The Foundation for Future Leadership
By Giles Hutchins
It is now clear to many leaders, managers and change agents that we need a new way of operating.
Yet, so often we seek solutions ‘out there’, a new way that has been invented elsewhere, packed-up, tried-and-tested and ready for us to buy off-the-shelf so we can solve our problems: a silver-bullet, a cook-book approach that, with enough budget, senior management buy-in and will-power, we can implement – job done, tick, move-on, next!
There is something within our psyche that definitely prefers the safe, tried-and-tested, well-documented, easy-to-follow, clearly illuminated straight road ahead. But life is not like that. And things are only set to get more volatile, more uncertain and more ambiguous for a great variety of reasons. Our search for neat off-the-shelf solutions may satisfy the desire to ‘get-the-job-done’ and move-on, but in our hearts we know something deeper is now required.
There is increasing evidence that today’s managerial mind-set and organisational development approaches are not just inadequate for dealing with the challenges that lie ahead of us, they are actually undermining our creative potential and adaptability right where we most need it.
So what to do!
In my recent conversations with a CEO, of a global firm actively exploring deeper ways forward, she succinctly said, ‘its time to start looking in’. Yes, we need to look out, but first we need to look deep within, and then take that in-spiration into our looking out, so that we see, relate and attend to what is required in our organisations with a new way of perceiving, of thinking, of attending. From this insight and self-awareness comes the foresight and systemic thinking we now need to deal with the challenges upon us.
If we are honest with ourselves, we may begin to realise that the major problems we face within our ways of operating and organising results from much of our ‘doing’ having become de-coupled from our ‘being’. Let’s just pause on that for a moment. How often in our daily activities do we do things in a harried and hurried way due to our need to ‘get the job done’ while undermining the quality of our ‘beingness’ in the process, in turn undermining the quality of interactions we have with others, eroding our innate sociality and empathetic connection with our environment. We professionalise our masks and personas as we learn to be masterful at persuasion and manipulation, yet in-so-doing we distance ourselves from our authentic nature, desensitising ourselves and our empathic inter-relationality in the process. Enter the mechanistic bureaucratic soul-sapping corporate culture of today.
As the now trendy insight from Einstein so aptly highlights, we can’t change our problems with the same logic that created them. And yet we so often do exactly this. Whether it be, for instance, force-fitting a cook-book approach to holacratic self-organisation into our governance or sending our top 1% of talent on largely academic leadership courses to efficiently download how to be a better leader.
When it comes to us exploring different approaches outside-the-box of our current thinking, our decision-making systems constrain us. Procedure demands we quantify the learning objectives and outcomes so a business case can be signed-off. So caught up we are, that our mindset and culture prevents investment in the very approaches we need to get us out of the logic that created the problems in the first place.
Most middle managers and senior executives have been encouraged to think that in order to succeed, we need to climb the ladder, take on more responsibility, lead a bigger project, and accumulate more academic accreditations. We look outside ourselves in terms of what we can accumulate. This has its place and needs to be commended to a certain extent, but only if our doing is aligned with our being, otherwise we are doing stuff for some external reward chart or ‘tick-box’ exercise while further de-coupling ourselves from our being. We so often take on more external commitments, giving ourselves less time to reflect on how we are being – and so we get more stressed, seeking fleeting respite through holidays or external stimulations, which often involves yet more busyness. Enter the contagion of consumerism in our midst. How often do we give ourselves a chance to question why on Earth we are doing what we are doing anyway. What actually is the deeper purpose of the organisation I work for and how does that resonate with my deeper purpose?
The more we externalise and objectify the more we distract ourselves from sensing into how we are truly feeling. We don’t give ourselves the space-time to tune-in to who we truly are and how we are truly feeling, because we are for-ever grasping at things ‘out there’. We relentlessly get busier and busier in an increasingly complex fast-moving digitised world that demands more and more of us. Becoming more profitable, more sustainable, more creative, more resilient, more responsible, more purposeful, more conscious – these are at risk of becoming ‘things’ for us to get our head round, climb over and achieve efficiently with the masks and personas we know serve us well in the current acculturated mindset. We fail to actually question or address the underlying mindset, and so unwittingly prevent ourselves from opening up to the deeper wisdom we now need to move beyond ‘the box’ we have got ourselves caught up in.
It’s time to step back from this myopia we have entrapped ourselves in, so that we can allow ourselves to see with fresh eyes, while bringing in deeper insights within and all around us, beyond ‘the box’.
‘The one who looks inside awakens’ – Carl Jung
The good news is, these very times of volatility and upheaval are providing the ideal alchemic conditions for our old ways to be seen for what they are – holding us back from who we truly are, and undermining our organisations’ and social systems’ ability to thrive.
