Prototyping ‘The Trust Workshop’

I’m running the first prototype of a new workshop around ‘The Landscape of Trust’ today: the research project is now just over two years old, and continues to grow, and i had always intended for there to be three layers to it. Firstly, the global research project, exploring ‘how trust works’, between people, into communities and teams, and through Organisations. The second layer has been to build out the analysis and understanding of it, and in 2018 i published ‘The Trust Sketchbook’ as the first output from that. But the third layer has always been to ‘do something about it’, and that’s where i am focussing now, with two elements: a workshop, and a new ‘Leading with Trust’ certification programme, which i will launch in July. Both are intended to take the work to scale, to provide practical and applied outputs from the work.

The Trust Sketchbook

Today i will focus on just three elements of trust, in the context of building Social Leadership in a mid sized global Organisations: the ‘Foundations of the Social Age’, creating ‘Conditions for Community’, and ‘The Currency of Trust’.

I start with the Social Age, as that sets the context for Social Leadership, by shifting us to a dual track understanding: first, the Organisation as a formal structure, and secondly, the Organisation as a social one. A central tenet is that we need both of these, and that we need both Social, and formal, leaders to bridge between them. Our formal position frames our authority, and our social capital cements it.

Social Leadership: Structural and Social Authority

I’m drawing upon the ‘Conditions for Community’ work because, in practical terms, it’s hard to separate the two out: the thing we ‘need’ is maybe not ‘trust’ itself, but rather the thing that trust gives us. Community. And the ‘Conditions for Community’ research project, which i have been running in parallel, is clear about a number of things, notably that we perceive community in two ways. Firstly, structurally, in terms of numbers, locations, outputs, and benefits, but secondly in terms of values and purpose. I describe these are ‘functional’ communities, or ‘coherent’ ones. Another way of looking at this is that ‘coherent’ communities create space for us to invest more than just time. We will need ‘investment’ to build a more Socially Dynamic Organisation.

Finally, we will look at currencies, and this is the most problematic part of my own work, and the piece i am least happy with. I’m clear that viewing trust in terms of ‘currency’ is both intellectually appealing, and almost certainly wrong. It feels right, but i can’t evidence it from the research. The closest we can come is to consider trust as one of a number of currencies, but each of them may operate from a different central bank. In other words, you cannot trade between them.

Seeing how this final section goes today is one of the key outputs that i am looking for. I’m also keen to build the research out into this space in a subsequent phase.

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A New Lens

You can’t always stare harder to spot an answer: sometimes, you need to switch to a new lens. And sometimes, you have to grind this new lens yourself. I use this analogy when talking about the journey to Social Leadership: it’s not something you can just read about in a book, or take a course to master, because it’s a social capital, earned through social interaction, practical effort, and humility. You cannot give someone the new lens: they have to build their own collection.

A New Lens

Because Social Leadership is not just one lens, it’s an ability to switch lenses, to understand different contexts. Perhaps the specific ability is to know when to switch, and how. Sometimes the view that we need is granular, whilst at other times, it soars above us. Sometimes it means staring towards the light, whilst at other times, into the darkness.

So this is our journey: through every page you read, each fascinating conversation, every encounter that we are humble enough to listen in, and listen well enough to learn. Every time we reach out in gratitude, and share our uncertainty or vulnerability. Each time we do the right thing, not just the easy one. In all these instances, we shape the lens a little clearer, we find our focus a little better.

Sharing a lens with others is easy: we can see the world as they do, and find comfort in conformity. But to truly effect change, sometimes we have to look differently. We need to change the lens.

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Leading with Trust: Knots

As i work towards a new programme, ‘Leading with Trust’, i fall into the predictable trap of trying to represent something intangible, subjective, and elusive. Sometimes the metaphor that one can illustrate is simple: the Social Age requires a map. And the Landscape of Stories is around a campfire. But trust is more complex perhaps? Too easy to reduce to trite euphemisms and images. Probably a trap i am about to fall into. But currently, i’m considering a knot.

