December 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
Annie Medcalf (The Fusion Firm, and a fellow executive coach and consultant, and graduate of the Academy of Executive Coaching) and I had the great privilege recently of running a coaching skills training session for international human rights defenders at the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights.
The Centre hosts an annual scheme for human rights defenders at risk. This year’s defenders come from Egypt, Ukraine, Sudan, Kenya and Azerbaijan, and over the years defenders from these and many other countries with poor human rights records have benefited from a three to six months’ protective residency in York. My involvement has included interviewing and learning from them about their leadership styles and experience; I also teach part-time at the Centre on leadership and management to the Defenders and to Masters students.
The coaching skills workshop began with the premise that these Defenders, in order to be effective and to mitigate the risks of detention and harassment, are already steeped in local and international networks. These networks offer support, information, co-operation – and some measure of protection. Most Defenders are also leading or working within a local human rights organisation.
So our approach to the Defenders was an offering of training in coaching skills to help develop their leadership skills, and to help them in situations such as supporting burnt-out colleagues, managing ‘maverick’ or disruptive partners, and nurturing up-and-coming activists.
Their response was enthusiastic, and with the support of the Centre for Applied Human Rights the training went ahead last week. We are now offering on-going coaching, to support the defenders in their practice of leadership when they return home.
Though Annie and I brought models and techniques to the workshop, we were of course learners too. It’s humbling to discover the challenges some communities and individuals face in standing up for freedoms that York citizens take for granted.
August 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
As befits someone with such a global reputation, we’re delighted to see the widening international participation at Meg Wheatley’s Leadership in these times workshop in London on 9 November.
We’ve welcomed recent bookings from continental Europe, expanding both the insights available and the potential outcomes for this day-long inquiry into leadership: how has our own leadership has changed in the past two decades; and what form of leadership are we called to?
For more information, please contact me or visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/leadership-in-these-times-with-meg-wheatley-tickets-35507976313
September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment
Imagine you’re with your work colleagues, during a day-long annual looking-back-looking-forward review and planning session together.
In turn, each of you takes a few minutes to speak, reflecting on your professional performance over the last year or so, referring to your values, the nature of your commitment to the work, your achievements and challenges, and your hopes for the period ahead.
You’re listened to carefully by your colleagues, after which each of them takes time to affirm what they’ve seen of your participation in the team over the year, and to validate the claim you’ve just made about yourself – including pointing out where they think you’ve undersold or oversold yourself!
The spoken contributions come from places of inquiry and curiosity, not blame or condemnation.
The atmosphere of the session is calm, reflective, honest – and safe enough for everyone to feel they can challenge themselves and each other. The outcomes: deeper trust, greater self-awareness, and a greater sense of accountability to and reliance on each other.
Sounds implausible? Could any team trust each other so much to run such a process, let alone being interested enough in each other to do so?
Well, recently I had the privilege of supporting a senior leadership team to take themselves through this process. And they were in the public sector, amidst all the pressures of delivering a service in a highly-regulated environment.
For the past two years I’d watched them work out for themselves, and for the teams they managed, what they believed was needed in terms of greater leadership and leaderful behaviour within the service. They had communicated this to their teams, and endeavoured to live out this new form of leadership, which prioritised accountability, greater autonomy, stronger accountability to self and to others, and a much fiercer loyalty to the overall vision and values of the services.
The leadership development interventions I devised with them, and my coaching, were aimed at supporting them fulfil the resulting commitments they had made to each other and to the staff. The Head of Service, fully part of the process, had inspired them and supported them over the previous few years, to reach a place where they now knew for themselves the importance and the genuineness of the work in hand.
This form of self review which they were now engaged in, with feedback from colleagues or peers, is a powerful alternative or addition to formal appraisal and 360 feedback processes. It requires a good measure of individual skill and confidence to participate in, and enough levels of trust (though there are introductory processes for less-resilient teams as a way of helping to build deeper trust over time).
The specific opportunities of the process are four-fold:
- Participants are encouraged, within the scope granted by the organisational context, to set their own standards and aspirations – knowing that these will be heard and tested by their peers
- Participants lead the processes of assessment, again knowing that gaps between aspiration and achievement explored from the perspective of how things could be better in the future
- Participants learn from this self-awareness how to identify, choose and practice new behaviours and set new, more stretching, standards
- Accountability is inherent throughout the processes – aspirations for the future will be remembered, and each can hold themselves responsible for upholding (not destroying) their colleagues over the coming months, on the basis that best performance is what’s needed to enable the team as a whole to succeed.
If any of the above has stirred your interest, do be in touch to share your experience.
July 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
Here’s a second nugget from Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix (see this post for an earlier nugget on being an organisational emotional domino).
Friedman cites superstitions which underpin what might be called the age of anxiety, wearing us all down. And then, he suggests some ‘new world’ orientations to relationships.
First, those old world superstitions (some of them appear to be quite mainstream and liberal!) –
- Leaders influence their followers by the model they establish for identification or emulation
- the key to successful leadership is understanding the needs of their followers
- communication depends on one’s choice of words and how one articulates them
- consensus is best achieved by striving for consensus
- stress is due to hard work
- hierarchy is about power.
Instead, argues Friedman, a new world orientation to relationships will produce a view of leadership that will say the following:
- a leader’s major effect on his or her followers has to do with the way his or presence (emotional being) affects the emotional processes in the relationship system
- a leader’s major job is to understand his or her self
- communication depends on emotional variables such as direction, distance and anxiety
- stress is due to becoming responsible for the relationships of others
- hierarchy is a natural systems phenomenon rooted in the nature of the [material itself within the organisational system] – what Friedman confusingly terms ‘the nature of protoplasm’).
