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In today’s episode of the podcast, I’m joined by Pete Hamill, consultant and author of Embodied Leadership: The somatic approach to developing your leadership. We explore how we can develop a sense of embodiment and how it can help you as a leader become more effective.    

Pete Hamill is a consultant, facilitator, and coach with an international background in leadership, organisational development, and personal development, including the role that conflict plays in organisations and society. He is an expert in embodied leadership development in which he has completed a PhD, and is the author of Embodied Leadership: The somatic approach to developing your leadership.

Jacqueline Conway  00:00

The organisational peak is a perilous environment. It’s more complex and challenging than anything that’s gone before. And as a consequence, both executive tenure and corporate longevity are decreasing. To survive and thrive at the perilous peak, executive leaders need to balance their functional leadership or focus on execution with enterprise leadership, that is ensuring the organisation adapts and our new world. That’s what we’ll be exploring in the advanced executive leadership podcast. Welcome. I’m your host, Jacqueline Conway. I’m the founder and managing director of Walden Croft, a consulting practice dedicated to helping executives and executive teams anticipate, navigate and lead at the paperless peak. A few years ago, I did a piece of research on the ways of thinking acting and being that executive leaders need to become fluent in to lead Well, in a disrupted world, you’ll no doubt have heard me refer to it on here. And one of these fluencies was about being embodied. I realised that when I’m with executive teams, I sometimes see the team moving quickly to find a solution to a problem that’s causing them a great deal of personal discomfort and moving quickly to a solution. And then these cases that our approach was less one of problem solving, and more one of anxiety management. I wrote that report without a hint of cognitive dissonance. That is that I could be in some way implicated in the findings on a personal level. But some part of me knew this. And no sooner had I published the research, I woke up in the middle of the night sitting bolt upright in bed, realising that I’d lived most of my adult life from the neck up at over indexed on the cognitive and had pushed an embodied sense of myself away. And I was confronted in that moment, with my own personal developmental agenda, and the place where I had much work to do. And I’ve been doing that work now for several years, practising yoga, becoming a qualified yoga teacher as a way to deepen that practice, and working with being tuned into my nervous system as a form of data about what’s going on for me in the world. And I’m a work in progress. And the practices that helped me attune to myself, I realise will be lifelong work. And I say this, not to overshare. But to implicate myself in today’s topic. My guest is Pete Hamill, the author of the book embodied leadership, and Pete explains what it is to be embodied, and why it’s so crucial for all of us. And specifically, given the audience of this podcast for executive leaders.

Pete Hamill  03:05

My specialism was really around somatic coaching or embodied leadership, whatever phrase you want to use for that. And really, it’s, it’s, you know, that sort of sense of deep connection with our own humanity. That Are we are not cognitive beings, kind of, you know, brains in a vat or anything like that, that, that we actually, when we really get into what makes us human, actually, there’s the whole system, and the whole system has an impact on how we show up in the world, how we relate to others, how they perceive us, the kind of interaction and engagement we have the kind of results that we’re able to produce in the world, all of that kind of stuff. And so really, my work is around helping people engage with that develop effectively as human beings in order to be able to achieve the kind of results that they want to achieve, as leaders, as human beings, as family members, etc.

Jacqueline Conway  04:02

What typically brings people to your work? Oh, I’m

Pete Hamill  04:06

Oh, I’m not sure there is a typical, I really don’t know, I think there’s a multitude of different things. You know, my own journey was one i x i grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubles. My own journey was one where I conducted some personal development work at a certain point in life, when I can realise that my upbringing probably wasn’t normal and was probably having an impact on me. And I kind of got to the point where I could cognitively tell you all of the different bits that sat behind, why I did what I did, and all of that sort of stuff. And then when something happened, I could sort of take myself out of a situation and give myself a good talking to cognitively and intellectually about what was going on and why it was going on. And then I could try to reinsert myself into the situation and see if I could do something different sometimes successfully, sometimes not. And that was what cognitive experts aeration and understanding had brought me about had gotten me. And then when I started doing this work, there was a moment in time when I was working with my teacher, Richard, Richard Strozzi, heckler. And there was a moment of him, I was kind of I was in my thing I was doing to what I did, I’m there was a moment where he enabled me to be able to come back out of it in the moment, not to take myself I can give myself a good talking to you, but to be able to actually practically do something that shifted things just in that moment. And so for me, that was just like, Oh, I didn’t even know that was going to be possible. I thought I’d done the development. I’ve done the cognitive understanding, I could tell you my history, I could tell you why all of this stuff was true. But it was this moment of going, oh, there’s something else is possible. Matt, actually, my cognitive understanding of it did not change one iota in that process. It was my ability to deal with the visceral discomfort it was going on in my body, it was freaking me out. And you know, that relates to childhood experiences of, of the troubles, and then it kind of an embodied sense of terror that had been developed inside of me, that came out at various moments and various circumstances. But it was the ability to actually do something different that made the biggest difference. So I, you know, why do people come to this work? many and varied reasons, but there’s often a sort of sense that sits behind it all. Like, I’ve understood some stuff, and I cognitively know some stuff. But it hasn’t actually enable me to do something different practically in the world, or at least not quickly enough. It’s like that ability, that desire to be able to want to do something different in the moment is, is what’s behind it. And I haven’t seen anything else that comes close to delivering that in the way that working through an embodied approach does.

