About the blog

Welcome to 3minuteleadership.org and thanks for visiting.
Over the last few years, we have been observing different forms of leadership and management and thinking about what works in today’s workplace.

Striving to be a good leader myself and create an environment where individuals can thrive, I have spent much time pondering how to help people to achieve and deliver to the best of their ability.  

Through this site, I plan to share leadership lessons in bitesize chunks of 3 minutes or less.  I hope that the blog can provide a space for likeminded people to share thoughts and ideas on leadership for the 21st Century.

By doing this, I hope that we can change the way we lead and transform the workplace, developing people that are inspired and empowered to make a difference in the world.

 

About the elephants…

I’ve chosen the elephant image because the matriarch influences the herd more than any other.  She has a quiet and confident leadership style, setting the direction and allowing others to follow.

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Featured post

Why diversity is more than demographics

When I first became a Manager, I had one member of staff in my team.  She was my antithesis.  Completely the opposite of me.  I didn’t understand her way of working or why it was so difficult and I found it very frustrating.  She would focus on the minute details, take her time over things and make sure everything was exactly right.  In contrast, I support the Facebook mantra of ‘done is better than perfect’.  That doesn’t mean a lack of standards but I’m not looking for the best piece of work ever but sometimes if you spend too long making it perfect, you end up missing the moment.

Not long after we had begun working together, I went on a training course about emotional intelligence and it was there that I had a light bulb moment.  We did an activity about working styles and in doing this, I realised that my colleague was a ‘be perfect’ whereas I’m a ‘hurry up’.  As soon as I realised that, my approach changed and we had a much more successful working relationship from there on in.  By the time she left the organisation, I had learnt that the opposite skills that she brought to the team were exactly what I needed and once I was back to working with someone similar to myself, I felt a loss of skills that had been extremely valuable.

Today, I deliberately look for difference when hiring people.  It might be tempting to recruit in my own image and it can be easier to work with others who think the same way that you do and take the same approach but I now understand the true value of diversity and aim to construct a team where each individual brings something different and can shine in their own right.  My current team is a fantastic example of this – individually unique and perfect together.  They each bring something to the party which makes for endless good times!

Often when we talk about diversity we think about demographics – sex, race, age, ability – and this is extremely important but I do think it’s more than that.  In my view, we need to think about difference more broadly and recognise the value of bringing people, views and skills together.  The reason diversity is said to be good for business is that it brings a variety of viewpoints and a wider range of experience which improves decision making and problem solving .  An article published in The Guardian claims that ‘unconscious bias and a tendency to hire in their own image can lead managers to bring in the wrong candidate for their team ’ and suggests that ‘a lack of diversity is one of the biggest issues threatening the advertising industry today, challenging the credibility of the industry and preventing businesses from being run as effectively as they could be’.   The advice in this article is to ‘consider each hire based on the value they can add to the team, rather than simply in a specific role. It is not always about hiring the best person for the role, rather the best person for the team as a whole’.

Keep an eye on the skills in the team and consider what’s missing.  Then when you recruit in the future you can look for someone who will add value to the team rather than bringing what you already have.

Have you got your own stories about the benefits of having a diverse team?  Can you relate to the experiences above or do you have your own which challenge this view?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

If you want to understand the roles in your team or find out if you have unconscious bias, try these tools:

 

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Photo: Pixabay.com

 

3 things employers can do now to address the gender pay gap in their workplace

Gender pay is back in the headlines this week as the deadline passes for reporting pay for male and female employees in companies with more than 250 staff.  From today, employers will need to be transparent about average pay for men and women in their organisations which includes any difference in bonuses or at different levels of the pay scale.

This move has been taken by the UK Government because despite over 40 years of Equal Pay legislation, the gender pay gap remains a stubborn problem that the Government is committed to address.  From now on, companies will need to know the situation across their business which will shine a light on gender inequality in the workplace and hopefully lead to plans to address the imbalance.

What creates this problem?  A wide range of factors contribute to the continued pay inequality for women not only in the UK but around the world.  Firstly, more women than men enter careers with low pay such as hairdressing and childcare whereas more men are found in higher paying sectors such as construction and engineering.

