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The incentive to develop an integral approach to leadership and from that design a model to assist delivery came about partially, in all humility, due to a frankly pitiful memory. Frequently discussing the issue with colleagues and friends and invariably posed the pivotal question, “what makes a great leader?” I would struggle to recall all the components instantly. As a tool to prompt and reinforce enabling attitudes and actions, the leadership model helped to articulate not only what makes a good leader great but how to instil a highly personalised operating procedure that would help get you there.
Another key incentive was to embed essential personal, cultural, societal and systemic considerations that have often been bolted on leading to huge flaws in personal and organisational performance. Hence cross-cutting issues such as health and wellbeing; values, ethics and culture; equality, diversity and inclusion; environment and climate change would be made integral, front and centre to every consideration.
As these things often do, it seemed to assemble itself rapidly – overnight even – but it would be remiss not to mention the 30 years’ practical experience, experimentation, failure and occasional success which went into its sudden appearance. Having delivered thought leadership commentary for over 25 years in FIRE magazine and other publications and forums (largely on the aforementioned key considerations), as well as having led The Fire Fighters Charity during one of the most tumultuous times in its history, I felt there was a lot of learnings to lean on.
More importantly, having delivered the framework and stress tested it through rigorous cross-reference to every crisis point over the last 30 years, I believed it would be of wider use to today’s current and future leaders. This was largely a retrospective assessment based on the fact that it would have been mightily useful to have it by my side rather than run myself ragged trying to assimilate best practice, self-awareness, comprehend complex processes and systems and finally, apply oneself to the task of inspiring and leading others. Goodness knows, a little help would not have gone amiss.
Further stress tested through the lens of current challenges and feedback from today’s leaders, the model has proved effective in not only laying down a highly personalised subjective challenge but also outlining an objective progression plan. I would commend it in the first instance to organisational leaders with a view to improving personal performance, whilst keeping an eye on the potential for all future leaders to develop from a unique combination of personal insight and objective universal understanding of the bigger picture. This must benefit those setting out on the journey, as well as those well on their way.
A final thought on several observations fed back on the operating environment(s) (applicable to the external collective Its quadrant as depicted in the model), leadership styles and internal and external conflict specific to fire and rescue organisations. Why was fire and rescue not specifically mentioned? Simply because it is not for me to impose or translate individual experience on to the leadership model. It is a generic approach that is also most relevant to fire and emergency leaders.
The following is an extract of the introduction to the model. For a more detailed analysis and exploration of the application to each component see the Fire Knowledge Insights paper, ‘Have a go leadership challenge’ at: fire-magazine.com
The challenge to articulate what makes a great leader has always proved evasive and beyond the vocabulary of this reporter, despite the wide range of leadership style guides, and behaviour and personality measurements available. There are plenty of pointers, a plethora of inspirational quotes and jargon by the barrel-load. All well-meaning and agreeable words and phrases, as a prominent NHS Trust chair said at a recent culture fire conference, but what does it all mean? Try putting warm words into practice in a fragile and slow-moving institution and see what change is made. Nun said the nun!
Studying past and present great leaders – the real change makers – in the forlorn hope that some of the magic dust might rub off, there are of course converging themes and recurring habits and patterns to be discovered, but also anomalies aplenty. The latest theory cedes to the next as guidance pivots to the changing needs of an ever-evolving population finely attuned to cultural norms and all too impatient to move to the next.
How then to capture all the elements, to put words into action, to challenge thinking and convention? This proved a substantial quest, especially as not one system or operating procedure could complete the picture.
What is more, to move beyond theory, to find a pragmatic approach that could help leaders at all stages – whether leading small teams or multi-national organisations – frequently became reduced to catch-phrase references: try humility, try authenticity, try a training course, or two…
An overriding impetus that has propelled every great leader and inspired this reporter seemed to be missing in almost every system: that initial compulsion to trust yourself, do something, have a go and see what happens. ‘Be not you’ are amongst the wisest words ever uttered when it comes to personal development: moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, conscious competence and finally unconscious competence, is something we all do from learning to drive, to passing our GCSEs and endeavouring to navigate through lives and careers. In the drive for authenticity one can forgo the requirement that to be better requires breaking down the lesser selves to create more than the sum of the parts: stepping into the unknown and giving it a go.
