Throwing your power into the laps of others and running away is equivalent to throwing a grenade.
Leadership and power — there aren’t two more loaded words in the language, and especially in the vernacular of organisations explicitly trying to be different. Over the last 20 or 30 years, the dogma of business and growth has focused on the shift from management to leadership.
What’s the next wave of business psychology/methodology that promises the (slightly sickening cliche) ‘next paradigm’?
An allergy to the sensate nature of the idea of power can paralyze. I’ve been in rooms of evolved, self-aware men who have become so fearful of the power of their voices that they sit and say nothing — turning the atmosphere into some sort of passive-aggressive vortex. What happens next? What happens in an organisation where we suppress our need to speak, to act, and to steward from this place of inverse fear? Is this the only way we know to give space to the heretofore un-powerful and those not given the opportunity to express their leader-ly qualities?
Is this some sort of Tyranny of Structurelessness for the twenty-teens?
Or is it a midwifing process of letting go and letting come. Is it only redolent and recognized in those who have done the work and notice what happens when the space is made — or is it this weird passive-aggressive movement of the head and eyes and slight wave of the hand as invocation to others to step into the space?
Come hither into the space of leaders; I trust you, but not enough to help you — I want you to join me, but not enough to stand by your side.
I’ve read the book — I know I need to step aside and allow the voice of the people to enter the space and have not only a voice, but to enact the will of the organisation (because the organisation has its own will).
No one has told us how to do it — but I am a leader, I meditate and listen to podcasts. I know I need to let go, because this is unsustainable and I don’t have all the answers (but wait, I kind of do — this is why I’m trying this!)
There is a patent difference between letting go and making space, and actively participating in the space.
Just because you are making room doesn’t mean you are stepping out. You only need to be ready to learn and grow within a new environment — a new space that includes everyone who is interested in participating; if you step into this fertile land you will change. The land itself will change with the presence of all that inhabit there, and one day you will be able to take very long holidays. But not quite yet…
We’ve all experienced the many forms of leadership and power. It’s too simple and too passive to imagine that it’s just the way of the world — because authority is what we’ve known from the beginning. Of course when we are children it’s important — those older than us patently DO know more, are more experienced, and protect us from that which can harm. Authority and power are different. One protects, the other controls. Authority in business is sometimes a necessity — delegated authority as a signatory on contracts, or at the bank. Neither is it wrong or inappropriate to delegate authority for decisions, or for actions. But that doesn’t make that person a leader, nor does (should) it make them more powerful. On the contrary, it does make them in service of or to.
When leaders decide or realize that they are in service, everything changes.
But this is not a decision that is made on behalf of. For your board to say ‘OK John, starting Monday, we ask you to be at work not as a leader but as a servant’ is as strange as for you to turn up on Monday morning as a ‘servant’ and tell the people they now have all the power and need to be equal leaders. By ‘telling’ you are still exerting the power and control. It’s still parent-child. It’s only in adult-to-adult conversation that the power shifts and becomes distributed.
Sometimes when leaders ‘discover’ that it is possible, that there are case studies and years of practice in organisation who are self-managing, the feeling of relief, of a burden being lifted and ‘seeing the light’ that the impulse is to stop everything in service to the transition. Sometimes it can be a quick process, but sometimes it’s incremental. And sometimes it’s painful, and destructive. But for those who feel it in their being, in their body, it’s the only thing that can happen, for when the emancipation of potential emerges, everything shifts.
How I joined one of the world’s leading participatory business networks
Only a year ago, I thought Enspiral was simply a group of freelancers and startups working out of a funky space in Wellington. I was about a year into my journey as a freelancer focused on bringing the ideas of agile and responsive and teal to organisations, and feeling both lonely and isolated from the smart people who were always around when I had a real job.
I was working on the Co-opathon project with Ben Roberts, and we were using Loomio. I didn’t realize that Loomio was an Enspiral Venture, and that piqued my curiosity. I googled around and found some of the great talks from Alanna Krause and Joshua Vial and Rich Bartlett. Then I had a chat with the wonderful Doug Kirkpatrick, and he told me that a little posse of Enspiral people had recently come to visit the Self Management Institute.
