"If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you."
Gordon McKenzie

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

Word count this issue: 724

Estimated reading time:  5:30 minutes


We are in the midst of the dramatic shifts politically in the US and elsewhere as nationalism, economic protectionism, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and religious sectarianism have moved from below the surface of the media ocean to become a giant oil slick for everyone to see and express their reaction. 


Three thoughts from a leadership perspective; one, it is good that we can see the slick now, as dangerous as it is. Two, a slick is a sticky mess that can trap you, and three, what can we learn and do from a high altitude satellite perspective?


The slick is here, and it is visible to us all. It has come out of the dark corners of the web, out of the shadows of our thinking. It is dangerous, and will cause much damage, as it already has. And at least it’s out in the open. Like when a conflict appears in an organization or a family, conflict and anger are most dangerous when they are hidden and festering. The slick may generate all sorts of feelings, but at least we can see it, and now find ways of responding.


And response is what we are called to as leaders. The slick is sticky and when we react, when we dive into to comment on social media, or to try and fix the conflict we can find ourselves caught in the slick ourselves and are then unable to respond or support the changes required. (A quick caveat, there are very smart, extraordinary people who have stepped into the slick to push back, to identify large globs in the slick. They are the brave and are dealing with toxicity at the front lines. Throw them life lines, support them. At the office, these are the people who work most closely with the people whose behaviour is toxic. They need your support) And to be at your best, you need to avoid getting too deep in the slick yourself.


From a satellite’s perspective, we can see that this is not the first time nationalism, economic protectionism, racism, homophobia, misogyny and religious sectarianism have shown up. It has been a long time for many of us in the comfortable and all too complacent West, but it is not the first time. Here are three lessons from history in how to respond to slicks in your office, or, as we are facing now, in our political economy:


  1. It is all about you; what is in your heart? How are you responding to the conflicts and eruptions in your life?  Can you find the courage to face into your own contributions to the slick and avoid placing blame on other people? If you can turn yourself around to a place of peace and compassion, you can inspire others to follow suit.
  2. There will be pain and sadness in any great transformation. As much as possible stop thinking about your own wounding and how badly this is affecting you and begin the work of building a better environment for the next generation. Think about the refugees over the millennia who left to make a better life for their children elsewhere. The lawyer or dentist who drives a taxi or the engineer who owns a corner store is working hard so that their children will have a better life. In your office or workplace, move beyond your own frustration or anger and ask, what do we want this place to look like 5 years from now?
  3. The most potent and powerful clean up agents will not come from the leaders who brought us here, they will come from the margins of the slick. They will come from people who have different ideas and perspectives than the people at the top, many of whom will be falling into  blame and reacting to their own narcissistic wounding. Care and nurture the people who have a different mind than the one that caused the slick in the first place. In your office or team, that may well be the younger people, or even the person who seems to be marching to a different drummer. Ask them their opinion, ask them what they see as the route forward. They may well surprise you. 



The slick is here, this is not a drill.