Jacqueline Conway  06:54

And so for the listener, who’s then thinking, but how do you do that? So you’ve you’ve you had that experience with Richard, what was that? What was that actually physically like? And what did it in what we did to open up this new way of being for you?

Pete Hamill  07:12

Well, let me let me kind of backpedal and then come back to those but fill in a little bit of background to come back to that effect. Okay. So basically, the embodied approach, ended and body approach, what we’ll part of what we’re doing is we’re saying, okay, at some point in time, something happened. Or, or actually, let me give it a really concrete example, if you can imagine somebody suggesting to you at a party to stand on a table and dance in front of everybody in front of the room, a, you don’t have any alcohol in your system to kind of numb all of this have consciousness that will come up? Most people will go, Oh, God, no, no, I’m not going to do that. You know, people will kind of move towards that most people will feel viscerally uncomfortable. And I mean, this really uncomfortable like in their body, they’ll feel like, Ooh, I don’t want to do that. And, and that visceral discomfort we will then do is we’ll cognitively explain it away, I will say, Oh, no, it’s not a good idea for various reasons. And it’s not a good thing to do, and blah, blah, blah. But what’s really driving our behaviour is the cognitive errors, that visceral discomfort, that’s what’s really driving the choice of action that we have in that moment, that as we grew up in this world, what happens is, is we learn through different experiences, we learn that something is good or bad, or something is problematic, or whatever. And what happens is our system keeps us in line. Basically, with visceral discomfort, it’s, you know, you have a weapon arrive into a conflict situation. And it’s this really uncomfortable and you’re, you know, you feel uncomfortable, and you kind of do you do in conflict, or somebody you have to somebody suggests you get up and give a presentation. And you kind of find a way out of it, or whatever it is, we find ways in which to manage that this role, discomfort that we experienced that we’ve learned at some point in our history, I but it stays with us. And it stays with us as kind of like a warning system to keep us on a safe and narrow track. It’s designed for your biologically in evolutionary terms. It’s designed for that time on the savanna that we were potentially under threat from animals. And it kept us safe. You know, if we went into a situation and there was danger than we know and future that there could be danger in the similar type of situation, we’d feel viscerally uncomfortable, because that’s quicker than cognitively analysing the situation. So this kind of mechanism is there inside of all of us. And what that does is it drives us into taking action that drives us into moving towards some kind of safety response if you like. And so what we see is over time is that as we learn the different aspects of who we are, that we he developed this range of action that is comfortable for us kind of like a comfortable range of how we behave in different situations. And when you push outside of that you get into the realm of oh, that doesn’t feel comfortable, it doesn’t feel quite like me, that’s not really me. That’s not really what I do kind of conversation. And we’re getting into that kind of territory. But that particular range of actions gives us a certain range of possible outcomes in the world. And so what we start to get into is that there are times and places where we hit limits in terms of the outcomes of what we’re able to achieve. And that’s what we’re starting to explore is how do we move beyond that? How do we deal with those kind of visceral discomforts? So for me in that situation, my history was giving me a sense of like, there was lots and lots of seedy things that came up around groups, and around people, and around anger, and all of that kind of stuff. And I was at a group that was an all male group, doing some development work. And there was some anger and aggression that was coming out in the room from some different people in terms of their stuff, their histories, and whatever, I was disappearing, I was kind of I was out of the room, I was a long, long way away. And I was actually very skillful at being in a group of people and being invisible, that was a real skill that I developed over time, and that at some point in time, I can probably see if my life in terms of my history. So what was happening though, in my body was that there was a visceral discomfort coming up, which was connected to those years of terror. And the fear that had been embodied in that time, my I was reacting to that by kind of disappearing out of the room not being present, not being there to see physically making myself smaller, emotionally, not being taking up any space, verbally, not taking anybody’s space, kind of just disappearing, really, and, and being somewhere else. And so, in that moment, what happened was Richard was that he was able to teach me how to bring myself back into my body, how to be present, again, how to be take up space, how to find his place of being comfortable in the discomfort that was coming up inside of my, my system, on how to work with it, how to actively work with it. And I’ve done the kind of the cognitive work, I knew the story, I knew the will thing. But I just didn’t know how to do that. But, and that bit was for me, what made the difference.

