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.

EP 60: Leadership Manifesto – 25 Principles for Leading in Chaos

I started the flow group business exactly 25 years ago. This month in January 1998. I can’t brag because Google started the same month. Just for context, it was the same year Apple unveiled the iMac, the year of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The FDA approved the Viagra pill not related to my knowledge. And the year of the Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement, definitely not related.

During the time, in addition to the quantity and demands for change, our clients and our business had to navigate through at least three major global economic disruptions, spaced conveniently, roughly a decade apart, just to keep us on our toes, the.com bubble implosion of roughly 1999 /2000, the global financial crash, 09 to 10, and the recent unforgettable covid pandemic. But what’s made the quarter century journey most worthwhile for me has been all the learning that’s been in there about leadership, a subject that I’ve been passionate about ever since I can remember.

The last 25 years have been like attending a real-time experiential leadership academy every day, where the case studies aren’t just intellectual things you read about, but they’re playing out in the role in real time, moment by moment. Being on hand to witness the best and the worst of leadership has led to insights that I couldn’t possibly find in any one book or any one manual.

So therefore, this manifesto is a consolidation into 25 principles, one for every year of what I observe as the essence of how to be a leader in a world of continuing and unending chaos.

Number one
Get comfortable with uncomfortable.

Chaos and uncertainty run counter to our human need for control. But chaos is also a natural and necessary step as we transition from one state of order to another. Just like you can’t take a shower without getting wet. I feel the discomfort certainly, but recognising the chaos is also evidence of progress and one step closer to where we want to go. The chaos doesn’t last forever. It will pass. In the meantime, it’s okay not to feel okay.

Number Two
Concentrate on strengths.

Do you and your significant people get to do what you do best every day? Nobody is great at everything. Even the most talented leaders spike in just one or two areas. Concentrate your time and effort on and strengthening your superpower and the superpower of those around you, because no matter how much you work on your kryptonite, it will still be kryptonite.

Number Three
Don’t compromise on your values.

If you do, you may gain in the short term, but conceding on your values will continually aggravate you like a stone in your shoe and one you can never take off.

Number Four
Hold your assumptions lightly, not tightly.

In a world that’s so volatile, ambiguous, and fragile, balanced, yesterday’s firm convictions can rapidly become tomorrow’s fallacies. Re-evaluate your assumptions on a regular basis and hold them lightly not tightly.

Number Five
Use your imagination wisely.

What distinguishes you from all other mammals is the unique gift of imagination. Use it to create the future you want not to catastrophize, worry and fret.

Number Six
Look for the good in the bad.

Without challenge. There could be no growth. Adversity may not be comfortable at the time, but even if you don’t win, you can at least learn. In the words of Douglass Mallek, good timber does not grow with ease. The stronger wind, the stronger trees. However, just like mining, what we encounter in adversity is mostly dirt. To find the gold, you’ve gotta look for it.

Number Seven
Beware your comparative mind.

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

Number Eight
Find your flow.

Elite athletes allude to it as being in the zone. Musicians and artists call it in the groove. What they describe is peak performance or flow. A state we now know can be readily accessed once you know how. So find more, flow, more readily and more often.

Number Nine
Start with the end.

The essence of leadership and its contribution is to define the end before we embark on the journey. Where’s the Destination?. And what does it look like? Content, tasks, plans, milestones, priorities is useless without context. And the leader’s primary role should, more than anything, be the CC O or chief context officer. If not you, then who?

Number Ten

You will never, ever get to perfect. But you can always get to better. If you want more success, then double your failure rate and iterate, as Beckett said, ever tried? Ever failed? No matter, try again, fail again. Fail better. After all, the word belongs to the successful, dissatisfied that continually iterate.

Number Eleven
Begin anywhere.

This is the advice of John Cage, an experimental American musician, advising on how to start composing when there’s no playbook, no right way, no blueprint, and no right answers. To avoid paralysis, just start and begin anywhere, no matter what. A psychologist, George Saluki, expressed it: “Do the thing and you shall have power.”

