Getting Unstuck

We all get stuck, particularly those of us who try to help others get unstuck.

I know when I’m getting stuck when I find myself repeating the same message in creative new ways. It means I’m not moving on, I’m making camp.

Amongst those I know are those who notice, who can’t be fooled, will call me out and move me on. I value them enormously.

Some of them I don’t know personally, but they have a talent for communicating that I get the same kick as if I did.

I was reminded of this listening to Margaret Heffernan on Radio 4 “Thought for the day” on Sunday. A good way to spend ten minutes listening to here challenge the ease with which we accept what we’re told.

Charles Handy has been a mostly unwitting mentor all my working life. A gentle but incisive philosopher of business, I find his work has a way a centring me when I’m stuck.

Rumi, Marcus Aurelius, Antoine de St Exupery. These are just a few amongst many. What I value is their honesty, their lack of lecturing or trying to be right. They question themselves as much as me, and in doing so create a way forward.

In the times we find ourselves in, a search for answers is much less productive than finding those asking great questions.

You don’t have to know them, just make space to spend time with them.

Sawubona

Our culture encourages external validation. School grades, better degrees, promotion, pay rises, likes.

It reinforces a dependency on other people, and often people we would not choose to be dependent on.

Its opposite is internal validation. The stuff of soul and self. The warmth that is generated from doing things we love, that we are striving for mastery in. The knowledge that in some small way, we are making a unique contribution to something that matters to us.

This contribution may never be externally validated, and that doesn’t matter. We know, and our community knows.

There is nothing wrong with external validation, unless it is sought at the expense of internal validation. If that happens, we hollow out and become some sort of zombie.

We are at an important inflection point when it comes to how we work.

The way most businesses are structured creates the conditions that encourage us down the zombie road. When shareholder returns are given not just priority, but near exclusive focus, we end up paying lip service to people’s internal validation.

We talk glibly about “engagement”, but it easily becomes yet another lag indicator like margins, and even if the intent is there we look at the metric not sense the emotion.

We use what psychologists term affective empathy (we get upset when employees get upset) but not cognitive empathy (identifying with and sensing how they feel)

As AI absorbs more and more of the routine work, perceived empathy and humanity becomes ever more critical at every level and boundary-employees, partners, customers and community.

Sawubona. It’s an African Zulu greeting that means “I see you.” It has a long oral history and it means more that our traditional “hello.” It says, “I see your personality. I see your humanity. I see your dignity and respect.”

It resonates rather more than “your call is very important to us”

Sawubona is not a “skill”, it’s a way of being in the world. If we want our businesses to succeed in the world that is emerging, we should learn from that.

We’re all heroes now

Whether we like it or not.

Campbell’s iconic structure covers a compelling sequence, starting in the “ordinary world”, a call to adventure and departure on a difficult Journey. Along the way our hero meets a mentor, who changes our her understanding of the world which leads her in to a road of trials, in unfamiliar and frightening surroundings and inevitably to “a long dark night of the soul” where all seems lost. However, in meeting the challenge, she discovers what she needs, and overcomes the odds. She then has a decision to make- to stay where she is, enjoying the fruits of here courage, or to take the secret back to the ordinary world.

Most of us will recognise that our ordinary world, where we understood the rules, our position and could plan is well behind us.

We need mentors. They are not our normal leaders, they are those who care for you and your potential for genius. They are out there.

We find ourselves on a road of trials, and for many, where we are right now seems like a long dark night of the soul.

We can’t go back to the ordinary world. It doesn’t want us and we have nothing to give it, until we find our way forward through the current difficulties.

That’s our job right now. Individually and collectively. To embrace the frightening, the uncertain; to tame it and use it.

In our own worlds, right now, we have no choice other than to be a hero. Those around you, who share what matters to you, need nothing less