Quiet Leadership: Is Kindness A Friction Upon The System?

Part of Social Leadership is a willingness to look inwards: to take our assumptions and explore them from different angles and perspectives. Some of that reflective work we can do ourselves, whilst for other parts, to look into our shadow, we need the help and support of others.

The second part of the work on Quiet Leadership that i have been sharing takes the notion of ‘Kindness’ and does just that: it does so by asking if kindness is a ‘friction’ upon the system, an idea that may feel intuitively wrong at first, but is perhaps worth exploring.

It’s based upon the idea that when we are kind, we touch the system: kindness is not thought alone, but typically action too. And when we act, we generate impact, both that which we intend, and that which we are blind to. In other words, we generate friction into the system, some of which is good (like the friction that brakes your car), and some of which is bad (like the friction that wears out your brake blocks!). Friction, in a physical sense, is just one of the mechanisms by which energy is transferred within a system: some into noise, some into heat, some into motion.

So in terms of reflective practice, we should find value in exploring this: is kindness a friction within the system, and if so, how much can we hear, see, and feel, and how much abrades things which lie out of site.

It’s a reasonable assumption that most people within any social system are kind, in their own way, and yet ‘kindness’ is often not felt universally at a cultural level, which indicates that at least some of it, for at least some of us, in at least some of the time, is felt as unintended friction.

Through 2021 i am running free and open programmes around Social Leadership, for anyone in the NHS, working in NGOs, or who can commit to sharing their learning forwards into their own community. You can sign up here.

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#WorkingOutLoud on Kindness

I am working on the design of the second week of the Quiet Leadership journey, which considers ‘kindness’. I have written about kindness quite frequently before, but this is my first attempt to consider it in a deliberately developmental way: to consider the frame or lens through which we may be mindful our our impact, and deliberate in our action.

My initial thoughts are unstructured: perhaps ‘kindness’ is the friction we exert upon the system. If we are kind, we generate less friction? Perhaps ‘kindness’ is about intent, although that leaves us with the challenge that people who act unfairly may believe they are being kind. Or perhaps ‘kindness’ is a judgement rather than an intent: this is a question of who validates kindness, and how? It’s about whether kindness is the intent of action, or the result of it: could you be judged to be kind even if you had not intended to be?

So questions may be:

  1. Is kindness the friction we exert upon the system?
  2. Is kindness about intent or impact?
  3. How is kindness validated? And by whom?
  4. Can you be accidentally kind?
  5. How are you kind?
  6. Are you kind equally, or does kindness track closeness?
  7. Does kindness make connections or strengthen them?
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Quiet Leadership: The Organisation as Ecosystem

Today i am #WorkingOutLoud to share more of the emerging illustrations from the Quiet Leadership work: this one explores the ‘Organisation as Ecosystem’, a theme i have circled around from a number of directions in my broader work, but which i position at the centre of this journey.

The premise is that, beyond the formal structure, our Organisations behave like ecosystems, with each piece both drawing upon, and impacting upon, the others. Through these myriad interactions, meta-effects emerge (like ‘culture’). The ecosystem idea also allows me to bring in a central context of individual vs collective responsibility: we can each, through gentle action, care for one part of the forest, but none of us can tend for it all. Or to put it another way, all of us tend to it all: we can only sustain a healthy ecosystem if our energy and activity is aligned within a common framework of care. This allows us a view that our actions do not need to be identical, but they must be aligned.

This work forms part of the broader Quiet Leadership Journey: a free programme that i am prototyping, based around ‘conversations with strangers’, over a four week journey. You can sign up here if you are interested in making this journey in 2021.

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Quiet Leadership: A View of Humility

Humility is a judgement on our actions, not a badge that we can claim, and by that nature it is a hard thing to seek: if we ‘try’ to be humble to be more successful, we may be deemed to be aspiring to personal gain, whilst if we pay no heed to humility, it may get lost in our shadow. In the new work around Quiet Leadership, i have asked people to look at humility through three lenses: as what we see in our reflection, as what lies in our shadow, and how we are perceived in our impact.

It is natural to start with introspection: to look at what we see in the mirror, and that may be a sound approach. But when we look in a mirror, we see a facet of ourself that lies in the light. To look behind us, into our shadow, may give us a different view.

The notion of a shadow is something i first explored in the Socially Dynamic Organisation: the idea that the things that make us strong, also cast a shadow. A Social Leader will be willing to look into this space.

Finally: it is our actions that lead to an impact, and the impact may not have been our intent. Whilst our reflection is something that it is in our power to view, to hear our impact will require us to earn the right. To reach out into our community or Organisation and seek out those voices that fall beyond our earshot.

This work forms part of the broader Quiet Leadership Journey: a free programme that i am prototyping, based around ‘conversations with strangers’, over a four week journey. You can sign up here if you are interested in making this journey in 2021.

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Which Self Do You Bring To The Community?

This week i am building out the work around Communities, exploring how we join them, build them, or are excluded from them.

When we join a Community, we bring our ‘self’ into that space. But which ‘self’ do we bring?