Number Twelve
Continually ask why.

Whilst we are learning, we are conscious. Once mastered, it becomes unconscious. However, unconsciously repeating something we’ve mastered that is no longer useful is the quickest way to extinction. When you are stuck asking why is the fastest way to break the deadlock? And routinely asking why is the fastest way to efficiency.

Number Thirteen

Manage your impact!

And speaking of why, a very useful question is always, why should anyone be led by you? Nobody, by the way, sets out to be a poor leader. And coupled with that, leaders routinely overestimate their own ability. Leadership is in an away game, not a home game. Forget momentarily about yourself and instead pay close attention and try to improve your impact on others. People judge you and your leadership not by your good intentions but by your impact.

Number Fourteen

Stay calm.

In times of turbulence, people more than ever look to their leader for guidance. Holding their breath, they pay scrutinous attention and take their cues from you, and nobody needs a nervous pilot.

Number Fifteen

Create a safe environment.

Every organization or team is the extension of the leader’s shadow. You set the tone by what you promote and what you permit, ensuring mostly that the environment is one where everyone feels comfortable to say what’s on their mind.

Number Sixteen
Communicate for your audience, not for yourself.

You don’t need to persuade you. You need to persuade them. You already understand they don’t. So craft your message in their language in a way they could understand. Create from your side, but through their eyes, throw open the door. Don’t barricade the entrance.

Number Seventeen
Listen for implications, not the situation.

People don’t resist change. They resist the implications of change for them. They don’t resist you. Truly you are not that important. They resist what you represent to them. People don’t fear the pandemic, but they fear are the implications of the pandemic for them. So get curious and listen for the implications to them of the situation, and it will transform your conversations and your connection with others.

Number Eighteen
Be agreeable.

One of the most underrated qualities is that of Agreeability. It costs nothing to be. Polite and pleasant with others, and there’s no downside. The upside is that more people are moved to work with people that are likeable, and it builds valuable social capital. Being agreeable, by the way, is not the same as being a pushover, as it’s backed by the principle that no one is either above or beneath you, as Michael Cane once put it. I’ve met many equals, no betters.

Number Nineteen
Schedule what’s important!

You must decide both what’s important and schedule the time for it every day or every week or every month as the old Japanese proverb goes. Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

Number Twenty
Resist temptation, minimize distraction.

We live in a technology-fueled garden of Eden. An attention-seeking economy where the most sophisticated dark forces are constantly, covertly, at work to distract you. Your old biological defences aren’t sufficiently seaworthy anymore. In an age of swirling distraction, you’re gonna need a bigger boat. Keep your focus.

Number Twenty one
Avoid procrastination.

Many very skilled and clever people are paid very well to lull you into following their path and stealthily controlling how you spend your time. Take every opportunity to reduce their opportunity.

Number Twenty-two
Stay golden. Look after number one.

Only a golden goose can produce golden eggs. As a leader, you’re both the strongest and the weakest link. You are also the number one influence on the performance of the team, which is index linked to your capacity to produce. The speed of the leader, after all, is the speed of the group. Mind yourself as a constant priority and do whatever it takes to stay golden mentally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

Number Twenty-three
Indulge your downtime.

Spend more time on the balcony and less on the dance floor. Some of your greatest thinking is done when you’re not thinking.

Number Twenty-Four
Choose consciously and wisely.

Because the only thing you ever truly control in life is not the situation, but your response in the moment to the situation.

Number Twenty-Five
Remember that happiness is about three things: something to do, something to look forward to, and someone to love.

This is uniquely human and can never be taken away.

I hope you find some or all of this useful. You’ll probably have your favourites, but at least this gives us some blueprint and guidelines for how to be for the next 12 months and beyond.

If you liked it or you’d like to, please get in touch, find me on LinkedIn and connect. I’d be very interested in any observations or comments that you have.

Until the next time, Stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.