Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers


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Anybody can contribute to the mindset shift that is needed to create a positive impact!

We know that it takes an enlightened leader to reposition an organization to provide also value for society and the planet. And we also know that there aren’t enough such leaders. However, latest research shows that there is hope: any engaged employee can increase their changemaker potential by inviting external stakeholders to traditionally internal decisions-making meetings. The current digital meetings are a great bridge for this. Learn here more about the magic of external stakeholders in triggering the organizational mindset shift towards creating positive value.

What lesson does COVID-19 crisis have for business?

Covid has shown us how important it is for organizations to become resilient. There is one guaranteed way to increase your resilience, and that is by orienting yourself to the burning challenges that society and the world face today. Pioneering organizations do this by matching their core competencies with these challenges in order to develop new business models and revenue streams for their business. This requires you to create value, no longer just for your shareholder, or even stakeholders, but to think beyond the existing markets and clients to think broader. The question becomes: How can you as an organization with all the competencies, resources, and capacities you have contribute to solving societal and environmental challenges that are out there?

How do leading positive impact organizations accomplish this?

The pioneers show that in order to transform from a traditional organization to a positive impact organization, there are two predictors of success:

  1. an enlightened leader, meaning somebody who gets the benefits of contributing value to society beyond just looking for creating value for your business, and
  2. an organization that is capable to work outside of its business boundaries, as effectively as internally. I call this the co-creative organization. In addition to managing your business internally, you need to learn how to be co-creative outside, and not just the CEO, but actually many people in your organization.

So that’s why I talk about two mindset shifts: 1) one of the leader who needs to shift somehow the purpose of the organization to want to create more value than just for shareholders. And 2) the mindset shift of the organization where suddenly a sufficient number of employees in the organization learn how to work creatively outside of their boundaries and make sense for their own organization out of it. This external fluency is an entirely new expertise that typically doesn’t get developed in business schools.

But there aren’t enough such leaders, are there?

Indeed, there are unfortunately there aren’t enough leaders. But our research offers great hope. Since it takes two things, the leader, and a co-creative organization, I have some ways to make sure that your organization can become co-creative. Even if you don’t have an enlightened leader, at least you now have one of the two success factors. And we have seen that process of becoming co creative co creative becomes a mindset shift trigger for the CEO. By engaging in the practices to become co-creative, there is a transformation. Even with the leader so you may have initially a leader who doesn’t get it.

Are you saying anybody can bring about change?

Indeed, we are calling them intrapreneurs or change-makers. It could be the head of sustainability, the head of strategy, head of innovation, who says: «Hey, we’re going to bring in such new practices».  In addition, there is a younger generation, an amazing amount of changemakers that are already kind of intrapreneurs that are ready to bring in a lot of energy, new thinking and dynamism, to be the changemakers that can bring in that that can work on that co-creation part.

But what would such a change agent do?

There is a method for turning a traditional organization into a co-creative one. There is a specific way to bring in external stakeholders. I call them Collaboratory events. The change agent invites constructive external stakeholders and together with them the company participants develop a solution to a problem that is out there. In that one-day workshop, particularly if you have the CEO present, our research shows that something happens with people. Exposure to different thinking, arguments, ideas, perspectives opens your mind. And sometimes, the little opening that happens triggers a mindset shift. A mindset shift is nothing else than an expansion of mind. The key to the organizational mindset shift is all about creating triggering incidents where participants minds expands. There are specific proven processes for this. My book «Five Superpowers for Co-creators» is all about it.

So what do you suggest for changemakers out there?

If you have an appetite for helping your organization to identify what are the positive opportunities in there and get together with the innovators and the strategists in your business together, what you need to do is to find a professional facilitator, ideally somebody trained with the SDGXCHANGE methodology, and organize a multi-stakeholder meeting. You pick a day, invite some external stakeholders and a diverse range of your work colleagues – new and long-time serving your organization, all ages, genders, backgrounds and skills. And together with a skilled facilitator, the group has a conversation about what could be the positive role or contribution of your business to address these issues out there. This is what it would mean to put yourself on the «offense» team.

