Before Covid-19, leaders and their teams were already fraying under the pressure of having to deliver. As conditions intensify and more time is spent keeping the lights (and screens) on, performance burnout will reach new heights. How will we make it?

The skills of highly successful groups that move through crisis in positive ways are not predestined, they can be built.

Thanks to the work of people like Margaret Heffernan and Daniel Coyle, we have a much richer understanding of the journey we may choose to make, from fragile (collapse in crisis), through resilience (take shocks but stay the same, continue to deliver) to anti-fragile (learn through chaos and emerge better, achieve remarkable things).

If we unpack what makes some groups exceptional at problem-solving and innovation, drawing on the work of Daniel Coyle, we note efforts in three areas:

  1. Building psychological safety
  2. Being vulnerable (to move to being invulnerable)
  3. Having a purpose.

Interacting with closeness and conflict distinguishes an ordinary group from an exceptional one — there is this deliberate commitment to work on the craft of a rare kind of relational capital. It takes time to build and the investment is worth it. Groups that work with the above three factors fare better through times of chaos.

Margaret Heffernan describes this special kind of relational capital using the term social capitalCopy of On the heels of social captial— the shared sense of identity, norms, values, cooperation and reciprocity within a group. She insists that for good ideas and true innovation, which is needed particularly now, human interaction is critical. Each person must have a voice, but this is not be confused with a gentle roundtable seeking of consensus. No idea emerges fully formed. Ideas are messy and confused, and developing them tofull potential requires generous contribution, faith and challenge. Conflict and argument between motivated people who share bonds of loyalty and trust is required. It takes time to develop the trust you need for real candor and openness, and this is what growing social capital is all about.

While many leadership teams are elite collections of IQs, track records and qualifications, a few are more than the sum of their parts. Individuals can amalgamate to deliver profound impact, going beyond beyond achieving financial targets and balancing stakeholder needs. Reaching a ‘performing’ state is one thing. Coalescing to drive a larger agenda that runs as thread between them and is only fully realised through their collective, is quite another. Leadership teams like this can change the world.

In many ways we are only touching the tip of the relational capital iceberg. But the more we do, the better off we will be.

Make a new commitment — grow social capital.

Watch Margaret Heffernan’s Ted Talk “Forget the pecking order at work.

You will also find this post published on Medium.

Visit our services page to find out about the investments you can make in your social capital.

I first came across Patagonia the company around three or four years ago. A bright yellow book caught my eye in a bookshop. On the cover, in bold black and green writing, was the luminous title: ‘Conscious Capitalism – liberating the heroic spirit of business.’ Patagonia is a case study in the book (yes, the book came home with me). Patagonia manufactures and sells outdoor clothing and supplies. But everything that they do is closely bound with the ethos of taking action to find solutions to our environmental crisis. Patagonia’s reason for being, as copied from their website: We are in business to save our home planet. We aim to use the resources we have – our voice, our business and our community – to do something about our climate.

After being exposed to the conscious capitalism work, something stirred in me. I think it was the sense of delight I felt at knowing that real companies existed and operated with a genuine concern and commitment to doing ‘well’ and to doing ‘good’. Before, I’d been assured that this was ideal, but idealistic. The more I explored the four tenets of conscious business approaches, the more encouraged and inspired I was, especially with the hard evidence emerging that conscious approaches turn vastly superior and sustainable profits as compared with less conscious peers. See the impressive results in the Firms of Endearment Studies. Perhaps I was not so naïve after all. We could expect companies to ‘Care to Act.’

Over the past few years I have been enthralled with how we make conscious approaches a more widespread reality. What if we could assist companies to find their reason for existing beyond profit, to look further than a healthy bottom line, generally happy employees and satisfied customers? My posts have been aimed at raising levels of awareness, prompting us to consider IQ, EQ, SQ and SYSQ in leadership and management development, drawing out a conscious leaders manifesto and tracking the Edelman Trust Barometer Results and implications for leaders (there is a new mandate for leaders – stand up and speak out, do good and do well). Conversations, methods and tools for identifying purpose, for creating meaning at work, human flourishing and for building social capital are so important. They can and do assist companies who Care to Act.

