Incongruence and forward motion

I wouldn’t mind betting that if I were to grant any of us supreme power and the ability to redesign the world in which we live, to recreate the moral, economic and social fabric of society, we would all have pretty clear views on some of our base fundamentals. We would make assertions about equality, or opportunity, or fairness or competition. We would be able to identify principles that we believe to be core to our vision of a “good society”.

I’m also pretty sure that as we delved deeper into our thinking, we’d identify naturally arising tensions when two principles came into conflict. Do we mean fair or equal? Do we mean the opportunity for success, or the chance to compete for success?

If these moral dilemmas occur in a theoretical “blank sheet” society, what are the chances that they are also likely to occur in real life, “in the game” life? These trade offs and tensions are an inevitable by product of sentient beings, they’ve formed the foundations of philosophy for thousands of years.  And they’re also the tensions that present to leaders in any walk of life.

Like him or loathe him, Nick Clegg talks about the realisation, during his time in office as Deputy Prime Minister, that compromise was seen as weakness. It was perceived to be stronger to be stuck in inaction through a dogmatic and principled approach, than to progress through discussion, diplomacy and compromise. On a much grander scale we can see the opposite argument in the achievement of the Good Friday peace talks, where diametrically opposed groups agreed on a way forward.

Our world is full of incongruence and our job as leaders is to be ok with that. We have to be able to hold conflicting positions, and be aware of the tension that this brings, in order to move forward and progress. Sometimes the smallest steps towards improvement can be the most valuable, sometimes we have to embrace the things we dislike in order to shape and improve them. Sometimes we have to be ok with…ok.

Forward action is everything, we have little enough time as it is without spending large proportions of it stuck in an endless cycle of righteous indignation and ideological tailspin. We are all eminently capable of identifying what’s wrong and pointing out the faults in others, only some are truly capable of going to them and helping to move things forward in a positive direction.

You’re being watched

As a leader, you’re always being watched. People look to you to set the pace, the tempo, the mood and the energy. They take their lead from you, how you are and how you present. There is absolutely no getting away from it.

People will copy your language, your behaviours, your routine and even how you dress. And no matter how ridiculous you might feel that is, it is all part of social norming and human behaviour. Which is why it is critically important to be thoughtful and aware of the impact that you have.

Small, seemingly inconsequential behaviours can have a significant effect when they’re replicated on mass and become part of the cultural norm. As a simple example, let’s take emailing at weekends. If you’re a leader that emails regularly and systematically at weekends, you’ll maybe find that people start to check their emails to see what you’ve said and what you want.

“Hey Jo, No big deal but can you have a look at the latest figures for me on Monday. Neil “

Becomes,

“Sam, Neil needs the figures urgently on Monday, can you get ahead of the game? Jo”

Becomes,

“Jack, I need the latest figures first thing Monday for Neil. Sam”

Imagine that happening all over the organisation and the impact that it would start to have. And of course it is limited to this one example.

As a leader you need to be intentional about your actions and behaviour, you need to recognise that you’re not only making choices for yourself, but for others too. How you show up, how you are, the light and shade that you bring to a situation will be absorbed and multiplied. Being aware of your impact on others can help you get the most out of your team and the people around you, it can also help you make sure that they get the most out of you.

It’s all about responsibility

I’m going to go out on a limb here and state my belief that the world broadly splits into two groups of people:

  • Those that always believe someone else should carry the can
  • Those that always believe they’re ultimately responsible.

In our rational minds we know that neither of these assertions is correct, some things we’re responsible for, others not so much.

In  my work and my life I’ve met a lot of the first group and they drive me to despair. As an individual that believes most of the tragedies in the world are somehow connected to a bad decision I’ve made in the past, I don’t understand them at all. I don’t understand their footloose and fancy free approach to life, I don’t respect their unwillingness to share the burden and I dislike their lack of thoughtfulness.

In every single context I would rather hire, collaborate with, work with or live with the person that shares my constant assessment of responsibility. I love people who have lists, who wake up with a million things that they feel guilty about not doing, that fret and worry about not fulfilling their very best. Those that feel the responsibility of their existence on their shoulders.

I admit I’m biased, I’m not trying to hide that or to shy away from my personal preference and style. In a world where too often, too many are quick to point the finger at others, are unwilling to accept the responsibility of office, of stature and of simple existence, I’m proud of this particular bias.

It is, absolutely, all about responsibility. Every step, every action, every thought we have on this mortal coil has an impact. So let’s not shy away from that and accept the natural state. By doing so we shift our energy into conscious action and effort and through that we can start to make positive change.

Rather than just exist in our perfect mind.

Five simple things

1) Learn in times of adversity – when things are tough you’re forced to look at life with a level of granularity and forensic inspection that can be absent in normal or easier times. Understanding the insight you gain, but not dwelling on it, is key

2) Walk forward with kindness – in the current climate it feels easier to polarise, to hate and to divide. Walking forward with kindness is a simple way we can all shed a little light n the world and bring small actions together to drive change.

3) Action is everything – in the grand scheme of things, we have so little time. Action is everything and defines who and what we are. We can talk and mull and ponder, we can write and reflect and rework. But only the doing actually matters.

4) Live in the gaps – busy lives are full of stuff, of competing demands. They’re noisy and pressured and complicated and oppressive. Live in the silence and gaps that emerge between. Indulge in the moments of nothingness.

5) Do over (and over) – there is no start, no middle, no end. Just a series of iterations and circles. Don’t be afraid to do again, to try, to repeat, to renew and revise. There is no path to take a wrong turn from, just a simple horizon to head for.

Have a good Christmas break and see you in the New Year.