Are you immune to change?

ny resolutions

It’s New Year’s Eve, when many of us look back on the year that has just passed and take stock of what’s pleased us, made us proud, and what we would like the year ahead to bring us. For some, the year ending has maybe not been as we would have hoped, and the new year marks a point in time when we look to better times, and the prospect of a new start – an opportunity to start again with new hope.

For all too brief a time, we may be able to hold in our minds the realisation that the future is unknown, uncertain, and embrace it, because the very unknowability of it is also the root of possibility, hope, creativity and choice. How long is it before we slip into ‘business as usual’ and recreate our past behaviours, known, tried, and guaranteed to give us more of what we’ve had before?

If you want your resolutions to last longer than the fizz in your glass, ask yourself how
committed you are to the change you wish for. Is it a change in behaviour or circumstances that you’ve wanted and wished for in previous years? If you’ve answered ‘yes’, it’s likely to be more difficult to change because you may be undermining your intentions without realising it; you may have developed an ‘immunity’ to making this change in your life and work. What does your immunity protect you from facing? Maybe you want to lead your organisation or team in a different way – encourage more innovation and collaboration, rely less on heroic leadership types of behaviour, be more available for your team and trust them to contribute more; what would you need to change and develop in yourself to make that happen, and what is the need that is stronger than your desire for change that stops you?

If you work at exploring these questions at a deeper level, you can create the antidote to broken resolutions and failed attempts to introduce change in your work and leadership. The unconscious factors that may be constraining your attempts to do things differently are unique to you, your organisation and it’s culture. Understanding how these factors fit together is a key part of switching the tracks and making change a reality.

Wishing you a happy and successful year in which you achieve your aspirations.

Contact me maryjoyce@leadingmindsconsulting.com for an initial consultation to explore how I can help you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Leading the system with unseeing eyes

Inspiration and insight can sometimes come from seemingly unexpected places and events. For me, it was a recent TV programme that I came across by accident when flicking channels.

Picture the scene: a young couple with 3 year-old twins, so demanding of their parents’ attention, and so given to temper tantrums that the parents dared not risk taking them to the supermarket or on unnecessary trips outside the home.

The screams from the twins were so intense and went on for so long, that one day when the parents answered a knock on the front door, they found two police officers on their doorstep visiting because of complaints received from their neighbours. The parents had reached crisis point; the situation was impacting on their relationship – they were unable to make time for each other, were exhausted and emotionally drained. They couldn’t think of how they might change their situation – they just kept going; nothing changed and they had run out of ideas.

At this point in the story, a “Super Nanny” visited to lend some expert help, and I watched as she spent the next 3 days working with the family.

You may have spotted some parallels between this family situation and the organisations, teams and businesses who try to do things differently and are similarly frustrated because despite their efforts, they can see little progress – maybe this reminds you of your own organisation where you’re trying to change culture and behaviour because it’s necessary for surviving and adapting to changes in your external environment. Many leaders and managers in these situations focus on the transactional and operational aspects of change – restructuring, new job descriptions, a new corporate statement of the new values – and things continue in much the same way as before.

Returning to the family in the TV programme, the parents were shocked when the Super Nanny delivered her observations of the family’s interactions, and instead of focusing on the children, concentrated on the behaviour of the parents; if they were to alter their children’s behaviour, they would have to start with their own behaviour, and learn how to do things differently e.g. managing boundaries and being clearer in practice about their roles. They had to recognise how their own unconscious fears about their children’s safety and health, whilst well intentioned, led them to behave in ways towards their children, that produced the very behaviour they found so disturbing and frustrating!

Too often, leaders and managers engaged in organisational change have ‘unseeing eyes’ when it comes to recognising their part in perpetuating familiar ways of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ things in their organisations and teams.

Leadership is achieved through relationships, and both sides of the relationship need to adjust in complementary ways to achieve sustainable change. The journey begins by thinking at a deeper level about yourself as a leader in your organisation – because change starts with you. How are you leading? Are you working at the edge of your competence or maybe you’ve reached a plateau?