Jacqueline Conway  12:28

And so obviously, you’ve then taken that learning, which was very personal for you, and through the book, and through your work, have been teaching leaders how to do this. And that’s what I’m particularly keen on as exploring, because one of the things, I mean, we see it with all people. But one of the things that I see in particular, in the C suite, is is what I call the kind of the facade of executive poise, fear, exec executive leaders feel that the hath to present in a certain way, in order to have gravity tasked to look the part to be taken seriously a whole range of split that are running there. And in the process of doing that, they don’t tune in to themselves. And within an executive team, which is the unit of performance, I’m really interested in the then don’t do it with each other. So each of them might be feeling quite similar things around vulnerability, or the stress of a particular issue that they’re confronted with. But because they’re all feeling like they need to operate behind this facade of executive poise, they’re actually stopping the capacity to actually engage with one another on a really real level. And it’s a completely disembodied we to kind of go about things and those sort of habitual patterns, those somatic patterns that you talk about in the book are kind of very evident there. And probably evident to each other, but very rarely evident to the leader themselves. That’s yeah,

Pete Hamill  14:16

That’s yeah, often evident to each other. I mean, I think the first principle that I would always go to is whenever somebody is in that place of facade and feeling like they need to be a certain way, their condition is often on themselves in in an unhelpful way. And what I mean by that is to two aspects of that. One is their attention is on themselves, not on it, they’re not on not seeing and feeling and experiencing what’s going on inside of the team, the mood, the morale, the politics, the relationships, all of that. So it diminishes I think, their emotional intelligence, their ability to read what’s going on. And then the other thing is that facade is a fear driven response. So it’s driven by I need to be In order to be I need to be here show up this way I need an ultimately, underlying that sense of I need to be this way is I’m not. And if people find out, I’m not, then I’ll be exposed. So it’s a fear driven response. So all of a sudden, I’m giving up all my political awareness, my awareness of mood, my emotional intelligence, all of that sort of stuff by having my attention on me. And I’m driven by a fear driven response, which is I need to show up in a certain way, in order that people don’t see who I really am and who I really am. And yet, we know that most people in organisations, what they really hungry for thirsty for is for some level of authenticity, and people show up who they really are. And that actually would have a bigger difference and a bigger impact on people. And so, you know, it’s not to say that people don’t need to do work and emotional intelligence and all of that stuff yesterday, sometimes do, they can they can improve on that. But the core thing is like, how do I actually centre myself in something other than a fear driven narrative? How do I find myself into a place where I can feel the discomfort of the visibility and vulnerability of being in this position, because there is there’s massive visibility and vulnerability of being in this, it’s like being in a goldfish bowl, people will hear you come in, I remember talking to your chief executive, and she said, he or she came in one day, having had a ride with her husband, and came in in a bad mood. And it’s set up rumours in the organisation about what was going on. And you know, what kind of impending doom of whatever. And, you know, there is that sense of like, you’re in that goldfish bowl, and there’s a vulnerability and a visibility that’s associated with that. And as human beings, we feel that we experienced that vulnerability and visibility, it’s, you know, it’s that whole thing of, you know, we know about that sense of being stared off, stared out, you know, when somebody stares at us, we can feel it. Well, when a whole organisation is staring us your feelings. And you notice it. And that puts our nervous system on alert. If we can’t find a way to settle our nervous system, to settle down inside of ourselves, then we’ll be driven inside of that fear driven, I need to be a certain way in order to be okay for them, which is a fear driven response to somehow I’m not good enough. I’m not I am just me being me isn’t okay. And all of that drives me into a place where I disconnect, and I don’t really see what’s going on in the dynamics. So my whole piece for for execs, is to, again, it is that being comfortable being uncomfortable, is like how do I feel the visibility, the vulnerability, how do I allow myself to experience it, and be okay with it, how I learned to be okay enough with it, that I can still be myself and not feel like I have to be performative in some kind of way to that visibility and vulnerability. Yeah,

Jacqueline Conway  17:48

absolutely. And I know that you have strong feelings about how we develop leaders then. But because, of course, the traditional, the traditional ways you this advice, often referred to, as you kind of even saw the top of the head off and pour more content and and sort of, you know, send them off back to the organisation. That’s obviously not getting us the results that we want. I mean, do you want to see a bit about leadership development? And how, what’s wrong with leadership development as it’s traditionally been done? An import promise? Does an embodied approach provide for us that the other one is lacking? Well,

