‘For me, revolution simply means radical change.’ (Aung San Suu Kyi)
I heard a well-known pop psychologist on the radio this week, talking about his new book about how to make your New Year’s resolutions stick. He invited the listeners to buy his book in order to learn more. I didn’t do that, but it did bring to mind a number of things I’ve noticed over the years as I work with people, teams and organisations. I will share a couple of insights here that may be of interest and useful – and I promise not to ask you to buy anything.
The first is how hard it can be to make significant and sustainable changes to habitual patterns of thought and-or behaviour. A wise friend, Ian Henderson, illustrates this simply by inviting people to fold their arms. Next, he invites them to fold their arms in the opposite direction. (I found this harder than I had imagined). He goes on to invite them to reflect on what routine they always use to dry themselves after a shower. We are creatures of habit.
That’s OK when the routines serve us and-or others well. If, however, people become trapped in, for instance, patterns of tension or stress, if often demands more than fresh thinking, determined effort or will-power to change it. So, here’s the second. Try disrupting the physical context in which it takes place; for instance: meet in a different room or location; use different chairs; sit in different places to where you normally sit; stand up rather than sit down.
I worked with a team that felt trapped in conflict. They invited me to help them work through it so I asked that we hold our first meeting where and at the time at which they normally met. When we did so, I asked them where they normally sit, including in relation to each other. (‘Exactly where we are now’). At the next meeting, I changed the time and, before participants arrived, rearranged the room completely, then invited them to sit somewhere different.
The shift in group dynamics was remarkable. Disrupting the times and room configuration created enough of a change to enable the team to hold a different spirit, style and type of conversation. This, in turn, helped team members to relax enough to consider and create new possibilities. It released the stuck-ness and enabled a breakthrough of sorts that wouldn’t have been possible by thinking or talking alone. (Like this idea? Look out for my new book…)
‘When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that person is crazy.’ (Dave Barry)
We can think of leadership as the property of a structure, in which a person designated as a 'leader' holds particular responsibilities and has, at least in principle, the hierarchical authority needed to fulfil them. We can also think of leadership as an intrinsic property of an individual. In this sense, leadership is something that resides within and emanates from a person, something that she or he has and does. This is the realm of competency frameworks and of leader-development initiatives.
We can also think of leadership as the property of a group; for instance, a leadership team. In this idea, shared leadership is something exercised by a collective, where a diverse united group is, in potential, more than the sum of its parts. We can also think of leadership as a property of a dynamically-complex eco-system, in which acts of leadership emerge, sometimes unexpectedly and from unexpected places, and exert influence. This is the arena of dispersed and distributed leadership.
In organisations, I’m finding the latter perspective especially useful. When working with leadership teams, I invite participants to reflect on the eco-system (cf Gestalt: field) as a whole; for instance: 'Where is leadership-as-influence exercised, inside or outside of the organisation’s boundaries? What are the distinctive roles and responsibilities of different 'leadership' entities within the system? What are the relationships between them? What does each need from the others to be effective?'
I notice this invariably opens up far deeper, wider and richer conversations than those that focus on individual leaders alone, or leadership teams in isolation, as if they exist in a cultural-contextual vacuum. Some people find it useful to experiment with mapping their eco-system graphically, recognising that any depiction will reveal and, therefore, create opportunity to open up to healthy exploration and challenge, the way in which they construe their reality and leadership dynamics within it.
I'm a psychological coach, trainer and OD consultant. Curious to discover how can I help you? Get in touch!
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