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