Leading with Trust

Knots are, themselves, convoluted, both intentionally, and metaphorically: they represent safety, but also imprisonment. We tie things both ‘up’, and ‘down’. We ‘tie the knot’ when we are married, but get caught in knotty problems.

This image i like: that as a leader, we learn knots that hold us safe, and perhaps we learn how to untie the things that bind us.

But it’s not a uniformly positive image, and perhaps that is itself suitable for trust, because it’s forces of ‘trust’ that can hold us in toxic spaces too. Trust, whilst a unifying force, can also be a binding one. And can hold us in spaces that we would be best out of.

So for now, as i start to build out the programme, i will play with knots. But perhaps in time, we will cast ourselves loose from this metaphor, and hitch up to a new idea.

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What Can You Leave Behind?

A few years ago, i was planning for an expedition, packing and repacking my backpack, trying to squeeze in every last thing that i may need, whilst keeping the overall weight manageable. At some point in this process, I met an elderly lady who, it turned out, had visited almost every single country in the world through a lifelong career with the Red Cross, and she gave me the most useful piece of trekking advice i ever received. She told me to split my luggage into two piles. And then chose which of those two i would take with me.

What Can You Leave Behind?

Now, that advice was not perfect: both piles had essential items in, but the principle was sound. You can’t effect weight savings by picking away at the edges. Sometimes you need to reframe the context of the problem. Sometimes you need to focus not on what else you will pack, but on what you will leave behind.

This is an issue for many Organisations: careers may be built on programmes and delivery, but rarely are they built on housekeeping and removal. Similarly, our own development is often seen as ‘how much more can i shove into my head’, as opposed to considering ‘what can i safely forget?

Any conversation we have about ‘the next great thing that we are going to do’, should almost certainly have, in parallel, a conversation about ‘the next great thing that we will leave behind’.

Things become outdated: processes, systems, methodologies, knowledge, certainty, belief, conviction, dogma, hierarchies, and ideas. And we need to create space for the new by deleting the old.

We could convincingly argue that many of our Organisations already have almost everything that they need to be successful, the resources, people, and time, already within their four walls. They simply lack the space, permission, and ability, to liberate them from the clutter of yesterday.

So consider this: what can you leave behind. Then pick it up, look at it, respect it, memorialise it, put it down, and never look back.

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The Mailboat and the Myth

St Kilda is the most remote of the Western Isles of Scotland, one of the most inaccessible parts of the UK, the archipelago separated from the nearest island by almost fifty miles of famously turbulent ocean. It’s an ancient landscape, whose isolation bred a particularly hardy band of islanders, whose connection to the mainland was tenuous at best. For much of the 19th century, the only contact was the annual visit of the Factor, collecting rents for the estate which owned the island, and the occasional naval vessel, delivering charity or supplies. In the latter part of the century, the emergence of steamships provided for the start of occasional tourism, itself a new concept at scale.

The St Kilda Mailboat

Conversations, where they happened, between island and mainland, would take, at best, weeks, at worst, years. Letters handed over to captains, messages passed on second and third hand. The Post Office ducked it’s responsibility to provide a service for over a century. But this did not prevent a mail service from emerging.

The idea for the St Kilda Mailboats appears to have been born from a journalist, John Sands, whose writing about the islanders was far from kind, characterising them as primitives, but whose hospitality he was forced to endure on a protracted stay in 1876. Whilst the ocean is an unkind mistress, he reasoned, she does nonetheless provide some predictable currents: a small boat, with suitable buoyancy and sail area, will be carried by the prevailing tides and breezes, to the shore. And so emerged, as he cast something the size of a toy boat into the sea, the St Kilda Mailboat.

The Mailboats were many and varied: they included a waterproof container, a tin, or leather pouch, some kind of buoyant structure, either wood, or an inflated sheeps bladder, and the mail itself, with a few coins. The idea was that these washed up on remote beaches, which were frequently scoured by officials searching for wrecks, who would find the Mailboat, take the letter, and post it onwards. Haphazard, maybe, but surprisingly effective. You could always increase the odds by casting four or five into the surf and hoping that at least one would land.