Pete Hamill  18:28

Well, I think the traditional approach you mean, you characterise it quite well chop the head off and pour more stuff in? It’s like four bucks muddles on PowerPoint slides are kind of the consultants fodder, that is given in training programmes, and, and then we’ll do some, you know, I could basically, you know, there’s so many development programmes out there that exist, that consist of largely some kind of psychometric, MBTI or an other, followed by some 360 feedback, followed by maybe some work on emotional intelligence, maybe some work, work on, you know, workplace coaching and management of others performance management feedback, he kind of stopped. And will that will form the the core content of so many different executive development programmes. And it’s all very cognitive. It’s all very, here’s a model for giving and giving somebody some feedback, for example, you know, just do this go through these steps. And the way I’ll contrast it is I’ll contrast it with my martial arts practice. So when I start off with my martial arts practice, and the teacher teaches a new mode, and what we’ll do is I’ll go and grab a partner and they’ll practice that move and I’ll practice doing it with somebody who’s a willing partner. And I’ll you know, your arm here, hand here, leg here, whatever, whatever it is, you kind of you match the move and use try to try to get a sense of it. And then you practice it for a bit with that person, and then you switch partners. And when you switch partners, you discover that actually, you haven’t really liked the move. All you’ve learned to do is do it on one particular type of person, one shape 1/3 of skills, one set of strengths and weaknesses, one, you know, body shape, etc, all of that. And you all of a sudden realised that there were nuances in what the teacher said that you didn’t really need for the first person. But if you really want to do the technique on anybody, you got to pay attention to those nuances. And so you go back and you start relearning. And you kind of do that. And you keep doing that with, you know, five 610 different types of people. And then all of a sudden, you start dealing with somebody inspiring, who is no longer willing partner, but actually has their own intentions, their own plans, and is trying to do something to you. Now, if you take the analogy of learning to do a feedback, what happens on a course somebody gets a model of feedback, you know, you get a bit of a script to get a model and situation context, whatever it is, there’s different things that models will, will go through. And they’ll do it with a willing partner on the programme, who will be sitting there helping them and they’ll have a go, and they’ll do it once. And then they’ll go out into the world. And they’ll all of a sudden be in the equivalent of this boring situation, they’ll be sitting with somebody who has their own plans, their own kind of things that they’re paying attention to that with lots of nuance bits of the model that they didn’t really get, because they didn’t practice it with enough different people, they’ll go through and they’ll do it with one person, it won’t work. And then they’ll chuck the binder of the programme independent say, Well, that didn’t work. And that’s a cognitive model based approach to development. And that’ll pay at some level, you know, it’s useful information, like, you know, the cognitive development that I get, was useful to know my story and understand how it all fit together. But there’s a whole last piece missing, which is the piece where I kind of go actually, this is going to be this is going to be a contact sport, I’m going to have to go and try this with a number of different types of people and figure out what works and what doesn’t work. And how do they how do different people respond when I give feedback like this? And what are the nuances of the model that I haven’t paid attention to? And how do I manage my nervous system in order to be in a generative mood in this space? And how do I manage the other person’s response? And how do I work with all of this stuff that happens in the middle. And I’ve got to repeat that with a bunch different people. And then I’ve got to go out there in the world and do it with somebody who has their own plans and their own agendas and their own things they’re trying to get through, and maybe their own feedback for me. And then I’ve got to work it through. And you don’t get to mastery of that, from doing it once or retreating course, having learned to model and thinking aren’t quite in the world. And I’ll be able to do this with everybody, you get this through repeatedly putting yourself into discomfort over and over and over again, until you get to the point where you can do it with somebody in a sparring style situation where they’ve got their own attention, intentions and agenda, and their I get somewhere. But I will never get there by a cognitive model, I will get there by putting myself into discomfort, knowing how to manage my nervous system and discomfort, which is all embodied processes. That’s not a cognitive aspect. And I will get there by practice. And the reality is when it comes to something like feedback, most organisations, people don’t need another model. And they’d humped, they’ve heard a model or they’ve read a book or they’ve got something and or they you know, the intranet of the company will have a model for doing this, and a helpful video explaining it and all of that sort of stuff. They don’t need more muscles, what they need is to look at how do they manage their nervous system, and they need practice. And if they’re going to do practice, they need to be able to manage their nervous system and really be able to manage their reactions, and what comes up for them when they put themselves at that moment of vulnerability? Or how do we work with our nervous systems, in order that we can manage ourselves when we’re going into these kinds of challenging and charged conversations? And how can I practice and get in a feedback that I can understand when I do it this way? Or I do it this way? And what are the nuances with this type of person and that type of person? And how do I empathise with somebody who’s like, a 50 year old white man versus a 25 year old black woman who’s come in the organisation of what what does empathy look like in those two different situations? And how do I effectively engage with those people, acknowledging their differences, acknowledging the realities, acknowledging the difference to me and my reality, that is the work that needs to get done. I’m a cognitive model isn’t going to do that.

