Articles Insight

In Troubled Times, People like to Talk

These are difficult times for people at home and at work. Anxiety levels are raised and levels of wellbeing and resilience are being truly tested.

When people are anxious, they like to talk. They find reassurance when they can connect with others and makes sense of their isolated experience. So, they try to find ways in which they can share and support each other. If they can do this effectively, they will manage to reduce their anxiety as well as fulfilling an overarching need to feel part of a broader community at work and a sense that they belong.

Many organizations are providing great tips on how to WFH and how to build resilience and wellbeing during this very difficult time. But what we find is that clients, even with all of that ‘knowhow’, still want to talk. No matter what the medium is, be it Zoom, Skype, TEAMS or the telephone. It is beholden therefore on organizations to provide ways for their people to feel supported and able to share.

We see our leaders playing a significant role in trying to remain close, albeit isolated, with their teams in an attempt to stay in touch with their concerns. But what we are finding is that the key differentiator that enables people to really open up at this time, is having a neutral qualified person to facilitate the dialogue.  

As organizational psychologists we are working closely with client organizations to provide that differentiator. We are providing safe spaces for:

·       Colleagues to talk about some of the challenges they are facing in their roles, explore ways to address and enable them to support and learn from one another, and

·       Confidential 1:1 sessions when there is something that individuals would like to discuss more privately

Regular short sessions are working very effectively at this time and can be set up at short notice and in an agile way with whatever platform suits your needs.  There has never been a more critical time to be able to provide a safe space for your staff to talk.

To inquire about how we could set up a suitable forum for you, contact us at

Articles Insight

Resilience: Leadership skills for our increasingly complex interconnected world

Interconnectedness and complexity

Covid 19 and more recent ‘Black Swan’ events bring home the complexity and interconnected nature of our reality. They shift our understanding of what is meant by interconnectedness and how this plays out. For example, between the public and private sectors; between governments globally; between national governments and their financial sectors, their health and other public services and their business community more generally. They invite us to consider a more enlightened approach and to look at the heart of what really matters in business.

The resulting crash in our stock market attests to the misnomer that business success can be measured solely in terms of continuous growth and bottom line. It is the time to speak openly about businesses role in terms of improving society by creating organisations that people want to work for, the people want to do business with and that people want to invest in for the longer term. In effect, to aspire to make this world a better place by reaching its fullest potential through the limitless possibilities of its people.

Fresh thinking and enlightenment

Fresh thinking is required if we are to respond to the challenges that increasing complexity and interconnectedness requires. It helps to invoke a biological perspective of organizations as organisms in search of sustenance co-existing in a symbiotic relationship with their environment. The ease with which sustenance can be won relates to how rich and abundant the resources are relative to the requirements or needs of the system. This relatedness, the one to the other, is then a living dynamic relatedness that is complex, changing and vital at all times.

A biological paradigm suggests that organizations, being shaped by their context, are an integral part of all co-creation. In our Enlightened Organization, you would therefore come to see that:

·      It’s purpose is unique and potentially limitless and often paradoxically more easily answered by listening in to the context and what might be required of it in the word;

·      It is not simply the sum of its outputs and perhaps has a broader purpose, which is to enable their context and the people operating within it to fulfil their potential in the world;

·      Barriers between competing elements within the business can be destroyed and replaced with a sense of common work to be done;

·      Diversity and inclusion bring challenges, conflict and debate all of which are critical resources within the organization;

·      Being intricately connected to the world around it would be best to follow a simple rule whereby you treat all stakeholders ( including, for example, customers, suppliers, competitors, governments and distributors) that you interact with as part of yourselves, and in seeking the best for all parties involved, then your organizations would benefit the most; and

·      That the real purpose of the organization is only achieved over time and that a longer-term perspective will create success in both the longer, as well as the shorter term.

ESG and transformation

ESG philosophies have, in part been nudging our thinking in this direction, advocating that we measure corporate legacy and impact by reference to ‘Environmental, Social and Governance’ factors. These philosophies have been gaining some traction within the European business community. At times, maybe, more by way of lip service than any new thinking. That is, prior to the arrival of Covid 19. For example, many of my clients were already setting targets to reduce corporate air travel or the printing of paper. But few were thinking of revolutionary alternatives that would enable this, such as holding all meetings via TEAMS or Zoom or requiring digital board/meeting packs. Covid has changed their thinking and capability overnight. And these clients have all been rising magnificently to the occasion.

So, we know that the business community does have the capability to transform. The question now is what else will be required for it to continue to do so in a way that meets the changing demands of its operating environment?