The subject of the letters ranged from requests for medical help, through to complaints to the landlord.

The Mailboats remained as a phenomena rich through until the Islands were evacuated and abandoned in 1930, the final act of an Islander being to cast a boat into the sea, which washed up in Norway three months later.

Today, the notion of a Mailboat is anachronistic: when we communicate, we do so with a relative amount of certainty, in the location of delivery, and in the mechanism of transport, be it physical or digital. One of the first things to say to someone is ‘what is your email address’, because to ‘know’ someone is to ‘know’ how to contact them. The technology of the Social Age is connective, at scale, and both robust and resilient in it’s breadth.

But part of our self congratulation may be hollow: within formal Organisations, we rely on ‘communication’ teams, who provide a guarantee of quality and reach, but whose effects may be rather more like the ocean tides than we would care to admit. Sometimes the message washes straight through to the correct beach. And sometimes it ends up in Norway. Often, it sinks without trace.

The formal Organisation, the one that we can see and, to some extent, control, is but one facet of a multi dimensional entity. An entity that is governed by a strong ebb and flow of tides, and frequent storms. Sometimes the most rudimentary approaches may outwit the most innovative. Sometimes we are just at the whim of the currents.

The Islands understood this: message sent does not equate to message received. And to delude ourselves to the contrary is false hope. Our best bet is to learn to read the currents, be creative and diverse in our Mailboat design, and sometime to remember that we have to throw a few letters into the surf before one floats in the right direction.

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Social Leadership in Practice: The Smallest Ways

I’ve recently taken to describing how we all, in small ways, degrade the system around us: through our actions, our limited vision, or the actions that hold us safe. We do this not because we are bad people, but rather because we are good people, who can never know or touch the whole system. We each have an imperfect view, and even good actions in one space can have unintended consequences elsewhere. But we can do something about this: by becoming more broadly connected, by engaging in stories of difference and dissent, by becoming more expert at listening, with humility, than speaking with power.

Social Leadership in Practice

Each day, we can think about our actions, the smallest things, and consider this:

How can you reach down? Instead of looking up, at what we can personally achieve, or take from a system, consider how we can help others, bring others up to our level, or create both space and opportunity.

What can you give away? Not money, but things like time, expertise, access, resource, uncertainty, permission, or support.

Who can you recognise? Not for achievement, but empathy, generosity, support, kindness. Not only who, but ‘how’ can you recognise them? Again, by creating opportunity, space, or support.

Social Leadership is not about monuments, hierarchy, and structural legacy. It’s about humility, kindness, and respect. Not within the system, but alongside it.

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Running a Storytelling Experiment for Social Leadership

The Social Leader will be a Storytelling Leader: not simply shaping and sharing their own narratives, but enabling, filtering, and amplifying, the stories that others tell. Specifically, they will understand the systemic nature of the Socially Dynamic Organisation, and the way that the stories we get to hear are only part of a far more complex, distributed, and conflicted, landscape.


Over the last few months, i’ve been running various groups through a development pathway for ‘Storytelling in Social Leadership’, and trying to share my own learning, both successes, and failures, along the way. Not all of these pieces that i share will be coherent stand alone, but form part of a wider body of work around both the theory of and, more importantly, the practice of, Social Leadership.

When i started to design the developmental pieces, i have had a clear focus that they should be rooted in Experimentation: no outside expert will give you the answers you need. You have to find those answers yourself. But to do so, we can provide a scaffolding, a structured space to explore, which is an approach that personified Social Learning.

So in that spirit, i’m launching the second module in the ‘Landscape of Stories’ certification today, and it’s focussed entirely on shaping, and running, an experiment around ‘Storytelling in Social Leadership’ within your own Organisation, be it storytelling for ‘change’, for ‘innovation’, or simply as part of your developing ‘leadership’. As part of #WorkingOutLoud, i’m sharing the full six week outline approach here. It’s still pretty rough, as this is a prototype group, but i hope the idea will come across.

