Future of Work – Battle Lines

We live in interesting times: there is a great deal of primary narrative about ‘the future of work’, with an increasing number of Organisations wading into one side of the battle or the other. Is home working the ‘aberration’ that Goldman Sachs believe it to be, or is a mixed and self determined model the future, as PWC have announced. Or does the truth lie somewhere else?

Future of Work

In parallel to these rather public spats and plays for engagement, we could ask if government is working to protect a legacy model of social distribution and infrastructure, or actively legislating to allow a new one to emerge? With everything from planning and zoning rules to tax breaks and subsidisation of public transport, the dynamic interplay between infrastructure and social desire has never been hotter than today.

It’s hard to disentangle the debate about ‘the future of work’ from a conversation about ‘the infrastructure of work’: we already are seeing shifts in the patterns of house buying, as well as rocketing sales of skylights and ring lights as people adapt their space to fit their purpose (as well as the trend of Organisations shedding real estate, leases, and associated service contracts and suppliers).

The argument posted by all sides in this debate relate to a range of common features: the ‘Location’ of work, the ‘Mechanisms’ of work, and the ‘Control’ of work, alongside a topic that has been on the lips of Execs for some time, the ‘Purpose’ of work.

Location relates to where work is done. Mechanisms of work relate to how that work is done, with a particular focus on collaboration and culture, and the Control of work relates to how people are treated, managed, recognised and rewarded. The Purpose of work is rather more existential, and sometimes self delusional, and relates to why we do the work, and who the work serves.

The conversation about Location typically starts with ‘Space’, but you cannot have a conversation about ‘Space’ without also (or accidentally) veering into a conversation about Power. The fragmentation of space inherently leads to a democratisation of power, which forms a challenge to the hierarchy that represents the legacy model. We see all sorts of weird and futile attempts to control this dynamic: in the last two weeks i have experienced the following – comments disabled in public ‘town halls’ with leaders, a ban on sharing images in collective chat, and attempts by ‘comms’ teams to limit direct interaction with leaders, as well as controls on what those leaders share in public social spaces.

Where people work clearly carries two main challenges: our responsibility to ensure everyone has equitable access to a healthy space to work in, and our willingness to accept that people do good work even when we cannot see them.

The research is reasonably clear that the former condition is not consistently met: people do work from ‘home offices’ and standing desks, but i have also met people who have worked from their bedroom, corridors, and in two cases, their bathroom or toilets, for a year. And both health and wellbeing outcomes correlate to the conditions that we work in.

Increasing numbers of Organisations are recognising that the loss of the office may save them money, but that they will need to invest some of that saving into subsidies or benefits for home workers, beyond the simple subsidy of a new headset. Providing funds to use shared workspaces or work from a cafe for hours or days a week may be a minimum.

Some entities, like Nationwide bank in the UK, are also distributing their workforces into hither-too ‘branch’ networks, so a permanent shift to give people access to more local office space, alongside their frontline colleagues, which sounds to me like a triple benefit of reducing the environmental impacts and costs of the commute, creating new spaces for collaboration, and breaking down legacy cultural divides between ‘branch’ and ‘head office’.

#FutureWork [Pt 4] - Office into Ecosystem

If we know anything about the relocation of work, it is that we are unlikely to find the answer in one hit: but at the very time that we should be rapidly prototyping new ideas, we are collapsing into polarised argument about the ‘best’ approach.

I suspect that the winners here will be the ones who make rapid adjustments to manage expectation and costs (so they engage with their employees, and also shed assets fast), but that then work together over 3-5 years to prototype different models, including the repurposing of the remaining space, as well as addressing questions of fairness in distributed models, and between roles that cannot be distributed. They can then spend the following ten years learning how to truly generate the benefits of the synergy as it beds in.

The losers will likely be the ones that reject any change, or who try to codify a new normal as a fait accompli with no iteration or a humility to listen.

The Mechanisms of work are potentially the area of greatest interest, once you see beyond the initial noise: this is less about ‘where’ we work, but more about what we stand to lose, and gain, by being ‘together apart’. It is a conversation about collaboration, co-creation, and culture, and relates to the ‘power’ aspect of remote as well.

