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Future Fit Leading:  Manifesting A Revolution In Consciousness

August 8, 2017

Often people ask me to explain ‘Future Fit Leadership’ to them.  So here goes, a short article about just that.

First, I would like to share some of the context to future-fit leadership.

There is a revolution underway, a revolution with profound consequences for ourselves, our organisations and our wider social systems.

This revolution is not about digitisation, globalisation, disruptive innovation or any of the other macro-trends futurists tend to point to.

No.

In fact, this revolution isn’t out there at all.  It’s in here; in our own hearts-and-minds, and it’s ripping up the rule book about how we view life and our sense of place and purpose within it.

And you and I are right in the thick of it, in the midst of this metamorphosis.

I would like to share with you how this revolution in consciousness is manifesting in business, perhaps one of the most if not THE most powerful human force on the planet at the moment.

The way we viewed our organisations in the 20th century was as a ‘machine’, a machine that sweats its assets (including ‘human resources’) and the wider supply chain in order to provide maximised short-term returns. Society and the environment are externalities separate from the core business to be managed at best through nice-to-have yet superficial branding personas or other non-core activities.

This mechanistic logic – which is rooted in separateness, control, hyper-competition and domination – has some useful contributions to make to our learning and evolution as human-beings . But it’s had its day as a dominant socio-economic logic. This machine-logic is cracking, giving-way under the systemic challenges, volatility and inter-connected wicked problems our organisations and social systems now face.

This perception of the organisation-as-machine is giving way to the realisation of the organisation-as-living system, a living system which is intimately inter-related with the living systems of society and our more-than-human world.

‘The greatest voyage of our lifetimes is not in the seeking of new landscapes but in the seeing with new eyes.’ Marcel Proust, philosopher

The old way of seeing the world is giving way to a new consciousness that recognises the timeless wisdom of Nature, if we so choose to see: life is intimately interconnected, nothing is separate, everything inter-relates with everything else.

‘Learn how to see and realise everything connects with everything else.’  Leonardo Da Vinci, genius

And the good news is, we can take learning from the living systems all about and within us as we learn to see with deeper fuller eyes.

We can apply living systems logic to leadership and organisational development in order to enable our organisations to become future-fit.

Living systems show us that we need to balance the dynamics of ‘convergence’ and ‘divergence’ to allow for healthy ‘emergence’. This emergence allows the organisation to adapt, learn and thrive amid unceasing transformation.

In business, this ‘divergence’ comes from distributed decision making, empowering teams to make change happen at the local level without having to rely on hierarchies of bureaucracy and control.

This ‘divergence’ also means we celebrate diversity, not just in terms of age, creed, culture and gender as important as that is, but also in terms of perceptual horizon, bringing different views from different silos within the business and from different stakeholder groups across the business ecosystem through generative dialogue.   This ‘divergence’ allows boundaries of separation to permeate and a richer more resilient decision-making process to unfold.

Yet, this divergence needs to be balanced with ‘convergence’ otherwise the organisation can become too chaotic.  We need to balance the order-and-the-chaos, Dee Hock (founder of VISA) refers to this as ‘chaordic’ where we find the right blend of divergence and convergence in order to ensure heightened emergence.

Traditional, ‘convergence’ has come through power-based hierarchies of control and domination.  This logic has a history, born out of a militarised mind exacerbated by the rise of patriarchy, the separation of wild-nature and ‘civilised’ urbanisation, and an ego-explosion that desires control over nature and over each other.  I explore this in detail in The Illusion of Separation, suffice to say that this kind of convergence through power-based hierarchies of control actually undermines the vibrancy and resilience of the living systems we are trying to engender.

Hence, we need to replace this convergence with a different kind; a kind that actually helps deepen our humanity rather than undermine it: hence the rise of ‘purposeful business’.

We can provide convergence within our organisational living system by cultivating a resonant sense of purpose.  This sense of purpose binds people in a way that gives them a common unifying strategic intent, and yet allows them the freedom (divergence) to go about delivering this purpose in ways that best suit their local environment without having to rely on hierarchies of bureaucracy and control.

There is a need for hierarchies (and the variants of heterarchies, panarchies, synarchies)  and yet the power-and-control tendency within them is lessened as people become more empowered to make decisions at the local level.

It is this balance – or continuous tuning – of divergence and convergence that allows the organisation to find its healthy emergence so that it can adapt to its ever-changing business terrain, while also being attuned to the inter-relational dynamics of wider society and the environment within which it fits.  It is this ‘fitness’ this ability to be ‘future-fit’ through our flexibility, sensing and responding to the ever changing yet deeply inter-related unfolding environment that Charles Darwin was pointing to when he spoke of ‘survival of the fittest’, ‘fittest’ in terms of fitting into to ever-changing ecosystem.

Hence, cultivating this resonant sense of purpose within the organisational culture is paramount if the organisation is going to not just survive but thrive in these increasingly volatile climes.

What do we mean by a ‘resonant sense of purpose’?

Sociological studies show us that a threshold can be crossed within the consciousness of a social system, whereupon the social system’s ability to develop an overall coherence of purpose means the organisation can let go of the power-based hierarchies and encourage more self-organising ways of operating to spawn. Some studies show that this tipping point can be reached with as little as 10% of the people within the organisation deeply resonating with the organisational sense of purpose for a shift in consciousness of the living organisation to occur.  And for people to deeply resonate with the organisation’s sense of purpose we now know that the organisation’s purpose needs to be more than simply maximising profits, or becoming number one in a market, or being a better service provider as noble as that may be.  For the organisational purpose to deeply resonate with our humanity, it needs to in some way enhance life, to contribute to a better future, to create the conditions conducive for life to flourish.   This goes beyond mere purpose statements and ethical values charters, this is a deep belief in the organisation’s commitment to be a meaningful contributor to society and the environment.

