Skittish

Every now and again, jewels emerge from random conversations. I’m deeply grateful to the estimable Steve Done for giving me this one.

We were discussing the challenges of creating the safe space for new clients to discuss topics that are outside of their comfort zones, and Steve came up with a metaphor.

As background, Steve is a long standing colleague and coach with a penchant for horses. A means of transport with no safety equipment, no brakes, no gearbox and perilously vague steering.

We ended up talking about how to handle “skittish” horses – those with whom a bond of trust has not yet been built, and who will react unpredictably to unfamiliar or what are perceived as threatening inputs.

He explained that the approach is to start with profound respect for the horse, and to give it just enough – and no more – input sufficient for the horse to understand what you are trying to get it to do, and come to terms with it. Too much pressure, and you end up sitting uncomfortably in the mud (the horse is happy to fight you all day if needed); too little, and it gets frustrated because it has nothing to respond to. In the latter case, it will do what it feels like.

For me, it painted a momentary but perfect picture of mistakes I have made with clients, and a memorable metaphor when working with new ones.

Pay attention to the pressure you are creating. Just enough, no more. Enable the client to learn at their own pace. Not the one we’d like them to.

What if we’re looking the wrong way?

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”

Marcel Proust.

Or perhaps new lands with old eyes……..

It seems that the more pressure we find ourselves under, the further away we look for answers.

Our capabilities to create new things is unparalleled. Our reasons for creating them less so.

When working with clients I am often amazed that they discount what is behind them, even though in most cases, the power, the joy and the energy for the business they are struggling with lies there.

What did you want to be when you were a five year old? (before you were told that it was not practical)

What did you imagine when you started this business? (or what did your parent imagine)

When it comes to leadership, strategy, philosophy and other “soft” skills (management is a hard skill, and less than a hundred years old) those who went before, from Ancient Philosophers, to Warriors, to Explorers, have much to teach us. they were there before us, wondering largely what we wonder now, but with fewer choices to consider.

It’s not our science, or technology that will determine our future. It’s our imaginations.

Question based Leadership

It is the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. Walter Isaacson’s biography of him is one of my favourite books.

There is a paradox. Since the death of Leonardo, we have become obsessed with the scientific principle. Rationality. Evidence.

However, Da Vinci’s work was based only partially on evidence. He was an obsessive observer, but he was first and foremost a questioner. A searcher. an explorer.

His genius was in his ability to formulate the questions to ask. His search for evidence was to inform questions, not to justify opinions.

We are in danger of losing that.

Today, we seem to spend more time justifying our biases, and manipulating environments to support those biases than we do in the search for “beautiful questions” – those ideas that power curiosity and creativity, and give rise to the search for the possible in the midst of the uncertain.

As leaders, of ourselves, others, and enterprises it is a good time to reflect on why we remember da Vinci.