'Thunderbirds are go!' It’s a tense and exciting moment - at least as a child. The international rescuers head off urgently to do their thing: a rescuing thing. Or it’s a knight on a white charger who races off to save, to rescue, a damsel in distress. Or it’s Jesus who rescues us from our universal 'human propensity to f*** things up' (Francis Spufford) - which, unlike Thunderbirds and fairy tales, I actually believe to be true.
And so it is that our beliefs, stories, fables and folklore are filled with accounts of honour and nobility expressed through acts of rescue. They touch, reflect and evoke personally and culturally a spirit of justice, mercy and compassion for others in need. They call us to reach beyond ourselves, our own interests and concerns, to respond to another, to help another where they are trapped, too weak or unable to help themselves.
This instinct, this value, this desire to rescue can however be a double-edged sword. What if, through my desire to rescue, I become the parent who always protects my child and denies them the opportunity to develop resilience? What if I become the leader, the line-manager, who solves everyone’s problems for them, creates unhealthy dependency and denies team members their opportunities to stretch and grow?
What if I become the coach who takes others’ issues onto myself, takes on too much responsibility, and thereby avoids challenging and developing the capacities of the client? Transactional Analysis ('Drama Triangle') can provide useful insights here, e.g. How is the client portraying themselves in their story; What is the client evoking in me, and vice versa; What patterns of relationship are being enacted here and now?
So here are some checks and balances I've found useful: What am I aware of when I work with this client, team or organisation? When am I most likely to slip into rescuer mode? What does this client, this situation, call for? What is in the best interests of the client? Looking at this relationally and systemically, what perverse incentives or unintended consequences could my own interventions inadvertently create?
Hashtag leadership. What’s going on in the social media world and what could it mean for leaders and organisations? In a nutshell, it’s simple and complex, clear and confusing. If you need structure and control to feel safe and secure, have tissues and paracetamol ready. Think rollercoaster – but on tracks that keep changing, shifting, evolving. The ride is far from certain and so is the destination.
Yet it can be so exciting! Social media like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have made networking possible between people, professions, sectors, countries and continents that would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago. It’s self-organising, self-selecting, unpredictable and emergent. At heart: ‘Great conversations with interesting people about stuff that matters.’ (Euan Semple, 2016).
This all means that ideas can be accelerated and amplified at incredible speed with all the potential and risk that carries (Steve Hearsum, 2016). We can learn, share information and ideas and thereby increase our resourcefulness faster than ever before. We’re also responsible for how we exercise wise leadership, what voices and messages we amplify or not and how we self- and peer-moderate.
And, as leaders, we have never felt so exposed. It’s a double-edged sword: exposed in the sense of accountable in the public domain along with unprecedented opportunity to influence ideas, culture and behaviour. It shapes the focus of leadership in organisations too from positional to distributed, from control to trust: noticing who exerts most influence and how to work creatively with them.
What have been your experiences of social media in leadership and organisations? What have you encountered, or tried, and how? What have been the pros and cons? I’d love to hear more!
I write, therefore I think. I guess you could call that Descartes for Introverts. A journal editor contacted me this week to invite me to draft an article. The guidelines propose having a clear idea of content and structure from the outset. I get the point, I see the logic, but I’m aware I don’t write like that. I don’t think I even think like that. Often I don’t know what I think, what I want to say, until I start to write. This means that, for me, writing is an exciting adventure of exploration, discovery and promise. It’s as if each word, each sentence, opens the way for what could emerge, what could surprise, what will reveal itself, next.
I sometimes experience a similar phenomenon when I lead, teach, coach, facilitate. In the past, I would prepare…and prepare…so that I would be, well… – prepared. Now I notice I’m more interested in preparing myself. How to be present, curious, open to the person, open to the group, open to God, open to the moment: noticing what is preoccupying my thoughts, how I am feeling emotionally and physically, what is holding my attention, what I’m not noticing, what stories I’m telling myself. It's about learning to risk just one step forward with awareness, intention and belief in what could unfold, what will become, next.
This attitude, this stance, is invitational by nature. It reaches out to inquire, share, collaborate and co-create. It’s so different to a defensive, defended posture, trying to hold the ‘other’ or the future at bay to protect and preserve. It’s a willingness to be vulnerable, not-know, let go of control, move out and trust. It’s not easy to sustain this state if work and relationships feel pressured and stressed. It's easy to fall back. Yet it can be a place of great fruitfulness, alive and life-giving. It can be a sacred space where love thrives and where hope is truly transformational. It calls for a leap of faith. Just one step. Next.
Harley Pete is a rough diamond. He’d say so himself. This morning we sat in a small group in the local biker café. In spite of the sunshine, it was freezing cold. One bloke arrived feeling wrecked because he ran out of petrol on route and had to push his bike uphill for a mile. Another arrived late because his bike wouldn’t start. We were glad for hot mugs of tea and the struggling warmth of a single oil-filled radiator.
A bloke appeared at the doorway. I’ve never seen him before but he strode in, walked up to Harley Pete and shook his hand. He then turned to the rest of us, looked a bit self-conscious about having interrupted the conversation and announced quietly yet with conviction, ‘Because of this man and because of Jesus, I am still alive.’ Then he walked out. The rest of us glanced at each other, then at Harley Pete. Silence.
Turns out the bloke had been involved in drugs and stuff and his life had fallen apart. I don’t know the details, what Harley Pete had done, what had made the difference…but what an impact. In that unbroken moment of utterly transfixing silence, I sensed a bright light flash across my own life, my work and my relationships. ‘Because of this man and because of Jesus, I am still alive.’ What a legacy. What a calling.
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.