Monday, 17 February 2020

On Leadership: Be Like Water

So I took a chance this morning and posted my first article on LinkedIn:

We talk a lot about transformation these days. Executives want to gear up for the future, speak the latest buzzwords"agile, flexible, adapt-to-change, level up for the digital world, challenge-status-quo, call-things-out" etc. All great intents I suppose, but what is sometimes ironic is that these same people are actually unwilling to let go, unwilling to adapt, maintaining the old-school mentality, staying within their comfort zone, symptomatic of being too afraid of conceding their power.

I've been in a state of continuous adaptation for as long as I can remember, my own leadership style has flexed and morphed along the way. It wasn't easy. It's actually very, very hard. Changing habits, value systems and mental models can be straining intellectually & psychologically. Practising self-awareness (i.e. embracing change in your leadership style) reminds me of the epic battle with Gandalf the Grey & the Balrog in Lord of the Rings...

Rigidity is a kin to brittleness. Brittleness leads to breakages. When things break, it's not always possible to put the pieces back together again. Fluidity is thus an important trait for today's leader. If you insist your ways don't need changing, then I'm afraid you'll soon realise "being out-of-phase, completely misaligned & out-of-sync" with the tunes of the current workplace vibe.

Sure, hierarchy will not disappear anytime soon and thus deserves respect. Sure, we need visionary leaders, but more so than ever, I believe we need execs to display courage, courage to be called out now and again, a healthy willingness to stop hiding behind positional hierarchy and instead, listen more, maybe at times be brave enough to step-aside and let things "just flow", being more like water. 

Hence, I am reminded of Bruce Lee's "be like water" teaching:
"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash.
Be water, my friend."
- Bruce Lee