The Landscape of Communities

A naive initial reading is that ‘together is best’, and that we must simply find ways to be ‘together’ in person to retain our networks, trust, and ability to innovate.

The only thing we can say for sure is that ‘together’ is different than ‘apart’, but the link to creativity and collaboration is less clear. And even those pieces of it that are clear may become cloudy as the impacts of new normalised practices, and emergent and advancing technologies, continue to bite.

In my own work on the coherence and effectiveness of Communities, i describe two types of activity: ‘Pointless’ and ‘Purposeful’. Organisations typically are thinking of the purposeful aspect when they consider collaboration, but i suspect that 90% of what we do when together is pointless. Not without point, but rather not directly focussed on productivity. Instead, this is the time when we weave the social fabric, capital, and connection, that allows us to be purposeful in bursts.

I wrote about this recently, to say that the pointless activity weaves the fabric, which we can raise into a sail to make a purposeful journey. If we neglect the weaving of the fabric, the sail will tear.

So in our models of operation, when we consider the Mechanisms of work, we will need to consider this in several layers.

One layer is simple utility: how do we connect, how do we share, how do we collaborate. The second layer is about ‘how’ we are together: where do we build social capital, where do we share experience, where do we forge connection and trust, and most importantly where and how do we interconnect beyond simple structure.

The Utility of remote is a challenge in itself: often we are trapped in collaborative models that are a legacy of the office: hour long meetings, sending documents to each other intact, and working nine to five. There are significant productivity gains to be found in more creative models of utilitarian collaboration: effective use of shared documents, wiki approaches, and dynamic, synchronous collaboration, including use of non verbal modes, such as whiteboards, or dynamic audio collaboration (e.g. walkie talkie models to share snippets of meaning in service of a co-created story). Also, models of time management that trade small blocks and fragments of time and effort more so than hour long meetings. Self selection of blocks of time in other people’s diaries can tend to lead to shorter overall meetings (e.g. you can book my time in five minute blocks, and choose how much you need).

The ‘How’ was already a dominant question in my own work before the pandemic, but now feels central to the question of leadership. What is our role as the Organisation, as leaders, and as members?

This is a large topic, but the governing themes are likely to relate to the use of learning and rehearsal spaces, the levels of consequence experienced, the freedom to experiment, and the space to explore.

Clearer signposting of where we have to ‘perform’, and where we can purely learn, or carry learning into rehearsal, will be key. Often ‘rehearsal’ time is limited, and in the exhausted teams of the year long ‘remote’ organisations, is frequently absent altogether. Consequence relates to this: if you cannot clearly vary consequence between these spaces, then you are unlikely to see change: in my own research the most common words associated with change, even in Organisations that state they want change, are ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’, implying that there is a high cost of change, and being the one to stand up first.

In both the research into Trust, as well as into how we ‘Believe’ in our leaders, our freedom to explore, and permission to experiment, came out as highly valued. So one reading of the ‘how’ we collaborate is that we need space and freedom, and that our Organisational responsibility is to create these conditions.

But how?

Part of it is mindset: what if the future of work is more about providing space, resource, and freedom, more so than the direct control and regulation of labour?

This feels to me like a key developmental area for the Organisation that is shifting to more sustainable remote working: to develop leadership, managerial, and working patterns that are focussed more around ‘Opportunity’ than direct control.

FutureWork - Qualification into Capability

There is a parallel conversation relevant to the questions around the Mechanisms of work, which relates to the scale of Organisations. If the ‘remainers’ win, and the Office dominates the future of work, then monumental scale is likely the outcome. But if we are more distributed, we may see a more permeable and even tribal model, which will itself bring challenge and opportunity.

Possibly this results in an Organisation with more ideas, which is a foundation for greater Innovation, but which will have to work on it’s ability to hear those ideas, and crucially to retain an ability to move into production and scale, whilst not falling into the trap of becoming monumental again.

In my work on the Socially Dynamic Organisation i try to address this from an Organisational Design perspective: as we move ‘beyond domains’, we will need to address core leadership and collaboration skills, predominantly around the facilitation of community, and the freeing up of stories and storytelling, across the levels, at scale.

Control forms a backdrop to conversations about distribution and home working: can you truly control people if you cannot see them?

