‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes’ – Marcel Proust
My favourite image from lockdown was the picture of the Himalayas taken from the village of Pathankot in northern India. Despite 400,000 cases of coronavirus and 13,000 deaths, the silver lining of India’s lockdown was a drop in air pollution that allowed villagers to see this extraordinary mountain range for the first time in thirty years. The residents of Pathankot woke up that morning and saw with new eyes. They saw with 20/20 vision and they then flocked onto social media to share the joy of rediscovering nature’s rare beauty.
It is this opportunity to see with new eyes, to find 20/20 vision, that lies before us now as institutional leaders. The air pollution that blocked the vision in Pathankot is a symbolic legacy of the industrial age. The clearing of the air is symbolic of the opportunity to see with new eyes and step boldly into the social age. A failure to seize that opportunity would be disrespectful to all the lives lost in this pandemic.
My work as a researcher, speaker and author on trust has brought me into contact with several hundred CEOs and board-level leaders over the past three months. Through individual and team virtual coaching sessions, I have listened to how business leaders from all over the world are responding to seek 20/20 vision and see with new eyes. Whether these leaders be in healthcare, charities, global corporates, manufacturing, religion or sport, they have all sensed that cultural renewal, agility and resilience are the keys to unlocking our future potential. Let us briefly explore each of these themes using the Nine Habits of Trust leadership model developed from my research at Aston Business School and depicted in the graphic below:-
‘THIS is England 2020’ – We are invited to channel our inner Marcus Rashford. This 22-year-old footballer has role-modelled the habits of moral bravery, humility and kindness that 20/20 vision requires. It is a time when we should all feel emboldened to speak out on issues that, while appropriate to the industrial age, are suddenly out of step in the social age. In organisational life, leaders will continue to be challenged on environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics. We should be mindful that we are all one misstep away from being considered part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. What are you doing to keep pace with issues such as inclusion, social justice, mental health and climate change? What are you doing to lead a process of cultural renewal?
‘Be dispassionate in the decision-making and compassionate in the implementation.’
As we pursue the renewal of a compassionate culture, we need to maintain a dispassionate focus upon delivering commercial success – Habit No.1 in the Nine Habits model. Agility is required to tear up the 2020 business plan and replace it with 12-week sprints that deliver tangible bottom line impacts. ‘Knowing the numbers’ will remain key to tracking volatile market trends and adapting quickly to anticipate an uncertain future. Agility is also required to move from managing virtual meetings to leading virtual teams. How do we hold an effective performance management conversation via Zoom or Teams? How do we measure outputs rather than activities and take our coaching skills to a new level to motivate, challenge and support?
We have proven that we can survive a crisis, but let us not fool ourselves that this unprecedented experience has not left us drained, depleted and divided. There are further challenges to come – redundancies, second waves, technological disruptions and unknown unknowns. 20/20 vision will require Olympic levels of resilience from our leaders? Are we fit for the race ahead? Having worked with many Olympic coaches and athletes, I notice that what distinguishes their resilience is the mastery of Habit no.7 in the Nine Habits model – they are great evangelists! Great evangelists love what they do, they have a vivid and inspiring vision and they bounce back quickly from disappointments. Leadership author, Guy Kawasaki, said ‘In the social age, evangelism is everyone’s job’, yet evangelism remains a word that many institutional leaders find unnerving. We must overcome our cool-headed reticence to evangelise.
Like the hidden Himalayas of northern India, the lockdown has allowed us to see the challenge of leadership with new eyes; with 20/20 vision. We cannot let a good crisis go to waste. We must justify the global sacrifice of half a million lives through pursuing bold cultural renewal, mastering accelerated agility and building Olympic levels of resilience. These three characteristics will help leaders navigate the transition from the industrial age to the social age. It does not disrespect history to recognise that the currency of leadership in the industrial age was power. That was simply the nature of the game. Those were the statues that were built. We all colluded in that game to one extent or another because our vision could not contemplate a viable alternative. 20/20 vision allows us to glimpse a new possibility – the exciting possibility that, in the social age, the currency of leadership is trust.
A change of leadership currency requires us to unlearn the habits of power and master the habits of trust. If you have the appetite for the new game of trust then the Nine Habits model provides you with a roadmap and compass for the journey ahead. Armed with a bold vision and a reliable compass, we can renew our license to lead and step forward with motivation and confidence. Whatever the field of your leadership, I invite you to let go of trusting in power and take hold of the power of trust. That shift is how you and your organisation will see with new eyes and win in the new game.
For more information on the Trusted Executive Foundation please refer to this short introductory video.