All the threads started coming together, and I made the first move. I met heaps of people, started hanging around, and by the end of Summerfest in January I had made my decision to invest in and work with these amazing humans.
See what I did there? Quite different from a normal engagement – I chose participation.
One of the memes that it took me a while to understand about Enspiral is that it’s easy to join and hard to stay. Staying takes a mindset of total self-management, which is antithetical to the way we’ve been taught or how most of us experience work. You find your own way. Enspiral does not have jobs. You create your own. And find a way to make a livelihood.
I totally get that I am not the traditional persona of an Enspiralite – I’ve had a career - in humongous multinationals, start ups, and global bungy jumping empires. Since I was 17, I’ve always had to provide a CV, interview, and depending on the whim (or wisdom!) of the HR team or the hiring manager I’d get offered a contract and some money to do some stuff or sell some stuff. Not only did that not happen at Enspiral for me – (not to say it couldn’t for you if you choose to do work for an Enspiral venture), but it also took me a really long time to get my head around it – the ‘how we do things here’ piece. We are starting to understand how hard that is, and how important it is – not only to new adventurers poking around, but those of us hanging around in the gooey center.
What do you do when there is no CFO to do spreadsheets for what gets funded next year? What do you so when you recognise the need to be responsive and realize that there is no way we can predict what we’d like or need to spend money on month to month – you build Cobudget. And how does money get in there in the first place? How does the Enspiral Foundation run? It has no employees. But there is the support and scaffolding of 40 members and 250 contributors to hold. You think lean and practical and have a MVB – Minimum Viable Board to cover the legal obligations and the risk, and you share out the work of the C-Suite (haha a c-suite that does actual work!) amongst those with the energy and interest, let them decide how to organize and beCatalysts in the true sense of the word.
It’s taken Enspiral the better part of a decade to both understand what it needed and what experiments to try. We’ll never be done – it will always be changing. And how do you care for a culture that is at once unique and emergent? Notice. Listen. Play. Our latest ‘agreement’ invokes the opportunity of intentional Stewardship.
It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s really hard. We’ve heard voices and questions and ‘hands raised’ all around the world, and with a tentative gaze outward, understand we have a responsibility to share, with whoever wants to listen, this great experiment. We’ve started a new venture called Enspiral Labs to make that intentional – the sharing of ideas and tools and experiment – to provide some source of confidence that it’s possible – it feels good, and it changes lives.
I’d noted a post in the Reinventing Organizations Discourse in early April, an inquiry as to the existence of Teal Organisations in India. As I had recently been invited to speak at a conference in Bangalore in June, I pinged him for a chat.
Yash Papers, located just east of Lucknow, in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, was founded in 1981 by KK Jhunjhunwala. By all accounts, KK was a remarkable individual with a huge, but unfortunately weak heart — he passed in 2005 at 54. His wife, Manjula, equally remarkable, in 1998 founded an alternative school (think Montessori and Steiner) that serves over 3000 students in Faizabad. There was no pressure, then, on Ved, their first son, to live up to the contributions of his parents!
Mangalam Farm is in a mango orchard just south of Faizabad. The legend goes that KK was so attached to this place, which had been in the family for years, that he fought his brothers for it.
Ved and his wife, Kim McArthur, live here with their almost one-year-old Zara, and her older sisters (didis) Sargam and Vidia. In the morning, peacocks crow, and sometimes the blue cows appear in herds and romp through the orchard. It’s mango season, and I’m enchanted and a little overwhelmed by the many varieties. Breakfast ends in a competition for the biggest pile of mango skins on the plate.
We leave for the factory after breakfast, and a prompt arrival for 9AM assembly. Assembly is a company wide stand up that happens each morning, and starts with a small prayer. Around 100 members (as the staff are called) gather to hear yesterdays results — from the production numbers of each paper machine (there are three) to the water usage (of their onsite water treatment plant) to the power output and consumption of the bagasse (sugar cane waste) fuelling the onsite 2.5 MW Power Plant — which services the entire requirement of the plant.
