Trying to find better ways of organising ourselves, living and working together for a future fit for everyone.
Consultant at NixonMcInnes, interested in technology and participatory leadership, behaviour change and organisation design, helping all kinds of formal and informal organisations get digital and become more social, from the inside out. These are my personal chunterings.
I’m currently doing a course through Coursera called “Inspiring leadership through emotional intelligence”
To help me bed in the learning, as much as anything, I thought I’d note two of the core concepts.
First, what I’d like to be clear on is my view that leadership isn’t management, and that leadership behaviours and attributes are something that can appear, and be developed, anywhere in an organisation or community. Also, that the more people that develop, or are recognised for, these behaviours, the greater the well-being and sustainability of the individual and the community/organisation.
Resonant vs dissonant leaders
Inspirational or ‘resonant’ leaders help create long-term successful organisations by inspiring four different feelings in the people around them:
They also maintain these qualities in themselves - in particular mindfulness (taking time to scan the health of their relationships, what’s going on around them, are they living a life that’s in tune with their values) and compassion (being truly understanding and empathic, reflecting this in their behaviours).
Dissonant leaders are those that focus on what’s wrong, what could go wrong, are critical of others, and often act out of fear and anxiety. Given that emotions are contagious, this tends to lead others to feel afraid, anxious, and to avoid working with these people. While they can drive short-term success, they tend to lead teams or organisations that aren’t sustainably successful in the long term.
Core leadership competencies
There are also three competencies that are thought to be held by people
Emotional intelligence - the ability to know and understand your own emotions, how they impact your behaviour, to manage this well. Also to be flexible, and to see the positive aspects of the present and future.
Social intelligence - the ability to empathise with others, understand how their emotions impact their behaviour, at an individual and group level. Also, to manage your relationships well - in particular:
Cognitive intelligence - your ability to use systems thinking (seeing the causal relationships in understanding events and phenomena), spotting patterns and themes in recurring events.
The high-level summary is that good leadership (helping others to achieve more, together) requires understanding yourself and understanding others, on a deeper and emotional level. Do this and you can create positive, happy and high-achieving teams, communities or organisations.
When we get scared, even if we believe something different very strongly, we revert to pre-existing behaviour.
Often people don’t know they are saying one thing and doing another.
But if people can become more conscious of themselves and their emotions then the possibility exists of getting past that fear.
I wrote a blog post about the role of leadership in culture change - specifically changing workplaces to be more open, collaborative, trusting and risk-taking.
This quote is from a comment left by my friend and colleague Pete Burden. He’s addressing the main point from my post - that people often say they want to change, but often don’t, usually because the change involves a step into the unknown, or a break from a known and familiar pattern.
It touches on my big area of interest at the moment, which is the massive role that feelings, emotions and needs play in business. I strongly believe that, when it comes down to it, and you strip away all the bullshit, they are the only things that really impact effective our organisations are.
This is from a message from the Hopi Elders - every so often, if I’m in need of inspiration, I re-read this:
Hopi Elder Prophecy
You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
[Note: this is quite a personal and self-indulgent post - it’s partly to help me understand some things by writing them down, and partly in case it’s useful or interesting to others. I hope that it is to some, but if you find it uncomfortably personal or self-indulgent… well…]
The last couple of years have brought with them a lot of change and challenge for me: becoming a dad and trying to find our new rhythm as a different kind of unit, trying to balance that with supporting family through some very tough times, taking on difficult problems at work and effectively forging a completely new career.
I’d be talking shit if I said that hadn’t been hard. At times it’s left me emotionally and physically drained - washed out, conflicted, pretty low.
In the past, this is when anxiety and depression (mild depression, I’m lucky to not have suffered as much as some) might have kicked in. They are two friends I’ve been close with, and they’ve taught me well. Thanks to them, and some of the dark times they’ve brought with them, I feel like I know myself better than I would ever have by sauntering happily through life (but maybe there’s a healthy dollop of post-rationalisation in there too).
But this past year in particular has felt very different - thanks to the new perspective I’ve got from becoming a dad, the friends I’ve made, the new ideas they’ve exposed me to, and the work I’ve done with myself, the new challenges I’ve faced have focused me like never before.
Personal purpose and mission as a game
About six months ago, a colleague mentioned that they’d had a go at writing a personal mission statement, and how much fun it had been (thanks Anna). With everything I’ve just outlined in mind, I thought I’d give it a go too.
And it *was* fun - it lead me down all sorts of paths, thinking about not just what I was good at and what I enjoyed, but what really mattered to me. What are the things that, when I’m doing them, make me feel deeply happy, satisfied or full of boundless energy? And what are the things I currently do, or ways that I think, that hold me back from being everything I could be?
