Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast

Out of Control — How to Lead Through Uncertainty? With Dr. Paul Lawrence

January 27, 2023 Paul Lawrence, Martin Aldergard, Gerrit Pelzer Episode 18
Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast
Out of Control — How to Lead Through Uncertainty? With Dr. Paul Lawrence
Show Notes Transcript

Leaders are expected to get results. In fact, some people will say that’s what leaders get paid for, and they are held accountable when the desired results are not achieved. But, at the same time, leaders can’t really control outcomes, especially during times that seem to become increasingly uncertain. So what can leaders do?

Dr. Paul Lawrence is helping us find answers in this episode. Paul is a leadership consultant, coach, researcher, and author of many books and articles on leadership and coaching.

Key Aspects and Statements

[05:12] Leaders often think there are  things they control and others they can’t. What often gets forgotten is the bit in the middle: what we can influence. That’s the real domain of leadership in a complex world where you can’t control results.

[7:14] There are five ways of thinking about systems and about change.

[13:13 ] In the first three ways (linear and non-linear systemic, collaborative systemic), we imply that we are standing outside our organisation, we can diagnose things somehow, and then we'll work out what we need to do. We believe we can control things. 

[15:42] In a complex system, however, a leader can't  stand outside the organisation. They are part of the system. So, when I, as a leader, put something out there, other people will make sense of what I am  saying in their own way.  As a result, something quite unexpected may emerge; what the leader  wanted and intended didn't happen. In other words, you don't get to control outcomes in a complex system. 

What I can do as a leader is to get genuinely curious, get out into the organisation and explore what people are thinking and saying.

[28:14]  In research about successful change in organisations, we found one word that stood out: dialogue.  Dialogue is a way of engaging people in conversation. Dialogue requires leaders to get out there genuinely curious, to find out what people are saying, how they're thinking, how they're behaving. Leaders need to suspend judgment and be open to the possibility that what emerges from all those conversations might be  different from what they expected.

[36:25] The way we think does change; it evolves through that social process of conversation and interaction.  And that’s why it’s so important that we challenge how they think about systems and change.

Reflection Questions: 

  • How can I influence? How might influence happen in unexpected ways? and How can I be personally more at ease with my limitations of influence?
  • How can I as a leader be more curious and open to learn from those I wish to influence, not from a point of control but from a point of influence - when it's about them, not about me?
  • How do I think about change and how does that sharpen the way that I lead?

Dr. Paul Lawrence's contact details are on his website, and you can find all his books and articles here.

More info about us and our work is also on our website:

Do you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions for us? Would you like to explore how we can help you to drive results in your organisations through a company-wide initiative or individual executive coaching? Then email us: hello at secondcrackleadership dot com.

To connect with us on LinkedIn:
Martin Aldergård
Gerrit Pelzer 

Second Crack – The Leadership Podcast

with guest Paul Lawrence (Episode 18)

This transcript is AI-generated and may contain typos and errors.

[00:11] Gerrit: A warm welcome to our first episode of Second Crack - The Leadership Podcast in 2023. So, a happy and healthy New Year to you. If you're new to our show, this is where we explore everyday leadership dilemmas and paradoxes, and where we invite you as our listener to self-reflect. My name is Gerrit Pelzer. I'm an executive coach and I'm joined as usual by my dear friend and business partner, Martin Aldergard. Martin is a leadership consultant who focuses on change and transformation in organizations. And what we both have in common is that we always put people at the center of our work. So, hi Martin. Good to be recording with you today again.

[00:52] Martin: Hi Gerrit, excited to kick off the new year with you and a great guest on the show. Happy New Year to you Gerrit. 

[01:02] Gerrit: Happy New Year to you too. Yeah, and as you already indicated, we are very pleased to announce that we have a very special guest on the show, Dr. Paul Lawrence, who will help us answer the question: How can leaders drive results when outcomes seem to become increasingly uncertain?

[01:23] And I just noticed we are spanning three continents today; starting in the West with Martin in Sweden, myself in Bangkok, Thailand, and Paul in Sydney,  Australia. So we're also covering, I think,  12 hour time zone. 

[01:40] Hello Paul and also a warm welcome and happy new year to you. 

[01:44] Paul: Hi, Gerrit. Yeah, thank you for having me. It's lovely to be here. Happy New Year to you both. 

[01:49] Gerrit: Thank you

[01:51] Paul, you have done so many things in your life that I don't know how I can keep an introduction brief because you told me I should just use a few words. So here's my try and, and please feel free to, to add. So you are a leadership development consultant, a coach, a coach supervisor, and also a researcher. And before you moved into consulting and coaching, you enjoyed a very international corporate career, that was in the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Portugal, and Japan. I mean that, that by itself is very impressive. Then you worked in various consulting firms and you were the co-founder of the Center for Systemic Change. And then also the Center for Coaching in Organizations. And around end of 2021, you moved on, founded another company Leading Systemically, and you have written a number of articles and books on coaching and leadership. And in fact, another book, The Wise Leader is in the making and will be published very soon. Uh, Paul, do you already have the, the exact date for publication? 