This is a far cry from the mechanistic logic of old where organisations-as-machines merely crunched numbers (and people, and the wider fabric of society and the environment) to make short term gains for shareholders.

The very situation of fragility and volatility we have created with our separateness and its hyper-competitive machine-logic has created the very conditions that might just provoke us out of this logic into seeing the world and our organisations with fresh eyes.

This isn’t some utopian dream, its manifesting today through all sorts of movements in business such as Teal, Conscious Capitalism, B-Corp and the Purpose Movement – these are not just incremental adaptations to our existing paradigm, they are the spawning streams of a revolution, a revolution in consciousness that is manifesting in business with profound consequences for how we lead and operate.  Enter:  Future-Fit Leadership.

Over the last few months I have engaged with a number of senior business executives, along with thought leaders and researchers at the vanguard of the future of business. These findings coupled with outputs from leading global surveys, forms the shape of a number of critical tipping points both in our assumptions about leadership, what it is, where it is located and how it operates, as well as how it needs to transform to be fit for our future world.

In a recent leadership survey I contributed to with Prof. Peter Hawkins of Henley Business School on Leadership, the following tipping points are identified:

 

  1. From Leading my people to orchestrating Business Eco-systems
  2. From Heroic to collective and collaborative
  3. Leadership needing to be driven by Purpose and Value Creation for all Stakeholders
  4. From Serial and fragmented innovation to working simultaneously in three time frames
  5. Embracing multiple Individual Diversity and also Systemic Diversity
  6. Leader as Developer
  7. Motivation, Millennials, and mobility.
  8. “No place to hide” – implications of living in a transparent world.

 

A key over-arching factor in all these tipping points is the leader’s ability to simultaneously embrace ‘self and systemic’ leadership development.

‘The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st Century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’
John Naisbitt, futurist

The ‘self’ aspect is what is sometimes referred to as ‘vertical’ development (i.e. not technical competency and skills development but personal, emotional and spiritual development enabling the ability to deal with fast-moving complexity, while creating the conditions for teams/organisations to flourish).

The ‘systemic’ aspect is what is sometimes referred to as ‘system’ or ‘eco-system’, the development of ‘eco-system relationality’ for the leader, the organisation and the organisation’s stakeholder ecosystem (including society and the environment).

 

‘Self and system’ leadership blends both the ‘self’ development and ‘system’ development capacities now required by Future-Fit Leaders.

Living Systems Being

Enhancing self-awareness through the cultivation of our emotional and spiritual intelligence is becoming more readily accepted in today’s leadership development approaches.  And systems-thinking coupled with more sustainable and purposeful business ethics is providing the richer frameworks for leaders to become more conscious of the interconnections the team and organisation has within the wider ecosystem of business, society and the environment.  Yet, often these approaches are cultivated in isolation of each other.

What is now emerging on the pioneering edges of future-fit leadership and organisational development is ‘living-systems being’: a shift in our embodied attentiveness – our being-in-the-world. This goes beyond traditional systems-thinking or sustainable business practices by recognising that to truly embody the ‘self and system’ dynamic of future fit leadership we need to cultivate a full-bodied head-heart-gut awareness of the ecosystemic interconnectedness within and all around us, rather than a purely analytical ‘head-thinking’ logic which much of today’s systems-thinking, complexity theory and CSR is overly inured in.

‘Great leaders are awake, aware and attuned to themselves, to others, and to the world around them…they seek to live in full consciousness of self, others, nature and society.’

Richard Boyatzis, leadership specialist

This is why I have been undertaking a series of nature immersions throughout 2017 with forward-thinking leaders of all backgrounds, so that we can explore and embody this shift in consciousness to enable us to become future-fit leaders while transforming ourselves, our systems and our civilisation.

Here is some feedback from a leader who recently attended one of these immersions:

Signing up for the workshop was quite a challenge in terms of the time taken out of packed diary, and somehow I was preparing myself for some lectures, where Giles would share some latest research and insights, however, I was pleasantly surprised. He took us as a group to nestle ourselves in the web of Nature and through well designed activities and questions took us out of the buzz of our mind. Giles held a space for us, and I felt safe sharing some of my deep secrets with the others. I left the day, not filled with new knowledge, but filled with wisdom.

see here for more on these future fit leadership immersions 

Never before has the plight of this planet been knowingly held in these fragile hands of ours. This is humanities hour of reckoning. The very situation we have created with our ego-minds is creating the very predicament that might just enable us to see beyond them and sense into the deeper soul of ourselves and our world. Instead of hubris, fear, separateness and competition, we now need humility, love, connectedness and synergy – a shift in consciousness no less, that is well within our natural capability.

When we look back upon this hour of reckoning, the question will be – ‘what did you do when you knew?’

What did you do when you knew about the dire plight of our planet?

What did you do when you knew about the innate interconnectedness and sacredness of life?

Did you join the revolution-in-consciousness or resist it? Did you live, lead, learn and love differently or stick to the status quo?

Welcome to the [r]evolution.

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here

For more on the Future Fit Leadership Academy visit www.ffla.co and for Giles Hutchins’ personal website www.gileshutchins.com

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