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Weeknote: 27.03.23

TL;DR

  • Culture is the accumulated shared learning of a group as it solves problems, but our assumptions and expectations of culture are changing, especially in relation to AI and diversity in the workplace.

  • Advocating for responsible AI use and diversity is crucial for creating a culture that fits our society.

  • Effective leadership requires engaging with others, being curious, seeking feedback, and practising forgiveness.

  • "Why Should Anyone Be Led By You" poses seven questions on leadership, emphasizing the importance of being yourself, knowing your weaknesses, reading contexts, connecting with others, managing time, and communicating effectively.

  • Practising forgiveness and patience is important for building oneself in leadership positions, and negative emotions associated with unforgiveness can take a severe toll on mental and physical health.

Themes from the week

Over the last few weeks, my recurring theme has been about how our assumptions and expectations change. I can’t say I find this easy all the time. I like Edgar Schein’s definition of culture and the culture of an organisational group in Organisational Culture and Leadership: “The culture of a group can be defined as the accumulated shared learning of that group as it solves its problems of external adaption and internal integration; which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, feel, and behave in relation to those problems. This accumulated learning is a pattern or system of beliefs, values, and behavioural norms that come to be taken for granted as a basic assumption and eventually drop out of awareness.”


What stands out for me is that there are a lot of challenges to our accepted culture at present, whether that’s how AI impacts our work or if it's about women and minorities' roles in the workplace. I think we see an increasing recognition that the culture we’ve accepted no longer fits our society. I don’t think that means we’ve landed on a new, comfortable culture. Instead, we’re starting to challenge it. This Raconteur article has made a good case for men to move from allyship to advocacy. I certainly think I’ve been guilty of being an ally but not an advocate. If we want the culture to change, we need more people to be advocates.


I think the same applied to AI and the ethics of its use. Will AI create more issues for diversity in the workplace or not? This article presents a slightly worrying picture of the limitations of AI and ChatGPT for improving diversity. When we think about the culture we want to operate in, how we deploy and use AI responsibly has to be something we advocate for rather than just accept. I really liked the point in this article on the responsible use of AI, arguing that moving fast isn’t always about moving responsibly. We need time and space to think before acting, “the first-mover advantage that businesses seek out can quickly be negated by the regulatory risks of the irresponsible use of AI”.


“To be yourself with more skill is a lifelong task” – from Why Should Anyone Be Led By You. At the end of the book, Goffee and Jones set out seven questions on leadership to ask yourself.

  1. Which personal difference could form the basis of your leadership capability? What differences in your personality have the potential to excite others, are genuinely yours, and signify something important to you/your context.

  2. Which personal weaknesses do you reveal to those you are leading? You’re not perfect, don’t pretend to be. Equally if you reveal all your failings your leadership isn’t going to be enhanced. What weaknesses can you focus people on that also make you human and easier to follow?

  3. Are you able to read different contexts? Can you pick up subtle shifts in the behaviour of others? Think about international and cross-cultural context, etc.

  4. Do you conform enough? You are unlikely to survive for long if you cannot recognise the moment to hold back; no will you connect with others if you cannot find common ground.

  5. How well do you manage social distance? Are you able to get close to hose you lead? Do you know the goals, values, and motives of those who have the biggest impact on your performance? Can you create distance from others?

  6. Do you have a good sense of organizational time? Do you know when to speed up and when to take more time? Can you orchestrate the effort of others?

  7. How well do you communicate? Do you know what to communicate to others and how to do it? When do you communicate? Do you listen? Can you adapt to different circumstances?

For me, these questions stressed the importance of finding time to seek feedback and building in space to understand why we are who we are, as well as being open to change. Effective leadership happens when someone is engaged, curious and part of their team. HBR has a good article on seeking Out the Leadership Feedback You Need.


Linked to that is the point about practising forgiveness; it's too easy to not forgive ourselves or others for our actions in leadership roles. I liked this point from an HBR daily tip on why we should practice forgiveness: Because when we harbour resentment, spite, and other negative emotions, the person at whom we aim them isn’t suffering (and is likely oblivious to our feelings). The only one suffering is us. And plenty of evidence shows that emotions associated with unforgiveness — vindictiveness, contempt, hostility, and rage — take severe tolls on our mental and physical health. Worse, they can sour our demeanour, weakening important relationships. Finding ways to forgive at work and in life is important to build yourself in leadership positions – we all get it wrong; by practising forgiveness and patience, we can ‘be ourselves with more skill.

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