The Have A Go Leadership Model (see Fig. 1) therefore sprung from that driving force, away from undermining limiting beliefs and towards the revelatory in the relative unknown. The guiding principles are:
Have a go – if you don’t someone else will.
Move beyond the limiting beliefs of what you think you can achieve into the realms of realising the impossible.
Do it now – if not now, then when? If not this way, then how?
Have a go again – free your mind and the rest will follow.
Simplicity is another factor that should be central to any leadership pathway. Breaking it down into distinguishable parts makes it instantly memorable and therefore practically useful as a guide. Over-complicating thinking leads to prevarication and paralysis. Getting the basics right and working on them only opens possibilities and leads to progress.
The basic components of the Have A Go Leadership Model© are therefore visualised as inter-connecting cogs, each interacting and encompassing key leadership elements. Although non-linear, using the acronym it necessarily commences with humility – a good a place to start as any – and ends with ownership, equally apposite, although each component needs equal weighting and consideration. The cogs/components are also repositories for supporting resources to encompass leadership aligned material.
To consider all aspects in relation to each other is a worthwhile exercise, not least in measuring and grading how these tropes interact (see figures 3 and 4). However, as related earlier in terms of well-meaning phrases and theory over practice, this does not go far enough and provide the insight and perspective in and of itself – it needs another layer.
Overlaying an integral approach, considering the internal and external perspectives, as well as the individual and collective experience, adds a multi-dimensional layer that provides the challenge and tool required for the model to be of practical value. The integral overlay, considering the individual internal (I), the internal collective (We), the external individual (It) and the external collective (Its) incorporates all dimensions and provides the flexibility to monitor movement and progress and is accommodating in factoring the multiple dimensions of life’s experience (see Fig. 2).
Each quadrant includes fundamental factors, but is not limited to:
Internal individual (I): values, beliefs, awareness, thinking, responsibility, resilience, perception.
Internal collective (We): culture, shared values, equality, diversity and inclusion, health and wellbeing.
External individual (It): process, competency, performance, behaviour, knowledge.
External collective (Its): society, systems, policy, technology, infrastructure, environment, climate change.
Applying each component to the integral four quadrants therefore deepens and expands upon the boundaries of well-meaning words. It also means that cross-disciplinary issues are addressed as a constant, instantly engrained and predisposed to be addressed rather than siloed as is unfortunately still too often the case with health and wellbeing, resilience, equality, diversity and inclusion, and the environment. Here, they are a given, a norm, integral and incontrovertible. You couldn’t extract and isolate if you wanted to – they need consideration in relation to everything else, all the time. Just the way it should be and always should have been.
For example, measuring the efficacy and competency of engagement from an internal perspective – how do you internally arrange your values, beliefs, purpose and vision (I) and then communicate that outwards to the organisation and align those beliefs and ethics (Its) and is there a blockage? If there is, perhaps it relates to competency and performance (It) or perhaps with policies in place (Its) or a clash with the shared values or culture within the organisation (We)? If there is a blockage, if you are a great communicator but failing to engage with individuals, team members or sizeable numbers of personnel, the integral overlay will help expose the limitation, which often stems from a misalignment or incongruity between the internal, often unconscious values and expectations and external ‘reality’. It’s why we get angry. It’s also why acceptance is a component on its own and why quotes from benevolent stoics are thrown into this piece for good measure!
As well as overlaying the integral approach onto each component and using a sliding scale to measure progress against heightened awareness and the implementation of necessary intervention – research, consultation, training, whatever is appropriate – comparing seemingly disparate components is rewarding and often revelatory.
The Olympic decathlete champion Daley Thompson said he chose not to work so much on his weakest events but improve his strongest. Daley, however, was good at everything so it’s easy for him to say. Why not be good enough at everything and be brilliant and strive to be even better at certain aspects? To bring the whole being into balance is to use your best self to bring the rest of your selves up to speed.
Take a relatively poorly performing component and contrast that with a high performing segment. For example, generosity is seen as high with rave feedback about being a kind and compassionate leader, yet your vision for the team/organisation is not being taken wholly and has been undermined by some. Empathy and accessibility is obviously strong yet the external communication beyond a one-to-one interaction has been less effective.