Letting go of the illusion of control

A biological perspective helps us also to recognise a simple raw truth, that organizations do not hold any existential right to continue to exist. They need to adapt and work with their context if they are to survive. Covid 19 is certainly testing that reality for many businesses at this time. Margaret Wheatley, the scientist, provides some insight here on our heretofore illusion of continuous growth and control. She puts it thus:

‘Chaos’s role in emergence of the new order is so well know that it seems strange that Western culture has denied its parts so vehemently, In the dream of dominion overall all nature, we believed we could eliminate chaos from life. We believed there were straight lines to the top. If we set a goal or claimed a vision, we would get there, never looking back, never forced to descend into confusion and despair. This belief led us far from life, far from the processes by which newness is created. And it is only now, as modern life grows ever more turbulent and control slips away that we are willing again to contemplate chaos. Whether we explore it dynamics through new science or ancient myths, the lessons are important. The destruction created by chaos is necessary for the creation of anything new.

Adaptive leadership: the skills required

The significant themes emerging for organizations today are about interconnectedness and complexity. Each needs to differentiate their organization by reference to ESG philosophies or some other indicators of responsiveness and ‘Trust’. They can only ever succeed in this to the extent that they are led and managed accordingly. It follows that leaders and managers for the future need to be able to let go of the illusion of control, be fully present and authentic and develop their continuing capability to:

·      See more clearly the overall context in which they are operating;

·      Source and nurture the core purpose for their business;

·      Contain the anxiety and complexity for others;

·      Establish a culture of openness, dialogue and responsible behaviours;

·      Build collaborative relationships both within and beyond their industry sector because resilience can no longer be designed at the level of any individual business;

·      Engage the hearts and minds enabling strategies and the future to emerge;

·      Enable quality strategic conversation throughout every level of the business including the boardroom; and

·      Promote disagreement as an asset as well as being able to ask better and better questions. What could I know, should I know and that I don’t know ? Just what am I missing here ?

Leaders taking up their role

Covid 19 is a travesty. But perhaps within that a wake-up call for business leaders, inviting them to take up their role in helping to develop the enlightened and resilient organization. We are already seeing organisations adapt and deliver incredible transformations during these very challenging times. The invitation now is to consider what else will be required for it to continue to do so in a way that meets the emerging future/the new normal for your business.

Our work at Enlightened Organization’s focuses on helping leaders to

·      Become more fully conscious of the part you play in co-creating the whole;

·      Develop the skills outlined above; and 

·      Become more confident and accountable for what it is that you provide in your role.

What legacy do you want to leave behind for yourself, your organization and your wider community of stakeholders?

Articles Insight

Resilience, Covid 19 and how can we get through this at a personal level?

We are in the middle of a pandemic. Working hard, albeit at home, and as busy if not busier than before. The purpose of this Article is to stop for a moment to consider:

·      How we might be feeling in ourselves

·      How we might be performing/coping in our lives and at work and

·      What steps we could taking to become stronger and more resilient during this experience.

I have been holding ‘Resilience and Wellbeing Clinics’ for clients on Zoom and TEAMS since this pandemic took hold. The feelings that people have shared on these calls include loss; psychological fear about wellbeing; an existential crisis about purpose (questioning the value and meaning of the particular project or work that they are being asked to do and its significance when considered against the chaos in the world); real loneliness and isolation; lack of stimulation and missing the trips out into the world of work with colleagues; confused boundaries between work and home/family life; fear of one’s own disengagement socially and how this might set one back later when things return to ‘normal’; anxiety as parents in trying to achieve it all (the work, their burden of responsibility for the other members of their family, and trying to keep the family structures/meals/ family time and rhythms going); concern about certain members of the family, such as teenagers missing out socially or younger children falling behind in their schooling; and ultimately anxiety about the future. More recently, as the pandemic becomes more like BAU, there is a feeling of fatigue.

Perhaps some of these feelings resonate with you. Perhaps you have others to add. As an organizational psychologist I can tell you that this is very normal. Strong feelings are to be expected when faced with significant change, especially when this is imposed. Our personal experience of change is often described visually by reference to the model below. (Adapted from Kubler Ross).  

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The way forward

1       Emotional intelligence at the early stages

There are distinct phases in the Model, and it is useful if we can focus on the early stages first and see what is going on for us there, at the personal level.

Shock might have arisen when we saw images of the cruise ships not being able to dock or people dying in China. We could not fathom that such a thing was possible

Denial might have occurred when we deluded ourselves into thinking that the pandemic would remain in China or even Italy. That it could have no impact on us (UK/my place of work) and certainly not one for you or me. Or it might have come later, mid-March, when you were asked to work from home. Perhaps you thought, that’s fine. I can do that. It won’t change much. In fact, great, I will now have a shorter commute. Your friends and family might well have colluded in this belief system, that all was well and would stay the same. Even the weather colluded for a while in having some of us feel as if we were on a kind of home-holiday

Awareness is when reality hits home and the imposed change begins to mean something for us personally. We see that there is a cost to it for us. Maybe we risk losing our job or otherwise suffering financially; or miss our colleagues; or experience family members as interrupting our natural rhythm; we may worry about the lack of boundaries between work and home or feel demotivated, finding it harder to do the actual work. This is the phase when strong feelings kick in and we get triggered or overwhelmed by them. This awareness or reality check can come in waves over a period of time.   

