Leading Transformation From Within

An organization cannot evolve beyond the level of consciousness of its leaders.

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Most of us are experiencing rapid change in our world. Whether it is career uncertainty, relationship challenges or disruptions and advancements in technology, the result is an undercurrent of overwhelm. In addition, outdated ways of thinking and leading do not address the level of interdependence and complexity we currently face. To address these challenges, our consciousness needs to shift, and we need to be open to managing change in an integral way that focuses on both internal and external transformation.

Organizational change efforts fall short when personal and cultural change are left out of the equation. A solid strategy is not sufficient. To be successful, we must attend to the three dimensions of business:

  • IT — achieving exceptional results
  • WE — embodying the best of the organizational culture
  • I — allowing for full expression of each individual’s gifts and talents

Corporations tend to focus least on the “I” dimension or development of the individual’s inner world. However, cultural transformation begins with personal transformation. For the system to evolve, people have to evolve.

Human consciousness grows through a series of stages. Robert Kegan, author and professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Lisa Lahey, advisory board member of Axialent, are the leaders in this research and theory. There are three stages of adult development including the socialized mind, self-authoring mind and self-transforming mind.

  • Socialized mind: The self is defined from the outside in and succeeds by acting within socially prescribed roles. Leaders at this level typically lack the capability of broadly sharing power.
  • Self-authoring mind: The self follows its own path, and action becomes an expression of inner purpose. Leaders at this level begin to share power.
  • Self-transforming mind: The self engages with shadow side and parts that have been ignored or not developed with curiosity and compassion. Leaders at his level become community oriented with a focus on sustainability and common good.

As the leader transforms into a higher version of himself or herself, the system and culture of the organization can transform as well. The evolution of both the leader and system is interdependent. The organization cannot evolve to a higher stage of consciousness than the leadership. Until the system organizes at a new level, it delays the development of people in the system.

What is it that allows us to operate more consistently at a higher stage of development? Practices do. Practices such as mindfulness, self-mastery of body, mind, heart and soul as well as dialogue are key to transformation. Without practices, shifts from stage to stage are less likely to happen.

Mindfulness

Research strongly suggests that practices such as meditation accelerate the stages of development. Meditation is one way to cultivate mindfulness.

Mindfulness is being aware of or bringing our attention to this moment in time, deliberately and without judging the experience. When we are overwhelmed and stressed, the higher order executive functions of our brains literally shut down. Critical decision-making reverts to the more primitive and reactive brain centers, and we go on autopilot to cope.

Neuroplasticity is a process by which we train our minds and change our brains. What this means is that we can cultivate qualities and states of mind through mindless habit or intentional discipline. Through repeated practice, we can measurably reshape and rewire our brains. In as little as two weeks of a disciplined mindfulness practice, there are measurable changes in the number of connections between neurons and the thickness of portions of the brain related to increased self-awareness, greater self-mastery and higher mental processing. These potentials are only realized if we have the discipline to engage in the inner work to develop the neural connectivity.

4D Self-mastery: Body + Mind + Heart + Soul

Our human potential includes a range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual capabilities. As we move through the stages of development, each of these aspects are developed and ultimately brought into balance. When we are young, our primary focus is body intelligence. In adolescence, emotional intelligence emerges. As we move into the socialized mind, we tend to focus less on our bodily and emotional intelligence and begin to favor rational capacities. Developing higher stages requires we reclaim our bodily and emotional intelligence valuing gut and heart.

So what is spiritual intelligence? It is a way of seeing and acting that focuses on doing the tough work of transforming body, heart, mind and soul. It is the practice of transformation itself.

If you are interested in assessing yourself in each dimension, download the 4D self-mastery assessment. This will give you an idea of what you are doing well and where you could focus your attention: 4d-self-mastery-assessment

Dialogue

While individual transformation is essential for organizational transformation, we still need to find ways to work together so we can create higher order systems. Dialogue is a key tool for being in higher order relationships and accessing the deep wisdom that is in the collective. It is a means for both personal and collective transformation.