[03:06] Paul: No, we have two books coming out next year. There's the Wise Leader, which will come out probably around March, April 2023. Yeah. And then, then we have the Team Leader Instruction manual, which will be coming out about the same time.

[03:20] Gerrit: All right, so we, we make sure we put a link to your bibliography in the, in the session notes anyway, so that that readers can find that. One particular book that I would like to highlight is called Coaching Systemically- Five Ways of Thinking About Systems, which was published in 2021. And while according to the title, it's about coaching, I have actually recommended it to every leader I'm working with. I really think it's a must read for every leader, because whenever you're talking there about coaching, it's always executive coaching or leadership coaching. So you're always referring to what is going on in organizations and you explain on the one hand, quite detailed, but on the other hand, also in a very practical and pragmatic way, how organizations really function.

[04:13] I would like to start by exploring a real life leadership dilemma. Mm-hmm. , uh, which I'm dealing with all the time in my executive coaching. In fact, I had just yesterday a coaching session related to it. I'd briefly mentioned it before, and that is: Leaders are expected to get results. So in fact, many people would say that getting results is what leaders get paid for. And so leaders are held accountable when, uh, especially when results are not achieved. But at the same time, uh, can leaders really control outcomes, especially during times that seem to become increasingly uncertain? So that was a lengthy introduction to, to throw one question at you and that is Paul, based on your many years of experience and research, how much control would you say do leaders really have when it comes to achieving results?

[05:12] Paul: I think it depends on the context and as you implied, I think there is a kind of silent, implicit assumption that leaders are able to control results and, and are therefore held accountable for those results. At the same time, we, we do recognize that we can't control everything. We, we, we hear a lot about this sphere of influence. What can I control? What can I not control? And sometimes leaders find that, to an extent comforting that there's this stuff they can control and there's this stuff they can't control. What, what tends to get left out is the bit in the middle, which is the stuff that we can influence. And that's, I think that's the real domain of a leader working in, in a complex world where you don't get to control results, you, you might get to control results in a, in a, in a very limited way, in certain very simple context, but not when you are addressing some of the complex issues that I think mostly leaders are facing today. 

[06:17] Gerrit: And I wonder if, for our listeners, we should talk a little bit about systems because your new company has "systemic" in its name. You have worked for another company or founded another company, the Center for Systemic Change, and the book that I mentioned talks about five different ways of looking at or thinking about systems. Could you give us a brief overview what you mean when you talk about systems? Because, maybe one quick addition to it: In my experience, people often confuse "systemic" and "systematic". And what, what's the difference between systemic and systematic, and what should a leader perhaps know in terms of, or what should a leader know about systems when we talk about organizations.

[07:14] Paul: Well, the first thing I should say is we can talk about five ways of thinking about systems. It's also five ways of thinking about change. That's what it's, that's what it's really about. So why do we talk about systems? Because I was hearing a lot in the coaching community, The coaches talking about how important it was to think systemically and, and you hear that narrative in the leadership space as well. We all need to think systemically. And the reason that I did the, the, the current research and wrote the book was when I spoke to people about, so, so what do you mean by systemically? Um, either in, in a few cases you've got a very detailed explanation, but in most cases it seems to mean simply standing on the balcony, the old metaphor, looking at things from a distance. And I thought, well, yeah, but, so you're standing on the balcony and you're looking at things from a distance, but, but how are you interpreting what you are seeing? And in the systems literature, there are some, there are, there are lots and lots of different system theories and they all encourage us to look from the balcony through very different lenses, and they are very different lenses, and some of those lenses are not terribly helpful when you're working in complexity. So thinking systemically isn't necessarily a terribly useful thing to do. So hence the writing of the book for coaches, which was saying: Look, you are using this phrase systemically all the time, I'm not hearing a lot of stuff coming from the kind of systems literature, which is quite complicated, but I'm not hearing any great insight as to what that means.

[08:51] Um, and interestingly, as you said, alright, if the coaches, cuz that's the community that I spend a lot of time with, but it's, it's leaders who, it's probably leaders who responded to the book at least as with a much interest as coaches, if not more. Um, if I give you, let me just give you a brief overview, then. Remember we're talking about change here, and then I'll answer a question about systemic and systematic. Sure. Um, the five ways we talk about are: 

[09:20] Number one, Linear Systemic, which means basically, I'm thinking in quite simple terms about change and systems. I'm comparing my organization to a very simple system like a washing machine or a thermostat. It's this notion that if I pull this lever, then that will happen. It, it means that I do expect of myself and others to be able to control outcomes, if that makes sense. So if you think about Covid, I think we saw, we saw a lot of this in Covid early on, world leaders saying, look, don't worry about Covid. We'll close the borders. We'll make everyone wear a mask, social distancing, and we'll manage it. Of course that didn't really work because Covid and, uh, as a, as a, as an entity, as a disease was a little bit more complex than we were giving it credit for. You heard people comparing it to the flu virus. Why? Makes us feel better. The flu virus, we know how to control the flu virus. So if we think about covid as the flu virus, then it makes us feel we can control. This desire to control things is quite close to, um, close to our hearts. I.

