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Leadership in Chaos

Leadership in Chaos

Author: Ian McClean

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Concise lessons in leadership in a world of chaos. Hosted by Ian McClean, leadership expert and founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations.
64 Episodes
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“The most scarce resource in the world today is attention” – Yuval Noah Harari  The only 2 industries that refer to customers as “users” are Big Tech and drug cartels.We live in an increasingly technology-fuelled Garden of Eden – an attention economy where the most sophisticated dark forces are constantly, covertly intent at work to distract you.If time is your most precious asset as a leader, then saving and spending it wisely becomes paramount.Your old biological defences are hardly sea-worthy any longer and in this age of fierce clandestine competition for your attention, you’re gonna need a bigger boat (or at least a better way to navigate!) to stay afloat.  Insights include:-What happens when ancient human biology collides with 21st century technology-Living in a state of Continuous Partial Attention-The recipe for Deep Work-Navigating the Struggle phase towards a state of Flow-Why Multi-Tasking is a myth-The 2 Fundamentals to combat Distraction  Related EpisodesEpisode 57 – Keep Your Focus – Avoid ProcrastinationEpisode 32 – Planning and Prioritising in Chaos Support the show
“Imagination is more important than Knowledge – Albert Einstein” What has Art got to do with Leadership? Throughout nearly 30 years of working with leaders and leadership, the very best leaders I’ve encountered all have had one thing in common irrespective of geography or industry: the sensibility of an artist. This was reinforced to me recently when attending a screening of a documentary produced by Maria Doyle Kennedy about the life and work of Irish artist Patrick Scott. After all, leadership is all about creating something novel and new from just your imagination combined with the resources at your disposal whilst inspiring others to join in its creation. So just what is that artistic sensibility that separates the best from the rest? Insights include:-The fallacy of the equation:  Good Leadership = Good Results-The best leaders are committed to creating a thing of Beauty-How the Physicist and the Artist are both opposites and the same-The root of authenticity and charisma-The 3 Primary Characteristics of Beauty – Radiance, Integrity, Consonance-Sage advice for appointing the next new leader (or anyone!)  Related EpisodesEpisode 52 - Zoom Out OftenEpisode 45 – Finding Flow in ChaosEpisode 43 – Building Trust in TeamsEpisode 40 – Leading Teams in Chaos – Part 2Episode 34 – Finding Meaning in ChaosEpisode 26 – The Leadership ContributionSupport the show
Whilst not obligatory that you “love” your people at work - in the amorous sense! - people at least need to know you, as the leader, have got their best interests at heart.On this Valentine’s Day, it is worth remembering that your connection to those that matter makes an enormous contribution to your leadership impact and results. Here’s one of my favourite episodes “From the Archive”: A timely reminder of why and how to …In this episode I explain:What Star Wars has to do with building connectionHow we often think we’re building connection when in fact we’re notHow our Tacit Wisdom is stronger than our intellectual knowledgeWhat to focus on to deepen connection…And ..our discomfort with silenceSupport the show
I started the Flow(group) business exactly 25 years ago this month - in January 1998. I can’t brag, because Google started up the same month.  For context, it was the year Apple unveiled the iMac; the Bill Clinton/ Monica Lewinsky scandal; the FDA approved the Viagra pill (not related); and the NI Good Friday Agreement (definitely not related).  During the time, in addition to the quotidian demands for change, our clients and our business has had to navigate 3 major Global Economic disruptions – spaced roughly a decade apart (just to keep us on our toes!): -Dotcom Bubble Implosion (2000)-Global Financial Crash (2009-10)-Covid Pandemic (2020+)  What’s made the quarter-century journey most worthwhile is the Learning about Leadership. It’s been like attending a real-time, experiential Leadership Academy every day for 25 years where the case studies are playing out in the raw, moment by moment. Witnessing the best and the worst of leadership has led to insights you couldn’t possibly find in any one book. The Manifesto is a consolidation - into 25 Principles - of the essence of How to Be as a leader in a world of unending Chaos. Related EpisodesEpisode 59 – Leadership in Lay-offs - Twitter Vs StripeEpisode 58 – Leadershipinchaos.gov.uk – How Liz Truss authored her own downfallEpisode 26 – The Leadership ContributionEpisode 5 – Clarity in ChaosEpisode 3 – Communicating in ChaosSupport the show
