Drunk and Near the Edge of the Roof?

edge of the roof

“Sit, be still, listen, because you’re drunk and near the edge of the roof.” Rumi

We are facing a series of crises and we are near the edge of the roof in business, government and in our communities.

“In recent years business increasingly has been viewed as a major cause of social, environmental, and economic problems. Companies are widely perceived to be prospering at the expense of the community…Companies have overlooked opportunities to meet fundamental societal needs and misunderstood how societal harms and weaknesses affect value chains. Our field of vision has simply been too narrow.” Professor Michael Porter, Creating Shared Value, Jan/Feb 2011, Harvard Business Review

“Most of our communities are fragmented…The absence of belonging is so widespread that we might say we are living in an age of isolation. Our isolation occurs because western culture, our individualistic narrative, the inward nature of our institutions and professions, and the messages from our media, fragment us…What keeps this form changing is that we are trapped in a tired old narrative of who we are. If the narrative does not shift, we will never truly create a common future and work toward it together.” Peter Block, Community: the Structure of Belonging, 2009

Whilst our reflex response may be to throw our hands up in despair, carry on with what we were already doing and blame “them”, the sanest and most effective thing may be to pause for a moment, try and understand the deeper structure and causes behind our current dilemmas, our part in unawarely contributing to these problems, and then figure out some practical steps in a new direction, hopefully away from the edge of the roof.

A friend of mine said the theme for current times was – Asking Big Questions and Finding Practical Answers – the latter not as neat solutions but as practical ways of leading, bringing something new into the world. One first step is to reclaim the idea of leadership in a very ordinary, everyday way, so that is seen as a quality that exists in all human beings. I like Professor Peter Hawkins’ notion that “leadership begins when you stop blaming others for things not working and start taking responsibility.” I hope this blog will provide a space to reflect on the messy reality of what it means, in practice, to lead and follow in the complex human systems of which we are all part – families, neighbourhoods, communities, organisations, society.

Another purpose of this blog related to the challenges above is to illuminate how we learn to combine three interdependent levels of action – the systemic, the interpersonal and the personal/individual – all of which are necessary to create sustainable change. Systemic thinking invites us to pay attention to context and trends, not just snapshots of experience. And our bigger social context is one of ambiguity and uncertainty.

In our practice of leadership, old ideas and assumptions still hold great sway. We are creatures of our culture and so we are not immune to its effects; I see the contradictions in myself and others, between what I aspire to and the ingrained habits and deeply embedded governing ideas that shape my behaviour.

Leadership is embracing the freedom and choice we have in everyday matters, as well as on the big questions, to be creators of our lives. Many of our organisational and societal structures have encouraged us to sleep, to retire on the job. Leading our lives in an everyday sense, taking responsibility for what we create in the world, and in our organisations, is what can provide our lives with meaning and purpose. This is the joy of leading.

Peter Block, of whom more in the next posting, asserts that powerful questions are more useful than answers, in that they demand engagement, and engagement creates accountability. So two questions to engage us:

How are you choosing to exercise your freedom and lead in your everyday life?

How are you helping enact the future which is waiting to emerge?


One Response to Drunk and Near the Edge of the Roof?

  1. Stuart Reid says:

    I’m really glad you’ve started a blog John, and am looking forward to your thoughtful posts.

    This post was very helpful to me, because I am struggling at the moment with my own position on leadership, hierarchy and power within organisations, and how I relate to that as an external consultant. So it was good to read your idea about reclaiming “the idea of leadership in a very ordinary, everyday way, so that is seen as a quality that exists in all human beings.” Leadership rather than Leaders. Thanks.


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