[10:29] You've then got the second way of thinking, which is, uh, Nonlinear Systemic, which basically says, I still get to control things, but I need to recognize that things are a little bit more complicated than they might first see. So again, I don't wanna go into lots of theory. If you think simply about covid, again, this was much later on, you heard people say things : wow, did you, do you know, do you know that one person with covid can infect three or four or five different people. Spread of covid is, is quite exponential, it can just suddenly hit you. Um, there's more than one strain of covid that makes things a bit more complicated. We thought we'd gear our health systems up to manage the influx of patients, but we forgot to take into account that some of the people running those health centers also might catch covid. So it's, it's still this thinking that I can control things, but we're acknowledging just how complicated things are. Yeah. So we're compare still comparing the organization to a system, but it's a more complicated system. 

[11:36] The third way of thinking, we call Collaborative Systemic, which says, Um, alright. You know what the, this, again, I, I'll use Covid as an example. It's so complicated, one person can't possibly, uh, imagine that they can get their head around this. We need to tackle this together. We need to recognize that we all look at the world through a very particular subjective lens. None of us have this, this beautifully objective perspective. We all see certain things in a scenario when we miss certain things. Yeah. I don't usually remember that film that was famous a few years ago of people throwing a basketball around a basketball court and this great big gorilla walked through the middle. Oh, yes. And. And half, half of people don't even notice the gorilla. It's there, but we don't see it because our perception is very subjective. Yes. So, so the collaborative systemic perspective says, wow, this covid thing's really complicated. So we need to get, we really do need to get lots of people to have a look at this together before we can then come up with something that we think we can then control. Now, I'm not sure we saw this that much, that often in Covid, um, in Australia for example. There, there, there were times when you had real competition going on between the states as to who was doing a better job and who wasn't. Mm-hmm. , you certainly had the same thing in parts of Europe. Uh, certainly the UK was behaving like that. Ab Absolutely, absolutely. Um, so that says that that collaborative systemic lens wasn't necessarily one that terribly many people may have been looking. Yeah. And if they had, then we would've had a more collaborative approach. But that requires humility in your leaders. The humility to say, I don't really, I can't tell you what the answer is.

[13:13] Didn't see that a lot in government. Did see that, I saw some examples that that in corporate, so there was a big professional services firm I was doing some work with at the time. Their leadership did a big town hall, spoke to all the people and said, you know what, this covid stuff is so complicated, we can't be sure what the right respons is, but here's our best guess and we're just gonna do learn, do. So there's the first three ways of thinking about systems and change. Each of them do imply that we do get to control things because we are kind of standing outside our organization and going, look, we need to diagnose this somehow, and then we'll work out what we need to do. We can control things. 

[13:53] You get a real shift when you get into the Complex Systemic way of think. The first thing to acknowledge when you're looking at life through that lens is all those conversations me and the leadership team are having about our organization, that's just one conversation that's happening inside the organization, and there's lots of other conversations happening inside the organization. And all those conversations are influencing, uh, what's, um, what kind of conclusions, what kind of actions, what kind of behaviors start to happen across the whole organization. And again, I'll tell you a very simple story to illustrate that this happened before covid when I was doing a coaching skills program and people came out for morning tea and said, did you see that email, did you see that email, uh, from, from the leadership team telling us that we are not getting a 10% bonus this year, we're only getting an 8% bonus. They promised us 10% no matter what. That is no integrity. It's not acceptable. That was a little conversationing happening over here. A little further over the bench there were people saying; Ah, thank goodness for that. People in this organization are not commercial enough. Of course, you can't pay 10% bonuses if you're not making the money to, to, to be able to fund that. And then over in another corner, there was a group saying, well, I kind of get why we can't afford to pay 10%, but our, our profits are the same as last year and last year we got paid 9%. So why isn't it 9%? So now you imagine you are on that leadership team, you got all the data, you're all very clever. You've, you've worked this out and you've told the organization how things are gonna be and you expect them to get it. If they don't get it, they're either being a bit selfish or a bit stupid or, or, or whatever.

[15:42] Well, that's not how change works, and that's not how complex systems work. What happens is, is that when I, as a leader put something out there, other people will make sense of what I'm saying in their own way. And they'll tend to do it socially. They'll tend to do it with their neighbors, people that they trust, such that you get different interpretations of what I've just said. And then those people, if you remember those three little groups I just talked about, they start talking to each other, then something quite unexpected emerges as a, as a kind of overall pattern. And the leadership go, what the hell just happened there? Um, that's, that wasn't what was supposed to happen. What they wanted and what they intended didn't happen. In other words, you don't get to control outcomes in a complex system. Yeah, but you can influence. You see when, when you, when I explain this to folks, some leaders go, well, so what's my job then? I mean, if I don't, if I, if I can't control stuff, then I'm a bit redundant. Well, of course you're not redundant because you get to influence. Not only do you get to influence, you DO influence. Everything you say has an influence, and, and, and if I'm thinking through this lens, I'm aware of that and I'm constantly curious as to not just what's going on in the inverted common system. But I'm, I'm really terribly aware of the impact of, or the possible impact of, of what I say and how I behave. So in that, through that lens, I do not get to control outcomes. Through that lens, if that's the way I'm thinking, there's an adult development link here. I'm okay with that. Um, I get curious. I, I, I get genuinely curious and I get out into the organization and I really know what I really want to know, what people are thinking and saying, and I know that I need to get to different parts of the organization to hear what all these different people are, are, are hearing and saying.