“It’s only when the tide goes out you see who’s been swimming in the nude” – Warren Buffett As a leader the decision to let people go is never easy, but sometimes necessary. Nonetheless, it is often in these Moments that Matter where leaders show what stuff they are really made of. The current high-profile Tech lay-offs provide a unique test for leaders in a sector that has enjoyed rock-star growth throughout the last 2 decades. Twitter and Stripe announced their news at almost exactly the same time. The approach of the respective CEOs Elon Musk (Twitter) and Patrick Collison (Stripe) couldn’t have been more different. Collison’s handling of the announcement was honest, caring and instructive while Musk’s was terse, limp and impersonal. One’s leadership (and, by extension, brand) reputation has been elevated, while the other is in the gutter. Enjoy the contrast.  Insights include:-The Leadership Contribution – the 2 things needed in a crisis?-How Musk got it so dreadfully wrong-The 7 things Stripe (Patrick Collison) did brilliantly by contrast-The impact on Leadership when you have no accountability-The 2 core leadership lessons you cannot fake  Related EpisodesEpisode 58 – leadershipinchaos.gov.uk – How Liz Truss authored her own downfallEpisode 27 – What the Trump legacy teaches us about LeadershipEpisode 26 – The Leadership ContributionEpisode 5 – Clarity in ChaosEpisode 3 – Communicating in ChaosSupport the show
“Useless. Shambles. Incompetent. CHAOS” These were the dominant words of a GB News Peoples’ Poll Wordcloud last week as the Tory party unravelled amidst a sequence of bizarre and barely credible events. But what role did Leadership have to play in the absurdist drama and what was it Liz Truss did or didn’t do to contribute to her own ultimate downfall? This episode unpicks the very clear failures of the leader and the obvious cause-and-effect lessons in the whole sorry piece. Insights include:“Juvenile delinquency breaks out when there is an absence of a responsible adult”The 3 Big Lessons of Leadership in the Liz Truss demiseAmbiguity is #1 Enemy of EffectivenessConviction itself isn’t enough – you need the peopleSelf-Awareness trumps Self-InterestSage advice for appointing the next new leader (or anyone!)  Related EpisodesEpisode 39-42 – Leading Teams in ChaosEpisode 43 – Building Trust in TeamsEpisode 33 – “Taking Back Control” in ChaosEpisode 34 – Finding Meaning in ChaosEpisode 26 – The Leadership ContributionSupport the show
To be human is to procrastinate. The Greeks even had a special word for it – akrasia – such was its acknowledgement. However, it’s not a great device for leadership effectiveness when keeping focus is critical. The tendency towards Procrastination, and it’s full-sister Distraction, is becoming increasingly a topic of conversation with leaders (I’m engaged with), together with media and public discourse. Why does it happen? Why is it increasingly emerging now? And what can we do to combat its creep? Insights include:Procrastination isn’t a new thing – it’s a human thingWhy we procrastinate – Future Self Vs Present SelfPain of Procrastination > Pain of Action“Couch to 5K?”- Forget the 5K, just get off the couch!The Antidote to Procrastination – Chunk Down + Short Deadline + Reward Related EpisodesEpisode 45 – Finding Flow in ChaosEpisode 44 – Do The Right ThingsEpisode 32 – Prioritising & Planning in ChaosSupport the show
Normal service is resumed as I return to the Manifesto and explore how to preserve and protect the biggest asset any team has – you as the leader. Often ignoring their own needs and deprived in the service of others, the book title “Leaders Eat Last” promotes the idea of servant leadership (which I applaud by the way) ….however….Leaders Gotta Eat! How does a leader effectively balance doing the best for their people and their enterprise without doing the worst for themselves? Feast yourself! Insights include:Why Leaders suffer most burnoutThe dilemma in minding for the Golden GooseDemands Vs Resources in caring for self3 Ways to reduce DemandsCreating your own KSIs (Key Sanity Indicators)  Related EpisodesEpisode 52 – Zoom Out OftenEpisode 49 – Happiness in 3 PartsEpisode 45 – Finding Flow in ChaosEpisode 34 – Finding Meaning in ChaosEpisode 6 – Be Your Best SelfSupport the show
