Organisational Structures & Leading through Relationships

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I’m thinking about structures. Organisational structures and restructures and the way we organise ourselves at work – how we plan, decide, action… you know, that configuration-y stuff. Partly, this has been sparked by recent work around matrix stuctures, and partly by reading this article on how to build a self-managed organisation.

Top down, hierarchy? Matrix working? Self-organised systems? Which is best?

It kind of strikes me that they all survive or fail through relationships..and how we get information to each other effectively (aka that illusive catch-all “communication”)

Mostly, I suspect, if a group of folk get together and are unable, unwilling or ill-equipped to have the types of discussions, the information sharing, the good will and trust that generates good outcomes and understanding… it sort of doesn’t matter how the hell you organise them.

I have some sympathy with top-down hierarchical structures, at times. There is an apparent simplicity and obviousness to the process- I tell: you do – which is tidy and neat. Only… it never really works that way. Not properly and consistently…but I still like the story on occasion – the illusion of control and orderly lines…..

Then I remember the start of my leadership journey, back when my top-down authority extended precisely to the lines in my team….on paper. Off paper, my team did what was needed, irrespective (at times) of my decisions. I’d have been annoyed, but often what they ended up doing was better than anything I was coming up with – that’s when I started to let go a bit, listening properly and asking them stuff… Potentially, I grew up a bit.

My reality? Of a role in HR, then L&D/ change? I never had one of those jobs that demanded instant respect… whatever they may be…. If I wanted my authority or opinion to matter beyond my direct reports, I needed to actively build my network, my credibility and my usefulness. Frustrating as this has been, at times, that reality has been.. well, kind of character building.

Now I work in a world where any “leadership” I take or show has to be negotiated through others. There is no top-down hierarchy here…and that comes with its own set of stuff. Credibility and respect have to be earned. Collective models for leading and decision making can be bloody time consuming – building relationships, developing the ability to gather views and hold everyone to a core intent; whilst acknowledging that, actually, at some point there will be a series of corridor conversations, email, DM’s etc that support or detract from that core intent… and working to do whatever is required to make the thing happen anyway, surfacing the gnarly bits where you can either through direct action or subtle means….

If you are in a self organising team, or working in a matrix structure, your capacity to lead and influence is awarded or denied by those around you – a constantly shifting morass of opinions and relationships.. no-one is in charge so everyone is in charge, but the authority to be in charge might well depend on your confidence and capacity to talk a good game….that can feel or stressful and actually a little thankless – where do you get recognition if you lead in this model? To “take the lead” or be awarded it through circumstance of expertise, or opinion or function necessitates  you are slightly “out there” – apart from others…. yet in a collective structure – you can’t be “out there”leading  and also “in here” with everyone… it’s paradoxical and not for the faint hearted. How do we help folk hold that paradox?

Being held up as leader, or actively taking the lead and being “out there” means a risk of being misunderstood or maligned – beyond your immediate team or the folk who really know what you are up to. Some times it’s worse…. Sometimes you are venerated and revered… pedestals are, I suspect, precarious. For me, this is the stuff we need to think about and design learning interventions for – how to work with uncertainty and hold your authority in a unstable operating environment.

So what am I saying? for me, however we structure ourselves to plan, organise or act, it always comes down to the core stuff –, the need to build relationships– to develop and maintain our abilities to listen, to articulate our viewpoint (kindly, if possible), to work to remain open-minded. It’s about striving to develop our maturity, our capacity to work with uncertainty and our commitment to have positive intent to those around us.

This is not about structure, or technology or revolution or disruption.

This is about committing to developing the core skills we already have to relate and committing to designing Learning Interventions in our organisations that deeply support that for the long term.

Organizational Charts drawing by Manu Cornet, http://www.bonkersworld.net

The Heart of Leadership

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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…..

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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.

Wild Mind Writing Revisited– Discipline & Grit

 

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So having tried a little Wild Writing recently, I wanted to know more. I bought Natalie Goldberg’s book and have been trying some of the exercises and experiments. It’s bloody hard!!!! And I’m slightly laughing to myself, because the tough-ness of it has come as a surprise.

