Gemstones of Leadership

If we are to be effective in our organisations and our lives it helps to know what’s precious. Recently, I’ve re-discovered some simple, sparkling truths about what’s important. Here are four of these gemstones:

Change really is organic! We may subscribe to this as an idea but at what level do we really know this to be true? Do we have faith in working this way? I was having a conversation with a successful business leader recently and heard a story of transformation in his business. What was remarkable, but shouldn’t be, is the absence of many of the tools and interventions that we tell ourselves are valuable: no grand plan, no blueprint, no roll-out, no Gannt Charts, no detailed monitoring. What was present from this Top leader was his engagement, interest, visibility and some permissions and encouragement – an enabling contribution – with Middles and Workers leading the change locally. What was noticeable was the uneven pace of change and at a certain stage it going viral – this isn’t the ordered, tidy change of consultant toolkits but more of the messy, organic, emergent process that change actually is.

For something to change, something has to change! If the same people are meeting under the same conditions then why would anyone expect anything new to happen.  So one possibility is bringing more diversity of stakeholders into our gatherings: customers, workers not just middles and tops …  Who has important insights, information and knowledge? What relationships need to be better connected? Whose voice needs to be heard? Bringing more diversity into our meetings and gatherings increases the turbulence and the risk but also the possibility of creating a different future.

Deepen the conversation. For many of our daily conversations and meetings we don’t actually need to be present; we could just put a dummy and a tape recorder in the room. Too many of our interactions have a canned and highly predictable quality to them.  I include myself in this.

Taking a new step; uttering a new word is what people fear most” said Dostoyevsky. 

A lot of the time we are reluctant to ‘show up’ and spend much of our energy managing the situation to reduce risk (of exposure, criticism, getting it wrong, not knowing, anxiety, …) and protect ourselves. Of course, this is a subtle dynamic and we fool ourselves a lot of time that we are not doing this. It feels hard to make a shift in this game as others are playing it too. It’s actually not that hard to shift the quality of conversation.  Here are the four key qualities needed –I learnt them 20 years ago from Angeles Arrien – and of course I frequently ignore or forget them. When I remember them and am willing to risk living by them they make a big difference:  

  • Show up – bring the whole of yourself to a conversation – head, heart, gut and spirit.
  • Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
  • Tell the truth without blame or judgement.
  • Be open to outcomes not attached to them.

Remember the power of good questions. I was having dinner at a conference recently with a group of six people and it could have easily been an average conversation amongst people who don’t know each other: pleasant but not remarkable. Instead, it was a memorable, intimate evening of sharing stories that mattered. The switch came from an invitation from one of the people at the table to start the conversation in a different way. We were invited to share a symbol that told us something important about who we were. It led to an interesting, connected, unfolding conversation…

These four gemstones invite us to embrace anxiety and uncertainty.

Are we ready to befriend uncertainty and anxiety as welcome travelling companions and the catalysts of creativity and innovation?

Or do we flee from uncertainty and anxiety at all costs?


3 Responses to Gemstones of Leadership

  1. Silvia Prins says:

    Dear John,
    Thank you for these wonderful and precious thoughts. Actually, I hardly know you, but I was one of the six sitting at that dinner table you talk about. I still feel the intimacy and depth of that conversation. It was something special, sparked off by something so simple.
    Thanks for your great company!
    Silvia Prins

  2. coachrahul says:

    Thought provoking and everything you say rings true. Enjoyed the reading and will benefit from the insights.

  3. Michael Moore says:


    Loved the blog and the nuggets revealed…


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