Dialogue practice involves suspending judgment, listening deeply, and balancing advocacy and inquiry. These are skills we teach as authentic communication. These can be practiced in 1:1 coaching, mentoring and team conversations. People share their truth and listen to the experience of others. Through dialogue, assumptions and beliefs have a chance of being exposed and reexamined in service of creating a higher order system.

Albert Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Our task as leaders is raising consciousness. Choice follows awareness, and your choice has the power to transform. Through practices such as mindfulness, self-mastery and dialogue, we can lead transformation from within.

What is your current development goal?

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Empowerment – What are We Afraid Of?

 

Why Do It?

Empowerment seems to have become an over-used term, often regarded as too vague or fluffy. So what is the real meaning of empowerment and why do it? According to dictionary definitions, there are two sides to the empowerment coin. One is to invest someone with power or authority; in other words, to delegate. The other meaning is to equip them with the ability to use that power and authority.

Proponents of empowerment have hard-edged economic outcomes in mind, going beyond the goals of increasing happiness and satisfaction of individuals. They’re also seeking the practical and strategic goals of organizational innovation, customer problem solving and lifting productivity. They see empowerment as a path to increase pro-activity, autonomy and a sense of ownership throughout the company.

In today’s business world, the demand for agility and fast learning within teams and across organizations is even higher. In the face of the VUCA world (it’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), the ability to gain and discard knowledge, and to act without certainty or pre-established rules, is essential for survival and makes ‘empowerment’ a no-brainer.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” –Steve Jobs

Why Not ‘Just Do It’? (or, what leaders are afraid of)

If the benefits of empowerment are so clear, why don’t we all ‘just do it’? What stops us from building a culture of empowerment? Maybe it’s the fear of what could go wrong – what if I empower people and they go too far and make a mess of things? After all, as a leader, you’re the one responsible for making sure that things run well. However, that fear of what might go wrong can lead to too much control, often called micromanaging, and that’s disempowering to others, who end up feeling their contribution is unimportant.

People need to have confidence that they have the resources to act and solve a problem. For that reason, the leadership mindset of ‘how do I set them up for success’ (rather than telling them how to do it), is at the heart of the matter. We must face our own fear of what might happen when we relinquish control, and do it anyway. As the economist, Friedrich August von Hayec, said, “Our faith in freedom does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances, but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad…. Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom.”

Forgotten Power (or, what we’re all afraid of)

It’s not only hesitation to relinquishing control in management that hampers the road to empowerment. Many people in organizational life at all levels have simply forgotten their own power. They have learnt to buckle under, to stick to the known  and many live in fear. They fear their boss, fear losing their job, fear not getting on with their colleagues, fear failure… and this leads to a learnt helplessness and a lack of self-empowerment, often based on rational choices. You, as a manager, might begin to provide a culture of empowerment and find that your employees don’t take the initiative. This is because of learnt helplessness that has developed over the years. Employees with this challenge can be likened to the Thai elephants who were tethered with an 18-foot lead from the time they were young and didn’t discover they could break the tether as they grew stronger; even as adults without the tether, they won’t go further than 18 feet. Like this, in the context of organisations , we can fail to see how much choice and how much strength we actually possess.

These preconceptions of our own power can mean good intentioned “giving”  of empowerment results in cynicism and even panic in the team. People might not see the benefits of empowerment, and only see unguided and unresourced work,  which will cause them to feel panicked and unprepared. Human beings exist in three states: the comfort zone, where we function automatically, comfortably and often without even thinking; the stretch zone, which is the learning zone where we are consciously thinking about what we’re doing and applying effort to it; and finally, the panic zone, where things are overwhelming and happening too quickly and we are unable to think clearly.

What Motivates People?

A leader’s responsibility is to help people to expand their stretch zone: where they can learn, grow and be empowered. In the stretch zone, we’re curious, open, engaged, pro-active and present; we listen, experiment, learn and practice. This is a level of consciousness beyond the auto-pilot of sleep-walking through our workday.

