Wingman

One of the most valuable things we can do when we’re trying to find a way forward is to put our thoughts out there with somebody we trust.

Somebody who will challenge and look for our weak spots, with the intent of sharpening our argument, or our game.

I’ve been wrestling with a paradox. When we coach, we cannot have an agenda- we are in service of our client’s thinking. The moment we introduce our own thinking, uninvited, we are no longer coaches.

At the same time, part of our job is to introduce ideas and concepts that might move our client forward.

So, how do we square this circle?

My “sparring partner” today helped me see a route.

In what seems a long time ago, I was an officer in the R.A.F. During my time there, I was taught the idea of a “wing man“. The concept is as simple as it is powerful. When we are focused on a target, we lose peripheral vision. We are so focused on the target, we fail to see what is going on around us.

The wing man provides that. She looks out for us, and feeds back to us threats we may not see.

The biggest threats we are facing today sit outside of our immediate vision. We may achieve and celebrate short term financial goals, whilst at the same time not see the bigger systemic picture, wherein lie the issues that will take us out of the game.

All of us need a “wingman” or woman. I’m grateful for mine. Who’s yours?

Can businesses be mindful?

Most of us are familiar with mindfulness. Paying attention to the whole without judgement. Whether we practice it as a routine, or periodically under pressure, it is a valuable (if over hyped) approach.

Done effectively, it helps us sort signal from noise, and connect what we are doing to the service of the “something bigger” that is important to us in our lives and work.

So why, I wonder, is it so much more difficult to do at an organisation level?

In “Coherence” Alan Watkins talks compellingly about the science of the hierarchy of performance. About how our behaviours are rooted in our physiology (through the intermediate levels of emotion, feelings and thought). It is these levels that even simple mindfulness practice can help us access.

Research has shown that focusing purely on behaviours only works to motivate people to earn rewards, not to pay attention to the deeper, more important things that shape culture and sustainable performance.

Yet, when we turn up at work, suddenly performance and behaviours become binary. Maybe because of time pressures, or just the habit of being busy, we resist taking the time to go deeper, to consider how our organisations structure, its’ changing shape over time, and the echoes of people no longer there affect our feelings and ways of thinking.

So we end up in our own performance of Groundhog Day. Regression to a declining mean.

We are often told that today, people’s attention is the scarcest commodity. That may be correct, but perhaps the more important question is what we use that attention for. In a world of “solutions”, we maybe don’t pay enough attention to encouraging curiosity and reflective thinking at an organisational level.

I think it’s important. If we don’t renew, we fade – individually, and as organisations.

The Power of Reflection

We can only live our lives looking forwards and understand them looking backwards.

The faster the pace of life and change, the more we pay attention to where we are going, without necessarily reflecting on why.

Every complex system has a reflective capability, a feedback loop.

For us, our bodies have the parasympathetic system to balance the fight/flight dominated sympathetic system. It’s there to protect and inform us.

We however have an (almost) unique appetite for overriding it.

The work of B.F. Skinner shaped a generation. We have designed behaviourist reward systems – bonuses, appraisals, SMART goals etc. – that really work, although their real power is not long term performance, it is short term rewards seeking or punishment avoidance.

We can reward people to death. We can create systems so powerful, so addictive, that both animals and people can be induced to work till they drop dead.

The Japanese even have a word for it. Karoshi. The main cause is heart attack due to starvation diet and stress. no balance and no feedback (although I guess death is an extreme form of feedback)

Organisations are no different. We are seeing organisations around us suffering from Karoshi every day. Death through overwork and resource starvation brought on by lack of reflection.

Taking time out to reflect, to notice, to listen to our own, and our organisations bodies is not inefficient. It is the stuff of development, contribution and survival.

We all have a choice of two futures. The one we’re living that is designed for us by others, or the one we choose for ourselves.

The difference between the two is reflection.