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Shut up, and listen

Last night I attended an RSA and University of Brighton event on the question ‘What is the role of men in supporting women into leadership?’

This was a follow-up to a larger event a few months back entitled ‘How women lead’. That was a great session, with a lot of energy. Creating a follow-up must have seemed a very logical next step.

All the panelists seemed to agree that there is a problem: there are not enough women in leadership positions – in both public and private sectors.

And as Simon Fanshawe, OBE, pointed out ‘complex problems require difference and diversity’. Many of our most significant problems today, from the social to the environmental to the economic are complex problems, problems that require different ways of thinking and acting.

Some good points were made.

Fairly obviously, ‘structural problems’ prevent women acceding to leadership positions.

James Rowlands, Violence against Women Commissioner, illustrated the importance of language by telling us about ‘mansplain’ – the phenomena when a man in a group takes it upon himself to explain what a women just said.

There was talk of the ‘fat, white middle-aged man trap’ and of re-framing what it takes to be a senior leader.

Giles York, Chief Constable of Sussex Police, pointed out the importance of holding people to account. Walking the talk is more important than talking the talk?

So why didn’t we, the audience, hold the panel to account? What might have been the structural problems that prevented that?

Structural Problems?

Firstly, it was an all male panel. That was interesting. Don’t women have a say in answering the question ‘What is the role of men in supporting women into leadership?’?

Secondly, with one exception these appeared to be very traditional leaders: a consultant, two CEOs, and a Chief Constable. We didn’t get to hear much from James Rowlands.

Thirdly, the room was set up in traditional lecture style. Chair and panellists at the front, (hiding?) behind a table. They had water, and microphones, we didn’t. Were these signals of power, showing us exactly who was in charge?

But if we had been brave enough to deal with those ‘structural problems’ what might we have held the panellists to account for?

Reframing Leadership?

Might we have asked what does ‘reframing leadership’ mean?

One possible reframing is towards a more enabling style of leadership, one that involves listening more than speaking.

Business theorist Chris Argyris, amongst others, has spoken of the difference between ‘advocating’ and ‘enquiry’.

Advocating is when we hold a position and tell others about it, and essentially recommend what others should think.

Enquiry is radically different. Enquiry, as I understand it, is a place of vulnerability – of not knowing. Starting from that place of vulnerability and exploring a topic. Engaging in dialogue, back and forth, while really listening. Trying to empathise,  to understand another’s point of view.

And possibly, just possibly, updating our own.

A lovely Argyris quote: ‘People don’t listen, they reload’.

Not only were there ’structural problems’, but there also seemed to me to be a lot of advocacy. Again and again, the consultant, the CEOs and the Chief Constable, assisted by Penny Thompson (CBE, CEO of Brighton & Hove City Council) told us how it was, leavened by a few jokes, statistics and stories to help keep us entertained and in thrall?

Questions from the Floor?

Yes, there were some questions from the floor. But might we have asked whether these were part of the enquiry? Or just further advocacy?

I am not saying this happens with every question. But sometimes it is worth looking for the advocacy hidden in a question. ‘Does the panel think X, where X is what I think, and what I really want is for you to agree or expand upon what I have just said, confirming it and making me feel good’. Advocacy or enquiry?

Or ‘I’d be interested to know what the panel thinks about Y because that demonstrates how knowledgeable I am and I would love for you to talk to me later and even perhaps employ me to help with your problems.’ Advocacy or enquiry?

Yes, enquiry is difficult. For all of us. Families and school teach us about power, and they teach us about the importance of advocacy. Sometimes with force. Sometimes with violence.

When we’re anxious, in front of a crowd, maybe advocacy seems the easiest path? Perhaps it’s especially difficult for men in traditional leadership roles to be vulnerable? Maybe it means giving up power, and status, and position?

Reframing Leadership?

