Leading Your Life

An enormous vacuum in leadership exists today—in business, politics, government, education, religion, and nonprofit organisations. Yet there is no shortage of people with the capacity for leadership. The problem is we have a wrongheaded notion of what constitutes a leader, driven by an obsession with leaders at the top.

That misguided stand often results in the wrong people attaining critical leadership roles. When problems surfaced at Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Tyco, and dozens of other companies, the severity of the leadership crisis became painfully apparent, creating a widespread erosion of trust in business leaders.

Over the past fifty years, leadership scholars have conducted more than a thousand studies in the attempt to determine the definitive leadership styles, characteristics, or personality traits of great leaders. None of these studies has produced a clear profile of the ideal leader. Thank goodness. If scholars had produced a cookie-cutter leadership style, people would be forever trying to emulate it.

The reality is that no one can be authentic by trying to be like someone else. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not an imitation … You need to be who you are, not try to emulate somebody else … Leaders are defined by their unique life stories and the way they frame their stories to discover their passions and the purpose of their leadership.

Bill George, True North


Specializing for Adaptability

Our current world of work often becomes increasing more complex and confusing because of the limitations of our current beliefs. When we learn to let go of these outdated beliefs and step beyond them, we’re able to shift our entire perspective of what’s possible in the process.

Additionally, we need to move away from an educational system that trains people to do only one thing in only one place. By doing so we create path dependencies that increase individual fragility. Specialization is beneficial in predictable, low-volatility environments, but in uncertain, high-volatility environments, specialization can slow or inhibit adaptation. The optimal state involves people with an array of specialties who can learn new skills and switch between specialties quickly and efficiently.

Remington Tonar & Ellis Talton
City Leaders Must Focus On Building Urban Antifragility In The Post-Pandemic World

Taking a reflective step back from this, we need to move away from a business system that values this which is causing an educational system to value it in turn.

And the focus isn’t so much on finding “an array of specialities” for an individual but rather reframing the meaning of specialization within the larger context of this new age based upon what’s valued within it which is adaptability. Thus the meaning of specialization transforms from being something within a specific domain of knowledge to something that allows one to bridge an “array” of different knowledge domains.

Illustrating how The Big Shift transforms an individual’s sense of identity.

What I’m talking about here is something I’ve discussed and illustrated years back with a simple diagram called The Big Shift (which ties into John Hagel’s & John Seely Brown’s work). This future that is emerging presently causes a radical shift, like an earthquake shifting a building off its previous foundation, whereby our identity is no longer defined within a single job within a single domain. Instead our identity now slightly overlaps an “array” of what used to be considered different jobs (with different domains of knowledge each accompanying them).

Another more common name for this “slight overlap” is hyperspecialization.

And this new meaning of specialization that allows us to flexibly adapt across many different domains of knowledge is more commonly known as our passion.

In other words, an individual’s passion paradoxically allows them to hyperspecialize and do so across many different domains of knowledge at the same time.

Thus they are no longer trapped at a professional “dead end” of eventual obsolescence within the confining beliefs of the old world of work but are instead freed to flexibly adapt and explore endless possibilities specifically optimized for them within this new world.


Embracing The Adventure Towards Your Unique Self

To find out who you are, you will want to embrace adventure; you will want to discover and hone your skills and talents: you will want to become all you can become.

During the early years of our lives, while we are passing through the surviving, conforming and differentiating stages of our psychological development, we have to do two important tasks: develop a sense of self—an image of who we believe we are, and build our storyestablish a set of beliefs that we can use to explain how the world around us operates. The image we create becomes our identity and the story we tell becomes our cosmology.

Our identity and our cosmology are conditioned by two factors: our parents, and the culture of the community/society in which we live. By the time we become young adults, who we think we are is a complex mixture of our own unique character overlaid by layers of beliefs we have learned about ourselves from our parents, other close family members, and the community/society in which we are embedded.

If parental programming and cultural conditioning was all there was to our character and story, then all children born into the same family in the same community and the same society would turn out the same. But this is not the case.

You don’t have to reflect for long before you realise that as far as our characters are concerned, we are all born different. We come into this physical life with inbuilt preferences, qualities, gifts and talents. You just have to observe how different siblings can be to know this is true. These differences are apparent even at a very young age. There is no scientific explanation for this: All we know is that every one of us is unique, special and different.

The parental programming and cultural conditioning we experience can either suppress our uniqueness, in which case we develop a false sense of our self, or can support us in discovering our uniqueness.

This is what evolutionary coaching is about—helping your clients examine and, as necessary, remove or reduce the layers of parental programming and cultural conditioning that have led to the creation of their false sense of self (the ego), so they can uncover and examine and explore their unique sense of self (the soul).

