Flourishing inTolerance

Several things prompted me to write this piece: An extraordinary client who is one of the most open-minded person I have ever had the privilege of working with; The aftermath of what happened to Charlie Hebdo and a request by ICF Poland for us to give a 60-minute talk in March- our chosen topic is ‘Working with Polarities’. The connector in my mind between the three things is ‘diversity’.

In thinking about this topic of diversity or and our ability to embrace difference, it struck me how open we really need to be in order to allow for difference to exist and thrive.  It is totally counter-intuitive to respond to difference with some form of defence or attack rather than to see it as part of life. Maybe even better is to look at differences in terms of ‘how we fit in each other’s world’, a lovely phrase used by Joe Sacco, Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/jan/09/joe-sacco-on-satire-a-response-to-the-attacks). My realisation is the extent to which we do not like negativity, dissatisfaction, disconfirmation, dissent. We fear being old, ugly, vile, out of control, lost, impotence.  But nature and life is all of these things so how is it that we have come to this place of denial, fear and rejection of nature?

Our fear of difference is especially true in organisation life- we want conformity, unity, consistency—‘alignment’- as close to 100% as possible. We don’t really want to hear ‘no’ and not too much ‘why?’ either. People who push-back are seen to be difficult and problems to be solved or challenges to overcome. Equally, positive people could also be seen to be wrong or fake. We end up in a blandland of political correctness. I am not sure whether we have yet learnt to give and take, to look for ways to accommodate each other- not yet.

If we were to step back a little and examine our expectations and behaviours, we might start to see that our way of thinking and our expectations are totally skewed, lop-sided and unrealistic! To deny that everything has upsides and downsides is to deny life itself: The yes’s and the no’s; the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. If we follow this train of thought, maybe it is not desirable to strive for 100% employee satisfaction. Maybe indicators of employee engagement is discomfort and controversy and in this environment, we would expect that everyone like some things but not everyone will like everything and there are many sub-groups and interest groups and that ‘majority’ is a warning sign? Maybe a grown-up organisation is one where we willingly give up something so that another constituent can get a little of what they want or need. In my view, this type of give and take is not the same as compromise where we feel we are losing something. This behaviour- of accommodating/ making space/ allowing is a feeling that although we are giving up something, we are gaining something as a whole- because someone else is getting something.

In such a diverse organisation, we would not expect someone else to ‘take control’ because we would understand that being able to balance giving and taking is core to maintaining this type of diverse community. Perhaps we would learn to expect that individually, it is normal we don’t always get our way so that others have a chance to get a little of what they need or want. In such a system, we would have an interest in the overall health and balance of the whole and understand that we are part of that whole and as such, we are always contributing to all as all is always contributing to us.

What is the role of leaders in such an organisation? Maybe leaders are the ones who help us individually and as a group to listen and learn from each other. Maybe their role is to facilitate flow- movement of ideas, information, configurations of people. Maybe leadership in this context is simply practicing and modelling an open mind-space and an open organisation space for everyone and everything to naturally flourish.

The Essence of Our Work

This morning, I went to David Whyte’s website and found his recent writing on WORK. It’s beautifully written and captures the heart of work. On the LDI, we touch on TOV and WEST and here’s a piece of work that goes deeper into the soul of both. Enjoy!

‘THE ESSENCE OF WORK is intimacy. The essence of work after providing for our simple survival is an intimacy between two seemingly opposing poles: an interior closeness to a deep foundational self attempting to make its way in the world, and the felt longing for some recognized far horizon in our endeavors: the ability to sustain an alchemical, almost lover like relationship that touches both the mystery of the present and the longed for future to which the work leads us; the essence of work lies in the practiced, imaginative love of this far horizon combined with the ability to stay alert to the practicalities of the here and the now, including especially, the physically felt, close-in invitations that first draw us, sometimes helplessly, to our calling.

