Stories…..

Stories are the way we make sense of things, as well as commit them to memory. They are at the heart of our histories. Stories are fractal – every story has smaller stories within it, and is itself part of an ever developing larger story.

I’ve come to understand that stories are a good way to understand our relationship with our work. At any one point, both the organisation we work for and ourselves are at different points along our story line. We are founded, or born, and spend the rest our our time time working out who we are and want we want. It changes.

As we develop, sometimes the story of the organisation and the story of us align. We are good together, companions on a path that suits us both. We learn from each other, support each other, and enjoy the journey.

At other times, our stories diverge. Our needs become different. The organisation wants to settle down, but the individual wants to explore – or maybe the other way round. Either way, there comes a point where paths separate if each is to achieve what it wants from life.

The complication arises when separation needs to occur, but doesn’t. One becomes dependent on the other, or perhaps just takes it for granted. The pain comes when something unexpected happens, and a separation is forced upon the relationship. Business Failure, Headhunters, Circumstance.

When that happens, one or the other, or maybe neither is prepared. They’ve forgotten their story, and have to try and remember it; to pick it up where it trailed off.

It’s a salutary lesson. If we are not actively living our story, developing it, exploring it, the story goes into hibernation.

If we’re not aware, right now, of where we are in our story, either as individuals or organisations, and are making sure they are developing, we have a problem.

The edge will find you

Icebergs fracture at theIr edges.

Landmasses erode at the coast.

Businesses change at their edges.

Despite that, most businesses respond to change by retreating towards the centre.

They focus on business as usual and take comfort in easily managed lagging indicators. Margins. ROA. Annual profit.

It’s easy to find comfort in wilful blindness, and to avoid the difficult and scary work that takes place at the edge, where there is no historic data, no best practice, and no maps because nobody else has been their either.

People operating in the centre don’t need leadership; they need effective management. Best Practice. The centre isn’t going anywhere.

Leadership is required at the edge. The place where there are varied, unproven options, all with a real risk of failure. Where people need to be inspired, to commit and do it anyway.

As change becomes faster and more complex, the edges get closer, and they will find us.

It’s a good time to look round. Who will follow you? Who might you lead?

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.