It’s going to be GREAT…

Enthusiastic leadership teams have always been fluent in TrumpSpeak.

Re-structuring, new ways of working, or re-locations are described in glowing terms. Promises are made, everything is positive, the changes will be truly beneficial.

It’s understandable. Instinct might suggest that making as good a story as possible about what has to happen will encourage and motivate everyone to do what they have to do.

Yet real life experience suggests that exactly the opposite happens.

Where does the organisational habit of sugar-coating come from?

Is it protective? Or autocratic?

In T.S.Eliot’s line ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’ we hear a compassionate and pithy summary of human frailty: we distract ourselves to avoid painful emotional truths, or having to question ourselves, or from contemplating what is …real.

Yet I hear, in the work context, a very different aspect of the human condition come to the fore.

I hear a hunger for reality, for those that lead to conscientiously think through how its going to be, to face up to thoughtfully predicted difficulties as well as describing any opportunities.

The world of work, of seeking to get things done, of decisions, of different time frames of operation, of joint endeavor…..of professionalism…….is not the same arena as our individual explorations of the human condition.

When planning big changes in your organisation, it pays to describe things truthfully, to be realistic, and to treat everyone in a grown-up way.

Because in real life no –one knows – or can know – whether it’s going to be great.

What might make the planned changes great’?

Invite, by describing the landscape as realistically as possible, all effort and imagination to make things work.

Harness everyone’s talent, in a clear-sighted way, to identify and solve the tough stuff.

When it comes to change in the workplace, humankind prefers all the reality it can get.

Drop the Trump speak. Sad.

SILENCE PROTECTORS

A swallow does not a summer make. Nor does an 11 minute silence on Twitter make a season of peace and content.

But golly, it helps.

The Washington Post (article below) reports the incident of Trump’s short silence on Twitter with a chronological approach reminiscent of a crime report.

A crime report.

The security implications of one individual accessing an account are serious. Yet surely correctable. To any of us who have ever (inside our heads) murmured ‘please make it stop’ in a long meeting or listening to a unending speech, there may be a more concerning thought here.

Will the pursuit of silence, or the respite from a constant stream of messaging and exhortation become a radical and subversive act?

Perhaps it should be?

The Booker prize winner this year, George Saunders, wrote a ‘manifesto’ in the New Statesman for a group he calls the PRKA (People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction)

the ‘we are many’, who …’ rise in the morning with no plans to convert anyone via beating, humiliation, or invasion. To tell the truth, we’re tired. We work. We would really like some peace and quiet. When wrong, we think about it awhile, then apologise. We stand under awnings during urban thunderstorms, moved to thoughtfulness by the beautiful, troubled, umbrella-tinged faces rushing by.’

Some peace and quiet.

image1 - Edited

I worked with a team today who made a most wonderful job of the task in hand by doing a most wonderful thing: consciously pausing, when they felt like it, to think and reflect. It’s the difference between losing and winning; between madness and sanity. Soon after the Trump-respite, there were calls for the unknown Twitter ex-employee to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Silence needs protecting. And so too, perhaps, do the silence protectors.

FACT ALTERNATIVES

Finding alternatives to what is clearly going on and looking to escape reality (‘denial’ as a harsh but accurate summary springs to mind) is a familiar, probably essential, and certainly very human component of all our lives.

But goodness, what different thoughts are conjured by….…..…#alternativefacts.

Whatever is going on over there at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue is already having an effect.image00

Over the last week, I’ve seen a strong ‘just tell me the answer’, or ‘just tell me what to do’ theme in workshops and team meetings.  Ground that seemed solid has suddenly disintegrated.  So everyone is yearning for some sort of instruction sheet or map.

But it’s not going to happen.

There is no map, and there shall be no instructions.

We’re all going to have to think for ourselves.  And decide what’s true, and what’s false.
Sorry.

Let me suggest a 3-point sanity and self-preserver.

Since a time of fantasy has begun, Terry Pratchett should be our guide:

  1. Embrace any signs and re-assurances that you are not mad, that something
    really NOT OK is going on. Good people (and bad) have been here before and survived. A re-balancing might be just around the corner. And he of the comb-over does not realise this. I think something upbeat and revengeful helps here.

