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 55 – Leadership in the New World (Dis)order Part 3

The second thing that we need to do in order to limbically lead our people better, is we need to be clear. In fact, the greatest antidote to uncertainty and ambiguity is clarity. And this, in my experience, is the second great underestimation of leaders is they underestimate the need for communication, and they under-communicate. Normally in terms of frequency, but also in terms of adequacy or appropriateness to the audience that they’re communicating to.

The basic assumption is, message sent equals message received. Just because I sent the memo, just because we did the town hall, just because we had the conversation, or just because we shared the report, the basic assumption is that now things are clear. And you can recognize the good intention, but the impact very often is the exact opposite.

A subset of being clear, particularly where there’s uncertainty and, ambiguity and confusion, is the need for leaders to be honest. And what I mean by that specifically is, share with people what you know, insofar as you can. But also don’t be afraid to share what you don’t know. A lot of leaders in my experience, who are dogged by the old fear that they needed to have all the answers, are very reluctant and they feel exposed if they admit that they don’t know something. But in this new world disorder, we won’t have all the answers. People don’t expect leaders to be perfect, but they do expect them to want to be honest.

And in keeping with honesty, don’t sugarcoat the truth. The limbic brain is highly attuned, and after 150 million years of practice of distinguishing friend from foe, it has a very high, highly developed bullshit detector. And we know that when people sugar-coat as leaders, they’re doing it with good intention to soften the blow. The impact, however, is the opposite. Because people are smart. They know the reality of things, and they don’t want to be infantilized. And if you’re not being fully transparent with them on this one, then your credibility starts to diminish because they start to wonder, well, what else are you not being transparent with me on? And now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a breakdown of trust.

It’s no wonder that according to the Edelman trust barometer, during the last two years, that trust in global organizations and, leadership and institutions has taken a nosedive. And it all stems from, at a time when people most needed clarity and most needed honesty, the leader fudged it and fudged it in the moment. So as organizations are collectively and individually facing into the great reset, there are five conversations for clarity that are happening simultaneously, some or all across the organizations that we’re working with currently.

The five conversations for the new world disorder to create clarity are: firstly, what’s our? Why? So why do we exist? People are coming together to ask the question, what’s our purpose? As we’re resetting, what do we mean? What’s the meaning for our people, for our organization, for our team? And why do we exist?

Second question is Where are we going? So, from where we are now, what’s our destination? What does good look like? What are we aiming for?

Within that, then, is the question of the What? What are our priorities?

And then that cascades down into Who? Who’s on the team, what are our roles and responsibilities now?

And finally, How? How do we work together? What’s good practice? How do we collaborate in ways, now, that’s going to get the best out of us and help us to fulfil our purpose, and get to our destination and achieve our priorities?

And these are the conversations that we should be having with our people, which brings us to point number three, which is to be connected. Because these conversations are useful in so far as we’re connected with others, and we involve other people.

It doesn’t need me to tell you that the biggest loss during the last two years that people have suffered is the feeling of being disconnected from one another, people that we worked with, people that we loved. So this loss of connection is something that needs to be restored. And personally, the most uplifting part of emerging from the original pandemic and all of the implications of lockdown has been to witness and observe people coming back together in person physically for the first time in a long time.

This reconnection, face-to-face with people either they hadn’t seen for a very long time, or in many cases, most cases, meeting people that they’ve only ever met on screens and meeting them face to face for the first time. To witness the outpouring of joy that associated itself with that and to see how people’s souls literally filled themselves up was just a vindication of the thing that we already know of a basic human need. We’re social creatures, and we’re better together, and the screen is no substitute for the face-to-face. So, as leaders, we need to create an environment where people can be connected.

Interestingly, the number one criticism of leaders over the years, whenever a crisis hits, is that the leaders disappeared or they were nowhere to be seen. Now, part of the problem with that is that people feel abandoned, back to the sense of separation or fear of separation. And in order to do that, with no communication and no further insight, what they do is they take the void that’s been created by the absence of leadership, and they fill the void. And typically, people escalate up, and they awfulize.

So, they read the tea leaves in the most negative possible way, that’s possible. And leaders, on the other hand, probably out of good intentions, didn’t want to mislead people, so they stayed silent. So, there might’ve been good intentions behind it, but the impact is usually calamitous. Which is why across the globe, you’ve just had a complete volcanic eruption of conspiracy theories, which continue to persist and take over.

Leadership is not an absentee landlord. And we need to connect with people, on a rational level, for rational reasons and also for emotional reasons. Rationally, by connecting with people, we are able to gauge their level of clarity. So I have sent the message, but is it clear, because different people might interpret it in different ways.

The other thing is, in deciding and creating what the new world order is going to look like, we need as much information and intelligence as we can get. The world’s become so specialized, there’s so much data out there with the infodemic and so on, that trying to consolidate all of this as one person is impossible. So we need our people. We need the intelligence that they’ve got to be able to gather it so we can make better decisions. And we need to be connected with people so we can co-create things. People will tolerate your solutions, but they will act upon and be motivated by things that they’re involved in directly themselves.

On an emotional level, people have been through so much in the last two years or more. It’s been the same storm in the same ocean for all of us, but boy, have we been in different boats. And some people’s experience has been totally traumatic. And there are moments that people go through, and mental health is suffering, as is well-documented, so as a leader, the ability to be able to show up and just simply hold the space for people and give them the opportunity to empty their own cup.

One of the most interesting emerging themes about the new world order that I’ve heard more consistently is the whole idea about curiosity and becoming more curious. Curious about the world, curious about information, curious about people. Create the space and ask the question. How are they?

People know whether you’re interested or you’re not interested. The interesting thing about the limbic system. Do you know when somebody asks you a question, whether they’re genuinely interested in the answer or just asking the question for the sake of it? Well, people are almost as smart as you. And the beauty about curiosity is that, in order to become curious yourself, you’ve got to activate your own green brain. And by doing that, when people know that you’re genuinely interested and curious about the question you’ve asked, they relax, and it activates their green brain. Their red brain goes on silent.

It used to be, that leadership in the old days, the leader was the one who had all the answers. Now, in the new world disorder, it’s about having all the right questions.

Until next time, stay safe, stay sane, and most of all, stay connected.