Updated: Mar 4, 2021
by Cilette Harris
The time we live in asks for impeccable leadership. We live and work in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. The effectiveness of our leadership determines how well we, and the people we lead, respond to the challenges and opportunities in the environment. It also correlates closely to sustainable business performance. I believe that right now we are learning much to prepare us for leadership in rapidly evolving human and organisational contexts. We can use this pandemic to practice being more effective now and in future.
The questions to ask ourselves are firstly, whether we are, deliberately and consciously, using this opportunity; and secondly whether we are learning and transforming ourselves in the process.
Bob Anderson and Bill Adams describe leadership as a set of practices (Mastering Leadership, 2016). The consistent application of these practices transform how we feel and think about leadership and how we approach (our intrinsic landscape) and live (our extrinsic impact) it.
Our growth lies in how we see and interact with the world – and requires us to:
Be self-aware and curious about our impact
Learn by asking for feedback and making the time to reflect on what we hear
Take a meta view and inquire whether we engage with a Reactive Mind or a Creative Mind.
As we grow and mature as human beings, our leadership effectiveness quotient increases. We move through several stages, and our progress, so to speak, is determined by the work we put into our development. Bob Kegan’s Stages of Development Framework (1998) is still recognised as one of the most useful, as it integrates leadership and organisational development, i.e. it recognises that organisational potential and transformation rely on leadership effectiveness. Anderson and Adams used this model as the foundation for the 5 stages of development they describe – refer to the model below.
As we mature through these stages, our mind set changes.
With each evolution of our leadership consciousness comes greater capacity, capability, and mastery to meet complexity with greater leadership effectiveness. What we concern ourselves with enables organisational performance and business success.
Ultimately, our identity – our concept of self - is restructured and we deploy ourselves with more impact in each situation we face.
So how do leaders who operate from an intrinsic Creative Mindset, differentiate themselves? How do they create outcomes that matter in the face of difficult circumstances and events?
The following practices are also attributes which characterise effective leaders who have mastered the inner and outer game. They make up what Anderson and Adams refer to as ‘a spiritual bootcamp for leaders’.
Practice 1: Discern your Purpose
1. Figure out what matters, stand for it and create it,
2. Determine your ‘musts’ – what do you really want your life to be about? Then live this life, purposefully and courageously;
3. Trust your inner voice when purpose is speaking,
4. Pay attention to what life is telling you about who you are and what you are here to do,
5. Stay the course – take risks to see through what matters to you, especially in the face of adversity.
Practice 2: Distil your Vision
1. Translate your purpose into individual and collective vision for the future,
2. Make the vision personal (self-authored) specific, strategic, aspirational and collective (it can be shared with others and inspires them to reflect on their purpose and contribution)
3. Dialogue about it – this is different to ‘getting buy-in’; it’s about co-creating the vision as others influence it.
Practice 3: Know your Doubts and your Fears
1. Learn to notice (with a lot of feedback from others!) when you sabotage your own vision and act in ways that do not support its realisation,
2. Understand what your doubts and fears are and unearth the limiting beliefs and assumptions that run your Reactive operating system,
3. Ask yourself: ‘am I pursuing safety or purpose?’ This is the key choice in life that will determine the quality and nature of our leadership. Your soul does not want safety, it is up for adventure.
Practice 4: Engage in authentic, courageous dialogue
1. Have courageous, authentic conversations where and when it matters – bring them from the bathroom to the board room,
2. Live the first 3 practices by asking yourself
a. ‘How do I want to show up in this moment?
b. ‘What is my vision for this topic, opportunity or challenge?’
c. ‘what do I care about that makes it worthwhile to have this conversation right now?’
Practice 5: Develop Intuition and Stay open to Inspiration
1. Balance data and reason with intuition: we do not balance our bank balance with intuition, and we can’t live into our purpose and vision with our rational logical mind alone;
2. Practice being open to an inner voice, a deeper ‘knowing’ – it opens our creative capacity for innovation and deepens insight wisdom.
Practice 6: Think Systemically
1. Never underestimate the power of a system (structure and culture) to devour strategy and spit it out,
2. Take time and care to understand the system you lead in and take leveraged action that will result in long term outcomes,
3. See the big picture and look for relationships between the business environment and the business;
4. Face ambiguity and conflict related to transformation with courage and rely on your inner operating system to guide you with reason and intuition.
Finally, I am sharing some powerful questions that Anderson and Adams recommend we ask ourselves on our journey to master leadership effectively:
What brings your soul joy, brings you alive? How could you do more of it?
What is your vision of the future that will serve generations to come?
What if you ask yourself the question ‘what are we not going to talk about with truth and courage today?’
If courage is the willingness to move forward in the face of disapproval, who are you going to disappoint?
What is the deeper knowing, or gut sense that you need to serve?
What is it that most needs to happen in the system in which you work or live?
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