Meg Wheatley on Sane Leadership in an Insane World

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What if you went to work every day knowing that your boss was devoted to helping you and everyone in the organization become more generous, creative, and kind?

That she made sure that the team met quarterly to sit around and think together about problems and opportunities? And that she valued creating a sense of community and contribution in your organization as much as meeting the demanding corporate measures and metrics?

Despite the crazy, destructive world we live in, a work environment that believes in our essential goodness and potential just might make life more bearable. Maybe even joyful on many days.

In an insane world, we need this kind of saner leadership,  explained Margaret “Meg” Wheatley in a webinar hosted yesterday by the Institute of Coaching. Meg is a teacher, co-founder of The Berkana Institute, and author of many books including the most recent “Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity.” 

(Full disclosure: I have been a Meg Wheatley fan for years; she’s brilliant, kind, generous and oh so creative and prescient about emerging trends and their implications on work.)

Rediscovering generosity, creativity, kindness

“We need leaders who have an unshakeable belief that people can be generous, creative and kind, and who will create the conditions to help people rediscover the basic human qualities of generosity, creativity, community and kindness,” she said. “This is leadership sanity.”

Without this belief, organizations default to bureaucracy, which kills the human spirit and causes us to retreat into self-serving behaviors.

To be able to help others rediscover their capabilities, Meg believes that leaders* today need a spiritual practice to take themselves out of themselves and become more aware of a greater reality. This might be a contemplative practice, meditation or absorption in making art, playing music, participating in sports. Anything that takes us into a zone of life on a grander scale than us and our work.

She also suggests leaders reflect on their own experiences where the best of the human spirit was alive and well. What conditions existed that made that possible?

(*And we’re all leaders if we so choose.)

 

Other highlights from Meg’s talk:

 For others: Putting service over self and working on behalf of others is the only true fulfillment. The relevant question today is not “What is my purpose or passion?” but rather “How do I serve others based on what the world needs?” Focus on others, not ourselves.

 Time tragedy: The greatest tragedy at work is that we’ve lost the time to think. We act from reactivity, not intelligence. Restoring thinking at work is a revolutionary act.

 Thinking together: People love having an opportunity to think together.  We feel motivated – and less anxious and fearful -- when we rediscover what thinking and working in community can add to our lives. Leaders need to build in regular time for people to sit around and think together.

 Hope addicts: We are a culture addicted to hope. When you bring in hope, you bring in fear because they come from the same source of energy. Organizations are full of fear and anxiety, which generate self-protective behavior, anger, and conflict.  

 Expectations: Clarity is the other side of hope and fear. There is often serenity and joy when we clearly see the work that needs to be done and step in to do it without any expectations of failure or success.  It’s work worth doing no matter how it turns out.

 Joyfulness: There is a sense of joyfulness when people come together to do work worth doing and have time to think and develop meaningful relationships.

It’s our turn

And I leave you with this from Meg’s book “Turning To One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future”:

“Several years ago, I read of a Buddhist teacher who encouraged people filled with despair over the state of the world. His advice was simple and wise: ‘It’s our turn to help the world.’

“Because a leader is anyone willing to help, we can celebrate the fact that the world is abundantly rich in leaders. Some people ask, ‘Where have all the leaders gone?’  But if we worry that there is a shortage of leaders, we’re just looking in the wrong place, usually at the top of some hierarchy.

“Instead we need to look around us, to look locally. And we need to look at ourselves.”