Women are more likely to take on the caring role within the family meaning that work and career take a back seat.  Choosing to reduce hours limits women’s career options with part-time roles at a senior level being extremely difficult to find.  Instead, those women who prioritise family-friendly working hours tend to find their options limited to jobs which are low skilled and low paid.

From a male perspective, whilst rights are increasing for fathers who want to share the responsibility of caring for the family, exercising these rights is often more of a challenge.  At all levels of society, assumptions are made about what changes a woman will make once a baby arrives with far less consideration given to how the father might plan to change his working patterns or adjust his career goals.

What needs to be done to tackle the gender pay gap?  It’s going to be a long journey with lots of work required to change society’s views on gender roles including working with children to create a foundation for success.  However, if you are an employer that wants to start addressing this today, here are three things that employers can do now to make a significant difference for gender pay inequality:

1)      Identify any structural issues in the organisation

Many times, I have heard employers say they would love to appoint women to their advertised roles if only they would apply.  My response to this is to ask them to consider why women might not put themselves forward for these roles.  One possibility might be that women think they can’t have flexibility in the role.  For example, across a number of organisations, I have heard women say that they value their flexibility and senior roles in their organisation state that post-holders are required to work the hours necessary to do the job.  This can be worrying for women with family responsibilities and they can be discouraged from applying if they think they will not have the flexibility they need to manage work and home.

2)      Part-time roles at a senior level

Another thing I have heard many times over the years is that management and senior roles can’t be done part time.  In my opinion this is untrue and so a positive step would be for employers to start advertising higher level roles with a clear statement that part-time hours or flexible working is available.  For roles that do need someone full-time, employers should start seriously exploring job share arrangements as an option.

3)      Supporting fathers to take an active role

As long as women are seen as the ones responsible for caring for the family and home, there will be discrimination in the workplace.  New policy and legislation means that the growing number of men who want to be involved in raising up the family, are able to do so. However, enhanced packages offered to women need to be available to men as well to make shared parental leave a viable option. And we need to encourage more men to exercise their right to request flexible working until it is no longer seen as something for women.

Finally, I’ve heard lots of employers saying they know that the gender pay gap is an issue but ‘not in my workplace’.  Any organisation that thinks this way needs to seriously reflect.  If it’s true then share what you’re doing with others so they can enjoy the same success.  If it isn’t true, try some of these actions and start making a change.


Do you agree with the suggestions in this article? Are these things having an impact already in your workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Maintaining resilience in a crazy world

Recently, I met up with a friend who had just started a new job.  It was the end of her first week she was so excited about the role and enthusiastic about the work, she had thrown herself into it and was feeling the effects.  She had worked so hard that when Friday night came, she needed her slippers and the sofa not the cocktails and dancing that were planned.  Battling on, she came out and tried to enjoy the evening but after a single glass of wine, she was literally falling asleep at the table.

She felt under the weather for the whole weekend and was annoyed with herself for taking such poor care of her well-being that she couldn’t enjoy her friends and her personal life in a way that would provide balance to her hard work.  She spent a fairly miserable weekend trying to recuperate and promised herself that this wouldn’t be how she continued in this role.  From that day, she made a commitment to herself to look after her well-being and maintain resilience so that she would be able to give equal amounts of energy to work, life and self.

How are we in a situation where people feel burnout just from a normal week at work?  And what can we do about it?

It seems like the world is such a busy place today.  Technology means that we are constantly connected and seem always in demand, in fact, social media makes us want to be needed in this way because we’re constantly craving that dopamine hit that comes with a notification or message or email (Simon Sinek explains this here).   There’s more happening today than there was 20 years ago.  There are more choices about how we spend our time and we have more disposable income it seems so we can enjoy these opportunities.  The compression of time and space makes work more demanding and causes it to creep further and further into our personal lives.  The digital revolution brings communications to the palm of our hands which blurs the line between work and life and, if we’re not careful, it can tip the balance towards more work and less life.