Everything is transparent — the white boards that ring the assembly area show the daily results against targets — and as they are read out from the dais, there is gentle applause to each measurement area that has performed. For those on the shop floor or elsewhere on-site, the morning assembly is relayed via loudspeakers.
There is an air of relaxed seriousness, which I came to understand as shared purpose and commitment. Approximately 30% of everyone’s salary is based on the collective commitment to achieve. There is no difference between a machine operator or a sales person — everyone is held equally. Because all of the metrics of profitability are transparent, each member knows how their role impacts, and what they can do in their teams, and what they can do to support other teams whose areas might be behind. And while salaries are not transparent (as yet) there is intention for this in the short term.
In 1999, Faizabad was beset by some of the worst inter-communal violenceIndia has seen in recent times. A virtual martial law and curfew was imposed. This meant that many members couldn’t make it to the factory, and those who did needed to figure it out for themselves. A classic case of needs must — they had to self-organise, and it worked. One of the legends of this time, who still serves at Yash Papers, is Mahavir Shekhavat, who heads Production also known as ‘The Mountain Mover” or Hanuman.
In India, myths and folklore are both ancient and contemporary. Yash Papers never forgot that time, and have persisted in the understanding that when individuals are given agency and autonomy, magic can happen.
It’s not always been easy — and it’s still not. The cultural norms of India, especially when it comes to hierarchy, are not easily changed, let alone bent. In Uttar Pradesh, it’s not easy to attract and retain individuals who are willing to stay and commit to live in a ‘backwater’ when the opportunities of Mumbai or Bangalore beckon. But what Yash Papers does have is a common purpose — and a set of values that differentiate it from probably 99% of other organisations in India.
When Ved read Reinventing Organizations, it spoke to him clearly –
‘Going through RO was an intense spiritual experience. I could feel constant vibration of my energy field each time I picked the book. So much so that I had to put the book down at times. It felt as if so many areas where we had tried and failed were being reinforced and we were being invited to go try again as there were people who had appeared to guide. I truly wish we can build a place where people are able to recognise their purpose and built towards it along with many others’
Yash Papers is currently more green than orange, with flashes of teal. But the intention and direction is clear. More autonomy, distributed decision-making, self-organising pods responsible to one another as peers from a commitment perspective, and completely free to make their own decisions about the way they work.
With this distributed autonomy, the advice process comes alive. Although not yet to the stage where all central services are distributed, teams like HR embed one of their own into each work group — go to team meetings, and serve. They are establishing new and heretofore non-existent policies around harassment (a self-selected group of 2 women and 2 men who are not ‘managers’ but member representatives) and conflict resolution processes. They see their work as the holders of a safe psychological space — the necessary ingredient for real trust and collective development.
Recently, pods have formed for each paper machine; the members that work on each are autonomously responsible for the way they organise and their production. Quality circles, with representatives from across the organisation meet weekly to work on self-selected projects.
Yash Papers use SAP, and I witnessed the project lead practically beg Ved to be involved— to be the decision maker. Ved stoically and kindly pushed back — saying that the project had his support, but that there was no reason for him to be involved, and furthermore that he trusted the project lead implicitly, to make decisions based on advice.
Wholeness also plays a big part at Yash Papers. Again, in a culture where norms are respected, it’s not always easy or expected to bring all of yourself to work. But it is truly a desire — and it’s modelled in remarkable ways. The large majority of Yash Papers members are Hindu, but there is a real value placed on inclusivity — my visit coincided with Ramadan, and I was invited to a celebration for the breaking of the fast, Iftar. The mess was arranged with a large blanket in the middle, and we sat in a circle and broke fast with dates and mangoes and gram and other delicacies. In that circle were Muslims, but also Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and non-believers — sharing a connection, joyfully and respectfully.