One answer would be that if you have to try to control people, you have already lost. Engagement, the type of engagement we will likely need in any future facing Organisation, will be earned, not demanded.

For sure, we need levels of control, but most of our safety will lie in cultural strength, not legislative or oversight models.

The aspect to focus on may be the extent to which power, especially Exec power, is held in empire, and how much of that empire relates to head count and real estate. The fragmentation fo physical space, alongside potentially the erosion of the Domains, may mean new forms of power that come with oversight of smaller teams, but power found through the facilitation of collaboration. A reputation economy: still powerful, but differently powerful.

Purpose is on the lips of many of the most senior leaders i speak to, but often with a level of wilful blindness around the true context of work.

For publicly traded, shareholder led, Organisations, a purpose is to make money, and not to ‘do bad’ along the way. The aspiration to ‘do more good’, which is variously expressed as social responsibility, or sustainability, is to be larded and rewarded, but is nonetheless hollow unless it also addresses shareholder value, and an honest appraisal about commerciality and markets.

Possibly ‘Purpose’ can sit alongside this, but cannot subsume it.

I believe it is naive in the extreme to talk about sustainability unless we are directly addressing it at both the level of the individual employee, and also the local societies and communities in which the footprints of global Organisations are trodden.

Vague but well intentioned statements about social mission and fairness are delusional unless backed by action today.

It is possible that the Organisations of the future, the future of work, lies with less direct central profit, but with greater sustainability of profit over time, held in entities of work that are smaller and more permeable, easily restructured, liquid or agile, and adaptive at speed. Grounded within, and accountable to, their local communities, and yet able to be a global force at scale, because they have earned that right.

This story is not one that will be written by a photogenic CEO alone, but rather will be held in the individual action, and Agency, of many thousands.

In this piece i have tried to line up four dimensions of the battle lines being drawn: prompted and accelerated by COVID-19, this battle will play beyond the vaccination programmes and legal constraints of the pandemic.

The question of the LOCATION of work is one of power, and memory. Organisations that can live with ambiguity, and engage heavily, will win this one.

The question of the MECHANISMS of work is one of legacy, and opportunity, with a strong need for discovery and experimentation. The agile will win this one.

The question of CONTROL of work is one of hierarchy, pride, and power. The adaptable will win this one, if they are willing to earn the culture they need.

The question of PURPOSE of work is one of aspiration and delusion: possibly the pragmatic, open, and fair, will win this one.

The battle for the Future of Work is just beginning, and the only certainty i carry is that where we end up will be both radically different from today, and almost certainly unknown today. The best gift we can give ourselves right now is to remain uncertain, and open to change.

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Performance – Culture – Agency

I’ve been exploring aspects of culture this week, and the following work is a reflection on the relationship between ‘Culture’ and ‘Performance’. In it, i am presenting a hypothesis more so than a comprehensive exploration, and the hypothesis relates to organisational change. It holds that Culture and Performance exist in a tension, a dynamic dance, but that within that tension we can create Individual Agency.

Much of the language i used in that sentence draws upon the language of the Dynamic Change work i’ve shared previously, and the Socially Dynamic Organisation work, also shared and published last year as the Guidebook.

Culture can be viewed as an artefact of dialogue and action: whilst we talk about it as if it were a real thing, most likely it is not, but is rather a shadow of the performances we make to each other through everyday. Historic performances frame and contextualise the performance today, but in no real sense do they determine or constrain it, beyond that determination or constraint that we hold in our expectation and experience of consequence.

Or to put it another way: nothing tangibly prevents culture from being radically different today, except the dominant legacy of the culture we had every previous day, which both frames and contextualises our most likely action today.

The legacy of culture is held within Organisational Myths: the stories that we tell each other, the bogeymen in the Institutional closet, the ‘he said – she said – they said’ stories that tend to persist, as well as the rituals that surround them. All social behaviour is controlled and framed by rituals, which become so pervasive that we fail to always see them i action around us.

So culture is a rather weird thing that is not truly real, and yet exerts a very real effect on behaviour, not through direct action, but rather our sense of action. Essentially we inhibit or enable ourselves largely around notions of belief and judgement of others. Which is another language for ‘culture’.

When it comes to measuring culture, there are varied approaches, which range from observation, to quantifying interaction, to gathering narrative reports of what we believe at the individual or collective level.

