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Perspective-taking breaks a golden rule: to treat others as we’d like to be treated and turns it on its head… to treat others as they’d like to be treated. I wonder the impact on leadership if we were to do this more?

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 in 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 delete at the paperless peak.

In the previous episode of the podcast number 17, called unlocking your leadership through multiple perspectives, I talked about the importance of taking multiple perspectives. And when I posted on LinkedIn that the episode was a dear professional friend, Sara Freiesleben reached out with some insightful comments and feedback and I decided that it might be good if rather than keep the conversation between ourselves a that I invite Sarah onto the podcast where we could explore it together in this episode. If you didn’t hear the last episode, I talked about the ability to move out of a fairly typical first person perspective, and then see things from anothers perspective which is unsurprisingly called the second person perspective. And then the third person perspective is as an observer perspective, where you give yourself some distance from the content of the issue. And in the words of Harvard’s Ron Heifetz, you get off of the dance floor, and onto the balcony. And it’s this balcony perspective that lets you look down and see what’s happening from a place that is much harder to do when you’re in it. And then lastly, there’s a fourth perspective, which invites you to go even broader still. And to take what’s called the witnessing stance, or what we might call a meta perspective, it’s here that you can see the situation from a meta level, and see how the context that it’s in is actually impacting what’s going on. And you can also see multiple perspectives from there, not just one or two, or the context.

Now, Sarah is a person whom I admire greatly for her insight and wisdom. And this conversation, although a long one was an absolute joy to have, we weaved our way to lots of different places, and I hope that you find something of interest in this conversation. I began by asking Sarah, what piqued her interest about this particular subject?

I am Sarah Freiesleben and I came to be here in this conversation, because I heard your podcast about perspective taking and how leaders need to take four different types of perspective views, I don’t know exactly what you call them. And I was really fascinated in especially the the third and fourth and trying to understand

The reason this is personally interesting to me, I mean, there’s many reasons why this is interesting to me. I’m extremely keen on integrating more humanities, relevant topics into leadership and technology, but not in a superficial way. And something I have found is that people who spend more time studying literature reading novels, not necessarily just reading leadership books, but reading novels, hearing stories of other people. And of course, you know, there’s a lot of research around how important narrative is to understanding really, the kind of qualitative nuance of real life situations and we seem to be kind of leaving some of that behind in our quest to quantify everything. And I’m very fascinated in incorporating these skills back into professional work in a way that’s not like I said, kind of forced. And that’s where I’m really wanting to learn more from you today about this.

Okay, great. And, and likewise, I’d like to learn more from you because one of the things that you saw, so just for the audience, you and I met at a conference in Malmo, in January 2020, which was the last time I travelled before lockdown happened had I had I known that I would probably have made more of that trip. And we met at this conference, and we got talking. And then we struck up our kind of professional friendship from there. And we comment and see each other’s posts and comment on each other’s posts on LinkedIn. And I’ve always really appreciated the really thoughtful feedback that you give me when I just think, oh, gosh, I hadn’t even thought about that. But of course, it’s super pertinent or interesting, or something for me to consider. And that’s exactly what you did last week, when you came back and said, That’s really interesting, Jacqueline, but how do we get into the fourth person witnessing perspective? How do we know that we’re in that? And of course, the whole thing had started because I had listened to a podcast with Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Bartlett, in which I had failed that the we’re both very firmly in their first person perspective of what the work from home experiment or the hybrid working experiment meant for them. And they were extrapolating that out and talking about how disastrous it was going to be for organisational culture. I mean, there was quite a lot of catastrophizing going on in that conversation. And what struck me even though I shared some of their concerns, the thing that that that made me uneasy, was their certainty around it, and the fact that they seemed unable to move out of those other perspectives. And your very insightful comment was, Well, do you think that the thought that they were actually in third person perspective? And that was another one of those things where you had said it? And I thought, oh, gosh, that’s really interesting. I think that you were right about that, that they were assuming they were talking about this thing from a third person perspective. But in actual fact, they were very much in first person perspective. And that then made me think more around, how often do I do that? How often do we in corporate world do that? And what are the implications of it? So that’s some of the stuff that we want to just kind of riff on a bit today, I guess. What do you make, exactly make of what I’ve just said?

