How to keep your head when all around are losing theirs…

There’s a secret I’m going to share with you that helps me keep my head when all around are losing theirs…

Come here…
Lean closer…
I’m going to whisper it…

When things get complex and hard… I turn to simple and easy

What does that mean?

It means that I turn to a few clear heuristics as guiding principles to navigate my way through the most complex, drama-filled, tough and messy situations.

Whether that’s conversations with the CEOs and Senior leadership teams I work with…

Whether that’s asking my daughter about tidying her room…

Whether that’s supporting my team through the ups and downs of life…

These guiding heuristics are my touch stone for how I show up and what I think, say and do.

Why heuristics?

Because in a volatile, complex environment (like asking my daughter to tidy her room!), the impacts and consequences of decisions and actions are often unintended, unclear, or opaque; we simply can’t, don’t, or won’t see them. In this kind of context, rules are too narrow and prescriptive to work effectively.

Heuristics on the other hand provide us with guiding principles that help us solve problems and learn more about ourselves and others. They are descriptive rather than prescriptive, which provides an orientation and directionality; they help to cut through and simplify, bringing clarity for action.

I write more about this in my book Becoming Antifragile, which suggests a set of guiding heuristics to thrive through disruption and uncertainty.

Simpler, Better…

The potential for heuristics is all around us.

Organisational vision and mission statements can be used to align effort, energy and attention. Using the heuristic question, ‘will this move us closer towards our Vision and/or Mission?’  is a great way to get clear about what to say ‘no’ to.

Partnering is a valuable leadering heuristic, because it takes that vertical power dynamic that is inherent in traditional leadership models and puts it on its side  – turning the figure of eight into an infinity sign. And so rather than doing leadership ‘to’ or for’ people, we partner with them. This shifts us away from the threat response that ‘doing leadership to’ triggers or the disempowerment that ‘doing leadership for’ creates, and moves us towards confidence, capacity and growth.

Using the heuristic question ‘Am I leading to for or with?’ can help us become more aware of our leadering power dynamics patterns.

So how can heuristics help us navigate messy, drama-filled complexity?

Keeping your head…

I was working with a leadership team recently who were feeling the impact of an organisational restructure that left them with lots of accountability for things outside of their control. They were frustrated, depleted and exhausted. They were also committed, professional and wanting to turn things around. They didn’t like who they were becoming because of their situation.

It can be so easy to get lost in the gap between the way things ‘should be’ and the way they are. Especially when the way they are isn’t fair, sensible or optimal. And it’s at time like these that as leaders, we need to come back to the one thing we can always control…

Who do you want to be?

Having clarity around who we to be in our leadering provides us with an anchor, a touchstone and inspiration when the work gets hard, and it gives us a guiding light and boundaries when the pathway ahead is unclear.

When we know who we want to be and how we want to show up – even as the context around us is shifting and changing – we make better choices that we feel comfortable to act on; we build better, more trusting and less stressful relationships and we feel more aligned and integrated – less like we need to show up differently in our personal and professional lives.

When we know who we want to be as a leader, we can use this as a guiding heuristic through the most complex, messy and challenging situations.

It’s worth investing some time considering who you want to be and what your guiding heuristics might be.

Mine are Truth, Honour and Love, which expand to ‘Be Love; Speak Truth; Honour Others’. This is what I hold as my guiding heuristic for life and leadering and I’ve found that they serve me well. And when things get really tough, and I’m feeling myself drop out of these, I use the guiding heuristic question What would Love do now? to help get clear on the way ahead.

Leadership is broken.
What worked before isn’t working anymore.
It’s time to re-write the story.

So, who do you want to be?

What guiding heuristic will you create to help you keep your head (and your heart) while all around are losing theirs?

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