We have to bear in mind though that for many of us, working life will be over a longer period than we envisaged and we also need to look after ourselves in order to sustain our energy and continue our efforts.  How often have you reached Tuesday and felt so tired it’s like you’ve worked a week already?  You might get home on Friday and find you are grumpy and miserable because you have been flat out all week and now too tired to go out or enjoy the weekend the way you would like to.

Building and maintaining resilience means that you can cope, bounce back or recover from the challenges life throws at us.  It’s about having the energy to deal with whatever comes a long and maintain a positive attitude come what may.  It’s being able to adapt quickly and adjust to new or changing circumstances.  Some consider it to be having a ‘toughness’ that allows us to manage in difficult times and come out even stronger.

How  can we build resilience? Here are some ways you can develop and maintain resilience in everyday life:

1)      Take a step back and consider how you are spending your time – do you need to be doing everything you’ve signed yourself up to? Can some things wait or could you delegate tasks and responsibilities to someone else?  It might be hard to let go but you don’t have to do everything yourself and if you try, it will have a negative impact on your well-being so make sure you are being realistic and being as efficient as you can.

2)      Look after yourself – are you making enough time for yourself? If you don’t already, maybe you could meditate, swim, start a yoga class or treat yourself to a regular massage.  If finding time for a class is difficult, or money is tight, there are lots of options on YouTube for yoga (my favourite is Yoga with Adrienne) and meditation (The Honest Guys) or if you fancy a massage but don’t like the price, check out your local college and see if they offer any deals with their students.

3)      Eat well – when we’re busy and tired, it’s very easy to grab a quick bite or fill up on junk and yet we know that eating the right things can make a big difference.  Think about cooking from scratch.  It doesn’t have to take a long time, I find that if I get home late and need something quickly, stir-fry is my saviour.  Another option is batch cook and freeze for those days you want good food fast (find some good batch cooking recipes here).

4)      Practise mindfulness – if like me you have a million things going round in your head, practising mindfulness can be a useful technique (See Bemindful.co.uk ). No matter what worries I have rattling around in my mind, I try and focus on whatever it is I’m doing at that time and save the worry about where I have to be next for later.  Whatever is going on, it helps to focus on the moment you are in.

5)      Have fun – enjoy the lighter things in life. Make sure you have fun times with your friends or have a regular activity that you enjoy, even better perhaps if it’s something you love but are not good at!  The ‘tuneless choir’ is exactly about letting go and enjoying yourself.  Even in work, as Mary Poppins famously said ‘find the fun and snap, the job’s a game!’.

 

Has your world become more busy? How do you maintain resilience in a crazy world? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

How to cope with stress in 5 easy steps

Today, my colleague Max experienced a bit of a travel disaster which led to high levels of stress which impacted the rest of her day.  It was already going to be a difficult one with tight timescales to meet but missing a train when you are meant to be interviewing people creates the kind of problems we would all like to be without.

This is how Max’s day started…

She had the plan all worked out.  Get up at 6.30am, get self ready, get the children up and ready, grab Weetabix for children’s breakfast, leave the house at 7.35am, drop children at granny’s house with aforementioned cereal supplies, leave granny’s at 7.50am and head to the station with plenty of time to make the 8.55am train to north Wales.

Things were going well. All was on track. Until…

8.15am – traffic begins to slowdown.  Not to worry.  Plenty of time.

8.23am – traffic comes to a standstill.  It’s ok.  Don’t panic, I can still make it.

8.30am – the realisation sets in that it is going to be a real struggle to get to the station in time.

By this point, every light is red, the counter is moving ever closer to the 8.55am departure time and the usually helpful notifications were coming through frequently telling her how little time was left until the train’s departure.

By the time Max was able to park, there were just 12 minutes to go and still an 8 minute walk to get to the station and a ticket to collect. Still thinking that by some miracle, she might be able to get that train, she ran as fast as she could to the station, dragging a suitcase and rucksack behind her.

Of course, nothing went smoothly at the station either and she finally reached the platform to see the train pull away.

So what did she do to manage her stress throughout this situation that might help when living through your own nightmare morning?