Well, it’s interesting, because when I wrote that comment, I purposely wrote it, not having heard the podcast. Because honestly, I had a selfish motivation. I’m in the middle of creating a speech for a leadership conference this month. And one of the key things I’m going to be talking about is the delta between intent and impact. Because I think there’s so much leadership material out there. And almost all of it is telling leaders how to build a strategy and what to do. But I often am afraid to become one of those people because, most of the leaders think they are doing these things. It’s not like there’s a shortage of people telling leaders how to be good leaders. And so I am super fascinated in what’s going wrong, I can’t imagine that there’s a leader out there that thinks they’re not taking a multiple perspective view. So it’s not to belittle what your your point was, because I also since we know each other a bit, I also know that you know more nuances about this, then you were able to necessarily dig into in that post. And that’s also why I wanted to hear more from from you specifically on this because I’m fascinated to kind of try to uncover that little bitty difference that makes a difference. Between when we, when we think we know we’re doing something versus when we’re actually doing it. And, and since we I made that comment, I listened to the podcast, and it is quite clear that you’re right. And I was actually thinking, you’re right, they’re in the first level. They’re not even in the second, they’re in the first they’re very set in their opinion about it. And what I also love is I don’t disagree with them. And I think you also mentioned you generally agree with Malcolm Gladwell and I also have read a couple of his books and I really appreciate his perspective but I think that’s what makes it more important is to kind of dig into something that we actually agree with, but find out what could have been a little bit better. There was so many, for example, straw man’s and they always painted the picture of a person working from home in their boxer shorts doing their to do this, as if there was really no other, there’s no other way to work from home and engage, they kind of just left that part out. But I don’t disagree with the fact that we are kind of losing a lot of interpersonal connection by not being at the office. So I kind of both agree with him, but also wish it had been more nuanced. And wish they had been less straw mani i in their way that they presented the work from home aspect. So I’m looking forward to hearing more from you about what could they have done differently? You know, you can’t always go around communicating every perspective, you know, it’ll just becomes too boring to have to hear. Okay, I thought about this. And I thought about that. So now I’m telling you my opinion. It’s something about this feedback loop of incorporating the perspectives, but then also owning your own opinion and, and being comfortable in your own agency to be able to say that opinion. But how do you strike that balance? And you have so much experience working with leaders? I want to know, how does a leader strike that balance?

Yeah, I mean, it’s such a good question. And I think one of the first things you do by striking the balance is know which one you’re in. So I think I think the challenge we both had with Malcolm Gladwell bills perspective, even though we both agreed with some of the things that he was seeing was that he was not only in first perspective, but he didn’t know that he was in first perspective. And that was the danger because he had extrapolated out his own perspective, and globalised it to all people who work for him. And Steven Bartlett did the same thing. And we’re all we’re all guilty of that, you know, that’s that’s that’s absolutely not something that is limited to those two people on that particular podcast episode.

And so I guess there’s something about knowing when we’re in our first perspective. And then perhaps the point about second perspective, for me anyway, is about inquiry, is not doing a main read of I know what the other person is thinking. So not assuming to know what the young person in his boxer shorts is thinking about the work from home experiment, but rather, inquiring, because it’s through that inquiry that I think we would do less caricaturing like that, which I think is always unhelpful. And seeing that there was new ones, that if you were to inquire to the 10 people in your team, for example, I coached the Chief Technology Officer, and we talked about some of his team, really, really enjoying work from home. And they were they were fully worked from home, whereas others weren’t. And the reason that he knew about this is because he had taken the time to enquire with his team, who had different personal circumstances, and who, therefore, the hybrid working had meant different things to them and what was was suitable. The second person perspective, for me, anyway, is not about mind reading, but about inquiry about asking so that we can understand and therefore be able then to have a more nuanced perspective, when we move to the third person. And, you know, to use the Ron Heifetz phrase, you get off of the dance floor, where all of the action is taking place, and move up to the balcony. That’s a metaphor for being able to step back and take a different perspective. But if we don’t know what’s going on in the dance floor, because we haven’t inquired as to what other people’s experiences are, then we’ll go up lead and just continue to see it entirely from our own perspective, I think. Yeah,