Jacqueline Conway  24:20

And I really like what you see around, you get there by deliberate practice, you know, so so, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s long, it’s long term, but But it’s deliberate practice. And, of course, we know, that is true. And yet, part of the lawyer or the for box model, or whatever it might be, is that, again, it’s, you know, as an anxiety management strategy in and of itself, that, that we that we can kind of pretend to ourselves that we’re actually doing something about it, you know, so my Wouldn’t kind of somatic journey. I mean, I’ve been actively working it for two and a half years. And I’ve taken a number of kind of fairly, fairly small baby steps. So this is our, this is our very, very long term, piece of work. And so our challenges that we are up against the shiny model that promises something that’s easy to buy. And that that, in a way is relatively safe for us. Or we engage in something that is much more long term, and requires a great deal from us personally. Because we can’t just overlay the learning over the ways that we currently operate in the world. We are in some ways untangling those patterns, those somatic tendencies and patterns in order to question them and, and bring in new ones. And, and I guess my question, the it is, who signs up to that? And so as leader,

Pete Hamill  26:09

And so as leader, then it, it suckers for punishment? Maybe I don’t know. I mean, yeah, where you’re highlighting is like, the way I sometimes say this is like this is this work is a hard sell, because two things. First of all, you got to get uncomfortable. You’ve got to be dealing with the areas where you get viscerally uncomfortable in life that block and limit you. And you got to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable and stay with them for longer, rather than doing whatever you do, often unconsciously, can make yourself more comfortable. So that’s the first thing you got to do. The second thing you got to do is you got to start journey of practice, and you got to allow yourself to be a beginner. So this isn’t like one, this isn’t like an easy sell for a lot of people, it’s kind of like, really do us fish do I afford to do that isn’t going to be fun. However, one of the things that I think really attracted me to this work is that in, in that presentation of it, there was kind of like a truth. And there was a truth that I knew, I’m like, I could kick myself and I could do this weekend workshop that will transform your life or the 40 Minute MBA or whatever version of whatever it is that you’ve got, you know that you can do all of those things, and they’re attractive, and all of that. And yet it another level at a deep level when we really feel into ourselves. And we really get true with ourselves, we kind of know that fundamentally, life is really about, we’re limited by these areas of discomfort, and we’ve got to practice. And that’s how we get good at anything. And the easy paths, and kind of you know, illusionary 40 bucks models or whatever. They’re not really paths to big sustainable changes, like, yes, you can transform your life less you can transform anything that you really want to transform. Yes, that’s possible. But the path to get there is not a simple path. It’s not like a you know, or an easy route. Not what I want to do, though, is give a proviso or maybe a little bit of hope, inside of that message. One of the things that I think is also true is that there are places in life, where what, what has happened for us is that we have developed a skill, but we can’t necessarily use that skill all the time. So for example, you know, there are people who can be quite skillful at empathising, but not the certain situations or with certain people, or I can hold my blind in some situations, but not with others. Think about it in terms of you know, I remember dealing with her a senior partner, who joined the professional services firms along side the managing partner, but the managing partner was initially his boss, but they both come in from other organisations. So the bit of the organisation exactly the same length of time, the management partner, when they both joined many years before was his boss. And now he was the very senior in the organisation, but the managing partner was still his boss. And there’s something that was learned from the early days of joining that new organisation that undermined his ability to be powerful with the managing partner, he could be powerful with other people, but not with the managing partner, there was like a history of that relationship from that period of time. Now, one of the things that was possible than our work together was we were able to do some work around how he could manage his nervous system with the managing partner, which meant that he was able to bring forth a skill set he already had, in that context, that he just was inhibited from bringing forth in that context. So it wasn’t a journey of starting to practice from scratch. In that instance, it was a journey of how do I bring a skill set that I already have, but bring it forward in situations where I can’t bring it forward? So very often with senior people in organisations, what you see is that they’ve got like this kind of one Monkey sheep, they’ve got all these places in life where they perform really well. And then there’s these places where things just go a bit wonky and bit fuzzy and whatever, and not quite work. And so what we’re looking at then is how do they manage their nervous systems inside of those contexts? And then how do they bring forward the skill set that they already have

