After a busy day of e-mails, zoom meetings and a zoom delivered workshop on how to create high performing teams, I retreated to my usual decompression area, a lounge chair that runs parallel to the floor-to-ceiling windows in our townhome.
I enjoy spending this part of my day reflecting upon the conversations, discoveries and opportunities presented to me.
On this day, I thought about the myriad of storms that are gathering: the COVID-19 storm that is dashing public health protection measures against economic recovery; the Black Lives Matter storm testing systemic racism consciousness and our morale fabric; the social media storm influencing mindsets and behaviors; and the employee storm of no permanence and uncertainty.
It was raining heavily outside, and the city lights had morphed into something non-representational. My eyes and mind were set adrift with the cascading rainfall and, before long, after a modest fight, they shut. My mind spun out a dream, I imagined a doorway that would lead to a better world. Would it open into a new way of looking at the global workforce and leadership? If it did, what would I see? Would I be able to look past my preconceptions to see afresh?
This Way to The Balcony of Personal Reflection
I saw a doorway with a question mark, so I gave it a pull and it swung open to reveal a simple staircase, leading upward at a steep angle. Peering up the staircase, I could see that it reached a landing and turned out of sight. The stairwell was dimly lit, and I was hesitant to walk up. As I stood there trying to make up my mind about whether I should explore further, I noticed a sign on the wall: “People Matter, Your Voice Matters…It Is Not Too Late to SHIFT to a Better World.”
With excitement, I reached the first landing, where I was confronted by an intimidating spectral figure. I froze, as it roared at me…“Halt! I am the COVID-19 Spirit of Workforce Consciousness. Look upon me; I am fashioned out of all the timidity, cynicism and defeatism that crowds the openness of your heart, mind and will.”
With every word, I could feel myself being weighed down and becoming increasingly anxious. It was as if the very words evoked weakness and indecision in me. Eventually, I found my voice and shot back…“What are you doing in my dream?”
The ‘Spirit’ thundered on as if it hadn’t even heard me at all…“I am bound to silo halls, stairs and hierarchical ladders; by weight of all decisions that have been made and in the way they were made because someone did not have the courage to look, think and say the truth that was available to them at the time. Only those who are brave enough to see, think and speak for the greater good will find the strength to push past me and be part of a shift to a better world.”
A Heavy Robe of Promises
The ‘Spirit’ fell silent, glaring at me. Clearly, it was my turn to speak now but I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I studied it for a bit. The body, the face looked vaguely familiar, and I suddenly realised it looked a bit like me; it looked how I might if cynicism and despair really had taken possession of my heart, mind and will. As I continued to stare at it, I noticed that its robe was made of documents – reports and briefing notes – that seemed to shift around, falling off and sinking into the floor, like stones into black water, only to be replaced by new documents that emerged to replace the pieces that had fallen off. It was as though a great, shabby, heavy blanket of words and broken promises was weighing the ‘Spirit’ down.
Following my gaze, the ‘Spirit’ spoke again, in a sneering tone… “Do you like my robes? Each of these documents contains a moment of genuine insight and consensus, when a problem was well defined and a practical, innovative strategy was clearly articulated…but then, it was never acted upon, I have quite a wardrobe. Each document contains someone’s hope that he or she could make a difference.”
This ‘Spirit’ was starting to get me riled. I shot back…“That doesn’t always happen! There are many fine people working very hard together to make improvements and great progress is happening.”
The ‘Spirit’ replied more forcefully. “Idealist! You should study Saint Machiavelli who wrote: “It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator is the enemy of all who profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.”
With a big smirk, the ‘Spirit’ went on…“Organisations are chugging along guided by vested professional interests, political realities, disconnected personal ambitions, economic forces and a host of other factors. Do you really think you can shift the way things are?”
Then it came to me… “Spirit! I do recognise you. I have seen you before, in myself and in my colleagues. You are a great nuisance. You keep us quiet when we should ask questions. You keep us talking when we should listen. Worst of all, you keep us from acknowledging what is right in front of our noses and making a shift to do something about it.”
At that, the ‘Spirit’ vanished.
A View of Public and Private Sector Human Organisational Systems
Uncertain as to what to do, I gingerly put my foot forward and realised the stairs were actually still there. I climbed the steep stairs, spiraling up ever higher, until I finally reached the balcony.
Below were multi layered public and private sector interconnecting circles of complex activity. People were raising issues that go to the very heart of the assumptions upon which human organisational system designs of the past were based. They were asking probing questions about delegation, roles, responsibilities, and accountability. In addition, conversations about psychological safety, emotional intelligence, engagement, and empowerment were focused on a future under construction and renovation.
Is this shift different from the past? I think so! Having a critical mass of people determined to actually change human organisational systems is the silver lining in the gathering storms.
- Reflecting on your personal COVID-19 learning; what do you see about how you lead? Who or what influenced your experience of leadership? How did they shape your values, tendencies, and biases?
- Are you comfortable with being challenged on what you see? Do you accept that what you see depends on what you are prepared to see?
- What do you see as the future of work?
Adaptation of an essay “Ghost of Healthcare Despair” by Hugh MacLeod, Longwoods Publishing, 2012.