"If we could hang all our sorrows on pegs and were allowed to choose those we liked best, everyone of us would take back his own, for all the rest would seem even more difficult to bear."
Rabbi Nahum of Stepinesht

Get Leadership Notes by Email

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 568

Estimated reading time:  3:45


Greetings from Vancouver, where Fall is in the air. As I mentioned last week I was speaking at a conference of credit union leaders last week in Toronto. A colleague of mine, Kevin Yousie, http://www.crosswaterpartners.com  spoke earlier in the day and he did a great job introducing the audience to a powerful tool to explore the external environment in their strategic deliberations. He also reminded us of a useful acronym, VUCA. We live in a VUCA time; volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. I especially appreciated that when the deliberations around the tables started to “go down the rabbit hole” into VUCA problems and drama he brought the groups back “up” to the strategic level of thinking.


Two things have struck me since his presentation. First, a useful image about what we might mean by strategic thinking, and second that we are not the first humans to live in a VUCA time and perhaps we all could lift ourselves out of the entertaining drama and ask ourselves, what do we want to have happen? Whom do we want to be? I want to share this useful image with you this week and explore the second idea in more detail next week.


I recall, many years ago, at a strategy session Kevin was actually facilitating, another participant in the session, with whom I didn’t really get along, kept urging our group to “think strategically.” The challenge in my opinion, was that he was most vociferous in his urging when I or someone else disagreed with him in the midst of the conversation. “C’mon Alisdair, you need to think strategically,” he would say time and again. Finally, I turned to him and replied, “Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean I’m not thinking strategically.” 


Not my finest interpersonal interaction, to be sure.


I have since learned of helpful concept to help us all think strategically. (I actually used it in a sermon in January of this year, http://thecathedral.ca/sermons/sermon-by-the-rev-alisdair-smith-5/ ) The concept is from the work of the Neuroleadership Institute, Imagine if you will five words, listed in a column from top to bottom:








Consider a group of us were walking along the savannah 40,000 years ago and there was a rustle in the grass. Our ancestors all said, that could be a problem and ran away. Some other people thought, that could be a butterfly and got closer, only to be eaten by a sabre tooth tiger!Those of us who were thinking “problem” or “drama”  ran away and our genes passed on. The people who thought, “that might be interesting” got eaten and their genes would not be passed on to the next generation. So you see, we are wired to problem and drama. 


However, focusing on the problem provides us with technical solutions at best. The way to engage our brains around strategy is to ask vision questions like; what do we want to have happen? Whom do we want to be? And then identify the steps towards that vision. 

The way out of the problems and drama then of a VUCA time is to shift our focus to vision and planning. And let’s continue this conversation next week.