Living in a New Power world requires new competencies
Most days, I set my own working hours. I can take holidays when I want. I work from a co-working space with Ping-Pong tables, free coffee, more bearded hipsters than you can count, and a giant tub full of Ikea-style plastic balls. I get to spend quality time with my wife, visit friends and family to nurture those relationships that really matter. And through my work, Pablo and I are supporting awesome people and organizations to address some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental needs. We create partnerships and alliances with others, whether there’s money involved or not. We launch or join new projects and initiatives for as long as they feel right to us, and then we move on to the next one (to my family’s eternal bewilderment), constantly working to mobilise the collective intelligence of those we meet to create a more sustainable world. It’s a beautiful life, and a life I created and chose. And at times, I am anxious, fearful and stressed.
Indeed, the flip-side of this beautiful life is uncertainty, unpredictability, and holding full responsibility for every aspect of my life (well, except the political side, but that’s a story for another time). I cannot tell my bank, my wife or myself how much I will, for sure, be earning even a few months from now. I cannot blame my boss if I don’t have as much work as I’d like (I can always blame Pablo, I suppose, but he’s just too good at reminding me I’m responsible for my own life, so I avoid that). I am constantly juggling doing the work we are being paid for, looking for new opportunities, and living my beautiful life of freedom.
The current legal and administrative infrastructure as well as economic systems in most countries are still very much unsupportive of such independent workers, entrepreneurs or people who take the risk of living and working outside of what Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans refer to as the “Old Power” world of long-term stable jobs and affiliation, of professionalism and career paths, of competition and status.
These tensions between enjoying the life of freedom I want and being able create my own reality every day on the one hand, and the uncertainty, unpredictability and responsibility this brings on the other hand, are increasingly going to be the life of many of those in my generation who see themselves as “makers”, who are unsatisfied with the world as it stands today, and who seek to create a new one by harnessing the collective intelligence and energy of the crowd — or what Jeremy and Henry call “New Power”.
To be able to handle the tensions inherent in living in a world of New Power requires a whole new set of competencies which most of us have never learned at school, in our families nor in society at large. Competencies such as trust-building, leadership to serve, mindfulness and emotional intelligence. This is a large part of the work we do at inTension, building these skills within Pablo and myself as individuals, between us as a team, and supporting the individuals and organisations we partner with to build them.
What do we mean by Old Power and New Power?
In their new book, Jeremy and Henry describe the cause of this tension as a clash between a growing number of individuals who are intent on using crowd intelligence and power (“New Power”) and those who work within and defend a system built on “Old Power” increasingly being disrupted by this. “New power”, according to them, operates “like a current. It is made of many. It is open, participatory, and peer driven. It uploads and distributes. Like water or electricity, it is most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”
Old power, however, “works like a currency. It is held by a few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.” The key values of each type of power (see below) reflect very much many of the elements which Frederic Laloux describes in his research published in 2014 in the book Reinventing Organisations as “Teal” values (New Power) and as “Red” or “Amber” (Old Power).
Henry and Jeremy find that the most successful organisations actually manage to balance their use of Old and New Power.
What they don’t discuss in such depth is what new competencies and inner work are required to hold the tensions that come from navigating and channeling both New and Old Power, especially whilst the economic and political systems and social norms remain quite firmly in Old Power mode. It is understanding and developing these competencies which we believe will be key to the social sector being able to channel the collective energy of New Power, whilst making the most of the dominant Old Power system.
What are the competencies required to channel New Power?
Many of the leaders and members of organisations we work with are increasingly feeling under pressure, uncertain about the future of their organisations, their funding, and, for some, of the entire NGO sector. People often feel a breakdown in trust between teams, partner organisations, with donors, or even beneficiaries. We see ever more people exhausted, burning out, leaving on sabbaticals and never really coming back, becoming independent consultants, or undertaking personal journeys and inner work — be it taking up meditation, getting coached, doing intensive yoga, or other ways of building their inner strength to deal with this external disruption.
We have found that leaders and members of organisations which consciously focus on building trust within their organisation and with their stakeholders, can delegate responsibilites or even hand over power to them, and can thus deal with (or even lead) the disruption and collective power of crowds (new power) whilst making the most of the current (old power) structures in place.
To build such trust, requires the ability to build psychological safety, or ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ as Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999 . Indeed, as Google found in a recent study of high performance teams, the single most important factor for such teams was to succeed was psychological safety.
We have also found that mindfulness and emotional intelligence are key to being able to deal with the emotional roller-coaster of a world transitioning between New and Old power. As has been described by Forbes, or the Google Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, mindfulness and emotional intelligence have been found to lead to higher manager and leader performance, greater creativity and learning, lower levels of stress and even better health of employees.
Building these skills in a team require a very different type of leadership. Our Berlin-based colleague Lena Otte describes well in a recent interview how this new form of leadership is a key elements to channel collective intelligence and energy. She describes a leadership which builds safety within the team, allowing each member to bring their entire self and all their intelligences (mind, heart and will) to the collective tasks; a leadership which listens rather than commands; a leadership which focuses on the connection and relationships between members as much as the results of the collective work; and a leadership which senses energy levels and focuses on what is most important in the present moment.
