Shaping the future and leadership

Part of the work of leadership is to shape the future, which is tricky given that it doesn’t really exist! As my colleague Robert Burke writes the only way we can relate to the future is by creating compelling images in the present of our preferred future. At the same time we need to understand the present “weights” and “pushes” which will condition that future.

Otto Scharmer argues that part of leadership work individually and collectively is to sense and make present the future (his word is “presencing”). My view is that for us leaders the future can often look like a brick wall or a confined tunnel – you are a football player heading towards goal but on the playing field all you can see ahead of you is a wall of opposition players. Here the leadership act is to sense a small crack in the wall and to apply maximum leverage to open it up further.

How can individuals and collectives sense these present openings into the future and bring that future into present reality?


Change and leadership

If you ever hear words such as "Change is good" or "Your leadership is welcome" my advice is to be very worried.

Change, or adaptive challenges as Harvard's Ron Heifetz coins it, is central to the work of leadership and it is often hard and risky rather than welcome and easy. Robert Kegan has argued that it is no mystery why New Year’s Eve resolutions and many leadership changes are not sustained. He believes that individuals and collectives have an "immunity" to certain changes because they are highly threatening and involve pain and loss.

To exercise leadership often involves asking ourselves and others to change, to learn something new or to take responsibility for something and this can cause a lot of anxiety. People often resist our leadership efforts because of fear and anxiety. In the face of this resistance to our leadership we often try to avoid the anxiety or we revert to "command and control" measures.

How might manager leaders overcome the immunity to change trap and be successful at leading sustainable change?


Authentic self and leadership

There is a simple trick for managers to be more effective and fulfilled in our leadership work and it is this: Be Yourself.

But the difficult part is in knowing who that is!

My experience is that it is not unusual for managers to lose touch with who we are really, or never to have figured it out really anyway. Part of our leadership work is to understand how our view of who we are has been conditioned and constructed during our life experiences. Just as important is for us to understand how that view of who we are shapes how we operate and how we relate to others and how much that view can get in our own way when we attempt to exercise leadership and bring about beneficial change. More importantly our leadership can grow in leaps and bounds if we can get beyond our typical small view of ourselves –and ironically the more egotistical amongst us often have the smallest view – and if we can tap into our own intuition and creativity, our sense of purpose and meaning, and even appreciate the very essence of our own and others’ humanity.

How could managers do that and what difference might it make?


Mindfulness and Leadership

Managers could be more effective in exercising leadership if we had a better grounding in reality. It is hard for us to know really what is going on for ourselves or our people or the world in which we are operating because we are so busy and our attention is so distracted. When we do try to be focused we can still miss the mark because our attention is so distorted by preconceptions and our own identity.

Mindfulness, or the practice of paying attention without pre-judgement, is now being promoted in a range of professional fields from medicine to psychotherapy and even negotiation and mediation. Mindfulness also can contribute so much to the quality of our leadership.

How could managers cultivate greater mindfulness and what might be the benefits?


Relational dilemma of leadership

Where should manager leaders locate ourselves in relation to the groups and organisations which we lead? Many leaders get this wrong. The most common practice is for manager leaders to join our other manager leaders and place ourselves above our people. We conform to an us-and-them pressure from both groups, it protects our authority and it is personally less vulnerable but it is not the most effective and fulfilling way to lead.

The other very popular practice is to place ourselves out in front of our followers and hope that our charisma and inspiration will somehow suck the group in a preferred direction.

Russell Crowe in the movie “Master and Commander” moved effortlessly between both positions! The flaw is in confusing authority and leadership and the cost is separation and disconnection. So where might be a better place for manager leaders to locate ourselves?

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