Many are now increasingly realising that our social systems and organisations are actually living systems rather than mechanistic machines. This is one of the greatest challenges, perhaps THE challenge our leaders and managers face today: embracing a shift in our way of perceiving from an outdated mechanistic and control-based managerial mind-set to a recognition that our organisations are living systems immersed within the living systems of society and our more-than-human world. This comes with a worldview shift from a dog-eat-dog world steeped in self-agency, individualism and competition to a deeper recognition that our world is steeped in inter-connected reciprocating relationships.
For ourselves, our teams, our organisations and stakeholder ecosystems to become vibrant, adaptive, thriving, purposeful living systems amid these times of unceasing transformation, we first need to embrace the aliveness within us, and the connection and coherence that enables this aliveness to flourish through our relationships. In other words, our ‘being’ needs to underpin and infuse our ‘doing’. This is not some wishy-washy soft-and-fluffy new-age vibe, it is simply the only way to take ourselves outside-the-box and transform our thinking beyond that which created the problems in the first place.
Old Logic New Logic
Competitive self-agency Collaborative inter-relationality
Hierarchic management Locally-attuned emergence
Individualism Individuality within community
Homogenisation Diversity within unity
Profit first Profit follows purpose
There is now clear scientific evidence showing that complex living systems – our social and organisational systems, as well as our own selves – greatly improve their ability to thrive amid volatility by enhancing their connection and coherence at personal, team and systemic levels.
The well-respected scientist Ervin Laszlo speaks of the importance of super-coherence within living systems. All living systems need to be both intrinsically and extrinsically coherent in order to thrive. By coherence we mean the ability for all the aspects within us and within our organisations to be aligned and in-tune. Yet, today, much of our managerial approaches, decision-making protocols, day-to-day meeting conventions and approaches to work actually stifle our coherence both within ourselves at personal levels (creating anxiety, fear, control issues and frustration while undermining our creative potential and sapping our motivation) and extrinsically beyond ourselves in terms of how we relate with others across our organisational boundaries (creating silo-mentality, competitive them-versus-us thinking, risk-adverse herd mentality, and institutionalised status-quo rigidity). This undermines our personal and organisational coherence, in turn, undermining the resilience and well-being of ourselves and organisations. Rather than turning up for work with full-bodied aliveness and vitality, much of the time we find ourselves switching-off or leaving aspects of ourselves at the door, putting on a mask so that we can get by in the mechanistic artificiality and political quagmire of today’s corporate mentality. We have learnt to get-the-job-done, tick-the-to-do-list, reach the destination as quickly as possible so we can move on to the next thing, and get out of the soul-destroying work place as quickly as possible while hopefully picking up a pay rise or promotion as compensation for our enslavement. We all know in our hearts it does not have to be this way.
So how do we develop this ‘super-coherence’ within ourselves and our organisations amid these times of increasingly uncertainty and challenge? This, I argue, is THE inquiry for any leader interested in creating vibrant flourishing enterprises that do not just survive the years ahead but actually thrive. In other words, this is THE inquiry for every leader awakening to this ‘new norm’, and we can go further by saying this is also THE inquiry for every human seeking a future that is life-affirming, a future for ourselves and our children that enhances life rather than degrades it, that leaves the garden richer than we found it rather than recklessly burning our future for today. As Ervin Laszlo notes,
‘In the last few hundred years, and especially in the last decades, human societies have become progressively incoherent both with respect to each other and with their environment. They have become internally divisive and ecologically disruptive… Species are dying out, diversity in the planet’s ecosystem is diminishing, the climate is changing, and the conditions for healthy living are reduced. This crucial epoch is to regain our internal and external coherence: our supercoherence. This is not a utopian aspiration, but it calls for major changes in our thinking and behaving. Striving effectively to regain supercoherence requires more that finding technological solutions to patch up the problems created by our incoherence. It requires reconnecting with a mindset…a mindset based on a sense of oneness with each other and with nature…rediscovering the power of love [as] a profound sense of belonging to each other and to the cosmos. This rediscovery is timely, and it is not mere fantasy: it has roots in our holographically whole, non-locally interconnected universe.’
Cultivating Coherence Through Connection
When we align our doing with our being we align our outer work with our inner-selves, and cultivate coherence. First we need to be aware of the quality of our beingness (as today there is much to distract us in today’s hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it world). Then, we can learn to align our doing with our being.
In opening up to more of ourselves, we perceive more of how life really is (beyond the habituations, acculturations and control-based frames of yesterday’s logic). We allow a deeper and richer perspective to form within us. We learn how to reframe our strategic intent, day-to-day interactions and meeting conventions from a linear, control-based, mechanistic frame to a regenerative living-systems approach that embraces more of our humanity and a deeper sense of place and purpose within this more-than-human world. In the process we learn to become wiser folk.