Sometimes leadership comes blazing with trumpets, sometimes quietly and sometimes not at all. Unless a leader steps up into the void.
Recently India and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) were ready to make history. A successful soft landing would have made India only the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China, to achieve success. India would also become the first country to complete a south pole region soft lading on its first attempt.
The entire nation was watching this historic moment live and waiting with bated breath. But during the last moments the agency lost contact with the lander. The last minute loss gutted the ISRO team. Jubilation and celebrations turned to dust. The ISRO chief K Sivan was inconsolably upset. Visible public failure after years of hard work.
The Prime Minister Mr Modi did the most powerful thing any leader could do. He reframed the situation for the ISRO Chief, his team and the entire nation.
Modi said ‘To our scientists I want to say- India is with you! You are exceptional professionals…We salute you’. They needed to hear this in their darkest hour when feeling both personally and professionally crushed.
He added, ‘The best is yet to come in our space programme’. Declaring there would be ‘a new dawn and brighter tomorrow, very soon’. Giving everyone hope and optimism for the future.
Modi finished by hugging a visibly distraught Sivan, in a video that has now gone viral and taken the world by a storm.
Prime Minister Modi set the tone for what was to follow. The entire country lauded and celebrated the scientists and their efforts. The focus shifted from a near miss to a near win and hope and optimism for next time.
This is leadership in a void–where a leader steps up. A leader reframing authentically in a time of despair. Turning a desert into an oasis.
Please comment, I love hearing from you.
PS Just a note, I don’t vote in India and don’t have any political affiliations or agenda.
I recently did a silent retreat with a small group. No speaking, no external stimulation, no reading or technology.
On the first day I thought this is not too bad and glanced at the clock and saw that only 30 minutes had passed! It was a revelation. Time had completely stopped and yet an ocean of time had opened up. It was confronting. I couldn’t fill the chasm with the usual distractions or work and play.
In our modern harried pace we coexist daily with time’s evil twin ‘never enough time’. But the good twin ‘too much time on my hands’ I haven’t seen since childhood.
In the swirling silence so many emotions welled up for me–a smile at a happy memory, the sting of regret, the sharp stab of anger. All in my mind, as with no external stimuli – the mind can really play games.
As time passed, silence’s texture changed. From an amorphous heavy mass, to something lighter, restful even. Speaking devours enormous amounts of our cognitive load. Not speaking, freed me up to turn inwards, to process and reflect. At the end I felt cocooned in calmness and peace.
I am now trying to adopt a daily practice of deliberate silence. First thing in the morning, about 30 minutes. A reflective space to anchor my day.
Now for a scary thought – imagine if we punctuated our days at work with silence? The difference that could make to our work, rest and productivity.
All our communication tools, techniques, and tips focus on how to say more, say it differently and that old chestnut, say it again. We never think how we might say less, or create a space for deliberate silence that allows reflection.
Even a smaller practice of pausing (which is a mini silence) can create huge disproportional impact, for example in a presentation and definitely with a story. The next time there is a silence, don’t rush to fill it. Instead savour it.
Please comment, love hearing from you.
Pens down – aargh, hope that doesn’t bring back bad memories. The examiner calling out at the end of every written exam.
As we wind down for the Easter long weekend what is your non-exam equivalent of pens down? Peak performance at work can only happen on a foundation of rest and reset.
For me it’s a digital detox and a few days of shinrin-yoku.
This year I have been practising digital minimalism. It started with a February Facebook fast and now has spread more broadly across my day. So aiming at a digital detox or a close approximation. I’m already weak at the knees at the thought.
Also, a few days of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing). Fully clothed! Which is the being immersed in nature, gently walking in a forest in Victoria.
What will you be doing to rest and recharge? Please share. I really appreciate your comments.
Recently my mum turned 80 – I know a huge milestone! There was so much argy-bargy in my large and colourful family on how to best celebrate this milestone. Everyone had an opinion, most of all mum (after all it was her birthday!). Turns out she didn’t want a big party. All she wanted was for us all to spend time together.
We did organise a get together (no I’m not doing a cutesy party word substitute here) for close friends and family over a long lazy lunch. That wonderful afternoon reminded me so much of what we all crave both in life and work. Time, just people’s time is the most valuable gift we can give and receive.
