By Heather Gibson, Managing Director, Pendulum Partnership
The limitless leader keeps culture moving and removes the systems crutch
It’s no secret that effective leaders have understood there is a balance between the art and science of leading organisations. However, to embrace new leadership thinking and leap paradigms to get to the oasis of something different, the art aspect of this equation has been placed firmly into focus. Train for the unknown, prepare for the unknowable indeed. Communicating without all the facts, accountable for individuals not collective categories and creating a model that will need to change incessantly to keep up with the pace of external change; these are the elements of leadership that need to be developed and celebrated. Central to all of these is a foundation of genuine, transparent human connection. Unfiltered by status quo excuses to enable freedom of engagement where emotions stand together with logic. This means that many systems – especially those related to people – do not level up and must be unlearned as a crutch of compliance on the journey of how to be a limitless leader.
“Systems imply logic and when it comes to people, these just don’t work for the simple reason that the heart and mind are not aligned.”
Let me set the scene. As a leader with the ultimate accountability you are overseeing a plethora of systems in the matrix of running your business. These systems feed decision making and fuel growth and development; they are foundational infrastructure and in a constant state of evolution. Amongst these systems are those required for compliance and process management; they enable strategy, but they are formalised and structured and, when it comes to people-based systems, carry an array of mixed perceptions as to their purpose. A case in point is the performance management system; always targeted as a strategic lever/pillar/scorecard for building business models but, an oh-so-misused platform for ‘change’. In fact, this attempt to link people strategically using performance management is the first warning sign of a systems crutch. It’s what is held up as an artefact to signal that change and improvement of people is on the way but, its legacy is working against you and your best leadership intentions. Firstly, there is the legal stigma; performance management and compliance are inextricably linked. Unfortunately, you are already mentally dissociating and delegating exactly where this system fits on your radar and it has become an act of necessity, rather than addressing the real need: human engagement and emotional connection. A systems crutch, especially when it comes to people-based systems, is a very nuanced and subtle perception flaw; of a leader always being one step removed but strategically and conceptually aligned – and it’s holding your business back. This thinking has got to shift quite radically to deliver cultural change that will drive innovation and create an opportunity to inspire and motivate through leadership, and here is the place at which you most surely find yourself.
Unlearning the mantra for logic is the starting point in developing a limitless leader’s mindset when it comes to the systems crutch. Business thinking has been purporting logic as the priority over emotion for years, and now we are all keenly aware of the need to urgently bring the two into balance. Time and a place for sure, but logic is no longer the king of the castle – the environment is too changeable, people are too sceptical, and we have seen very clearly what happens when basic human emotions are suppressed in favour of collective logic in the realm of our financial institutions throughout the world.
Systems imply logic and when it comes to people, these just don’t work for the simple reason that the heart and mind are not aligned. The logic mantra must be replaced by a focus on trust and transparency as the foundation of your limitless leadership mindset. Even pre-new age change and disruption, performance management systems were perpetuating artificial rules almost like a code between parties of what to say and what not say, or even avoid saying, to get the job done. It’s resulted in an inability for many to have straight and difficult conversations, of many shades of grey about the true purpose and a compliance orientation, especially larger and more complex environments. Ask yourself truthfully: what are you really expecting these Shangri-La words around people systems in your grand plan to deliver? It’s the crutch psychology at play; no one means to practice avoidance; it’s not intentional or personal but, from this point forward, I want you to really own the truth of the matter in your heart of hearts and think very differently.
“Limitless leaders are inspired by change and see the opportunity within it; to create something very inspirational and reflective of the transforming world we live in.”
Leveraging human potential is essential for change and for building successful business models. A limitless leader understands the power of winning hearts and minds and seeks to understand why; they are willing to go beyond the status quo to pursue real meaning from their communication, they understand that this is how things get done. Leverage is grounded in grassroots engagement and human connection; in creating the space for discussion, learning and growth to open the lines of communication and culture. A reason why coaching and mentoring have become the alternate models to supplement learning and performance management, but even they still sit as a halfway house in many organisations because they are second cousin to the preferred system. To go the one step further and embrace the space for creating the culture that will deliver that spark, that energy – actual change and innovation – strategic thinking must be given to how to embed informality, trust and transparency into the operation of a business. Stop catering to the lowest common denominator, communicate intelligently and often to begin breaking down complex barriers of resistance, deliberate misunderstanding and sheer ignorance; all of which are being driven in part by rather impractical systems. Leading change is a complex psychology and it’s vital to unblock to the head-in-the-sand mentality, otherwise change is always at risk of failure because it simply can’t be sustained. The difference in this disrupted world is the change muscle in business is infinite; capability has got to be redefined in these terms and the answer lies in emotional connection. Start a conversion, make time for it, keep going.
For added emphasis let’s now step back into the real world, the externally disrupted and highly charged arena of channelling individuality and inspiration from new ways of living and being. All being played out before you as you wrestle with the complexity of breaking down barriers and thinking beyond conventional wisdom in the business you are trying to grow and develop. If you are reading this wondering how on earth you are going to transform your mindset given all the rules and laws that might be called into question for imparting transparency and communicating to create human connection, remember this: everyone has a choice, and many are choosing something very different. This era is individual; sceptics, truth seekers and new wisdom are motivating forces for major life change, and you might count yourself in this number. Enlightened and willing to give up one life for another, to follow their true purpose and their why. It’s not even a generational argument; there is a real movement of people taking place around us all and these souls understand that their path does not have to be defined by status quo systems – in a sense the debate is not even about leadership. The calling card has got to be learning, intelligence, growth and being understood – and seen – for who we really are. That’s a very new space but something I want you to acknowledge, because deep down it’s niggling away at you. People are changing, they are responding individually to what they see and hear and read; it’s time to change the way do change to inspire, motivate and retain talent.
Limitless leaders are inspired by change and see the opportunity within it; to create something very inspirational and reflective of the transforming world we live in. In creating space for conversations, thinking differently and being prepared to level up to this challenge will take incredible focus and energy. Lead through your values, see what needs to be seen and focus on the link with the vision and the communication; become the sceptical dreamer leading in the zone where your heart and mind are aligned. You are