1)      Breathe – the first thing to do when you feel stressed is to breathe.  Your heart rate increases in these situations and you feel hot under the collar so if you can get your breathing under control, you can get the situation under control also.

2)      Plan for the worst but hope for the best – throughout the whole time, Max was hopeful that she would make it and did everything she could to get there in time.  However, in the back of her mind, she was thinking ‘what is the next best thing if the current plan doesn’t work out?’.

3)      Take stock and get some perspective – yes, she really wanted to be on the train and support colleagues with the interviews but if she didn’t make it, others could manage or she might be able to rearrange the times and get the next train instead.

4)      Get support – technology means that your support network is never far away so Max sent a what’s app message to her family who referred her to point 1 – breathe (it really is number 1 for a reason!).  She then texted her colleagues who also told her not to worry.

5)      Be thankful – the morning didn’t go well but there are still things to be grateful for such as the health app which sent another notification saying she had done 12 minutes of cardio.

Does this resonate with you? What are your tips for dealing with stressful situations? Share them in the comments below.

 

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5 Hallowe’en behaviours that leaders should ditch for the rest of the year

It’s that time of year again when many people enjoy dressing up in a scary costume and commemorating the dead.

All hallows eve (hallowe’en) is a festival that remembers those who have passed on and celebrates the souls of the departed.

Around about this time, lots of us delight in making ourselves look freakish.  Children roam the streets, knocking on the doors of strangers hoping to find treats and we all wonder who will be crowned the apple bobbing champion for this year.

When it comes to work, we recognise that the Hallowe’en theme is not something to aim for all year round so we thought we would share seasonal blog which sets out 5 typical hallowe’en behaviours that leaders should ditch for the rest of the year.

1)      Be a horror – do your staff think you’re a nightmare?  Maybe you change your mind all the time about what you want from them, criticise their hard work and knock their confidence.  If you are a horror all year and not just hallowe’en, they may well decide they’ve had enough of the bad dreams and move on to something better.

2)      Scare people – if you regularly make people worry by convincing them that bad things will happen rather than reassuring them about the future, it is likely that they will eventually have one scare too many and leave you to chase away the ghouls by yourself.

3)      Wear a mask – whilst one of the most fun things about hallowe’en is making yourself unrecognisable, if your team are constantly trying to figure out who you are, you will be missing out on the benefits of authentic leadership and the loyalty and warmth that can come with it.

4)      Trick people – if you like to lull people into a false sense of security and then change your mind or if you delight in catching people out, you are likely to be making people feel insecure which won’t encourage them to hang around for long.

5)      Forget the treats – on hallowe’en, it’s important to remember the treats for that inevitable knock on the door.  In the workplace, you should remember to treat people every day by offering rewards for their efforts. Just a simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way towards making people feel valued.  This will ultimately keep them working hard for you and could stop them running away in fright.

Have you had any scary experiences in your office that need to be banished for good?  Tell us your experiences in the comments below.

 

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Photo credit: http://www.pixabay.com

If you want to nurture a team of people that work hard, do well & stay with you, ask yourself these questions

This morning, we shared an item published on Guardian Careers in a feature called ‘What I wish I could tell my boss’.  The piece was entitled ‘before you became my manager, I loved my job’ and it tells the story of someone who went from having a ‘nurturing, efficient and kind’ boss to one that was much more controlling and disempowering.  It raises some important points, the key one being – are you making your people miserable?

A few years ago, a speaker at the Wales public service summer school, asked a room packed full of leaders and managers from the public and voluntary sector to consider how they treat their teams and how people perceive you as a result.

The speaker took us through an exercise where she invited us to close our eyes and imagine… it’s your last day of work ever.  You have reached retirement and the office has thrown a farewell party for you.  In the room are people from your teams throughout your career and they have brought their families along with them.

Look at the faces around you.  How do they look?  Are they warm and happy because you’ve been supportive and helped them to achieve throughout their working lives so they went home every night feeling satisfied and fulfilled?  Or do they look tired and miserable? Even angry? Because you have made their lives difficult and caused them to go home stressed, fed-up and tired of an endless struggle to get things done to your satisfaction.

