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Weeknote: 05.06.23


  • Multiple interpretations are important in how we perceive events and ourselves, and they encourage openness to different viewpoints and solutions.

  • The anti-hero concept challenges the idea that leaders are saviours and promotes flexibility, listening, and understanding others' realities.

  • Reputation holds power and should be considered not only in how we act but also in how we show up for different tasks.

  • Building strategy into the day-to-day DNA of an organization requires creating a psychologically safe environment where people can speak up without fear of punishment or humiliation.

  • To foster psychological safety, clarify the rationale for contributions, issue targeted invitations for feedback, discourage punishments, and increase rewards and appreciation for speaking up.

Photo of the week

Themes from the week

Multiple interpretations: Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how we interpret events. The concept shows up in many ways for me – in how I perceive myself and others. When I’m talking about change with organisations and trying to plan how to pitch myself to the market. It shows up in change when we ask people to leap and bridge the gap between the current situation and the future. Seeing the potential future benefit requires pushing ourselves to be open to multiple interpretations.

James Clear says, "One of the most valuable skills in life is seeing another person's perspective. If you're going to someone's house, think about how it might feel to be the host. If you're creating a product, spend as much time as possible thinking like the customer. If you're calling customer service, think about how it might feel to be on the other end of the conversation. The more clearly you understand the viewpoint of your spouse or customer or coworker, the better positioned you are to find a solution."

The challenge is encouraging these skills (and practising them yourself) in the workplace and everyday life. I really like this framing from When Everyone Leads, where they focus on the use of language in conversation, such as “one interpretation is... another interpretation is...and yet another interpretation is...”. It’s a simple reframing that is really powerful at encouraging multiple ways of interpreting a situation.

The Anti-Hero: “The ‘leaders as saviour’ mythology focuses our attention on whoever is in charge...” leading up to hope they will fix it and diverting us from getting others involved (When Everyone Leads, p.205). In listening to the book Citizens over the last few weeks, I was really struck by the idea of the anti-hero, and for me, the move away from the mythology that a leader is someone who is a saviour. “The anti-hero is a move away from the ‘heroic’ version of leadership. It prizes flexibility over conviction, listening over speaking, and seeks to amplify emotions and intuition. Values caring and sensitivity. Acknowledges that the uncertainty of the out-group is critical to understanding the current situation. They need to understand others' realities, not just their own, explore multiple possibilities and hold contradictions. Cultivate the instinct to listen and build a coalition to open the door to others. In the new world, we need to step back, listen and support, rather than seek to be listened to and drive forward.”

I found this interpretation of good leadership extremely powerful and challenging to the dominant narrative. It encourages us to own part of the mess, the problems created and the frustrations other people have. It forces us to challenge ourselves to change. “Frustrated with what others are doing? Change something about how you behave and see what happens” (When Everyone Leads, p.151).

Reputation. “Reputation is like a battery. It stores power to be used in the future.” (The Grid). I talk a lot about how people see you and how you are seen when it comes to leadership and making change. Reputation is a powerful force, and it’s not just a reputation in terms of how you act but also how you show up for different tasks.

Psychological safety and alignment: I have been thinking about in some detail how to build strategy into the day-to-day DNA of an organisation. “Everybody seems to be interpreting strategy based on their functional silos, even members of our strategy team." It’s important to build strategy into day to day process of your organisation and make strategy part of the work. But the more I think about it, the more I think it's about making it safe to discuss strategy – for employees to speak up and disagree. If you can’t get people to speak up, you end up in a strategy echo chamber. “People in organizations and companies are all too willing to enjoy their own echo chambers of the like-minded.”

Creating a psychologically safe environment where someone can speak up without the risk of punishment or humiliation is hard. But it's essential to address challenges, develop and move forward with strategy. So what can you do? Clarify the rationale – show people why their contribution is needed. Not something far off, but a more immediate focus. It's difficult. Issue targeted invitations – to people and around specific issues. Don’t just have an open-door policy; ask for specific feedback. Stamp out punishments – watch for negative consequences of speaking up, including in yourself and call it out when you do. Stack up rewards – reduce the downside of speaking up and increase the upside. Over-index on appreciation.


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