What is the “it”? I think I mean the discipline – here on the FB blog, I choose what to write – I’m moved by some magical muse thing and I batter down thoughts and share – in many ways I’m lucky because I don’t really craft too much or worry too much anymore. Which is kind of an indulgence. The wall gets hit when asked to write to a set topic… or go deep, to write about something hugely painful or personal…or when asked to experiment outwith that to which I’ve become accustomed. Then? Oh Holy Hell!!! It all goes awry and I’m rambling, shambling, wordless, frustrated……

This week I had the deep joy of watching Stephanie Davies, Founder of Laughology do her thing with a group of managers in Manchester. I’m only beginning to get to know Steph – she has been generous in the extreme with sharing her knowledge, her stuff and her experiences – and I hope we get to do pretty much any kind of work together in the future…not just because she properly makes me laugh, but also because there is some real potency to the work she does… Steph was, in her time, a stand up comedian, with all the knocks and the bravery that it takes to stand up in public and be funny (which is, by the way, my idea of HELL) Subsequently, she undertook a deep-dive into researching and understanding the psychology behind humour, happiness and motivation. Her workshops are based on deep cognitive and behavioural models to help other folk understand and develop themselves…. you can learn to be more humorous, more happy and you can understand motivation, make choices differently and grow, personally, professionally, socially, cognatively..… Steph takes the business of happiness and humour very seriously …it’s good stuff.

What we talked about that resonated deeply is the notion of the need to have some Grit. Grit is the thing – the tenacious, determined, Bugger-That-Didn’t-work-what-if-I-tried-this-instead-not-bloody-giving-up thing – the sort of secret sauce in the seeming ease and effortlessness of mastery. She talks of finding the joy in struggle. That giving up can feel good… but pushing on and pushing through leads to someplace… potentially even better… (and of course, there is a place for both persistence and for yielding – I’m an advocate of NOT just banging your head off brick walls repeatedly for no reward – that’s not the joy of struggle – that’s the route to madness).

A large part of developing oneself is about practice (look also at  Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset , Angela Duckworth’s work on Grit , Matthew Syed’s work on Continuous Improvement or Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, ). Through practice, through trying different things, different variants, through trial and error, experiment and fail, we develop – our thinking, our actions, our maturity, our resilience, our tolerance. Interestingly enough we don’t just learn new, we also let go of old stuff that’s not working for us anymore – synapses in the brain that are unused kind of atrophy and die – making space for new synapses at any given point in your life.

This is the type of work and thinking which gives me hope – talking to managers about working with a growth mindset, about not being fixed – showing the science and the reasoning behind it all – keep up your management practice – try it, study it, work with it and you will be a bigger, better person and encourage those around you to be bigger better people…

And as much as I love the science… I am wired ( have wired myself?) to be more artful…

So it is as I find myself in struggle with writing wild practice and the exercises Goldberg suggests.. as I face a sense of failure and frustration when the silences and word-flow stops, as my synapses reach toward each other and mostly fail to grasp each other – I’m beginning to understand that this is the discipline that will take my writing to a different place. When I feel myself unsure and stuttering – clumsy and bambi-legged – here is the edge of my competence and control – can I push on? If I just keep going, keep paying attention, keep on experimenting with different tones and words and structures and rhythms and exercises – I know I’ll find myself in a different place… ah well – back to the notebook.

I know I’m learning. I can grit my teeth and find joy in the struggle… ish.

 

NB: I find I’m reluctant to share some of the wild writing here on the blog – all sorts of interesting learning right there about public/ private/ persona stuff. And so I especially want to thank everyone who sent me their Wild Writing, following the last blog – your courage in sharing, your trust and your insights have me humbled.

Wild Mind Writing & Doing What I Do

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Of course when Nick talks about “Wild Mind Writing” I become very alert. Everyone in the group seems to have heard of it – a practice, attributed to Natalie Goldberg, by which you write, free-form, without edit, censure or pause for a period of time.
Don’t stop.
Keep writing.
Keep writing.
Even if there is nothing to say – write blah blah blah until the words come.
Don’t worry about spelling or syntax.
Don’t stop.
Keep Writing.
And, Nick invites wryly, go for the jugular with it. Don’t mess about. Write wild.
(I hear this translated into Scots: “gie it some laldy, girl”)

I haven’t heard of Wild Mind Writing before – or maybe I have and haven’t been paying attention – but the practice, this practice, is as familiar to me as drinking tea… it is precious, beloved and necessary.

I write. I write pretty much every day when there is time and if I don’t, after a few days I know about it. I write to make sense of what is. Of what has been.
I write to organise my thoughts.
I write to my future self – capturing the here-and-now – knowing one day, I may want or need to look back and understand how it was for me then.
I write to learn and to show myself that I have learned.
It is, in many ways, an utterly selfish act – for me, for my sanity, for a sense of myself… and sometimes it becomes less-so, when I share it or blog it….
I write as I think. Short sharp sentences. Or longer, more fluid more complex ones. I delight in words. In vocabulary and expression and rhythm.

I’m darkly chuckling at the topic we are asked to Write Wild on.
I have a history of being inarticulate around the business, my practice, my Why.
So when Nick turns the flip over & the words: WHY DO I DO WHAT I DO? pop up, I sort of groan/smile. Of course it would be this.