Tech helps us to connect, but it also distracts us, potentially from the biggest challenges of our time. The #alwayson and distracted culture of our increasingly digital age could end up burning us out. Pollution-free skies hang over the houses where hungry people knock on doors and ask for food and money. In this time we do mass reflection and mass commentary on the kind of world we want to live in when the storm passes. Covid19 has shone a bright light upon the worst parts of what we accepted as ‘normal’. But we already knew.

When things seem hard and dispiriting, the CEO of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, asks What more can we do? (Watch this 2 minute clip: It is such a great question. Do we Care to Act? What difference can our action make? What if we started small? Consciously? As humans?

cropped-img_12331.jpgHere are a few ideas to get started.

  1. Support or raise awareness of The Lunchbox Fund. Their COVID-19 Relief Feeding Program reaches starving families during lockdown. R400 provides a box of provisions to feed a family of four for 31 days. They already have local networks in place, as they maintain consistent yearly nutrition programs across South Africa. Their ‘Hunger Heat Maps’ indicate children’s vulnerability to hunger and food insecurity and assist with tracking where in-school feeding will have the most impact.
  2. Develop. Take Suits and Sneakers up on their offer to access their online university for free during COVID-19. More about them: “We help people and companies research the future via informal education curriculums. Our ultimate goal is to develop the university of the future, which enables us to offer school leavers a free alternative to current colleges/universities.”
  3. Raise levels of awareness by watching, reviewing and sharing the powerful documentary the Eye of the Pangolin – The search for an animal on the edge. The pangolin may have been an intermediate host for the coronavirus in China. Pangolins are the most-commonly illegally trafficked mammal, their meat is a delicacy and their scales are used for medicinal purposes. Made by South African filmmakers, this beautiful film tracks the men on a mission to get all four species of African pangolin on film for the very first time. They have created a window into the work of people caring for and studying these secretive creatures, essential for our eco-systems and facing critical danger as they are poached to extinction.Watch here:

There will be another post like this coming soon. Until then, will you Care to Act?

Share more ways to act by tweeting your ideas to @gaylinjee #CaretoAct

This series is also being published on Talent Talks Africa.

The WEF has issued a triple investment imperative: invest in reskilling at-risk workers, upskilling the workforce generally and in building learning centres in organisations. This is in preparation for the looming Fourth Industrial Revolution, a revolution that has become terribly fashionable in business parlance of late. One would think that 4IR seems quite distant from the realities of our everyday workplaces. Mine for one is not yet characterised by an interoperability of systems, and I complete most of my own dangerous and difficult tasks, with little assistance from connected machines.

a new mandate for business & leaders

Yet the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Study paints a picture that’s worthy of our attention. A significant level of unease on the part of employees is reported, with two thirds of people concerned about their future job prospects in the face of automation. This striking finding is most acute in developing markets. The new fear stalking the office corridor is the fear of robots. Deep involvement in discussion and in the process of sharing news may signal the desire to regain control and take back power. Engagement with media has jumped from 50 to 72 percentage points year on year.

But something else interesting is happening too. A new mandate is being issued for business and leaders.

Edelman has been measuring trust in the four institutions of government, business, media and NGO’s since 2001. South Africa was added in 2014. In the past, a lack of trust was reported across all four institutions. Trust has shifted from top-down (trusting those in positions of authority), to peer-to-peer (trusting people you perceive to be like you, and not necessarily those in positions of authority), to ‘local’, where individuals believe that they can control the relationship with their employers and that it is within their power to influence what happens within organisations. A new ‘trusted work’ paradigm is emerging. Within this paradigm, the rules are quite different. Employers are expected to re-assume responsibility for the learning and development torch that was ceremoniously handed down to individuals with the demise of the ‘job for life’ in the latter half of the last century. It could be argued that we had just started to get used to the psychological contract dictate that we are the masters of our own learning, growth and career destinies. The psychological contract is the term used to describe the unwritten set of obligations between employer and employee. Your working hours, job role and pay may be set and signed on paper, all that you expect your employer to deliver may not. Often these expectations are not articulated. However, unmet expectations erode trust, with the result that employee engagement declines, as does voluntary and creative effort. Given that creativity is a new currency for organisations, severed contracts are potentially disastrous.

