LEANING FORWARD INTO THE NEW
I am leaning into change. It started with a realisation: I finally understood the purpose behind AVM Consulting (or one of the purposes, this may evolve with time). It's a great moment when after four years of building a new activity, a company, I saw my instinct and my rational brain collaborate (finally!) to bring me to this conclusion: what I do, what companies and individuals should seek me out for is 'Bridging Business Development and Storytelling.'
That's all well and good but what does that mean exactly? Well, I’m not going to pitch you here but suffice to say, I am asking myself questions. Am I building a bigger consultancy? Who will I hire, how will this shape up? I’m not sure yet.
What it means more immediately is that I have been incredibly lucky. I’ve worked closely with other super qualified consultants, writers, freelancers, who have helped me connect the dots. Their talents, their own visions and their worldview has enriched mine and also pointed out some of my blindspots occasionally. This ‘bridging’, my purpose, doesn't exist without these accomplished, wonderful others.
And, as I have been explaining in the past couple of weeks in this blog, I love nothing more than bringing talents together to pursue a common goal. Right. My Ikigai!
MAKING THINGS MOVE
In the middle of pitching for a new contract, I was writing notes earlier this morning, doing my due diligence ahead of writing my proposal. I noticed a lot of communication inconsistencies that were causing alarm bells to ring in my head. Two things came up:
'What kind of interaction will I have with the people in this new project? How closely are we working? Is there goodwill? How much time do they have? Why do they want to do this and for me to facilitate?'
Second, a memory surfaced. As my old boss said, in what felt like a semi-compliment: "It's good, you make things move" or 'Tu fais bouger les choses.' I have a tendency not to let things lie.
Making things move can be defined by what it is not: staying with how things are, a status quo. You may have noticed that most people don't like change. We are attached to what we know, over what we don't know, even if the new - the change - is positive.
I've learned to use my energy for good, to enrol - to make eyes shine - so that hopefully people don't arch their backs at the mention of my name. Despite making things move, I do my best not to ruffle too many feathers. Because I need them, as much as they - willingly or not - need me.
That's the thing though: I know, and I have always known, that I cannot do things all on my own. Especially great things. Of course, I’ve tried, and it was worth the learning curve for the many technical skills I have picked up from not being able to delegate, whatever the reason was.
At my core, I like to support or build teams and systems that bring the right results, at the right price, and in the right time frame (though the latter has been more elusive than I'd like recently).
I DON'T WANT TO BE A HERO
I went back to listening to the great Ted Talk by Lorna Davis on Collaborative Leadership, which I quoted already a few weeks back. Something about this was important for me to bring out so I’d made a note to revisit the subject.
In the talk, Davis makes the distinction between two types of leadership: Hero Leadership and Interdependent Leadership. Their goals and their attributes are of course, extraordinarily different, here is what stuck with me today. I am formatting the lines below because each contains many ‘a-ha’ moments for me. I want to encourage you to read them one at a time, without rushing.
'Hero leaders see everyone as a competitor or a follower.
Heroes don't want input, they want to control everything because they want the credit. And you can see this in a typical hero meeting.
Heroes like making speeches, people lean back in their chairs, maybe impressed, but not engaged.
Interdependent leaders on the other hand understand that they need other people.
They know that meetings are not just mindless calendar fillers, these are the most precious things you have. It's where people collaborate and communicate and share ideas.
People lean forward in meetings like this, wondering where they might fit in.'
OLD MODEL: IF YOU ARE NOT WITH ME, YOU ARE AGAINST ME
Interdependent leaders don't have all the answers, they lean forward and make room for others to bring out their own best ideas, they set the stage for true collaboration. I’d even go as far as saying they enable progress.
I'm sure that many of you who read these lines are like me: you see the old Hero model and know it's not right, not in tomorrow's world, not if we want happy employees and happy customers, happy citizens and hopefully, reverse major issues like climate change.
But the hero model is the one that we have been served for so long. Like me, you most likely have been taught and managed by some hero leaders who don't really want to see you lean in during meetings, preferring you to lean back and show appreciation for the knowledge they are imparting, to make you a follower, rather than a participant. If at some point you become the competitor, a divergent voice, the hero leader is unlikely to want to listen to your voice, in said meetings.
This happens internally within companies, this happens in political parties, as is so obvious around the world. And it also happens in the relationship between the company and the consultant, as one of my collaborators noted to me recently when she said: ‘Sometimes, I feel like the client is against me.’ Leaning in not welcomed.
‘It can take a huge amount of effort to bring people with you, to make your client see that your ideas could help them grow, that your experience of working with multiple businesses gives you perspective. Clients can often be quite blinkered: they believe they know best.
It's our job as consultants and freelancers to show them alternatives, but it has to be done graciously, even diplomatically. It can be demoralising when they don't listen, but very rewarding when they do,’ explains Manfreda Cavazza, close collaborator and content strategist.
I’ve been in situations where I had meetings from morning to night and had no time to do my actual work, which yes, does lead to exhaustion and questioning my values, so no, I am not the biggest advocate for meetings.
Yet maybe my favourite of today’s takeaways from this re-listen of Ms Lorna Davis is this mention that meetings aren’t (or shouldn’t be) mindless calendar fillers. They are incredibly precious. This is where we get to do great things together.
However, if the meetings you are in do not yield this feeling that things are moving, if you are feeling like leaning back in the chair rather than engaging, take it as a sign of the kind of leadership at play.
And you know when it gets worse? Under time pressure, the crunch makes us all more likely to want people to ‘do what I just said’. I can hear my own voice right then as I type this. I’m certainly a work in progress.
CHANGE IS NOT EASY
I'm more than leaning towards collaboration. My instincts, my own tastes, my favourite word, are pulling me towards true collaboration. And I can tell it will be an interesting journey.
How will that shape my company? I don't know yet. How will that shape the work I do for others? I have a feeling it will mean that I won’t settle for just 'doing work' but for making things move.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the new, but quoting my new favourite mentor, Benjamin Zander, I'm going to embrace my work style as he suggests: one-buttock playing.
I can’t say I will get it right every time, but my intention is clear. And when the stars (or the right talents) align, I know that in meeting rooms, virtual or not, I make magic happen.