Before I share what I wrote (and it is personal..and it feels risky to share it…and that’s what happens when you write-and-share yourself.. when you put bits of yourself out into the world for scrutiny, because Lord-only KNOWS what folk will make of it…and I’m still not always OK with that…and I think it’s important to do it anyway) I’m making the invitation to try this out.
Set a clock – 5 mins or 10… we did 7 mins.
Find paper & a nice pen with flowing ink… or fire up your laptop.
And write. To yourself. To anyone. To No-one. And see what comes.
And when the first layer of words are gone?
Go deeper. What next? What more? What else?
See where it takes you.

Feel free to send it to me (julie@fuchsiablue.com or post it below in the comments) …. I’d rather read 5 minutes of someone’s rough and ready genuine inner thoughts than 50 pages of crafted, polished blurb.

So as one who works with folks in transition, as one who wants folk to learn and develop, to grow and be just kind of amazing….. Why do I do what I do?
These are my words:

I do what I do because I get something from it. Personally, Professionally – what is the something? Dunno. Satisfaction, personal progression – a sense of learning and newness – a sense of getting better and wiser and more able.
I do it to push myself. To encourage others by sharing what I learned – and I love it and it scares me and it costs me. I have to show myself everyday. That’s actually hard for me.
This is my practice, my 10,000 hours, the thing I seek as my mastery, my vocation – because there is privilege in passing stuff on. In showing and sharing because through this I am alive – I am in relation to others – connected to different worlds.
I get to travel. To explore. It is anthropological and satisfying. It is terrifying and frustrating. I’m wrong. A lot.
I hear stuff that makes me want to spit. Cockwomblery and W*nkpuffinage… so much BS about organisations and future and disrupt-hack-fecking-VUCA….
For me it’s quieter. It’s about self. It starts and ends with you. With me.
The more I know myself? The more I understand my context and reactions and can articulate these? The more I face into my fears? The bigger I become – more expansive. More generous. Kinder. Wiser. More robust.

 

image: Bartek Zyczynski/ Shutterstock

I Want To Know What Love Is…

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There were times last week where life, circumstance, folk just seemed unfathomable to me. It started with a sense of helplessness, anger and redundancy as I processed the Orlando shootings – trying to fathom what happens? How? How does it get to the point where your anger and fear overtake you and you walk into a place where people are dancing and laughing and you kill them?

Then there was the odd spectacle of a flotilla of boats on the Thames, having some sort of braying, binary argument, declaring In or Out of Brexit – which might of bypassed me, but I was in the office & Twitter was awash (pardon the pun) with folk going: WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? And I was struck with the divisiveness of the “debate” – the nastiness and disrespect that seemed to be in the air.

And the very next day there was the murder of MP Jo Cox, which somehow stopped me in my tracks in a way I can’t fully explain – maybe it’s because she’s my age, that I recognise some of her traits in my friends – I felt the wrench of kids left without a Mum, that it happened an hour from my door, that it was brutal and senseless – in daylight, in full view which somehow felt like an assault in itself – whatever it was, I was empty and bereft that evening… my words drying up.

In the face of his wife being shot and stabbed to death in the street, Brendon Cox put out a statement about Love. That his children would be bathed in love. That they would not succumb to hate. I have a soft and sentimental heart at times… his compassion made me cry.

Love. The antidote to poison.

But how? How do you love? How do you find that in you and sustain it in the face of so much toxicity? I’m assuming if you are a person with a faith or religion, you can turn there to find guidance and seek the means for love and compassion. But religion, it seems, is no guarantee of forgiveness, love, care for others….and anyway, I’m irreligious…how do I find the means to nurture my own compassion, my love, my kindness, the best of my humanity?
And where the hell is the place for something like Love in the work I do? Surely that’s not business? You can’t go around spouting love at folk – you’ll be rejected and ostracised, surely?

I’ve been pondering on some of this week.

Like many things, for me, it starts in the everyday. In the last week, I’ve tried to pay attention to Love. I’ve put the hours in. Where before I was noticing hate – brutality, difference, division, I’ve been working to notice love, care, that which unites. Sometimes, it’s not easy.

Turns out I don’t have a “definition” of love – it’s multi faceted for me, and shows up, often as a feeling, a sense – a softening of myself, physically and emotionally – a willingness to join someone in their experience and be joined.
Turns out I can’t love Donald Trump.
Turns out I can’t find my compassion for everyone.. or I possibly could – but that would be like love on an ultra-marathon distance, and in someways I’m still trying to love to 5k without stopping.
Turns out I want to work on that a little – stretch the distance my compassion and love can go.
Turns out I can be judgey and cross – dismissive at times of the things I can’t understand or decide I have no time for.
Turns out the news on TV doesn’t help me find my own sense of love and kindness.