It will be a very different experience for each one of us and depend very much on our own personal circumstances and family ecosystem. Nevertheless, the risk is that we stay stuck here, drained by our debilitating feelings and responding to life and work from that place. The only way to move on from this stage is paradoxically to be with it; to face up to these difficult and uncomfortable feelings and to gain insight into our responses. Are our behaviours reactive and based on fear (‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’) or do they reflect a real adult recognition of our needs ? If we can ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ we will gain real freedom from our reactiveness. If we don’t, those feelings will likely be running the show and disable us from moving along the curve towards a new co-created future. 

Staying in tune with yourself in this way will enable you to move more easily into the next phase of the cycle, starting to build resilience in the face of a new normal. 

Exercise 1 My Now

Spend some time each day noticing the following:

·      How are you feeling?

·      Where is the feeling located in your body ? e.g. tight shoulders or fast heartbeat?

·      What is it exactly? Can you give it a name or a label?

·      Allow yourself to accept and let the feeling just be there as it is without trying to suppress or change it in any way

·      Ask yourself why you think this particular feeling is arising? Where has it come from?

·      Enquire into what it is that the feeling might be telling you about what you need right now

·      With this new knowledge and insight see what changes might be available in terms of a response

2       Optimism: Hope springs eternal in the human breast

At this stage you may be able to develop some optimism about what might be possible in the face of this situation. Ask yourself, what it is that you want for your life/family/work? How do you want to come out of this situation in 3, 6- or 9-months time? Why do you do this role at work/what motivates you about it? What would great look like for you personally and professionally after all of this? Covid 19 is not stopping you from dreaming about things that are practicable and possible; things that are within your sphere of your control. Have the courage to dream them now.

The effect of this dreaming or visioning will be to pull you in the direction of your future and a ‘better’ new normal; better because it is being shaped by what you want to have in it. This will then, in part, dissipate your feelings of loss and upset about the impact of Covid 19.

Exercise 2 Magic wand

Imagine you have a magic wand and that you can do almost anything with this wand. ‘Wave’ five things that you would like to have achieved by (September/December/insert your own time frame here). Suspend judgement or evaluation at this stage and just make them up. What do they look and feel like? Then assess and choose what specifically you would like to realise and write a detailed description/drawing/collage of your ideal outcomes

3       Structure: One small step at a time

You will already have seen the advantage of creating some structure in your day when working from home. Disciplined mealtimes and bedtimes for example. 

Being more intimate with your feelings and needs after completing Exercises 1 and 2 above, you can collaborate and ask others for what you want. But you can also do small things, just for you, that are nourishing and make you feel better about yourself, your work and your life. Small structured acts can go a long way towards replenishing us; time spent in the evening watching a Netflix series on your own, an evening walk with your partner, a longer bedtime story with your child, attending an art class online, re-engaging with your old piano pieces or learning to touch type. The list is endless.  

Experiment with different things and celebrate small successes along the way. This will bring you naturally from the left to the right side of the curve above, letting go of your pre-Covid-19 reality and enabling you to shape and manifest your new reality and future.

Exercise 3 What would give you more joy? 

·      What structures do you have in place at the moment? What’s missing, if anything?

·      What’s possible for you that would create more joy?

·      Taking your ‘Magic Wand’ Outcomes from Exercise 2 above

§ Working backwards, what steps did you take to realise your ideal outcomes?

§ Working forwards, what steps do you need to take now in order to get there?

§ Diary these activities now and stick with them

§ Celebrate your successes along the way

Articles Co-design

Co-created design: an art as well as a science

One of the great joys of collaborating closely with a client on design is the act of sitting down, rolling sleeves up and planning how to transform their vision into a tangible reality. This co-creative process works best if you follow five key stages.