In other words, evolutionary coaching is about helping people find out who they really are and become all they can become—helping them to individuate and self-actualise—so they can be truly independent unique human beings and live the life their souls intended.

Richard Barrett, Evolutionary Coaching

The Landscape of Our Identity

Technology today has made getting lost less likely an occurrence, with our personal mobile devices showing us exactly where we are at all times. Yet even knowing with exact certainty and obviousness of where we are, why do so many of us feel lost inside, uncertain of who we are anymore and what we’re supposed to be doing? The reason for this is because we’re lost in a different way, within the larger landscape of our identity.

Illustration from Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

Here We Are, of all my books, seems the most relevant for the world’s current reality. It began as a sort of comedic routine in pointing out the obvious, but slowly it dawned on me the importance of re remembering the basic principles of what it is to be alive on earth in the 21st century.

Oliver Jeffers

Because of this, while some can help remind us of the obviousness of where we collectively are in relation to the universe around us (as shown above), what many of us really need is some way of obviously knowing where we are in relation to knowing who we are within the internal landscape of our evolving identity.

Yet even though we have been undertaking this ongoing journey and quest for identity since the day we were born, most of us haven’t really mapped out what this landscape of our identity looks like at all. The reason for this is obvious though because we were within a known territory where everything just seemed to make sense, so there was no need for explicitly stating the seeming obviousness of it.

Today though, we’ve obviously wandered off the edge of that known world and are exploring newer unknown territory which doesn’t make much sense to us. So we need a newer way of understanding and making sense of ourselves, one framed not from within just the last point of our journey but framed from within our entire journey overall.

By doing so, by seeing this bigger picture, perhaps we’ll finally be able to dispose of our extrinsic societal compass, telling us where we are expected to go and how we are expected to fit in, and instead start guiding ourselves on our own using our own intrinsic “gyrocompass” that we’ve had all along but just weren’t aware of.

A Map of Days by Grayson Perry

There is little allowance for the complexities and occasional chaos of our lived experience. Where there is space for commentary of any sort, we are expected to apply a degree of narrative coherence, making sense of memories and past events, creating connection and continuity. It is necessary to supply a beginning, middle and end, summarising what has brought us to this current juncture in our lives.

Reality is invariably more shambolic than this. More a hyperlinked web of avenues followed and retraced, jump cuts to elsewhere, occasional returns, disappearances and new beginnings. It is a ball of wool, a tangle of spaghetti, rather than a long straight line or a ladder extending ever-upwards. There are parallel paths too, simultaneously followed, within this entangled mess. Both/and rather than either/or.

Perhaps, like Perry, we need to draw our own maps, reflecting our convoluted journeys, our diversity of experience, the lessons we have learned, the places visited, the destinations yet to be attained. These could be maps of possibility, of intersections, convergence and mash-up. Maps that look to the future and what might be.

Richard Martin, Show Your Map
“The Experiential Qualities of a Lifetime Path of Development”, Action Inquiry

Self-transformation toward fully and regularly enacting the values of integrity, mutuality, and sustainability is a long, lifetime path that most of us follow as we grow toward adulthood, but that very few continue traveling intentionally once we become adults. Each major step along this path can be described as developing a new action-logic: an overall strategy that so thoroughly informs our experience that we cannot see it.

The Diplomat, Expert, and Achiever follow a progression through what are identified as the conventional action-logics. The conventional action-logics take social categories, norms, and power-structures for granted as constituting the very nature of a stable reality. We are learning how to relate by gradually gaining increasing skill and control in one territory of experience after another—first, the outside world, as an Opportunist; next, the world of our own actions, as a Diplomat; then the world of thought, as an Expert; and then the interplay among all three as an Achiever. As persons operating within conventional action-logics, we typically do not recognize ourselves as seeing ourselves, others, and the world through a particular frame or action-logic. Nor do we realize that our action-logics have been transforming into different ones over the course of our lives.

Then, the Individualist action-logic is shown not as a destination, but as a path that somersaults reflectively through one’s previous history (reevaluating all prior life experiences) and through the growing recognition of alternative action-logics, until one reaches the Strategist action-logic (aka Teal stage within Reinventing Organizations). Then the journey from Strategist to Alchemist is shown as different in kind again. The double-headed arrows between Alchemist and all the earlier action-logics suggest an ongoing, time out of time process…

The Individualist is a bridge between two worlds. One is the pre-constituted, relatively stable and hierarchical understandings we grow into as children, as we learn how to function as members of a preconstituted culture. The other is the emergent, relatively fluid and mutual understandings that highlight the power of responsible adults to lead their children, their subordinates, and their peers in transforming change.

