Friday, October 7, 2016

2030 is on the line...

2030 is on the line...

And breakthrough catalysts Volans, who were commissioned by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission to explore business models, challenges us to step up and take that call.  

As per the introduction on the Commission’s website, “global business leaders need to see the Sustainable Development Goals for what they are: the opportunity to adopt new business models for exponential and inclusive growth”. John Elkington, co-author of the paper [Breakthrough Business Models], argues that business leaders first need to develop an "exponential mindset" that shuns slow progress and contributes to accelerating systemic change.

You cannot help but be stirred by this work of love.  It is rich in resource and stimulus, combining depth and breadth with succinctness. It provides clear arguments for the way forward and tangible examples and sources of inspiration of organizations already breaking through the mould.   However, despite the reference to leadership, there are only a few recommendations for top teams.

To use an expression of Lane4 Management Consultancy, 'leaders create the environment in which people perform'. Going deeper into what leaders did in the organizations showcased and getting more nuanced about leadership and people development, will be a valuable further addition to this work.  Perhaps this will happen on the complementary website Project Breakthrough, which showcases where and how transformational change is happening right now.

For if the Sustainability Industry (as the term used) is to "reboot", it must invest in and develop its people in order to unleash potential and drive breakthrough change.  As a start, from my perspective as a leadership coach and consultant, such development would benefit from considering, at least, these four interrelated factors: 

A redefinition of leadership: We need to liberate ourselves from the still pervasive ‘great man theory’ that leadership is solely the domain of ‘global leaders’ or the ‘top team’ or someone else. As Impact International advocate, leadership is not about a special person but a special action.  Similarly, Kevin Roberts wrote in his recently released 64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World, “we must all be Creative Leaders. We all can be, because ideas come from everywhere, because ideas come any time, and because ideas take flight like never before”.  

Coaching:   Despite demonstrable benefits, coaching is still widely misunderstood, under-utilised or non-existent, in organizations.  The dominant leadership style,  born of our education, organisational and societal tendencies and that of our tender egos, is still one which is more inclined to tell, advocate, direct and close down, rather than to ask, inquire, explore and open up. In my experience, coaching is key to transformation.  As a mindset and activity,  it raises consciousness, helps people reclaim their own authority and encourages them to dig deeper into their own wisdom and release their gifts in a way teaching, never can.  To quote Peter Drucker, 'the leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask'.   We need to start asking now.

Experiential learning – with rigour:   As the paper points out, top teams need to go on experiential learning journeys.  As adults we learn by experience – and we need to be rigorous in reflecting on, and making sense of those experiences, and what we can apply. And the more diversity we are exposed to, the better.  Organizations like Common Purpose who I worked for, bring leaders from different backgrounds, beliefs, generations, geographies, specializations and sectors, to help them lead across boundaries.  Opening our hearts and minds through exposure to diversity in all its forms, is at the heart of innovation, collaboration and sustainability. 

And that experiential learning has to include our experience in nature.   I like this story...

Activist and author Naomi Klein tells about the time she travelled to Australia at the request of Aboriginal elders. They wanted her to know about their struggle to prevent white people from dumping radioactive wastes on their land.

Her hosts brought her to their beloved wilderness, where they camped under the stars. They showed her "secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink." 

After three days, Klein grew restless. When were they going to get down to business?

"Before you can fight," she was told, "you have to know what you are fighting for."

Nature is worth saving for its own sake.  If we as humans want to co-exist, we need to realize our connectivity with it.

Which leads me to..

Thinking and.. going beyond thinking:  The central argument of the Volans paper is about thinking differently.  We need to Think Sustainably. Think Exponential. Think Social. Think Lean. Think Integrated. Think Circular.   And paradoxically part of doing that, will be to train ourselves to also go beyond thought.  To draw on Brendel and Bennett’s (2016) research on embodied leadership through mindfulness and somatics, as we are fundamentally integrated whole or embodied beings, to rely purely on cognitive-behavioural processes to develop leadership or create breakthrough will be insufficient.  For optimal performance and sustainable change, we need to look holistically at our development, one which nurtures the mind-body connection, to tap into a greater intelligence.  We must, as Osho wrote “get out of our heads into our hearts”.  Or in the words of my own haiku

Be yourself fully
In the thousand and thousand
Variants you are

Perhaps if we did that,  we would have breakthrough.