And maybe it takes real courage to ‘walk the talk’ – to reframe leadership, and to hold each other to account, to be vulnerable? Perhaps it means allowing vulnerability – in ourselves, as well as others?

Someone in the audience asked the question ‘What is the change we’re all afraid of?’ That is a great question, and I’d have loved to have heard a real discussion, and heard people’s views.

But I couldn’t see the chance, that particular evening. I was sad about that. It felt like a missed opportunity.

Where were the young women – Gen Y or Gen Z – in all this, I wonder? I would have liked to have heard from some younger people. Maybe they would have been able to give us some pointers, some good ideas?

Maybe they would have said that the role of men in supporting women into leadership is to make sure that a genuine dialogue takes place, to make sure that as well as appropriate language, there is equivalence of opportunity to speak? For all – the young, the old, the extroverts, the introverts, the women, and the men?

That’s obviously what I think. I’m advocating that position. But I’d genuinely love to hear some other views. I’d love to be contradicted, to hear I was wrong. Or maybe just not quite right, not in command of the full picture? Maybe I could add some new ideas, maybe I could throw out some old ones? Only then can I learn.

I am really encouraged that these conversations are taking place. But I agree with Giles York, we need to ‘walk the talk’, and hold each other to account.

Creating that kind of dialogue requires real leadership – it can seem hard to rearrange the furniture, to make a circle, to stop, and to listen.

Maybe that’s where the (young) women were? Talking together? And waiting for the men to shut up and listen?


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Outside in – bringing intelligence into the corporation

I found this great post by Lee Bryant of Post*shift the other day. Lee describes the clear divide between how social media inside and outside many large organisations is run. How, often, these activities are run by different departments, who may be pulling in different directions. As Lee points out, social on the outside is often run by marketing, while social internally is run by ops, HR and IT.

Marketing, of course, is about giving customers what they want and need.  So a core marketing activity is understanding those wants and needs and communicating them internally – so that the business can respond, and continue to fulfil those needs over time, even as the market changes. That is, in theory at least, how businesses respond to their markets.

But in practice few businesses seem marketing-driven. In a marketing-driven company everything the company does is driven by changes in the market. This means the real power sits with marketing.

Looking around, it seems to me the alternatives are more common. In most cases the power driving the business sits with:

  • engineers and R&D – this explains an apparent proliferation of product features at the expense of benefits that people actually want and need;
  • sales – this explains a short-term focus on increasing sales revenue – regardless of the longer-term brand damage and the like;
  • finance and ultimately the stock exchange – how else can we explain the way  the banking sector seems to be ignoring customer sentiment?

Who or what drives your company?

But Lee’s post is about how (social) marketeers can be part of the solution – helping the business transform so that it is more aligned with what the market truly wants and needs. Even when marketing doesn’t really have all the power it might like.

He rightly points to the need for changes in organisational structure, and the benefits of socialising key processes and workflows.

Content can also be very useful – thought leadership inside an organisation can form the basis of a real dialogue with customers. Leverage the content that people inside businesses work with every day – and use it to start meaningful conversations with customers and potential customers. The result is an increase in trust – and you start to build real relationships across the critical company/customer boundary.

Such relationships form the basis of gaining real intelligence about what the market is saying – what it wants and needs.

Market intelligence isn’t enough

But our experience suggests that even credible (business) intelligence simply isn’t enough to change organisational behaviour. If knowledge and intelligence was sufficient for behaviour change we’d all stick to the speed limit, get enough exercise and happily eat our 5-a-day .

And there are far too many stories of companies that knew perfectly well what was happening in their markets but did nothing about it for us to believe that intelligence is enough.

This is because telling people what to do (based on your superior knowledge/intelligence) doesn’t work – they resist.

Neither does educating them (giving them the benefit of superior knowledge/intelligence) – they still resist.

And actually, despite what some idealists would claim, neither does getting people to ‘buy-in’ through dialogue or the like – real dialogue is a very rare thing indeed.