Performance, by contrast, tends to be rather more real, in that it describes action more so than thought alone (although i guess a Performance coach would say that performance starts by overcoming the self limiting effects of thought…). And Organisations tend to be reasonably good at measuring what they at least believe that Performance is about: outputs, quality, consistency, scale etc.

Performance also tends to correlate to power: if you perform, you gain. Same with systems as a whole: functions that perform come to dominate over support ones etc.

So in this strange sense, both Culture and Performance are real, but very different: one more easily observed and measured, both relating to power, both relating to control, both exerting real influence on the other.

Strong cultures (or the belief of culture – see, i am even driving myself mad now) can enable performance because they enable/permit/condone/reward certain behaviours that relate to performance. Similarly they can constrain performance (or e.g. Innovation or Change) for exactly the same reasons, through exactly the same effects, but reversed.

Similarly, Performance can build culture, but may also limit it: if you consistently miss performance targets, it is unlikely that you can maintain a belief of being a high performing culture (although perversely, as culture is not really really real, you may construct a culture that takes pride in the trying…).

To untangle myself from that mess, suffice to say the following: Culture relates to Performance, and Performance relates to Culture, in ways that exert influence, but do not determine outcome.

So back to the middle.

To change, at scale, beyond formal systems alone (beyond what you can make happen, or buy in from the outside), we need Individual Agency: space to get your elbows out, space to explore, experiment, and learn.

With Individual Agency we can take action, and find space to belong: and with belonging we may build belief in ourselves and others. So in that sense, maybe ‘Agency’ can substitute for both Culture and Belonging. Or maybe it IS Culture and Belonging.

When i look at it this way, it indicates to me that ‘Performance’ is the weakest of the cousins, because although it is the most tangible, it is also the least belief based. Possibly Performance sits in the space that we already inhabit, and Culture sits in the space of our potential?

In any event, any conversation about Culture requires nuance: both these terms are used as totems, and hence can lack meaning.

Possibly both can only be earned, more so than demanded. Possibly one sits more directly under your Organisational control, but sadly it is the least useful of the two.

I could loop all of this around to the language of the Socially Dynamic Organisation: it will be an entity not of Domain and Power, but rather of Story and Belief. If we write a story that others can believe in, perhaps we can create the space for Culture to form, and Performance to emerge?

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#WorkingOutLoud Illustrating Humility

I have been prevaricating around the illustrations for ‘The Humble Leader’ book, which is delaying the project. I am trying to do eleven lino prints for it, but they are time consuming, and i am not that good at it, so have ended up doing nothing, as opposed to something.

My first effort went awry, but now working on a second, which is really just meant to get me into action. I have a clear view in my head of how i want this book to look: a pocket sized beautiful hardback that will be gifted. But that desire does not make my printing any better!

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Our Comfort With Discomfort

Learning takes place in broad arcs and in my own work i describe it as starting with disturbance: either a disturbance that we find within ourselves, or one that is imposed from the outside.

Our Comfort With Discomfort

As example of the first instance: i had a conversation last week that sparked curiosity, which led me to a community, who guided me towards a book, which i am now starting to read. The conversation introduced disturbance into my current understanding, and then various tools (search and social) helped me find community, insight, resource, and space to learn.

An example of the second, where ‘disturbance’ is imposed from the outside, would be when i had to learn how to use a new password management tool: the need was imposed by a systems administrator, and i had no choice in the matter.

Both forms of provocation led to learning, but the route by which i came into it varied.

My examples could have been different, as the distinction is not between learning ‘skills’ or ‘knowledge’. I could operate in a community which has beliefs, and my desire to ‘belong’ may lead me to learn new ideas. The disturbance, in that case, would be social and implicit: if i wish to belong, i must be credentialed with both knowledge, and the vocabulary that surrounds it. In a conversation with a learning scientist this week i found myself in that space: to be credible in the conversation i had to switch my vocabulary into a more formal and academic tone, which was not necessary strictly to communicate my story, but was necessary to demonstrate membership of a clique. So the disturbance in this instance was my desire to be accepted.

