Reflections on being in conversation with Carol Sanford

Tim Collings
Better Leaders, Better World
5 min readFeb 14

In this article, I reflect on the key themes which emerged in one of my most recent conversations with Carol Sanford. The focus of this conversation was on the key framework she centres in her book Indirect Work.

Creating healthy matrixes

This theme shows up over and over in my life and work, and follows powerfully and deeply following the last season of Better World Leaders focus on ‘Nurturing Conditions’. The key clarity Carol offers is how we work in nurturing conditions — in her words to create a health matrix.

Whilst nurturing conditions has been recognised as necessary by many seeking to bring sustained change, the way this is often done does not enable growth of consciousness, culture or capability in a self-determining way which activates potential.

The key learning for me here is that most well intentioned interventions aimed towards nurturing conditions do so in a manner which neglects acknowledging and embracing the potential which already exists in place, communities and people. Moreover, the typical approach which I have observed directly and manifested myself over years of well-intentioned action, is to impose an external ‘expert’ approach. This is very different to Carol’s approach, of working Indirectly whilst in deep relationship with those who invite you to partner with them, doing so in a loving and generative way to harness their unique capability to develop themselves.

If we can’t switch and work indirectly on the matrix, we will never have the right way of thinking about the futures we’re creating — Carol Sanford

Seeing paradigms

As a vital step within creating healthy matrixes, changing our way of sensing in the world is a necessary step along the on-going pathway of shifting into regenerative ways of knowing, doing and being.

As Michelle Maloney commented in her episode on nurturing conditions in Season 5 of BWL, seeing yourself in the system you’re co-creating is often the hardest thing for people educated in a modern Western system, and Carol expands and deepens this point as we explore seeing paradigms.

Tim Collings
Better Leaders, Better World

Tim writes about his explorations of living systems in life and work as Founder of 4i & host of the Better World Leaders podcast.