I was in Boston a couple of weeks ago on a training course, learning how to use a tool that helps assess leadership agility. (I'm going to be using it with coaching clients as an initial assessment plus maybe a progress check once or twice a year. I normally shy away from tools and profiles, but this one is based on the heroic/post-heroic leadership model I mentioned earlier, so it has a lot of depth.)
As we were examining the transition from less agile to more agile levels of leadership, one of the several capacities that jumps out is the ability to step back from a situation and see it in its bigger context.
In short, the wider and broader and more inclusive a perspective a leader is able to take, the more agile the leader.
Working with this stage development model, I've realised that a lot of what I ask leaders and teams to do may well be beyond what they are currently capable of.
For example, one of the things that I recommend in How to improve other people's terrible meetings is to notice what's happening and label it. If three people are talking at once, or certain people are doing all the talking or you have five items in a 45-minute meeting and you're 30 minutes in and still on the first item... say exactly that. Not in an accusing way - just in a way that allows everyone to get conscious of what's happening.
Thing is: noticing what's happening in the moment, let alone how it fits into a pattern, is not necessarily a capacity everyone has developed.
Equals: sometimes I might be setting people up for failure.
Same when you're doing anti-oppression work - you have to gain the capacity to be able to see who's talking and who's not talking. Who's interrupting and who is allowed to finish a thought. Who's in the room in the first place.
For example, white people are trained not to notice when we're in an all-white room. We're all conditioned to shut up when a white man speaks. White men are conditioned to interrupt pretty much anyone who isn't a white man.
Consciousness of that takes practice.
Most meetings rattle along in a particular groove - even if there's a plan. People don't always know if they're in a consultation meeting or if they're actually making a decision or is it just updates?
Teams seem like they're having the same meeting again and again because it's hard to spot patterns.
Our brain spots physical patterns very easily. Too easily in fact. We think cars have faces.
But spotting patterns in situations that are separated in time - that's hard.
Historians are yelling at us that what is happening politically is a repeat of a pattern that has happened before.
I noticed that when I was re-establishing habits this week I almost sabotaged myself.
I'm trying to do some things daily (language learning, fitness and so on) and the pattern I fall into is going, "That's not enough! If you do the maths, by the end of the year you won't have done much at ALL. LET'S DO MORE!"
Then I, well, do more for about two-and-a-half weeks, then something changes in my routine and I fall out of the habit, feel bad, start forgetting and two months later, it's all over. At the end of the year, I have done much less than I would have done if I'd done a tiny amount.
Having been through this pattern enough in the past FORTY-ONE YEARS, I was able to spot it.
So I asked myself, "What's the SMALLEST amount I could do every day?" So instead of doing FIVE lessons on Duolingo on BOTH Spanish and German, how about I do one of each?
If you've ever taught something more than a couple of times, or worked on a helpdesk, you know that the person's questions that seem so specific and original to them, are one of the same five that everyone has. You have a broader context that just their phone call, so you can easily help them.
Leaders who are able to place their organisation's work in global, historical, societal contexts are more likely to support truly innovative, timely interventions.
So: spotting patterns? Important.
Repetition may well help you see patterns, but only when the thing happens again and again and AGAIN.
I wonder if we could speed this process along by asking two questions:
1. What is happening right now?
2. What is this an example of?
In meetings, in your organisation, in politics, in your relationships, in the privacy of your own head.
Spotting what is happening is a skill, then seeing the pattern is another one.
And if it leads to us being more agile, making better decisions, stopping history repeating itself, that may well be a very good thing.