I love that you’re pointing out this importance of inquiry. Because this article that I shared with you yesterday that I was reading, when I’ve been researching some of this from the Harvard Business Review, it talks about how perspective taking doesn’t help you understand what others want, and then they go they go through how perspective taking is a very trendy leadership approach and and then they kind of have people perspective take I’m making air quotes that doesn’t sit well on the podcast, and that the research showed it didn’t help and I think what they’re really the big point they’re missing there is that they were attempting to understand the other person’s perspective without inquiring what their perspective was. That is such a key, it seems so obvious but such a key factor, we see the same thing in Agile methodology. Sometimes there’s a something around building empathy maps and it’s really almost comical to me to sit in meetings where we’re building an empathy map without actually asking a person, what their feeling is, we’re literally trying to map out what someone thinks without asking them. And so it’s the opposite of empathy that’s happening. That’s the kind of strange irony of thinking you’re taking perspectives when you’re actually just making an assumption about another person’s perspective. You know, in the podcast, they talk about assuming that people prefer people they can go socialising with and having beers with and doing sports with, etc. There was no mention of 40 something year old woman like me, who actually, right now isn’t keen on going mountain biking and drinking after work with my colleagues. But I love the the fact that I get an extra hour with my with my children when I work from home. But at the same time, I would love if more people went into the office, and I would go more if more people were in the office. So I’m personally having to sit and try to hold my own paradox of preference. I like working from home. I like having that freedom. But I also strongly missed the personal ties of being at the office and when I’m there actually having other people there to do work with instead of just sitting on teams all day from the office. And so this inquiry part, I think is is key and I’m thinking is an interesting thing to dive in into could be how to do that inquiry in a scalable way. Because you know, you can’t, a leader can’t go around and ask every single employee how they feel about working from home. And then of course, they end up sending these surveys out. And my company does it. And a lot of companies I’ve seen do it and they send these quantitative surveys out where it’s, you know, do you like working home? Yes or no, and it doesn’t capture the nuance. So how do you? How do you find that nuance?

Do you have any ideas about that? Yeah, I think that’s such a brilliant question. I’m deeply ambivalent about engagement surveys and other quantitative tools that try and measure staff engagement or other kind of fail saints emotions from people in a survey tool. And I’m also really sceptical of trying to measure culture against somebody else’s model of culture. So I would say, my first place to start was don’t go there. Because I’ve observed so many executive teams, who, in their team meeting, are able to do really good sense making of highly complex issues. And then along comes the survey, and they are just flummoxed by it, because it’s meaningless in some ways, because the thing about an individual’s perspective is that it’s individual, the amalgamating of that data, actually strips the humanity from the data. Because the point is that you have your story, you know, you talked right at the beginning of her podcast about narrative, you know, so your story is your story as a 40, something mother of two, who who enjoys the extra time with the children, but also wants to be in the office under certain conditions, which are about being relational and collaborating, not just sitting on more technology. And I think that level of nuance is really hard to get from a survey instrument. And so, to go right back to the very beginning point, what does it take? Well, it takes people to be in conversation with one another, it takes to the idea, for example, that a chief executive, who presides over an organisation have, to make round numbers 10,000 people can know what’s going on with those 10,000 people is patently ridiculous. But further down the organisation, there are people who are close to those people who are able to get a sense of what’s going on for people through conversation through building relationship is as much about understanding the people that you are that you’re managing, as it does about task performance. Because those two things, in that infinity loop together where one thing plays off the other plays off the other? And therefore, I would think I would be less concerned about them trying to extrapolate all of that up. And rather to see, where does it work? Where does it not work? Let’s do more of the things we add, it does work. And let’s find out a little bit more when it’s not working and do something the year because the purpose of doing a survey that has data that’s extrapolated against the hall, is to have full system solutions, isn’t it? It’s to say well, in this organisation, we will work on a Friday, but in actual fact, in that organisation not working on a Friday morning may only work for 50% of the people. Or if it’s 52%, then you say, well, we’ve got the majority, but actually, that really doesn’t help your organisation be more attuned to what your people want, just because it gives them the majority. I mean, we all know this kind of populist split, that typically happens. And it’s like, well, but there’s always almost half, you’re deeply unhappy about it. And therefore, one size fits all solutions don’t really work in organisations, and we ought to be moving beyond them in order to provide more nuanced leadership, particularly in large organisations where different groups of people need different things. I mean, what do you what do you think about that?

