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Finding a practical path to meaningful leadership

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

In his recent book Quo Vadis? The existential challenges of leaders, Manfred Kets De Vries asks a simple question, Quo Vadis? or Where are you going? It would appear from much research and experience that this is a question increasingly faced by senior executives as well as people across all walks of life who, to a greater or lesser extent, are asking the same question. This means that our organisations are full of people in the Quo Vadis mode. It is a quintessentially existential question at the heart of the human endeavour as we try to find a path to a meaningful existence, and Kets De Vrites is giving us a nudge to grapple with it because the experiences of the past few years have ignited something deep in people and our organisations, and leaders of the future will need to get to grips with this pronto.

Ask yourself the question then. Where am I going? In a leadership position this is equally as important as where am I taking my organisation because these are all too often one and the same, at least for periods of time as we develop strategies, visions and plans and then try and try again to get people engaged with them.

In reality, I think the needs of leadership are changing rapidly and the values led strategies developed in recent years that haven't really worked have failed because they are too thinly veiled and lack meaning. Meaning is what people bring to the party and without a really clear statement of intent that is born from vulnerability and authenticity, and lived courageously by the leadership and executives, people will sense this and bring their own meaning and interpretation to bear making it even harder to establish meaningful engagement after the metaphoric horse has bolted. This is what Brené Brown has warned of in her book Dare to Lead. The good news, is that there are so many opportunities to make good and tap into the positive courageous energy that has been waiting so patiently in recent years years to be given its chance to shine and gain the upper hand - we sometimes call this frustration, because it is all the untapped human potential just waiting for the right conditions to be heard, understood and then embraced.

I think and have experienced leadership training that has gotten us to this point and hasn't really worked. Yes, some things have progressed but there is a great deal of research to suggest that in spite of the relatively new organisational practices of human resource departments, career development, leadership development and skills training etc. etc. that the everyday experience of people remains contextualised by the narrative of efficiency and effectiveness, right out the the book of Taylorism which serves to operate a mechanistic and scientific management approach introduced over 100 years ago and guess what - it's no longer fit for purpose and has often led us away from systems of trust, compassion and authenticity to byzantine bureaucracy and compliance without a human heart as a regulator.

Yvonne Thompson of Change Innovators often says "Leadership is everything and nothing to do with the leader all at the same time". I think she is so right and her contemporary life changing leadership programmes are taking us in a completely different direction - the right direction.

We need to start thinking uncontrol rather than control. We need to start talking about cultures of accountability like Yvonne does where people are enabled and encouraged and, wait for it, trained in the skills of wellbeing, taking responsibility for themselves and being accountable to themselves for their own actions. For people to learn how to have a compassionate and deeper appreciation of themselves which inevitably leads to a greater appreciation for others and creates cultures that enable and celebrate difference at the individual level. This takes time, commitment and intent. Sheep dip programmes simply don't work, they may be convenient because we are all so busy being stressed but we are simply not built that way, real change takes place at an emotional level and this takes practice and time to understand and get right.

It is no longer the role of leaders to hold others to account and take on responsibilities that stretch them to their limits and beyond causing derailment and burnout. Many senior executives and leaders live lives in considerable pain and anxiety whilst 'pretending' that - everything is OK. Is that a meaningful existence? Does your six or seven figure salary really make up for that or does it create a trap that you can't get out of? Also what impact might you be having on yourself and those around you if you operate in this mode? I'm not saying that everyone is like this, many have worked with and through coaching and leadership consultants to find a new way, but many of us live lives where stress is a significant part of what we are trying to manage unaware of what is really motivating or pulling us along and it's not healthy, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) statistics on mental health and wellbeing are a good indicator of that.

Yvonne's book Creating the Accountability Culture: The science of life changing leadership is a must read for any leader who has been interested in the messages in this blog. Change Innovators - New World Leadership Programme is also the contemporary programme that is going to help you find the way to a sensible answer to your Quo Vadis? Enabling you to become a meaningful and human centred leader of the future. For those of us on the path, this is more than a commercial endeavour to sell coaching and leadership programmes, and encourage leadership circles where we can discuss these important subjects, it is a mission to improve the next generation of leaders so that they are prepared for what comes next. Generation Z are very unlikely to put up with much of what we did, and why should they?

Infinity symbol representative of an ouroboros.
Curtesy Steve Johnson - Unsplash

This symbol is derived from the ouroboros - the serpent that eats itself, it is also the symbol of infinity. Kets De Vries talks about this in relation to existential leadership practice where closed minds and cultures will only lead to endless devouring of the same old crap (my words). This is when we become trapped in an endless cycle of status quo, badged as progress - the path to meaning will break that cycle.

In truth the leadership ouroboros needs to find a radically different path. One that focuses on wellbeing and growth, powerful use of language with positivity and positive energy to create new and more meaningful realities, the creation of psychologically as well as physically safe working environments where people are able to reduce stress and increase creativity and open their learning centres across their whole human system. It is now well known, through advances in neuroscience that learning does not just happen in the brain, it is an embodied function of living a meaningful life and being part of a connected collective. Leadership of the future is all about enabling this in self and others.

If you would like to join a facilitated learning circle or find out more about these amazing development programmes please get in touch. There are also some great opportunities to find out more at the summer series of events starting starting from the 14th July 2022, use the this link to register for the events.

As ever I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Find out more about the programmes in the links below, and please get in touch if you are interested to find out more.

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