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Back to Grade One

As part of my work I have the privilege to hold conversations with many thoughtful, insightful leaders. I had two of those conversations over the past couple of weeks. One was from an amazing leader and mentor who has provided me advice for the past three years. He is well versed in leadership, systems thinking and healthcare. He spoke of the lack of kindness in healthcare that he is seeing today. Multiple levels – from government, to physicians, to leaders, to allied health providers are in a place where the presumption of positive intentions is entirely missing. There is a significant impact on a conversation when you start with an assumption that no one wants to do a bad job, and people are trying their best. Starting there allows you to have a conversation that is exploratory and full of potential. In today’s context he is seeing people starting from the flip side of that assumption where the belief is that an individual is operating exclusively from a place of self-interest (often narrowly defined). Conversations that start there are likely to feel unsafe for all involved, and won’t necessarily bring out the best in others.

Exacerbating this situation is the pandemic health emergency, which has resulted in a “top down” approach, which serves us well in a time of crisis. As we move into a more stable situation in Canada those top down approaches have a strong potential to fail us, which is heightened as we consider other areas of societal change. Recent global events beyond the pandemic – such as economic instability and protests seeking social justice and reform (to name just a few) highlight different gaps in how we lead ourselves. These situations potentially create some unrest in each of us and forces us to take a good hard look at what can happen in a society, our community, our team - or in our family that is not united by collective core values and honours the individual as part of a collective. We are facing issues that none of us have faced before. None of us are the expert, but as a collective we have the expertise.

In a conversation with another leader from the west coast, he has been noticing how many leaders are posting “the same content” on leadership…but it just isn’t working. “It’s like we are baking and we keep trying the same recipe – but it never works. The old ways of being a leader are being touted as ‘the fix’, and there is no ‘fix’”. Taking the baking analogy further, we are at a different elevation, but we keep on using the same amount of baking soda. Our current ways of working are not working, and no – there is no “quick fix”. Leadership is about a life-long journey of reflection, practice and refinement, and it is not easy.

In these situations, we need the wisdom of others more than ever to figure out where we are, where we want to go, and how we will get there. Assuming good intentions of others is a good first step towards how we manage uncertainty. But it is also more than just knowing that you need to presume positive intentions. It is how you display and act upon it. It is a part of who you are, manifested in a mindset and displayed in ways that you listen, communicate and behave. As one of my best friends often says, “you have to ask yourself why would any well-intentioned person behave in a way that would intentionally cause harm to others?” The answer is that the vast majority would not.

And so – we at Thought Architects are interested in not just the WHAT is known about leadership, but more deeply in the HOW do you get yourself there. That journey will look different for each person. We are driven by a collective belief that people have the capacity and ability to do great things, and our aim is to help people to be successful by focusing on how to do that. Our Leadership & Team Series and Action Series take you though your own journey, with a blend of education, consulting and coaching so that you come out the other side with not only the knowledge, but the skill and practice to make leadership ideas come to life. We are hosting practical PIA Action Series this summer, and will have more in psychological safety and adaptivity coming in the fall.

So yes, I passed grade one. But I also know there are many grades ahead before high school is over. I want my kids to learn not just about the world, but understand how they fit into the world, who they are, and how they can bring the best out of others. And they need to know that I won’t define it for them, because I don't always know the answers, and I am not them. Instead I will help them lead themselves on their own journey…because isn’t that what we are all striving for? Now - in what ways might you apply that thinking at work?

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Great post...we need new conversations to build new narratives. Thanks

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