Take-away message

Even if you work in an organization that currently isn’t focused on creating a positive impact for society and the world, and your leader doesn’t necessarily get the importance of such an orientation, there is something you can do: find ways to bring in external stakeholders to your next meeting you have in your department. Any meeting that benefits from a broader perspective and new ideas will be perfect for this. With this simple act, you will start broadening the mindset of your colleagues and help position your organization for a mindset shift. Be surprised with how the positive benefits start to spread in your organization.

If you need help in how to go about this, feel free to reach out to me katrin@katrinmuff.com.


Mind tricks that limit growth

The pursuit of personal growth and learning plays a central role in my life.  However from time to time I question whether it is worth it.  After all, growth requires change and deep change is hard. Sometimes I ask myself whether I am up to it.  Maybe I am too old, too busy or just too lazy to do the hard work.  Perhaps I’ve grown enough.  After all I have a good life.  Wonderful friends and family surround me and I love my work, which I consider to be meaningful. So why do I need to change?  The answer for me is that I believe to grow is to live. I share this belief with my blogging partner, Katrin Muff who demonstrates her thirst for growth in how she lives every day.

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Last month Katrin described the external conditions that tend to stimulate her and push her to try something new.  The previous month, I discussed an incident that led to my own painful growth.  While reflecting on what stimulates our growth inspires me, I believe that we also need to stay aware of the barriers that can stymie us.

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, psychologist and professor Daniel Kahneman describes “a puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive confidence in what we believe we know and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and uncertainty of the world we live in.”[1] I suspect that most of us consider ourselves to be logical thinkers. Yet, since we are human, we are all subject to thinking biases that can inhibit our ability to learn and access new experiences apart from our own status quo.  Consider the following:

Confirmation Bias

Magicians, who practice sleight of hand, or misdirection as they call it, count on our seeing what we expect rather than what is taking place in front of our eyes. And usually we do not let them down. We are all susceptible to seeing what we expect. Confirmation bias, or the tendency to seek out, notice, interpret and remember information to protect our prior beliefs and expectations is widespread.

False Consensus and Naïve Realism

The “false consensus effect” refers to our tendency to overestimate the degree to which others agree with us. And the “naïve realism bias” is a tendency to believe that we see reality as it is and that others who disagree with us do not. When suffering from this bias, we view anyone who disagrees with us as irrational, uninformed or overly subjective.[2]  The presumption that everyone sees the world the way that we do can stifle our growth and isolate us from diverse thinking.  However even more dangerous is the belief that those whose views of the world differ from our own are wrong. In truth, our views are merely our theories, hidden or not, of how things work. And theories aren’t the same as truth.

Illusionist making trick with magical play cards

I know that I am susceptible to these mind tricks that can prevent me from change.  Yet if I truly value ongoing growth and personal change, I must be vigilant to falling prey to these biases.  While I do not have any clear answers to how to fight them, I do know that my first step in neutralizing the biases is to acknowledge that I am susceptible, as are all of us.   As I interact with others, I can adopt the discipline of taking mental time-outs to reflect on how I am feeling and what I am thinking.  I can entertain the possibility that the biases might be at work.  This level of self-awareness should give me a fighting chance at foiling my own mind tricks.  And yes this level of vigilance is hard work.  Yet I hope that I will never grow too old, too self-satisfied, too arrogant or too lazy to do the work that growth requires.

[1] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition, October 2011.
[2] List of Cognitive Biases, Wikipedia, 2018.


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Try something different!

The impact of the change of being in our ability to change

When have you last tried something different? I had to think for a while until I recalled such a moment. For me, trying new foods is the easiest way of trying something different. Travelling to new places and discovering new cultures and places and people is my preferred way of trying something different. Trying a new sport requires courage for me to try and I love the feeling of excitement when I have overcome my resistance. Trying a new behavior is by far the hardest way of trying something new, by a long shot. It is also by far the most exciting way to challenge myself.

try smth new

Image source: https://aminoapps.com/c/books/page/blog/weekly-challenge-try-something-new/7viP_u3dXvQ7BJXVkbzVaBMkqe12Dz

What about you?

