Attitudes to gender start early. This caught my eye at the front of my local Target store recently. The two displays are in the children’s section about a metre apart, an aisle between them delineating which are “Girls” clothes and which are “Boys” clothes.
In an age where every management book wants us to believe that there are “three easy answers” to this or “5 simple steps” to that, Heifetz and Linsky want us to understand that there are no easy answers and real leadership often requires the courage to step into harm’s way. They argue that leaders doing adaptive work have often been assassinated – usually metaphorically, but sometimes literally.
We've just watched the closing ceremony of the XXXI Olympiad and that got me thinking about games. I learned early in my facilitation career not to announce to participants that we were about to engage in a “game”. Apparently, serious leaders don’t play games, they do serious work. Which is a shame really because there’s a growing body of research that shows that “games” or “serious play” in learning is one of the most powerful ways for leaders to learn new lessons.
We might all like to think we make decisions based on a rational basis, but in truth much of our decision making is emotionally driven. Then we use rationality to justify the emotional choice we’ve made. That means as a leader responsible for change you need to get good at speaking to the part of the brain that processes emotion if you want to convince others to take up your great idea.
And that means you need to get good at storytelling. Not aimless yarning or laugh-out-loud raconteuring but purposeful, practiced business storytelling.
Have you ever been with a colleague and debriefed a meeting you both attended only to discover that you heard entirely different things or made entirely different meaning from the conversations that took place during the meeting? Why is that? Maybe it’s not about whether you were listening, but how you were listening.
In the modern organisation leaders can’t actually force people to do anything. Sure leaders may have a degree of hierarchical power by virtue of the role they hold but the reality is that workers have actually given the leader that power. In fact, what sits in place is an often unconscious complex social contract where workers actually give authority to their leader in exchange for three essential things; Direction, Protection and Order.
I was thinking about the pressure on leaders to know. Everything. This despite the fact that when doing truly adaptive work and leading in complexity, leaders can’t possibly know everything. So it seems obvious from a distance that the real money is on resisting the pressure to always provide neat answers and, instead to sit with the questions a little longer.
The world of the senior manager is complex and crowded. Growing demands on your time and the expectations of instant decisions or immediate responses – well, that’s your new normal. Perhaps you even pride yourself on your ability to thrive under pressure and keep apace of your hectic environment.