These approaches don’t work because they tend to ignore the elephant in the room: power. Organisations are all about power – we all know it and yet we hardly ever speak about it.

Good solutions need to take power into account. In fact, leadership, in my view, is about helping people and groups find ways to understand and ‘align’ their power. We all have power – but we are often pulling and pushing in different directions. Leadership is about helping people align – even if only temporarily.

And just how does the marketing leader, or the leader of any kind, build that alignment? There are many ways but one good way is to start by treating other people well. By being respectful and empathic. This is the foundation for any good relationship, and I believe a good relationship is the starting point for finding ways to align power.

But to build good relationships it is also essential to learn to ‘speak up’ – to say what we believe to be true, when faced by other people, not just in the privacy of our own minds or homes. No one respects someone who just tries to please all the time, by keeping quiet, or by agreeing.

Unfortunately, speaking up  is really difficult – the pressure to collude, to fit-in, especially inside a business, is enormous. It is all too easy for the marketing leader to see what is going on but to keep their mouth shut when facing a skeptical ‘superior’.

The good news is that people can learn to speak up more. We use the term ‘congruence’ with our clients because there’s a bit more to it than just speaking-up. In fact, there’s a way of speaking up that enhances relationships rather than harming them, and that is what we are seeking: deeper, more meaningful relationships.

Self-awareness helps. As we grow in awareness we may start to see how much we collude.

A supportive culture helps. One that promotes ideological challenge, open dialogue, and risk-taking in service of a bigger purpose.

But ultimately this is a choice – about putting the goal of helping your business survive and thrive in the digital age ahead of personal fears and limitations. About learning to speak up – in service of others.

There are a couple of events coming up where some of these issues may be discussed: Tomorrow’s Company Today on the 2nd June 2014 (a Conscious Business UK event hosted at Post*shift’s great London offices). And Post*shift have their own event Organising for Social on June 12th.

 


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Conscious Business Leadership – A Checklist

 FEBRUARY 10, 2014 BY 

roots4

By Jamie Pyper and Paul Levy

“The old leadership models increasingly no longer apply. A new type of conscious leader is emerging whose style is fit for 21st century purpose.” Jamie Pyper

There’s been a lot written on leadership in recent years. We’ve heard of visionary leaders, charismatic leaders, strategic leaders, and even servant-leaders.  Less has been written about conscious leaders. Conscious Leaders lead conscious businesses.

A conscious business is a business that is able to sense internally and externally in real time. It is awake and aware, a bit like a person, not just in its “head” but also in its ability to sense emotions and act on intuitions. A conscious business is led, not only by one or more leaders but also by leadership as an inherent process. Leadership can arise in different people, at different times in a conscious business, even though there may be people designated with the more permanent role or title of “leader”. In a conscious business, leadership never becomes stuck in habits. It is flexible and emergent. Leadership is a conscious activity inasmuch as it forms itself appropriately around organisational needs.

The leader in a conscious business will tend to exhibit some identifiable behaviours that reflect the notion of being “conscious”. Here we present some of the major elements of conscious leadership that we have identified so far in working with conscious businesses largely in an European context.


Nine Characteristics of a Conscious Business Leaders

Conscious Business Leaders…

  1. …are reflective, and invest in lifetime learning

  2. …act as enablers not dictators

  3. … distribute power where it is needed

  4. … share credit

  5. … share knowledge

  6. … are collaborative

  7. … are future focused

  8. … invest in relationships with all stakeholders

  9. … are awake and responsive to real need rather than a filter for their own ego


A Deeper Dive…

Conscious Business Leaders are reflective, and invested in lifetime learning

Too many businesses are almost compulsively in ‘action mode’ for too much of the time. Too many leaders tend to equate “busyness” with productive business. Yet silence is vital in so many areas of performance. The silence of a pause in a play, and the silence of resting after a long day. Silence and pausing are the essential spaces between activity. They are opportunities to pause to reflect. When we reflect on our experience we can turn that reflection in learning; we can develop wisdom from experience. That wisdom can be put to good use, but only if we take time to reflect. Reflection is an essential part of the ‘cycle of learning’. Reflection helps us to harvest wisdom from experience.