I was very touched by what Kathy Miller shared in her last blog and when she shared how this simple advice by a friend “try something different!” changed her approach to looking at change. And I have observed myself in the past month to see how often I might be willing to try something. What I noticed as I observed myself was that there were conditions that favored my ability to try a new behavior. And this led me to consider the impact of the state of being in our ability to change.

Some external conditions favor a state of excitement, of thrill, or of fear or anxiety. These carry the same underlying high energetic vibration and they generate states of being which lead to states of mind that then allow or prevent our ability to try something different. For me, such a high energetic vibration is really good when I want to try a new sport. And it hinders me when I try to adapt myself to a situation trying a new emotional attitude.

courage

Image source: https://www.humansynergistics.com/blog/constructive-culture-blog/details/constructive-culture/2017/07/18/organizational-courage-part-1-of-2-what-it-is

 

On the other hand, my travels to Cuba has exposed me to a country that resonates entirely differently. Its relaxed attitude, laid back music, warm temperatures and kind people grounded me in a very easy and relaxed energetic state. The calmness that comes from appreciation, satisfaction, joy and gratitude expresses itself in a much calmer low energic vibration. Such a vibration has served me well to try new ways of approaching relationship and served as a condition that allowed me to react with more kindness, openness and patience than I had known as my natural patterns. Quite obviously the state of being served as an enabler for change. I must say, however, that this relaxed state of being did not serve me when trying to motivate me to join a local public fitness class. I felt way too relaxed for such a try during vacation.

emotional

Image source: https://eocinstitute.org/meditation/meditation-and-emotions-the-power-of-silence-during-times-of-change/

 

In conclusion, there is not a preferable state of being, each such state simply either promotes or prevents an attempt to try something different and hence to change. High energic vibrations serve to push us beyond our boundaries which is useful in some situation. Low energetic vibrations, on the other hand, will pull us more inward to our source freeing other potentials that are useful in attempts of something different.

hi low energy

Image source: https://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/waves/Lesson-2/Energy-Transport-and-the-Amplitude-of-a-Wave

 

May I invite you to observe yourself for a week or two and to share what you notice about enabling or disabling conditions to try something different? I would love to hear from you!


Personal readiness for change

Have you ever wondered why you feel so open to change yet believe that others resist it?  Most likely, many of us assume that we never resist change.  Yet I believe that we are often blind to our own defenses against it. As the year ends and a new one begins, I find myself in a contemplative mood! I wonder about my own blind spots. Last month Katrin Muff discussed the importance of learning to listen to herself – her body & intuition- in her own personal journey of change. She talked about the need to free herself from the restrictions that held her in place rather than enabling her to grow and change. This month I will discuss my own change challenges and what I am learning from the journey.

Simplicity-SelfReflection

Personal readiness for change is not an either/or proposition – either we are ready, or we are not. Readiness occurs in stages. The first stage is to become aware that we need to change. Many of us may secretly (or perhaps openly in some cases) see ourselves as infallible. We might take pride in our past successes and believe that they resulted from our own impeccable knowledge, skill and perhaps personality. Since what we have done in the past has worked for us, or so we think, we don’t question the path we have taken until we hit a roadblock, or we realize that the path we are on isn’t really taking us where we want to go.

I recall like it was yesterday a conversation that I had with a friend many years ago when I was faced with a difficult personal challenge involving the breakdown of a significant relationship.  I described to my friend how I was trying to understand the other person’s point of view and was doing my best to accommodate to avoid losing the relationship altogether.  My friend looked me in the eye and said, “Why don’t you try something different this time.”  These words were so simple yet very powerful.

Upon more discussion with my friend coupled with a heavy dose of self-reflection, I realized that I had been following a script that had guided my behavior under similar circumstances for a long time. This script included something like the following: my role in life was to preserve the feelings of others by listening to them, understanding them and adapting my behavior to meet their needs to the best of my ability. While I wasn’t completely aware of this script, I believed, with some evidence, that I was very good at maintaining relationships. Up to this point, I had not considered the full impact of my behaviors nor had I contemplated that I might find a better way of handling interpersonal challenges.

