissing anyone.
It’s not elevating anyone either.
Everyone is important, therefore no-one is
Everyone is different, therefore we are all the same.
It’s about respectful opposition
And about humour in tough circumstances.

It’s about sitting in tough & tender conversations.
If we prefer the tough, it’s facing into the tender.
If we prefer tender, it’s putting yourself in the tough stuff.
It’s about stretch.

And about dignity.
Not denying your femininity / masculinity. Knowing you have both.
I have the capacity to be assertive & strong & directive & agentic.
I have the capacity to yield, to be soft & open & commune.
I can be certain.
I can be afraid
And these are right, proper at times.

And at the heart, it is about love.
Love of self.
Love of others.
Love of the possible & the unknown.
Love of the impossible & the known.
Living with what these give & what they take.

It’s about a hundred stories of hopes crushed & fights fought and getting up and cracking on anyway.
It’s human spirit in all it’s heartbreaking, excruciating beauty.
It’s human nature that tests things of beauty to breaking point.
It’s the terrible things we do to each other to make ourselves feel better & the terrible things we do to ourselves at others’ behest.
We are so clever… we are so dumb…..

And when I look at all of this…. the richness and the depth and the complexity of it all….
I think it is unsurprising that we turn from work that is relational, social, emotional – We go for simple narratives and binary decisions.
and it leads us to a post-truth world, where rational data co-exists with “alternative facts” and “he-said/ She-said” is the basic narrative – a stuck one. An adversarial one.
Here, there is such certainty, it undermines certainty itself.

So how about we sack-off certainty and seek to collaborate, co-create and work through relationships with a little maturity and grace?
Hard work as it is.
Try it. Today. See what happens.

Introducing….The Facilitation Shindig

Version 2

Earlier this year I spent a day in a room with a group of people I respect beyond measure as we walked through the process and methods we were going to use to facilitate teams of leaders in a FTSE 250 over a period of months.

The purpose of these leadership sessions is the good stuff – the simple, yet not easy, good stuff – that thing of getting highly skilled, smart, experienced folk to let down their guards a bit, to know each other and to work together in different ways to their current ways of being. Looking to shift intractable issues through building relationships, by thinking and working together, by equipping these leaders with alternative methods for talking and acting… it’s stuff that takes time and care and tenacity and skill.

Some things struck me on our walk-through day.
I was struck by the sheer pleasure of being in a room with really good facilitators, hearing others’ thought processes and learning from each other. We worked hard. We laughed. We pushed each other. We questioned. We developed the process together. It was like the best rehearsal ever.

I was struck also by how lonely it can be in the work….Sometimes facilitation is you. In a room. With a whole bunch of strangers/ near strangers, trying to achieve a thing – and whilst it’s one of my favourite places, it’s also… kinda nerve wracking (especially if you are doing it properly, I’d argue).

I also was struck by something I’m currently mulling on as “Genuine Practice”– the importance of folk who reflect and learn and experiment and in order to improve their craft. Those who diligently show up in life and in rooms with groups and who work with care and consideration to create outcomes and change. Practitioners who can drop everything planned and knit something utterly unique and needed in the moment, because they have taken the time to build their skill and personal capability – the ones who are doing their 10,000 hours to get to mastery…. And how deeply I value that Genuine Practice.

And how I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of Shiny, Showy Post-Truth Change Gurus taking up airspace without ever proving themselves or their theories. I need my Emperors Clothed these days. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And I was struck by the increased importance of well designed face-to-face work to generate conversations and change.. that our work future means there are likely to be fewer and fewer chances for folk in organisations to convene.. and when they do, that time is precious….and brilliant facilitators are what will make that time purposeful and useful and productive and thought-provoking and behaviour-shifting….

And so a beginning idea came into being – Rather than being wistful, how about I created time and a place for those of us who facilitate to gather? To celebrate and work on Genuine Practice? And how about it was a joyful thing – something about the love of the work and learning from others?

And so after much doodling and deliberating and asking folk stuff, the Facilitation Shindig has arrived.

The first gathering was on 19th January 2017 in Manchester….
Beyond this there will be 5 more in Manchester throughout 2017. In March, May, July, September and November… With a bonus social Winter gathering in December or beyond.
The intention is to run more, in other cities or internally in businesses…but one step at a time.

Each Shindig this year will be themed around a word.
The words for Manchester 2017 are: Writing, Movement, Outside Emotion and Closing.
What we do together within those words will depend on who attends the Shindig and how they interpret that word.

You can buy Season tickets for all 5 events, or Pay-as-you-go single event tickets here

Find out more here: www.facilitationShindig.com

The intention is to work with care and challenge, to practice and experiment and learn from each other. If you are interested in the Shindig in any way shape or form, please do get in touch – I’d love for this grow and to have a thriving community of practice.

img_0033

Just Do The Thing.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-10-16-33

I got tagged in Sam Roger’s tweet (see pic above) by Marco Faccini the other day and it made me grin – because sometimes, despite my oodly-moodly tendencies to reflect and pause, for me, change work really is all about doing The Thing. Taking action or avidly holding to inaction – working with and against grains. Doing what it takes to get things moving, shifting, starting, stopping… doing The Thing. Not thinking about it. Not going on stage and talking about it. Not finding a perfect definition of it. Doing it.

