Leadership in Crisis: The Revival

December 4, 2016 Chris Pearse

Much of what I read about Leadership on LinkedIn concerns squeezing more out of less. It’s about being more efficient, productive, profitable and successful with the resources at hand. It’s about modelling the behaviours of those around us that appear to achieve these outcomes. It’s about getting it right and never getting it wrong.

Regrettably, for many of us, it doesn’t quite seem to work out like that. We struggle to meet these demands and the more we fall short, the more we struggle. It’s a bit like the old monkey trap where the monkey grabs peanuts in a jar and then can’t get his fist out. The monkey won’t let go of the nuts and continues to struggle regardless of the consequences. If you don’t believe me on this, check out this slightly disturbing footage.

For leadership, the consequences are chronic – stress, conflict, frustration, exhaustion, overwhelm – never mind the KPIs. Ultimately dis-ease sets in, either physical or mental. I’ve seen this happen time and again.

So when I read about the need for leaders to re-double their efforts to beat the competition, drive growth and maximise profit, I’m not surprised there’s a leadership crisis that is preoccupying us more and more as time passes.

Now growth and profit are wonderful things – we couldn’t live without them. The problem is that, just as the monkey in the video discovers, if you hang on to them regardless and just can’t let go, the results can be both unexpected and undesirable.

Leadership revival is about letting go of the peanuts – a metaphor for the tangible outputs of work – the results of our labours. It’s about letting go of the KPIs, the strategic objectives, the share price, the year end figures… the Mechanics of business.

Note that I am not, for one moment, suggesting that they are disregarded or eschewed. They are a very necessary part of doing business – but far from sufficient, and ultimately devastating as an end in themselves.

What is needed for effective Leadership Revival is a complete Volte-Face of focus

This is what I mean:

  1. We have to stop pretending that all the difficulties we experience are out there in the world around us: our job, our colleagues, our luck and our circumstance. They’re not. The stark reality is that they are neutral and simply a consequence of all that has preceded them. The emotions they appear to cause are ours and we are whollyresponsible for them.
  2. We have to disassociate ourselves – disinvest our identity – from the ups and downs of doing business. Profit and loss, success and failure, growth and slump, are just inevitable consequences of the world we live in. They go with the territory and there’s no getting away from them. They are as unavoidable as sun and rain, long and short, fast and slow.
  3. We need to explode the myth that emulating hero figures will bring us success. I’m sure that whatever Steve Jobs had for breakfast did him a world of good, but you need to determine your own breakfast. Leaders need to tap their own wisdom, intuition, moral compass and insights rather than trying to mechanically ape others’.
  4. The focus of business has to be lifted from hitting numerical performance targets, to fulfilling the intangible (but far more real) needs of all stakeholders. To reduce the raison d’être of an organisation to its financial performance is rather like reviewing a book on how many pages it has.

The list goes on but that will do for now.

How is it done?

Simple really:

Leaders have to look inwards as well as outwards. They have to become students of themselves, seeking to become aware of, understand and ultimately know themselves. A sign of this need is the burgeoning interest in Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness and Meditation. Most of the behaviour I’ve alluded to above is the result of ignorance of who and what we are. But before you ask me to tell you – this is the one question we can only answer ourselves. Some would say it is the only question worth asking – Socrates famously stated: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ and the Oracle at Delphi had ‘Know Thyself’ inscribed over the entrance to the cave.

So if you’re a leader that can relate to the above, there are 3 things to remember:

  1. You’re not alone
  2. There are those that can help
  3. Nothing will change unless you do