I’d liked your comment about not trying to extrapolate up, that’s actually such a good point, I’ve worked so much to try to figure out how to collect qualitative data at scale, and then work with it with this assumption without realising it. So you just said that, that then you would extrapolate it up and then make more leadership decisions, and then that would be useful to everyone. But it’s really more about how to give that freedoms to be situational in the organisation without it having to be then turned into a one size fits all solution. I’m trying to resist the temptation to come up with an answer because there isn’t one. But all I can do is kind of think about the different different things I’ve heard people say. So in the podcast we’ve been talking about, they talked about spineless CEOs, just deciding to grant full freedom because they don’t really know what to do. And I think there is a lot right now of people who kind of demonise any leader who does anything but that that anybody we’ve seen, Elon must say, if you don’t come to the office, you know, just stop working here. And then he gets demonised for it. And I don’t necessarily want us to go into that right now. But there has to be a middle ground between someone saying, now we come back in the office all the time, or you just do whatever you want. And we’re not going to get involved in trying to optimise this. I can give two examples. I’ve recently been a part of, I was working in a company that decided, okay, we want everyone to still feel flexible. So you can work from home three days a week. And we need you to tell us what three days that’s going to be. I found that a bit interesting because it was also a bit on situational in nature, it was a bit like okay, well, what difference is it going to make then if I pick three days to be at home in two days in the office, if those two days I’m in the office, aren’t the same two days in the office that my colleagues are in the office? And so then what should we all go through an exercise of trying to align which days we’re going to all be in office and every conversation, every team, I’m assuming will have a different dynamic that’s going to need to be at play in making these kinds of decisions. So there’s something about getting the freedom from your leaders. That’s what the current company I work for our CEO has recently written an article about how we recognise there’s not gonna be a one size fits all solution. We want our employees to have freedom we recognise you don’t have to be at the office. But they’re also making a lot of investments and trying to make sure we find ways to come together and have the team, the team experience and the collaboration. But it’s still I’m sitting there kind of reading it going, but how is that going to work? How do we say okay, on Tuesdays, we want everyone to come in the first Tuesday of every month. So I don’t think there’s a simple answer. I just wish more leaders were interested in recognising the situationality of it all. And trying to not just take the easy approach of saying, Don’t worry, just do whatever you want, versus come in every day. Yeah, I don’t know what I know. It would be kind of pointless of us to sit here and try to make a solution since we bonded over our love of complexity. Then, how are we don’t have certain answers to complex problems. But what would be your take on it?

And I’m particularly interested in this because of what it means in the C suite, because I guess I’m encouraging C suite leaders to really step up into what is an executive and C suite role where I don’t see that happening across the piece. But it does also informed the thing that we’re talking about here, which is that there is an inherent assumption that leaders will have those kinds of answers that they need to be policy driven answers and that they have to be implemented across the entire organisation. Our kind of reckless organisation would see those people who are all about collapsing hierarchy and democratising the workplace, and who could disagree with them philosophically, but it’s like, when do you do that? And when does it not really work? So I think, I think and I’ll just take a small kind of cul de sac diversion there to see that the reason that we do we try and do the big data piece, and the whole organisational piece isn’t because leaders are stupid, and you know, what, why, why would they do that, you know, we can all kind of throw our arms up, but, but rather, they do it because it’s inherently more fear, it seems more fear to see, the entire organisation will then go three days, and that this poor that because you can apply across the piece, and everyone can see well, that that works for all of us. The criticism, the other way, where you do genuinely democratise the workplace and see you will decide in your own teams or your own functions is that what works for those people who are sitting on a security desk or at reception or some sort of role that they have to be physically present, won’t have the flexibility and the job that someone who is doing knowledge work, and can just as easily do that from their study or their kitchen table as they can from the office. And so then we get into issues of fairness and parity. So that’s a nod to the reasons why we make the decisions we do isn’t because, you know, we haven’t got ourselves with silos and other things, because, you know, we’re sort of stupid and unthoughtful. And, but we’ve done them because there were genuine upsides to those things. And I think we have to hold those upsides in mind, when we try and move away from them, because they don’t work in every situation, you know, it’s, it’s what Bobby Johnson would call a polarity to be managed rather than a problem to be solved. So that if you, if you manage one part over or you try to solve for one part of it, you are going to create an equal unintended consequence at the other side. And just because it’s unintended, doesn’t mean it’s unpredictable. I think in some cases, you can absolutely predict that if you push these sorts of decisions down into the organisation and see, you know, you marketing team, make your own mind up for what’s right for marketing, which might be really different from the ops team. And the ops team might have to be much more impersonal all of the time by the nature of the work, then, then what you’re going to have is you’re going to have a sense of a greater demand as between marketing and ops. And so then the problem for leaders is to anticipate that that might happen, and to try and create ways of minimising it. And speaking to the truth of it in a way that people can kind of respect the fact that leaders actually get it and I see that that’s a much more important thing for the C suite to do is to kind of anticipate two and three and four levels into the implementation of that sort of policy, and then be proactive about doing something about it, rather than just at the other end over getting the unintended, you know, the the Barry Johnson polarity map, that’s the, that’s the negative impact of that, of that, the implementation of that which is almost inevitable, and being able to see that in advance and doing something proactively with it. So that’s, that’s what it means. In some ways. For me, it’s, it’s holding the nuance of these things.

