I recently experienced my first Deep Democracy workshop as a participant and it was a real eye-opener. It is simple yet powerful, and has the potential to create real transformation, not just routine actions for improvement. It was born out of South Africa’s transformation from apartheid to democracy, and is used by leaders and facilitators from all walks of life. The process enables voices to be heard that are often left unheard, and mines the inherent wisdom hidden within the system by resolving tension and conflict. (see Deep Democracy).
The process invites people to step into different perspectives or roles, some of which they may not be in agreement with. The conversations that emerge from these different perspectives are illuminating. New information is surfaced, new possibilities emerge and collective wisdom that has been buried within the system is given an opportunity to reveal itself.
At a time when people all around the world are questioning what is real, what is true and what is fake news, the very meaning of democracy is under challenge. Who runs things? Is it the politicians? What is the role of the media? And what about the technology giants, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon? Where do we go to seek our answers and who can we rely on to reveal the truth about what is most important for us? Continue reading →
How can Choice be bad for us? This surely goes against everything that we in the western world have taken for granted for decades, indeed hundreds of years. Choice is fundamental to freedom, and, for people who have no freedom, it makes total sense that increasing personal choice, will provide at least an illusion of freedom, and in turn enhance their welfare, satisfaction and happiness. Continue reading →
I have long been a fan and admirer of Andy Murray, so naturally I was delighted for him when he recently reached the pinnacle of his sport by being crowned the world’s number one-ranked male tennis player. Amazing! Perhaps even more amazing when we reflect on the fact that he comes from a small town (Dunblane) in a country (Scotland) with practically no history to speak of in the game of tennis. His journey to get to the top has been far from easy. He has played in an era which has been dominated by three other great players, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, an era that most tennis experts agree has been the most highly contested period of excellence in the men’s game – ever!
This is similar to how many CEOs, Business Owners and Leaders describe the feeling of being at the top, or out in front of their organisations and companies. It can be a lonely place. Continue reading →
Is this the age of Lazy Leadership? Well, before you answer, perhaps I should explain a little more about what I mean by that term.
No-one ever said that leaders need to be popular. In fact we probably need to be wary of leaders who appear to be universally liked. Those who are, in my view, are either at the head of a very slick and dangerous brain-washing machine, or are simply not tackling the tough stuff that people don’t like to hear. (See We get the Leaders we deserve).
Here in the UK we have experienced a number of major political episodes in the last couple of years, from a Scottish Referendum, to a General Election, and more recently, an EU Referendum, and both a Tory and Labour leadership battle. And we are currently in the final lap of the US Presidential marathon (or Trumpathon).
Perhaps it is because so many of these events have been reduced to simplistic binary choices that the quality of political debate has deteriorated. Complex issues, that do not necessarily have straightforward solutions, have been reduced to simple soundbites, creating polarised debates, resulting in divided electorates and divided nations.
High quality leaders navigate complexity and ambiguity, and do not allow themselves to be drawn into the downward spiral that is satisfied merely by securing a simple majority to fulfil a political end. Instead they are prepared to tackle thorny issues that may not be popular, they recognise that alienating half of the electorate (or workforce) is not a good foundation to build from, and they understand the danger of chasing populist opinion.
You could be excused for wondering whether leadership has gone out of fashion right now. Whether it be politics, business or sport, wherever you look, there appears to be a vacuum at the top, and much discrediting of those leaders who remain.
What could be going on? Well, I think one of the problems is that we are mixed up about
what we want from our leaders. Perhaps we expect too much of them. Should they have all the answers? Should they be all-seeing and all-hearing? Is it reasonable to expect them to set strategy, direction, plan, implement, review, report and make key decisions, as well as dispense wisdom to all who seek it? Of course not. But, despite recognising this as impractical, and even unhealthy, as a society we are still encouraged to demand unequivocal and unwavering surety from our leaders.
At this time, perhaps more than at any time in the past, we need a different set of skills from our leaders. We live in a VUCA(volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world where knowledge is distributed more widely than ever, where more information is instantly available than at any time in history, yet despite all that information, decision-making has never been more difficult. Those who come out of the charismatic ‘all-knowing’ school of leadership present us with dangers. Continue reading →
People do not go out of their way to seek data that contradicts their existing beliefs. On the contrary, they will select any data they find that supports existing assumptions. We may like to believe that we are open to having our minds changed, but the reality is that we are quite fixed when it comes to our mental malleability.
Evidence for this assertion is being played out daily on our radios and televisions, as people debate the pros and cons of Brexit. There is an uncanny collective agreement amongst the public that they do not get enough facts to help them arrive at a logical and balanced position. We hear this refrain in panel discussions, question time and vox pops. “How are we supposed to know what the truth is? One lot give us a load of statistics, and then the other lot come along and tell us that is all wrong and hit us with another load of statistics.”
I watched one such programme recently, where a member of the public made exactly this
point. He levelled his accusation at one of the ‘experts’ on the panel. His complaint centred around the costs of running the EU along with an assertion that Britain should not be run by unelected bureaucrats. The expert spent a reasonable amount of time patiently explaining the facts. He explained that calling all of the EU machine unelected was not accurate. He pointed out that the EU Parliament, which is made up of elected national representatives, does in fact have a veto over recommendations put forward by the EU Commission. And that the EU Council is also made up of one member from each state in the EU, each of whom will have been elected as part of their home nation’s general elections. This was all delivered in a tone of neutrality, and with a genuine desire to help alleviate concerns and misunderstandings. At the end, the person who had raised the original issue was asked if the information provided had helped. His response was not positive. Exasperated, he accused the ‘expert’ of simply adding to the confusion and misconceptions, and “just who was he supposed to believe?”