Although this illustration is offered from the outside in, giving no direct taste of this woman’s inner experience (as an Alchemist), it suggests one way that people who measure at the late action-logics of development tend to live at once “symphonically” and “chaotically.” One might mistakenly conclude that she and the other people we are profiling are in a constant rush. Quite the contrary. We found in all of them a sense of leisure, playfulness, or meditativeness at times; a sense of urgency, fierce efficiency, or craftlike concentration at others. (Indeed, a telling characteristic of their work and play is that they cannot really be distinguished; “work/play” is a conjugation that comes closer to describing the actual interweaving of business, art, and leisure in these peoples’ lives).

This example illustrates particularly well two Alchemist characteristics: (1) active attention to analogies across the individual, group, organizational, and international political scales of development and (2) the use of one’s personal “charism”—one’s personal spiritual energy—not to charm one’s associates and generate worshipful subservience, but, rather, to challenge them to engage in collaborative action inquiry.

Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership
Illustration from Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

You will figure out
lots of things for yourself. 
Just remember to leave notes
for everyone else.

Oliver Jeffers, Here We Are

Guiding Yourself to Your Self

“Progress” and the other traditional ideas that used to cushion people against change have become harder and harder to believe in, but you can still create your own cushion. What these concepts did was to bring together changes into a meaningful pattern, which is important because people can handle large quantities of change if it hangs together and makes sense.

One of the oldest life patterns, which turns up in all societies and all ages, is the picture of the individual’s life as a journey. In that image, life events are stepping-stones or crossroads. We instinctively turn to this metaphor whenever we talk about “the path we followed” to some situation or event. We use it when we talk about life’s “beginnings” or its “turning points,” when we muse on our “roads not taken,” when we say that we are at a “dead end,” and when we talk about “where we are going” and “where we have been” in our lives. There are two different ways of seeing the life journeys that people take. Both offer ways of patterning and giving meaning to the changes that we journeyers encounter.

The first is a journey toward some external goal: influence and power, a happy family, salvation, or self-actualization. The characteristic of this journey is that it has a recognizable destination that is so desirable that we are willing to put up with the hardships along the way. Those hardships are just hurdles or barriers to be overcome. We may even see barriers as “filters” that keep the impure, the undeveloped, or the basely motivated from reaching the valuable goal. We may also view them as filters that screen out elements in ourselves, in which case we say that the journey made us better people.

The second kind of journey is toward becoming the person that you really are. It was this journey that the Jewish wise man Rabbi Zusya had in mind when he said, shortly before he died, “In the world to come I shall not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I shall be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’ ” This journey turns up in many spiritual traditions. Jesus obviously had it in mind when he urged us to become perfect the way that God is perfect, because the word he used means (in the original Greek of the New Testament manuscript) “ripe, mature, developed” rather than ‘flawless.’ In terms of the journey, most of us are less like damaged goods than we are like green, hard, underripe fruit.

On this second journey, we are trying to become the people we are meant to be. We’re “ugly ducklings” who don’t know that we are really swans. We keep imagining that there is some better way to be, some better person to be. We fail to see that most of what the “great people” of the world have accomplished was not done because they were different but because they were not busy trying to be somebody else. Most of what has been worth doing since the beginning of time was accomplished by people who were (like you and me, most of the time) tired, self-doubting, ambivalent, and more than a bit discouraged.

This second journey frames the difficulties along the way not so much as hurdles to be cleared as signals to be attended to, or even lessons to be learned. It does not necessarily presume that “someone out there” has a message for us. Rather it means that in the process of looking at our experience as if it were full of messages, we can discover meaning that would be otherwise missed. When someone on this journey says that “there are no accidents,” that does not mean that we are living according to some great computer program in the sky, but simply that those times when “the wrong thing happens” are simply the times when we are looking at the world through the filters formed by outgrown expectations. It means that if we could see the accidental as if it were part of a lesson plan, we would be in a relation to it that is creative—much as when an artist takes a found object or a naturally occurring pattern and incorporates it in a work of art.

This lack of understanding is not caused by our stupidity. The mismatch of intent and actuality is just how life works. Our original goals and expectations are little more than the “bait” that has lured us into whatever is the next leg of our journey. Anyone who has come to appreciate these things and can see how often the life journey includes or even depends upon events and situations that we didn’t really want to happen can appreciate the definition of the journey offered by an anonymous sage: “A journey is a trip after you’ve lost your luggage.”