It’s actually really fascinating how the original discussion was about kind of more the form of the discussion of the podcast of the perspective taking. But then the content of the discussion became such a great example of perspective taking at play in itself and leadership, kind of a modern, common question a lot of leaders are sitting with But now, when I’m listening to you and talk hearing about this requested organisation, it’s it’s opening up a lot of thoughts for me because I’m sure we’re all familiar with the teal organisation movements. And, you know, if you look at this from the complexity science approach the Canevan framework, and we look in the complex domain of how a lot of situations are emergent in nature, and how corporate corporations have all, probably not as much chaos, but at least all three have complex complicated in simple going or clear going all the time. And how we kind of imagined is the leaders role to navigate the complex ones. But by nature, you also would need people who are able to be engaged very closely to a problem to be navigating the complex one. So you have this kind of paradox of, we’re asking leaders to be the ones solving the problems that the people who are the closest to it are the ones who have the best insights on. And then, of course, inter agile, which I guess by its very nature was trying to address this right you and bringing the work closer to into the team to do the development with the feedback loops and, and that all seems to work really well on paper. But again, they’re often working under a constraint, that is a decision that a leader is made based on a complex thing, which means it has a high number of unknowns or unknown unknowns. But they’ve made a fixed decision, they’ve made a constraint where there shouldn’t have been one because they’ve made a fixed decision about something where they weren’t able to have known what’s going to emerge. And then you have these people that you’re trying to let work in an emergent fashion. But they’re working under a constraint that’s wrong. That’s been put in place a decision that’s been made that is essentially wrong, or it’s constraining them to the point where they can’t actually do the emergent thing that that is necessary. You know, everyone’s hoping that we’re working agile and emergently. But we’ve not adjusted the constraints to actually be able to do so. And so it’s, it’s creating kind of almost a schizophrenic situation, it’s almost worse to feel like you have to pretend that you’re being agile than it is to just be just know that you’re not. So I want to so badly. Understand. And I know a lot of people understand this. But I don’t feel like we’ve found a way to tangibly bring that into organisations. And yeah, so I’m hoping you can solve that today. If only what do you think about this? What can we do? What can a leader actually do to say, hey, look, I’m gonna give constraints. But I’m also going to give freedom to move these constraints, but also not jeopardise that people are going to make poor decisions. Because I mean, of course, you can’t give all power for all things to all people. You’re going to have chaos then. So I have no idea. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Well, my thoughts on it in the C suite, because it’s that the executive level and that next level down that I do my work. So I believe that one of the challenges within executive leadership right now is that, of course, not in all cases. But in many cases, the executive leaders are focused too much on their functional responsibility rather than their enterprise wage responsibility. And that when you move into the C suite, that’s the one place where you have to hold more than one job at simultaneously, this enterprise. So you so you are a functional leader of you know, if your CFO, then you’re at the top of the finance organisation, if your CEO you’re at the top of the operations part of the organisation, you still have responsibility for that functional leadership. But when you move into the C suite, you have to balance that with your enterprise leadership, you have to balance it with what we would see is is not just an end and don’t focus, which is the functional focus, but the up and out which is the executive focus, not just the here and now, which is the functional focus, but the there and then, which is the executive focus, not just the kind of day to day execution, which is the functional focus, but the adaptation of the organisation, which is the executive focus. Now, I see the sorts of problems that you’re identifying happen when the executive leader has moved into the C suite, but is effectively still operating at the pay grade below the one They’re they’re not where they are acting primarily as a functional leader rather than balancing that more with their enterprise leadership. And if they really took seriously their enterprise leadership if they moved that balance, because in some times I asked the question, what is the proportion of your time to enterprise versus functional leadership, and I’ll get 90%, functional 10% executive. Now, that’s clearly really skewed in the wrong direction. That’s not to say that the answer is always 5050. It will depend on the particular team and their context and the environment and the industry and whether it’s key to team and all sorts of things. But 9010 is almost always the wrong sort of ratio. And when an executive team then start to move more towards their enterprise leadership, they shift their focus that up and out. And they create this gap then between themselves, and the next level, that allows that leadership team, the tier one leaders to kind of step up and fill that gap and really take on the leading of the functions in a way that the executives are currently doing but ought not to be doing. And so what you’re doing in that is that you move in some ways the entire organisation up and when people start operating at the level that they ought to be operating at, what you start to do is you start to create the structural conditions within the organisation where people where decision making is properly devolved to the right level. And if it doesn’t happen at the exact level first, and then the next teir, then it’s unlikely to happen elsewhere. So when I see that happening, much further down the organisation. And it’s because I am trained to being observing at the exec level, but I’m always seeing well, I can see where that comes from, right up the chain that we are at the peak of the organisation. And so that doesn’t answer all of it. Because of course, these things happen locally, and local issues are always involved. But from a kind of more global perspective. That’s one of the things that I think executive teams could structurally do to free up that capacity, and to make the constraints happen at a more appropriate level. Because if executive teams are doing adaptive work at the senior level that’s up and out and there and then focused. They’re not rating, the minutiae of policies that constrain people in ways that are unhelpful, four and five layers down the organisation.  