When my friend told me to “consider doing things differently this time,” I entertained the possibility that alternate, and perhaps superior paths might be available to me.

I began to question my assumptions about my role in relationships and to take a deeper look at what I had given up and how I had shortchanged others by following this script.  I recalled the resentment that I often experienced as I sublimated my own needs to avoid conflict or to preserve the status quo in my relationships. And interestingly, these relationships often disintegrated over time anyway. Perhaps this was because others sensed my resentment. Or maybe my behavior ensured that my relationships were superficial and thus not very rewarding since I did not share my feelings and needs with the other.  Or possibly the relationships fell by the wayside over time because of my own fatigue and anger from always accommodating.  I began to see that my behaviors could be viewed as a sign of my own self-righteousness and could be experienced as demeaning to others.  I realized that I needed to change.

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Once we recognize the need for personal change, we can begin to contemplate what it means for us. However, we may still be ambivalent and, therefore not yet prepared to act. We can get stuck in this stage. While we may become aware of our own personal limitations and how our behaviors block change, we may still lack the motivation to act differently. As I thought about “doing something different this time,” I grew anxious and afraid.  I began to ask myself whether changing my accommodating behavior was too risky.  Over time, and with help, I was able to understand better where the anxiety was coming from and how it kept me from changing and growing.  I also began to realize what I was missing in relationships because of my own self-limiting behavior.  Slowly I became more open to change. And I did “do something different this time.” I will always be grateful for this simple advice that led to my growth.

While I understand the need for it, I have found that changing is difficult.  The old scripts are deeply embedded. And I still question whether the risks are worth the rewards.  Nevertheless, I have come to terms with change as a process rather than an event. Personal change requires deep self-awareness, courage, and perseverance.  Change and growth will never be easy.  Yet, I believe that my life can become more purposeful and my relationships more mutually satisfying as I allow my script to change. My own New Year’s resolution is to continue down the path of personal change. I believe that my relationships, and indeed my life, will be richer as a result of my continuing with this journey.

Happy New Year to all.  And may 2019 bring each of us the humility to seek self-awareness and the courage to grow.


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Listening – deepening a capacity

In the spirit of continued authentic communication as initiated in my last blog, I would like to share my reflections about the competency that was in highest demand in my past two months: listening!

 

Let me provide a bit of context. Having stopped my roles at Business School Lausanne at the end of July has brought an abrupt end to the previous demand of my leadership skills. I had chosen to let go of leading already three years prior when we introduced self-organization at the school. Yet I had not been able to drop the reporting function of leadership towards the owners and was in many ways still carrying the full weight of responsibility. It took August and September for me to appreciate how much lighter I started to feel, with human interaction being simplified to the person to person contact, rather than facing the projections and expectations that people would associate with me as a holder of a institutional role. With all of that gone, there was space for something new. 

 

I have discovered listening in many forms: professionally listening was a core competency when facilitating stakeholder meetings or chairing panel sessions, and when conducting interviews of best practice companies. Personally, as I reconnected to my purpose asking myself what would come next, I listened to signs of my body to guide me in deepening my intuition. I am also learning to listening to my emotional, cognitive and physical demands when it comes to freeing myself of my cognitive restrictions when it comes to eating. Behavioral scientists have unveiled to what degree modern times have disconnected many of us from a natural and healthy sense of what our physical needs are when it comes to food and how to listen to these. A multi-layer journey as I am discovering.

 

Listening to myself and to others has been complemented with my more conscious listening to what is around me in the city and in nature. A deeper listening, I am discovering, is slowing me down, grounding me and generating an instant deep connection to the core of what unites us all: the energy field that vibrates and pulsates if only we listen. 

