Friday, 31 July 2009

I've just blatantly copied the title from a discussion on Linkedin led by Kwai Yu, the founder of the Leaders Cafe Foundation. He's generated an amazing discussion on what courage is with his simple statement. My response is..

I think courage is as simple as my next action. Every time I take a step or action even along a trusted and well worn path, I am taking a risk. It may be the risk of doing the same, or the risk of the different. Both of them are unknown. I think courage is to be in the now and take the step that is in front of you in the moment.

When you search through yourself you can find what that action is going to be and then do it. I'm often in leadership discussions about Courage and again and again people are searching for big label items - like setting up a new business, running a marathon. It's when I ask people to recognise that feeling in the gut that we start to get to the bottom of courage.

It gets personal and about small actions. I wasn't sure about writing blogs and taking part in online discussions. I was worried I'm taking my eye of my other work - it's a constant pressue now I've started to embrace different forms of social media, yet it's paying dividends already (in terms of my motivation and connections) and it feels right.

At Common Purpose we insist courage is explored as a theme on all of our leadership programmes and I've just spent this week reviewing what we mean by it, this discussion board has enriched it no end..... :-)

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

What's it all about?

Since I started this blog I haven't tried to explain it at all, what it's about or why I'm doing it. I think partly because it explains itself in what I'm writing, and partly because I'm finding out what it's about as I write.

Initially I wanted to write and wasn't very interested in other people reading it (I still feel that way quite a bit). But because, due to my job I'm always discussing leadership, listening to people talk about leadership and reading about leadership and so on, my head is full of reflections I want to get more organised. More patterns started to emerge as the idea of Leading Beyond Authority began to emerge for us at work (Common Purpose) and in turn I had the job of trying to design our courses to more purposefully bring this alive and to explain it to our staff.

Verbally I found this not too much of a challenge. I knew what we were getting at, and when people share their stories with me I found it relatively easy to bring the concept alive and differentiate what fits and what doesn't (at least within very amorphous boundaries). Starting to write about it has been a whole different journey. Not least because Common Purpose is quite a young and small organisation and hasn't had the resources or luxury to write about the work we do, we've been too busy doing it.

So now I find myself using this blog more to share reflections on leading beyond authority and trying to link it in to other concepts of leadership, and see how it is described in other words, models and ideas about leadership. I'd love to hear from you, about where you find similarities about what I'm saying with your experiences of leadership, your ideas, and other leadership frameworks or models you've been working with. Happy reading. Ollie

inherent conflict

I love the idea of inherent conflict (positive) in all leadership decisions and styles. The idea there isn’t and can’t be one way. It’s refreshingly different to the proposition that there are a set of learned behaviours that can be applied.

Twenty years ago a friend gave me the Tao Of Leadership. By reading it again and again I got more used to the idea that it’s ok to approach tough issues in apparently contradictory ways. Sometimes being tough and resilient and at other times letting go. Leaders I come across though find this extremely difficult.

They want to reduce things to a solution, to take the behaviours they have just used and apply them to the next scenario. Instead take time to consider the role of being patient, being determined, to see what is happening. The nature of change means it is already happening, it’s something beyond you that you are also part of. You need to see what’s driving it, notice how you are interacting with it and from all these signals then decide on where you act. Do things in this way and you may help things evolve quicker. Act against what is happening and you’ll be tough when you should have been soft and vice versa.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The importance of passion

Came across Ethans latest post about the lessons of leaderhip in surfing and how can you cope with the feelings of learning, the highs and lows, the excitement and depression, yet find it so much harder in other aspects of life. I think it seems so often to come down to passion. If you don't care about something enough you don't register the benefits, or have enough aspiration to want to go the extra mile when the tough times call.

It's often stated that leaders need to keep their eyes on the hills and their feet on the ground. This for me is one of the hardest leadership lessons. People love this phrase, but spend too little time identify what the hill is, what it is about looking up and around that inspires them. So then when they have their feet on the ground they find it hard to call on the inspiration they need.

I was speaking with my colleague in our Frankfurt office today and she spoke of why it's so important that our leadership programmes force people out of their offices once per month. That's exactly what they need to develop as a discipline. One of their participants from a major bank complained about this format until half way through the programme when he confessed he now realised he had been resisting spending time on what he needed most - time out to think about his destination, about what he cared for and to reconnect with his inspiration. Learning this discipline became his major benefit from the programme. It leaves me wondering why this is so underestimated, and helps me understand why Ethan is so willing to go through so much for his surfing and not so willing to put up with London tubes. For more on this take a look at what HBR have to say about reawakening passion, it seems we aren't alone in thinking it's dangerous to live without it.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Passion not position

“A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”
John Maxwell

Just came across this quote on Rob Watts blog and thought it reflected something we struggle to communicate about leading beyond authority. Maybe we use the wrong phrase to express the challenges of leading without being able to rely on the power and influence that comes from your position. From people who've been on our programme and the hundreds of people who come and speak, join in the conversations about community change and leadership with us, we always come across the fact that leadership is often the challenge we face when we can't tell people what to do, or motivate them by the next pay cheque or possible promotion.

As so much of our training and education prepares us for working in a hierachy where we get our power through position, expertise and qualifications we aren't well prepared to solve problems and create change that doesn't fit this model. It's here where passion starts to make a difference. It can keep us going when it seems things are taking a long time, it helps us be more resilient when things don't go the way we want them and above all this it can be infectious and encourage others to follow us and to work with us.