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09 November 2017

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss (what to do when leadership fails)

In any purpose-driven organisation you will find conscious leaders. At the most basic level, according to Arthur Kendall (in his article ‘What is conscious leadership?’), it means ‘leading from a higher state of awareness, allowing you to find new and effective solutions to challenges and provide the four things most demanded of a leader: Trust, Compassion, Stability, and Hope’.

I love this because conscious leadership doesn’t imply a specific skillset or qualification but rather, stems from a conviction of the heart to transform people with moral courage and insight into what they are capable of becoming and achieving.

Conscious leadership begins with an openness to do things differently. It requires a departure from the command-and-control siloed model for business, towards an interdependent and purpose-driven model that generates value for its entire spectrum of stakeholders. The question is: How do we do that?

Survival demands new thinking and a new operating model

Consumers vehemently oppose lack of transparency of organisational politics and power. As a direct consequence the institutional Holy Grails of corporate responsibility, shared value and corporate reputation management are crumbling in the wake of new business models that imbue collective benefit and co-ownership. To this end, sustaining a purpose-driven culture demands new thinking and a new operating model. This cultural model isn’t about performance measures and ticking boxes devoid of humanity, and instead starts when an organisation learns what lights its people up. These are the first steps in shifting your business from a toxic, unconscious culture where engagement fails, to an emergent and purpose-driven culture.

Ignorance isn’t bliss (what to do when leadership fails)

Whether through ignorance or blatant denial, many leaders fail to acknowledge the cultural problems that exist within their organisations, and the active role they play in exacerbating these problems. As they stare in the mirror at their own reflection, fear of inadequacy and of looking incompetent in the face of uncertainty, and inability to navigate the persistently disruptive nature of change—results in a toxic culture of blame and avoidance.

Don’t be that kind of leader.

A deep-seated fear and incongruence between individual purpose and enterprise mission causes anxiety, pain and despondency. Consequently, an engagement crisis of global proportions impacts well being and undermines the culture and impact of organisations. As a leader, understanding your relationship to this incongruence and, more importantly, identifying your organisation’s operational ‘mode’ and propensity for co-creation, is a crucial step forward to minimising change risk and enabling a purpose-driven culture.

Only one form of contagion travels faster than a virus. And that’s fear. Dan Brown

Moving Culture from Toxic to Emergent

To help with this movement, I developed the Toxic to Emergent model shown below (page 27 of my book). The model outlines various modes of culture and ‘states’ of being along this development. It also outlines the energy and impact each stage creates.The model is divided into four key levels: Dying, Surviving, Evolving and Thriving.

Figure 2.1 Toxic to Emergent model

The culture of a business in the Dying or Surviving level is unconscious. As your organisation ‘levels up’ through Evolving and towards Thriving, culture becomes conscious and, ultimately, Emergent. If your organisation’s is unconscious and languishing at Dying, here’s what you can do to start improving:

1. Identify major problems

Your chances of improving a workplace are directly proportional to the level of understanding you have about it. Gather as much insight as possible through either direct communication or surveys to determine the root cause of problems. Be mindful that toxic employees aren’t likely to be forthcoming about their arsonist behaviour. Creating an environment for people to talk freely without fear of repercussion will help you gain insight as to what’s really going on.

2. Remove ‘force fields’

When people have to constantly self-protect and watch their backs, they can’t focus on their work. Promote social inclusion and accountability. Give people a reason to connect, step up and ‘own’ their impact.

3. Create feedback loops

Above all, people want to be heard and valued. A regular forum that enables staff to respond to specific questions and openly share feedback and ideas goes a long way towards building trust and meaningful connection.

4. Reframe issues with compassion

Don’t be afraid to have the tough conversations but, in doing so, don’t buy into the drama. Reframe hostility, blame, negativity and avoidance with compassion and empathy.

5. Lead with purpose

Lack of clear purpose and aligned values, coupled with meaningless rules, politics and backstabbing, all contribute to a toxic culture. To escape the gravity of this context and thrive, leadership must identify an ideal vision of culture for their enterprise, then clearly communicate, engage and co-create with staff to plan, follow-through and implement this vision.

For more information about the Surviving, Evolving and Thriving levels of the Toxic to Emergent model, please grab a copy of my book via Amazon, my website or Audible.

What is your experience of culture?

Where is your business on the Toxic to Emergent evolution? Consider the following:

  • How do you currently measure improvement?
  • Change is inevitable. How are you equipping your organisation to embrace it?
  • Are you trying to change your people or change your culture?
  • Where is your business currently located on the model?

I would love to know your experience in the comments.

Until next time, stay awesome!

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