If you want to reach that day and have a room full of people ready to celebrate with you and wanting to shake your hand, ask yourself these questions below and see if there are any improvements you can make.
1)      Are you encouraging people to speak up and taking on board their views?  I am shocked sometimes by the team meetings I attend where people won’t speak up.  Often this is because Managers don’t want to be questioned on their decisions they just want people to do as they are told.  In the worst case scenario, Managers will actually put people down in front of the group which is a sure fire way to shut people up permanently.  However, it won’t get you a team of engaged employees who are willing to tell you if they see an issue on the horizon and you will miss out on all those great ideas they really want to take forward.

2)      Are you wasting their time or failing to not treating them with basic courtesy? It seems that sometimes, managers forget that these people are adults and professionals in their own right with busy lives and schedules.  If you are making them wait for a meeting that you could never make anyway or forcing them to wait outside your office like school children, perhaps you need to rethink your approach.

3)      Are you micro-managing?  We all hate it when we are asked to do something and not allowed to get on with it.  If you find that you are struggling to let go of a task once delegated and wanting to control every last detail, think about whether the things you want are really worth demoralising someone else for.  And if they are that important, how can you make sure you set those things out at the beginning so you can step back, confident that the final product will be to your liking.

4)      Do you tear apart their good work?  If someone has worked hard to deliver a piece of work that they think is worthwhile, is there a benefit to pulling it apart?  Giving constructive feedback is useful and I’m sure they want to know how they can improve but keep it in perspective and keep criticism to yourself.  Be specific about any improvements you would like to see rather than making sweeping statements about what you don’t like.  Also consider whether it’s wrong because you gave poor direction when setting the task.  If this is the case, consider giving them a break and giving better instruction next time.

5)      Do you give them the opportunity to give feedback on your management style and adapt your approach or do you expect them to adapt to you?  In the regular 1-1s I have with my staff, I often ask them if they are happy with the way they are being managed.  I’ve realised that it isn’t one style fits all and if I want to get the best out of them, I need to adapt my style to suit their needs.  High performance means supporting them to achieve and I can only do that if I understand who they are and what they need from me.

6)      Are you asking them to do something you know they struggle with and being critical when they don’t meet your high standards?  For a team to succeed, individuals should play to their strengths and be recognised for what they are good at.  There isn’t much point in pushing them to be good at something if it isn’t their bag and maybe you already have someone in the team who can do it better.  By all means encourage them out of their comfort zone and help them to improve but don’t set them up to fail by asking them to do something that is outside of their skillset and then criticising them when they don’t meet your high standards.

7)      Are you asking them to do something one week, then forgetting and either asking them to do it differently the next week or worse, asking someone else to do the exact same thing?  We all say something and then say something different or change our mind but if you are doing this without realising on a regular basis you might need to think about your organisational skills.  It is confusing and frustrating for people if you continually ask for something and then change your mind, not follow up or ask someone else to do it as well.  Make sure you know what each of your team is doing so you avoid duplication and keep them engaged.  If you can’t remember, they will think that they and the task are not important.

8)      Are you failing to recognise their skills or value their expertise?  The chances are you have recruited capable and talented people to your team but just take care that you are recognising their contribution and valuing them for it.  If you don’t they will be miserable and ultimately ditch you at the earliest opportunity, taking their talents somewhere they will be appreciated.
In the Guardian piece, the author concludes: ‘you taught me that life is far too short to work with people who do not value your knowledge, skills and passion.’  Managers who don’t respect the talent in their teams will lose them, either because they find something better and leave or because they switch off in their head and in their heart.  If you want to nurture a team of people that work hard, do well and stay with you, ask yourself these questions on a regular basis and make sure you are doing your job in the right way.

 

What do you think?  Have you experienced any of these things from either side?  Or do you have other questions you think we should add to this list?  Add your thoughts in the comments below and let’s continue the discussion.

