Hi, I’m Ian McClean. I’m the founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations. And this podcast has grown out of the chaos that’s been thrust upon us. During the podcast, I’m going to try and share with you the best of 25 years of helping corporate organizations deal and cope with change. So, as you’re out there, busy making sense of it all, trying to cope, and maybe in some cases trying to rebuild your organizations, I’m hoping that some of this can be of some assistance. We’ll keep it deliberately short, because I know you’re busy. Let’s dive in.

I don’t know about you, but many people now are being worn out by lockdown. What do we get as a reward for the stoic conformity that we’ve applied in the last four months? We get even more uncertainty. Uncertainty about the virus. Uncertainty about permissions to travel. Uncertainty about schools reopening. Uncertainty about our economy, not to mention even our health.

At the start of this chaos, many governments did pretty well in terms of creating clarity. Stay home, save lives. This is more recently being replaced by the mantra; stay alert. Now can anybody explain to me what that means?

Even in Ireland, where the government did a really good job at the start; ambiguity and contradiction have started to creep into the messaging. You have one government agency who’s telling us not to travel, whilst another government agency at the same time is telling us that we need to open our country for tourism.

This ambiguity and mixed messaging is being amplified around the world. And as we look out, what we see is a stage that is slowly unravelling. As humans, we’ve gone from the initial state of good grace to a state now of bad humour. There may not be much comfort in this, but this is exactly what we saw back in 2008, 2009, and 2010 in the last crisis as it began to unfold.

Things went from a state of initial solidarity to one of deep division. And here we’ve gone from a state of we’re all in this together to a position of us versus them. Although it feels like a bit of an eternity since this whole chaos has started, it’s actually only now that your mettle is going to be tested.

And just to reiterate, the whole purpose of this Leadership in Chaos podcast that we started 16 weeks ago was to ensure that your leadership reputation is not the casualty. So what’s actually happening out there that’s creating this sense of feeling of agitated friction?

Well, back to our basics, the chaos and the uncertainty are even more present now than they were at the start, which predicates the survival brain.

So, the primal side of us does two things. One thing is it creates certainty; that we’re right. And the second thing is it creates binary thinking. And binary thinking polarizes us. It polarizes us into absolute positions. Good, bad, right or wrong, us or them, in or out. So, the emerging challenge for you as a leader, ultimately, is how do I keep my people and myself at their best when feelings and opinions are becoming more polarized.

The solution lies in conversations, and conversations are the wallpaper of humanity. Why? Because we’re surrounded by them. They’re ubiquitous to the point where they become invisible to us, and we simply take them for granted. However, there is nothing like a conversation or the power of a conversation to either connect us or divide us.

And when I say conversations, conversations take a few different forms. The face-to-face has been demoted in place of video or audio, and then there’s electronic. Whilst each of these is happening in abundance throughout the day in every organization, in fact, one organization in the retail sector calculated that they have more than 250,000 conversations on a daily basis across their network.

And although we don’t always think about it this way. Every conversation matters. Because it’s the impact of the conversation that gets things done. And nothing moves forward without the conversation. I’ve yet ever to see a project deliver itself. Or a strategy implement itself. Nothing happens without the oil of human conversation.

It’s the oil that greases the machine. Many of us are experiencing or about to experience some difficult or tough conversations that need to happen over the coming days and weeks. And here’s typically what people do when they’re preparing for such a conversation, they go out and they find all the data, all the facts, all the information and all the evidence that supports their point of view.

Meanwhile, on the other side, the other person’s doing exactly the same. And that’s typically how we prepare. We both, or all of us, arsenal up, and we turn up for the day of battle. It’s like a conversational arms race, and it entails mutually assured destruction. Or MAD for short. Whoever wins might win the battle, but they’ll have lost the war, and the war is around your reputation.

Very often, people pay a very heavy price for the privilege of being right. What’s left in the wake of such a conversation is what we call residue. Instead of having pure oil for our conversation, there’s grit in the oil. And we know that gritty oil creates wear and tear on the system that can ultimately lead to a breakdown.

Symptoms of residue typically fall into one of two categories. The first category is a loss of clarity. And remember how important clarity has been all the way through the series so far. And this is a bit like having a bucket with a hole in it. Because it’s about inefficiency, where you’re pouring more and more into the top of the bucket, and it’s going out the bottom as fast as it’s going in.

It typically manifests itself through rework, wasted effort, competing agendas, wasted resources, and more meetings, inbox swelled. The second manifestation of residue comes through a loss of commitment. And again, we talked about this in earlier episodes. This is a little bit like after the conversation, things just don’t feel right. You don’t feel the same towards the project, the people, the team.

What this results in is less discretionary effort from people. More blame, breakdowns in trust, cover your ass. Where looking good is more important than doing good. During the last crisis, what crippled organizations in their efforts to rebuild their organizations and recover from the crisis was the residue that had been created at precisely this time when we went from a state of solidarity to a state of discord.

The good news is we have direct control or influence as leaders in the way in which we approach and conduct our conversations. The research demonstrates clearly it’s a garbage in garbage out system. What we put into it is exactly what we get out of it, which influences the outcome. In the next episode, we’re going to begin to explore how to avoid residue and how to approach conversations in ways that gets to mutually agreeable solutions as opposed to mutually assured disruptions.

And finally, just to say, our podcast listenership has grown pretty extensively and exponentially in the last few weeks, and it’s grown because people like you who are listening to it and who’ve really enjoyed it have invited others.

So I just want to say thank you for that, and please continue to do that if you find it useful.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.



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