[17:35] And a great covid example happened in Sydney, happened in Bourmouth in the UK, happened in the Ozarks, in the US, and I think it happened some other places too. In the middle of Covid Hot Day, every, everyone went, not everyone, lots of people went to the beach. No social distancing, no masks. And, and in each case, local government got really angry and said, why aren't you doing what you're supposed to be doing? Notice that frustration around not being able to control. If I'm looking at life through that complex systemic lens, then I go, wow, what? That's interesting. People are clearly thinking about things differently to me, and if I'm gonna succeed in influencing that, I need to understand the nature of those conversations. And yeah, I might be frustrated, but I'll equally be curious and I'll be out there on the beach, uh, subject to social distancing and mask wearing, talking to people and just understanding, why are you here? And, and recognizing that there'll be different people there for different reasons. And I'll be listening to this and I'll be working out what my response might be in my quest to influence. It's a very different way of thinking about leadership. 

[18:45] The, the fifth way isn't terribly different. Um, but it's where it says, you know what, all this stuff about organizations as systems is, it's, it's a lovely metaphor, but it's not a complete metaphor because organizations are not systems. In the sense that a washing machine is a system or an aircraft engine is a system or, or a human body is a living system. Cuz there's a fundamental difference which is human beings think for themselves. We, we, we don't really fully understand how human beings work. Human beings are mindful human things will just do things for the sake of it. Human beings are unpredictable. You cannot predict with any, with any great certainty what a human being's gonna do and that. So we need to recognize that. And, and that's why we call that perspective Meta Systemic, because it's saying all these systemic metaphors are interesting, but just hold them lightly. They're not real. And if the organization is not a system, then we, and we start recognizing that we love calling things, organizations. It makes us feel part of something. It simplifies the world. It's, it, it's similarly with a team. Teams aren't real. They're a group of people who've decided that they belong together. And so there are no real boundaries here. They're imaginary boundaries, they're mental constructs. So what? Well the so what is is that once I recognize the artificiality of those boundaries, or then I recognize that this change process, I've described this, this kind of conversational process through which change emerges, that involves everybody in my social network, not just the people who are in my team or my organization. It can include the barista who, who just, um, said, have a nice day. Oh, I suddenly feel better. It can be the person I go to the pub with on a Friday. It can most, or if you go into an office building, mo some people are employees of the organization, many people are not. Um, right. So it's just recognizing the limitations of thinking in those very boundary terms.

[20:52] Now you asked me what's the difference between systemic and systematic. Uh, I actually got really challenged on this, someone got really crossed with me when I was describing these five ways of thinking systemically. To me they're ways of thinking systemically because I'm thinking about the world as a system. Just different kinds of system. Yeah. But she said, no, you're wrong. Um, what you are describing as Linear Systemic, may be Non-linear Systemic, that's systematic. The other ways of thinking they're systemic. And here's how I think about systemic and okay, if that works for you, that's fine, and go with it. It doesn't work for me because it's oversimplifying things.

[21:30] It's saying they're systematic and they is systemic and it still is open the question of, well, what do you mean by systemic? It's so, so that's why I prefer to think just let's abandon the systematic, systemic I, I, they're both talking about systems. One is just a way of saying, oh, you know, systematic is logical and.... there's more than two ways of looking at systems and that's why I don't personally use that language. And at the same time, totally respect people whose way of thinking does accommodate that. Because what we're not trying to do with the book is kind of, um, get every leader to think in terms of five different ways of systems. Not trying to do that. What we are doing is we're saying, here's our word, thinking about systems. We really encourage you, to have your own philosophy around systems and change, because it's that philosophy and that clarity that's gonna drive how you behave as a leader. So how do you think about systems? How do you think about change? This is how we think about it. How do you think about it? Yeah, 

[22:29] Gerrit: Paul that was very, very rich. And, um, if I can, uh, just take a a, a step back here. I mean, first of all, I think everybody who wants to take a deeper dive really look at this book, read this book Coaching systemically, and I think you also have a number of white papers, uh, out there. And, um, I remember in your book, I think it's very early on, either in the introduction or one of the earlier chapters, there's this wonderful quote: "Purposeful, pragmatic action usually results in disaster because we constantly overestimate our capacity to understand the world a, around us." And what is underneath. This is for me, this, we often think also in organizations in very, uh, simple cause and effect relationships. Right? First of all, it's very clear, it's straightforward. We have A, that leads to B and then equals, equal C and as you indicated before, so we, uh, there's another, I think it's a quote from your book, I took some notes there: "we attempt to reduce complexity through single simple causal connections. Hmm. Simple causal explanations enable us to feel we are in control." Hmm. And, uh, we want to be in control, right? We wanna want have a good life. We want to get the results in the organization. And if I can draw the link here to my corporate experience, I worked for quite some time in, uh, uh, chemical maufacturing, and of course you have an optimized manufacturing process, right? And then you write instructions, you teach people how to do it so that whoever operates, um, the, the, the plant will always get the same products, and the same quality, at same costs, in a safe way. 