3 x

 active listening

  • It is in that energy field that the solutions lie when I seek a transformative turning point in a multi-stakeholder meeting. Depending on the vibration and pulse, it becomes clear what the group needs to step forward in the direction they seek. 
  • It is also in that energy field that the right question, comment or exercise emerges when coaching a person in their journey. Guiding the coachee to connect to that field allows the person to find her answers herself. 
  • It is in this energy field that I am reconnecting to my deeper purpose and my passion. Be it in nature, be it simply by taking a few slow and deep breaths, be it by feeling my feet on the ground, my mind quiets down and I am operating at the speed of my body and its sensations. 

What are your experiences with listening?

 

For me, my core insight of these past two months of deep listening have let me to ponder the following question: “Why would I not live a life that follows the rhythm of my body, rather than racing through life at the speed of my thoughts always dragging my body behind?” I don’t yet have an answer and for the moment my courage is limited to sharing this question with you. 


Creating a Culture Through Stories

Blog by Kathy Miller Perkins, www.millerconsultants.com

Our personal stories are powerful. When talking about myself with others, I might recount a particularly exciting experience such as the time I served as a foreign exchange student in Thailand when I had never been away from home before and had never flown on an airplane. Or I might describe my life with my family and my three dogs, who never fail to amuse me.   As I tell these stories, I am sharing who I am – both how I see myself and how I want others to see me. Likewise, when I want to get to know someone, I usually start by asking them to tell me about themselves. I might ask about where they live, their families, their professions, their interests among other things. And I am not merely collecting facts. Instead I am listening to their stories because the tales they tell communicate their character.

So too the stories that we tell within our organizations and to the public about our companies communicate identity.  And Identity is the foundation upon which the organization’s culture rests.  In my work as an organizational psychologist, I am often asked to work with the clients to assess their organizational culture.  While I have a variety of method for carrying out this task, I find that listening to the stories they tell is among the best.   And all companies have their own stories or myths which reveal how they view themselves. And, in turn, their perceptions of themselves influence how they show up in the world.

whats-your-story

Not too long ago, I worked with a large organization in New York. To get a feel for their culture, I asked them to tell me stories about themselves when they were at their best.  They became quite animated as they spoke of how they rallied during the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. As I asked them questions about these stories they filled in details about their smooth working relationships under these extreme circumstances.  And they noted that their interactions aren’t nearly as smooth in their day-to-day work world.  We could all agree that this organization had a hero culture that worked well for them under crisis but not so well in more stable times.

Next, I asked them to tell some stories about incidents when they, as an organization, were at their worst. One of the stories I heard was about a cross-departmental project where people in one group hid information from those in another, presumably to maintain a more powerful position, or because they thought the other group would slow down their progress.  This part of the exercise wasn’t nearly so much fun as the first.  Yet the stories were colorful and revealed clearly some of the cracks in their day-to-day culture that made them vulnerable as an organization.

By analyzing how they acted at their best and at their worst they began to identify the conditions that brought out the good and the bad behaviors. They began to seek new ways of viewing themselves and their work.  They sought to switch from “we are at our best only when in crisis,” to “we can create conditions in our day-to-day world that will bring out the best in all of us.”  They were changing their story.

About this time, a new leader entered the organization. He brought the employees together in a “Town Hall” and told his own stories. He began by telling anecdotes about his  life and his work, followed by his vision for the organization. He claimed that he considered his work to be a calling – not just a job. And he challenged the employees to reconsider how they viewed their own work. He told them that “values count,” and described how his values influence his life every day. He ended by making the following commitment:

“I will give my time, energy and commitment to helping us become a world-class organization. I honestly believe that we can become a best in class standard against which other similar organizations can measure themselves.”

I cannot relay the conclusion of this story because my assignment ended shortly after the Town Hall.  However, when I left, I felt certain that this company could change.  To do so required them to tell a new story about who they are and who they want to be.  And I took away some powerful lessons: Just as we must change our own narratives when we seek to change ourselves, organizations can begin to change their cultures by creating their own new stories.


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Falling on my feet after leaving BSL

Exploring communication in times of uncertainty

It has been two months now, since I was told that my time at BSL is up and that my contribution to the school was no longer desired by the majority shareholder of the group to which the school belongs.

