February 21, 2018

Is today’s wisdom tomorrow’s foolishness?

Audience applauding, perhaps taken in by the speakerPersonally, I’m very much in favour of going to the source, and seeking out others’ experience, especially when their achievements are significant. It seems to me they’re worth paying attention to and I take some convincing we know better than they do.

I value today’s wisdom.

And yet…

Not everyone seems to see it like that. Some people are invariably suspicious of prominent sources of knowledge and tend to dismiss it as “theory,” and expect it soon to be revealed as irrelevant or just plain wrong.

Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps today’s wisdom is tomorrow’s foolishness.

Or perhaps it is of timeless value after all.

How do you tell?

What do you get when you blend leading and following?

Conductor and orchestraYou can only either lead or follow at any given time. So says conventional wisdom.

You have to choose: Follow for a while to build connection; then perhaps lead to achieve an outcome. The issue then is have you built enough connection for the influence you hope to achieve. (Of course, you might have enough authority just to lead all the time. Maybe.)

We might switch very quickly from leading to following and back again but still, at any given time, we’re doing one or the other but not both.

So says conventional wisdom. Recently, I realised this isn’t right.

The most influential people lead and follow at the same time, or so it seems to me. Somehow they both are influenced and influence simultaneously. And of course, it’s an unconscious process both for them and the other people involved.

The funny thing is…

We don’t have a word for that, not in English anyway—for that process of leading and following at the same time.

Back in 1933, Alfred Korzybski in his work on “General Semantics” said that the English language often has words for opposites but not the middle way. The language often gives us convenient single words for the extremes, but no words for “the great in-between” e.g. good or bad, happy or sad, right or wrong. So our language limits us by focusing our mental models on the extremes. This causes us all sorts of problems.

One of them is understanding the process of influence properly.

And we need to find alternatives.

So what lies between the extremes of leading of following?

What words are there for that great in-between?

What do you get when you blend leading and following?

Whatever that is is what we need.

If your world is a mirror, what would you change?

Executives listening to a presentationIt’s a big step to believe that what we experience “out there” is a reflection of what we have “in here.” Such a big step, that the implications continue to dawn on us throughout our lives even after we’ve accepted the basic premise.

That’s how it has been for me anyway…

The extent to which what we experience in our environment is a manifestation of how we are ourselves, especially if we have some kind of leadership role, continues to be a marvel.

So how does this work?

It’s to do with the way our brains work as pattern recognisers, in conjunction with their largely unconscious nature. We notice matches “out there,” but don’t see that we are their source. Other people respond to our unconscious behaviour, but we think they are the cause.


We don’t at first own the reflection in the mirror that is our environment because we’re mistaken about the source. We don’t see our own patterns directly because they’re outside our conscious awareness.


If your environment is indeed showing you a reflection of yourself, what would you change?

What would you manifest differently out there in your business, by changing something in there in yourself?

You see…

That’s how it works, in my experience. And it’s an easy way to get something different to happen.

New options made possible by your progress—have you noticed?

Fork in a pathSometimes they creep up on us…

New options, that is.

We don’t notice at first.

We’re so busy working on our current options—well, actually, our old options—that we don’t notice new ones have opened up.

I know I’ve done this—kept going with something that’s no longer the most productive approach available. That’s the danger of a head-down, get-it-done attitude (which we also need, of course).

But we need to take stock—probably more often than we actually do.

Otherwise, we’ll be doing the wrong thing righter—or at least, not the rightest thing—when we could be doing the right thing right.

The difficulty is, of course…

The new options only exist once we’ve covered some ground.

And at first, they seem more like threats than opportunities, because they’re unfamiliar. Our ego is defensive.

But of course, they’re our friends, or could be.

How do you make sure you notice new options when they’re there to be seen?

Maybe you have some now.

Change in here comes before change out there

Woman reflectingWe won’t achieve change in an organisation or in the world at large until we put our own house in order, whatever that may exactly entail.

Our personal change work may well have a different form from what we perceive needs to happen in an organisation.