Stage 1       Listen for the vision

  • Listen carefully to your key stakeholders to hear what it is the client needs and wants
  • Test for understanding. Support and challenge, as required

Stage 2       Generate ideas about the details

  • Sit together, if possible physically, to brainstorm possible ways forward
  • Ask open questions to allow divergent thinking and to generate ideas.  What is the priority? Why this idea? How would it work? What else is possible?
  • Use a flipchart to record ideas and pin to a wall. Visuals help people to be able to piggyback on previous thoughts and suggestions

Stage 3       Make choices

  • Discuss the ideas generated, refine, and make choices
  • Use large style coloured post it notes to capture the main agreed themes
  • Post these sequentially onto flip charted stages (day 1, month 1, year 1….)
  • Continue to discuss and rearrange post it’s as required. Move across stages or remove if required
  • Add timings and other details

Stage 4       Translate into a coherent journey map

  • Have someone in the team get their laptop and type up the agreed stages into a more structured word document
  • Send this to all parties, to be used as a working document
  • Use also to send to key stakeholders for initial buy in and approval

Stage 5       Create a timeline

  • Before you all leave, you must create a time line
  • Working backwards, map key milestones and actions required on a flipchart
  • Assign roles and responsibilities including the representative co-ordinators between the consultant and the client
  • Create an excel spread sheet to be used and updated by the co-ordinators
  • Finally, take first steps and enjoy watching the client’s vision become their reality

At Enlightened Organizations we specialise in co-creating bespoke leadership development programmes that are delivered digitally as well as face to face, always within the clients business context and often globally. 

Catherine Berney our MD, for example, formerly designed a first time leaders programme for Beiersdorf which represents her blended learning approach. She led the roll out with local faculty in 15 countries globally and in the local language. See excerpt from Indonesian delivery below:

Articles Insight

Closeness, Optimism and Structure: Lessons from Shackleton for these threatening times

Leaders saving lives

Sir Ernest Shackleton has been called ‘The greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none’ for saving the lives of the twenty-seven men stranded with him on an Antarctic ice floe for almost two years. That was more than 100 years ago. His highly practical teachings are as relevant today as they were then. Perhaps even more especially now as we face an unprecedented brush with death (Covid 19) experiencing ongoing lockdown and facing a highly unpredictable future for all of our key stakeholders. 

How do we best lead in such complex dangerous times?  Perhaps, by leaning into some of Shackleton’s core principles, as outlined below. 

1       Closeness

Self-doubt about the goal or direction needed for a team or organization can be accompanied by the distancing of a leader from his/her people. This may be because:

·      The leader does not want to expose his/her weakness,

·      Time alone is needed in order to think,

·      The concerns of other people are not a priority-the situation is bad enough already!

·      Or he/she does not want their authority challenged.

Shackleton recognised each of these concerns but resisted the temptation to distance himself. Something that can become an easy default position for leaders today, in isolation. Instead he did the opposite, he became closer to his people by

·      Stripping away any hierarchical differences in the group

·      Creating regular informal sessions for the group to bond more closely together

·      Ensuring that each member of the crew spent time privately with him

·      Regularly taking people to one side to listen to concerns and ideas, and

·      Nipping problems in the bud before they escalated

He recognised the importance of the crew sticking together as one, in order to survive these months of uncertainly. Morale had to be high, and that was his responsibility. 

2       Optimism

Without doubt the chances of Shackleton achieving his original aims (reaching the South Pole) were lowering with each passing week. As the ship embedded in the ice, mere survival became the goal. Under such circumstances a weak leader may understandably give up and relinquish optimism. The self-fulfilling prophecy then playing out the prediction.

Other leaders can be prone to displaying exaggerated levels of optimism. When conditions look ominous or disastrous, they will assert that everything remains positive. This can be merely naïve enthusiasm, but the temptation is to promise outcomes which are

·      Too far ahead to engage people whose interests are (increasingly as they become more anxious) shorter term

·      Outside the control of the person making the promise

Shackleton maintained a balance throughout his crisis. Once committed to returning people home (their changed purpose now), he focussed only on short term objectives-often no further than the next hour or day-which he and his crew could control. He could do this because he knew the time frame of his colleague’s concerns; the result of achieving the intimacy discussed at 1 above.

His ability to model the way forward, in terms of how his people thought and felt, is one of his greatest attributes of leadership. He knew that he had to maintain optimism and would plan small rewards, meals, rests, and reviews in order to anticipate their emotional needs. While his air of optimism might have caused him considerable internal anguish, he concentrated only on actions which would achieve short terms successes, thereby building confidence and commitment

3       Structure

When a leader’s goal or direction becomes uncertain, there is a temptation to avoid the responsibilities of taking the helm. The reasons may include:

·      A reluctance to structure activities in the context of a clouded personal strategy

·      A fear of wasting resources in the short-term

·      A dread of appearing foolish later on

Shackleton knew that without structure, his crew would have more opportunities to lose faith in his leadership. Reduced to pessimism, they would eventually descend into madness during the months ahead of waiting and boredom. His answer was to provide rituals and activities, not only to occupy his men but to prepare them for forthcoming new strategies. For example:

·      Disciplined mealtimes and strict watches

·      Preparing boats and creating dog teams

·      Making tools and equipment; repairing tents and clothing

·      Hunting for food and maintaining informal entertainment

Shackleton avoided the problem of over-structuring by emphasising the informal rituals of play and entertainment and ensuring free time for all. Through this he took the time to anticipate and plan, in the knowledge that the creation of an able and disciplined crew could be prepared for any outcome.

