Mayvin_C21L group 21st century leader International Men’s Day Glass wall experiment Professor Judi Marshall

Looking Back Through the Glass Wall

To the C21L group: well I’ve been hassling you all to come up with something that reflects on your experience and realised I haven’t offered much myself recently! So here goes…

I am sitting in my kitchen diner, with the sun coming through the frosted glass. I have a warm feeling when I think of you all. I am just off to the University of Westminster, to plan a gig I am doing for International Men’s Day. It feels like Back to the Future: I haven’t done anything in this arena (apart from my PhD!) for over six years. I am not sure I have any words left.I am sure though I will be able to dig some up.

I have been dwelling on our ‘glass wall’ experiment. It was a very powerful experience for me. If I think back to the two last sessions, I have a sense of my emotions: turmoil, a whirl of activity, fleeting moments of clarty followed quickly by disorientation; a sense that I had ‘got it’ only to be reminded soon afterwards that I didn’t. Wanting, above all, in the mess and fuss, to make sure that I came through it without having damaging, (and hoping that I had enhanced), some important relationships. This then, beyond the conceptualising, perhaps, is the gut feel, the experience of being a 21st Century leader, or to be less prosaic, my experience of trying to lead something in these times.

Above all, the theme that keeps returning to me, like music, is the need to be good. It seems to resonate all around me: the context of C21L puts leaders on their mettle. The basic, relational skill set doesn’t change –it is just more arch, more on show than ever before, and open to the (mis) interpretation of others. In that case, how do I know if I am solid ground, when the whirl around me casts light on my own shadow? It can only be I am sure (enough) of the integrity of my own, everyday actions. Have I broadly done the right thing?

This isn’t an easy theme, but it is one being amplified all around. I recently worked with Professor Judi Marshall, who has developed her well-known ‘living life as inquiry’ work towards what she is now calling ‘responsible careers’ – that is leading with a view to action towards positive change in a complex world. Her question is basically one about how do you actually do ethical leadership (in the moment)? The majority of this group of Senior Leaders we were working found it a distinctly uncomfortable set of messages.

I find this discomfort interesting. It is perhaps a measure that we are on to something here? How to be good? Not a luxury but a necessity, and even an opportunity, in a C21L context?