We live in an increasingly interconnected world where events and actions happening many thousands of miles away are having a direct impact on our day-to-day lives, for example:
- global communications systems make information accessible almost instantaneously across the globe
- transnational corporations take a global view on investment and marketing
- industrial and domestic pollution and emissions affect the global climate
- resources (food, materials, etc) are sourced internationally
- terrorism and crime have become global.
To live successfully in the increasingly complex and unpredictable world that globalisation brings requires our thinking and perceptions to become correspondingly more subtle and sophisticated. We need to be able to see interdependencies, work cross-culturally, enable people to work effectively together, operate in fast-changing environments, and see systemically. In short we need to move from thinking personally to thinking globally.
This is important for us as individuals: it is also important that, when we coach executives and others whose actions have the potential to impact many people, we are able to help them think more globally.Moving to a Global Perspective
If we look at models of personal and social development, and particularly at those integral frameworks which have sought to identify the common themes across a range of models, we see that a central hypothesis to all these models is that, as we grow and develop, a natural shift from thinking personally to thinking globally occurs. This shift is accompanied by a recognition that we exist in and are defined by our relationship with others. As we become more global in our thinking these "others" move through family, colleagues, society, and ultimately, the planet. Not "I think therefore I am" but "You are,therefore I am". Thus the route to thinking globally is though personal growth.
Many writers have charted this journey, and some in particular have sought to identify the key themes and patterns of this journey and create integral models which synthesise the wisdom. Frameworks I have found particularly useful in providing this big picture of how we and the systems of which we are a part grow and develop are:
- The values-based approaches of Brian Hall (Values Shift: A Guide to Personal and Organizational Transformation,1994), Richard Barrett (Liberating the Corporate Soul: Building a Visionary Organization, 1998), and The Minessence Group who offer a values measurement tool (www.minessence.net).
- Beck and Cowan's Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change (1996)
- John Whitmore's Need, Greed or Freedom (1997)
One example of such a model is the Levels of Leadership framework, derived from Brian Hall's Values Map and Richard Barrett's work (left). Each of the levels in a model of this type represents a relatively stable world view with an associated set of values, skills and behaviours. Each successive level is characterised by increasingly complex values, skills and behaviours and includes, integrates and transcends all the values, skills and behaviours of the previous levels.
So long as we are content to lead in the style of that level (eg as a manager), and that style meets the needs of the environment we are working in (eg a complex, layered hierarchy), then it is possible to continue leading in much the same way, perhaps getting increasingly skilled but not changing our fundamental style. But at some point one of two things may happen:
- the environment may change and require a different style of leadership from us (which may be at a higher or a lower level than the one from which we are currently operating)
- we may begin to outgrow our current style of leadership and find ourselves looking for something more - a new challenge, a different type of work, a different way of leading.
In either case we may start by ignoring these calls to change or trying to make adjustments to our current way of leading. But sometimes we discover that we can't make things work the way they are and so we find ourselves, often unwillingly, embarking on a transition to a new level.
The Leadership Journey
I'd like to draw on one powerful and popular metaphor for viewing our lives - which is as a series of journeys through various trials and joys towards our destiny. Each journey involves leaving a place of stability and familiarity, overcoming tests and challenges, gaining a precious gift, and coming back to the world somehow changed. In terms of the Levels of Leadership model, the precious gift is lost parts of who we are and the change is the ability to lead at the next higher level of leadership.
When we first arrive at a particular level, we lack many of the skills necessary to lead effectively at that level. We therefore face a period of Consolidation (1) during which we develop the skills and competencies necessary to meet the challenges of the particular leadership level. As our capabilities increase, so we will tend to feel increasingly fulfilled and satisfied, and have a growing sense of contentment and stability. We are able to meet the leadership challenges we face and our abilities are in a healthy dynamic equilibrium with our surrounding life conditions.
Whilst this dynamic equilibrium can in theory continue indefinitely, what often happens is that, as we become increasingly successful in our existing role, so our sense of satisfaction and fulfilment starts to decrease. What was once compelling and exciting becomes mundane and boring. We have a sense of outgrowing our existing job and find ourselves seeking a new challenge or looking for a more meaningful role. This is the Dissatisfaction phase (2).
Here we lose the sense of our life working well. Goals and aspirations that motivated us a few years earlier have been realised and no longer hold the appeal they used to. We feel trapped by our situation and feel that we have exhausted the possibilities in our current way of living. Our immediate response to this may be to return to the Consolidation stage and take on new responsibilities or projects to try and rekindle the enthusiasm and sense of challenge we previously felt. This has the attraction of taking us back to a simpler less complex place where we know how to operate and know who we are. But sooner or later the dissatisfaction is likely to return. This time we may move jobs or have an affair but still find only temporary relief from our doubt and confusion.
We can also find ourselves moved out of the Consolidation phase involuntarily - not because we have changed in some way but because our environment has. For example, a promotion, organisational change, or changing market conditions can all lead to our current ways of meeting leadership challenges no longer being adequate. And here too we may try to regain our formers ense of competence and control by trying to build on our existing skills but find to our frustration that these are no longer sufficient.
And so we can find ourselves trapped in what appears to be an endless oscillation between Consolidation and Dissatisfaction. However, there is another way out of Dissatisfaction and that is Letting Go (3).
When we finally accept that our old way of operating is no longer sustainable and that making incremental changes and trying to paper over the cracks is not sufficient, then we begin the process of letting go of the beliefs and attachments that no longer serve us. We realise that there is no turning back - but we also fear that there may be no way forward.
This is a time when we feel demoralised, frustrated, angry and despairing but also a time of opportunity and new possibilities. As old ways of being and doing begin to fall apart, so the possibility of new ways of thinking, acting and leading emerge. Often, only when we finally, in despair, give up on the old ways, can the new emerge. But this only happens when we let go of our expectations, preconceptions and ideologies, and our need to feel in control. In effect we have to let a part of our ego die so that we can become more of who we are.
It is at this time, when all seems darkest and most difficult and when we are ready to give up, that something shifts and we find ourselves emerging from the emptiness of having let go into a new place of possibilities, resolution and excitement Synthesis (4). We feel empowered; we have a new sense of who we are and what we can achieve. We see the world from a new, enlarged perspective.
We must now bring the gift of our expanded sense of ourselves back into our everyday lives and work. In one sense, we are back where we started consolidating and developing our skills. But the difference is that we have stepped up to a new level of consciousness and leadership, and the skills we are developing are more sophisticated, complex and global than those we were using before. And there will come a time when these skills in their turn will eventually lack sufficient depth and meaning and once again we will hear the call to make the journey to our fuller selves and our greater leadership potential.