It’s worth considering how much of the disturbance we rely on in Organisational learning is imposed, versus discovered from within. Often i think we bus people up to the front gate, imposing the need to ‘attend’, even if we intend to use more social models of design, or exploratory approaches to design.

Whilst both models of approaching learning are valid and widespread, there is one factor that is unique to learning as a process of willing discovery, as opposed to imposed retention or need. And that is our comfort with discomfort.

Learning could be viewed as happening through two stages (this is an abstraction, but i hope a useful one): first is exploration of something new within our existing frame of understanding (our settled ‘meaning’), and secondly comes the fracturing or willing disassembly of that existing meaning.

As i said, this view of learning is somewhat of an abstraction, because it treats our certainty and held knowledge as the castle, and the new knowledge as the assault upon it, but in that sense this abstraction allows us to usefully explore how we come to learning, and how we respond to the discomfort.

It’s easy to say ‘i am open to new ideas’, but the reality is that i am not. Or i am not always. I may be open to them if they challenge me slightly, and appeal to my innate sense of what is true, but i may reject them altogether if they invalidate my certainty or power in some way, or if they threaten my underlying coherent schemas of meaning: essentially if they leave me disconcerted or uncertain in some way. And this may be a conscious or subconscious transaction.

The impact of this is reasonably clear: whilst imposing disturbance is easy, imposing learning is not. And whilst the process of fracture and reframing may be common in both routes, we may need to pay attention to the sequencing, safety, and choreography of this within exploratory and discretionary approaches.

Another way of saying this would be to say that you can push so far, but not the whole way.

Understanding our comfort with discomfort is neither simply a logical, nor a purely emotional and conscious, challenge. It is possible that the learning will be inherently uncomfortable, and that this discomfort is unavoidable. But the fracture of the existing frame does not need to be violent or imposed.

This is the nature of the challenge: to craft learning spaces and experiences that are both uncomfortable, but also engaging, that are transformative as well as feeling safe (enough). But not necessarily entirely safe for our existing ideas and certainty.

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Cultural Strength

The strength of a culture is woven into a fabric over time, through many small actions. Alone, each thread is weak, but together the tensile strength is high: from strong canvas we may stitch a sail to carry us forwards.

Sometimes we can be so focussed on the benefits this fabric will give us that we forget to tend to the warp and weft.

Individually, as leader, or led, as newcomer or old, we each pull threads: through encounters and interaction we weave and knot them. Through trust and kindness we tease the yarn: through conflict and inequity we strain or tug, fraying the fabric.

Through these myriad moments the cloth is made, but only when the storm hits is the canvas tested.

Strength, when held in culture, is strength in depth, at scale. And similarly weakness, when held in culture, exhibits rifts and tears.

For me, Quiet Leadership considers the importance of humility, kindness, fairness, and grace, in finding that strength, but these are not universal threads. The challenge for each Organisations, and leader within it, is to consider which thread they pull, and how that canvas is woven. And to ask whether they are paying attention to the thread in front of them, or dreaming of the sail that others will weave.

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Quiet Leadership: Breath

Quiet Leadership explores leadership through the smallest of actions: in that sense, it is neither glamorous, nor programmatic.

Rather it is about the connections between the self and the system, between the smallest and largest, between the leaf and the forest, at scale.

Leaves breathe: not the same way that we do, but nonetheless they breathe in and out, through the rhythms of day and night, and the processes of photosynthesis.

If the forest is green, it is only so because of every single leaf.

If the air is clear, it is only so from every simple breath.

Quiet Leadership explores the smallest of actions, within the largest of systems, but the system at scale cannot thrive without this breath.

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#FutureWork [Pt 5]: Fragments of the Future

An occasional series of essays exploring potential futures and contexts of work.

The trouble with predicting the future is that we do so from within the glare of today: it’s easy to focus on the brightest lights, the promise of automation, the prevalence of AI and Machine Learning, the glimpses of social responsibility and ethical business, discussions of a ‘new normal’, a carbon neutral future, a gender equal workplace with organisations that are both diverse and inclusive, lifelong education within more fluid career models, mindful leadership, and so on and so forth. Everything we read in the papers or the hysteria of social media. The things that promise to save us, and the things we are told to fear.