This is an embodiment of the Yash Papers Value ‘Joy at Work’: Freedom of thoughts & decision…
Deepali, a bright and earnest female member asked me about wholeness. “Madam”, she said, “how do I bring all of myself to work?” I replied “you choose to, you model it, and you practice holding a safe space for others to do the same”.
Orange organisations call a change of strategy a ‘pivot’. In teal, it’s merely evolution of purpose. At Yash Papers, this is common practice — an environment that values experimentation. This can be unsettling for some — another change, just when we were getting used to the previous one. But they are truly iterations — and fearlessness. And the more practiced they become, the more natural it feels — to learn to feel the organism as that, to allow emergence, to sense and respond. Ved deftly and patiently holds that space.
I have been at once quietly stunned, and not at all surprised by what I have witnessed in Faizabad. Not surprised because we know that we share a common longing for connectedness, a sense of purpose, and a way of being with our work that does not diminish but enhances, does not extract but sustains. What did surprise and humble me is that this can be true in India, where neither life nor business is ‘easy’ by the Western definition. The impulse persists, and the pulse itself beats so strongly in those who perhaps daren’t believe that it’s possible for them — until they try. Until they collectively build and infuse their own environment with a sense of possibility and wholeness.
Perhaps it takes a visionary like Semler or deBlok or Rufer — if so, Ved Krishna stands beside these vanguards. If not, the members of Yash Papers have themselves created a uniquely expressed opportunity for Teal emergence in India.
Making connections –for myself, and for others makes me feel alive and happy. For example, the Unity in Diversity project that I’ve been working on for the past 4 months, is a core team that is across NZ, California, Connecticut, France and Germany. None of us knew any of us this time last year, but the ease and grace with which we do the work and hold the space is something to behold.
Last week, I had the chance to have a conversation with one of my absolute heroes in the world my brain inhabits (participatory organizations), Bonnitta Roy. I have so many examples of my just noticing, thanking, commenting, and requesting that have resulted in connecting with people whose brains and hearts inspire me every day.
Back in the day, you’d write a letter and hope for a reply – maybe a signed photo!
Today, it’s completely possible to initiate real relationship with pretty much anyone who is open to it. And wow does it make you feel good when you receive an enthusiastic reply.
I also get it that it doesn’t always happen. I remember writing a heartfelt note to Tony Schwartz, and feeling nice about the fact that he stalked my Linkedin page. But he didn’t accept my invitation to connect, nor did he acknowledge my note. That’s OK, people are busy – but I use that example as, in my experience, the exception to the rule.
I suppose the team at Linkedin isn’t dumb – I like to think that when they put together their user stories back in, or around the turn of the century ( I love saying that!) that one of their user stories would be someone like me, in little New Zealand, with big ideas about the power of connection and influence and network, and that they designed with me in mind.
(Interesting aside, I was one of Linkedin’s first 10,000 users!)
Maybe 10 years ago I received a personal note from Reid Hoffman thanking me. I love that. I like being a market maker – and really appreciated being noticed for my place in that.
I think that partly what has happened for me is that my Working Out Loud practice moved from ‘something I did as a project’ to something I do as muscle memory –reflexively.
My friend Ben and I talk a lot about conversation, connection, and technology (he is such a guru on the practice!) and recently that talk has transcended the technology into the Hx (human interface), which is this subtle and potentially undervalued but so important role of connector – curated, specific, intentional, appropriate connections.
And isn’t it curious and wonderful that technology can now allow us to reallythink about the Hx?
Why is story so powerful?
And the essence of connection: to be witnessed.
The invitation: tell your story.
What enlivens? I’ve been obsessing recently on my scarcity mindset, which I perceive as pervasive in my work networks. The scarcity of time, of resource, of funds. I’ve mused on this in the context of wholeness –that if we can being more facets of who we are to our work, we access a more diverse pool of resource. That may be a part of a solution. I think that perspective enlivens.
We humans are wired to consider ourselves as problems to be fixed, rather than beings with the potential to be enlivened.