Work is robust vulnerability, and a good part of the time, a journey leading us through very unbeautiful private and public humiliations. We find the core essence of work, firstly through its fear-filled imagining, secondly, in the long necessary humiliations of refusal, courtship and apprenticeship, thirdly in the skill and craft we learn by doing and finally in the harvest of its gifting and then, the surprising ways it is both received and rejected by the world and then given back to us. Profit, recognition, wealth: these all seem to be beautiful by-products only when they come as the children of this falling in love, this patient courtship; this falling down and getting up, this learning to live with and this long careful parenting of our work. Work is the inside made into the outside. Like a real marriage or relationship, the outer forms of togetherness seem to have life and vitality only when the mystery and intimacy of the connection is kept alive in the physical here and the physical now; in the way our hands touch another or touch our work. We stay alive and our work stays alive, through the willingness to remain the life-long apprentice, through the humiliations and abasement of the lover, through the care and confident abilities learned and then applied to the materials and conversations that make an everyday marriage and an everyday work real, and especially in the heart break and the satisfactions of the parent, watching those imaginings go out into the world.

To reduce work in our societal imagination merely to competition, and to the act of beating the competition, is to condemn our societies, our communities and our individual lives to imaginative poverty of the very worst kind. In the real world it is also an isolating approach that closes off the possibilities of cooperation and conversation across scientific boundaries and artful borders. In the mystery of real contact and of real creativity, as in the lover’s embrace, there is no abstract other and no competition. With the right work, the right relationship to that work and the mystery of what is continually being revealed to us through our endeavors, we find a home in the world that eventually does not need debilitating stress, does not need our exhausted will and does not need enormous amounts of outside energy constantly fed in to sustain it. We give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us, as fellow lovers, fellow struggling marriages: with a person, with a work, with a craft, attempting to keep the conversation alive with the core mystery of what makes us make; a gift that is twice given, physically in the present and imaginatively in the future; a work and an identity that holds both together, not only for an end, but for every step that shapes an onward way.’

© David Whyte: March 2014: Excerpted from ‘WORK’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.


An Example of Going for TOV

We have just come back from a Leadership Development Intensive (LDI). Here’s an example of someone ‘going for TOV’.



Amy and John

‘Work Smarter not Harder’: Economy of Effort- The Five Fs

In our Leadership Development Intensive (LDI) pre-work, we have a question about ‘economy of effort’ that has most people stumped. What does it mean? Most people had never heard of this phrase before. It means we achieve our desired outcomes with the minimum effort. It’s a lot like the common phrase ‘work smarter not harder’- but what does it look like? Taking this idea further, we also think it’s about acting with ease- acting with grace and flow. We normally ask people ‘have you ever worked really hard and gone home energised?’ conversely, ‘have you ever done very little and gone home exhausted?’ These are clues to our effectiveness. When we are working very hard and not making any headway it is surely a sign that something is ‘off’. So what are the factors that help us achieve maximum effectiveness with minimum ? We have the Five Fs….


1.  Focus

When our energy is focused and directed, we can achieve a great deal. When our energy is unfocused, we experience working very hard but not getting anywhere- we end up working harder and harder with less and less tangible results. Peopel who have been in our talks and workshops, you will have come across ‘110% listening’. This is being totally present and totally focused on the subject/ task in hand. Listening in this context is our attention- placing our attention completely.


2. Flexibility

Focused while staying open to the moment to moment unfolding. This ability to be open and attuned to the shifts in the environment is hard to achieve- particularly in the business world. It is common for business executives to be focused and goal-oriented and for most part, it is the ability to drive results that make executives rise to the top. However, this ‘lock-on’ type of focusing also means that shifts in a situation are ‘locked-out’ leading to a diminished ability for executives to respond appropriately to changing circumstances. As a result, more effort is used than necessary.


3.  Failure as point of excitement

Though we read about how to embrace failture particularly if we are interested in creativity and innovation, few of us enjoy failure—but this is exactly what is needed if we are interested in efficiency of effort.


4.  Following my TOV as a daily practice

When we are in our TOV, time flows and we flow. This is for sure a sign that we are in our ‘zone’. But our TOV needs to be nurtured and developed with discipline and practice. What comes to mind is years as a dancer and musician when I was younger. In both art forms I hated practising barr work and scales- I just saw them as getting in the way of the actual thing itself. As I am older and look back to those practise sessions, I have a renewed appreciation of how crucial those sessions were in enabling me to actually enjoy the dance and the music—anyone who has been through this or who has children learning an instrument will relate to this for sure! Training and the daily practice of looking at how to do what we love or what we are good at in better and new ways is essential in improving our effectiveness and ease in which we can get into our zone. This is also why the practice of daily reminding ourselves of our stretches and our GPS is so core to our growth.