[24:20] And then we tend to apply what works so well in manufacturing, maybe in it, maybe in finance. We tend to apply this approach for the whole organization, right? So we look at, for instance, we are, we are setting, it's the beginning of the year we're setting goals or we have set them already. Then we look at, you know, where are we now, where do we wanna be, and then we decide what actions need to be taken. And then we instruct people what they do, and then, easily we get the result. But exactly as you said, as soon as human beings are involved, definitely the organization is not a machine. You're used to washing machine. Right. And um, , you had then this, this other example with the flocking birds. Mm. And then that we, there's actually computer simulation, I think it's called Boyds, that with, um, relatively simple set of rules for each of these voids then creates this wonderful pattern, if you live in a country where maybe towards the end of the summer you can see birds, uh, coming together and then having this flocking phenomena. But, for human beings. Each individual has their, their own, um, set of roles and, and this is then where it's getting so complicated. Mm-hmm. and the idea of work instructions and training people, this is, this is where the, that doesn't work anymore.

[25:49] Paul: Well, there's a lot, there's a lot in there. First of all, let me say, I'm not anti-purposeful and I'm not anti pragmatic far from it. But the, the point, um, that that's tempting to make is we an overemphasis on: I need to be purposeful, I need to be decisive, I need to be goal-oriented, and I need to get on with it without making the time to stop and think necessarily about the complexity of my world is that's, that's what can lead us into, um, problems. Your story around manufacturing plants. I, I spent 14 years working at BP. Um, BP had disasters in, in deep, deep water horizon, the Texas City Oil Refinery disaster. Um, and my perception of what was happening at the time was we were talking about these things as if they were very simple. So man management's, um, dictate was: keep it safe and reduce cost, and you can do both those things. It's, it's straightforward. Mm-hmm. , but it wasn't straightforward. And consequently you ended up with something in both cases, something rather unpredictable happening in those plants and there was a big disaster. Yeah. The, the Boyds thing, I agree with you, the Boyds simulation, which, which succeeded beautifully in creating flocking birds. If, if those were actual human beings, just imagine, you know, I'm, I'm sitting there with a bunch of other human beings and I'm, I'm being given a set of rules to follow. And if I follow those rules, we'll end up in a flock. Well, half the human beings go, yeah, I don't wanna do that. Uh, or yeah, I'm gonna do my version of that. Or, um, waste of time. And you'd find people just wandering all over the place. So as you say, human beings are not programmable entities. Yeah. 

[27:30] Gerrit: And then, then you made this fantastic point. Uh, I think you were talking about the fear of, of influence. So there may be parts that I am in control of and others, they are out of my control, so I don't need to bother. And I really love when you use the term influence. So could you tell us a bit more about influence? How can a leader then influence, I was about to say to get the desired results, but the longer we talk, the more I realize the more distance we may need to be from desired results. Um, but let's say how can a leader influence towards the desired, hmm, direction perhaps, for lack of a better expression. 

[28:14] Paul: Well, we did some research on that in, I think it was 2015. And, and the results of that research were in the first book that I wrote, which was called Leading Change. And what we did was interview 50 leaders around the world. We didn't ask, um, why, you know what, tell us a change story about where things went wrong, which seems to be a common question. We, we asked and tell us a story about change in complexity, where things went right and what was. Um, but what happened that made it work well? Um, and one word, one word kind of emerged as a theme from all those stories, and that word was dialogue. Mm. And dialogue is a way of engaging people in conversation. It's a particular form of conversation. So if you think about that complex, systemic way of thinking that I was talking about before, the meta systemic, it's saying I need to get out into the organization to really understand what's going on out there. And of course, as a leader, I need to share my own thoughts on where we might go. If I'm. A lot of leaders would go, yeah, I do that. But the question is and and they do do that. But the question is, what mindset and type of conversation are they taking out into the organization? And in the book there was this phrase called "agenda less" and "agenda full", in terms of what my mindset in terms of going out in the organization. And often it was a gender full, which means the leader goes out into the organization, kind of asks a few questions, but their basic energy is around telling people what they need to do. And they'd say, I'm engaged in dialogue. The way we're using the word dialogue is such that we would say, no, you're not using dialogue in the way that we are meaning it. Dialogue in the way that we are meaning it says we are going out there genuinely curious, almost rabidly curious to find out what people are saying, how they're thinking, how they're behaving. We really want to know. And that's hard to do because it requires us to kind of just put to one side our desire that everybody does X, Y, Z. We need to put that to one side. So we need to be out there, really curious. And if I'm gonna go out there and be really curious, then I need to be open to the possibility that what emerges from all those conversations might be slightly different than what I had in mind in the first place. And we still need to say what needs to be said, but we need to do it in a way that that's suspending judgment. That's Bill Isaac's stuff around dialogue.

[30:45] So that's a very particular way of going out there and having a conversation, which I would say sits at the heart of influence. The other piece around this is who, who do I engage in dialogue with? And that's where we come back to this systemic thinking piece again, cuz I don't have time as a leader to going, engage in a dialogue with everybody. So who do I really need to engage in dialogue with and who else needs to be engaged in dialogue with each other? And that requires me to think about the system and it requires me to think about the power dynamics of that system. So those are some of the themes I think that sit behind the, that, that way of influencing that I'm, that I'm talking about.