I spent the last couple of days at a conference with really neat people — professionals striving to master their work. We approached our time together with a (non-explicit) frame of ‘what problem(s) can we solve together.’
The unconference format provided an opportunity to offer an Appreciative Inquiry. The question:
“what do you most appreciate about yourself’”
evokes such strong emotion, pushback, the mind instantly going to the negative — or into a narrative that contextualizes achievements in the third person, not as ones self.
Kiwis are taught that anything that smacks of braggadocio is simply not done. It’s so much easier to be self-deprecating and express the negative. It’s super vulnerable to say what you appreciate about yourself. Scott appreciates his humour and his sincerity. Yet he revealed that he probably wouldn’t have been willing to share that with the people he works with.
We sit at conferences craving lessons to help us become more empathetic, better listeners, any number of qualities we believe will make us better coaches or leaders, and better at appreciating others.
We can’t be authentic until we are authentic.
Appreciative Inquiry evokes stories that provide an instantaneous feedback loop — a story of a tenacious of a young woman who arrives alone in New Zealand connects back to her self appreciation of tenacity. That’s authenticity, wholeness, and abundance.
I live a life of privilege — and to be perfectly honest, I’ve not always been aware of it or the deep and powerful bias that entails. My privilege isn’t immense financial wealth; it’s the privilege of belief — that anything is possible until it isn’t.
The origin of my privilege goes all the way back to what my dad said to me when I was 6 — something like:
‘Susan, you can do and be whatever you want to be’.
And so that became my bias.
I wonder if it’s as easy as that? For someone fundamental in a young person’s life to set that tone. I wonder if I would have remembered it if my mum had said it? Or a teacher? And if we dismantle all the components of privilege, might that be at the top of the tree? The privilege of self-belief –the gift of believing that anything is possible.
Even at 6, I didn’t think of it as a super power — it was more like a sense that I was OK — I was solid, and capable.
The only other ‘message’ from an elder that stuck with me was from 6th grade.
I was at the front of the class selecting other students for some sort of project — and the teacher, Mr. Ferraro, was at the back gesturing to some kids I maybe wouldn’t have naturally chosen — so that I would notice them and give them a chance. And I did. I’ve carried some of Mr. Ferraro’s advice with me as well.
What if we were to offer all children two gifts of privilege? They might be as simple as the two bestowed on me:
You are capable
Don’t always choose the obvious.
I wonder how I would have ‘turned out’ without those?
Perhaps it is a super power; I still think I could climb Mt. Everest.
Or Mt. Taranaki!
Last week I made peace with my big ears. My pi-spectives are shaping up to be my lessons of self-acceptance, how I learned to love the physical attributes that once caused pain or hurt or frustration.
On a good day, if my hair is tall but not too tall, I’m about 5’0005” — short. Some of you (I’m certain!) have been referred to as ginger guy or freckly girl or stretch, I’m the short chick. And I’m not fine-boned either, so wouldn’t consider myself ‘petite’. There are benefits — I can weave my way through crowds, but rarely do I get a good view of the band. I fit into boys age 12 shorts and sneakers. But I always thought that each generation was supposed to be taller? I’m the shortest in my family by at least 2 inches.
And let’s face it, one’s height is harder to disguise than one’s ears. Of course I tried; high heels ruined my feet! But I have, again recently, like with my ears, learned to love being short.
Or as I prefer to call it — small
And I’m a hugger.
There is nothing like the warmth of a hug to convey connection, trust and just plain yumminess (OK that sounds weird!). I used to be a kisser, but I’ve had to stop that — NZ isn’t really a kissing country. It used to make me a little cranky that my preferred greeting was often received with shock/suspicion, but I’ve gotten over that now.
I realized something truly remarkable. Because I’m ‘small’, when I’m hugging a man, my head (and big ear!) is usually the exact height of his heart! So when drawn into an embrace of welcome or farewell, I spend a few extra seconds, listening to a heart. Like the lyric of an obscure Scottish poet (writing in French)
j’entend ton coeur.
I hear your heart.