The insightful Sandi Givens recently clarified and gave me deeper language around this; ‘Thought, attention and time’. TAT a nifty acronym to help us remember. Just as Valentines Day has washed over us, with the debris of wanton commercialisation, this comes as a refreshing reminder.
People in our lives and at work crave some thought going into that conversation, presentation and feedback. I’m reminded of a cartoon where a dog is walking on lead with his master. The thought bubble over the dog says ‘Always good boy, never great boy!’. At work we know first hand the chafe of vanilla statements like ‘good work’ or ‘good job’ versus the specifics of some thoughtful personalised feedback.
Combined with that, there is nothing more powerful yet intimate than our focused mindful attention, when we are face to face. Instead of being constantly distracted by the nagging pings of technology. Our focused attention is like a palpable force field. A force for good.
And finally the gift of our time. So often clients tell me what they want more of is always time with their leaders. I know it is not easy or possible to spend swathes of time face to face with people. Yet when we do imagine the difference it would make if we were thoughtful and attentive?
What is your experience? Please share – I love hearing from you.
Confession time! Who else is hooked on The Netflix original series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Unless you have been hiding under a rock you probably know this Queen of Clean is revolutionising the way we look at our stuff. She advocates only keeping what ‘sparks joy’.
This simple joy test helps people de clutter with a new mindset. Kondo exudes calm and is literally a joy to watch. I don’t think I’m the only person who rewinds repeatedly to the bit where she shows what sparking joy looks like. ‘Ting’ she says, her whole body quivering. This has sparked a whole range of funny & dark ‘spark joy’ memes.
While Kondo focuses on organising, I have extended the ‘spark joy’ palette out into life and work. What do you do every day that sparks joy? Doesn’t have to be spectacular. It could be as simple as looking forward to that first cup of perfectly brewed coffee, or kicking a football in the park with your kids.
For me my morning routine (daily journaling, meditation and exercise before any technology) sparks joy. I also have designed what I secretly call Joy breaks for my working day. Walking in the park, Looking at art, meeting a friend for coffee. Totally get there’s place for spontaneity, you are doing something you love and feel the ‘ting’, but sometimes you have to plan for joy. Not detailed excel spread sheet kind of planning, but some level of thought and making the time.
What in your work sparks joy? We can immediately think of lots of examples that don’t–overlong meetings, yet another tough conversation with a team member, spam emails. It takes a deliberate effort to consider and then load up your workday with more joy. For me it’s reading, writing, designing content and speaking. I know if I am doing at least 2 of these 4, I am going ‘Ting’!
What makes you go ‘Ting’? and how are you planning to bring more joy into work and life? Please share I love hearing from you.
People always ask this question: at a networking event, even strangers in lifts and your mum’s friends! Hopefully not your boss.
Often we launch into a potted history, even a mini autobiography, a biopic (still waiting for that phone call from Hollywood). It never feels right, always feels too long and sadly doesn’t feel compelling enough. At the other end of this ‘highlight reel ramble’ is the elevator pitch. The elevator pitch can feel mechanistic and contrived.
In trying to answer the question a fatal mistake is to mix 3 threads. We try to pack everything in.
- A time line–This is a timeline of your professional life
- A case study–the work you have done with clients and
- A story of some sort.
The first two, a timeline and case study work best in a written format. So in a proposal, on a website or a pitch document. That way you are not short changing yourself or your audience. Yet you are using the right medium. Attempting this orally will cause your audience’s eyes to glaze over.
A well thought through story can work both orally and in a written format. This is your super hero moment. Just like every superhero has an origin story so do you. But in business the two anchors for your ‘origin – so what do you do’ story should be insight and impact.
The moment of insight (s) that propelled you into this career trajectory and the impact that has had. That is the most compelling way to answer ‘So what do you do?”
The graphic design company Canva is an example in point: ‘The idea for Canva came about when Melanie Perkins was teaching graphic design programs at university and found students struggled to learn the basics’. (Insight). ‘Partnering with co-founder Cliff Obrecht, the pair launched Fusion Books, an online design tool that made it easy for students and teachers to create their own yearbooks’. (Impact).