A conscious leader experiences reflection as being as essential as being active. Reflection is the means of making action more productive and effective, via the process of learning that arises: Learning from mistakes, learning from success, identifying knowledge and skills gaps, developing new insights for innovation.

Reflection is a life time process, necessary as long as we are in action. A conscious leader practices reflection and ongoing learning and embeds this as a critically importantbehaviour in the rest of the organisation.

Conscious Business Leaders act as enablers not dictators

In a conscious business it is a sign of strong leadership that the leader enables work to get done. This isn’t about ordering people but, instead, encouraging “order” around the realisation of work in action. The leader directs, not the work, but the narrative, holding the role of providing overview when needed, guidance and direction when situations rise into such complexity that a “helicopter view” is needed. The leader inspires others (literally “breathing in”) by acting on behalf of the organisation and sensing externally and internally needs to be done , then becoming the assertive and motivating mouthpiece for it The leader articulates direction through dialogue. The leader holds authority as a role not a rule. Authority is given by the organisation. Leadership is always a response to the organisational and community need. That response will often be proactive, anticipatory. Sometimes it will be reactive, arising from a direct response to urgent, real time signals.

Conscious business leaders, when needed, articulate the conscience of the organisation, encourage its conscientiousness, and raise the quality of its consciousness. A conscious leader waves the flag for the need for the business to act consciously and consistently.

Conscious Business Leaders distribute power where it’s needed

Conscious business leaders are never power-mongers. Power in organisations to the more or less bounded permission and resources to get things done. When power is linked to formal consequences and threat, people are “forced” to comply. When power is born of dialogue and freely given mandate, it becomes “empowerment”. A conscious business leader, with an often unique helicopter view, senses the power needs of the organisation ensuring resources, and mandate to act is located where and when it is needed, with whom and for how long. The culture of the business is one of respecting power to act; power is temporary and moves in different places. In a company making computer games, project leaders may become very powerful at different times. Power is given to enable work to get done, not to boost egos or allow power games. A conscious business leader removes power when it is misused.

A conscious business needs leaders who understand power as resources mandate to act in the best interests of the organisation. It is a skill and draws on negotiation, diplomacy, assertiveness and dialogue. It requires humility and sensitivity, an ability to be flexible and to hold a clear overview. Literally, with this kind of power role, comes great responsibility (Response-ability!).

Conscious Business Leaders share credit

Egoism can be what gets a dream realised. It can also atrophy and become a barrier to consciousness. Conscious Businesses do not set their employees up against each other. Motivation tends towards being intrinsic. Self-motivation is linked overtly, not to bonuses and “prizes” but to organisational need. Employees are committed citizens, freely committing to the organisation’s evolving purposes, exiting when that commitment wanes. Self-esteem arises from personal and collective victories and successes. Naming and celebrating success energises and this is recognised fairly and consistently by conscious business leaders. Conscious business leaders are “tuned into” the local challenges of individuals and teams, as well as the overall business goals. When success is realised, celebration is specific and aimed at authentic recognition and motivation. Conscious leaders do not take the credit for the hard locally based work. Credit is also shared openly so that local learning from success can take place fully and usefully.

Conscious Business Leaders share knowledge

Knowledge is a vital part of internal and external “sensing” in a conscious business. Conscious business leaders ensure that knowledge is located where and when it is needed, in the right form and with as much clarity, accessibility and accuracy as possible. Knowledge is never couched in bullshit and unnecessary acronyms. Knowledge is never “tossed over the wall” nor is there information obfuscation or overload. Knowledge sharing is focused on learning, proactivity, needed reaction and innovation. Often a conscious business leader ensures that the right “inquiry” is taking place – targeting research and the asking of questions to elicit further knowledge. Conscious business leaders foster a climate of openness to enable knowledge sharing. Staff are trained to knowledge share effectively, and the conscious business leader leads by example.

