Dear Jo

It was great to meet you at the conference last week.  Our conversation then and your email a few minutes ago strike deep chords with me.  I understand how tough and painful it is for you right now.

Like you, I was raised in an Achieverist culture.  We grew up believing that we ought to be smart, be strong, and deliver. Our self-esteem was based on being “knowers”, on being able to define great strategies and execute them over time. We were supposed to set the direction and give the orders. Success came from setting aggressive goals and holding people accountable. The market demanded this kind of behaviour and performance. It seemed to be working, didn’t it, at least for the successful ones?

But, just as you say, the model eventually showed its cracks. I hear you about feeling burned out from trying to make everything work. I hear you about feeling alienated from your peers and your direct reports. I experienced many similar moments during 20 years in banking and another nine years in corporate consulting.

You’ve clearly achieved a lot, and I admire the series of savvy job moves you’ve made to get to your senior role in your company.  And I also hear you when you say it’s come to feel empty and super-stressful. At your level, your C-suite colleagues, your investors and, indeed your people, demand performance.  And I know from experience what a toll the demand for performance can take on our psychological and physical health and on our personal lives.

I want you to know I am completely with you when you sense that there must be a better way. I’m convinced there is, as you heard me say.

One piece of good news is that it’s very possible to distil common guiding principles from the best of the emerging leadership thinking – to find a way quite quickly to a more satisfying, creative and sustainable way of leading.  It’s not so much about picking and choosing between theories, but of seeing a bit deeper into the core.  

I truly believe, based on my experience, that it’s possible to lead in a way that

  • Allows you to bring your wisdom and experience skillfully to bear, without having to know all the answers. You can bring all your considerable gifts, and still be honest and open, even vulnerable and uncertain at times
  • Allows your people, especially in teams, to shine and to bring their best to their jobs, in all their diversity.
  • Allows you all to get great results together in terms of concrete personal and organisational performance
  • Allows your teams to generate loads of new ideas and innovations – they don’t all have to come from you!
  • Allows you and those around you to have fun and to live balanced, sustainable, rewarding lives.

I think we agree that a world like that sounds much better than the one you and I have created for ourselves in the past.

I can also tell you with confidence that it’s not that hard to get started toward leading in this more inspired way. I’m not saying the whole journey is easy – it will take some courage progressively to show a new face to the world and to ourselves …. and … all the steps forward are manageable. Help and support is available all along the way.    

To give you a taste of what could be ahead, when we meet next week I’ll invite you to start asking yourself, who are you as a leader? What are your fundamental qualities and values?  What influences have shaped you as the person you are today?  It doesn’t take long to open these questions for yourself and to notice the first few inspiring results – for example by starting to keep your own personal leadership journal. Beginning to capture your own insights can add energy to your work every day. I’m happy to help you begin this, and to introduce you to others who are doing the same kind of work — and who can share their stories.

Then, in a connected way, I’ll suggest asking yourself what you really want as a person and as a leader. Leaving aside what you think is expected of you by others, what do you really want to accomplish, when you are truly honest with yourself – yes in terms of outputs and outcomes but also in terms of the kind of legacy you want to  leave. I and others can provide plenty of support and encouragement, and introductions to communities of other travellers on this path.

Next, I’ll invite you to ask what kind of relationships you want to have with the most important people around you, personally and professionally. For example, with the members of your own top team, your mentees, and key players in your organisation – as well as your family and friends.  Is your leadership team a real team?  Do you truly trust each other?  Do you show up in an authentic way, bringing your honest views and your best ideas into the leadership dialogue?   

I think we’ll agree that these are fundamental questions … and also that they are often ignored in the Achieverist worlds we’ve created for ourselves. Because the questions can be personal and sensitive, it takes some trust and the creation of a sort of safe haven in which to explore them.  Once again, I can assure you that those “safe spaces” are readily created – we’re doing this every day within a growing community of leaders. I’d be delighted to help you join in and find your own right space.

You might be surprised at how quickly working with these questions can lead to discovering new, very practical ways to nurture faster, more innovative, more holistic growth in your organisation and for yourself – tapping the best insights and energies of all your people – without burning you out, without forcing you to have all the answers, or to give all the orders.

Fostering this new way of working for leaders is a passion for my colleagues and myself.  In our next conversation, I’ll share more with you about how these new patterns emerged for us and for people we’ve worked with. To be sure, it isn’t (yet) the average way of working, but the signs of this wave of change are clearly visible – and it’s so much healthier for everyone.

I’m looking forward to our lunch next week. I’m excited to see what your new future could look like – and to join with you in making it happen – if you decide to invite me along.

All my best until then