In times of complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability, what does it mean to be a leader and how can we cope in a world that’s constantly changing?

In this guest blog, Sally Hughes, co-initiator of Share Cardiff, considers how we can lead in a changing world.

To explore how we might create a sustainable future, my feeling is that we should be asking ourselves how we can do things differently.

We need to be asking how everyone can be involved in this innovation, addressing issues of access and inclusion. We must remember who all our organising excludes. We need to be finding ways to communicate beyond our echo chambers. We need to listen.

We need embodied thinking, we need to grow the possibilities in our bellies. We need to learn to be flexible through movement.

We need to reawaken the creative spark inside all of us, because to be ready to build a sustainable future, we need to be well, we need to take care of ourselves and others, we’re aware of the link between creativity and wellbeing, let’s harness that.

To be well we need to be connected. To be connected we can harness the power of the internet, which is an effective tool for bringing us together.

Now we are together, We need to get to know each other. To get to know each other we need activities to do together to build community, to grow and solidify that which bonds us, our social capital.

And we all need to be leaders.

Here’s the caveat – our current model of leadership is not fit for purpose, one person with a vision charging ahead into the future hasn’t served us so well.

We are living with complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability, we need to reassess what it means to be a leader and we need to find ways to work in a world that’s constantly changing.

I’d like to share a story that I learnt from Daniel Smith of the London based The Change Collective and designer of the Active Citizens programme.

It’s about how we negotiate our way through the challenges we face, how we look for leverage points and how we learn to be emergent leaders. It’s about learning to be flexible and learning to be present with what is, it’s about awareness.

Imagine a river. Your challenge is to use a boat to travel as a group from the mountains, down to the sea. Now, you could all get in the boat and get in the middle of the river and paddle with all your energy, ploughing a straight course through.

You’re going to run out of steam pretty quickly. You’re not going to be taking account of the conditions, the weather, the ecosystem, the needs of the people in the boat. It’s going to be hard, there will be conflict and you’ll likely capsize.

What if instead you spent time together noticing and communicating.

You notice that on some days the water runs smooth. When you drop a branch in you see the currents. You feel the wind, and acknowledge the trees, mountains and wildlife. You work together and you feel solidarity. After plenty of time watching, observing and learning, you all tentatively get in your boat.

You feel the weight of your bodies and feel the movement of the water. You let the current take you. The wind picks up and moves you to the edge, so you use a little energy to correct your path. As you move along the river the conditions change, you paddle fast, you paddle slow. You rest. You use oars to push away from the banks and you hold tight and support each other in the rapids. You listen to each other’s ideas, all voices are valued, no one voice is louder.

The journey is different because you have spent time being aware of what is happening, making small interventions when necessary, trying lots of things to see how they work and you have done it together.

This is how emergent leadership works. It’s about empathy, listening, being flexible, creative, curious, compassionate, following your intuition and innovating.

It’s about being present. This is a story about living with uncertainty, complexity and unpredictability. This is our story.

Do these ideas resonate with you? How will you sow the seeds for collaboration? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Why you should ditch the desk and flex your space

A few years ago, the new Chief Executive of the organisation I was working for had a bright idea to change the way we used the space in our office to get more from it. The way things were set out at the time meant that we had desks spread out across the office and often not all in use.  We were told we were going to reduce the number of desks which would give us space that we could use for commercial work.  We would all become ‘huggers’ or ‘hoppers’ and those in the latter category would have no use the desks or other areas flexibly.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t keen to give up my desk. It was my bit of personal space in the place I spend much of my time. Almost a home from home if you like. I’m not one for family photos in the workplace but I did have some personal things around my desk that I wasn’t keen to give up.

Although I was forced into it to start with, I’m now a complete convert. Once you have become used to working in this way and enjoyed the benefits, it’s hard to go back. I’ve now moved organisations and whilst I thought I would be pleased to have a desk of my own once again, I’m missing the ability to have fresh conversations with a wide range of people.

As a result, I am now looking to clear my desk and work more flexibly again.  One of the great things about being free to work in different spaces is the ability to share updates and ideas across teams and departments.  As I am looking to support colleagues across the whole organisation, this seems like a great way to achieve success by getting to know the people, their work and their environment.  It’s also a good way to encourage people to think and work outside of their silos. Those informal conversations are what build relationships and make people want to work together.

Being flexible in terms of space also allows greater efficiency because it empowers the individual to be where they need to be at that time to best get the job done instead of feeling pulled into a set place.

Personally, I like to work where I feel my ‘flow’.  Variety inspires me but also I like to choose my space according to how I feel or the task in hand.  If I need to be creative, I might look for a bright open space or if I need to do some quiet reading, you’re more likely to find me settled on a sofa somewhere.

Aside from getting to know people and priorities better, levels of trust can increase by developing a sense of a wider team. It’s also a great way to reduce the use of paper! When you don’t have a place to keep documents, you stop wanting to print them.

There have been some challenges to consider in adopting a new way of working in an organisation where this isn’t the norm.  The key to success is really around communication and getting support from those it affects.  People need to know how you intend to work and why, where you are and how they can get hold of you.  I make sure I keep my calendars to date and my phone number is shared so people can get hold of me easily.

Ultimately, it’s the 21st Century, teams are working differently and it’s time to push forward with the way we work to get the best results.

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