Originally posted at Ambition in August 2022. Available here.
Leadership has evolved. It’s not about command and control anymore, says Philippa White. It’s about facilitative leadership
I was talking with my mentor Jim Carroll the other day, and he told me a story about the Spanish artist Francisco Goya.
Goya painted a sketch of an old frail man with a long beard, and many believe that the sketch is of him, coming to the end of his life. Goya’s life was hard – he witnessed the Peninsular War. Went deaf. And had to leave his beloved homeland. And at the top of this sketch, he wrote ‘Aun Aprendo’ which means ‘still learning’.
As Carroll says, that is wisdom.
When we are younger, we perhaps lacked confidence. But then as we get older, and gain experience, we start to develop fixed points of view and perspectives. As we become more of an expert, it’s easy to think we’ve learned what needs to be done.
It’s easy to get siloed. To stop being curious. And to stop having doubt.
In the judicial system we talk about ‘reasonable doubt’. But what about ‘unreasonable certainty’? Total certainty is unreasonable.
As Jim Carroll says, ‘All of us, as we progress in our careers, we need to challenge our calcified convictions. We need to upset the apple cart. We need to have discomfort introduced’.
Did you know that David Bowie made an entire career out of not fully understanding things? Of feeling lost. He constantly gave himself the space to create and learn new things. It was this space that fueled his reinventions. He made a point to unlearn what he knew before.
Zen Buddhism even has a concept for this. It’s called ‘beginner’s mind’. It’s the invitation for us all to experience life in a way that is unburdened by the past and by previous knowledge. ‘A mind that is empty and ready for new things’.
The key is finding ways to chase what is new to you.
That said, it’s not easy to find those opportunities. People need to find ways to be shaken up a bit, to step out of the monotony of life. To help broaden horizons. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 17 years at The International Exchange (TIE). Helping to create that space for people.
We all need to remember that however good we are at something, we are going to be challenged. It’s inevitable. It’s part of life. We will find ourselves looking at something we haven’t experienced before, something that will question our convictions. And the more we learn to encounter setbacks, the better we get at encountering them.
We are all good at running trains along railway tracks. And in many respects that is what jobs are. You run the train along the track because you know that track is going to the destination that it always has done. But sometimes we need to learn to lay railway – and that is hard. But that’s what true leaders can do. And that’s where we need to test ourselves.
Can you, or your people, put railway down?
As a leader of a company talent is all that you have got. You only have the quality of your people. And no doubt, many of you reading this are looking for innovative ways that can inspire and motivate your people; ways that can make them better and stronger.
We all know too well – it’s too easy in our jobs to drop into a formula and a rhythm. It’s easy for people to feel constrained, and not have the space to know how they can contribute. Everyone knows their places in the system. But people are looking for ways to do and be more. And the trick is finding ways to give people the space they yearn for.
Companies need to find ways to allow people to step out of the circuit, and find their own route, where they don’t have to deal with the hierarchy. Growth opportunities that can provide the space for people, and the opportunity to do and be more, but with low risk.
Leadership has evolved. It’s not about command and control anymore. It’s about facilitative leadership. It’s about understanding the other person. It’s empathy. And it’s cultivating agency. It’s about creating the space for people to find their unique power to make meaningful change. It’s about disrupting comfort zones so they can discover what they can do and specifically, the nature of their unique power. It’s helping people who are either not yet aware of their potential or have not translated their potential into strategy and action. When you create space for people, they want to step into that space. Let’s help people realise the potential they have, to be that change-maker. Let’s help them to know, help them to believe, so they can go do.
Philippa White is the Founder and CEO of The International Exchange (TIE). She is driven by the belief that when professionals fully engage with their humanity, ingenuity and purpose, good things start to happen. TIE is a CPD accredited leadership development programme that creates conscious leaders who are shaping the future of their industries and companies.