Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


Leave a comment

Great leaders, great groups

A recent contact pointed me to a great little book on leadership by Steve Radcliffe.

It’s short, very clear, and very aligned with the way I understand leadership. I have written before about the need for us all to lead, but I only wish I could put it across so succinctly.

Of course, it’s only a book, and can’t really give a full sense of what it is like to live in a real life, or in a real group situation. But the central tenet – that we benefit by becoming more conscious of how we behave, what we think, and what we assume – is very dear to my heart.

The book also suggests this idea can be carried into teams, and again I completely agree. But borrowing from the great Ed Schein, I think there are even more fundamental things we need to build into our groups and teams, namely an understanding of:

  • Who am I? What is my role to be?
  • How much control/influence will I have?
  • Will my needs/goals be met?
  • What will the levels of intimacy be?

These are really great ways to access the dynamic of a group. If you are in a group and answers to these questions aren’t clear, then I’d suggest asking again, and again, until they are.

But why doesn’t every group automatically provide good, believable answers to these questions?

I believe it does indeed relate to leadership. Personal leadership. The responsibility of each of us to manage ourselves, our own emotions, our own impact.

To my way of thinking group culture is no more than the sum of how all the people in a group lead. That aggregate is what creates a situation, or maintains one, where we do – or don’t – get answers to those questions.

It is, ultimately, how we all lead that makes the difference.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Embodied Conscious Business

What is the relationship between the body and value-led business? Why will the next generation of business work, not just cognitively but “below the tie”? How can increased body-awareness and self-management transform business practice, ethics and effectiveness? This is a guest blog post on the relationship between embodiment and conscious business, written by Mark Walsh of business training providers Integration Training (see fuller profile below).

In describing the two-way relationship between these fresh fields it pays to start with some working definitions. Conscious business is the idea that making money is not incompatible with doing good – looking after “people and planet” as well as profit and having a “values-led” or “multiple-bottom-line” approach. One might add that enjoyment and even personal growth through business is a part of this broad and not easily defined field.

Embodiment is a concern with the body as not just a piece of meat that carries our head around but as an integral aspect of ourselves. The field concerns the living subjective experience of having a body and has applications in the business world to such areas as leadership, stress management and team development.

Embodiment includes a concern for basic physical health and goes way beyond this into areas such as impact and presence, communication, emotional intelligence (a sub-set of embodied intelligence), bodily intuition and state management such as centring. Embodiment is not about athleticism but on being present to and as the body, so requires mindfulness and is about making full use of the body’s inherent capacities which industrial culture and business has largely ignored.

I have observed that doing embodied practices with business leaders increases their “circle of concern” and develops their interest in values other than money. Also that those emerging as conscious capitalists tend to become interested in embodiment. My conclusion is that causation works both ways. This makes sense given what is known about adult development which indicates that the post-modern value-set emerging in business is feeling orientated and therefore embodied.

This cultural shift in response to several hundred years of disembodied “hyper-rational” Western culture first emerged strongly in counter-culture in the sixties and has now worked its way into business, particularly in sectors such as high-tech industries which are not held-back by stagnant traditions. See, for example, the humanistic feel, and emphasis on well-being and personal sustainability in many Silicon Valley companies.

The move towards both (re)embodiment and conscious business may start with a vague sense that health is important and a company gym or similar may be needed so that employees are productive and don’t die of heart attacks. Emotions (note that the word “feeling” points to their physical nature – emotions are embodied) reemerge as aids to productive leadership and communication.

Both subjects of this post owe a debt of thanks to Daniel Goleman for legitimising being a human being at work again. EI and similar notions have provided a bridge to allowing first more effective and satisfying leadership and well-being, and then to the full embodied and spiritual aspects of being a person from nine-to-five. We are embodied, emotional values-led creatures and it pays to take account of that after all!

So ethics and the more developed perspective of conscious business have a physical foundation. Morality is as much bodily as it is rational – note that people tend to say “this FEELS” wrong, for example. And empathy is again largely bodily (feeling for others). Other capacities that remerge with embodiment are intuition (“gut” feeling) and creativity (all thinking, in fact, has been shown by embodied cognition research to be a full-body experience), giving embodied conscious businesses a competitive edge.

As the business paradigm shifts from organisation and body as machine, to organisation as living system, and body as core aspect of self, a new world of possibility emerges. What was once tolerable when one was disassociated from one’s natural empathic bodily response to suffering, ugliness and stupidity, becomes something in dire need of change.

Going beyond physical, emotional and ethical numbness business can be done in an entirely better way – in both senses of the word. A new generation are starting social enterprises and others are transforming big business from the inside. When we feel our bodies, a business that does not support us, others and our deepest values becomes an unattractive choice; and business that does will get the best and brightest. The soul of business is coming back embodied; conscious business is not just a theory: it is flesh and blood.