That was an answer that was better than I had even thought I could get not because from you, but I haven’t heard an answer that good, anywhere. Thank you for that. I hear a lot. And I can also tell that an output of what you’re discussing would be or not an output but unnecessary accommodating move would be to also alter the incentivization. Naturally, if you want someone to shift from functionally concern to enterprise wide concern, you would need to change the way they’re incentivized, which often doesn’t happen. I read about it in every leadership thing I read, and I read a lot of them. Yet, I don’t know many companies that have changed it, they all seem to know they should. They all seem to know about the negative side effects of KPIs and the conflicting having conflicting interests on the C suite. But I don’t see a lot of at least the traditional organisations that are that are changing that. So I can see that being kind of obvious, but also well written about thing that has to happen there. But I’m also really interested in what you just described, in relation to some conversations I’m having with someone I work with, from a Cymatics perspective, an embodiment perspective of leadership, Paul King, he’s actually in the UK, we’ve been working for many years on the concept of, of agency, I’ve personally gone through a lot of work in trying to get better at understanding and finding my own agency, my own power to act without feeling like I have to be, for example, doing what other things other people think I should be doing, or at the fear of disappointing them, but also not overdoing it. A lot of times when people think they’re having agency, they’re actually overdoing it and trying to have power over and I was at least living my life for a long time in that either or state. I’m either going to try to dominate a situation or I’m going to be submissive and respect that you’re going to have to dominate the situation. So I’ve been working a lot with trying to find my my own personal agency another word for it would be kind of vertical grounding. One of the activities I do is trying to envision to visualise how my, my, my head, my brain, my whatever you would call your intellect, your heart and your stomach are aligned. So there’s a whole slew of activities we do that are based in Tai Chi about this concept. But yesterday, I was talking to Paul about this because I thought, you know, leaders, they need to be grounded. But I actually, I don’t want to take the risk of assuming that my perspective is shared with them. Because I actually think most leaders in the country I’m living in, are pretty grounded, I think most of them are working from a pretty high agency, they’re pretty grounded in what their, what they believe and what they do and they haven’t maybe had the same struggles that I have had. And Paul kind of introduced a different concept to me that I hadn’t advanced to yet, which was while there’s also horizontal grounding. So it’s one thing to be grounded with your own agency. But only until you’ve achieved that, only when you’ve achieved that can you then really open up to be horizontally kind of, I don’t know if the word would still be grounded, but Horlock horizontally open. And when you’re sitting there describing what you just described, about how most leaders are functionally, I could I could use the word grounded for that. But they’re really not working at this enterprise level. I’m realising now that the Tai Chi metaphor of the to horizontal and the vertical grounding is very similar to what it sounds like you’re describing with this shift from only being able to rule your function to being able to see this enterprise wide kind of perspective On the somatic piece. And using our subjective experience as part of her decision making apparatus, as an Executive leader, I think is very underrated. The piece of research that I’ve just completed on advanced executive fluency had four areas of thinking, acting and being that leaders needed to become fluent in in order to lead well in this disruptive age. And one of them was emotional fluency, which actually the emotional word, it ought to be affective for kind of subjective experience. And a really strange thing happened to me was that, you know, as I was doing the research, none of this, I got it intellectually, not none of it seemed. I didn’t have any cognitive dissonance, shall we see, but literally, as soon as it was published, like I sort of woke up at 4 am, and I thought, Oh, my goodness, where have I been, I have lived my entire life, from the neck up. And that’s my developmentally. And I was able to write about it in a kind of third person perspective, as a piece of insight and a gift to leaders put it out into the world. And only after I had written it had I realised that that was my developmental age, and I was nowhere near that. So that’s the first thing to see is that that’s very alive for me personally, that that sort of grounding of myself, in my body somatically is where I need to go next. And then to your point around the perspectives. And what does that mean for executive leaders? Are they functional when they’re being kind of in third person? Well the idea of enterprise leadership as much more fourth person perspective, it’s having a perspective on the perspective, isn’t it? So it requires some distance from those leaders to be able to look at the organisation nested within its context and to be able to do some sense making about the context and what that might mean for the organisation. So if you’re in the functional place, I guess I’m talking myself around to the functional places more of a third party perspective, where you can see what’s happening in the organisation, but you’re still driven by that same paradigm, but really good enterprise leadership, which is adaptive in nature, is I guess, in fighting leaders to take that fourth person perspective. And look at the the way that you’re just the way that you’re thinking about the organisation and how it how does it work in this particular context, because, as you’ve said, you know, you and I met each other because of our shared interest in complexity science, and then the way that it can help and form leadership and organisation. And in that perspective, context is everything. And therefore, I think that it’s fairly difficult to see the context when you’re mired in it on a day to day basis.