(adapted from p195, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix, by Edwin Friedman. 2007. New York: Seabury Books).
If one can avoid being distracted by the phrase ‘the nature of protoplasm’, for me this list of orientations is exciting and profound.
A systems-thinking approach to leadership – essential in today’s VUCA world (volatile, uncertain complex and ambiguous) – leads us to hone and use our intuition to understand the whole, work with the interconnections, and shape the ‘river of change’ to to the best ends possible. And within that, Friedman identifies a principle task of the leader to understand themselves, and their invisible and often counter-intuitive impact on the system around them.
I love the reference to followers – and note I understand leadership and followership to refer to roles rather than being fixed permanently to people, and that informally these roles can rotate to suit the circumstances. And, as has been described elsewhere, leaders and followers can be in a dynamic relationship, ‘interacting to co-construct leadership, followership and outcomes’ (Ira Chaleff).
For me, effective leadership does require one to be alert to the needs of followers – so clearly I’m still partly buying into at least one of Friedman’s superstitions!
But I warm to the primary emphasis on knowing oneself and the reality of one’s presence. If that presence is truly discerned then, from a Gestalt perspective at least, awareness frees resistance (inner resistance, in this case) and will release insight and energy for transformation. And in that sense, maybe yes one can then be alert to the needs of followers, from an unblocked and deeper place of understanding.
July 21, 2016 § 1 Comment
Here’s a nugget from a leadership book entitled A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix, by Edwin Friedman.
He explores the concept of differentiation, which he defines as
‘becoming oneself with minimum reactivity to the positions or reactivity of others … charting one’s own way by means of one’s own internal guidance system, rather than perpetually (seeing) where others are at’.
So for me it sounds like to what extent can I keep objective, and speaking/acting from my own judgments rather than just waiting to see – or being unduly influenced by – what others are doing. And note: I’m taking Friedman’s ‘reactivity’ to mean the likelihood of being stimulated to react.
Below are some examples of differentiation from Friedman, which seem to me – as someone interested in nurturing one’s true voice – to be a great list of aspirations for twenty-first century, emotionally intelligent leaders. See what you think. I love particularly the encouragement not to be one of your system’s emotional dominoes…
- The capacity to take a stand in an intense emotional system
- Saying “I” when others are demanding “we”
- Containing one’s reactivity, including the ability to avoid being polarised
- Maintaining a non-anxious presence in the face of anxious others
- Ceasing automatically being one of the system’s emotional dominoes
- Being clear about one’s own personal values and goals
- Taking maximum responsibility for one’s own emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others or the context
(adapted from p183, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix, by Edwin Friedman. 2007. New York: Seabury Books).
By way of commentary on this: I knew someone, a very collaborative leader, who demonstrated some of the above. His ability to rise above and to read a group situation was amazing. On the few times when I saw him lose his cool, it was almost always out of passion for truth – and what struck me was that even in those moments he never lost his sense of the others around him and what they might be feeling and needing.
Unnervingly, Friedman also points out that effective differentiation by a leader will inevitably trigger sabotage from the ‘least well-differentiated’ people in the system. A health warning, therefore. Just sayin’. Sabotage is possible in any circumstances, of course; so differentiation may be a better path to choose, though not necessarily an easier one.
NB There’s a separate inspirational nugget I found in Friedman’s book, which I’m planning to post about in the next couple of days.
February 2, 2016 § Leave a comment
I am delighted to be leading a course in June 2016 on Leadership Amongst Friends – Friends, in this context, meaning Quakers.
We hope that the three days will be of interest to those in a formal leadership role, those who are active change agents outside a meeting’s formal structures, and those who are seeking opportunities to exercise their leadership gifts. And, of course, those who wonder why ‘leadership’ might be resting in the hands of a few rather than a shared valued commodity, where everyone can be supported into leaderful behaviour.
I am proud to be running the course with Zélie Gross, author of With a Tender Hand.
27 – 29 June, Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham.
January 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
“I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”
I went yesterday to see the film He Named Me Malala. The documentary shows Malala Yousafzai and her family making their new life in Birmingham, England, and also provides a compelling account of the rise of the Taliban in the Swat valley and the events that led to the attack on Malala and her school friends.
Here is the trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cug1-eTOVS
I hadn’t realised how active Malala’s father had also been in protesting against the misapplication of Islam by the Taliban; though that only drove home the importance of Malala’s assertion in the film that it was she, and no-one else, who chose and who chooses how she acts.
Most significantly, of course, the question arises What would I do in such a situation?, if the rights of myself and those I love were being so comprehensively violated. I hope that I would take a stand, despite the risks. So many people around the world do take a stand; and too many are threatened, harassed, or are killed, unrecorded and uncelebrated.
So I was excited, on returning from the film, to see a University of York e-mail notification of an Extreme Values Research Masterclass. “That has to be worth going to”, I thought, imagining the application of core human values in extreme situations. Imagine my disappointment, on opening the e-mail, to read “Extreme value modelling is a well-established area of statistics, motivated by problems in hydrology, the environment, drug safety, and other fields…”.
A different meaning of values. But still a useful framing for encountering Malala through the film – her values in practice, in extreme situation; and an extreme and wonderful example of courage and leadership.
More information here on Malala Yousafzai.