Many of my clients come to me when they’ve reached that point of frustration, and they want help seeing what they can’t see, because they are so immersed in what they are doing that is distorts their capacity to see the whole organisational system and the dynamics within it that shape everyday encounters.

If you think you could benefit from an exploratory conversation about your work and would like to find out more about how I can help you and your organisation, do contact me.

Mary Joyce

Emotions at work

I don’t often have football on my mind, but this past week has proved an exception. Consider the recent change in fortunes of two UK premier league teams – Chelsea and Wigan as they dazzled spectators and supporters alike with shows of outstanding performance on the field.  What interests me, is the story of their success. The Chelsea team have had 6 managers in the past five years.  The most recent (Andre Villas Bollas) was sacked after nine months.  Roberto di Matteo is the interim manager, was a former player and took up his position last month.  After months of uneven performance there was little hope of them holding onto one of the top four positions in the League table, let alone winning the FA Cup or going through to the Champions League.  But the change in leadership in the past few weeks has resulted in a marked change in the team’s performance, and they have won all of their last seven matches, and the future looks brighter and more successful.  So, unless you happen to be a Chelsea supporter, you may be asking ‘what’s the big deal?’

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The description of life on the field, and in dressing room at Chelsea football club is not that different from countless other organisations. Yet it’s tempting to dismiss it as either not mattering much because ‘it’s just a game’, or being irrelevant to much of what goes on as part of everyday life in more ‘ordinary’ organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Football is a multi-billion pound industry.  The stakes are high, and poor performance impacts quickly on the bottom line.  Paying closer attention to the roller-coaster performance of this team reveals with great clarity, the importance of the dynamic relationship between leadership, followership, performance, and emotions. By all public accounts of what happened at Chelsea, the previous manager wanted to make substantial changes to the team, and club, and did not appear to have the support or respect of the players, who were critical of his leadership style. The group dynamics produced a team who went on the field to play, but lacked sparkle, and could not combine their best talents to win more matches than they lost. The cocktail of emotions and underlying frustrations appeared to grow, and without resolution, it was as if the team were trying to accelerate ‘with the brake on’.  A change in leadership can be disruptive for any organisation or team, especially if it’s an annual event.  But for the Chelsea team, the dynamic has shifted in a positive way, with a dramatic impact on performance.

So what does this show us?  The new leader of the Chelsea team has made a genuine and authentic emotional connection with his team. He has not made any changes to the players or other personnel, and is working with the same line up as his predecessor. His authority is accepted, and he has been able to align the passions and energy of the team with a focus on winning and performing at a high level – indeed this team seems to have rediscovered a creativity in their combined talents that seems new, and gives them pleasure – and they want to repeat that experience. It’s a recipe worth noting for any leader, especially when trying to improve performance and lead change.  Leadership is the other side of followership.  To regard this as anything other than a creative relationship of ‘exchange’ where emotions play an important part in determining performance, runs the risk of missing out on the potential to reach for the stars.  Knowing how to navigate the choppy waters of emotional turbulence is essential for leaders who want more than mediocre performance. This starts with developing a greater appreciation and knowledge of self and the dynamics of groups – without it, the best strategy and plans are likely to remain unrealised and  on the shelf.

If you are interested in finding out more about emotions at work we’re holding a series of seminars on the subject.

‘Quiet leadership’

It was a fine sunny day in Pater Noster Square. As I walked along, I was stopped in my tracks by the beautiful Elisabeth Frink sculpture that stands majestically on a plinth, some way towards the back of the Square. The sculpture shows a shepherd walking behind his sheep, arms held out with staff in one hand, and the other held as if to gather the sheep, as he guides them forward. I was struck by the power of this image. A representation that could serve for a ‘quiet’ leadership – one that is contained, watchful, connected to the external environment with an eye on the horizon, whilst also connected, to his followers. The leader walks behind his flock, leaving the sheep room to walk ahead and find their way forward with his guidance, so that their journey is created together – a joint enterprise. Cultivating a ‘quiet leadership’ requires that leaders recognise their leadership is in a dynamic relationship with followership, and that followership is an active contribution to a purpose that is shared. We need a repertoire of leadership behaviours. Isn’t it time we cultivated more of the ‘quiet’ relational leadership’?