When it comes to 21st Century Leadership skills, it seems there are some convergent views about the challenge we face. A glance across the blogosphere suggests a number of axioms:
- Leaders can emerge from anywhere in the business – leadership happens when people take responsibility for the wider purpose and meaning of what they and colleagues are doing
- The old certainties about the profit motive have shifted – meaning, fulfilment of potential and, even wellbeing, matter, especially to GenY
- Complexity, which has been increasingly the backdrop of leaders for the last 20 or 30 years, has been given an exponential kick by globalisation and the web
The exemplification of all of this has been the Arab Spring. When I was in Cairo recently, I said to a group of young leaders that we in the West were caught out by the speed and size of events. “So were we”, they said, “and we were there!”
Micro-skills of resilience
So we know pretty clearly what we face. What is less clear, and perhaps for good reason, is what we do about it. With colleagues and friends, I have been trying to define these conditions more acutely, and in the end we recognise that dealing well with these times might be about developing a number of practices. These practices aren’t designed to give leaders ‘the answer’, but rather they are coping mechanisms, micro-skills of resilience to the conditions that leaders - that we all - find ourselves in.
The idea of these practices is they provide some anchors of inquiry – some ways to be that may help us survive and thrive. In the main part, these practices are part ‘what we do’ and part ‘attitude of mind’; part doing and part being. One of these, for myself (because it may be the nature of these times that we all need to develop our own unique formula of practices, specific to the situations we are in), I am calling the ‘abundance’ practice.
Take mornings: there is the usual familial rush of bodies to bathrooms, the flurry of clothes lost and found, grabbing school bags, pieces of toast and cups of coffee. Such things are as much a feature of my childhood as they are now for my own bunch.
Added to the mix now, however, is that once the mail is collected off the doormat with the milk, there are text messages, emails, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, news websites, and the radio is also on. We are all staring at various devices and screens. Even the cat stares out the window as if feeling left out of the game of viewing the world through something glassy.
There’s a poem by David Waggoner about being ‘lost’ that ends:
…Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
I wonder whether it helps me here? One reaction would be to see this morning rush as a ‘bad thing’, from which I need relief. This reaction might suggest that I ban all screens at the breakfast table, though only the cat would turn its head to listen anyway, before shrugging and getting back to its vigil.
But in responding with more of inquiring mind rather than a reactive mind, perhaps the 21st Century leader needs to sidestep the reaction, and look for a more self-sustaining, generative response? Perhaps the poem suggests that we are OK where we are? I wonder how this practice would help?
Trust the group
In a recent development programme for Business Facilitators, a number of them seemed to increasingly rely on the plentiful resources in the group as the training went on. Rather than thinking that they alone, as the ‘leader’, had to come up with the answer, they noticeably relaxed trusted the group of grown-ups they were facing, and let the required answers emerge, occasionally gently putting their hand on the tiller with the odd great question. It’s a key principle a good facilitator learns: trust the group – it is abundance.
How can I apply this?
Perhaps I can stop worrying if I am following the right people on Twitter, have enough friends on Facebook, that I am doing enough to support my business, my friends and my family; that I have enough time, wealth and love in my life. So whilst the mainstream narrative blares out anxiety and scarcity, I practice abundance. Maybe I am, as if in a Forest, surrounded by abundance?
This story provides some clues, but I can’t spell out the exact ‘to-do list’ for this practice. Anyway, the aim of these micro-skills is that they set us up in the world in a certain way, allowing all sorts of consequences to emerge. The reflective practice here isn’t to ‘do’ but to ‘be’, with some disciplined attention to a set of questions, and then see what emerges. So in the rush and fuss, I am practising some standing still, and enjoying the abundance. I hope I may let you know soon what comes next. If I don’t, no worries - you’ll have plenty else to think about.