November 23, 2017

How direct can we / should we / must we be?

Mixed group of peopleIt depends, of course…

…on the situation, our formal role within it (if any), our personal power or authority in the specific circumstances, the personalities of other people involved, and what we want or need to achieve.

If our aim is to make a difference in a professional situation, then we may well need to be more direct than would generally be considered socially conventional.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on just how much that’s true—in my experience anyway. I’ve found I’ve benefited from being more challenging, as has the work, even though it can feel really uncomfortable to be so direct. Sometimes that’s what’s needed though.

Yes, of course…

We need to build a relationship, and that may require some caution and patience, but if that’s all we do, we probably won’t pass the “so what?” test. We might have to wait till next time for that. And the trouble is there might not be a next time.

Obviously, it helps if we can build trust and a strong relationship quickly—and, naturally, there are skills to that—and our reputation helps. Then we’ve more chance of success when we move into a more challenging part of the conversation.

But we do need to move into that more direct phase… if we want an outcome anyway.

How direct do you choose to be? Is that direct enough? Or sometimes too much?

There’s no single right answer here, but it’s worth thinking about.

Is our instinctive, defensive response to competition the right one?

When the going gets tough, when markets contract, when budgets decline, when promotion is rare, our instinctive response is to retreat and defend what we have. Parts of our brain that kept us alive in a more dangerous world respond vigorously to the threats we perceive. They compel us to withdraw from any circumstance where we could be vulnerable, such as a situation where we share our knowledge and resources in collaborating with another.

This response to threat can be so strong it’s barely a conscious process at all. The strength of our defensive reaction leaves us with a certainty that it’s unquestionably the right one.

But is it? Does our hasty retreat from collaboration serve us?

Perhaps the most effective response to scarcity and threat is the exact opposite, to collaborate, to share what we have, to form new teams, to focus on our strengths, and allow others to do on our behalf what they do best, even though that requires sacrifice. Then the whole may succeed on the bigger stage and our individual outcome may be better than if we’d acted alone.

Suppose it does serve us to collaborate: How do we make this happen? How do we take our people along with us?

One key is articulating a compelling future so that the long term gain seems worth the short term pain.

We need high levels of integrity and to seek that quality in others. To be trusted and so involved in the best opportunities, we need to be seen as a mature and honest collaborator.

We need the skills to work intelligently with the interests and values of all and balance these to optimise the whole for the ultimate gain of all.

Are our defensive responses to increased competition with colleagues, other departments, other organizations, other countries, the responses that should guide us? Or are we better to resist our primitive instincts and collaborate rather than defend? And if so, how?

How do you respond to competition?

Organizational performance – it’s all down to “the human condition” in the end, isn’t it?

“Isn’t it just the human condition?” my friend remarked. We were discussing the difficulty of getting organizations to understand the problems they face and our reluctance as leaders to accept that we may be causing our own difficulties.

“Yes” I replied, welcoming the agreement that complex management and leadership issues can be understood from a human and, in some ways, simpler if deeper perspective.

An unsaid “Not much we can do about that then” filled the silence.

Wait a minute though…

What really is meant by “the human condition?”

According to Wikipedia… it “encompasses the experiences of being human in a social, cultural, and personal context; the irreducible part of humanity that is inherent and not connected to gender, race, class, etc. — a search for purpose, sense of curiosity, the inevitability of isolation, fear of death, etc.”

What are the benefits of seeing the link to organizations?

Recognizing the link through the human character of leadership opens up a route to solving issues by working on our “human condition” – a complement to our usual left-brain, analytical, “professional” approach. There are ways to do that and they can produce quick results.

What if we notice the “nominalization” in the phrase itself?

Linguistics people would notice that “the human condition” is an abstract noun referring to on-going activity describable with verbs e.g. blaming others for our problems to protect our ego.

That in turn is a signpost to growth…

If we put problems down to “the human condition,” thinking “not much we can do about that then,” we disempower ourselves and miss that we can develop human wisdom in ourselves and others, and so improve results. Identifying the on-going processes in “the human condition” will help us influence them, and not be their victim.

Are you a victim of the human condition? You could be a master of it instead.

Is expertise in “the human condition” a vital part of leadership?

What I took away from the Gerard Kelly tribute

Gerard KellyTotal commitment was key to his success. Glaswegian actor Gerard Kelly put everything into what he did. He was versatile too, playing a great range of roles. Gone too soon.

What can we learn from Aung San Suu Kyi’s continuing appeal?

Picture of Aung San Suu KyiAung San Suu Kyi’s continues to attract great affection, support and interest both within and beyond Burma.

What The Economist (Nov 20th, 2010) describes “as the abiding affection and respect Miss Suu Kyi commands” is due not least to “her grace, courage and good humour” and, I would add, “integrity”. The lesson for us all, I submit, is the power of these qualities, including in everyday life and the workplace.

What is the source of Aung San Suu Kyi’s peaceful power?

Picture of Aung San Suu KyiHow is it that the Burmese generals with access to so much military might fear Aung San Suu Kyi – a slight 65-year woman? OK, so their fear has diminished enough for her to be released, for the moment anyway, but still she enjoys tremendous popular support at home and abroad. Why?

And how is this relevant to the more mundane?

Joseph Jaworski has something to say about this in his book Synchronicity, where he quotes Francisco Varela (coauthor of The Tree of Knowledge and The Embodied Mind) in talking of “a commitment that can only come from someone who has changed his (or her) stance from resignation to possibility. We need to learn how to internalize that capacity.” Varela went on: “When we are in touch with our ‘open nature’, our emptiness, we exert an enormous attraction to other human beings. There is great magnetism in that state of being which has been called ‘authentic presence’.”

Jaworski adds that Varela warned “There is great danger if we consider these people to be exceptional. They are not. This state is available to us all.”

We frequently think of commitment as being to do with level of effort, about how much we do. Jaworski makes clear that he learned commitment is more about being – a choice of state.

So Aung San Suu Kyi’s authentic presence is as potent as the Burmese generals’ military might – a principle as relevant to the everyday as to the achievement of democracy in a benighted country.

As the comittee chairman for the Nobel Peace Prize said “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11685977.