Relevance for us as leaders today

Do you tend to rely on one of the three principles above at a cost to the other two?   

·      Preferring closeness while limiting optimism and structure, so we all go down as one?

·      Preferring optimism and limiting closeness and structure, so staying aloof from your people? or

·      Preferring structure and limiting closeness and optimism, staying disciplined but ignoring the concerns and reality of your team. 

Shackleton maintained a balance between all three principles and that is the essence of his success. Once his goal became clear and his personal focus returned, he had the foundations in place to surmount also impossible odds; a crew that was close optimistic and structured. He was heralded by his team as being “the greatest leader on Earth.”

What can you do this week?

Looking at his principles and actions above, what is one thing, even if small, that you could do to better lead your team during these unprecedented times?

Articles Book

Why I wrote The Enlightened Organization

There are numerous reasons what I wrote this book and established this consultancy. Primarily I wanted to:

Provide a tool kit to help people find their true vocation and ‘mojo’ at work 

I had fallen into the legal profession and thankfully loved where I ended up; in commercial finance. But as with many careers there were highs as well as lows. When I found myself in the wrong role at Linklaters, I began to question everything. What did I really want? Who was I in the world? What was my gift? 

In response to those questions, I moved from practising law to becoming an organizational psychologist and began to work with global leaders from all sectors, experiencing many different influences along the way, including Buddhism and more philosophical approaches. I discovered that my vocation was to enable people and their organizations to realise their potential. My job was to help business leaders see themselves more clearly; their purpose, their strengths, their limitations, their potential areas for development, and importantly the blockages and anxieties that stopped them from being great.

Help those leading organizations to see their own systemic blindness

The seeds for the book really took root when I realised (as a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management) that no amount of individual development can really help if an organization encourages and rewards the opposite type of behaviour. Inclusiveness, for example, cannot thrive where those in senior positions are unconsciously biased or prejudiced and blind to their inappropriate reactions and behaviours. Well-being workshops won’t land if the unwritten ask is to work 24/7

Working with many people in the financial sector prior to the crash I witnessed extraordinary levels of ‘wilful blindness’ at senior levels, including and, perhaps most importantly, on boards. I wanted to do more to help those in governance positions to become aware, strategic and skillful with the systemic practices that they fostered within their organizations. 

Make a difference to leaders and boards by sharing my learnings

Then I got breast cancer which paradoxically threw me into life and focussed my attention on what I really wanted to do with my time. So, combining my legal background, my organizational psychology and my twenty five years working with global leaders from all sectors, I decided to write a book. The aim was twofold. To

·      Share with the widest audience possible the psychological tools and models that I have found most helpful when working with clients, as well as on my own personal and professional journey, and

·      Show, with practical examples and case studies, the path to good governance for those leading organizations and sitting on boards. 

 Do the work that I was supposed to be doing in the world

The book seemed to just write itself which led to my then establishing our consultancy Enlightened Organizations. We are now a team of highly experienced business psychologists, facilitators and coaches that focus entirely on:

·      organizations that want to become inclusive and purposeful, and

·      leaders and boards that want to be able to see more clearly the impact of their actions and reactions; understand how they can be more effective within their organizational system and broader operating context and know how to accountable to their diverse stakeholders


A Guide to Authentic Leadership for Senior Executives

Extract of a session that I delivered at the ICSA Annual Governance Summit 2018 in London for Board Executives and Company Secretaries.

The snow goose need not bathe itself to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself

Lao Tse

What does this quote mean in the context of leadership? Certainly we need to start with you as a person/the leader. What does being authentic mean in your context? You may well have been a technical expert as a professional lawyer, executive or company secretary and now you are leading others, with or without formal authority. You may have a team and be working very closely with your chair to influence and lead the board. Either way your skill set can no longer comprise just your technical expertise. It must include something else; something more about EQ and an understanding of relationships and change.

You as the Leader

1       So the first question to ask is what skills do you have in that regard? Are you extrovert? Are you easy to relate to? Are you a thinking analytic type of person or more emotional, more feeling? Are you comfortable with the big picture or prefer the details. You are not going to change these preferences. Nor should you. But how do you find out in the first place what they are? Because being aware of your strengths is the first step in knowing if you are being authentic. How do you find out?

As an organizational psychologist my job is largely helping leaders see themselves more clearly. There are lots of ways to gain insight here. For example, psychometrics such as Myers Briggs. 360 degree feedback so that we have others mirror back to us what they see in our behaviour. And just inviting feedback. Not so that we then try to be all things to all men but so that we can then explore deeper patterns and trends in our leadership behaviours and become more aware of what serves and what does not.