Sources (not with hyperlinks):

Brendel, W and Bennett, C (2016) “Learning to Embody Leadership Through Mindfulness and Somatics Practice”, Advances in Human Resources 1-17
Naomi Klein story ( as told in R. Brezny (2009) Pronoia is the Antitode of Paranoia, North Atlantic Books, page 76
Osho ( 2001), Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic, Osho International Federation, NY  (quote from page 172)
Roberts, K (2016)  64 Shots: Leadership in a crazy world, PowerHouse Books, NY
Photo: Content License

Friday, August 5, 2016

But just tell me what to do!

Have you said or thought so much?  Has one of your direct reports voiced this to you?

We like a challenge us humans.  It is all part of the hero’s journey. Overcoming obstacles and stretching ourselves to reach a goal, is a key source of motivation and satisfaction in our professional and personal lives. 

But we can sure like the easy path.  Particularly when time is limited, stakes are high, the pressure’s on, we may easily withdraw, shrink, hide, defend and relinquish responsibility to the other.

And for completely justifiable reasons.  It may be the most appropriate response we know given what we know.  We may be just implementing our very loyal strategies that have got us out of similar situations before. 

It seems that through parental, societal, cultural, political, economic programming we have conditioned ourselves to prioritize answers, advice and direction from others – to the detriment of our own growth and path.    Even though leadership can come from anyone at anytime, the ‘Great Man’ theory seems to be firmly entrenched in our psyche, business and politics.   Notably during uncertain and volatile times, we like the idea of someone saving us. So we turn to the ‘other’ to get them to do, what we don’t want to do ourselves. Our reflexive response becomes “just tell me what to do (in this project/for this client/in my career”). It is easier to do that than self reflect and manage the responsibility which comes thereafter.

As Hollis writes, “to recover our own personal authority is a daily task imposed upon all of us by the soul”. 

With that task, we may want to explore...

  • Being aware:  We give ourselves credit for recognizing this tendency we have, in the first place.  And with a healthy dose of compassion and curiosity, notice when it happens.
  • Understanding triggers: What is going on for me when I default to others? What triggers such a response in me?
  • Challenging beliefs:  In these instances, what am I believing? Is it true? What is it like to live with this belief, in mind, heart and body?  What would life be like if I wasn't believing that?
  • Building self-efficacy: As adults we consciously can build our self-efficacy, our self belief and confidence in the ability to exert control over our own motivation, behavior and social environment. This may include, for example, acknowledging our successes, being self-compassionate, quietening the inner critic’s voice and expanding our skills and interests to build up resourcefulness.

As leaders we influence the environment which people perform. What can we do to encourage people to reclaim their personal authority in the workplace?  These questions may help with reflection and action:

  • What’s my leadership default option?   Am I quick to give advice, provide direction or do I seek to help people to come up with their own ideas and solutions through inquiring and coaching?   What is behind my propensity to give advice and opinions rather than asking?  To what extent do I allow people to talk about their concerns and fears? 
  • What ego state am I operating from?  Transactional Analysis offers a valuable perspective on how we interact with people, through 3 parts of our personality or ‘ego states’.  In terms of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, we operate from our experiences (‘child’), significant influencers (‘parent’) or in the present (‘adult’). Simplifying it for illustrative purposes, if we operate from a ‘critical parent’, it may just trigger a ‘rebellious child’.  Being aware of how our behaviour impacts on others transforms communication and performance.
  • What is my intent/agenda? Sometimes as leaders we ask or hide behind a coaching relationship, a question, the impression we want the person to take initiative, but then we undermine them, as we have already made the decision or set the objectives. This is why it helps, particularly in formal 1:1s and meetings,  to be clear and ‘contract up front’  about expectations e.g.: whether we intend to depart information, seek input, want to brainstorm. 
  • Or in summary, what is missing?   What am I noticing about how people are feeling and behaving? What do they need – more meaning, a sense of direction and purpose? Or to be valued, believed in and listened to more? Or do they need more structure and clarity? What will I do to help fill the vacuum?


own photo (Mallorcan sky)

Hollis, James (2005), Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, Gotham Books (US)

Napper, R and Newton T (2000) TACTICS: transactional analysis concepts for all trainers, teachers and tutors and insight into collaborative learning strategies, TA Resources Ipswich, UK, section 4