These things are all real, and indeed may well be part of our future, but many of them are normalised concepts and extensions of existing frameworks of power, authority, finance, and control: for example, automation within existing supply chains, AI powered decision making within existing organisations, diversity and inclusion within existing teams, and servant leadership within existing hierarchies.

This view of the future is comforting, or alarming, in equal measure, but what if the future is fragmented, or what if the future fragments our conceptions of today?

Here are some examples of that future: dystopian, utopian, or possibly hanging in the balance.

Currencies: a future of work that moves beyond nationally held financial currencies, into global networks of social currencies (quantified reputation, trust, gratitude, pride etc) and democratised blockchain currencies, beyond the influence of central regulation, or Organisational control. Possibly currencies of opportunity that trade invested energy (insight, challenge, problem solving) against future value, or that trade engagement against future opportunity, beyond closed networks or even Organisational boundaries.

Organisations: a future where Organisations (in the post industrial and scientifically managed sense that we understand them today) either regress to more Guild like structures of expertise, or more ‘Performance’ types structures of experience provision, or more ‘enabling’ type structures of health, finance, or education that rely less on the assets or infrastructure that they own, so much as the radical connectivity of the services that they offer. Organisations that enable outcomes more so than selling products or services.

Society: what about the potential to move beyond a division of ‘Rural’ and ‘Urban’ (beyond the radical urbanisation of the last 50 years) into a third class of ‘Collaboration’: potentially spaces that are neither individually owned, nor formally controlled, but can rather be purposed and repurposed by social groups according to need. The ultimate disaggregation of infrastructure and effectiveness, and moving beyond ‘office’ and ‘home’, into more fluid structures of residency, innovation, productivity, and effect.

Ownership: more fluid models of ownership and sharing, that essentially break down barriers of permanence and price. Cars are already moving in this direction, but what about clothes, houses, even furniture. More circular models of manufacturing and recycling, but also of ownership and access. Hence potentially a breakdown of more embedded social structures of wealth and class, or maybe just their redefinition?

Community: probably more radically connected and ultimately politically powerful communities that exist beyond the geographically local, or formally mandated. Impacting back into formal national and political systems, possibly alongside the notion of multiple citizenship and digital citizenship, even potentially moving to more fluid models of global citizenship and ultimately taxation or subscription models alongside that which deliver security and representation beyond nations.

Accountability: instead of models of corporate responsibility and accountability held between PR drives and the legal redress of the Courts, perhaps models that are held in accountability through either external validation (arbiters of responsibility) or even social currencies of accountability and trade (‘good neighbour tokens or blockchains’).

Social Goods: perhaps a redefinition of the ownership of social goods or natural IP, that moves wealth into more distributed, and possibly community based structures. So less plundering by multi-nationals so much as global networks of recognised value, and multi generational visibility of commonly held social goods, such as DNA or sequestered carbon.

Celebrity: maybe an evolution the current space, where ‘celebrity’ is becoming a billion dollar career path, into more extreme examples: celebrities as countries, citizenship of celebrity, celebrity education, celebrity currency, all of which are to some extent emergent or visible today. Couple this with artificial celebrities, alongside auto generated movies, on demand artwork, and culture by computer, and you fragment perceptions of value, identity, beauty, and so on.
These are fragments of ideas, but the point is that change, when it happens, can happen faster than we realise.

Every week interact with Organisations that describe their long term vision as simple, or even naive, shadows of today. Too often they seek to hold onto too much of a legacy, at a time when we will likely see the reward of agility and fluidity more so than mass and longevity.

The potential is there for Organisations to adapt, but if they rely on recycled visions of simplistic futures that are described through the lenses that we hold onto today, we may remain comfortable, whilst the landscape burns around us.

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Quiet Leadership Research: Grace

The final section of Quiet Leadership explores the notion of ‘Grace’, described as a fluidity of leadership, an agility of style and response.

It’s about constant course correction, to find an individual expression of leadership in the smallest of actions: in this, the fourth of a series, i am sharing the initial narrative from the global research project. This is very early stage work, shared as part of #WorkingOutLoud.

