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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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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.


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Taking charge

A recent news piece on BP’s behaviour in the Gulf of Mexico made me wonder about the use of the word ‘systemic’.

I know it’s probably not what was meant. But when I read this article, “systemic” started, to me, to sound like an excuse. A reason why BP and others didn’t do what they could have. Should have.

The first time I heard that word in relation to a disaster, or a scandal of some sort, it seemed to be properly used. Indicating that there are features of the system that make a problem likely to reoccur. That the problems are deeply entrenched in the design of the system, and that these conditions ensure that individuals often behave in certain ways. That we need to reform the system. Not just scape-goat individuals.

But now, and maybe it is me, it begins to sound as if the word is trotted out whenever a major disaster or scandal occurs to absolve any individual of responsibility.

“It’s the system’s fault, I couldn’t do anything!” comes the plaintive cry.

But as Margaret Mead said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And where does that small group of thoughtful, committed people start? It starts, of course, with the individual. One individual needs to take a risk, change their way of thinking, say something others daren’t.

An individual within a system is, I believe, the only thing that really can start to change a system. The individual is the catalyst for system-wide change. Somewhere, sometime, were there perhaps people in BP would could have said something and didn’t? Who went along with crowd-pressure and followed the herd mentality? When there was an opportunity to say or do something different?

What does this all have to do with you and your business?

Maybe you are in a business, running it or working at the front-line, and everyone blames everyone else? Maybe everyone is rubbish at their jobs. Maybe you don’t like the way the company is set-up or structured. Maybe your boss is an idiot. Maybe the reward systems are set-up to reward the wrong things. Maybe the company regularly does bad things, or allows poor quality work in the pursuit of short-term profit.

If any of those things is wrong with the system – please don’t blame others. Don’t blame “the system”. Take responsibility. Change yourself. Be the catalyst. Be the change.

Happy New Year.


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All hail the leader

Is it just me, or is it generally assumed that leadership is something that other people do?

For example, we generally deem leaders to be special people. They get extra attention. They need to be studied. Leaders have “strengths”.

Those strengths are nearly always positive: leaders are thought to be articulate, wise, empathic and so on. And with just a little more effort, a little more diligence, they could go from being “good” to being “excellent”.

Ordinary people seem more likely to have weaknesses. We just are. We get on with the boring day-to-day activities while the leaders lead – somewhere up there in the stratosphere. We’re simply not in the same league.

This is starting to sound dangerously like a self-esteem problem – in me. If only I was a bit more self-confident, self-aware, talented and above all hard working and diligent then I too could become a “leader”. And oh how happy I would be, if I could only share in some of what those special people have.

But what if leadership isn’t an attribute to be conferred on only the annointed? What if leadership is a set of behaviours that is available to every one of us?

What if it’s a personal thing? Something we can all do, even the lowly and the least talented? What then?

And what if leadership isn’t really as complicated as some experts would have us believe? What if it’s simply being clear, at least to ourselves, who we are and what is important to us; and then living in that way, consistently, to reach our highest ideals?

Of course, if that was the case, and we all led in a personal sense, would we need the other sort of leader? Those at the top of the pile?

There are reasons why we wouldn’t want to even consider this, of course.

Not being one of the leaders makes it’s  easier for me to blame them for my condition. Whether it’s politicians, corporate and financial leaders, or even religious leaders – they’re the ones who are really responsible for my troubles.

And I’m not saying it’s easy to lead. Maybe it’s easier to let others take the lead? Maybe that’s why we need to leave it to the “special” people?

But there’s a problem with letting others lead.

For one, it doesn’t seem to have got us to such a good place. The economy’s in collapse. Politicians are besmirched. The planet’s being destroyed. The poverty gap is growing. Our livelihoods are at risk.

Letting others lead us towards their goals seems dangerous.

Surely we do need leaders don’t we? Where would we be without any leaders to rescue us, to save us?

That seems to me a little like saying “where would we be without economic growth?” That’s a paradigm that we have adopted blindly for years. And look where it has got us.

Maybe now’s the time to reconsider our system of leadership.  Not just how we select leaders, and who they are, but who we call a leader.