5.  Flag up early when things are not ‘right’

We all have an intrinsic ‘knowing’. It seems the more we are educated and trained, the less we trust our own internal voice of wisdom. When things are not quite ‘right’ we usually know but few of us trust this voice. Instead, we reason this voice away. We tell ourselves all the reasons why ‘everything is ok’ or ‘everything will be ok’ if I try harder. How do we work smarter rather than word harder? The first thing we need to do is to accept that something is not ‘right’. You don’t even have to know for sure what it is but admitting it to yourself, telling your colleagues, talking about this with your partner/ spouse is a good starting point. By invoking this early warning sign and flag things up will save a lot of effort later. Because in our experience of executive and organisation coaching, bad things tend to turn worse unless individuals can step back and do something differently. The Pinch Theory is one such example of how interpersonal conflicts need to be flagged up early and talked about before they become much more toxic crunches that often lead to stalemate or one or both parties exiting the relationships mad and dumb.


What we are advocating here are actions that can be taken by everyone- they are not difficult to do. What makes them challenging is that they are counter-intuitive thus requiring a mindfulness not just in terms of what we do but how we are doing as we are working towards our goals and objectives and have the courage to stop and make different choices when we are aware that things are ‘effort-full’ rather than ‘effort-less’.

How to Create a Climate of High Trust- Leadership Courage

We have been spending the last few months working with a Technology Consulting company based in NYC and Krakow called U2i. It is one of the most extraordinary firms we have had the pleasure of working with, a company that is already successful and is destined to be even more successful because people in that company are learning how to unleash their potential. There is a lot we can write about but I wanted to lead off with two people.

We often hear the word ‘courage’ used in leadership. A lot has been written about it so why add to what is written? I feel that many examples in literature about courage is often about people overcoming the odds to do something grand- changing a country, running a large campaign, leading an army into battle etc. but there isn’t very much out there that captures small but significant moments that enables major shifts. I believe these moments are critical to share because they make ‘being courageous’ more possible for us in our day to day. So what happened?

We had been running some workshops with everyone from U2i for a few months and we had been exposing people to ideas of the Waterline, 110% listening, Three Worlds and Pinches. In one of these meetings, someone plucked up the courage to confront one of the Tech Leads with a team-swap decision. He asked the Tech Lead a straight question: Why did you pick me? In this moment, the Tech Lead had so many options open to him to answer the question in whatever way would be ‘comfortable’ for both. These are, to borrow a phrase from Jan Carlzon, a ‘moment of truth’.  These moments present a significant opportunity for leaders to answer the question from his truth. When this happens, all the things we have spoken about up to that point- high performing team, high trust etc. suddenly become reality. This is also how culture is shaped. So what did the Tech Lead do? He answered his absolute and sincere truth. To honour our ‘Vegas Rule’ I will not repeat exactly what was said. However, the Tech Lead has given me permission to share with you that he exposed his own lack of logic and reason in his decision-making. How did we know he was telling the truth? We sensed it because was not a ‘pretty’ or ‘nice’ or ‘neat’ answer- it was awkward. BUT, his uncut and unpolished truth was it incredibly powerful. In that moment, if you had been in the room, you would have felt a moment of electricity when the question was asked, stunned silence after the answer was spoken and then, a collective sigh of relief as the group relaxed into a space of higher trust.

What also stood out for me in this incident was the questioner. In these situations, it takes immense courage to break through our own anxieties in order to confront another person with something that is really bothering us AND for us to really listen and take in the answer given. What impressed me so much about the questioner was he didn’t go back to asking the question again or to make another point. He heard the answer, he was satisfied and said so. This simple act of cleaning asking a question, hearing the other and concluding is the difference between a genuine question and situations where a question is used as a foil for an opinion or some other agenda. For the group, these two people demonstrated that it was possible to challenge one another and it was possible for individuals to give truthful answer cleanly. This is how the group starts to build a capacity and a capability for checking out perceptions and dealing with differences. In other words- true diversity.

For the questioner and for the person who answered the question, this was leadership courage in action. It’s quite simple actually. Yet, like everything that sits ‘Below the Waterline’, it’s a hell of a tough job to do it in the moment- especially when one feels under pressure or put on the spot. But this is what it takes to be a true ‘leader of change’. In this instance, both the questioner and the answer giver were true leaders.

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