Jacqueline Conway  30:19

I love that, because I saw often hear executives talk about their life outside of work, particularly if their parents, as they’re able to tap into tenderness, compassion, empathy patients in a way that is really natural for them in that environment. And it is clear that I mean, it’s, it’s also been around working with complexity, it’s they don’t know how things are going to turn out, instead of trying to apply off the shelf answers to parenting conundrum, a teenager that’s potentially off the rails or some other parenting conundrum where they’re able to really work with the fact that they have to really attune themselves to the other person, and then become into the work environment. And all of those skills are sort of left at the door, as it were to, you know, the, the men that we put the shirt and tie on. I mean, metaphorically speaking, I know that we don’t necessarily kind of dress like that anymore. But there’s something about that transition back into work that the, the forget some of the some of and so to your point earlier, it’s because the don’t think that that’s necessarily that that necessarily, that that is a thing that is valued in the organisation, and yet, we know that it is so valued, would be so valuable in the organisation if they were able to bring that patience and compassion and, and capacity for not knowing and staying with the problem long enough to find the real solution rather than a pseudo solution.

Pete Hamill  31:56

Yeah, it is interesting, it’s an interesting point, you know, there isn’t the same clamour for through plastic for box models, or 7.5 point bullet list for solving family issues with our kids, because we just know it’s more complex, and that there are more things going on, and there’s more things we’ve got to attend to, but we will accept them in the organisation. And we have this kind of split that has happened, which goes back a long way in time, where we split sort of, you know, personal life in organisational life. And in the organisational life, we are expected to behave more rationally more reasonably, and all of that kind of stuff. But you know, I always point out to clients regularly is like, you know, look at your family, look at the dynamics, look at the relationship, look at you know, your ex as you look at your extended family, or what happened now, take all those people and put them into organisations, and all of a sudden you’re expecting them all start behaving rationally and logically and along with HIPAA reasonable lines, but it’s like, it’s a it’s a fallacy. It’s a, you know, it’s a fantasy to expect that people will not be people just because they’re in an organisational context or environment. It’s like all of that stuff is still going on. All those personalities are still coming together and behaving in different ways. Yes, often people are Plater about some of their things. And they don’t make it as direct as they do sometimes in family contexts, some public context, but it’s, it’s all the same stuff. And if we don’t acknowledge that we’re dealing with all the same stuff, then I think we’re kidding ourselves. Really? Yeah,

Jacqueline Conway  33:26

Really? Yeah, absolutely. And I’m really tune in to the your own story around growing up in Northern Ireland during the troubles, and the kind of somatic markers of that in you as you grew up and away from that environment and into professional environment. And, of course, what we see with executive leaders now is that they’re not just managing for profit, that the aim of organisations, particularly if you’re going to take your ethical responsibilities for creating just outcomes for all of your stakeholders, then it it really, it really requires something quite different, doesn’t it than just a model, which is a mechanistic model of running an organisation for the purpose of profit maximisation? Well, I

Pete Hamill  34:17

Well, I think where you’re really pointing to there is complexity. And systemic complexity, which is, you know, arguably, was always there, but at the point in the 80s, when we linked all the stock markets globally he could or not old but was Glinka stockbrokers globally. That was the point when we started to create an interlocking system, which had its own power and its own kind of Yeah, it kind of its own life, really. And we created a level of systemic complexity that has continued to evolve over over time. And the reality is inside of that systemic complexity, and any senior leader will know that despite what it appears from the outside and all the power word that appears they have, they often feel very beholden to that kind of wider system and all the complexity that sits around it. And one of the other aspects of systemic complexity is that it does not yield itself to cognitive analysis. A good cognitive and a big enough spreadsheet will not give you a way out of solving all the big problems that come from systemic complexity. And so what you’re engaging with is something that is a lot about relationships, a lot about different political players a lot about trust a lot about very, very complex dynamics. And part of what we need to do is to be able to develop the capacity to work with those more effectively. And I think one of the things that we see and repeated the previous years, is that there’s been a move kind of a lack of trust of politicians, because of the level of systemic complexity, because we know that when they say, they will improve the economy, that by and large, they don’t have the levers available to do that, because it’s much more interconnected. And that their, the amount of stuff that they can do is actually really quite limited, actually, in a in a globalised world. And so, when we look at all the problems that we face kind of societally, as a global society, if you like, they all involve an enhanced ability to stay with more complexity longer and enhance stability, you work together cooperatively across boundaries, but that basically what they require. But you know, we all have, within us this place that we get to where systemic complexity feels like it gets too much. And what I mean by that is kind of like, you know, those times, when you look at your email inbox, and everything simple has been done, and all that sits in there are really difficult, messy, complex things. And then all of a sudden, you find yourself on a news site, or playing solitaire on your computer or something like that. That’s what I mean by we reach our limit of just what we’re able to take. And we find a way to divert away from it to do something else to make ourselves more comfortable. And part of what we need to be able to do as, as leaders, as executives as senior level is to be able to tolerate Dang, with the discomfort of systemic complexity for longer periods of time, to be able to find ways to cooperate and collaborate across that, to be able to deal with some of the things that you mentioned very early on at the start, which is that sense of being needing to be seen to have the answer or to be needing to be seen to be sure or clever or wise in this messy context. And to be able to be vulnerable, and to be someone who doesn’t know, and who can cooperate and collaborate and effectively work together in order to come to some level of knowing that’s kind of what’s required inside of that context and dynamic rather than a much more traditional version of leadership. I think that’s what we’re grappling with in this world. And it requires a lot more than any of the kind of simplistic four box models will ever be able to to encompass. Because it requires dealing with stuff that’s fundamentally an unsolvable all we, you know, puzzles have solutions. Systemically complex problems, have ways forward to improve situations, but they don’t necessarily have solutions. They involve us collaborating and working together and managing the politics and the relationships, and the dynamics and the trust and the mistrust and all of that stuff as we try to nudge the whole system towards a better outcome. And that’s really what we’re working with, I think, as we engage in, in this world systemic complexity.