It has been a strange time, with good and bad moments. On one hand it, it has been painful and stressful. A journey that took me from shock that immobilized me, to agitation and concern for what might now happen with the school and the many people there I care so much about – my colleagues, the students, the faculty. On the other hand, it has also been wonderfully liberating. The glimpse at a new phase in my life for which I feel so ready. Possibly so because I had thought of leaving BSL before but have never dared to. I thought I would harm BSL too much by leaving. Now that the owner decided on a new strategic direction, discontinuing what I have invested in and developed – I am suddenly free!

How do you communicate in such a time authentically yet without creating confusion? This is my challenge right now and this is my first attempt at it. I sense that this ability to communicate in uncertain or changing times might be a useful skill for not just me. There are two areas of thoughts I would like to share: a) insights gained and b) emerging questions:

A) These are the insights where I have gained clarity in:

  • I would like to find a way to live more authentically what I “preach”. If I want to suggest changes to make the world a better place, this starts with me. For me, now, this means to slow down and to stop racing from project to project, becoming more careful and mindful in selecting and prioritizing, and connecting to a deeper sensing of how I can truly make the difference I seek.
  • I would like to review my research questions and my teaching and to adapt them based on what I have learned these past years. This includes our experience of self-organization at BSL and the challenge of finding new, better organizational and governance structures to operate in today’s world. Also, I want to revisit my (PhD) question about the connection of the inner and outer world and how transformation occurs at a personal, organizational and societal level. How do we change?
  • I would like to operate in a new structure, rather than seeking a next employment. I want to serve my purpose, to be of service, to add value with my reflections and research, to create tools and methods, courses and programs, more powerfully than before. And I will do that creatively, together with others and in a structure that suits this purpose.

B) These are emerging questions I would like to explore further:

  • What does the BSL incident mean for my work in helping organizations to transform so that longer-term “sustainability” concerns weigh more than a short-term profit focus. What is there to be learned for such change processes? How can this apparent organizational setback instruct my inquiry about the transformation of business?
  • How do I interact with those who looked at the transformation of BSL as an important sign of hope in the landscape of business education, who had chosen it as their place of study, or who had dedicated dear time and energy to support our emergence as a promising prototype for a new type of business education? What can I offer, now?
  • What are my personal lessons from this change? What has prevented me from finding a more constructive solution? What are my shadows, blind spots and shortcomings? What does this mean in my life as I have just turned 7 x 7 (or 49), and what is the deeper message for my journey?

Each of these questions will deserve a separate blog and shall serve as a further attempt to authentically share in times of uncertainty. I am attentive to the interconnection among these and I am curious what I will be learning in my exploration. I am grateful for those who accompany me in this journey. It reminds me of what Bob Quinn calls “Building the bridge as we walk on it”.

Katrin


Personal Change Challenges Leaders

I have been in the change agent business for many years. As an organizational psychologist, I have assisted companies in identifying and addressing obstacles to their organizational success. Recently my work has turned towards companies that wish to redefine and broaden their definitions of success. These companies are examining their purpose beyond profits. They have not abandoned the desire to make a profit and they are certainly still committed to delivering financial returns to their shareholders. However, they are looking for ways to succeed financially by pursuing solutions to societal challenges – the wicked problems that I discussed in my April blog. The question that I would ask the formal leaders of these companies is whether they are ready for the personal changes that this journey will require.

This quest for purpose really picked up steam after Larry Fink, the CEO of the global investment management corporation Blackrock, said the following in his annual letter to CEOs: “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” While his proclamation has been controversial, many have heeded his warning by examining their own companies’ purpose beyond profits. By and large I consider this to be very good news indeed. Our societal challenges necessitate looking for solutions from all corners of our world. However, I fear many in formal positions of leadership are unaware of how the pursuit of purpose beyond profits will affect them personally. As Katrin Muff pointed out in her May blog, only exceptional individuals are able and willing to embrace their own roles as global citizens.

