Reflections 31st October

On my mind this week.

As leaves begin to change colour and fall in earnest, signalling our entry into Winter and the work needed to prepare for Spring, I’ve found myself thinking about rollercoasters.

There have been a lot of ups and downs for me this week. For a lot of the time, the downs were winning. In the week leading up to COP26, I listened with disbelief to a budget that halved air passenger duty for the vast majority of flights and wondered just how much lobbying and turning of environmental blind eyes went into that. Then there was the absence of those going to the conference who could make other than a rhetorical difference, from China, Russia and a fiscally neutered USA to faith leaders such as the Pope. It’s hard to believe that COP26 will be anything other than a cabaret of the confused playing to a sceptical, if not downright cynical, audience. Add to that the spectacle of populist leaders on either side of the channel smacking each other with wet fish, and it is not difficult to feel clouds of despair gathering.

In my dictionary, despair is defined as a complete loss or absence of hope. As such it is, of course, a temporary phenomenon. That doesn’t make it weigh on us less heavily, but we do know it will pass. It feels like that moment as the bottom of the downward plunge on the rollercoaster when the G forces gather, and we feel like we’re going to be crushed. In the moment, very uncomfortable, but inside, we know it will pass. 

Then there are the moments when the movement towards despair passes. Conversations with friends about what matters, and occasional glimpses of inspiration as people we do not know show kindness, hope and genuine leadership that come from their soul, not their title. One such found me this morning during my habitual routine of listening to the farming programmes whilst making the first cup of tea of the day. All of a sudden, there was somebody talking about a one hundred year plan for his farm, enthusiastically and modestly getting excited about the placing and replacement of gates, the shapes of hedgerows, nine-year rotations to preserve and enrich the soil quality, all the while putting it in the context of a business model that saw money as circulation, not stock. It lifted my mood no end. Quiet, confident, committed leadership with an end in mind beyond his lifetime. There it was, when I least expected it in a place I wasn’t looking for it. I’ve put a link to the programme below.

There’s an interesting thing about G forces. As humans, we can tolerate up to 9G, when we weigh nine times our normal body weight for a few seconds. Our bodies adapt, circulation gets cut off the things we do not need temporarily, like hearing and sight, until the pressure has passed. I don’t think organisations are the same – they are much more brittle, and come apart under even modest pressure. The idea of coping without dividends for even a moment makes them incredibly fragile. I think that’s OK – organisations are disposable and easily reconstructed to suit different circumstances.  People on the other hand…..

To stretch the metaphor then, we may have to accept that the organisations we have been part of will fall apart under the pressure they are under, but that the people in them will not. Instead, the people will become part of new organisations led by those values are more appropriate to the times, akin to the “strange attractors” of chaos theory. I find that thought reassuring. The leadership we need exists; it just isn’t where we are told to look for it.

I think “big leadership” is dead. The times are too complex, and the leaders we have too self-interested and absorbed in maintaining what we know is failing. The new leadership is more local, grounded in relationships and values, with long term perspectives. It will emerge, even if we face an uncomfortable time as it does.

I can deal with that. Much easier to embrace uncomfortable hope than to allow despair anything other than the briefest, catalytic moment on stage.

Lifting me this week.

The one hundred year plan. BBC. A one hundred year plan for a farm that has been in the same ownership since Norman times, created by farmers and business people with shared values. I loved it.

Why does work have to be so complicated? A 12 minute video on childrens view of work.

Wellbeing and Happiness. A different angle from Scott Barry Kaufman, one of my favourite psychologists.

Thirteen Minutes in a solo sailors life. Psyche Magazine. A truly relaxing video of what happens to some people whilst we go about our idea of work.

A Poem.

This, by Margaret Atwood, stopped me in my tracks earlier this week and I include it here in case you missed it. The idea of ownership is something we take for granted but which is, when we really think about it, patently ridiculous.

The Moment

The moment when, after many years

of hard work and a long voyage

you stand in the centre of your room,

house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,

knowing at last how you got there,

and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose

their soft arms from around you,

the birds take back their language,

the cliffs fissure and collapse,

the air moves back from you like a wave

and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.

You were a visitor, time after time

climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.

We never belonged to you.

You never found us.

It was always the other way round.

Have a great week.

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