“Humble Inquiry is the skill & art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity & interest in the other person.” ~ Edgar H. Schein
Doing and telling are valued more in western, industrialised societies than asking and relationship building. We hire and promote people who can get the job done. Asking for help and admitting that you don’t know are considered taboos to striving and ambitious people.
However, one quality of great leaders that comes out consistently close to the top in studies of leadership is the ability to master ‘humble inquiry’. Leaders who ask questions, who do not pretend to know answers, and who recognise that their people are the real experts, inevitably command greater respect and are considered to be more effective leaders.
And why should this be so? Well, consider the charismatic, know-it-all boss who operates by telling. They may command a type of respect, possibly grounded in fear or concerns of inadequacy. But, will people be prepared to approach them with problems, issues or concerns? If relationships have not been established that make it easy for people to share problems, there is a danger that critical information could be withheld, even safety critical or life-and-death information may be held back.
“I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.” ~ Ken Robinson
We live in a world that favours conformity over diversity, despite the fact that no two people are the same. I guess we do this because it seems easier. How could we build a health system, prison system or education system individually tailored to the needs of each and every person who passes through it? That would be impossible wouldn’t it? Well, yes, at the overall organization and administration level that is undoubtedly true, but what about at the point of delivery? Is it really impossible to see each recipient of education, health care or custodial reform as individuals, with different needs and unique histories?
Enjoy this immensely funny, but deadly serious, talk by Sir Ken Robinson, as he warns against the dangers of an education system that favours compliance over individuality, standardisation over creativity.
We need curiosity for learning and for human growth. Intelligence is not simply measured by how many facts you know, but about asking great questions, being endlessly curious and making, breaking and re-creating neural connections, constantly, even into old age. A great education system will provoke, stimulate, challenge and harness people’s innate curiosity.
Creativity is being stifled in far too many of our education regimes around the world. It is, after all, what drives human evolution and cultural development. It is what has made our society what it is today. We are the beneficiaries of our audacious and creative ancestors who dared to dream big, gifting us our transport systems, our medicines, our computers and communication networks, our architecture and our libraries of information. Who will deliver the next generation of dreams?
Unfortunately, and too often, our systems drive cultures of compliance, which ignore the value of the individual in favour of the ‘hollow success’ of the system. Hollow, because no system can be deemed successful, unless the people it is intended to serve are thriving and benefiting from how it is being run. We treat education like an industrial process which can be tweaked and tuned till it is operating like a well-oiled machine. But education is a about humans, individual people, and not about the system.
It does not have to be this way. The countries of northern Europe have been daring to do things differently for some time. Robinson, in his talk, points out that Finland has no standardisation in its schools. They individualise learning, attribute high status to the teaching profession and have no pupil drop-out rate. The Finns are regarded as having one of, if not, the best education system in the world, yet their pupils do not start school until the age of 7, and are not obsessed with exams and standards. Pupils do not sit any formal exams until the age of 16. And it is not only in education that they lead the way. Finland and Sweden can measure the number of under-18s that it hands out custodial sentences to each year on the fingers of one hand. They prefer to deal with young offenders individually by providing treatment, rehabilitation and support, rather than throwing them into the criminal justice system, where they become a statistic and are much more likely to re-offend after release.
Like the rare flowering seen in Death Valley after occasional rainfall, dormant talent can
be reinvigorated. We just need to create the right climate and conditions, and focus on nurturing individual creativity and curiosity. Leaders in education, and in all of our major institutions responsible for harnessing young people’s talent, need to practise less command and control and more climate control.
About the author: Louis Collins enables people to operate more successfully. You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of yourself or your teams but don’t know where to start, or you may not be having as effective conversations as you could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you and your managers to lead more successfully.
Could your organisation benefit from raising the leadership skills of its people? Would you, or members of your management team, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Coaching around the rich field of leadership will help provide the edge that you are seeking in 2015. Coaching has been proven to directly impact the bottom line. Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to have an initial discussion.
A previous post I wrote around “how emotion shows up for coaches” (click here to read that article) attracted considerable attention, and prompted further questions about how to handle emotions in clients. The first thing to be said is that having clients talk openly and with curiosity about their emotions is precisely where most coaches dream of their coaching sessions being conducted.
It is rarely that easy however. We are a kind of “bunged up society” when it comes to discussing emotions. Not everyone of course. Some people are highly attuned to their own and other’s emotions, and are able to use that awareness to understand, manage and influence relationships very effectively. This is not the norm, however, particularly in traditional cultures where expressing emotions has not been encouraged and even frowned upon (this has been true in youth culture, corporates, within families, and even in schools).
Asking someone ‘how they feel’ about something, is often met with a blank expression, as if the question has been asked in a foreign language.
If an answer is provided, it is often expressed in terms of thoughts, rather than feelings (i.e. the answer will often begin with “I think….”).
Even when someone has understood the question and is attempting to get closer to what they do feel, it is not unusual to hear them say something like, “Hmm, let me think about that, yes, what am I feeling?”
In other words, people usually have to intellectualise, through thinking and language, in order to get to what they are feeling. It is as if our emotional layers are hidden away, Continue reading →