[31:24] Martin: Yeah, I've been, I've been listening for a long time here, Paul, and I'm starting to hear so interesting things around dialogue and, and making change happen here. And I have a, a reflection on this. I, I did a change program in the airline industry around, uh, the ground handling crews. And this was in Asia and we, we had huge problems to create conversation between the consulting team, the expert team, the leadership team, and the guys that actually did the work. And you spoke some time ago now around this, uh, what I perceived as the distance leaders, they put themselves into how I see it, into the meeting rooms with the consultants, they device the plans and then they communicate and, and ask the teams to implement. And rather go out and listen, you use this covid example, going out on the beach meeting with people, listening, striking up conversations to understand what's actually happening. And in the, in this airline case, we actually tried to do that. We almost had to drag executives by their feet out into the locker rooms, into the shift change areas, into the canteens, to have conversations. And one thing they asked was, what am I supposed to talk about? What am I going to tell people? And then we realized we have a little bit bigger problem than just showing up. So I, I can share what, what we did to overcome this. I just wanted to hear your reflection on this. Is this something that you also encounter in your work as a leader? And as you, uh, as you work as a consultant, this really is it almost a sense of fear from leaders to go out and engage and listen with people without having answers.

[33:26] Paul: Yeah, I mean, caveat's, what I'm about to say, which, which is that behavior may, may be connected obviously to, to more than one way of thinking. But, um, yeah, I, it comes back to that control piece that we've been talking about. What, who am I as a leader? What's my, what's my, what's my perception of leadership? Which, which is totally connected to, as I said, how do I view change. If I think my role, you see, there's a, there's a, through that linear, systemic pull-a-leaver model, there's a real privileging of positional authority and positional power. Uh, leaders are supposed to know the answers, they're supposed to be bright, they're supposed to be clever, and they're supposed to be listened to, and people are supposed to comply with them. Um, so if I go out there, if I'm dragged, I think it's a dragged by the feet to, to go and stand before a bunch of people, uh, there often is fear. A, a simple fear actually that I might just get asked a question that I dunno the answer to, or I say something and something someone contradicts it and I don't really know what to do next. Through the, through that lens, that's gonna be a scary experience. And number two, it's not even a necessary experience because all I, all I need, I don't need to be there, I just need to pull my lever. If I'm thinking through the more complex systemic lens, you're not dragging me by the feet. I'm there before you because I really want to know what these people are thinking and what sense they're making. I, I don't feel that I need to answer those questions necessarily, cuz I don't think leaders always do know the answers. But I will share what's on my mind. Um, so if I listen to a group of people and they're sharing this with me and they're sharing that with me, I'm not scared. Um, and I will share what, what, what I'm thinking. I'll share what I'm thinking. I won't expect people necessarily. Comply with it or obey it, I'm gonna share it and I'm gonna be really curious as to how that lands with people. And, and I might walk away from that meeting not having finished the conversation, people may or may not be totally satisfied, but I've come away with a much better understanding as to how that piece of the organization works. I've probably engaged in a bit more dialogue. Such we probably are in a better place because at least the workforce feels that they've been heard, and we all have a absolutely deep seated need to be heard. Mm-hmm. . And then I get to go away and think about it, and I might engage in a dialogue with some of my colleagues, and we'll think about, okay, what sense do we make of that? What, what, what are we learning that's new about that? How's that gonna impact about what we say next? So in that, in my head, it's all much more fluid. Um, I'm not trying to control it. I'm trying to influence it. So I don't have that fear, I have curiosity and maybe some nervousness, but a kind of excited nervousness. So I, I think your example kind of illustrates quite nicely that, that the differences between some of those ways of thinking that we've been talking about.

[36:16] Martin: How, how would you help a leader to overcome this, this, this, uh, mental block of, of going out there? 

[36:25] Paul: Well, you know, if, when people ask, if a leader was to ask me that question, first thing they want is, tell me what to do, gimme the five steps to what to do next. You know, like a Kotter model or a whatever the model, there's loads of these models tell. And, and they're kind of half expecting me to tell the seven steps. Tell me them, tell, tell them the seven steps that'll get them to where they want to get to. Notice again, that's coming from this control place. Yeah. But what I would say is, and this is, this is something for coaches certainly to think about and leaders. Is the way we behave is, is very much driven by the way that we think. Mm-hmm. . That's probably why we're at coaching systemically for in the first place for coaches, because coaches, working with leaders, one of the things you need to recognize, and this puts a real onus on the coach, is the way that we think, it does change, it does shift, it does evolve through that social process of conversation and interaction. So as a coach, everything I say in a coaching session has an influence on the way that that leader thinks. And that's why I think it's so important that coaches and leadership development professionals are also challenging the way that they think about systems and change.

[37:36] But what I'm, what am I gonna do? I'm probably gonna ask that leader some questions. I'm gonna ask that leader some reflective questions that challenge their way of thinking, that's what I'm gonna do. What I'm not gonna do, and, and despite whatever pressure is put upon me is, is try and give them the three steps to glorious enchantment and wonderful solution.

