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Giles Hutchins

Management

The Necessary Shift Required of Leaders

Let’s not face today’s turmoil with yesterday’s logic

Published: Monday, April 11, 2016 - 14:13

Globalization, disruptive technologies, pressure on finite resources, increasing social disparity, and demand for business transparency: Enter the age of uncertainty. These transformative times are reshaping the workplace in profound ways, demanding the crossing of thresholds at myriad levels. Leadership is what enables us to traverse our own thresholds while helping others traverse theirs. 

The origin of the word “leadership” is the old European word leith, which means “to go forth and cross the threshold; to let go of old ways and embrace the new.” In other words, leadership is about shaping our future while letting go of yesterday’s logic.

The hallmark of yesterday’s logic is a control-and-predict, hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it short-termism. It has infected how we perceive our world and our sense of self within it—as self-absorbed units struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world. We are separating ourselves from each other and corrupting our relationships.

This logic is, at best, jaundiced; it de-emphasizes some of life’s richest qualities (e.g., collaboration, networking, reciprocity, empathy, community) and over-emphasizes others (competition, control, domination, selfishness, egotism). This old logic’s pervasive effect on management, leadership, and organizational mindset undermines the potential for creating meaningful, wholesome, and life-enhancing enterprises. Instead, we get caught up in frenzied busyness, skip past warning signs, and treat symptoms with the same mindset that created them, skimming over the underlying causes.

Yesterday’s logic projects a worldview now ingrained in our educational systems, managerial mindsets, and methods of leading, so much so that many of us believe it to be “just the way life is.” Why question this logic when, after all, it’s the “logic of life?” Or is it?

There is good news

A groundswell of findings is revealing a richer understanding of life. The varied disciples of facilitation ecology, transpersonal psychology, quantum physics, neuroscience, anthropology, organizational development, and leadership, to name a few, are exploring a deeper, truer logic of life. 

And just how does this truer logic of life influence company leaders? How does it help our workplaces to become future-fit? Increasing scientific acceptance supports a more inter-relational logic of life that in turn informs how we lead, manage, and organize.

I use the term “firms of the past” (i.e., ones inured in the mechanistic logic of yesterday) and “firms of the future” (organizations beginning to embrace this richer logic of life) to illustrate the shift in our ways of operating and organizing what is now upon us.

Firms of the past are top-down hierarchic, command-and-controlled, siloed, KPI-obsessed organizations. No doubt we’ve all experienced this kind of organization.  They are common, yet they stifle our personal and organizational creativity, adaptiveness, resilience, and well-being. In short, they undermine our ability to effectively operate within a business context that is only set to become more volatile, uncertain, and challenging.

On the other hand, firms of the future are living, emergent, distributed, and decentralized, with locally attuned teams of people empowered to deal with unceasing transformation without having to rely on hierarchies of bureaucracy and control. These organizations embrace a living-systems logic that allows them to be flexible, adaptable, and resilient as they seek out opportunities for value-creation.

We need to cultivate self-awareness amid our everyday busyness to catch ourselves reacting with “old ways.” This helps us open up to a more integrated, authentic perspective of how life really is. We need to accept, not just intellectually, but emotionally, somatically, and intuitively, that life is inter-relational and participatory. With this understanding of the interconnectedness of life, we realize that what we do to one aspect of it causes ripples through the whole matrix of life. This knowledge helps us develop what has been referred to as “collective intelligence” and “collaborative intelligence,” where we sense the participatory nature of our ever-changing context.

With this comes a humbling responsibility as we realize our actions can have far-reaching consequences.

At an organizational level, this manifests as the recognition that each organization is interdependent with myriad stakeholders. Undermining or alienating one group of stakeholders or an aspect of an ecosystem to maximize short-term returns for ourselves or our shareholders may provide superficial quick wins, but it inevitably pollutes relationships and undermines our regenerative potential (personally and organizationally).

The age of industrialization and mechanism has given way to the age of networks and relationships, and with that the organizational metaphor of the machine has given way to the metaphor of the living system.

In my latest book, Future Fit, I explore—indeed activate—the qualities required for future-fit business. Future Fit is a workbook full of practical tips and case studies, suitable for anyone who is involved in for-purpose enterprise, whether an entrepreneur or seasoned business executive.

First published March 28, 2016, on CSRwire Talkback.

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About The Author

Giles Hutchins’s picture

Giles Hutchins

Giles Hutchins blends a wealth of business strategy, operations, and transformation experience with pioneering new thought on leading, sustaining, and flourishing in volatile times while drawing on ancient wisdom traditions so that organizations can unlock their creative potential and thrive. Hutchins is a recognized thought leader, speaker, and adviser, applying 20 years of experience to his work at personal and organizational levels. He writes articles for a number of business networks and blogs at www.thenatureofbusiness.org. Hutchins is author of The Nature of Business (New Society Publishers, 2013) and The Illusion of Separation (Floris Books, 2015).