That may sound obvious: me, myself, and I. But identity may be more fluid than we realise: indeed, it may be something we curate in each and every space, according to unwritten, and yet well understood (although possibly opaque or contrary) rules.

Not so sure? When did you last choose to dress up, or dress down, for a particular situation? When did you last sit in a group where you held back what you really thought? When did you last laugh at a joke that was not funny?

As ever, Organisations have an answer to this: sometimes they ask us to bring our ‘authentic’ self, our ‘our whole self’, or even ‘our vulnerable’ self. Often they explain why they want us to do this. And yet, we don’t: we hold something of our ‘self’ back from every situation (some people would argue that there is not ‘one’ central self: that we construct our ‘self’ contextually, in every situation).

Perhaps if ‘self’ is a difficult thing to consider, we can instead look at limiting factors: not ‘which self will you bring’, but rather ‘what would restrict you from bringing the self that you choose’? Or in other words, how are people prevented from being their one true (or chosen!) self?

Social consequence, risk, judgement, fear, the list is long. But it is the list we must understand and trade within if we wish to earn the right to meet the real ‘you’, or the real ‘me’. Or at least, the ‘you’ or ‘me’ that we would best like to bring to this particular party.

This work builds upon the work published in the Community Builder Guidebook.

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Quiet Leadership: Degrading our Ecosystem

Every day, through small actions, we both enhance, and degrade, the ecosystem that we exist within: in the work on Quiet Leadership i consider the Organisation itself as an ecosystem, a forest, filled with trees and shrubs, streams and rivers, hills and plains, and seek to understand the ways that all of these things are interrelated, and how impact in one areas creates imbalance in another. Essentially it’s a view that the whole system cannot be healthy unless all of the tiny connections are tended to, and that when we are out of balance, it is often lots of small things, rather than one major issue, which causes the toxicity.

This focus on ‘small’ actions is at the heart of Quiet Leadership: not programmatic approaches to change or culture transformation, but rather a deeply personal journey, where we seek to understand our own, personal, impact and action within this ecosystem.

Change is always anchored in the action of the individual: if you and i never change, then neither truly does the system. But why is change so hard? This work seeks to understand that in good systems, full of good people like you and me, there is still degradation and toxicity: not bad people deliberately thwarting us, but rather all of us, in small ways operating against each other, or without a systemic, holistic, view of the world.

I am offering the four week Quiet Leadership programme freely into my Community through 2021 and beyond, to anyone who works in healthcare, NGOs, or who can make a commitment to pay their insights forward into their own Community. You can sign up here.

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Quiet Leadership: Things That We Give, Things That We Take

I am #WorkingOutLoud as i develop the writing around Quiet Leadership: an exploration of gentle actions that draw strength into our systems. Today i am considering the Organisation as an Ecosystem, and that in each day we take some things out, and put others in.

This is part of the foundation piece, which goes onto to consider ‘Humility’ in our leadership: a recognition of how we each, individually, hold this balance.

I am offering the four week Quiet Leadership programme freely into my Community through 2021 and beyond, to anyone who works in healthcare, NGOs, or who can make a commitment to pay their insights forward into their own Community. You can sign up here.

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Communities Have Gates

Just #WorkingOutLoud today to share some of the new illustrations around the Community Builder work. This work builds of that which i have previously published in the Community Guidebook. In this new iteration, i consider what we build our Communities with, and what we build them upon.

A central premise is that all Communities have boundaries, and hence gateways, and part of what we need to do as Community Builders is to understand how people pass through these.

The work starts by asking people to map their Landscape of Communities: you can do this for yourself, it only takes 15 minutes or so.

Start with yourself in the centre, then radiate out and sketch your different spaces, alongside a note of how formal, or social, each one is. If you like, you can annotate it to say how you found that Community, and also consider how much crossover there is between Communities (for example: ’family’ into ‘work’ may be low, but ‘Community of Practice’ into ‘Work’ would be high.

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Quiet Leadership – Invitation to Participate in 2021

I am about to start prototyping the new Quiet Leadership programme: i hope to run two full cohorts through before Christmas, on two different timezones. This work is experimental: a guided and reflective journey into leadership beyond heroes. It explores the small and gentle ways that we each impact our system, and the ways that we can each weave strength into it through the smallest actions.

Underlying this work is the notion of the Organisation as Ecosystem, a forest, where all of our actions enhance or degrade the balance to some degree. The challenge is not to try to avoid leaving footprints, but to ensure that there is not too much erosion: it’s about mindful practice, and a fairness of action.

Central to this work is the idea that development is not simply about growth: it is about loss as well. The things that we choose to leave behind are as important as the things we carry forwards.

I have had an overwhelming response to this work so far, with hundreds of people registering for the Open programmes next year. I intend to build this as a programme that money cannot buy: it will be free for individuals or teams who make a commitment to pay forward their learning and insights. To make a difference, in the smallest of ways, in their local or global community.

You can sign up to find out about the programmes through 2021 and beyond here.