Such an understanding will also make it clear that finding a guide for your journey isn’t a question of finding a special person. It is a question of becoming a special person: a traveler, a pilgrim, a person on a journey. When you have done that, the whole world turns out to be full of guides. Events themselves become the guideposts that tell us whether we are still on our path or not. The changes that befall us along the way are just the various experiences that we encounter on the journey. As the novelist Eudora Welty put it, “The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order…the continuous thread of revelation.”

William Bridges, JobShift

Piloting Your Unique Landscape

Most people’s notes are like a dense jungle. There’s lots of interesting stuff in there, but who would ever know? The gems are hidden and obscured. There’s no discoverability.

Progressive Summarization turns the jungle into an archipelago of islands. It reveals your personal information landscape — the unique topography of your goals, values, interests, and pursuits. With a clear landscape, you gain the ability to steer. Toward what you like, or don’t. Toward what makes you comfortable, or what doesn’t. Toward what you need, or what you want. You are the pilot, so you decide.

Tiago Forte, Progressive Summarization II: Examples and Metaphors

Grief Helps You Reweave The Fabric of Your Life

First, recognize that job loss—like any event that tears at the fabric of your life story—triggers grief. The purpose of grief is to help you re-weave the story of your life together. Many people are familiar with the five stages of grief first described by Elisabeth KüblerRoss in the context of understanding patients dealing with terminal illness. The five stages she described are: Shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression and detachment, and acceptance. Not every person will go through all five stages, but it is helpful to recognize them.

The reason why job loss feels so damaging is that your work structures a lot of your daily routine. For many people, their job also provides a significant source of your identity. Moreover, work also provides a social network, a steady paycheck, and critically, a predictable routine.

Art Markman & Michelle Jack, Why losing a job deserves its own grieving process


Adapting To New Ways of Being While Still Being You

IQ is the minimum you need to get a job, but AQ is how you will be successful over time.

Natalie Fratto

Fratto says AQ is not just the capacity to absorb new information, but the ability to work out what is relevant, to unlearn obsolete knowledge, overcome challenges, and to make a conscious effort to change. AQ involves flexibility, curiosity, courage, resilience and problem-solving skills too.

Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, says it is the breakneck speed of workplace change that will make AQ more valuable than IQ.

Edmondson says every profession will require adaptability and flexibility, from banking to the arts. Say you are an accountant.Your IQ gets you through the examinations to become qualified, then your EQ helps you connect with an interviewer, land a job and develop relationships with clients and colleagues. Then, when systems change or aspects of work are automated, you need AQ to accommodate this innovation and adapt to new ways of performing your role.

(Penny Locaso) suggests three ways to boost your adaptability: first, limit distractions and learn to focus so you can determine what adaptations to make.Second, ask uncomfortable questions, like for a pay rise, to develop courage and normalise fear. Third, be curious about things that fascinate you by having more conversations rather than Googling the answer, something “which wires our brains to be lazy” and diminishes our ability to solve difficult challenges

In a TED talk, (Otto Scharmer) recommends remaining open to new possibilities, trying to see a situation through someone else’s eyes and reducing your ego so that you can feel comfortable with the unknown.

Seb Murray, Is ‘AQ’ more important than intelligence?


Proactively Challenging Our Perceived Reality

We’re entering a future where IQ and EQ both matter far less than how fast you’re able to adapt (AQ).

Natalie Fratto

There’s no question that change can feel stressful, but Fratto says you can stave off that stress by working on how your mind processes new information.

One of the most helpful ways to cope with change is to think about what could happen before it actually happens, Fratto notes.

Active unlearners seek to challenge what they presume to already know, and instead, override that data with new information.

Natalie Fratto

When you think about reaching a goal at work, you probably reflect on what has worked for you in the past, and try to mimic the same process that helped you achieve success beforehand. Fratto says this thought process is common, but it could be holding you back from adapting to potential changes.

Fratto says we’re too focused on exploiting our current workflow, when we should be using exploration — “a state of constant seeking” — to see what’s around the corner.

Rebecca Muller, How Improving Your “Adaptability Quotient” Can Help You Succeed


Validating Our Experiences & Ourselves From Within

Psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow had major influence in popularizing the idea of self-concept in the west. According to Rogers, everyone strives to reach an “ideal self”. Rogers also hypothesized that psychologically healthy people actively move away from roles created by others’ expectations, and instead look within themselves for validation. On the other hand, neurotic people have “self-concepts that do not match their experiences. They are afraid to accept their own experiences as valid, so they distort them, either to protect themselves or to win approval from others.”

Self-concept, Wikipedia