“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” — W. Edwards Deming
Talking about synchronicity; this morning I found this quote in the book that I’m currently reading, and it would be the perfect summary of a conversation I had yesterday afternoon. I was talking with a friend about the role leaders play in the change processes within their organisations.
The image that keeps coming back for me is “a piece of cloth”.
An organisation can be seen as a piece of cloth, an intricated system of interwoven threads. Every organisation has its own unique size, material, fabric and texture. So, each piece of cloth will react differently to changes. If you pick a point in the fabric and lift it, depending on the strength and elasticity of the threads and the weight of the material you may be able to lift the whole piece from that one point. Or you may be able to hold it only for a moment before it is pulled back in place by the strength of the texture.
So, if you lift the cloth from one single point, the rest of the material will follow with some delay. And, no matter its unique characteristics, the parts that are farther from the lifting point, will be left behind. Sure, that lifted point will stand out, but what happens when it is released? It’s highly probable that the whole piece of cloth will fall back in the previous flat state.
What if instead of lifting the piece of cloth from one point, we lift it from many points at the same time? Or even better, what if we create a system, like a frame, that will allow raising the whole piece of cloth at the same time?
Just replace “piece of cloth” with “organisation” and “lifting point” with “leader”, and I believe the questions still work.
Nobody is small enough to not have an impact.
I heard this sentence yesterday from the leader of an organisation that aims to solve one of the biggest challenges of our world.
Before the significant challenges of humanity such as climate change, inequality, human rights and so on, it’s easy to feel powerless.
I often feel powerless.
These days I’m listening to leaders who are committed to change the world, who are dedicating their lives to higher causes.
In the beginning, I felt small.
But then, the more I listened to them I realised two things.
Before being leaders, innovators or changemakers, they are human beings.
Like you and me.
They are not cut from a different cloth.
Their superpower is being human. A power that we all have.
The second thing is that every choice, every action albeit small, counts.
It may not seem so in the moment, but it counts.
It’s natural to think that significant shifts in the history of humanity are the result of a single massive event. But in reality, they are the compound effect of many small choices and actions.
Because it is the last drop that makes the cup run over, but all the drops before are the ones that filled the cup.
You’ve probably heard or read about the “board of directors” or “supervisory board” concerning big companies.
A board is a group of persons having supervisory or advisory powers over a company. They usually hire, support and supervise the people leading the company, the CEO and the executive directors.
When I think at a board the image that comes to my mind is one of a council of wise and elderlies people. I’ve never been part of a board, but I’m pretty sure my image is not accurate.
Anyway, the point of this post is that I believe that everyone should have a board. A council of wise people ready to give advice and support.
How easier would it be if you could ask for advice when you have to make a tough choice?
So, every year I appoint my “supervisory board”, or as I prefer to call it, my “life council”.
Within there are a few people that inspire me and to which I turn to in search of wisdom.
When I have to take a tough decision, or I don’t know what to do, I summon my council and ask for advice.
In my council, there can be people that I never met such as writers, historical figures or fictional characters. There are also people I know, but they don’t need to know that they are part of my council.
It is, indeed a virtual council.
Fancy creating your own life council? Just take a piece of paper and jot down the name of a few people whose words and actions are sources of wisdom for you. Then, anytime you feel stuck just open that piece of paper and ask yourself “what would they do in this situation?”.
Be aware, they can just give advice.
The responsibility for your choice is all yours.
About ten years or so ago, I was sitting in my grandma’s kitchen with her and her brother. They were sharing funny stories of their childhood when my great-uncle, out of the blue said “Fabio, you know what the problem is nowadays? There is not enough love in the world“.
I still remember vividly that moment.
A few years after, my girlfriend took me to a talk by Sujith Ravindran. At that time I didn’t know him, and I didn’t know that it would be the beginning of a life-changing friendship. I don’t remember all the details of that evening, but one sentence remained with me since that day.
“Fear is the opposite of love.”
This morning I picked a Be The Change card saying “Power + Love.”
I immediately recalled those two moments.
When I read the news, I realized that too often power is driven by fear and as such, it is used to divide us.
And I’m honest, sometimes I feel there is nothing, as an individual, that I can do.
I feel powerless.
But this card, this morning, reminded me that maybe, there is one thing I can do.
I can choose love.
“Love is the experience of that oneness of being” — Rupert Spira
“The religions start from mysticism. There is no other way to start a religion. But, I compare this to a volcano that gushes forth …and then …the magma flows down the sides of the mountain and cools off. And when it reaches the bottom, it’s just rocks. You’d never guess that there was a fire in it. So after a couple of hundred years, or two thousand years or more, what was once alive is dead rock. Doctrine becomes doctrinaire. Morals become moralistic. Ritual becomes ritualistic. What do we do with it? We have to push through this crust and go to the fire that’s within it.”
Yesterday I found this powerful metaphor from David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk. The beauty of this metaphor is that it can be applied to any organisation.
Just replace the word “religion” with “form” or “configuration”. With the word configuration, I mean all the visible and invisible elements that define the “HOW” of an organisation.
Then replace “mysticism” with “consciousness” or “energy”; the true self, the bigger “WHO” of an organisation.
Then the sentence reads: “The form starts from consciousness. There is no other way to start a form. But, I compare this to a volcano that gushes forth …and then …the magma flows down the sides of the mountain and cools off. And when it reaches the bottom, it’s just rocks. You’d never guess that there was a fire in it. So after a couple of hundred years, or two thousand years or more, what was once alive is dead rock. Ideas become risks. Principles become bureaucracy. Ritual becomes routine. What do we do with it? We have to push through this crust and go to the fire that’s within it.”
How many organisation do you know that are in that place? Where the original fire now is just some dead rocks?
And what about you?
Because this metaphor works beautifully also for us, as individuals.
Is your flame, your energy still alive or did you allow for the time to cover it beneath solid rocks?
Every transformation journey starts with removing all those layers of solid rocks to find the original fire and reignite the volcano.
How much attention do you put on the words you use?
A few days ago, while I was checking the news online, a headline captured my attention. It was about UN chief António Guterres who, during an of the year press event, called all countries in the world for a renewed commitment to a “rules-based global order“.
Words create worlds.
They have this power.
This is why it is so important to choose wisely the words that you use.
In your own life but it’s even more critical when you are a leader. As leaders, the language we use helps shape the cultures we lead.
So, what does a “rules-based global order” says about the world the leader of UN envision? To me, it talks about a world based on fear and lack of trust. It talks about protecting the status-quo instead of moving towards the future.
Is this the world that you want?
I know for sure it’s not the world that I want.
I’m ready to commit to a “values-inspired global vision“. One driven by trust, love, compassion, forward thinking.
What about your words?
Are they reflecting the world that you want to create in your life?
To empower means to give (someone) the authority or power to do something. Or, more broadly, to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.
Being able to empower others is often listed among the pillars of an effective leader.
When we empower someone we are giving the same power we have. An empowered person gains control over her work or life.
In organisations, empowering everyone is a crucial ingredient to create a democratic and flat organisation. One in which, everyone raises to the same level creating co-leadership.
Though, there is a fascinating paradox in empowerment.
When we, as leaders, are empowering others, somehow we are elevating ourselves one layer above them. They may have now the power to do something, but we are the ones who gave them the power. So, we are still above them, and they have less power than we have.
Isn’t that through the empowerment of others we are in reality reinforcing our own power?
What would change if instead of empowering others we create the space in which they can awaken their inner power by themselves?