  • Nobody thought that Leadership was entirely effortless: most believed that at least some course correction was involved.
  • Almost all respondents believed that Leadership could be described as an evolutionary process: one that never stops.
  • Most people felt unable to evaluate whether they have a natural rhythm in their Leadership: whilst they found it hard to evaluate it in themselves, they wrote a lot of words about it, which may represent a questing for an answer through narrative.
  • Most people believe that their Leadership practice is more reflective than reactive: they did not believe they were buffeted too badly by the storms.
  • In general, people found it quite hard to articulate their own leadership.
  • People expressed that they were unable to act in harmony with their Organisation when they lacked the knowledge of intent, or when there was a misalignment of core values. This is unsurprising.
  • There was a strong agreement that feedback is necessary to ascertain our impact as a Leader.
  • People strongly agreed that reflection is important for course correction.
  • Trust was identified as a disrupter: the lack of it prevents us from acting in harmony with the Organisation. It was described as the ‘oil’.
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Quiet Leadership Research: Fairness

This is the third of four articles sharing an early interpretation of the Quiet Leadership research from the first two cohorts.

    This piece considers ‘Fairness’: these results are still very small scale, so not shared as a final version, but to help me find the core narratives and ideas as part of #WorkingOutLoud.

  • We seem to feel a strong, but not universal, responsibility to be fair: we tend to leave ourselves some wriggle room.
  • People are quite strongly ambiguous when responding as to whether it is sometimes ok to be unfair.
  • There is variability (as with Kindness) as to whether Fairness is held within our intent, or our impact, although we tend to believe that the judgement of others is held in the impact.
  • When asked to whom we owe fairness, the most common answer (and contrary to apparent action) is ‘everyone’, closely followed by ‘ourselves’. This tension between stating that Fairness should be owed equally to everyone, and yet recognising (in Kindness for example) that we spend it unevenly, is interesting, and a core theme in Quiet Leadership.
  • There is a strongly held view that it is important to be fair to the people whom we manage. This probably speaks volumes to the challenges of change, which typically exists as an act of violence and loss to these very tribes.
  • Highly analytical language tends to be used to describe what fairness is: a lot of conversations about the distribution of resources (attention, resources, knowledge, power etc). Strong sense of equity related to fairness.
  • We live in a world that is not rational: fairness seems to support us through those dips and valleys.
  • The third most popular thing stated to whom we ‘owe’ fairness is ‘the earth’, which may be an interesting contemporary Dominant narrative.
  • We believe that Fairness is really important, but we also seem to retain some wriggle room for our personal operation. So in that sense, universal fairness can be judged an abstract aspiration, whilst perhaps the more pragmatic aspects of life colour our actual actions.
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Quiet Leadership Research: Kindness

This is the second in a series of 4 pieces sharing a very early interpretation of the global data from the Quiet Leadership Research: the sample sizes are still very small but i have two more cohorts running right now, and anticipate this growing fast.

So the stories shared here are preliminary, but are helping me to find the narrative, and also to evolve some of the questions, which were poorly designed in the first iteration.

  • People report variability in how they legislate their Kindness: they believe that they are kinder to people that they know, or need the most.
  • This reinforces a view that Kindness plays a core role in bonding our social structures.
  • There is strong agreement that Kindness matters, as well as an agreement that it is more important to be kind than to take action at any cost.
  • There is a rather even distribution as to whether Kindness is held primarily within intent, or in our impact, but there is a stronger consistency of opinion that Kindness is a judgement awarded mainly by others.
  • This may indicate our unwillingness to accept that Kindness can be held in intent alone: the only thing that is actually under our direct scrutiny and control.
  • Potentially we could interpret it that we don’t have confidence in ourselves as the primary or solitary judge of Kindness.
  • People were more comfortable describing Kindness than they were Humility: they used more formal language, more analytical language, with a higher fluency in the description, all of which speaks to a greater confidence in our understanding.
  • By contrast, people were less confident to describe how Kindness was experienced: possibly we are worried about others judging us as unkind, and doubt our ability to be the referee.
  • People also indicated low confidence to evaluate other people’s Kindness, which may speak to the fragile ways that we opinions and insult without intending to certain outcomes.
  • When describing Kindness we have highly emotional and positive tone: when we move to how we have experienced it we switch to analytical, almost devoid of emotion, very clinical.
  • People describe Kindness as the mortar or glue: language around building trust, safety etc. Lots of words used around building, growing, and creating.
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