Jacqueline Conway  38:39

Yeah, absolutely. And, and so then I’m thinking about ideas of adult development. And then the idea that we we can develop, adults continue to develop, and that is about increasing their capacity for complexity as the as they continue their journey of maturation into adulthood. And so do you see then that the embodied practices that you outlined in the book and I’ll come on to that ask a bit about them in a minute, but embodied practices being a way to also enable that process of adult development? Yes,

Pete Hamill  39:22

I mean, so, yes, basically, yes. Is the first is to blancher there’s a one word answer to that, and there’s a longer answer. So, yes, it does. And I think the this starts from a place of, I could have said this pointed to this earlier, which is that we can develop and that we can transform or become develop whatever it is, we want to develop in life. I am the there has to be no the moral kind of should around this. I kind of I would hold that. But what I always start with with clients with organisations that I’m working with is what do they really want to get to What is it that we really want not? Often, often organisations will trot out very trite answers to that. But what I’m talking about is, there’s, there’s something that, you know, if we really get in touch with ourselves, there’s something that we’re longing for that we really want to bring force in this world to do to make happen to make a difference to, and I’m talking about that, and it’s somewhere in the realm, what we long for is something that’s just out of reach, we don’t long for something that is kind of within our grasp. And we don’t long for something that’s impossible. Like, you know, if I was to say, I longed to be a, you know, an American football player playing in the Super Bowl, that would be outside of my grasp, I’m on the wrong side of 40. I’ve never touched an American football in my life. I’ve never, I don’t know the rules of the game, and I have not, I have not the right build for an American football player, I am not the right height and build for that. So that’s not going to happen, that will be impossible. And then there’s kind of like what will continue to happen if I show up to live as it currently is. And that’s the future probability, that’s probably what will happen. If I just do what I do, what I’m currently doing every day, will generate a certain level of results. And that’s the future probability in between, there’s a future possibility, it’s a possibility and that it’s not out of reach, like the American football player example. But it’s not going to happen. If I just show up to life, like I’m showing a bluff right now. It’s just slightly out of reach. And that the kind of thing that requires me to change my practices to cheat what it is that I’m doing in the world, how am I showing up to life day in day out, like, how I’m showing up right now is getting me the results I’m getting. But if I’m gonna get those results, I need to show up to life differently. I need to engage with my colleagues differently with my clients differently with whatever it is, I need to do something different. And that’s the question that I always start clients with is like, what is it? What is the future possibility that I am willing to MIT to, to commit to, that I’m longing for? And what is then how do I need to show up to life differently? In order to get there? How does this executive team need to show up to life differently in order to get there? What what what are we going to have to do differently, and that’s the generative place of exploration of like, if there’s something we really do want, and we’re really willing to commit to it, then we’ll get as good or take something else from us. And that’s something else is generally not working harder. For most people are working hard enough in this world, it requires a different way of engaging a different set of practices that we’re in for how we’re working together for how we’re delegating to other people for how we’re engaging with different parts of the organisation, for I was thinking about our strategy, whatever it is, there’s something different that is required for from us. And so the adult development conversation, absolutely, we can develop and whenever we want to develop, the key thing is in service of what for the sake of what am I growing and developing.

Jacqueline Conway  42:51

And so then just as we’re coming to an end, you’ve mentioned a couple of times the year that once that’s been clarified the question of, What am I? Or are we committed to? You talked about practices, and without wanting to be too reductionist about it? What are some of those practices, you know, where we are made the leader who is curious about this begin?