On the other hand…

When it comes to individual others, it’s probable the growth we see for them tells us something about what’s next for us. As Carl Jung said, we notice in others things we are not acknowledging in ourselves.

Either way…

We need to embark on our own change before we can expect anyone else to embark on theirs.

Do you fight your influences?

Group in discussion at a computerThat might seem a strange question, but think about it: Do you resist the learning which comes from your influences?

Actually, I think, most of us do.

Because influence means change, and change means discomfort for our ego, we tend to push back on ideas that contribute to our learning, particularly the more profound ones.

In fact…

The more powerful (and important and valuable) the influence, the more likely we are to resist it, at least at first.

Patience, therefore, is something we usually require in the people who influence us.

But perhaps we can learn to be more open. Perhaps we can learn to notice when we are resisting an influence. Perhaps we don’t need to fight it.

How about you? How open are you to the people who influence you?

The things we don’t like may be the very things we need to learn

Executives listening to a presentationSometimes we react strongly against something someone else says. Or we see other people being surprisingly critical and dismissive of what seems pretty innocuous but useful information.

The very strength of the reaction might be telling us something.

We tend to push away what we need. As a teacher of mine said, “Those who are most different from us have the greatest gift for us.”

Just because the team doesn’t like something (or someone), doesn’t mean they don’t need the input. In fact, it might be the exact opposite. The strength of the reaction could be showing it’s exactly what they need. If there wasn’t some adverse reaction then the contribution wasn’t challenging enough.

It could be that stronger the reaction, the more right something is (and we can infer that we are on the right track).

And if we are initially uncomfortable or even aghast at something, it might exactly what we need.

Are you mindful of this?

What is the opposite of “quiet?”

Group in discussion at a computerIt’s often said that someone is “quiet’, meaning that either they aren’t saying much in the moment, or don’t say much in general. At least, that’s what it appears to mean.

In the first instance, the implication is that their “state” is different from normal, either because of some unrelated happening or because of some response to the present circumstances. In the second instance, the person is seen as relatively unengaged on an on-going basis.

So some observers, at least, expect a different behaviour.

But what is the opposite of “quiet?”

That perhaps isn’t so obvious.

Literally, the opposite is “loud,” but that’s not what me mean surely.

What about “vocal?” Is that closer?

Or is it that we hope for the person to be more engaged in what is going on? The jargon word for that might be “associated.”

We want people to be engaged in our stories, our dramas, our conversations, our ideas, and our lives.

But maybe they don’t want to be.

What’s the opposite of “quiet” in your map of the world?

And what makes you “quiet?”

The skilful use of time

Calendar dates from monday to sundayIn relating to other people, time can be an ally, if we use it right.

It’s more usual just to react to what happens in the present, transacting back and forth, hoping to make progress in the direction we want to go in, all in the here and now. We want to solve it this instant.

But as Abraham Lincoln says in the film, “Time has a way of thickening things.”

Sometimes it’s better to plant some seeds, or to train the vine a little, than go for the harvest straight off.

Or to move on from a problem, think of how things can be different tomorrow, next week, or next year. Imagine them solved now, and look back to the present. How significant (or not) do the issues seem from that distance?

As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching 2,500 years ago, “This too shall pass”. Nothing, but nothing, lasts forever.

How do you use time in your relationships?

The unchanging nature of leadership

Admiral Horatio NelsonWe’re so accustomed to ever-present change and the need to lead ourselves and others through challenging times, we’re inclined to think leadership itself is a changing field. I am anyway, or I was.

Actually, of course, it’s really the one constant…

I mean leadership in the sense of contributing something to help shape the future, or more literally, “stepping ahead.”

The nature of leading is a timeless quality, resting partly on skill, partly on personal presence, and partly on inner belief and sense of purpose, and more besides—an art much more than a science, and so somewhat elusive.

Our individual knowledge of leadership, of course, changes as we learn and grow.

And yet the nature of leadership probably stays the same, and so a very worthwhile investment.

Sometimes people talk about different styles of leadership. I’m not so sure. I believe all of these styles (or most of them) are part of the range of the best leaders—the ones with the most flexibility. Ultimately leadership encompasses them all.