[37:56] Martin: And, and in our case, that part also didn't work well because there was nothing, there was no step solution that could make them go out in the, into those staff changing rooms, uh, unless they felt ready for it. So in in, in our project exactly, we just had to step back and we called a meeting and we had a dialogue around the leadership team with the leadership team, how can we deal with this and how should we see this? And, and we managed to, to change their mindset about what was the purpose of this. And they went out much more with a learning mindset, not with a execution or problem or a solution implementation mindset. So they went out in a listening mode rather than a fighting mode. And then suddenly the atmosphere changed, because their expectations on themselves had changed and that that was really different. Yeah, 

[38:59] Gerrit: And I think it also comes down what we said earlier. Also leaders, each leader is an individual. And so when we, when we ask for this how-to solution, we need an individual how to solution for everybody, right? Because if there are, I don't know what, let's say three different people who don't want to go to the locker room. Uh, each one may have different reasons for it, but actually I wanted to come back to the, uh, dialogue aspect because I, I really love that. And, uh, Paul, you mentioned this aspect of curiosity and I can imagine Yeah, yeah, of course. I'd, I'd like to know, I'd like to be curious. And then you said something about suspending judgment. And I could imagine that when somebody hears about this for the first time, yeah, of course I can do that. Right. I am not judgmental. Hmm. But my experience is that in real life we all have sort of, what should I say, a set of rules. Hmm. How we look at the world because it gives us guidance, right? We want to have some ideas about what is right, what is wrong, what is good and bad. Mm-hmm, and what I've experienced for myself. Um, Let's say it depends on the degree of how something matters to me, right? I'm making this up now is maybe not a great example, if Paul, if you say Italian food is the best, and I might say German food is the best. Well, you know, it's, it's perhaps easy to say, okay, you know, I've, let's maybe agree to disagree. Uh, and if you know, it really doesn't matter. But I sense, for instance, for me, by education, I'm a chemist. And, uh, I'm still working on this, I think I've made progress, but as soon somebody comes to me with anything that I perceive as esoteric, when there is no evidence, when it's not scientifically proven, then people can get easily in an argument with me. Or I should say, I can get into an argument with them. So, um, and again, not expecting a simple how to solution, but, uh, I would guess that when it comes to this pure dialogue, open-ended, very open to what the other person is saying and thinking. Um, what recommendations might you have in terms of becoming better at suspending judgment? 

[41:21] Paul: Um, well, this is, we expand on this in The Wise Leader. This, this is where the, um, this whole piece around dialogue relates to self-awareness or what we call "selfs awareness" in the book. Um, I can't suspend a judgment unless I know that I'm, unless I'm aware of it, right? So you can't not judge, but you can recognize that you're making a judgment and you can park it. You can do that. Most of us can do that. When I'm listening to somebody. I'm not gonna really, really, really understand what somebody's I'm, I'm, there's a limit to which I'm really gonna be able to put myself in somebody else's shoes before a little voices start telling me how stupid that person is or, or how clever they are, or whatever it is. So, I need to be, I need, I need to be self-aware in order to be able to listen or, or to be able to voice in the way that I'm describing, which means none of us, none of us are perfect at dialog. So anyone that thinks dialogue's easy, I would say it's aspirational because none of us are completely self-aware. What, what we can do therefore, is seek to become more self-aware in a, in a practical way. So after a conversation that I've had where, mm, I'm not sure that went well or there's something there, uh, for me to learn, I need to stop and reflect. I need to stop and reflect on that and learn from it. And that reflection piece sits at the heart of our model around wise leadership, that propensity to reflect and that knowledge around how to reflect. 

[42:52] The what, what I, you also talked about this set of rules that we adhere to. Bill Isaac's calls those a noble certainties. Something else you can do is have a think about what are your noble certainties. Noble certainties are things like, you know, I'm 60 and you are 20, I know more than you. Or, I'm 60, you are 20, you're a millennial, therefore there's only a limit to which what you've gotta say is useful. Or, I've been in this organization for 20 years, you've been in this organization for six months, therefore I know more than you do. Um, do, do we understand what our own noble certainties are. This is just another way of saying do we know what our set of rules is? So it says, if I wanna be great at dialogue, I need to aspire to be more self-aware, and I'm only gonna get to be more self-aware by making that time to reflect on myself and the way that I behave with others and the things that I say and the things that I do. 

[43:50] Gerrit: I'm glad you said this because our whole, the core theme of our podcast, is reflection, self-reflection. And just in December we invited people for a year end reflection. And um, you know, my perception is always, it seems people are super busy. They're so busy doing, and when we are reflecting, we are looking to the outside world as if we are not doing anything. But this process, I think, is so immensely important.