Pete Hamill  43:16

Now what often happens for us as human beings, it’s not that I get uncomfortable and think, oh, I don’t want to do that. Let me find a way out of it. That doesn’t happen at a cognitive level, this all happens at what’s called the pre conscious level. So before it becomes fully conscious, a bit like sometimes if you find yourself scratching your nose, before you were fully conscious that your nose was itchy. Yeah, you’ve already taken action to make yourself more comfortable. before you’re even fully conscious that you were uncomfortable. Well, that essentially, is high. This kind of process works for us as human beings, is we’re already in the process of responding to lots and lots of things that are happening around us. And we’re, we’re in an automatic response, that we then push, rationalise, and justify. So I will, in a situation, say, for example, a conflict emerges within my team. I’m conflict averse. I pick it, I diminish the conflict. I make everybody comfortable trying to make everybody comfortable in the moment, make it all go away. And I walk out of the room, and somebody says, Well, why why did you try to get the conflict wasn’t the right time to have that conflict. This wasn’t a wasn’t the right moment. We needed to have a good morale because something else is coming up around the corner or whatever it is, there’ll be 101 different versions of an answer that I can give for why exactly that was a good thing to do. Or a senior leader gets promoted and doesn’t delegate to the people below them and doesn’t step up to do some of the higher level strategic work that they need to do. Why did they never step up to do that strategic work? Well, they’re so busy, they’re so busy, and there’s people below them who are haven’t developed yet and haven’t had enough time in the business and they need with any more experience. And I couldn’t really delegate to the yatta yatta yatta, we can generate 101 reasons why that’s a good idea. But often what’s happening is, when I step up to doing something brand new, I’m the beginner again, and I’m uncomfortable swastik doing what I know, thank you very much. And I’ve been rewarded for 20 years for doing and now I got my pat on the head and good boy, good girl kind of thing. I thought stick with what’s comfortable. So the first thing we’ve got to do is spend some time being an anthropologist in our own life, and start to notice where it is that I am getting uncomfortable, and respond responding. And then I have pushed rationalising that it was a good idea. And to do that, we need to pay attention to three levels of experience. And the three levels of experience are the cognitive level, the emotional level, and the sensational level sense it level in the body. And assented level is really important, because that’s the place of visceral discomfort. That’s the place when the conflict emerges. Nagel, and I don’t like it. And they don’t want to be in conflict, or stand on the table. Oh, no, I don’t want to do that. Yeah, it’s war that’s going on. And so we need to first of all, get familiar with that we need to be really familiar with where are the places in life, where somewhere inside of us goes, this isn’t comfortable. I don’t like this. I don’t feel quite right. And we need to get aware of it early enough. What I mean by that is before we’ve kind of pushed rationalised it and packaged it up in our head and explained it away is largely somebody else’s responsibility. We need to become aware of it. So that’s the first plus, then we need to start to tap into what’s the emotions that sit around that often it’s fear, often, you know, it’s fear, anxiety, frustration, it’s worry, all of those kind of things on what’s sitting underneath that. So we need to start to acknowledge that actually, in that complex situation, I felt fear, which is an historical route took from somewhere in the past. They felt that in that moment, and in response to the visceral discomfort and the fear, I chose to do something I did something else to make myself more comfortable. I’m then I push, rationalised it. And that’s the final level, which is the cognitive level to start to see the patterns in our push rationalisation. So it’s really helpful to have someone support us in that process. But we need to be an anthropologist and start to see our patterns like, where are the places where I’m pre consciously reacting in that kind of way? You know, where are the places where I’m limited? Where are the places where, you know, I get that sort of thing in my stomach where I go, I don’t like it. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all know those places.

Jacqueline Conway  47:42

Perhaps like me, you may consider if this please, for your own development might be at that another book another model. Another course isn’t where you find the answers to some of the most pressing issues you face. But there’s wisdom within if you know how to listen and act on it. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please hit the Follow button so it arrives in your feet as new episodes are released. And if you’re so inclined, it would mean a great deal to me if you could leave a rating and a review. If you’d like to stay up to date with the ideas and offerings that we have for executive leaders. You can sign up to my weekly digest the links in the show notes. This is very much a team effort in Walden Croft, and I’d like to thank Sarah Ballantine, Lauren McAlpine and pepper Barker for helping to make it happen.

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What’s required from Executive Leaders has changed. Find out how executive leaders and executive teams can survive and thrive in our disrupted world. Interviews with CEOs and insights from Waldencroft’s Dr Jacqueline Conway.

By Jacqueline Conway…

Dr Jacqueline Conway works with CEOs and executive teams as they fully step into their collective enterprise-wide leadership, helping them transform their impact and effectiveness.

Jacqueline is Waldencroft’s Managing Director. Based in Edinburgh, she works globally with organisations facing disruption in the new world of work.