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.

After the Laundry, The Ecstacy?

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I don’t know where to begin.

this is not a “normal” fuchsia blue blog post – It feels more personal.

When you wake up and hear something that you cannot compute, mentally or physically… The UK is leaving the EU. We are choosing to leave our rather odd home for 43 years, presumably to downsize…
My first response was kind of horrified. No no no no.. what? What? I mean… What? And then I was so angry I could spit. Deep visceral fury at the TV. At authority. At those who voted to Leave –I’m muttering about idiots, biggots, using delicious swear words, harsh and blue with venom injected right into them … you name it, it came. And the worry – my business. The markets tumbling dramatically…My precious fuchsiablue. Wee and wily, not globally important, but the thing that sustains me and folk I love and cherish. Now under threat through nothing I have done…. It left me livid, speechless and confused.
And the white male voices given microphones, feeling my own prejudice and bigotry run free… knowing I’m not immune from looking at another and wishing them elsewhere…..
My faith in humanity leaking away..
My urge to run home, North, where social justice and a less bitterly phobic angry narrative seemed to run.
My need to talk to others.. to sense make.. help me. Help me sense make?
A sense of powerlessness and redundancy…. I want to take my teddy and go off in a huff.
How confusing. The day before I’d blogged about love. Where was mine? Where was my compassion? My generosity?

Then last night I went back to the After the Ecstasy, the Laundry blog post I wrote in the aftermath of the Scottish Independence Vote. The vote had gone the way I expected. I wasn’t in shock. I was working from a more calm, rational place. What I said then, I hold to now.

Today feels different. Today I’m moving away from the personal affront, getting over myself and looking at what happened in a different way.

I think the vote to leave was inevitable, in many ways. I think people who have been disaffected, who have not been heard, represented, cared for, listened to and spoken for get really tired of being in that place – or really pissed off about it. I think there are amazing MPs and local authority folk who try to get them heard. I think there has been a sneering arrogance at the highest eschelons of politics for too long. I think humbleness, humanity and the notion of being a Public Servant has been too far away from the thinking and the actions of those who are more concerned about to leaving a personal legacy.

I think the parallels with some of what happens in Corporate / big organisational life are painful.

I think it is a case study in the need for diversity and inclusion in thinking and action. I think it’s been missing for too long. I think the hate-filled bile that I occasionally heard was the existing power system setting itself up to reject that diversity and inclusion. Diversity would challenge the power status quo. The power status quo REALLY likes things as they are. Diversity needs to be labelled as “bad scary threat”. .. but the paradox is that power had to align itself to the powerless to get the job done.. and now of course, the powerless have more of a voice and …oh.. that’s a challenge to the Status quo….
Yup.. we are about to live in even more interesting times.

I’ve lived in interesting times before in my life. What I learned was a few things:
No sudden moves. When the world around you appears to tilt on its axis, inaction is often the best course of action. Go slowly. Wait and watch. Think and reflect. Do bits of stuff and see what happens, but don’t make Big Plans and Try to Make Stuff Happen. That’s not how it works. Life is a series of conversations and unfolding circumstance. The recovery after the big stuff tends not to happen fast. Go with that.

If you want to alter what’s happening “Out There”, Start Here. With yourself. First. Work on your own responses. Work to be better, kinder, less of a git and encourage others to do so too. The rage and the fury etc? know they are there pay attention to them, and work to do better. And I mean that – pay attention to the bad stuff.. don’t’ brush over it like an inconvenience – That’s part of what just happened here. It leads to long-term disaffection and disconnect.

Don’t walk away. Stay with the situation, even when it gets tough. Put folk around you that remind you of the daftness of any given situation. Have a place to rage or cry or bang the table… then get up and keep going… contribute as well as you can to change, to the world you want.. that stuff.

And look after yourself. This referendum stuff has been bruising…. If you are bruised, you need salve, rest and a lot of fresh air… go do that, rather than raging at the telly.

I don’t know how this goes. But I know I need to work with what comes.
Think I found some of my love.
Interested in where you are at. x

Long-Haul Leadership and Testing Theories

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I’m going to Qatar.
A place that I couldn’t spell up until a week ago. ( Q followed by U, surely?)

I’m going to work with Maersk Oil over the next 9 months, on a very part-time basis, designing and delivering work that will strengthen a concept of “Visible Leadership”.
The intention is to undertake deeper leadership work – work on connection, on dialogue, on openness and creativity… work I have been hungry to do for so long and have been doing in patchy little pieces. This is, to some extent, what I have been seeking…. my theory is that this deeper work is good, necessary, that it leads to “Proper Change” – I wonder if I’m right?
This is the test. The part where I practice what I’ve been preaching. The part where reality bites and I discover the edges of my thinking again…..
What happens if and when lots of people open up and start connecting… in a structured, purposeful way?
What happens indeed?

Today I leave for 5 days. In May I go for 4 weeks, then nothing in the hot summer months. Then back again in September, October, November….

And with all of this comes a range of mixed emotions and reactions.

I’m scared. I’ve never been to the Middle East. No amount of research will help my lived experience.. I’m afraid I will offend, be offended, be ignorant. I’m a card-carrying amazonian feminist going to a place where women are not equal. I’m a alcohol afficienado going to a place where such things are forbidden. Where the law allows lashing and stoning people. Where the people are deemed to be polite and warm….It’s confusing.