    Eg from ‘Going Postal’

    ‘Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show.’

    2. Refuse to be bamboozled by apparent power and influence. Even he of the comb-over is but one human being. Your own ability to see things clearly depends on not being blinded by others. As TP reminds us in ‘Mort’.

    “People don’t alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just
    make brief patterns in it.”

    3. Keep looking for the spaces between the nonsense where you can add value. Every small action and contribution counts. Now is the time to be unsure and inventive – a powerful combination. As TP says in ‘Monstrous Regiment’

    “The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.”

    Good Luck.

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CRASHING THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Even if you began a much needed news-abstinence programme on November 7th, some tweaks to the world order will have made themselves known to you by now.

We find ourselves crashing through the Looking–Glass.

Just like Alice, we discover that the great chess game in which we are now all involved works with fantastical counter-intuitive rules, logic-defying moves, and personalities much, much less pragmatic and constructive than the Red Queen’s.

As the dust does the opposite of settling, some words and phrases begin to appear and re-appear in just about every conversation- with individuals and teams, inside offices and outside work:
‘normalisation’
‘it will be alright’
‘more activism, not less, is what’s needed now’
‘I don’t know how to get engaged’
‘its not the end of the world. It’s the end of A world’
suggesting that ‘just buggering on’ as Churchill would say is proving difficult for everyone.

The new Looking-Glass world reaches into work life. It is far too tiring to pretend that all is well – to oneself, or to others – constantly within one context, work.

Those words -normalisation, activism, engagement – matter, and deserve some more thought.

Normalisation
On the world stage, I’m seeing this is in the well-intentioned (and standard-setting) graciousness greeting the (previously) unacceptable and loathed. I suspect that I too have ‘normalised’ behaviours and habits in business cultures with whom I’ve worked. It’s not going to help in the new Looking-Glass world. We should call things out now more than ever before.

This might mean being more of an ‘activist’, or being more ‘engaged’.
(But what does that even mean?)

Activism
The dictionary definition reads ‘The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change’.

Engagement
An elusive term in the world of organizational / leadership consultancy but most definitions include, somewhat platitudinously, that engagement involves emotional commitment to an organization and its goals.

A much better way to think about an employee’s ‘engagement’ is to think of creating as small a dislocation as possible between that person’s own values, and those of the organisation.

And suddenly, activism and engagement connect.
Bring about change, be active.
Alice, remember, survived.
She didn’t ‘normalise’. And boy, did she keep on trying to change things.

IS ANYONE HOME?

E80pxtreeverywhere feels kind of quiet. No sign of the usual stampede to gyms and weight loss classes, no sign of a tidal surge to the sales. And fewer perky ‘let’s start where we left off’ emails than I remember.
So just when it felt safe to go back into the water, Mr Facebook pokes us with the sort of new year resolution that trumps us all.
(Wager no 1 of the new year: The everyday meaning of ‘Trump’ will change during 2016)
Mark Zuckerberg, who’s previous new year resolutions have included learning Mandarin, is going to build a House Robot to help run his home and to look after his baby daughter.
gizmodo.com/mark-zuckerbergs-2016-resolution-build-an-ai-to-run-hi-1750819422
bbc.co.uk/news/technology-35219247
You find yourself looking down at your to-do list and feeling so much smaller, don’t you?
But hang on a minute.
A ‘something’ to help you run your house.
Our homes, our ‘houses’ are of huge significance.
The home is an ancient and enduring metaphor for the self, common to nearly all languages.
Mind palace, the house of the mind, the body as a house, furnishing the mind, body as temple…the list goes on. It isn’t an abstract or academic metaphor. We use the idea consistently. Where we live – and often by extension where we work – symbolizes our own selves.
I looked down at that list again and felt better.
In every team or brand or organisational challenge I come across we will eventually find that some element of missing accountability – of not taking responsibility – is at the heart of the problem. (Sometimes it’s unconscious, sometimes not)
So in one sense, Mr Zuckerberg is aiming to devolve responsibility, to give away some of himself. Who will be ‘at home’, in his home?
Suddenly the previously mundane to-do list seems completely joyous.
And only one resolution on there, to do exactly the opposite of what Mr Facebook is suggesting. Take full charge of your own ‘home’.