Welcome to Living Leadership’s new blog. I want to use the blog as a means to share with clients and colleagues:
- The latest thinking and leading-edge practice in the fields of leadership, organisational and social change with the hope that it both encourages you and challenges you; as well as
- Reflections 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.
The focus of our interest and work in Living Leadership is what Ron Heifetz calls ‘adaptive challenges’ –where the solutions lies outside current ways of working, normal operating procedures and dominant cultural norms. Many of our biggest social and organisational challenges fall into this category. Progress on these issues requires us to unlearn much of what we know, experiment, and engage the collective intelligence of a diverse range of stakeholders in order to learn what is needed and what will work in this changed context.
Another purpose of this blog 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:
“The idea of the past, although half destroyed, being still powerful, and the ideas which are to replace them being still in formation, the modern age represents a period of transition and anarchy.” Gustave Le Bon
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. Here’s a couple of old kernels we need to unlearn:
|Seductive but limiting assumptions||Challenging, liberating assumptions|
|The individual leader is key and their special attributes and skills. (We can play the role of heroic leader or as we’re not needed we can go to sleep).||The organisation (or community) is a rich resource of largely untapped insight, talent and contribution. Creating the conditions to release this collective capability is the key focus.|
|The leader’s role is to know the answers, define the destination and the blueprint/roadmap to get there. (We can watch the Tops suck up responsibility and observe them succeeding brilliantly for a while and applaud or failing yet again and berate/sack them. Either way we are just an observer.)||Leaders need to learn to be skilled conveners – creating the fertile conditions in which something new can happen. This means naming the challenge/ possibility and bringing diverse groups of people together in conversations that matter. This is more likely to generate commitment and personal accountability.|
We need to reclaim and simplify the notion of leadership: encouraging people to see leadership as a quality that exists in all human beings and something we can exercise everyday in all the different domains of our lives.
I like Peter Hawkins’ (a colleague at Bath Consultancy Group) notion that “leadership begins when you stop blaming others for things not working and start taking responsibility.” In switching from blame to responsibility we have to face our addiction to BMW (Bitching, Moaning, Whining) 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.
We have been in a prolonged stage of transition; the words of the poet Walt Whitman written more than a hundred years ago are still largely true:
“We have frequently printed the word Democracy. Yet I cannot too often repeat, that it is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, unawakened…It is a great word, whose history, I suppose remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted. It is, in some sort, younger brother of another great and often used word, Nature, whose history also waits unwritten.”
How do we choose to exercise our freedom and lead in our everyday lives? How are we helping enact the future which is waiting to emerge?