Yeah, absolutely, you need to be able to have spaciousness to be able to see things emerging. And I, at least the impression that I get of executive leaders is that spaciousness is exactly what they’re missing. They’re so caught up in the day to day running of the business, that many of them don’t have time to have that casual conversation with someone that might indicate to them something that’s emerging, and it could be something emerging positively or negatively. Right. We talk about emergence, sometimes from an emergency perspective. But a big shift for me was understanding that emergence is also good. All there’s a lot of good stuff emerging. And if you don’t have that spaciousness, if you don’t have the, the opportunity to have that spaciousness as a leader, how are you going to find it? I had a strange experience in my current role, I’m not a senior leader, just to be clear. In my company, even though we’re, we’re fully decentralised, we still have leaders, we have a lot of hierarchy, we just don’t have a lot of power over. So we don’t have direct managers, for example, we have networks of people that are led by different people. So of course, those people influence me, but no one is kind of having direct power over me. But I heard an inspiring speech by our head of sales globally, a woman who is I’m assuming extremely busy, we have a 50,000 employee organisation. And I just sent her a little note telling her how much I appreciated it thinking I mean, she might not even respond, right. But she not only responded she, she responded, and then kind of forwarded some of my kind of thoughts that I had included in there to the CTO, globally. And then I thought, Well, this guy, he’s certainly not gonna respond care about this, he doesn’t have time for this. Next thing I know, he has read the mail, and he’s curious about this, and that, and he’s wanting to have a conversation. And I thought, how strange is this, that the C suite executives are talking to me. And like you said earlier, it’s not that they have should have time to talk to every single employee. But if you have this spaciousness, if you have employees, there’s employees in every organisation that have these ideas that they’re burning for, just because they’re not high on the ladder doesn’t mean those ideas aren’t useful, they could be extremely useful. But if you don’t have time, and you don’t have that openness, you’re not gonna have take those conversations. And it might not be because you’re arrogant or because you, you find those people to be below you. But it could just simply be you don’t have time to have these serendipitous conversations with people that could, once you scale them a little bit, and you have a few of them, and you start connecting dots, oh, you know what I also heard someone over there say something about that maybe something’s emerging that we should, should look at. So I find this, this so important. And I love your comments about the 4am aha moment, because part of my embodiment work has also taught me to pay more attention to my dreams. And I think I would put that in the category of my stomach. Whatever my stomach is telling me is also often coming to me in the night in weird ways. And I would have previously thought that is so woowoo to think that my dreams are trying to tell me something and I don’t mean that I blatantly try to wake up and start interpreting my weird dreams, but I do try to hold on for a second to whatever, whatever that 4am Aha thing is happening and kind of just introspect and think what’s going on with me right now. What pops into my brain right now. And then I often find that is the next thing I want to care about.


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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.