What is my purpose?
It didn’t take me very long to work out three statements which I guess you could call a ‘mission’, ‘purpose’ or just a description of how I want to live my life.
I decided that I want to:
It was telling that I wrote two and three first, and then realised I needed number one above all else.
I knew that one of the things that held me back from feeling like I was really living the life I wanted, was spreading myself too thinly. I knew from experience that not having enough time, or mental availability for the people who matter to me was something that really, really got to me - so it’s up at number one for a reason - if I do nothing else, I just want to be a bloody good dad.
Why bother - what have I achieved?
Having these has already helped me make good decisions, and keep myself in check.
As I said above, in the past I’ve been liable to over-committing myself to help out other people, to do something that sounds interesting, or that *feels* important. Since having some clarity and making a commitment to myself over these three things, I’ve been able to confidently and happily turn interesting meetings or opportunities down, knowing that it’s because they might prevent me from being fully present at home.
I’ve been able to happily turn down speaking opportunities because they just want me to talk about something that I don’t think is going to help or inspire anyone and I know now that the purpose is more important than the standing on the stage.
I’ve been able to put my passion for helping people create positive change into my work - to help my clients, and hopefully to help my colleagues. This combination of doing what I love, that is useful to others and helps me pay the bills is deeply satisfying.
Committing to living by my values has also been really useful, in periodically reminding myself, and checking that my behaviours are respectful of others, empathic, fair - because I know that’s how I’d like to be treated and that if I don’t act in this way, sooner or later it’s going to come and get me at 4am.
This is no life hack. I’m still bananas.
What I’m not saying in any of this, is that somehow I’ve magically created a perfect and purposeful life. I’m still - and will always be - prone to taking things too seriously, getting caught in sticky relationships, or left doubting myself - I’m as still complex and crazy as a box of bolivian rainbow frogs (we all are, right? Just some of us have realised). There is no ‘life hack’ that can sort that out. But, I’m more comfortable with that truth, a bit less confused, a bit more happy, and much clearer on what I want out of life.
It’s not for everyone - it’s been incredibly useful for me, for the same reason I’ve been prone to anxiety and depression in the past - I’m a very introspective person, and I think a lot. A sense of the meaning in life is something I’ve struggled with in the past and while this isn’t the whole picture, it’s a useful piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
It might not be for you, which I understand and respect, but if you think it is, I recommend giving it a go.
By Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, a brilliant book reflecting on his experiences in concentration camps during World War II and what part the inner condition has to play in survival.
I was reminded of this quote by an interview with Cristiano Siri, an inspiring chap who cites this as one of four ideas he bases his approach to work on.
A wonderful perspective on what leadership is all about from one of my sources of inspiration, Mary Alice Arthur, narrative and change practitioner, and Art of Hosting Steward.
Participation over domination is the future.
Couldn’t have put it better myself - it’s the premise behind movements like our very own CityCamp Brighton, and emerging organisational/management concepts like participatory leadership.
Liam Barrington-Bush talks about this area as “Anarchy in the board room”.
I’d never thought of the concepts of autonomy, self-organising collaboration and mindfulness in business as linked to the idea of anarchism, but it’s an interesting analogy. Liam’s book, “Anarchists in the Boardroom”, sounds like it will be worth checking out.
Back to Liam’s ideas - he points out more examples that movements like Occupy have inspired:
“Beyond the camps… Occupy has spawned thousands of ‘spin-offs,’ practically addressing issues ranging from toxic debt-swaps and hurricane relief, to families beingevicted from their homes and the legal definition of ‘corporate personhood.’ Not to mention a distributed version of the internet, beyond the control of service providers!”
Read the full article: Anarchy as Management Theory
I love the ‘technology just is, like air’ concept. Brings to mind the notion that fish don’t see the water they swim in. We have reached a turning point where tech is so deeply embedded in our culture, like language, clothing, and buildings before it, that its role is as central as those, and now perhaps more so.
True for our businesses, our public institutions, even ourselves - if we’re going to meet complex challenges with lasting (and ongoing) change, it’s got to be a deep dive.
This quote is from the literature for the ALIA (Authentic Leadership in Action) Institute summer gathering coming up in June. Fellow Art of Hosting practitioner and all round good, smart egg is running a module on “Designing strategic change from the inside out” and if I could I would be all over this like a rash :)
Check it out the course here
Another quick quote I loved from the website that really sums up the revolution I hope we’re going through…
“At the heart of authentic leadership is the courage to be fully human, to take risks, to care deeply, and to take action even in the midst of change and uncertainty.”