I am interrupting normal service for a newsflash! Such has been the demand recently out there for a succinct summary of what it means to be a leader now we are starting The Great Reset for society, work and life, that I have composed a triple-decker episode that roughly mirrors a keynote I’m delivering to address the question. Many of my previous themes are peppered throughout, along with a few new nuggets for the latest version of the New World (Dis)Order.  Normal service – and a return to the Manifesto 22 – will resume next time. Thank you for listening Insights include:How Leadership is the Same but DifferentHow we invest in the wrong thingsLeadership’s 2 Great UnderestimationsThe 3 Magic Ingredients for post-pandemic leadershipWhy Curiosity is the new Courage Related EpisodesToo many to mention!https://flowukandireland.com/Support the show
I am interrupting normal service for a newsflash! Such has been the demand recently out there for a succinct summary of what it means to be a leader now we are starting The Great Reset for society, work and life, that I have composed a triple-decker episode that roughly mirrors a keynote I’m delivering to address the question. Many of my previous themes are peppered throughout, along with a few new nuggets for the latest version of the New World (Dis)Order.  Normal service – and a return to the Manifesto 22 – will resume next time. Thank you for listening Insights include:How Leadership is the Same but DifferentHow we invest in the wrong thingsLeadership’s 2 Great UnderestimationsThe 3 Magic Ingredients for post-pandemic leadershipWhy Curiosity is the new Courage Related EpisodesToo many to mention!https://flowukandireland.com/Support the show
I am interrupting normal service for a newsflash! Such has been the demand recently out there for a succinct summary of what it means to be a leader now we are starting The Great Reset for society, work and life, that I have composed a triple-decker episode that roughly mirrors a keynote I’m delivering to address the question. Many of my previous themes are peppered throughout, along with a few new nuggets for the latest version of the New World (Dis)Order.  Normal service – and a return to the Manifesto 22 – will resume next time. Thank you for listening Insights include:How Leadership is the Same but DifferentHow we invest in the wrong thingsLeadership’s 2 Great UnderestimationsThe 3 Magic Ingredients for post-pandemic leadershipWhy Curiosity is the new Courage Related EpisodesToo many to mention!https://flowukandireland.com/Support the show
We often do our best thinking when we are not thinking.From Archimedes to Newton, great breakthrough discovery examples “away from the job” are rife in science, technology and the arts. It appears that it is often through a break that we really break throughLeadership is fundamentally about setting the right direction and making the right choices. Those choices, however, are only as good as the perspectives they are based on. In this episode, I explain how our “factory setting” as a species is an up-close perspective as it aids our survival in the moment. So how do you rise above your default programming to Zoom Out and gain enough valuable perspective to truly break through?Insights include:-How I suddenly remembered that thing I couldn’t remember!-Why leaders typically don’t Zoom Out-How great thinkers thrived when not thinking-The “Pale Blue Dot” – Carl Sagan’s timely perspective on Zooming Out“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.The Earth is the only world known so far to harbour life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.” ― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in SpaceSupport the show