The Edelman study shows that development, in the form of reskilling and retraining for digital futures, is falling at the foot of the employer once again. Employers are expected to engage on and address critical issues such as diversity, empowering with information, and retraining or reskilling so as to alleviate fears associated with digital, Fourth Industrial Revolution futures. In return, employees will advocate for the organization engaging broadly in the community on behalf of the organisation, and they will also be loyal to it.

Preparing for the future is becoming a shared responsibility.

75% of people believe that business can make money and improve society, says the study. The ‘trusted work’ paradigm requires that employers have a big idea for the company, a social aspiration or a purpose that employees can feel strongly about. Leaders, by their actions, are expected to persuade others that trust can be restored. 75% also believe that CEOs must stand up and act on important issues, and not wait for government. This finding is particularly noteworthy for South Africa: as trust falls, business is expected to lead.

Do not aim to build resilience, focus instead on becoming antifragile, says the statistician, scholar, essayist and former risk analyst, Nassim Taleb. Taleb looks at problems of probability, uncertainty and randomness. Whereas the resilient take shocks and stay the same, the antifragile get better. Staying the same is well out of fashion, it seems, and rather risky too. A new mandate is emerging for business and leaders, stand up with purpose and lead.

What do these words describe?   Sense-making, visioning, inventing, relating.

It’s the MIT Sloan 4 Capabilities Leadership Framework.

How many leadership development programmes have a mainframe like this, how many leaders in organisations are developing these critical – some might say ethereal –  components of leadership?  I can think of a few leadership pointers that are less complex to assess, and easier to enhance than say ‘sense-making’ or ‘visioning’.

The truth is, it takes a deep, long, and often hard look at yourself, driven by yourself, to be great at things like relating and sense-making and visioning.  And this doesn’t happen in isolation.

Organisations, or collectives, that have these sorts of capabilities are no doubt better at creating wonderful experiences and products.  They are tapped in, tuned in.  Leaders create and curate the conditions where people who are wondrous at these things are also valued and supported, at more levels than just the top.  It’s not an easy job, producing remarkable things.  Command and control is not so far behind us.  According to Peter Senge, leaders will probably excel in about two of these areas.

How much are our comfort levels are at play when we face developing these leadership skills?  How does this impact the way they percolate through our organisations?

The results of a study by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) are great for pushing thinking boxes.  They speak of skills like ‘cognitive load management’, ‘design mindset’ and ‘new media literacy’ in addition to sense-making and social intelligence, which could be said to map to the MIT framework.  And they say everyone will need them.  Take a look at their skills of the future list here, and their forces shaping the world (which is partly how they arrived at this list of skills).  In 5 minutes, give yourself a score out of 10 for each skill.  How do you measure up?

This is one view, there are many.  I like this study because in place of predicting what jobs are needed, they looked at what skills we will need.  These skills will be in short supply in 2020, says the IFTF.  And we should all be thinking about our value proposition in the future workplace, and about crafting one that we will enjoy.

Perhaps we could plot an assimilation of these skills on the innovation curve.  Early adopters will drive their own value into the future.  They’ll be testing and refining, creating futures. It strikes me as a case of the disrupted and the disrupters.  But that’s a whole other blog.  What you’ll notice is that these skills will start to apply in just about every avenue of your life.

The future is not far away.   Is it already here?   Perhaps the future is starting today.

So here are the questions, the exciting ones.   What does the future require of leadership? What seeds are we planting for the leadership we’ll provide and need in the future?

There is no longer a lone ranger, one hero.  Superman is dead.  That’s ok.

Supermann blaue flamme