“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,, “
Opening chapter in “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
I was working with a leader on Friday and was reminded how difficult it is to lead well.
This leader felt that he and his work environment were now facing an existential crisis. That his old assumptions about himself, his work and his world were being challenged on an almost daily basis. That this was a crisis of meaning, purpose and identity He was finding that old certainties, working models, mindsets and assumptions were not enough. That the old certainties of “management by objective” and “command and control” were no longer working in the face of relentless financial and demand pressures, a bruising political context and harsh public scrutiny. The points of the compass were in free fall as he, his staff and his organization sought to steer a leaking ship whilst soaring tidal waves obscured direction, destination and hope of sailing into calmer waters.
And this bigger structural sense of implosion was compounded by a personal existential crisis – an unhappiness which was caused by seeing how far he had travelled from his true self; and a deep need to reconnect with what matters in life and work. In his own words
“I am colluding – I am living a lie”
“I am so twisted out of shape by all that is happening I have lost sight of WHO I truly am and what my deeper purpose is”
What was clear is that more of the same is not enough – for any of us. That this is a deeper and wider call for leaders and people professionals to develop the new of enhanced skills and capabilities, which are becoming necessary to lead, survive and thrive in today’s leadership context. These are capacities that we all have but have tended to be forgotten in the busyness. These are our natural human capacities for sensing, creating, belonging, relationship, conversation, connection, compassion, wisdom and courage which, when combined with left brain thinking, help leaders to become creators and not victims. The good news is that we can all learn to step into all of WHO they truly are and are becoming – to properly support, resource and nourish of the evolving self in service of an ever-evolving purpose which optimizes personal contribution and collective organizational performance. That it is possible to enable leaders and people professionals to shine in their own uniqueness to enable others to shine in theirs.
This is at its most elemental level a coming home to ourselves. The realization that our power resides in our own powerful personal presence is a journey (which in eastern traditions) is a return to self which enables us to touch and embrace our shared humanity to order to do be the best version of ourselves and do great work. It is having the courage to see that we are most effective when we are able to fully and uniquely express ourselves. And the good news is that learning to lead this way is a practice and a discipline, which can be learnt, lived and applied across work and life. So that we, as the “Invictus” poem suggests can become captains again of our souls.
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul”.
The Coaching Supervision Academy’s One Day Workshop ” Learning to lead from all of WHO you are” on Wednesday 13th May 2015 in Central London starts this critical conversation for our times which are full of threat and are also full of hope and possibility. Visit: https://coachingsupervisionacademy.com/booking-now-one-day-workshop-learning-to-lead-from-all-of-who-you-are-wednesday-13th-may-2015/
Elaine is Director of Leadership at the Coaching Supervision Academy whose passion is bringing the inspirational, energizing and creative powers of our shared humanity into the heart of leadership, work and business practices.
Dickens, C. (1859) A Tale of Two Cities. London, Penguin Classics.
Henley, W. E. (1888) In Book of Verses. Massachusetts, Hardpress Publishing.