Mark Walsh leads business training providers Integration Training – based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specialising in working with emotions, the body and spirituality at work they help organisations get more done without going insane (time and stress management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence (leadership training). Clients include Virgin Atlantic, The Sierra Leonian Army and the University of Sussex. In his spare time Mark dances, meditates, practices aikido and enjoys being exploited by his niece and a mad cat. His life ambition is to make it normal to be a human being at work.


2 Comments

Owning the problem

I am going to write today about the topic of responsibility.

This is a difficult post to write because I really want to avoid coming across in a self-righteous way. I know that I have that weakness – it is very easy for me to step into a hyper-critical, hyper-intellectual mode; and the result is that other people feel criticised, patronised and so on.

But responsibility feels so important to me that I think I need to take that risk. When I say it feels so important, I mean that when I think about it I almost shake with emotion, which is both scary and exciting. But that also triggers warning bells – is that self-righteousness bubbling up?

And is that self-righteousness just a mask for deeper feelings of inadequacy – in my own attitudes and behaviour? How often do I take real responsibility myself?

But what can I do about that – other than write and see where it  leads? After all I write mainly for my own edification. So here goes.

In the companies where I work, I usually place great stress on the definition of roles and responsibilities. I think this is a fairly normal thing to do – don’t most people believe that role definitions, or role specifications, are one of those important bits of HR “stuff” that every company needs?

But I am generally very against “HR” (something I might discuss elsewhere). So why the emphasis on this bit of paperwork that in so many cases is written and then filed away never to be looked at again?

I think it’s because of responsibility. The kind of role definition I like contains a statement of purpose, a list of responsibilities, and one or two other important things. What I am trying to achieve by encouraging people to write and take responsibility for a clear role definition is to add a vital anchor, an anchor that makes it possible to operate in a “sea of change”.

I like organisations where there is a lot of personal and organisational freedom. A lot of flexibility. I think this is essential for creativity and resilience to emerge. Free and flexible organisations also allow a lot of error and conflict, and more worryingly, it is possible for things to fall through the gaps.

For me clear role definition provides stability and context. But only under certain conditions. Only when people take their responsibility seriously. What does that mean?

For example, I can imagine the situation where someone is asked to keep costs “within budget”. And the response to that is to follow the instruction to the letter of the law.

Most of us can do that – work to rule when we want to. “Did you do the shopping?” “Yes, I went to the shops.”

But did you really do the shopping? Doing the shopping, at least in my house, isn’t about going to the shops. Doing the shopping is about ensuring that there is enough healthy, nutritious, delicious and varied food in the house for the next few days. This is what my wife and I have agreed “doing the shopping” means.

I can easily say “Yes, I went to the shops”, but return with no bread, no milk, no fruit. Or the bread can be stale, the fruit tasteless, and so on.

So for me, taking responsibility isn’t about working to rule. It’s not about saying “Yes, the expenditure is within budget”.

It’s about first determining what that phrase “within budget” means.

And it usually means something much broader: the expenditure is an excellent investment, won’t limit the growth and development of the company, is one of a small number of absolute top priorities and so on.

Taking responsibility is about considering the whole picture, thinking laterally, considering and reducing risks (the supermarket might be closed; I’ll go to the farmers’ market instead), and being very proactive: taking steps to constantly improve (I know the family will eventually get bored with the same old fare; what can I do to liven things up?) .

But that makes it sound very intellectual. It’s more than that. It’s a gut thing. It’s about “owning” the responsibility in a very personal, visceral, scary, exciting and deep way. It’s about connecting deeply with the emotions that come with the responsibility.

It’s about leading not managing. About an ethical position too: doing the right thing. As well as doing things right.

In this view of responsibility nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – will stop the achievement of the aimed-for result.

Do I always achieve that myself? No, of course not. That’s where there’s a risk of self-righteousness.

But I do think this form of real responsibility, and the accountability that goes with it, is really worth striving for. In fact, it’s absolutely essential to making an organisational model based on distributed leadership work.


1 Comment

Go for it

Confidence, and self-confidence, are very important issues in the organisations where I work.

Lack of confidence can lead to all kinds of problems: sometimes it can freeze us  – we find ourselves completely unable to enter new territory. A simple example: having the confidence to sell a new type of product or service to a new type of client.

I think it was in a book by Jesper Juul that I first saw the distinction made between self-confidence and self-esteem.

Self-esteem, the way I read it, is about how I feel about myself, regardless of my skills or abilities.

Self-confidence, by contrast, relates to my view of my skills, my abilities, and my behaviours. If I think I am good at things I do – then I am self-confident.

