Increasingly, today’s world requires our businesses to become ever more emergent, innovative and adaptive. In turn, our leadership becomes more about empowering, empathising and encouraging interconnections, synergies, openness, innovation, sense of purpose and an active network of feedback and learning.
This shift in leadership comes with a shift in our worldview: the way we perceive our sense of place and purpose in this world individually as a leader and organisationally as a living system immersed within the living systems of society and wider ecology of life. It is no mean feat to embrace such a shift in the midst of turbulent and challenging times, while seeking to keep the wheels on the road.
The good news is that this shift is nothing more, nor nothing less, than learning to open up to our deeper humanity while opening up to how life really is, beyond the constraints, constrictions, habituations and acculturations we have picked up along the way. The challenge for us in becoming ‘future-fit leaders’ is in embracing this shift within ourselves, while courageously nurturing space for the shift to occur within our teams and stakeholder communities.
We all know business-as-usual leadership and organisational development is inadequate for dealing the challenges of the day.
Take these well-versed statistics for instance:
Only 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work (and twice that number would actively sabotage their organization)
Mental illness amongst the workforce is rising exponentially with a cost of £26bn in the UK alone
Only 15% of leaders exhibit a consistent capacity to innovate and successfully transform their businesses
72% of leaders know their organisations are overly reliant on fading revenues yet feel unable to do much about it
Cognitive overload and dissonance is now widespread and blends with increasing anxiety, stress and fatigue at all levels of management
To boot, we are using 150% of our planets carrying capacity to sustain this dysfunctional modus operandi
In a recent leadership study I contributed to with Prof. Peter Hawkins of Henley Business School, a major disruptor of the current modus operandi is the pace and nature of change now upon us. Several leaders interviewed in the global study distinguished between different paradigms of change:
- “Change as an event” – an acquisition, a restructuring, a strategic or cultural change programme.
- “Change as a Constant” – If change is a constant outside, it needs to be a constant inside the organisation. Leaders need to constantly renew/re-enliven themselves and their organisations.
- “Change is accelerating” - Change is not only a constant, it is getting faster and faster, and becoming more inter-relational and multidimensional.
One CEO interviewed provided an impactful metaphor: flying a plane, while rebuilding it mid-air, engaging all the passengers on-board, as well as the ground crew and air-traffic control. A number of participants also pointed to the real challenge lying not in any specific challenge, but in the way these myriad challenges systemically impact on each other.
The study identified a number of tipping points that contribute to this ‘new norm’ of future-fit leading:
a. From Leading my people to orchestrating Business Eco-systems
b. From Heroic to collective and collaborative
c. Leadership needing to be driven by Purpose and Value Creation for all Stakeholders
d. From Serial and fragmented innovation to working simultaneously in three time frames
e. Embracing multiple Individual Diversity and also Systemic Diversity
f. Leader as Developer
g. Motivation, Millennials, and mobility.
h. “No place to hide” – implications of living in a transparent world.
A key over-arching factor in all these tipping points is the leader’s ability to simultaneously embrace ‘self and systemic’ leadership development.
The ‘self’ aspect is what is sometimes referred to as ‘vertical’ development (i.e. not technical competency and skills development but personal, emotional and spiritual development enabling the ability to deal with fast-moving complexity, while creating the conditions for teams/organisations to flourish).
The ‘systemic’ aspect is what is sometimes referred to as ‘system’ or ‘eco-system’, the development of ‘eco-system relationality’ for the leader, the organisation and the organisation’s stakeholder ecosystem (including society and the environment).
This ‘self and systemic’ leadership development is what I have been actively exploring through my own action research with leading practitioners and small groups of diverse leaders.
What is emerging through my findings is that this shift in leadership is essentially a shift in consciousness, a shift in perceptual horizon, within ourselves as leaders AND within the consciousness of the organisation-as-living-system.
This shift can be summaries as a shift from separateness to connectedness.
Future-fit leading is first-and-foremost about enabling this shift in consciousness within ourselves to be embodied in times of challenge, so that we maintain our own flow, creativity and connectedness. And yet it is also about our ability to hold space for a threshold of people within the organisation to embody this shift in consciousness while going about daily challenges, discussions and disruptions.
It is at once a re-membering of the life-force within and all about us, the re-vitalising of our somatic intelligence within our bodymind as a reverberator within this local and non-local field of interconnectedness.
By enhancing our intuitive and sensorial bodymind from an overly rationalistic ‘head-knowing’ and intellectualised ‘grasping’ into a more holistic ‘knowingness’ and ‘beingness’ we become more human, more whole, more creative, more vibrant, and more able to hold space for others to become more vibrant.
This deeper ‘knowingness’ is an attunement of what Carl Jung referred to as our four natural ways of knowing - our intuitive, rational, emotional and somatic ways of knowing.
This deeper ‘beingness’ shines through us when we presence life, we presence the Now uncluttered by constrictions and acculturations of past or future and yet open to the learning experiences of past and the strategic intention calling forth our emerging future. This is the letting-go to let-come which Otto Scharmer and others refer to, or the Power of Now as Eckhart Tolle calls it, whereupon we open up into the void of not-knowing, allowing the veil between our conscious and unconscious to permeate more readily and for the implicate Mind of Nature to permeate our daily awareness more readily. Here, we co-create the as-yet-unimagined; we spark insight and creativity, and manifest emerging possibilities into potentialities to be prototyped.
By crossing this being-and-knowing threshold, we open up to the flow inherent within the Dance of Life within and all about us. Our holistic beingness and knowingness is what allows us to open more coherently as vessels for the deeper wisdom of the Tao, the mystery, the ‘élan vital’ of Nature to flow through us, our relations, our teams, organisations and eco-system of stakeholders. We allow ourselves and our systems to become more enlivened, and more able to sense into, to tune-in to the emergence of this unceasing Dance; to sense the patterns, the synchronicities, the subtly lit pathways, the creative rhythms of consonance and dissonance. Then, this ‘new norm’ of multidimensional change no longer becomes something to fear or resist, but something to be whole-heartedly embraced as we learn to become regenerative future-fit living organisations tending towards harmony with Life.
What does this mean for us leaders and change agents at the juicy leading-edges?
As leaders we are increasingly required to hold space for diverse mind-sets, teams and stakeholder ecosystems to open-up, sense into, and co-create with the creative rhythms of Life. This is humbling and courageous work.
As leaders we need to become artful at how we sense flow in our own experience of life, and also create space for the void of not-knowing, of regenerative renewal, of deep creative insight which fertilises our flow. We need to be courageous enough to open up to moments of grace amid the everyday busyness. Hence, in my latest book Future Fit I provide the tools and techniques to embrace this shift in consciousness for ourselves and our organisations.