Conscious Business Leaders are collaborative

A conscious business does not respect departmental or functional boundaries that inhibit openness, learning and flexibility. Roles and job descriptions are designed to capture the needs of the moment, and are never fixed forever. A collaborative culture pervades, through skilled overlap between systems, shared access to knowledge as needed. Collaboration involves developing trusting group behaviours, internally and externally. Trust is a core value and forms part of the leadership’s strategic agenda. Conscious Business Leaders do not lock themselves away on office, are accessible and treat others as colleagues, bot subordinates, trusting that their “strategic leadership role” will be honoured and respected. When don’t mind being told what to do because they trust the role of the leader and “suspend disbelief” in favour of longer term trust. Equally, there is no collusion of niceness, and feedback is welcomed in ALL directions.

The business uses collaborative platforms (including digital platforms) that foster collaboration, seeking synergy where collaboration creates a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Conscious Business Leaders are future focused

Through a culture of continuous learning, the conscious business leader harvests learning from the past, clearly senses emerging business needs in the present, and then ensures a realistic and inspiring vision is created, shared, agreed, and regularly reviewed. This vision is based on a pathway into the future that the organisation is awake to and committed to. Consensus has been reach where, even if there is disagreement, all have authentically committed to the plan of action.

The future begins to reveal itself and the conscious leader articulates this, adapting to it, and ensuring the vision is never unhinged from emerging “reality”. This is always openly shared and also open to correction from real time feedback from internal and external “viewpoints”

The future is never framed in unrealistic dreams and, though the leader may offer a “vision” for the organisation, sometimes this vision will be offered by other people inside or outside the organisation. Not all conscious business leaders are personally “visionary”; some will articulate and realise the vision created by other connected to the enterprise. In all cases, the vision is drawn from a clear picture of the “future”.

Conscious Business Leaders invest in relationships with all stakeholders

A conscious business is only “conscious” in terms of the relationships that help it to sense effectively internally and externally. Conscious Business Leaders are an overview “hub” for that dialogue, ensuring that relationship nurture the quality of its consciousness as an organisation. A conscious business leader ensures that all of its stakeholders are able to give useful and often vital input into the organisation’s strategy and activities. Suppliers feel safe to be open and honest, and share in the schedules of the business, able to plan and innovative in harmonious ways. Customer feedback becomes part of the lifeblood of innovation.

The conscious business leader invests time and resources into the development of partnerships that enable learning, knowledge sharing, innovation, and the lean and effective use of resources.

Conscious Business Leaders are awake and responsive to real need rather than a filter for their own ego

Being a leader of a conscious business requires that leader to work on themselves – to remain awake and self-aware, in tandem with the organisation they lead. A conscious business leader will regularly “check in” with others, may have a mentor, and will seek out feedback on their own biases.

Conscious business leaders are humble. Their humility ensures that  their own ego doesn’t become a distorting filter for truth.This humility doesn’t mean they are weak or lacking in assertiveness; quite the opposite, conscious business leaders need to be highly responsive, prepared to challenge and to keep challenging, prepared to be formal and directive if needed. But this comes from organisational, not personal need. Conscious business leaders regularly check in with their own behaviour, attitudes and ensure their personal and professional development harmonises with unfolding change in the organisations they lead./


Some other elements of  Conscious Business Leadership

In our own research into, reflections on, and conversations with conscious business leaders, we’ve identified a range of other characteristics and attitudes that conscious business leaders often exhibit.