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Learning 2020 – Glossary [Pt 3]

Over the last couple of weeks i have shared the first two parts of a Glossary of central ideas around Learning Transformation. These run alongside the recent Learning Transformation Maps that i have been drawing. The Glossary covers one paragraph on each idea. This work is not a definitive picture, but represents a sketch of key ideas to understand, notions that will act as foundations for change.

Curiosity is an idea that is gaining traction, or at least is making a lot of noise, in the learning space: possibly aligned to engagement, or a magical hope that we will discover treasure troves of hidden meaning, or possibly a recognition that much of what drives learning is intrinsic to learners, rather than imposed upon them. My own interest in ‘Curiosity’ in relation to learning lies in the notion that learning itself is a process of breaking your own understanding, and remaking it from some of the fragments, alongside some new ideas. Curiosity may be the thing that drives the initial fragmentation. When asked to describe ‘curiosity’, i typically describe it as the landscape just over the horizon: it’s not entirely abstract, but it is out of our current sight. So connected to what we know (either as a kick off point, or a root), but different. From an Organisational perspective, we must recognise the dominant effect that culture has on curiosity e.g. not so much how do we unlock curiosity, so much as ‘how do we stop killing it?’. Our Organisational imperatives for consistency, conformity, replicability, and scale, can lead us to drown out the spaces for curiosity to thrive within. Curiosity is likely to be a central behaviour of a dynamic team, but it may just not be something under our remit or control.

Competence is described as an ability to do something effectively, and in Organisational terms as a codified strength to do so e.g in terms of ‘Competence Frameworks’ that we believe will be trainable and give us desired strength at scale. This may indeed be true, but probably only for a limited subset of skills and behaviours. There may be a gap between structure and execution, or between process and art. Competence is most likely something that we may be able to usefully understand through a reductionist approach (how is someone good at something), but is also something that will only form one part of a picture of performance. Key trends that we may wish to consider include: the shift to collective competence, the validation of competence (against known and desired outcomes, or for the potential to generate new and potentially useful ones), our permeability to competence (e.g. do we feel the need to ‘own’ it all), and the routes to competence (e.g. how we structure experiences to learn, rehearse, prototype etc). Understanding competence, in the context of Organisational need, is complex, and a simply codified picture is likely to fall some way short of the truth that we need.

Metrics will form a strong part of an evolved approach to Learning, and in general it’s sensible to look at this in two dimensions: micro and macro scale. At the micro scale, we need strong capability to design both qualitative and quantitative measures deep into learning design, and especially in the evolution of more social, collaborative, and continuous models of learning. The ability to triangulate between self expressed, observed, and peer reviewed measures will be important, as well as a solid understanding of the limitations of measurement e.g. you can measure anything, but what you measure may not have any value if you cannot validate or utilise it. This is probably an emergent role in Organisations: to have an ability to design measurement schemas that tie into broader work on data and analytics, and ultimately predictive ability, or holistic planning.

Skills is also an evolving field: predominantly i am interested in how/or whether, we are seeing a dispersal towards a more collective model of capability e.g. it is less about your individual skills and knowledge, but more about our connection to others, and conditions in which we can share/transfer/learn those skills. A more Dynamic view of Organisational capability would mitigate in favour of an evolved model of skills acquisition: not simply a ‘just in time’ framework, but rather either a cumulative one (understanding how certain skills are nested, or foundational) and also aggregated (how my skill enables yours – which may provide us with the analogy that leadership is more about assembling the workshop environment, than it is about controlling resources within it). When considering skills we are also on the threshold of cheap and optimised technology that will directly impact acquisition and, perhaps more importantly, maintenance of perishable skills: simulation is becoming more available as hardware, software, and design capability permeate out of specialist military, medical and manufacturing contexts into broader areas of application. With the caveat that to truly simulate skill building spaces we must move beyond linear and fixed models of development. It’s clearly an area where Organisations may potentially spend significant time and effort for little return, either if they rely overly on technology, or overly on fixed views of manifestation and development.

Community can be said to be at the heart of an Organisation that carries with it a Dynamic strength: strength held in the arms of our Community. Or Communities, in fact, as we inhabit many different ones, that range from formal, to fully social, visible to hidden. Often we seek to deploy a Community to do a thing, thinking of it as a productive entity, but a true learning Organisation will recognise that the word ‘Community’ describes the mechanism of social cohesion and potential, and if we wish for a Community to do a thing, we must learn to trade with it, using the right currencies, in the right marketplaces. For focus, Organisations should look at their approaches to technology, and the leadership skills to inhabit a range of Communities, as well as considering how they will connect between Communities, and how they will earn the right to hear the stories of learning that they build. A focus on Communities is a solid space to start considering transformation.

Meaning is what it’s all about: when push comes to shove, capability does not come from either knowledge or skills alone, but rather through the creation of meaning: the conceptual framework of understanding that we hold in our heads. This includes our belief systems that surround the formal Organisational structure, and our understanding of both our own, and others, potential and capability. Meaning is not given to us, but is rather constructed at both an individual and collective level. To transform, we create new meaning. To understand this will shape our approach to learning: the technologies, the communities, the methodology, the assessment, and the design.

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