The story then tells of their journey, initially into school year books and later recognising that the technology had broader applications. Today Canva is an Australian unicorn startup valued at over $1 billion.
How are you going to use insight and impact to tell your story?
Please share I love hearing from you.
I am a huge fan of Hugh Mackay’s writing and thinking. Not the stalking, restraining order kind of fan… not yet anyway. Recently I was reflecting on one of his presentations titled ‘The double paradox of a super connected world’.
The first paradox is the illusion that technology brings us together, but keeps us apart. He gave the example of face book friends who met up for coffee and had nothing to say to each other as they already knew everything that was happening in each other’s lives!
The other paradox is the more we connect online, the more likely we are to frustrate our deep human desires to connect.
Our first desire
We want to connect with each other. This is our first desire. Not through data transfer but through communication that nurtures us. Technology that uses just words, is stripping out the connection and communication that happens through the conduit of personal relationships not through cyberspace.
My take on this is even though people grumble about the number of meetings they have to attend, attending meetings no matter how tedious or boring might tap into this desire of ours to connect with other people face to face.
The natural world
Our second deep desire is to connect with the natural world. That is why even in high rises you can spot a struggling pot plant on the 14th floor. Some of us express this through our pets, our gardens, bush walking etc. This explains the self-indulgent photo opp for my dog!
Connecting with ourselves
Our third desire is to connect with ourselves. Unless this happens or has happened the other two won’t work. So how we can connect with ourselves? Mackay cited meditation, psychotherapy and creative self expression, art, music, writing.
To this list I would like to add laughter and oral storytelling. In addition for me personally both exercise and reading help me connect to myself. So any regular creative activity that both stimulates and stills us.
Hugh Mackay is not a Luddite and is not presenting this as a dichotomous view of the world but cautioning us to do both–while we embrace technology not to forget what our three desires as human beings are.
Mackay’s work filled me with optimism, as some things never change. We are all afraid of getting left behind by a relentless technology tsunami. But now no matter how fast or rapidly technology changes, being able to connect face to face with other people, being able to connect with nature and with our own selves will always be the key.
Fulfilling these desires will enable us to thrive and connect with what matters most… while still lugging our iPad from conference to conference.
Please comment – I love hearing from you.
How do we persuade people to adopt our ideas, listen to what we have to say and even be inspired to act?
If you lived in 16th century Venice, the answer would be easy. You would do it through fear, as suggested by diplomat and political theorist, Niccolờ Machiavelli. However successful, smart leaders in the 21st century know that hard power (fear, command and control, yell and tell) is not the way to create long-lasting, sustainable influence or change.
In the 1990s, Professor Joseph Nye introduced us to the idea of soft power–creating change through connecting, consulting and collaborating. Most leaders know that soft power is how we get people on board. Think of soft power as sowing seeds and planting a garden—worth the long-term results but difficult for the impatient. We saw a remarkable display of soft power on the world stage, at President Trump and Kim Jong-un’s historic Singapore summit.This was after several months of hard power posturing that had the globe on edge.
Yet business leaders, who use just these two tools (hard power and soft power) will see many of their change efforts fail.
Check out my interview with Dr Susan Inglis Professor of Practice at La Trobe University to explore these ideas further.
The new currency of change is as old as time yet is the contemporary tool of our time. It is business storytelling. A purposeful, authentic story in business can influence, persuade and motivate people. Here’s an example from a client on what this looks like.
John Kotter, the leading authority on change, declared, ‘Change leaders make their points in ways that are as emotionally engaging and compelling as possible. They rely on vivid stories that are told and retold. You don’t have to spend a million dollars and six months to prepare for a change effort. You do have to make sure that you touch people emotionally…’
Simply stated, hard power informs, soft power invites and story power inspires.
Not for a moment am I suggesting to share one story, and you will instantly influence 100% of the people. No one story can do that, and no one deserves that level of influence; you would never want to have a bad idea in that case. But, over and over again with clients, I have seen that purposeful stories, crafted and shared with authenticity, inspire, power and have seismic impact.
The currency of business itself has changed. Are you trading in this new currency?