 

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Giveaway: Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us

This month, we are giving away a copy of Daniel Pink’s New York Times top 10 bestseller ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivate us’ and here’s the reason why…



A couple of years ago, as part of a management course, I attended a workshop that explored how we can keep people motivated.  Keen to get the best out of my teams, I was listening intently, excited at the prospect of learning new ways to engage people and enhance performance.  As the tutor explained Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he outlined the different levels of need which need to be fulfilled for an individual to achieve the central goal of ‘self-actualisation’ or ‘full realisation of potential’.

This was great but I already knew about Maslow and was hoping to be able to build on this knowledge and take something new from the session.  Having an awareness of modern theories in this area, I was puzzled to hear the tutor say that there haven’t been any motivational thinkers since Maslow in the 1960’s and 70’s.

After the tutor had finished presenting, he moved around the room to speak to the different groups.  When he reached our group, I raised my thoughts with him:

‘You mentioned that there haven’t been any motivation theories since Maslow but I actually do know of one’.

‘Ah yes’ he said ‘are you talking about Daniel Pink?’

I confirmed that I was indeed speaking of Daniel Pink and his theory set out in the book ‘Drive’.  To my surprise, the tutor responded:

‘Yes, we’re not allowed to teach that’.

Thankfully for me, I’d read Pink’s theory already and put the ideas into practice to great effect so I was dismayed to realise that others were being prevented from exploring Pink’s theory.

At a later event I went to where we were discussing well-being, the conversation turned to staff and motivation.  It was clear that there remains a view that people ‘just’ go to work for money and that’s all they are looking for.  I don’t believe this is the case and whilst money is important – of course, we all want to have nice things and a comfortable lifestyle where we can spend our days experiencing joy and not worry – money alone does not provide job satisfaction and fulfilment.  Drive explores this idea in more detail, considering why people go to work and how Managers can capitalise on that to encourage optimum performance.

It wouldn’t be fair for me to spoil the book for you so if you, like me, did not cover Daniel Pink in your management course but want to know how to help people in your team to reach their potential, I suggest you retweet or share on social media and subscribe to this blog before 27th October to be in with a chance to win your own copy and see what difference it could make.

 

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Why mistakes and failure are critical for success

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we learn and what we need to have in place to support this process.  Something that has become obvious to me in exploring this idea is that a critical part of learning is allowing space for error. 

It’s something that troubles us all too often.  When we get that major project, we might feel excitement and elation to start off with but that can quickly turn to anxiety and stress as we worry that we might fail or make mistakes.

It can be crippling sometimes and really hold people back if they do not feel comfortable or supported to take a chance on something that at best could bring huge dividends but at worst, we might feel it could affect our credibility or damage our reputation.  The thing is though, mistakes and failure are critical for success.  Sometimes, we need to get it wrong so that we can know how to get it right.

If we consider learning and how this takes place, we can see it takes a number of forms.  Firstly, we are all used to learning by being taught.  Most of us have grown up in a classroom being told by a teacher how things are and what we should do.  Secondly, we can go and find information previously through reading books and mostly now by accessing the internet – Google knows everything, right?!!

And Google has often provided me with the answers and ideas I need to make things happen and keep on track.  In today’s world, people love to share and so we can find out the major pitfalls in advance and try to make sure these don’t happen within our project.

Looking in the dictionary for a clear definition of learning it does indeed include these two things but it also includes another major vehicle for learning and that is experience.  The first learning we do as a baby or a toddler is through trial and error.  For example, how do we learn to walk?  By trying it and falling down A LOT of times!!  Eventually, most babies manage to find balance and walk for themselves without falling over although this can take some time and we can still forget sometimes or get it wrong and lose our step.

In terms of the workplace, one of the key things that stuck with me from my study of political philosophy back in the day is taken from John Stuart Mill’s arguments around free speech.  He says that everyone needs to be able to have their say because if they are allowed to express their opinion, then it can be discussed alongside any counter arguments and ultimately, if they are then persuaded they are wrong then the learning is greater.

 “If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”  (On Liberty, John Stuart Mill)

It’s the same for making mistakes.  As children, how many of us were confronted with a naked flame and told not to touch it because it’s hot?  And how many of us touched it anyway because we needed to learn for ourselves?  The learning is greater from touching the flame than being told not to.

