Helena Clayton | Seeing things differently
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Seeing things differently

25 Jan 2017, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog
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Sometimes, I’m very lucky. I get the chance to design and run leadership programmes which are truly bespoke and where the client is willing to try something different.

Last week, with a great team (see below), I launched a programme on behalf of London Business School for senior Partners of a global accounting and consulting practice. There were two key themes: how can we remain relevant for our clients when they are sometimes changing faster than we are? And how do we lead when the world is so uncertain?

It was bold, in places, and I was a bit nervous. Would it work?

It did work, and I wanted to share a few of the things that had particular impact:

The importance of place

We didn’t use the familiar training room and lecture theatres of the School, however lovely they are. Instead, on Day 1, we were in the funky and informal offices of The Trampery, a co-working space for entrepreneurs and starts-ups. Their focus is supporting ‘innovation for social change’. Our second day, at the offices of well known innovation consultancy IDEO, who bring their design expertise to social as well as technical problems (and someone brings their dog to work). Both these vibrant and creative spaces stimulated new ways of seeing and thinking, helped by the fact they were in Clerkenwell and Shoreditch – the new heart of creative London. So, as soon as they arrived, participants knew this programme would be a little different.

Sometimes, I do a coaching session outside, walking and talking.  Or run a learning set at a London art gallery so that people can use the art as a metaphor for their leadership. Even working from a cafe means I think differently. What new space might you go and work at?

Bringing the outside in

In these novel spaces, we explored how to develop a more agile approach to business, about the importance of a mindset of curiosity for leaders, and of seeing the world through other people’s eyes.    So we invited three entrepreneurs to join us for an afternoon and challenge the traditional thinking of big organisational thinking. And rather than wondering about how we might engage a younger workforce, one that we recognised we really didn’t understand, we brought a diverse group of young people in too, to hear first hand from them about their priorities, values and aspirations. Eye opening, for many.

Peter Senge once wrote about the importance of connecting ‘with the green haired people on the fringes of your organisation’. If we only talk with people who are like us, how can we develop new perspectives, how can our thinking be refreshed? So look around – who is most unlike you, who is most different to you. Why not invite them for coffee this week?

Street Wisdom

Another theme was how innovative approaches to business come from seeing what’s already here but seeing it differently with fresh eyes. So, with an adaption of David Pearl’s Street Wisdom, the group spent a couple of hours wandering the local streets, looking at it with fresh eyes and chatting to strangers. The brief was to take photos that represented looking at something familiar in a creative or different way. And it resulted in some rich conversation.

In your immediate surroundings, what might be gained from looking again, looking at what you take for granted and intentionally finding what’s novel about it, what’s interesting or beautiful? There are Street Wisdom sessions happening all over the place now, if you fancy trying one out for yourself. 

No one’s in charge

Right now, the invitation is for us all to step and lead, because we can no longer rely on the person in charge knowing what to do. So how to give people a feel for that? Well, by running a ‘silent class’ where the facilitator suddenly says nothing and drops into silence, staying connected with the group but not responding. For quite a long time. Based on the work of Ron Heifetz this was a superb way of holding up a mirror to participants’ personal and collective responses to a leadership vacuum. Yes, there was frustration and confusion, excitement, irritation and disengagement. Everything you’d expect from a group who was suddenly invited to step into an unfamiliar space. Needless to say, there was also a lively and insightful debrief, full of learning…

When did you last find yourself in a leadership vacuum? What did you do? Do you know your own patterns when authority abandons you? Do you step up, with energy? Or do you shrink back and disengage. It’s good to know this about ourselves.

In the dark

Dinner was in keeping with the theme of ‘how can we lead when we can’t see what’s coming’. We ate at Dans le Noir,  where we were seated, were served and we ate a delicious 3 course dinner, with wine. Except we did it all in the pitch dark, without knowing what we were eating. Without being able to see a single thing.  And served by waiters who are blind. Can you imagine that?

Really, what an experience. A powerful metaphor for leadership but also very provocative at a personal level. I would simply say, go and try it for yourself.

So, it did work. And with barely a Powerpoint slide, too 🙂

Links and Resources

You can find more about the team here:

•  Keith Coats of TomorrowToday ran the sessions on ‘thinking like a futurist’ and ‘adaptive leadership’

•  Ron Heifetz’s book on ‘adaptive leadership’ is a great read

•  Jules Goddard of London Business School explored ‘an open mind’ and Street Wisdom

•  More on Street Wisdom here

•  The entrepreneurs who modelled passion and purpose were Ian MaloneJulian Warowioff and Simon Myers

•  The Trampery can be hired as a venue – highly recommended

•  And the great design work (and more) that Betsy Field Smith and Luis Cilimingras and the teams at IDEO do is here.

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