It struck me at one point that folk who appear hate-filled might not know love. Like I’m not sure I know how to BE properly hate-filled. I’m not sure I know what that feels like – to hold some proper deeply-held sense that someone is disgusting or ugly or utterly without merit and they are to be despised, or damaged… I don’t think I know that, understand that, really
Like the urge to worsen the situation for someone weaker.
Like the urge to troll and bait and abuse.
Like the sense of such offence at someone’s skin tone or gender or religion or sexual preference that you actually hate them… I just don’t get it. What IS that? IS that a thing? Really? Or is that surface stuff – may I present my hatred to you – and underneath it all something else is true?

And if this gap is true for me…. then I figure there must be folk out there who don’t know how to BE properly love-filled. To not get that big auld dappy-daft feeling, the warm n fuzzies that make your week go better. To see someone you adore so much that you feel lighter, brighter, better just being in their vicinity.
The urge to give someone more and cheer them on and wish them nothing but good things
The urge to protect them and respect them and hold them in highest esteem.
The recognition of beauty.
The deep sense of wonder and delight.
Laughter that is infectious and connecting
The want to sit with someone who is experiencing hurt or fear or that overwhelming inadequacy thing that sometimes hobbles you… and not try to fix them, not assume they are broken, but show them the care, the kindness, the love that they currently cannot show themselves.
The fact that love can be tough – it shows tenacity and massive resilience in the face of death and destruction. The fact that love can be tender, daft, intimate, powerful.

Some folk may not know this love stuff? In that case, can we work on it? Develop our capacity to love? Is that how this works? Can love beget love? Can it really overcome hatred, or should we be working with the hateful to get them to access their love? Or both?

I don’t know the answers. I have so many questions. But as I write about hate, my body grows tense and taut and I feel fearful and sad and scared. And as I write about love, I can feel myself soften and smile and I gather the faces of folk I love, respect, care for, cherish, adore around me and I sense I’m a much bigger, better person as a result.

Maybe that’s our homework – to write and broadcast more about love….
I don’t know… what do you think?

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images are from Hugh McLeod from @gapingvoidArt

Designed to Last

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My Dad was, for a long time, an Estates Manager – managing large country Estates, usually for titled families. His job was to oversee and sustain the overall system – ensuring healthy livestock, the management of arable land, crop production, supporting families who lived on estate lands, maintenance of the estate…it was a complex job, a complex eco system.

On Saturday mornings, I would get up really early and he would make me a mug of tea and take me out “on the rounds” – basically driving around the boundaries of the estate, with a Dictaphone, and he would get out, inspect stuff, walk bits of fields, check fences and hedges, go see the Dairy Manager….During those “rounds” he talked to me a lot about the land and the decisions you make to nurture, sustain and maintain for the long-term. My Dad had a real sense of custodianship about the Estates – he & we were only here for a brief time – the land endured and what we did with it mattered. We needed to make a living from it. It needed to be cultivated carefully. It needed to be respected. He made short-term choices with the long-term consequence in mind.

I find some of his philosophy bubbling up in my design thinking these days. That management or leadership training could very well just be a short-term choice, but if you are looking to nurture and sustain, if you want the organisation to thrive and endure beyond your time in it, then longer-term thinking and actions help greatly.

Management training happens in almost every organisation I work with. What would happen if, rather than repeating the same training, the same messages, rearranged over 3- 4 days or 6 weeks or whatever, we looked at management skills as being life skills? That to plan stuff, to organise and galvanise folk to deliver anything, to have conversations and listen well and notice when others are struggling and support them through that, doing “the rounds” and checking the parameters, staying in touch with the wider system and community… this isn’t just Management… it’s just being a good person.
A good person in a particular context.
Which might change.
But the good person part endures.

So how about we run stuff that encourages good personship? Not codify it as management (much of the stuff we spew out about “management” is old hat and barely works outside a classroom – especially if there are more than 3 things to remember about it) let’s just work on the basics.

If you are currently designing management training content, stop for a second and have a look at what you are putting out into that organisation. Will it develop better people? Not skill sets or processes to follow. But people?

Keep it simple.
Listen. Talk.
Pay attention to the here an now.
Work with what is here and don’t pretend or wish it were other.
Understand what we do & why we do it & how we could do it better for the long term.
Look to the future.
Understand what nurtures and sustains.

That stuff is designed to last.

I am what I am and am not

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I seem to have been in a number of conversations of late about qualifications and accreditation, about being good enough and owning what you are and what you know, about over-claiming expertise or being over-attributed expertise to the extent it gets awkward. About confidence or feeling like an imposter. About arrogance and certainty. About humility and uncertainty.

So I’ve been thinking about what I am & what I’m not. In no particular order, I might be these:

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