Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Poetry and progress

Four days after the US 2016 election, Brainpickings Maria Popova, in an inspiring act of leadership, teamed up with the Academy of American Poets for an emergency pop-up reading of poetry they called Verses for Hope.

Here was my offering...

A triumph

What can triumph from this
we shudder

The rumblings of the earth
forewarned it
A little bird had told us
but it took a ballot box
of a dirty dilemma
to jolt us from our
toxic slumber

Stumbling and fumbling
in the darkness
created by our own hands
we shrug, sulk, snarl and shout
while the lanky melancholic poet
quietly leaves the table
as he said he would
leaving us wondering about
cracks in everything
and questioning
sorrow and redemption

Squinting towards the light
not yet convinced it is
bright or bold enough
to break through this
bleak blackness
There amongst the rubble
we notice
that for every breath in
there is a breath out
And as the leaves fall
and the days constrict
on one side
the blossom lifts
and the days lengthen
on the other
and we are comforted
that perhaps miracles
do come

We just have to go
to that edge
peel off our masks
unleash our chains
prick our ears
and stand there
And even if
we sweat and squirm
we hold our nerve
trusting in the treaty
between ourselves
of open hearts
of open minds
of open will

This will be our triumph

We turn to poetry to help us make sense of what is going on in our lives. The things we can’t seem to understand, explain or articulate - poetry seems to nail.   In writing it, reading it, listening to it, our imaginations are stirred and our feelings of belonging, heightened.  Bridging our inner and outer worlds, it is the language of the soul.

Leadership and poetry have long connected. Many a leader has taken its guiding hand, to gain clarity from complexity, to provide comfort or challenge, to celebrate and urge us towards truth and betterment.  In essence, to progress in our humanity.  John F. Kennedy offered “When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses”.

Through my own lens, it seems poetry is popping up increasingly in the workplace.  It ranges from the unspoken, quiet murmurings and underground ways, to being actively encouraged and nurtured. Whether marketing are using the haiku form to sharpen their key messages or teams are expressing their views on the most recent change through sharing their poems, there is transformation.

We have much to thank, poets like David Whyte for, who have boldly stepped into the corporate world to show how poetry can create new conversations and improve working lives.  In doing so, Whyte has been fundamental to the development of workplace spirituality as a mainstream organizational issue.  As he reminds us in the beautiful audio,The Heart Aroused we are responsible for who we are, how we live our lives and for creating the organizations in which we work.  

We have seen poetry’s impact on the leadership programmes we run. Bringing it into the experiential mix, leaders benefit from a fresh self awareness. They grow and develop in a way only poetry seems to engender.  A memorable moment was witnessing how a Finance Director tapped into his own depths, and found new ways of expressing himself in a tender poem.  In courageously sharing it amongst his peers, he found an inner source of power he hadn’t felt before.  Going beyond his comfort of control and logic, and revealing his vulnerability in a safe and creative way, only added to his credibility.   In opening up in this way, he inspired others to do the same, generating more real and meaningful conversations, spawning higher levels of empathy and sparking ideas and connections.  One of his colleagues in a previous cohort, also counts his new found identity as a poet as one of his key learnings and outcomes.  He said he has become the one amongst his friends who writes poems to help others. In work he has found a way to be his authentic self.

Now that’s poetry.

 Photo (own). Part of the 'Big City Life' project Tor Marancia, Roma

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The lazy [leader’s] guide to saving the world

As the first truly global accord, the Paris Agreement, ratified on the 4th of November is monumental.
I can’t begin to imagine the work involved from the grassroots campaigners to the signatories that has enabled this to happen.  Decades of hard work and cycles of complex international negotiations. A powerful reminder of what can be achieved through individual and collective action.

This week in Morocco, the discussion will be about how to put this accord into force, and meet its aims.  This is where the real work begins.

And we know as individual citizens, we can make changes in our lives now to help combat climate change and be more loving towards the earth and its inhabitants.  Recognising that we all, even the most laziest of us, have a part to play in creating a sustainable world, the UN has provided a ‘lazy person’s guide to saving the world’.

Perhaps we are all inherently lazy.  Working with leaders,  I wonder if actually many of the busy leaders are paradoxically, the lazy ones. 

Those leaders who, swamped with tasks and desperate to get things off their desk, or get their direct report out of their office, or respond to yet another demand from higher up  – will take the lazy option of giving quick answers, barking instructions or giving their well-rehearsed opinion.  They fail to see the opportunity the occasion presents to them.  The possibility to pause, get off automatic pilot and listen and inquire with courage and compassion.  The chance to go off a familiar path, out of one’s comfort zone of interaction and let the other be truly heard. To dig into what is really going on and discover new realities and solutions rather than ‘clipping one’s wings’ and creating a sense of dependency through a fixed answer or view of the world. 

For the lazy leader becomes unnecessarily busy.   Because the direct report they gave directions to, comes back time and time again for their advice, having not learnt to take ownership or think for themselves. Or hot potatoes continue to get passed down the line.  The lazy leader, having not helped to unleash potential in the other, stymies the creation of new ideas and innovation, so is forever chasing their tail. The lazy leader tells mindlessly rather than coaches consciously, so nothing advances or changes.  They just get drawn into a spiral of fire fighting, rather than strategically driving transformation in the organisation. 

So here’s my lazy leadership guide to saving the world.

  • Pause

  • Listen

  • Ask

The only thing, it may take some hard work.

For a conversation on how our Earth Coach programmes can build capacity in the Sustainability Industry, please contact me. 


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 (tinyurl.com/5q84zh) 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: FreeImages.com Content License