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed. it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead It’s almost 2 years to the day since I began this podcast and 50 episodes later, I wanted to pause and momentarily to Zoom Out and reflect. It was Friday 13th (the clue was in the date?!) when I sat in the Cheltenham racecourse car park on a 1hr call with my international Flow partners from 4 continents sharing perspectives of what was unfolding as our world was disappearing from underneath our feet. Engulfed by chaos and uncertainty about the rapid spread of a virus no-one understood I remember the last question of the call. How long before things return to normal and how long do we have to wait this out? The most pessimistic view suggested September. By September, I mean September 2020. Shows what we knew. The paradox of life is that we understand it far better looking back, but we can only ever live it looking forward. Unless you’re Benjamin Button. I moved into precautionary self-isolation on return to Dublin and wondered over what to do. There was no paid client work to do, so I wondered how could I add value. So I started a podcast about the thing I knew most, where there was the most need. The irony is I had intended starting a podcast for over 3 years – but never ever found the time for being always too busy. Asking about the title, a colleague was doubtful “What will you do when the Chaos is over?” The question, of course, missed the point. There is, was, and will always be Chaos. Our very existence and Life itself was born out of Chaos. Sometimes chaos comes with a small “c”; other times with a large “C”. The question is not if there will BE Chaos. The question is How to BE in Chaos? For that we need to reset our expectations of what our default position is; and revise our original mental “factory settings” about how life is and the leadership that follows to support that. Now that we are apparently lurching from one life-afflicting Chaos into another (Ukraine invasion) we need to lead differently and more vigilantly than ever. If you have been, thank you for supporting the podcast.Support the show
“In every situation there is a space between the situation and how you respond”. Viktor Frankl   Think about this : The quality and situation of your life right now is the aggregate total of every decision you have ever made. Luck certainly plays a part - and there have been many “sliding doors” moments I’m sure, but ultimately, it is not what happened in those moments, but rather how you responded to what happened in those moments that made the difference.  No leader sets out to be a bad leader. Yet there are many bad leaders. And they are bad because of the accumulation of choices they made in the moment – unconsciously – that lead to the wrong outcome or impact. And the pattern continually repeats itself, unless or until it is corrected. Insights include:Decisions : Conflict between your Rational and Emotional selfHow we self-sabotage without realising itWhy Self-Awareness is critical as a leaderHow to make better, conscious decisions in the momentSupport the show
“There is no way to Happiness. Happiness is the way.” Thich Nhat Hanh In response to the reaction from the “Leadership Manifesto – 22 Principles for ‘22” episode, I have been persuaded to build out the Manifesto into a season, with each episode delving into the principles one by one, and in greater detail. Starting with #22 we will work backwards principle-by-principle until we arrive an #1. That way, instead of just chapter headings with some brief elaboration, by the end of the season you will literally “have the book” on how to Lead in Chaos. It might seem unorthodox to start with Happiness as a principle for leadership, but in my experience happy, optimistic, positive leaders encounter far more long-term, sustainable success than their opposites.  In addition, from Plato and Aristotle through the American constitution to Hakuna Matata, the pursuit of happiness has been a puzzle we have eternally been trying to solve. So why not? 😊 Insights include:Confusing Pleasure with HappinessWhy realising your dream doesn’t mean happinessWhat the world’s longest study revealed about happinessHow anticipation trumps the real thingSupport the show
Frank Capra’s seasonal classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” turned 75 years last year and, like many, once again I watched the movie during the holiday period. This time around, however, coloured no doubt by our present environment, I saw something different. I saw it primarily as a treatise on the fragility and uncertainty of life.  George Bailey has big dreams of adventure way beyond small-town Bedford Falls but his aspirations are thwarted at every turn and, just when he thought he had scaled every hurdle, hope gets dashed one more time. The fragility of life is best illustrated when George is dancing with sweetheart Mary and, owing to a prankster, the dance-floor begins to separate without their awareness until finally they plunge headlong into the swimming pool below.  So, in a world where the ground can be taken from right under our feet at any moment how do you lead – yourself and others? Building on my previous episode of Chaos as the new constant, I’ve composed a Leadership Manifesto for the absurd times we live in titled : 22 Principles for Leading in Chaos of’22Leadership Principles include:Hold your Assumptions lightly, not tightly.Use your imagination wiselyBeware your Comparative MindCommunicate for your Audience, not YourselfIterate! And Re-Iterate.Support the show
