New ways of working for new ways of being human
A habit most of us have is that we tend to live our lives from the illusion of fixity. We try to predict the future as if we knew all the variables and could control them. We wear the lens of linearity when reality doesn’t present itself as such to us. That’s largely due to a gap between a conceptual understanding of change and the experience of it, the feeling, the sensing of it materialising. We need to be present to notice change in all its subtle ways and to realise that ‘the new’ is always emerging.
The pandemic has accentuated for many of us the experience of the new, of change and complexity. Some of us experienced death first-hand. Others lost their jobs, their houses, their routine. Some discovered who their spouse really is (and got a divorce or became closer), learned how to cook and cut someone’s hair. Some finally noticed the fact that life can be radically different next day and it’s hard to answer complex questions about a new weird virus.
Lockdown made concrete a few abstractions: our colleagues have family dynamics and kids impact their work (now showing up in zoom meetings!). In this context it became clearer the need to take care of each other, of ourselves, of our relationships if we want to get through this pandemic. It’s clearer than ever that we are all subject to a highly interdependent world, and a virus infecting people far away can make you sick the next day (it made me, but I was lucky enough to survive).
So what’s new?
New ways of being human
We, humans, evolve in clearly defined stages. We can continue to develop through our whole life not just until early adulthood. These stages are not necessarily connected with age, even though yes, babies are born in the same stage. We grow through these stages and many factors influence our continued growth through them or not. Each stage has predominant perspectives or worldviews. They alternate between collective and individual orientations, between being receptive, active, reciprocal and interdependent. All of this happens in a wonderful, spooky spiralling fashion where later stages transcend and include the earlier ones.
This is called Vertical Development. It’s different from traditional (horizontal) development where you add more tools, techniques, knowledge and skills into your toolbox. A very recent and enlightening model that describes this is the Stages Model by Terri O’Fallon. Another insightful reading on vertical leadership development is here, by CCL.
A unique phenomenon is happening. We are living longer, are more interconnected and have easier access to collective wisdom. On top of that, the world has a complexity that grows exponentially due to evolving tech and generational differences. This combination is giving us opportunities for accelerated ‘growing up’ across different stages of vertical development.
Of course, not everyone is seizing those opportunities. Looking at the world today one could say we are ‘regressing’ with so much polarisation. However, philosophers like Ken Wilber, understand this is just a way of the system of evolution to balance itself and grow from it’s apparent unbalance. He explains this in one of his latest books, Trump and a Post-Truth World.
This possibility of accelerated growth is giving way to a new worldview, which is reflected in the societal emphasis on inclusivity, social justice, environmental awareness, alternative ways of living and more human ways of working. New generations are certainly leading this in many ways, like in the climate change space, with the iconic example of Greta Thunberg.
Relationship Intelligence & Leadership
One of the ways to help people continue their vertical development is to enhance their relationship intelligence. In the workplace, the quality of relationships is at the heart of issues.
It sounds wise to think of leaders as servants or heroes. Yet it’s about time we question this notion.
Self-organising practices have changed further our evolving understanding of what leadership really is. In sociocracy, leadership is distributed through a structure that allows for radical accountability and ownership.
Founders can have special powers to articulate purpose (see work of Peter Koenig on Source) but that doesn’t mean they use power in a top-down fashion to ensure business survival. In fact, that might kill the business in today’s world. Collective intelligence needs to be leveraged for sensemaking, no one person knows it all. The realisations that we all have (different types of) potential, we are adults and self-leaders has emerged and is gaining strength.
So how about we start relating to each other as such?
Most leaders still strongly rely on the parent-child paradigm. We replicate family structures because they are our first reference. No surprise we end up with either nurturing or controlling ̶p̶a̶r̶e̶n̶t̶s̶ leaders when what we really need is adult leaders treating employees like adults. Easier said than done. To be a ‘grown-up’ adult we need both relationship and emotional intelligence. Of course, it also has to do with what stage of development we find ourselves in, but these two key areas of development are worth investing in and should be first in a list of priorities for organisations.
Our emotions co-arise with thoughts, behaviours and bodily sensations. They are all intelligently interconnected. Having intimacy with our own emotions means we can self-regulate and create strategies to act consciously and intentionally.
So let’s go back to the adult-adult paradigm. If the challenge of leadership is to build healthy relationships between grown-up adults, instead of leadership development programmes, leaders are better off signing up for emotional and relationship intelligence development. We want to offer conditions for leaders to grow vertically so that more sophisticated worldviews can emerge. Traditional leadership programmes focus on horizontal development, which is the learning of skills and behaviours about leadership. But leadership is not something we DO, is something we ARE. There’s nothing wrong with learning new skills, nevertheless, it’s much easier to embody new skills and behaviours when they truly align with who we ARE.
New ways of working
In a way, it’s really simple. New ways of working relate to things like meetings (who speaks, when, how much and if meetings achieve their goals); decision-making (who gets a say); autonomy (who has it; is it top-down?); feedback (people have difficult conversations; people are candid and careful); and clarity (we know what we need to do and why). The list continues.
Those ‘simple’ elements of everyday work require not only skills (e.g.how to hold a circle discussion) but also a specific perspective or worldview. For example, you give autonomy if you trust, you give air time in a meeting if you believe that person has value to add, you involve diverse people in decision making if you truly think their opinions matter!
Good news is that key changes in worldview are already happening:
At Reinventors, we develop companies that seek new ways of working for new ways of being human.
There are lots of good stuff out there, but leaders don’t know about them or haven't been exposed enough to realise that they work. These are social technologies such as tools, mindsets, frameworks and perspectives that influence the being & doing in the workplace. Some examples are:
At the organisational system level:
- Self-organising structures
- Inclusive, equitable organisation design
- Design Thinking & Agile as mindsets
At the relational level:
- Non-Violent Communication
- Authentic relating
- Sociocratic people practices
- Peer learning
- Team Coaching
At the individual level:
- Vertical Leadership Development Programmes
- Vertical Development informed Coaching
If you want to know more about how to unleash the super powers of your people, let’s schedule a chat.
Thank you for reading!
Manoella is a Co-Founder of Reinventors.