How are we building such competencies within inTension?
For us, coherence is a key value. We therefore refrain from “training” or even suggesting to our clients anything which we aren’t implementing ourselves within inTension. Be this developing methods of monitoring and evaluating the results of our work, or developing the skills we need to deal with the disruptive uncertainty inherent in this New Power world, Pablo and I first develop these together, and then bring them to our partners.
In particular, Pablo and I have established clear agreements between us to build psychological safety. We encourage each of us to bring into our joint space everything which might affect our relationship, our work together or our lives, be this thoughts, emotional, or physical aspects. We agree not to judge, to accept and to support each other with whatever is going on — and both being coaches, this is actually an amazing resource for both of us.
Concretely this means, every time we meet, we “check in” and “check out”, to always remain mindful of what is going on within and between us. We also take “interim checks” when we feel something might be up, energy levels are dropping, or we are having a great time and want to celebrate (or play ping pong)! We also meet roughly every two weeks with Sonia Herrero for a group coaching session, to really dive deeper into anything which we hadn’t seen until then, further raising our awareness of the behaviors we are enacting, the decisions we are taking, and the reality we are creating with this.
These spaces are crucial to support each other with the disruptive uncertainty of our working context. When I freak out because a proposal to an organisation we were really looking forwards to working with is not chosen, we don’t just force our way through the to-do list we have, but acknowledge and work with the emotions of rejection, fear and anxiety that are present for me at that time, and would otherwise erupt in one way or the other, lower the quality of my work or cause me a build up of stress. Then, once these emotions are understood and fully felt, and lessons are learned about where these come from, my energy levels and trust in our team’s abilities are stronger, my work better and our creativity increases, not despite the rejection, but because of the rejection and the opportunity taken to learn from this.
In our future blog posts we will dive deeper into some of the other ways we build new competencies in our team and the concrete learnings we have had from these processes, as we feel many of them are deeply relevant for our partners.
How are we supporting our partners to build these competencies?
We have found that building such psychological safety and emotional intelligence is extremely helpful for any team or organisation to survive the turbulence of a New Power world. As mentioned above, in larger teams, it requires a new type of leadership. Developing leadership competencies to deal with higher levels of complexities is the core objective of our leadership coaching. We support leaders to move from their current leadership style to the style which is needed for themselves and their organisation today. Usually this requires dealing with far higher levels of complexity and disruption than it did even a few years ago.
We have developed an approach based on the work of two leadership coaches and academics, William Torbert and David Rooke, summarised in their article in the Harvard Business Review 7 Transformations of Leadership, and combined this with the Integral Theory which Frederic Laloux uses in Reinventing Organisations. This methodology helps leaders see where they lie on a continuum of leadership styles (see above), and where they would like to arrive in order to reach their highest potential performance individually and for their organisation. We have used this methodology with leaders of NGO teams in Indonesia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Libya, Egypt, Brussels and Geneva, as well as with officers of the Swiss military.
We start with a questionnaire based on Rooke and Torbert’s survey tool called the “Leadership Development Profile” which measures the styles of leadership. They have used this tool with thousands of clients, and have then developed a framework around the types of leadership measured. The tool they developed uses 36 unfinished sentences that the participants are requested to complete based on how they currently respond to such situations.
We developed a similar tool, but using situations relevant to managing NGOs, such as “When my team is regularly late coming to the office, I…” The complete sentences that the participants provide are then analysed according to a matrix of behaviours (see above “Styles of leadership”).
Different “styles” of leadership are of course relevant in different situations, and these styles reflect different levels of capacity that leaders have to deal with complexity, with diverse perspectives and to transform situations (and themselves) to the benefit of the organisation and those they work for.
These questionnaires are of course no exact science and only one source of information which we complement with our observations and other assessments. The only thing such a questionnaire can guarantee is that it shows is what the person believes they should be doing in that situation. Ideally, of course, they actually describe how they really react, but we know (and research has shown) this is very difficult for people to actually be fully aware of. However, even the shift in what people think is the right behaviour is a sign of a real change in awareness, and from experience is directly correlated with changes in behaviour.
We then undertake a cycle of coaching (between 6 and 10 one hour coaching sessions) with the individual, sometimes complemented by group work or training workshops on specific areas of leadership. Each individual commits to specific challenges in between each session, to begin changing the behaviors they identify that they want to let go of or build. At the end of the cycle (and for longer ones, also half way along), the leader again fills in the questionnaire. This provides a clear image of the changes occurring in their (at least self evaluation) of their behaviours.
The results of this type of coaching combined with the careful measurement of changes has been impressive for some of the participants — of course not all. We have seen leaders move from being very hesitant, lacking confidence in dealing with intense personal issues, unable to deal with uncertainty, relying mainly on rules and procedures (usual signs of an “amber” style of leadership) to being able to focus on empowering her team, building strong relations of trust, unleashing the collective power of her crowd (a more “green/ teal” style of leadership), within a 5 month period.
We believe that developing such competencies is possibly the most crucial (and most complex) element to ensuring that the social sector is able to harness New Power to create a more sustainable world.