The catastrophic events of this summer are still unfolding and the strain in organisations across the country is palpable. As with most disasters, there are significant risks that go unnoticed in the madness of immediate survival. While leaders focus on getting the job done under often extreme circumstances, many of the hidden impacts and long-term consequences on the workforce and hence business viability are overlooked.
Having a clear focus on and providing mechanisms to contain the distress and anxiety coursing through most organisations at the moment, is important, particularly in an environment where containment hasn’t come from the nation’s leaders in the way we might have expected.
Australian communities are currently facing head on the crisis of unprecedented bushfires and drought. The processing of what we have experienced and what it tells us of a possible future to come, will go on for months and years to come. The experience of Australia's summer of 2020 has the capacity to unite us, it also has the capacity to tear us apart as we deal with fear, anxiety, anger and blame. In conversation with a friend from Bateman's Bay last night she spoke of the heightened emotion in community meetings, of heroism and courage and of the speed with which looting took place.
Many individuals are asking what can I do? As we see incredible ordinary leaders emerge it seems that we are on a tipping point between hopelessness and a call for focused and decisive action.
Australia is on fire, literally and has been for several months now. Yet we are confronted by the spectre of leaders minimising the deflecting dialogue around the causes of the unprecedented weather events taking place all around the world.
Several years ago I was in retreat with global leadership development practitioner Meg Wheatley. Meg was firmly of the view that the planet had reached its tipping point and that all that was now possible was to work toward creating pockets of humanity in a society increasingly under threat. It was a confronting experience. I didn’t and still don’t know whether Meg’s conclusion is accurate. There is something inherent within me that believes we can’t give up. Meg wasn’t asking us to give up though, instead she was stripping away what she described as the illusion of hope.
At some point, as a leader or manager you will have to provide performance feedback, handle complaints and manage grievances. Mastering the ability to give difficult feedback and keep dialog constructive and open is essential.
When asked to train managers in complaint handling recently, I prepared by exploring what helps individuals to engage with feedback and complaints. I also reflected on a powerful personal experience, that helped me understand just how difficult staying open to feedback can be.
Failure to communicate openly can be a real problem for teams and working relationships. In the absence of direct communication, indirect communication usually results. A culture of gossip, high unexplained staff turnover and widespread complaining to no-one in particular, can be signs your workplace is a little reticent when it comes to direct communication.
Have you ever given or received an apology that had a powerful and transformative impact? Of late we've been working with organisations committed to making full and wholehearted apologies.
A heartfelt apology can be relieving for all concerned. Acknowledging mistakes and wrongdoings supports healing and the restoration of relationships. When Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised in 2008 to Australian Aboriginals and members of the stolen generation, for the forced removal of children from their families and culture, his words held significance for the whole nation. Rudd spoke at the time about ‘removing a stain from the nation’s soul’.
The apology to the stolen generation was a long time coming - far too long. The trauma of many individuals and their families was prolonged by a lack of acknowledgement of their suffering. Events such as this and the mixed messages sent by many institutions in response to allegations of child sex abuse have been painful to witness.
“We Are An Organisation At War With Ourselves”
“We are an organisation at war with ourselves.” When a courageous leader expressed these words in a recent workshop the whole room paid attention. They were said without judgement. More as a sort of weather report or to bring me up to speed with the participants' current leadership challenges.
Succinctly and without any drama that leader had expressed their struggle in a way that was visceral and captured the lived experience of those in the room. He had not taken sides, instead he had presented a snapshot, that we might also think of as a view from the balcony.
He was not the most senior leader in the room, just the person ready at that moment to speak openly about what he really saw going on.
Being able to recognise and seize moments of cultural change like this is incredibly important. The cohort of leaders was fully present. The issue was alive for them. These are the moments in which culture change happens – if we are alert enough to recognise and seize them. And this was one of those opportunities...
Australasia has been rocked in past weeks by a series of events that have deeply challenged our sense of identity and security. While it is tempting to think of things that happen on the world stage as ‘out there’ they send shock waves that reach into our workplaces and families. And we need to know how to recognise and respond to these secondary effects. Those of us with specialist skills in conflict management are called to leadership roles at times as individuals, teams, families and communities navigate shock, denial, anger, rage and fear.
One would imagine that events like the Christchurch hate crime or conviction of George Pell, would bring us together. And these events do have that possibility. However when our sense of security in the world is rent, we are typically thrust in the fight, flight and freeze dynamics which ironically result in increased tension and conflict in other facets of our lives. In addition the dynamics of power and privilege are brought into stark relief. Let me elaborate….
Organisational transformational or change initiatives represent a big commitment. They take focus, energy and time.
Whilst we know organisational change is now a constant, significant transformations take a toll on the human and emotional capital of the workforce, with many people reporting heightened anxiety as a result of the uncertainty that arises.
So the question of how to do change well is one we need to pay attention to.
In our work consulting on culture and change management, we have seen transformational initiatives that deliver on their promise and those that seemed like a lot of pain and effort, for not much return.
Here are four common traps we have witnessed, and our advice on how to avoid them.
Barnaby Joyce is not the first politician or leader to be blindsided by the consequences that come with using power poorly. It seems that for many years, peers, directs and the media would turn a blind eye to rank transgressions.
However, things are changing. Perhaps it has been the widespread exposure of phenomena such as abuse in our religious and many public institutions. Perhaps it was the global financial crisis. Perhaps we are simply becoming more educated.
Whatever the reason, the public’s intolerance for the misuse of power and call for change and accountability is growing louder.
Many leaders sense this and are growing nervous. So what can organisations do to address the issue and support leaders to use their power more effectively?