The popularised phrase “New Normal” is at best lazy, and at worst destructively misleading for leadership in every dimension – language, expectation and mindset. Yet people continue to strive for and promote it. For 30 years, the most popular remark I’ve consistently heard from leaders going through change is “I can’t wait until this is over and we can return to normal”. Funny thing is, it never happened. Ever. What happens when leaders realise and accept the Chaos is constant – always was – and is, in fact, the New Normal.  Insights include:December 2021 = December 2020, 2.0Why we stubbornly strive for Normal (and what we really mean)VUCA and GUBU : The state of Chaos isn’t newHow great leaders treat adversity and uncertaintyThe Stockdale Paradox Related Episodes Episode 45 : Finding Flow in ChaosEpisode 34 : Finding Meaning in ChaosEpisode 25 : What is Leadership in ChaosEpisode 7 : Finding Gold in the DirtSupport the show
COP26 represented the world’s greatest “strategy off-site” in Glasgow recently, featuring the not insignificant, high-stakes leadership quest of safe-guarding our planet. Whilst our own leadership challenges are, by definition, less lofty and smaller in scale, the same conundrums of clarity of vision & purpose; stakeholders buy-in; sustaining commitment and much more, still very much apply. In Episode 46 I explore the lessons and parallels we can extract from the 2 week summit and how they map across to your world as a leader. This episode builds perfectly onto our previous mini-season on Leading Teams in Chaos (episodes 39-42). Insights include:The formula for effective leadership revisited E = Cl X CoWhy Hi-Clarity with Lo-Commitment is like one hand clappingThe Conflict of the 2 Jerseys (Club Vs Country)Best definition ever of CommitmentWhat happens when belief in the Vision is lowInfluencing without Authority Related Episodes Episodes 39-42 : Leading Teams in ChaosEpisode 26 : The Leadership ContributionEpisode 12 - 14 : Motivation in ChaosEpisode 5 : Clarity in ChaosSupport the show
Last month saw the passing of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow – the seminal work that describes the human state of happiness, optimal experience and high performance. The book (and his research) has subsequently influenced everything from office design, to how to train soldiers, website and video game design amongst everything else. In this episode, I commemorate the author by synthesizing the essence of his work (in less than 15 minutes!) and describing how the Flow state is an absolute panacea for the 3 symptoms of our present COVID “hangover”. Insights include:Why finding Flow is at the very heart of LeadershipWhat is the Flow state?Why enterprise became interested and what it discoveredThe conditions you need to know as a Leader to create FlowHow Flow is a panacea for the 3 symptoms of our pandemic hangoverFlow’s naughty neighbours : Boredom & Anxiety Related Episodes Episode 34 : Finding Meaning in ChaosEpisode 26 : The Leadership ContributionEpisode 12 - 14 : Motivation in ChaosEpisode 5 : Clarity in ChaosSupport the show
According to Peter Drucker – if management is about doing things right, then leadership is doing the right things. I took a break from the Podcast for some Zooming Out time during summer but, since my return, have found it a very big challenge to return to the discipline of the broadcast because of competing pressures. This episode uses this most typical challenge to ask (and answer!) the question : “How do you get to do the things you need to do but just can’t find the time?” Insights include:How to identify (and remember) the Right ThingsDifferentiating the Important from the UrgentWhy the To-Do List doesn’t help youHow to translate intentions into action and make it stickThe 2 sub-skills you need to master to Do the Right Things Related Episodes Episode 32 : Planning & Prioritising in ChaosEpisode 26 : The Leadership ContributionEpisode 19 : Zooming Out in ChaosSupport the show
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