There’s a reason we have sayings like ‘we learn from our mistakes’ or ‘you live and learn’.  It’s because we are programmed to learn by doing and we need to do so to fully experience the world and all it has to offer.  Learning in this way means it won’t all go smoothly and we may fall down from time to time but getting comfortable with getting it wrong is absolutely key to success.

 

Do you have an example of learning through mistakes at work? Are you a Manager or CEO in an organisation that encourages people to try new things even if it might go wrong? Tell us your tory in the comments below.

 

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What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ teaches us about power and engagement

“Now I’m awake to the world.  I was asleep before.  That’s how we let it happen.  When they slaughtered congress, we didn’t wake up.  Then they blamed terrorists and suspended the constitution.  We didn’t wake up then either.  They said it would be temporary.  Nothing changes instantaneously.  In a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you even knew it.”

This monologue sets the scene for an episode of the recent television drama ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, attempting to explain how the leaders of the Republic of Gilead came to be in power.  It suggests that they gained control by making small changes, bit by bit, until nothing was the same and they had so much hold over everything, there was no choice but to do what they said.

In the story, a religious dictatorship has taken control and its leaders introduce a strict regime within which, women’s rights are removed and a caste system introduced.  One morning, the main character ‘Offred’ has her debit card declined when attempting to buy a coffee.  She later discovers that this is because ‘they changed the law’ and women are no longer allowed to have assets.  Instead, they find that their money and any estate must be handed over to their male next of kin.

We are told that there is a serious problem with infertility in the Republic of Gilead and so fertile women are sent to families with standing in the regime where they find themselves forced to bear children for the family.  When the women are taken by the regime, they lose their identity.  Offred is literally ‘of Fred’ and we see in the programme that when a handmaid is reassigned, their name changes according to the man they belong to.

Children are taken away and second marriages are dissolved.

The dramatization brings to life the famous book by Margaret Atwood which was published in 1985.  Since its release, the book has won a number of awards and is a standard course text for English Literature students across Britain and maybe even further.  What makes the tale so chilling is the knowledge that when Atwood wrote the novel, she committed to only writing things that have actually happened in the world.  It’s quite scary to think that what we see in this show is or has been a reality for some.

The novel tells a cautionary tale of totalitarianism and setting it in Trump’s America makes it scary to watch as it feels conceivable that civilisation could crumble, allowing power to settle in the wrong hands.  As we watch the President’s first year, we see many rising up against a perceived threat to civil liberties and growing unrest makes many fearful for the future.

So how on earth can anyone gain so much power that they can make people live as we see in Gilead?

It begins with the construction of ‘them and us’ using negative for ‘them’ and positive for ‘us’, creating an enemy which people can easily be turned against.  The President’s travel ban is a good example of this as he sought to ‘protect the nation from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals’.  It created unrest across America and uneasiness amongst those ‘foreign nationals’ who live in the US and those who value diversity.  He has also been criticised for comments about other groups such as women (see Trump sexism tracker) and those with disabilities.

Those who agree with these views take strength from such comments and show how easy it is to ‘us’ against ‘them’ as we saw during the election campaign and more recently in Charlottesville.   Of course what these perpetrators don’t realise is in a culture where this kind of power has taken hold, no one is safe.

One of the key techniques in a totalitarian regime is encouraging people to turn each other in when they are not respecting the regime or its leader.  We only have to look to Nazi Germany, communist China and North Korea to see that a central part of retaining power is encouraging people to report those who have done something wrong.  Even a small misdemeanour can lead to death.  Punishing those who have done wrong and rewarding those who turned them over is the perfect way to reinforce the status quo.  An example of this is the so called ‘slut-shaming’ which encourages women to rat each other out and expose others who are then subject to further abuse.

I’m sure it isn’t just me that wants to hold on to my freedom and so the most important thing is to pay attention to what’s going on in the world and not be asleep while things are changing beyond your control.

Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale?  Let us know what you think it teaches us about leadership in the comments below.

 

3minuteleadership.org

 

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