Katrin and I agree that the term “leader” should not be limited to those who are in formal positions of authority. Still, successful company transformations do compel those who fill these roles to undergo personal changes. In my role as an advisor to companies undergoing change, I have observed a remarkable lack of awareness of how the desired transformations will necessitate personal changes in those at the top. My educated guess is that many are completely unaware of the need for personal change and others are unwilling to live with the inevitable discomfort that change always brings.

Change is hard. Indeed, global consultancy Bain and Company reports that only 12% of corporate transformation programs succeed in reaching or exceeding the goals. Furthermore, only 2% achieve their goals when the transformation is focused on sustainability. This low level of success can be attributed to many factors including resistant cultures, shifting priorities and lack of a vision that inspires and engages employees. However, my own experiences, both personal and professional, have led me to conclude that leaders’ resistance to personal change is a major stumbling block to successful organizational transformation. Often leaders of our client companies take the position that everyone and everything can and should change as long as they, themselves, are not affected.

Many powerful individuals come to believe in their own infallibility. They assume, sometimes unconsciously, that they rose to these levels of power because of their superiority. These assumptions concerning how they got where they are may be accurate. Nevertheless, as the game changes, so do the rules for how to play it.

When leaders commit to moving their organizations towards purpose beyond profits, they are very likely to find that to succeed, they must give up some of the power that they have enjoyed. Wicked problems require collaborative solutions. Likewise, leaders are likely to be confronted with world views different from their own cherished beliefs. And all must live with ambiguity that may be foreign to them in roles where they have had complete power to make unilateral judgments and act decisively.

These personal challenges are not easy to confront. Some leaders will be up to the tests while others won’t even try. Katrin wrote about the difficulty of overcoming defense mechanisms that blind us to the need for personal change and cushion us from its discomfort. To illustrate this point, a friend and colleague reminded me a few years ago that a person who wants to quit smoking may still be unwilling to give up cigarettes. So too, leaders who want their organizations to transform may not be willing to take on the personal challenges that will lead to success.

I have experienced this resistance myself when I have slammed into my own defenses. As I have worked collaboratively with colleagues from across the globe, I have become very aware of my own limitations when my world views and power are challenged. I work diligently to push through my discomfort as I realize that I must change personally if I am to become a global citizen. Some days I am up to the challenge and other times I dig in and refuse to budge. Nevertheless, I know that my personal journey to overcome my own defenses is worth the effort. I truly want to contribute to addressing our collective global challenges. And to do so requires me to seek awareness of ways that I must change. I must learn to live with the discomfort that I experience as a result. I take one step at a time. Sometimes I fall back a few steps but overall, I keep moving forward. Gradually I am making progress in my own change journey.


Leadership vs. Citizenship

Re-defining the word in the 21st century context

Who is a leader in the context of the challenges in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Business leaders, government leaders (speak politicians), non-government activist, social entrepreneurs, parents, or maybe all of them? And how do we define if somebody is a leader? Leaders have long been associated with organizational roles they hold; in a company, the CEO may be a leader, but not an accountant, salesman or marketer. But does this assumption still hold true in times where courageous action and responsible behavior is expected from almost anybody at any level of any type or organization, including at home?

Kathy Miller in her recent blog suggests that leadership entails “seeking solutions to wicked problems most always through collaboration with others”. She also reflected on how few true leaders there are on her horizon. Her definition suggests a much larger field of action of a leader than previously considered. When I went to business school in the early nineties, things were still clear. A leader is in charge of managing his company. Period. Ever the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, it has become clear that business is expected to deliver far beyond only satisfying internal needs, including those of employees and shareholders. Having included external stakeholders in selected consultation has become a fashion since the start of this decade. And yet, the SDGs introduced in 2015, take the stakeholder engagement perspective even a step further suggesting that business may need to operate far beyond its current set of stakeholders.

I entirely concur with Kathy’s definition of leadership. Even a traditionally defined leader, a person who holds a top position in an organization, is expected today to not only manage her business, but also to engage with players in a growing ecosystem that represents the trillion dollar business opportunities of engaging in solving burning societal and environmental issues. For this, we need to replace the outdated idea that leadership is attached or connected to a specific role or position. Everybody, in every position and role of an organization, no matter how small, needs to embrace the responsibility to seek solutions to the “wicked problems” as Kathy suggested. Is that realistic or even necessary?

