And in your company too. My daughter recently asked me what I would advise David Cameron to do about the conflict in the Ukraine. Well, many years ago I played a tiny role in bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. I thought for a moment and said that it’s amazing how little time global leaders make to have real conversations. They occasionally meet on state visits, but no real conversation happens. And if no-one is really listening we are left with reflex.
Way back in the 1970’s the then American President Jimmy Carter got Begin and Sadat, the then rulers of Israel and Egypt together, and they spent many days together at Camp David. Not long after, they hugged in public, realizing the humanity in one another. Suddenly there was peace. Years later Sadat was assassinated by a rogue on his own side, but the peace he co-created outlasted him.
Real conversations may be avoided in the workplace too. We’re too busy reading and sending emails. Feedback is minimal. Advice is limited. Most new recruits to most organisations try to understand what it is safe to say and what may not be said, and to whom, the unwritten and even unspoken rules. Having just arrived, they don’t want to get fired.
If you’re not the CEO, what advice would you give the CEO if you were completely fearless? If you are the CEO, and you’re up for it, from whom could you get really challenging advice? You’ll immediately have some sense of the dissonance.
We could call the problem “The Sense of Separation”, or in a word, “Otherism”. The sense that others are separate from ourselves, that they are not us, not part of us, and therefore dispensable. The dangers of otherism are a problem for leaders with their team, between teams, divisions, organisations. And we ought to overcome it: the word company means “with bread”, so a company is a place where we break bread together.
But it sometimes seems we work in disconnected organisations in a disconnected world. You can look at your organisation and see some of the parts, but how easy is it to see the whole? You may not be able to see the organisation in one go, but the organisation still exists. You can look, at people around you, and imagine that you are separate from them. But if you could take a step back, you could see that there is a group, you are not alone. And once we see that we are in it together, the other problems start to disappear.
We work with people in America, Africa and India, as well as Europe, helping them open and connect. What have we learnt? It turns out that we are 99.9% the same. We all have hopes and fears, and they turn out to be very similar.
I would love to help the Russian and Ukrainian Presidents, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians, the Shias and Sunnis, to deeply see one another, and in that seeing to recognize we’re on the same team. Meanwhile we can start with every “stranger” we meet.
Categories: Living and Leading