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There is no certainty, only adventure

By Jo Whittle
7 November 2018

                                                                                                                  Roberto Assagioli

TPC Leadership is proud to sponsor this year’s Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards Management Team of the Year category.

TPC Leadership has been preparing leaders for the adventure of leadership since 2002, with a belief that effective leadership involves the congruent expression of values and behaviours across the dimensions of knowing, doing and being.

The nature of leadership has changed significantly; when it was founded, leadership was a straightforward endeavour – analyse the situation and move forward – it was done “by the book”. Today the world is unpredictable and characterised by disruption and constant change; this requires different leadership. There isn’t a playbook.

If leaders are to keep their bearings, the most important thing they can do is discover and stick to one or two values that define who they are and, collectively, as a management team, those one or two values that give their organisation a genuine advantage over the competition.  Otherwise, they risk being swept along by the external environment, rather than by a very clear sense of what they want to create.

But sometimes an organisation’s values can seem more like ideals that don’t necessarily affect decision making. The trap many organisations fall into is to have a long list of unranked values – many of them competing – that offer no clear guidance in the murky waters of day-to-day decision making. Another is to have values that are far removed from the realities of business that can be impossible to stay true to.

We need to ask ourselves: what’s precious, and what’s expendable? Which values are so important that to compromise them is to lose our identity as individuals or as an organisation? If we don’t make them clear, targets and financial metrics may trample our convictions in a difficult moment.

We can avoid this by emphasising direction over destination. If our conversations are focused around an end goal, we can create a culture of compromise that – when push comes to shove – will mean that we abandon a core value to avoid disappointing the target setters.

When direction takes place over destination, we have a stronger corporate identity. Then if something sends a spanner into the gears of our organisation, we are more likely to ask, “How do our core values determine how we respond?” Instead of “How do we ensure nothing goes wrong?” The second question can send our inner worlds into a spiral. But the first can result in creative solutions that ring true to who we set out to be.

When we’re at base camp it can be easy to draft out an organisation’s ethos, manifesto or mission statement. But when we’re approaching high altitude – and the wind feels like it’s going to blow us off the mountain – it can be easy to dig into old habits and slip into survival techniques that ignore our personal or corporate vision.

When a serious problem arises, panic can make our internal gears spin at 1000 rpm. Fight-or-flight endorphins are preparing us to deal with the woolly mammoth, when we are actually facing an unexpected drop in sales. At such times we can be tempted to act contrary to our core convictions.

Fear looks different in different leaders. Sometimes it disguises itself as competency until close inspection reveals the effect it has on the wider team. Do any of these feel familiar?

We seize up – retreating into our minds, analysing the situation while our team wonders what on earth is going on.

We take control – making sudden decisions without valuing the perspectives of others.

We blame others – telling our team to fix things without empowering them to do so.

We abdicate – taking our hands off the wheel and hoping everything will work out.

Woolly mammoths or not, we will never fulfil our values perfectly. Aligning with them is a process that requires ongoing introspection and outer-work, which isn’t always comfortable. If we fail to introspect, we risk becoming detached from our values and having an existential crisis. If we fail to do the outer-work, we risk becoming detached from the day-to-day reality, and instead of an existential crisis we experience one of duality.

We believe the discomfort inherent in aligning with our values is a price worth paying, as the whole organisation is inspired to do superior work, create great products and innovations, achieve the highest quality, and to provide their customers with superior service. This is the adventure of leadership.

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