 Conscious Business Leaders…

  • show a willingness to take mindful risks (they do not habitually flee fro risk-taking, nor do they rashly court danger)

  • are eager listeners

  • demonstrate a passion for the cause (the core values and reason for the organisation’s existence)

  • are optimistic about the future (though this never clouds realism, they focus on the energising nature of consciously derived optimism)

  • find ways of simplifying complex situations for staff (because confusion born of over-complexity inhibits consciousness)

  • prepare for how they are going to handle conflict and difficulty well in advance (they are not fire-fighters)

  • Recognize that there are some people or organisations aren’t easy to partner with (so mavericks and introverts are employed openly and for known and agreed reasons with reasonable adjustments made)

  • Have the courage to act for the long term

  • Actively manage the tension between focusing on delivery and on building relationships

  • Invest in strong personal relationships at all levels (recognising uniqueness and the nuances of people)

  • Inject energy, passion and drive into their leadership style (as they hold a unique, strategic “whole picture” and are often first readers of “urgency” and priority)Have the confidence to share the credit generously

  • Continually develop your interpersonal skills, in particular: empathy, patience, tenacity, holding difficult conversations, and coalition building.

There are, undoubtedly, many other characteristics of conscious business leaders. Our nine-item check list above offers an attempt at a holistic view of conscious business leadership. We are continually adding to the list and developing it.


Contact Jamie Pyper at Conscious Business UK for a further conversation to develop conscious leadership in your business. See this for courses around Conscious Business.Visit the Conscious Business Realm


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Too big to fail?

A recent post in the Conscious Capitalism LinkedIn group made me think about what happens when a group – a company – gets too big.

Is this the end for consciousness? Can large companies sustain the consciousness that small groups can?

As a young man I worked for a Fortune 50 company called Digital Equipment. (No relation to the much smaller and less successful Digital Research – the company that produced the operating system CP/M).

This was a company which grew organically from a $70,000 investment in 1957 to a $14bn corporation employing some 120,000 people. Eventually it faltered and was sold to Compaq in 1997 – in what was at the time the largest merger ever in the computer industry.

As some of you will remember Compaq itself faltered and was acquired by HP in 2002.

But my story is about growth. And demise.

Following its meteoric rise over 40 years, the hard fact is that DEC was a large company that faltered and eventually disappeared.

You could put this down to all sorts of reasons. Unseen flaws in what was a highly collaborative, innovative but also caring culture? Failure to adapt to a changing marketplace? Even narcissism amongst the top team? We can speculate endlessly.

Or maybe it just got too big.

But there’s a letter from a friend and colleague of mine in Ed Schein’s book on DEC (DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC – The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation).

Schein was a consultant with DEC for many years, and it was seemingly where some of his enduring ideas about organisational culture – and process consulting – emerged.

My friend’s letter suggests that when a big corporation disappears we can talk of death. But we can also talk of new life.

He suggests we picture a sunflower. When the flower is ready, the hundreds of thousands of seeds – the employees – spread far and wide, born on the wind. They take with them the DNA of the organisation.

And indeed look around the world today and you will find many ex-DEC employees still following the values that attracted them to DEC -we could call them ‘power’ and ‘love’ – and bringing them into their working lives with new colleagues and new companies.

I like this story – obviously, because it is little self-flattering. It also helps me make sense of what happened, and the loss – of great culture, great dreams, great experiences and great friendships.

But I also think it is a story worth telling. Because it reminds me that at core organisations really are only people.

Yes, something special can happen when a group of people coalesce together in a special way – a new matrix is formed. I think groups and companies are really important. I also think that we are attracted to groups that share our values anyway – that is why we get together.

Companies – groups of people working together (literally, breaking bread together) – give us strength and collective power. And that is good if linked with generative purpose.

But we can also sustain our values individually, even if we move from one organisation to another. Our identity as individuals continues.

In many ways it is harder – being together is great. But I think being alone also contains strength and power.

And sometimes it seems to me to better than relying on any one organisation – however comforting it may be – for our sense of identity.

I’d be interested to hear what others think.

Is the “great group” the be all and end all of working consciously?

Or is there something to be said (heroism, for example) for being alone with one’s values?