The good news is that people want this level of consciousness for themselves. We all yearn for work that engages us this way. Take the work of Shawn Achor and Dan Pink . They notice people being productive in happinessand motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose.

But there is a hurdle to overcome, as we each must tackle the fear of failure that dominates so many of our organizational cultures. While most human beings want to do nothing but the right thing, our organizations hold fear as a driver, and in that context, people fear the eye of criticism far more constantly than they feel a hand of support at their back.

In the words of Benjamin Zander, who believes in giving his students an “A” at the beginning of class and then letting them live up to it —  practicing the art of possibility in the very words we use to encourage and teach others (https://youtu.be/qTKEBygQic0). That’s an environment where empowerment can thrive.

High Delegation + High Support

It’s important to make sure that employees don’t feel that they’re being “empowered”  to do more work without having the capability, resources and support for it. Like the metaphor of driving, if we want people to take high responsibility for how they drive their car, for the safety of their car and for their passengers, as we all do? for others on the road, then agreed upon rules and support for learning are also required. We call this ‘freedom within a framework’.

What does this high delegation and high support require in the context of your leadership and your teaming?

If you want to empower others, you should ask yourself how you can serve the happiness and empowerment of your colleagues and your teams. How can you make a difference? Consider the impact your own behavior has on others. Each of your conversations can bring increased power to the other person. Increasing both the authority given to the other person and your support will increase that person’s self-responsibility and sense of ‘I can do it’. Increased self-responsibility increases a person’s capability to live in the stretch zone.

One Conversation at a Time

By tacking  this “One Conversation At a Time ” you cannot go wrong. You can change the culture of an organization step by step, one conversation at a time. You control yourself and your actions. If you don’t get it right the first time around, you can come back at it again and again. There is no  a ‘wrong thing’ to do, there is only learning.

Three types of mutually empowering conversations are  :

  1. More Authentic Appreciation                                                                                              There are many times we think something positive about a member of our team, but we never actually voice it. The key to authentic appreciation is to be specific. Instead of saying, “Thank you for your work on this,” consider saying, “Meghan, last week when you offered to help me with my project, I felt really supported and relieved, whereas before I had felt stressed and overwhelmed. You have helped me a lot.Thank you.”                                                                                                                                                             cathy-pic-1
  2. More Inquiry                                                                                                                                  Put yourself in the shoes of the other person and ask that person to explain whatever you need to understand their. Be curious about what is happening for them  especially when something goes wrong. Discover their perspective and listen to them with patience.                                                                                                                                             cathy-pic-2
  3. Mutual Learning Conversations                                                                                                        These are conversations that are set up to solve a problem together, while always empowering and supporting the other person. Use phrases like: “What would you like to have happen?” “Given that, what is under your control?” “What could you do?” and “What help can I offer to help you achieve that outcome?” You can also ask questions that empower them to be part of the solution, putting themselves in the picture. That’s empowering.                                                                                                                cathy-pic-3

 

And, in summary, these tips…

  • Listen, be curious, ask people what they think
  • Give honest and appreciative feedback as a way of life; catch people doing good
  • Freedom within a framework, be highly transparent about boundaries and expectations (not about the details)
  • Magnify courageous actions, expand confidence that risk taking is learning, is worthwhile
  • Encourage what is under their control, rather than focusing on them and theirs, look at me and mine, we and ours
  • Be available for mutual learning conversations
  • Put your “red pen” away

As a leader, asking yourself, “What will I do to serve the happiness and engagement of my colleagues and my team today?” – that’s empowerment.

 

 

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Language and the Pursuit of Happiness

“There is a world out there, and we speak about it.”  Most of us grew up with that story.

As I learned more about how human beings make sense of the world, I came across a concept that much more truthfully describes the process. “We only see out there the world that we can speak about.”  Is that possible?