[44:21] Paul: And, and there's more to it than that. I mean, I'm, I'm writing the Wise Leader with my, with Dr. Susie Skinner, who's just finished her PhD thesis on reflection. Um, and she spoke to a whole load of leaders in Silicon Valley and found that leaders high with high self-efficacy reflected differently to leaders with low self-efficacy. So it's not just about do you reflect more often, it's about how do you reflect. And the leaders with high self-efficacy number, their reflection included a consideration of self. So it wasn't just about, well, this all failed because Gerrit messed that up, and Paul messed that up. It included a reflection on self. That was the first thing. Second thing was, it was a, it was a, it was a process, I wasn't just reflecting about my own needs. I was reflecting on the needs of my team. I was looking at this from a team perspective. My motivat. Or the motivation of leaders high and self-efficacy, that formed a part of their reflective process. And their reflective process itself was often collaborative. They didn't just spend time reflecting with each, um, by themselves. They spent time reflecting with each other. Um, and their reflective process included what's happened in the past, what's happened in the fu, what's happening now, what's happening in the future. It was quite future oriented, but also touched base on past and present. It wasn't just, uh, a kind of, you know, what's the word? A ruminative process where I'm just kind of getting myself all depressed about what just happened here. So these, these wise leaders, these leaders in higher self-efficacy didn't just reflect more often they reflected differently. 

[46:04] Gerrit: Yeah. And, and, um, I think you also mentioned something that you're not only looked at it from a western scientific perspective, but also from wisdom traditions. And I just feel reminded, um, of the basics in, in, uh, Buddhism you always find, uh, samata or shamata and uh, vipassana which is basically: stopping, pausing, calming. There are different translations or different context ways and, and looking deeply. So, you know, if, if we had only learned from the Buddha over the last close to 2,600 years more, we would probably have a better leadership in the world. 

[46:47] Paul: Well, I, I've said earlier when I was talking about those different ways of thinking about systems and change, that there's a bit of an adult development perspective here. I can think theoretically about the complex systemic way of thinking, that, that's not the same as that being just the way I think. It's how I think in the moment. So there's this link and, and we found that, we found that link, I think in the wisdom literature because the wisdom literature talks about self-transcendence. It talks about their capacity to self transcend. Now of course, different people mean different things when they use that phrase, but self transcendence is a lovely label to apply to, um, Keegan's, fifth way of, um, the fifth level of adult development. Where I recognize that I am part of a greater whole, I recognize that my thinking is influenced by others thinking, and others thinking is influenced by my thinking, and I have the capacity to almost see what's going on, see myself from a better perspective while I'm in action. So that self-transcendence piece blends itself to adult development. It comes, it emerges from the field of wisdom and again, sits at that heart of, of wise leadership because if I haven't attained some degree of self-transcendence, it's quite unlikely I'll be able to think consistently, um, at that kind of meta level that I described before. And it's quite unlikely that I'll be able to engage in dialogue in the way that we've described it. 

[48:11] Gerrit: So the the wise leader is definitely on my shopping list. And, uh, you know, I, I, I love the subject so much. I think we could go on for hours and hours. Um, but I think maybe for today, it's soon time to. Wrap up, uh, Martin, Paul, do you, do you have anything? I I was about to say famous last words for this episode. 

[48:36] Martin: I don't having the famous last words, but I have a reflection question for myself built on what I learned from listening to the conversation today. And being an engineer, and always being trained also then in in controlling things, and analyzing, devising plans, and in my management consulting career was also built on like analyzing plan and then make people implement it. And it was all about me, or us as an organization. It was not about them as stakeholders, as teams, as employees. So my reflection built on today is: How can I, as a leader, be more curious and open to learn about the stakeholders that I wish to influence, not from the point of control, but the point of influence when it's about them, not about me? That is how I wanted to shape my reflection question that I, I'm going to think about moving on from today.

[49:45] Gerrit: Yeah. And I, I, I really loved this aspect of, of influence, dialogue, uh, pure dialogue, uh, reflective learning, self-awareness. Um, and I, I'm still, for some reason, I'm still very much under the impression of this coaching session I had yesterday where I was working with a leader who was, in my words, frustrated with not being able to control outcomes. I must say it's not, not one of these people who said this is a control freak, but it's somebody who's very ambitious, who wants the best for the organization, but then recognizes the, the limitations. And, um, this leads then to me for reflection question. Well, what I would start, , how can I have actually three questions: How can I influence, how might influence happen in unexpected ways, and how can I be personally more at ease with my limitations of, of influence? 

[50:59] Paul, any any reflection questions that, that you would like to suggest? . 

[51:04] Paul: Um, I think those are all great questions. The, the one that, um, comes up for me as a reflective question, and I mean a reflective question, not a question to just answer once and then throw the answer on the bin, but as a kind of ongoing question is for a leader would be, well: How do you think about, how do you think about change and how does that sharpen the way that you lead?

[51:28] Gerrit: Beautiful. Paul, thank you so, so much. I, I really enjoyed it. I have a gut feeling that might not be the only episode. We, we are recording together. Uh, I would at least love to have more. Um, And this concludes today's episode. Uh, again, if you like the podcast, remember to subscribe on your favorite platform. And if you would like to help us grow the show, we will really appreciate it if you tell a friend about it, post about it in social media, and if you leave a positive comment or rating. And if you wanna know more about Paul's work, give us quickly your, your website Paul. 

[52:08] Paul: Um, 

[52:12] Gerrit: And Martin on my website is and we would be very happy to hear your feedback. Also, if you have any questions or comments, email us hello [at] secondcrackleadership [dot] com.

[52:28] Bye for now and until the next time.