Unit 2: Experiments and Report

In this second unit, you will shape and run an experiment within your own Organisation. There is great fluidity in how you shape and run this experiment, and it may relate to the flavour of Storytelling that you wish to pursue [for change, innovation, compassion, coaching, etc].

Week 7: Your Storytelling Organisation

Using what you have learned about your own Organisation, consider what experiment you wish to run. This will be within the context of how we build a more Socially Dynamic Organisation, one which is interconnected through stories. We will consider:

1. How you characterise your current Organisational storytelling ecosystem
2. An area you feel you can explore further
3. Your hypothesis as to what you will find or see as you do so

In earlier work, we considered how stories flow within your Organisation, where they are owned, what power sits behind them, where the spaces are to listen, to respond, to dissent. We have defined the ecosystem of stories as it exists now.

But we can look to the future: as a Storytelling Social Leader, how can you understand this ecosystem, better, how can you help it to be better? Which area should you look into in greater detail?

Week 8: Experimental Design and Technique

This week you will consider the type of experiment you wish to run: it could be an individual activity, activity with a group that you are part of, or maybe you will form an experimental cohort for the experiment. We will consider:

1. Different types of experiments, and the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges, of each
2. The type of experiment that you will run
3. How you will run it, to test your hypothesis

Our aim is not to become expert scientists, but rather to design a simple experiment, which we can manage in our own Organisation. We may set out to simply measure something that already exists, or we may seek to influence something by moving one variable. For example, you may seek to increase engagement by changing a rule set on a social platform. Or you may seek to hear more stories by setting up a Cultural Graffiti wall.

We will consider how you nullify, or validate, your hypothesis. For example, you may say ‘if we set up a graffiti wall, no senior leaders will participate’, and if they do, your hypothesis is nullified.

Week 9: Experimenting and Sharing

This week is time to run your experiment: most of the time we are together this week will be to share progress, and challenges. We will consider:

1. What we have learned about running experiments in an Organisational context
2. Write a story of ‘how it feels to run an experiment’, documenting our hopes, fears, and expectations

As well as running the experiment this week, you will write a story of what you have learned about the process of experimentation so far: how did it feel, what have you learned already, and what would you do differently next time?

Week 10: Experimenting and Sharing

This week is the second week of your experiment: we will mainly work together, within our community, to share results from week 1, and to consider how we can start analysis next week.

1. Document our key stumbling blocks, and enablers

Week 11: Analysis and Recommendations

For the last two weeks, we have been running our experiments. This week, we will start to analyse the results, and tease our our recommendations. We will consider:

1. What our results were, and whether they proved, or disproved, your hypothesis
2. How you can best present your results
3. Your recommendation for a follow up experiment

Now that you have the results of your experiment, you can consider whether they have surprised you, or not! What did you hypothesise, and what do the results show? You will work with your cohort to tease out the meaning from the story the data tell.

You will learn to tell a story with data, to share the results. You will also consider recommendations you would make for a follow up study.

Week 12: The Storytelling Leader That I Will Become

You are in the final week of the Storytelling Certification programme: and it’s time to write the story of the Storytelling Leader that you will become. In this story, you will consider:

1. Your understanding of where you power as a Social Leader lies, and the factors that contribute to this foundation
2. Your own, reflective, understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and learning, in this space
3. A clear view of the Storytelling leader that you will become, and how you will achieve this

Our development as leaders is largely a personal narrative: the leader that i am, and the leader that i will become. At the end of this programme on storytelling, you will write and share this story.

The Landscape of Stories

Certification Report

Your final step in achieving Certification as a Storytelling Social Leader is to submit a report: this will consist of the full Logbook that you have compiled, alongside your story of the Storytelling Leader that you will become.

This report forms your formal portfolio, which you will be assessed upon.

Alongside this, you will compile, and submit, the view of your community: what is the Social assessment of how you have done. How has your community seen you change? How have your stories achieved effect?

We will provide you with some tools that you may wish to use, or you can make your own up, individually, or within your cohort.

1. We will provide you with a tool to run a 360 survey
2. We will give you a survey tool to send out to your community
3. You could submit stats or analytics from any social collaborative platforms that you have used

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