More post-heroic leadership, please

This year: I'm looking into how I can support more people to evolve into post-heroic leaders.

At the Gandalfesque instigation of the wise Indy Johar, I've spent the past few months reading, thinking about and being trained in a framework of human development which makes a lot of intuitive as well as science-y sense. It's weirdly little-known, despite having more than four decades of research behind it.

As we make sense of increasing uncertainty and complexity, we evolve through clear stages. This framework tracks these stages and, in the part I've been looking at, applies them to leadership.

Most management/leadership education is based on moving people from an expert orientation to what we would think of as a fully-fledged manager.

People whose current centre of gravity sits in the expert stage have strong problem-solving skills within their clearly-defined domain but manage each member of their team individually (more like a supervisor).

Fully-fledged managers are focused on outcomes and results, think strategically, are good at getting buy-in, manage teams as teams with regular meetings, give regular good-quality developmental feedback... the whole shebang.

Where I'm particularly interested is in the crossover to later, and much rarer, stages of development.

If you were to think of the above two stages as conventional development, the next phase is a move into post-conventional stages.

In the first of several post-conventional stages, a leader begins to turn outwards, seeing all the members of their team as leaders, and holds a space for new solutions and initiatives to develop from a deep sense of the intrinsic value of collaboration. They draw a much more porous boundary around the concept of stakeholders, and they are able to see the lenses they look through as just that - lenses.

Rather more evocatively, two writers in this field label this transition as moving from heroic leadership to post-heroic leadership.

Heroic leaders, no matter how inclusive and strategic they are, still have themselves at the centre of the process. Even though not necessarily single-handedly, they are still the one making the change happen, judging the correct course, the "hero" who is saving the day.

Post-heroic leaders, however, whilst still potentially driving the momentum of an initiative, see that they hold just one part of the truth. They see that involving people doesn't just build buy-in, but actually means a significantly better end result. They lead leaders.

Particularly in our increasingly volatile, wickedly complex world of slow-building danger, we need more leaders who can hold a space for inclusive change to grow.

Charismatic leaders are dangerous. Being able to allow timely movements to crystalise may just be a key to, I don't know, stopping this clusterhell we're in.

So, in 2017, I'm going to see how I can support more post-heroic leadership.


The transformational power of being aware of your awareness

A couple of weeks ago, I was sat in the park with a coaching client (What? They needed to get out!) and they said their organisation was using a leadership model. Inside, I did an eye-roll - in fact, it might have spilled over into an outside one. I find typologies and questionnaires and Models (tm) tiresome and limiting. People fall in love with them too entirely as the saviour and the way (and, hey, I've been there) but we shrugged and said, well, if it's useful and gives you insight, and it's held loosely, then it can be worthwhile.

As I looked more at the model they are using, I got more interested. Then I ordered the guy's book and got more interested. Then I ordered books by the author's intellectual siblings and, I don't know, it's got me. The broader concept at least, if not only the expression by this author.

There are two main ideas that William Torbert puts forward in his book Action Inquiry. The second, and most... graspable one is that there are stages of human development that leaders (in whatever way we're describing that) can move through. Four of these 'action-logics' happen pretty naturally for lots of people (referred to as 'conventional') and three of them are less common and perhaps need more cultivation (the 'post-conventional' stages). This concept of ego development has been looked at quite a lot by a bunch of scholar-practitioners and seems to have some academic and practical legs.

You get assessed by completing 36 (I think) sentences stems such as "A good leader..." or "When an employee steps out of line..." and a trained assessor gives you the results. So far, so unsurprising.

I like the idea, however, that these stages are mutable and an evolution of consciousness of the one before, and therefore not largely fixed like personality typologies such as Myers-Briggs'"16 personality types".

It's also clear that one doesn't move lightly from one stage to the next, but that that evolution happens over months and years. It's not necessarily without turbulence as it requires letting go of parts of your worldview and increasingly expanding what you pay attention to and how.

The evidence suggests (as far as I understand - this is new to me so I haven't really had the chance to look at the studies) that organisational transformation only happens when the leader of an organisation - and potentially their team - operate from post-conventional 'action-logics'.

The part of this that currently has me really interested is that as you progress, particularly to post-conventional action-logics, it depends on shifts in the quality of your moment-to-moment awareness.

Which is where Action Inquiry comes in, the first part of the book. Action Inquiry is the ability to be taking action and be aware of the action you're taking at the sametime and therefore able to pivot to take the right action in that moment.

Kind of.

It's posited that there are four time horizons:

- moment-to-moment emergencies and opportunities
- day-to-day routine - maybe with a three month awareness
- goal-based awareness stretching to, say, three years
- vision-style thought that thinks maybe 20 years ahead.

These map to four aspects of experience:

- the external world
- your actions
- your thoughts, feelings, goals, action-logics
- vision and the quality of your awareness

and also to four aspects of communication.

The point that speaks to me at the moment is that if you can hold awareness ALL THE TIME of

- the present moment/external world AND
- your actions and routine AND
- your thoughts/feelings/goals AND
- vision/awareness

that that will transform aspects of your consciousness.

And I keep coming back to a particular phrase, that you hold this quality of awareness and allow each aspect to be vulnerable to transformation.

Can we stay conscious and hold our actions to be vulnerable to transformation?

Can we also allow our goals and thinking to be vulnerable to transformation?

Can we also allow our vision and awareness, our sense of purpose to be vulnerable to transformation?

I think there's something in that, you know.

So my current focus is two-fold:

Can I do all of that?
Can I help you to do all of that?

It happens that I'm sitting in the Quaker centre just opposite Euston station in London as I'm typing this. The Quakers are very focused on what happens when you sit in silence together and keep your awareness of what that together-silence is like.

The Quakers are one set of people with one way of evolving your awareness. There are many others. As a long-term meditator, I work daily on the quality of awareness in my meditation AND remembering to be aware during the rest of the day (which is really bloody hard/impossible, just to be clear).

Seems to me that, whatever stage you are of leading whatever it is you want to lead, that moving towards this quadruple-level of awareness can only be...good. Useful. Potentially transformational.

I'm gonna experiment. You?