Thus far, the experience has been incredible – A man called Barrie has been in charge of sorting my flights, accommodation, visas, pick-ups…. I have been in the most excellent hands & I’m comforted by the process: this is how it can be when you want to bring someone in to your organisation.

I feel awkward – a wee Lassie fae Fife, lacking sophistication or the experience to do this well, initially – but who has the life-skills to navigate whatever is to come.
My response has been pedestrian – read up lots, chat to folk lots, buy trousers & decide that I’m going to try to Rock some 1930’s/ 40’s tailoring to start with…. My first pair of girl-brogues have been brought into the fold.
Beyond that I have a sense of deep joy – of stretching myself and of being pushed out of what is comfortable.
I’m looking forward to Souks, to the museums and art – to learning more about another country & culture. I’ve decided to take those photography lessons, at last…

I spoke with FB’s very own Office Goddess, Katie on Thursday and she said: It’s OK to be excited, you know….
and I sort of am, but also not really…excited doesn’t really cover it.

I have a sense that I’m going somewhere fascinating, to do work I want to do. I have a sense of folk cheering me on where I feel my limits and nervousness.

And within all of this I have a sense of a new chapter beginning…and probably a bunch of new blogs.

Time to get testing….

The Need to Break Bread – Marketing by Relationships

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Jeremiah Gardner has come from San Diego to take part in Happy Start up SummerCamp. He’s paid his own ticket and has been part of the panel who listened to and advised on the Saturday Morning StartUp Pitches. I’m about to go to his workshop on Minimal Value Proposition – how do you take a thing and market a thing without getting embroiled in too much “bullsh*t Branding*? On Sunday morning he will talk at the Sunday Assembly & hold the room as he takes the theme of Restoration & recounts tales of where he came from and the choices he has made.

Jeremiah advocates understanding the relationship you have with your customer – not your logo, not your product, but the folk who pay you and those who work for you. Build that relationship in the best possible way – offer your stories and the reason why you do the thing you do, with as much clarity and generosity as you can muster – the rest comes from there.

We fall into conversation when I have snuck out of the before-lunch session. Hungry and brain-filled, I need a few minutes to gather my thoughts. He is an easy presence – warm and humourous – which belies his preference to debunk and disrupt some of the marketing myths he sees…I’m grateful that he doesn’t seem to take exception to my slightly spaced-out state.

Continue reading

Happy Start Up Summer Camp – Reflections

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When Sarah Boyd tells me she has signed up for something and it looks AMAZING, I pay attention. Happy Start Up Summer Camp? Glamping in East Sussex at the end of summer with a bunch of smart, entrepreneurial folk who want to create happy, sustainable businesses? A weekend to listen to incredible speakers, reflect, learn & be? Oh. OK then. I’m in.

 

Part of this is fuelled by my own growing dissatisfaction with Conference formats and that seemingly pervasive belief that rigidity works best when getting large groups of people together to talk about business. I feel you just… sort of miss something when you button it all down. Playing around with the Unconference format for this week’s event in Glasgow meant designing it so people could properly meet and talk with each other without too much stuffiness – something I sense is increasingly important.

I’m thankful for the experience. It has been a long time since 3 days have so vastly impacted and inspired me – and this was due to a heady combination of people speaking from the heart and with passion, of sharing stories, of dancing & singing late into evenings and being encouraged to reflect. Thank you of course to the team who set it up and ran it, and beyond that to all those who supported them to make it happen – a vast network of people offering goodwill, energy and action.

I’ve picked some ideas and moments to blog about – these are no more or less important than any of the other moments over the weekend, but I trust they offer out a flavour of just some of what was offered and covered. I could write more – I probably will in the future… what I know is this: If I could have split myself in three or four at times, I would have gladly done so because there seemed to be a richness of stuff happening everywhere…. But I was where I was at any given moment and these are some of my reflections.
Read, mull, comment, investigate…..

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Reflection one: DreamBalls & Being Rich in Other Ways
Reflection two: The Need to Break Bread – Marketing by relationships
Reflection three: The 1,000 Day Manifesto

Getting Over The Social Media Wall

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(aka: Why I think if you work in L&D/OD you should be active on Social Media.)

So I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been in few conversations of late with folk who work in organisations and whose job seems to be about delivering/ improving people development or engagement or organisational culture. At the same time, I’m in conversations with those who are consultants, external experts, trainers, facilitators, coaches – folk who offer to design and deliver interventions for clients or into a client system.

And I keep bumping into some sort of Social Media Wall. Continue reading

Thrive

Thrive

Sometimes in life you get a wee boost of something that inspires. When a copy of Arianna Huffington’s book – Thrive, dropped on to my mat a couple of Saturdays ago, courtesy of Random House Group (humble thanks to Neil Morrison (@neilmorrison on Twitter) – I suspect you know what you were doing… damn you!) – I was making a cuppa and had about half an hour to spare…. I started flicking through the book and ended up tucked up reading for over an hour (apologies to my mate Liz – I was late for good reason, honest!)

The basic premise is this: we are mostly operating in a world where success is defined through money and status. This brings about emptiness, stress and burnout. It means we are encouraged to spend our lives striving for money or getting one over on others. We end up divided and filled with compromise as work & life are seen as binary and non-inclusive…..In this particular reality – we battle ourselves and each other. Not. Too. Smart. Continue reading