2       Leadership arises not in the normal day to day but when challenges and dilemmas present. Unlike management, it is needed when the future is uncertain and a decision or clarity is required. Because of this there is often some soul searching and a deeper level of inquiry required in order to consider the best way forward and the right actions to take. So the second area that leaders need to be attuned with in their role as board executives is their deeper purpose and values. This is because this will help them to maintain a centre of gravity in the face of differing views and approaches; to stayed centred when the going gets rough

Again there are many ways into this level of understanding. When I am working with leaders I might have them complete (a) a life line, with highs and lows to date exploring what meaning these had for them and therefore what might shape them as a leader or (b) an obituary, so that they realise, in perhaps stark terms, what matters ultimately to them in life or (c) a values exercise, choosing 50 values and reducing these to 20 and then 3-5; sharing with others why these last 3-5 have remained. What meaning do they hold for them as a person and in their role?

3       You can know your skills and preferences as well as your deeper sense of purpose and values and who you are. However, you will be dealing with other people who have differing skill sets, preferences and values on your board or in your executive teams. Being human, this can raise your anxiety and trigger unhelpful reactive responses. So another part of the task of being authentic is understanding your fallibility and anxieties and not then giving into them or having them leak out. You need to own and manage these and maybe even communicate them. Paradoxically because we are all human, expressing our vulnerability (consciously) can really help us to connect with others and enable us to lead more powerfully. This is perhaps why we see the rise in mindfulness and resilience programs, helping people manage their reactive responses and then lead better and more authentically.

When I first started out as an organizational psychologist (before that I was an international finance lawyer.) I specialised in this personal aspect of leadership and developing the skills and mind-set to lead others; which are different from the technical skills that may have got leaders promoted into senior positions. As time went by in my consulting practice, I realised that that was not enough. Let’s say for example, I work with all the leaders at the executive level just below the board. I develop their skill set in being able to have challenging and courageous conversations. The board supports this financial investment but does not itself have these brave conversations at board level. Instead there is a dominant chair and some dysfunctional relationships and patterns of behaviour amongst directors. How do you think it is going to go when one of my leaders goes to speak up at board level? Authentic maybe but not leading!

This was my experience prior to the crash when working with a bank that will remain nameless. It was known by my leaders how dysfunctional the board was at that time but no one could speak up until the bank actually crashed. The Enlightened Organization is full of such stories taken from the public domain, including some from The Roads to Ruin research by Airmic and Cass Business School.

Your Organization as a System

It follows that to be an effective leader, you have to go beyond the personal and get real about the system/organization/executive team/board that you are working with and leading.

1       What are their strengths? Perhaps they are different to yours? How do you work with this diversity and stay true to yourself?

2       What is their purpose and why does this group or team exist? If you know that you know how to align around the sweet spot. That is the place that you will be able to lead well from; not leaning too far towards their reality and losing yourself but at the same time not being positional about your skills and values while disregarding theirs. Can you find the common ground? 

3       From that vantage place can you see what is hindering progress? Don’t just step in naively as in the banking scenario mentioned before but understand the constraints so that you can lead creatively within them.

The Business Context

Finally, and arguably most importantly we don’t lead our boards or executive teams in a vacuum. The external context is ultimately the main determinant of what we should be doing and where we should be heading. To lead without this information is not possible and certainly not authentic.

1       There is an explosion of data and information from the outside world bombarding us with choices. Paying attention to PESTLE, is crucial here. Horizon scanning and determining relevance amongst the cacophony of data and noise is an essential part of the skill set required at this level. Why?

2       So that you can see what is emerging? What does the wider organization need from you and your executive team and what does the business context require of your board and organization? And

3       What else do you need to know….what do you not know?

Authentic Leadership in Role

All of this might seem like a lot of work but the message that I want to leave you with is that Authentic Leadership is taking actions in role that serve the purpose of the leader, the organization and the context; actions that serve the purpose of all three. That is the premise of my book The Enlightened OrganizationAuthentic Leadership is not a person but a role. It is exercised at those times when challenges and dilemmas arise and leadership is required. If you then at those times operate from the sweet spot of all three places then you cannot go wrong.

The work required is that of insight into all three and continuous alignment. Speaking from experience, there is no silver bullet but there is enormous joy and satisfaction in having walked the path and taken right action to influence the road map.

Reach out to me if you would like to discuss any of this in terms of your leadership or that of your fellow board executives


Resilience and Organisational Development

What’s your Now?

A former colleague of mine Bruce Irvine used to start every leadership workshop with the question ‘What’s your Now?’ This was to ensure that everyone was truly present before starting the important leadership work that lay ahead. So let me ask you the same question: What’s your ‘Now’?

Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical Energy

Another way into this topic is to ask yourself on a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is low and 10 high) where are you right now in terms of your (a) Spiritual (purpose) (b) Mental (c) Emotional and (d) Physical energy?


Then, how can you recalibrate to bring your low scores up? For example, do you need more sleep or aerobic exercise to top up your physical energy? Do you need to reconnect to your sense of purpose in life by finding a role that is more aligned and fulfilling for your unique gifts as a leader? Or, do you need to spend more time with your loved ones and appreciate the value of your close relationships?

Implications for Organisational Effectiveness

The challenge that increasingly faces organisations today is how best to unleash the resources that they already have: their people. To unleash the capability and passion at each touch point in the business. So that everyone, at any level, can become a leader in their role, responding in an agile, unique and effective way to their stakeholder/customer.

People cannot respond in this way unless they themselves are fired up and ready to go. That means that organisations need to take responsibility for helping their people to learn to pay attention to their ‘Now’, to appreciate the strategic value of managing and maintaining their energy; and by supporting them in being able to do so.

The How?

At Enlightened Organizations, we specialise in working with our clients on resilience and their ‘Now’. We work with leaders on their (a) Purpose and meaning, their Why?; (b) Mental strength including, for example, helping them with their decision making and approach to leadership challenges; (c) Emotional landscape and relationships, including, for example, key stakeholder effectiveness and courageous conversations; and of course (d) their physical wellbeing.

Our programmes are uniquely designed to cater for all four domains and provide the optimum level of experiential learning. We also pride ourselves on responding to the needs of the moment. For example, at a recent client conference where I was delivering a session on the topic of resilience, I had 100 participants dancing in the first 5 minutes. This really helped to enliven them after listening to their colleagues’ PowerPoint slides for the 2 hours before! I could see that their ‘Now’ required some movement in response.

If you want to know more about our strategic work on resilience, please reach out to us.


Becoming a purpose-driven Organisation

Why Purpose?

The ability to work to purpose is altogether critical if organisations are to be sufficiently adaptable and responsive in the face of changing market conditions. The traditional 3-5 year plan is no longer a viable way of leading. Instead a rooted sense of overarching purpose has become the key differentiator in guiding success. This provides the centripetal force which enables the people, resources and activities to coalesce. It gives form and shape to the boundary of the organisation system itself. So that, in the day to day operations as well as when the going gets tough or unpredictable, purpose serves as the guiding compass to help determine the best actions to be taken.

How does an organisation discover its purpose? How does it become a purpose-driven organisation and use this to orient and direct successful performance?

Discovering Purpose

It is important to discover the question of purpose from three different perspectives: that of the organisational system, that of the business context in which the organisation operates, and that of the people who deliver the services that the organisation provides. Starting with an analysis from the organisation’s inside out, integrating this with an analysis from the business context’s outside in and finally creating a framework that can guide, align and orient employees.  

1           The Organisation: looking from the inside out By inside out I mean the board and those leading the organisation determining why they think their organisation exists? Answering questions such as, what does this organisation potentially offer to the world? What are its core skills and strengths? What do we want to offer to the world? What are our values? What is our hearts’ longing? What activities is the organisation engaged in right now? How are these related to overall purpose? What are our unique selling points? What brand promise or value does the organisation provide? And, what patterns of behaviour might stand in the way of our success?

2           The Context: looking from the outside in Then looking to the strategic relevance of the local and global business context, the board/leaders need to answer questions from the outside in. What trends can we see emerging? Political, social, technological, economic, legal or otherwise? What does this tell us about the demands of the context on the organisation? What markets and opportunities are opening up? What potential challenges do we see? What disruptors are appearing or likely to emerge that would impact our organisational offer? What have we learnt? What can we inquire about further? How might all of this inform the organisation’s core purpose?

This foresight, when considered in relation to the questions asked at Step 1 above, will help the leaders to then answer the bigger questions about what the world needs from their organisation now and in the future.  What is being called forth from them in the service of the context/world? 

No organisation exists in a vacuum. If it is to succeed it must be in the service of some broader purpose in the world. In short, the context is completely indifferent to what happens inside any organisation unless it influences its responses to external demands. It is useful to remember this in business. There is no entitlement to success. The alchemy of success comes from engaging meaningfully with your context and trying your very best with the resources that you have internally.

3           The Individual: alignment I referred above to the third dimension of purpose which lies with the individual members of the organisation. This is because it is the people, as the key resource, who actually deliver the product or service that any organisation provides. It is they who are in direct contact with the customers and closest to the changing context. Less and less will they find their job description prescribed in advance as it might have been in the old hierarchical model. Instead now, with the new organisational reality, the work to be done will reveal itself in an organic emerging fashion.