Following this approach I can, if my self-esteem is good enough, feel good about myself even if I am demonstrably rubbish at something. And if I unfreeze and take the necessary steps, then I’ll learn and build the skills I need – growing my self-confidence.

Children, of course, learn new skills like sponges, and only at a certain age start to worry about their skills and abilities. By the time we are adults, many of us seem to be depending on our skills and abilities to maintain our self-esteem.

So that’s the theory. But how can I ‘operationalise’ this? (I love that word). What can I actually do that will help me become more fearless and act as if I have high self-esteem, even when I have zero self-confidence in a certain domain?

Three things come to mind:

  • Tell the truth. Maybe I am the only one, but a lot of my fears and worries are fears of being ‘found out’. Fear leads to inaction. Without action I cannot develop the self-confidence I need. So to avoid ever being put in a position where I will be ‘found out’ I find it useful to always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

When I was younger, if someone said something I didn’t understand I might try to bluff my way through it. You can imagine the results. Anxiety and tension that only escalates as the situation gets more complicated because of my failure to understand a key point. Then scurrying away afterwards to research what I didn’t know.

A big waste of time. Today, if I don’t know I’ll say. That way I can put my energy into doing whatever I should be doing (like really listening) instead of wasting time watching my back.

  • Work as a team. Drop the commonly held expectation that you are somehow ‘serving’ the other person, in the sense of being inferior to them. I do believe in one sense that we always serve others. But often the worst way to serve another is to act as if they have some kind of hold over us and to pander to their demands.

Much better to treat other people as peers. The easiest way to do this is to change the language you use. If someone asks you a question, don’t always jump to answer it. Instead, use language that assumes you are working together in a team. Say “we”. Say “that’s an interesting question, I wonder what the answer is. Shall we work it out together?”

  • And finally, stay in the moment. Handle what’s in front of you “one step at a time”. Stop planning ahead. A year. A month. A day. Even a few minutes.

Instead, focus on your breath. On your body. Tap into your emotion. Feel the earth (the seat) beneath your feet (bottom). Look around. Listen carefully. Extremely carefully – to what is being said. And what your body is saying.

And respond to that, what ever it is. Don’t worry about what might happen – in the future. Bring your focus back to the present and respond to that. OK, so you don’t know the answer. What does that feel like? What’s happening to the other person? When you have an answer, respond. Take the next step.

Rinse and repeat.


Leave a comment

The need to please

I have a strong need for acceptance.

Whenever I have done personality tests I have always been grateful for the kind psychologist’s desire to cast the most positive light on this aspect of my personality. Words like “introverted”, “extremely sensitive” and “would enjoy working one-on-one with others” could, of course, be written in a less positive way: that I fear rejection and have a deep-rooted need to please others.

But hold on. Rejection is something we all suffer from, isn’t it? And haven’t I heard it said that the sales person’s greatest skill is overcoming rejection? That confuses me a little because sales people always seem to me to be so focussed on their relationships – perhaps paradoxically they also have a very high need for acceptance, but show it differently from me?

My personally preferred route would be to avoid human contact a lot of the time, and avoid rejection at all costs.

But, in business, that isn’t always possible. And over the course of my working life I have probably done quite a lot of selling. Several things have made it possible for me.

Firstly, major bits of reframing. I see selling not as the activity of using my charm and personality to win someone over to my point of view. Rather I have learnt to see it as a qualification exercise: one where I simply ask questions to find out if this person desires whatever I have to sell.

I see selling as helping. After all that is how I sometimes experience being sold to. If I need something and a helpful salesperson gently guides me to the product I want, in the right size and the right colour; and gently removes my fears – about what I’ll do if I change my mind later, for example – I am a happy customer.

And I have learnt to see the word “no“, or indeed any other word which signifies the conversation is not heading in my chosen direction, with great curiosity. “What on earth do they mean by that?”, I ask myself. “What are you really trying to say?”. I have built my curiosity muscle – and if I use it often the conversation may take another, sometimes quite unexpected turn.

Essential to all of these is reducing the emotional burden behind the thoughts. I am a fan of cognitive behavioural therapy and actually enjoy the process of trying to reframe my thinking around the harder areas of my life. But I know that if there is deep-seated emotion still sitting around in me while I try to see the world differently, reframing will have only limited success.

Awareness is, for me, the most powerful way to lessen that emotional burden. Gradually, over time, inch-by-inch I think I am becoming stronger, and more able to deal with my need for acceptance; and this seems well correlated with my growing awareness of it.

And finally to action: Testing my beliefs to destruction seems to give me the ultimate proof I need to make real progress. Each time I find myself in a sales situation, and I practice “helping”, I practice asking those questions, and I practice just sitting with those difficult feelings, I seem to get just a little bit stronger.

I break my old habits and I forge new, more appropriate ones. That’s how it seems to go for me. What about you?