At BSL where I work, we see how demanding self-organization is on individual. Self-organization demands a high degree of personal responsibility and emotional independence to allow the organization to thrive. But that is not a realistic expectation. There are many people who for various reasons do much better in an environment where they can rely on emotional support, political support, and a bit of clarification on priorities from somebody better apt at defining these. We have learned the hard way that personal responsibility is not something that can be expected or necessarily developed in a person who is not open to this. We all have effective defensive systems that prevent change and development. Often for good reasons. So what does that mean?

I suggest that the word leader needs to be reinterpreted. Rather than being reserved to those holding a specific role or position, it should be used for those exceptional individuals who have the capacity, energy and competence to build on a high degree of personal responsibility so that they can not only do their day-job but can find synergies between what they do and what can help solve wicked global problems. Such people can be found everywhere, but – and this is a realization I must admit – they cannot be expected everywhere. They are exceptional human beings and I suggest that they fully embrace their responsibility as global citizens and can hence be considered as the 21st century leaders. Such a shift really means that we have come to consider Leadership as engaged Citizenship. And for this, we certainly need to adjust the way we educate such leaders in business and management schools. Or should they be called citizen-schools in future?

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


Where are the Super Power Change Makers?

Since reading Katrin’s March blog on the Superpowers of Change Makers, I have been reflecting on leadership and what it looks like in these tense and polarizing times. I have been asking myself the following questions: Who are the heroic leaders for our times? Where are those superpowered change makers who can lift us out of the pessimism and malaise that leave us exhausted and paralyzed? I am eagerly anticipating Katrin’s book for inspiration as I am failing to find many of these superpowered leaders in my world.

Yet when I view this predicament with a different frame, I realize that perhaps I am asking the wrong questions. Instead of speculating on why more leaders don’t demonstrate these change-making skills, perhaps I should be asking myself how I can acquire these capabilities and inspire and enable others to do the same so that we can all make change. Indeed, Katrin pointed out that superpowers are not inborn traits. The “great man” theory of leadership which contends that leaders are born not made has been debunked repeatedly. With effort and courage, every one of us can become a change maker leader.

The quest to develop the superpowers is not for cowards! Most of us are proud of our strengths. Yet Katrin explains how these strengths can limit us when we take them too far. For example, I take pride in my ability to stand up for my convictions and live by my values. Yet taken to the extreme, the strength of my convictions could lead me down the path of close-mindedness and rigidity. To develop superpowers, I must entertain the potential dark side of my strengths. I must be willing and able to refine how I use my strengths to avoid overdoing it to the detriment of my effectiveness.

One of my coaching clients spoke of the “fully baked leader” recently. He seemed to be suggesting that there is an objective and limited set of skills and capabilities that one must acquire to become a leader. Yet in my opinion “fully baked” leaders do not exist. Those who believe that they have developed a complete set of leadership capabilities and have nothing left to learn, will never become superpower- charged change makers. To become effective change makers, we must commit to ongoing growth and development. We must deny that we can ever become “fully baked.”

Some of us who are not in formal positions of authority may be tempted to avoid the difficult path to developing superpowers. Perhaps we tell ourselves that change making is limited to elected officials, CEOs or others who head up organizations and institutions. I urge you to resist this line of thinking. Leadership is far more than filling a position. We cannot afford to fall into a victim mentality. Instead we must acknowledge that leadership does not require a title and refrain from using a lack of one as an excuse for doing nothing.

Leadership does demand bravery and the willingness to take risks. It necessitates our listening to and valuing diverse perspectives. Leadership entails seeking solutions to wicked problems most always through collaboration with others. It obliges us to always seek balance in how we use our strengths. It requires us to continue to seek development and growth. There will always be one more lesson to learn, one more hurdle to overcome and one more challenge to confront with grace and courage.