It follows that more than anything else it is the employees who must be in touch with the organisation’s purpose and understand how this can help direct their behaviour at any time. Organisational purpose can never be imposed; its power is instead to clarify, orient and direct behaviour.

Individual and organisational purpose need to be aligned so that there is as much overlap as possible, as little as possible in terms of differences and certainly not too many contradictions. Individuals need to feel that they can authentically and meaningfully take up their role, working to purpose on behalf of the whole.

Questions for individuals to inquire into might include what is my purpose in life and at work? What is my heart’s desire? What core skills and strengths do I possess? What values do I hold dear? What am I currently doing at work that serves? What should I let go of? What are the possible alignments and misalignments between me and the organisation? What have I learnt? What do I need to enquire about further? How can I now find, make and take up my role?


The experience of inside out, outside in or individual alignment can feel like dichotomies of either/or that may not in fact exist. System, context and the individual are themselves so inextricably interconnected and interdependent that maybe we should not be thinking of either/or but both/and. It is the synergistic alignment of the forces and energy of all three that actually defines purpose. 

Purpose in that sense can never be static. Instead it needs to be calibrated and recalibrated, as required, so that it can be discovered and rediscovered as the context changes and changes, again and again. This relatedness, the one to the other, is then a living dynamic relatedness that is complex, changing and vital at all times.

Becoming a purpose-driven Organisation

The biological metaphor suggests that organisations, being shaped by their context and their people, are an integral part of all of co-creation. The enlightened organisation comes to see that:-

·       Its purpose is unique and potentially limitless, and often paradoxically more easily answered by listening to the context and what might be required of it in the world

·       It is not simply the sum of its outputs but has a broader purpose which is to enable its context and the people operating within it to fulfil their potential in the world

·       Barriers between competing elements within the business can be destroyed and replaced with a sense of common work to be done

·       Diversity and inclusion bring challenges, conflict and debate, all of which are critical resources within the organisation

·       Being intricately connected to the world outside, it would be best to follow the simple rule whereby you treat all stakeholders (for example, customers, suppliers, competitors, governments, and distributors) with whom you interact as part of yourselves, and seek the best for all involved parties; and

·       That the real purpose of the organisation is only achieved over time and that a longer-term perspective will create success both in the longer- as well as the shorter-term.

Implications for Leadership

Organisations need to translate their purpose and values into frameworks for success that can be used to recruit, develop, reward and retain the best talent. After that, perhaps the only significant role of leadership, independent of task and relationship skills, is to define, embody and defend organisational purpose. Kegan and Lahey speak of leadership that can hold the and/or contradictions of systemic living, that can problem-find, take a meta position and lead to learn.   

Anyone who is willing to take up their role on the basis of their perceptions of contributing to the purpose of the organisation, and who is willing to be held accountable for what they do, is offering true leadership, notwithstanding where they sit in the organisational chart.

The art is in learning how to take up one’s role; how to integrate one’s own experience from each of the three domains of person, organisation and context; and thus to find the sweet spot that enables one to take action to serve the purpose of all three. That is real leadership.


Why Boards need a CPO

Organisational success has traditionally been seen as being dictated almost exclusively by having a strong CEO, CFO and COO: heroes and mythical-type personalities at the top of any business. A more realistic view then arose which took account of the strong systemic factors at play within any organisation. Success became defined by strong leadership at all levels, board and below. It became about navigating the sweet spot between the personal/interpersonal and the systemic factors at play within the organisational culture. 

More recently the focus has moved to context, success now arising from adapting well to the digital (fourth industrial) revolution that is taking place. Leaders are required to engage successfully with the disruptors within and beyond their traditional business sector. 

The personal/interpersonal, systemic and contextual lenses are all, of course, valid. The question is how to work with all three. The answer: PURPOSE. Individual purpose aligned with organisational (systemic) purpose and both aligned ultimately with the overall higher purpose; the latter being what the context is calling forth from each of the other two. 

The issue is that global organisations that take advantage of the digital revolution can move into almost any sector of their choosing now. Selecting which, and focussing on direction while remaining flexible and responsive, requires significant levels of alignment throughout. Alignment can only be created around an agreed overriding purpose. Leadership at any level including the board then becomes less about the person or the title but more about the actions taken in role in the pursuit of that purpose. It is this that provides clarity: the orientation for and expectations of everyone within the business. It has to be non-negotiable. 

What really needs to change if organisations are to do this successfully is that we need to create a new role: that of the CPO (Chief Purpose Officer) at board level whose sole charge is to hold everyone to account. Arguably this has always been important. It will now be the key differentiator.

For more please reach out to me or read my book The Enlightened Organization.