There is a beguiling sense for me about the undefined notion of The Thing – it could be Any Thing… or NoThing (though, this isn’t really a thing, for me – unless, after asking: Why are you doing this? The answer seems a bit lame or overly-blah….Then The Thing might be: stop and do NoThing ..but arguably that option usually still means Listen or ReGroup or SomeThing….ok. I’ll stop now )

My interpretation of The Thing in fuchsiablue work is that it is important to understand established territory .. and then find new ways to see it, or travel through it or live in it…for me, it’s about being in service to clients and folk around me where I can be… taking and encouraging steps toward something differently useful. It’s about rolling up my sleeves, asking puzzling questions and designing stuff that’s acceptable enough to keep people alongside you, but counter-cultural enough to evoke a frisson. It’s less about permission, more about possibility. It’s about kind impact – what’s working already?… do more of that Thing then…and more again…

I know others whose The Thing is way bigger than this – provocative, challenging, bold colourful- and I like to peek over those fences, sometimes perturbed, sometimes breathless at the audacity, sometimes scathing of the certainty and showmanship… and I’m frequently impressed by the impact they have…and I never really learn what happens beyond that impact….and I’m curious about how the Big Thing leads to action and application.

I know others whose The Thing is quieter, less bold, less provocative, thoughtful, differently beautiful, more contained, not showy or world-wide, but nevertheless potent. It is often here I see the work happening – the action, the gatherings, the challenge to the norms, the collective practice, the agreement and disagreements, the subversion and the revision…..

So I’m curious….what’s your Thing?

If you were to Just Do The Thing… what would yours be? Your contribution? Your action? Your most useful part in making things change?

The Heart of Leadership

img_1710

My audible groan is not appreciated. They are looking at me without warmth.
I slightly surprise myself – oh, bugger. Did I make that noise out loud?

What is on the table at this particular design meeting is the integration of a case study. This case study, or variations of it, has been used for the past 4 years with great success. It enables a venerated Professor type from London School of Harvard Tech or wherever to join the programme and work with the leaders. He talks them through something about growth in emerging markets. It’s interesting. They do stuff on it. They discuss and puzzle. They learn.

I really like the Prof – he’s looks good for his age (I’m guessing 60?) and has been doing this leadership stuff for over 30 years all over the world. We have this amazing conversation about a recent Desert Walk he undertook. I totally get why we want to work with him. He’s charming and experienced and avuncular – a natural mentor for the guys trying to create growth in emerging markets. A foil for the raw ambition 70-hours-a-week behaviours that are happening.

And I’m groaning because to the depths of my soul I believe that what would be most in service to this group of leaders, is not another technical, building mind-muscle challenge. They’ve got this. They are a smart, committed, fairly hungry ( if a little knackered) group. They can think their way through complex, VUCA whatever conditions. Demonstrably? They are all OVER that stuff.

What this group of leaders is lacking is joined-upness and trust in each other. The emotional maturity to share without churlishness. The empathy to understand how their behaviour impacts on their team and the grace to accept that sometimes, it’s not great.
The willingness to admit they are scared to let something go, because their need to be perfect and capable and strong means failure is not an option….even though that need is waking them up at 3am and they are a shell the next day, ergo more like to fail.
The recognition that their deep need to always be right and clever means someone else has to be wrong and stupid – and that sometimes, that’s a shitty choice.

The ones who have emotional maturity have been doing the hard graft for ages – building relationships, sorting out issues, oiling wheels, making things work by getting under the egos. Where what is valued is mental dexterity and logical outcomes, this emotional work goes unrecognised, unsung and those who undertake it often don’t value it themselves/ are slightly embarrassed about it – but an engine without oil grinds to a halt…

What the group of leaders we are designing for is lacking is a language to express this stuff – a means of articulating the fear or the joy, the disappointment, the paranoia, the impatience, the shame – and if you can’t talk about it or write about it, draw it or walk with it… if it is nebulous and shadowy and can’t be named, how can you ever work with it?

This can be gnarly work – coming face to face with your nasty, with the bits of you that haven’t contributed to your high-flying career thus far – the Case Study is a breeze in comparison. An easy option. The lovely comfort zone.

For some, emotional, relational stuff is literally learning a new language – something unspoken before, something they don’t understand – it can take a long time… your accent might always be terrible….how embarrassing.
Some folk find working with this stuff overwhelming – they feel the absence of something they “ought” to have and equate that to failure – so run madly from it, muttering about Fluffy crap, no place in business…only to be faced at some point in their lives with the inevitability of lifestuff – death, divorce, illness, change….and then it can all come crashing down.

So why ask leaders to look inward and build their emotional capacity? Easier to stay cerebral and crack on….

Because work without heart leads to heartless outcomes – and we need leadership who operate with compassion and care more than ever. This is not a platitude, it’s a thing – an actual thing. We talk about the future of work, of improving working lives – but a good future requires leaders who can access empathy, compassion, generosity, failure-as-learning and make decisions about their people, resources, markets etc with some ethical and emotional intelligence. A case study in emerging markets kind of bypasses that bit.

I say some of this at the design meeting – not all of it, because me on a soapbox isn’t anything particularly useful at this stage… and we talk about how to get the connection part, the relationship part more front and centre…. and slowly something more heart-felt & human emerges and I’m glad…..

—-
When they arrive they are polite, slightly scared or bored and the conversations involve a lot of comparisons and competitive niggles. Fast movements, rapid talk. Status games, power games, jostling, laughing….

They leave, days later, quieter, less scared. Less bored. They know each other better. They know themselves better. For some, this is still not right or good – the world seems altered and that’s uncomfortable as all hell – they will very quickly try to recreate their status quo. For others, and the people they lead, it is the beginning of, or the next steps to master, this new language, with all that can bring.