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Weeknote: 13.01.23


  • "Status is always relative, not absolute" – there is a negative side to competition that undermines productive social behaviour and finding creative solutions to our problems.

  • Change is still change – it's always challenging, and it is important to figure out how to communicate and be prepared for it. Change especially happens when people are moving or leaving roles.

  • Systems thinking - Think of magnifying glasses and binoculars. A magnifying glass breaks the problem down, yet you still see it. You may zoom out using binoculars to see the larger relationships and engagements.

  • There is value in open and transparent communication – it also is challenging to change your behaviour to be candid and say what you think.

Ideas I found interesting?

"Status is always relative, not absolute" – Margaret Heffernan. I've enjoyed reading Margaret Heffernan's book a Bigger Prize, and her emphasis on the negative impacts of competition resonated with me. For example, "less than 1% of participants in any sport will ever make it into the professional leagues, and more likely closer to less than 0.5%". Yet we have a blind focus on competition and challenge, despite the negative culture that it creates. I listened to a great podcast on the negative impact of competition in elite sports and the damage this does to mental health. Winning, for winning's sake, isn't winning at all.

I've also been thinking about change this week. I had two thoughts on different engagements. First, a great comment from a very wise CEO – "When people move on (change roles or leave), organisations change". It's an obvious but powerful thought about what triggers organisational change and when organisations should be most aware of both good and bad potential disruptions. It's also a good time to speak to an organisation about change and strategy as it is most likely on their minds.

Change is still change. It struck me, reflecting on my own experience, that we tend to forget, especially when we're driving change, that change is good and will lead to positive benefits and better ways of working. Yet we must remember that it is still a challenging and disruptive process for change recipients.

I loved this way of explaining systems thinking. You think about a magnifying glass and binoculars. With a magnifying glass, you break the problem into its smallest parts, but at the end of the day, you are still looking at it. Or you can use your binoculars to zoom out and look at the broader connections and engagements. You need to decide on the boundary of the system you want to change. Linked to this was a great iceberg analogy – you think of a system as an iceberg. What you see is the day-to-day firefighting of life, but what's below the surface – the rules, the culture, ways of thinking – is the entire system, and it's when you change this, you change where the iceberg is going.

What did I learn?

I learnt about executive search. I specifically found the thinking on client management, the need to get the process right and seeing the placement of people as a management consultancy service both useful and illuminating. What stood out was the importance of getting the preparation right in high-end executive search – you need to know the questions to ask, have the information at your fingertips and be prepared for people to try and catch you out.

Open and transparent communication. It was a week of trying this and being more up-front with what works for me. Not always easy, as I avoid conflict. However, I'm working with two people who encourage and want to see transparent and candid communication. It's challenging for me to be more direct and clear, and my colleagues can be very clear about what works for them. It's forcing me to remember to be clearer about what works for me and to be okay with it.

What did I enjoy?

I enjoyed the sessions with EPP in Bath – it was interesting to speak to Dave and Anna about the growth in their business and the change they are going through. I enjoyed the fact that it was such an open and different conversation. I also find some of it challenging – figuring out my role and how to work with others, especially as it is a different role than I have previously been – more consultative, less the boss.

It was also a pleasure to speak to former colleagues and hear how they are getting on and how they have enjoyed and appreciated my work on Ordinary Leadership. It was good to hear that it had resonance with someone. The feedback on what landed was helpful, as was their recognition and thinking about leadership challenges.

What did you achieve?

Good question – I made progress in developing training on leadership and change. I engaged with clients and started thinking about the work I'll be doing with the World Bank. I also read back through some of my notes on Adaptive Leadership and the Five dysfunctions of a team, which was fun. Oh, and I travelled to Bath to participate in training on executive search.

What are you looking forward to next week?

Next week is a bit quieter, which is good. I want to progress on my book chapter for the month.


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