Think for a moment about having a language for things, in the power of distinctions. For example, imagine for a second you raise the hood of your car. If you are like the vast majority of people I know, you will see “an engine and stuff”. In the face of a problem with your car, you will probably as a next step close the hood and call for help. Your friend Joe, who is an amateur mechanic, will notice something completely different. He will notice the spark plugs  or the injectors, the crankshaft, the pulleys, the water pump, the radiator, etc. In his world, the system makes sense, he understands the harmony or lack thereof, the interdependencies, what is a condition for what, what certain symptoms mean in terms of possible causes. Joe has a capacity to intervene in the system that you don’t; he has distinctions you don’t. He can “see” what you can’t because he has a language for it. Finally, he can fix the engine while you can’t.

Extrapolate this to your current life, at work and beyond. You walk around trying to produce results you desire. You want to be happy. What’s wrong with that after all? Sometimes it works for you; other  times it doesn’t. Why is that; what is going on? I want to postulate that you walk around using “filters” through which you look at the world. These make things appear to you in a certain way, and they have limitations, they have poor distinctions, outgrown by the context of increasing complexity and interdependence, therefore standing in the way of your accomplishments and your happiness.

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Let me address some of these filters. By using more powerful lenses you will unleash creative energy that will enable you to effectively pursue your dreams.

The filter of certainty 

You have grown up doing three things:

  1. making stories about events you observe in the world
  2. believing these stories to be true (after all they are your stories…)
  3. forgetting you told these stories to yourself

You then walk around having opinions about almost everything, “knowing” what is going on. These constructs may have been useful at some point ; however, in the face of VUCA, they become outdated, useless. The context changes, but as you have grown oblivious and blind to your stories, you don’t question them . You continue to operate like they continue to be true.  The challenges and difficulties, the “not getting what we want” conditions,  start to show up pervasively. Then the response you give is to try (even) harder. You have the belief that if you keep at it long enough, if you keep striving, you will eventually succeed. Success becomes more and more elusive, and a tunnel vision ensues. You persist, struggling, pushing, toiling and … failing.

I want to offer that,  by taking one breath of awareness, you can reconnect with your cognitive limitations, your vulnerability, your bounded rationality. This can come across as weakness. I want to suggest that completely the opposite is true. In the midst of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), questions become much more powerful than answers. By entering this space of humility and consciousness you may begin to inquire with the curiosity of a child, finding alternatives that before were completely out of your field of awareness.

I recently read a quote that moved me to tears  – “A creative adult is a child that survived.”  Can you survive your magical child spirit and grow into that adult that can question the world from a place of wonder and awe? Can you once again recreate the conditions so the child within can survive and prosper?

And just like that, having these distinctions, as in the initial example of peeking under the hood of a car, create richer options so you can successfully pursue your dreams.

The filter of “blaming others and the world” for my suffering 

“I was late to the meeting because of traffic.”  I am sure you heard this many times. Is it true? Of course it is, as most cities’  freeways we live and work in are crammed with cars every morning. I read a phrase very appropriate to describe this explanation: TBU  – “true but useless”. The generative question is “ What is your power to influence the system?” If you place causality on traffic it is very low . Unless the 500,000 careless drivers become more conscious  and decide not to pack the highways when it is your time to drive to work , you are doomed. Of course a voice inside your head is yelling, “ Just wake up earlier you lazy bum..” By focusing on parts of the system where you have higher leverage, you can produce results that are dependent on you. You become power-full rather than power-less. I often ask in our workshops the (rhetorical) question,  “How do you wish to live, as a powerless victim or a powerful player?”. Of course , 100% choose the latter. However, as I also often show them through role playing, the choice of being in  the driver’s seat comes with a cost, the cost of anxiety, of accountability ; we must be willing to endure the consequences of our actions as the price to pay for power, for being in control of our lives.

I suggest that this mindset of always “responding to challenges” offers an outlook of hope and inspiration. You are in charge of your life and choose moment by moment how you wish to respond to the circumstances that are presented to you. Between the action and re-action there is a space of consciousness. This process of becoming and acting in consequence can change your life forever. And,  as in our initial example, it boils down to having more powerful distinctions that create a richer field of possibilities.

Easy to say, not easy to do, but it must be done if we wish to pursue and accomplish a life of fullfilment, expansion and joy.

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