Overlaying the integral quadrants may expose a breakdown or blockage in policies or procedures, or it may be a misreading of shared values and the culture of the organisation, a misinterpretation or misalignment that occurred somewhere along the line and may have been due to a lack of consultation. That would be a breakdown between the integral upper left quadrant (I) and the lower left quadrant (We). A further analysis of the generosity component and the elements which led to such a positive measurement could be mapped across to inform the reassimilation of the vision, factoring in the four quadrants and plugging into strengths that may have been overlooked.
The overlay is therefore not just the integral quadrants onto each component but also each component onto the other, thus becoming a multi-dimensional prism.
The ecology check therefore cross-references each component and asks how they interact. Is there cognitive dissonance between internal thinking and external delivery? Do internal belief systems conflict with organisational or societal expectations? Is there incongruity? How do you expose limiting behaviours or beliefs? How do you align your values and beliefs to project your authentic self while inspiring and empowering others? People see through words and demand action. How do you demonstrate leadership, own it, rather than spout it?
The guiding principles behind the Have A Go Integral Leadership Model© are those listed above, plus the necessity that leaders be cognisant of all multi-dimensional and interconnected internal and external considerations. That goes beyond the simplistic model outlined previously, but it is still basic at heart – becoming aware and responsive to internal thinking and perspectives and connecting to the external world. Worlds that for many continue to be in constant conflict.
Within each component lies a vast hinterland when viewed through the integral four quadrant lens, so in basic and elemental leadership terms, the following passage will extract key considerations only.
Further, tracking the pathway within each component can be facilitated by the integral quadrant overlay. As an introduction, for ease of reference here, it is represented by a straightforward 1-10 grading, ‘needs improvement’ to ‘excellent’ (see figures 3 and 4), which should be reassessed on reflection and overlap with other components. A grading by segment can be tracked, together with an overall assessment which provides the overview to give that pathway to progress (the metric is scaled up to give an overview measurement). As a basic introduction, two components will be analysed through the integral quadrants to illustrate the breadth and depth of development possibilities the leadership model presents. For further analysis and interpretation, see the Fire Knowledge Insights ‘Have a go leadership challenge’ paper at fire-magazine.com
“We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility”
We are told that all great leaders share a similar trait – humility. This isn’t true but it sounds good. Humility though is a great asset – some would say the greatest asset a leader can possess. The spirit of kindness, compassion, emotional intelligence is a trigger to untap unlimited potential in the self and others.
Getting out of your own way, letting the ego “jog on” so that the industrious are empowered to progress is a gift of leadership that is high up on the emotional quotient scale, right alongside a ripping sense of humour! As all the components do, it criss-crosses generosity, authenticity, openness and clears the path for employee empowerment and personal and collective growth. Some would say if you don’t have humility, fake it until you do – although that would be terribly inauthentic!
Overlayed with the integral quadrants, how do we assess humility? Starting with the self, how to balance the values, beliefs and personal perception with the public image and the interaction between the essential self and others? How aligned and confident are you in your ability to project the right messages, whilst opening up so that others are confident to approach you for advice and guidance, or instruction? Are the right competencies in place to address welfare issues? Does the organisation support the individual and have the right policies in place? Are you leading the organisation and responsible overall or do you need to engage with policy makers to ensure the right guidance and procedures are in place for your team members? How do you approach colleagues? If you are the ‘expert’, what stops you from being the ‘know it all’? When does humility lapse into complacency and lethargy? Where do the boundaries exist? Have you checked the awareness measurement and how does that interact? How do you gauge feedback from others and how do your colleagues react? Does humility in action conflict with the culture of the team/organisation? If you can identify the shortfall, how do you rectify?
There are, as with all these components, more questions than answers. Welcome to the leadership conundrum.
“It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit”
Holding yourself to account above all others, owning your mistakes and being open and transparent is essential for effective leadership and is more likely to inspire personnel. Honesty underpins all else, to self and others, and is the cornerstone of strong leadership, delivering the right message to colleagues. Building trust, setting allegiances, demonstrating resolution and accountability is essential, and yet would seem inevitable and straightforward to achieve.
Why is it then that some leaders are singled out for their honesty and integrity whilst others – think of politicians from across the spectrum – are derided for representing the exact opposite? Many politicians are career public servants, sacrificing more than many for life-long causes yet are accused of hypocrisy, moral cowardice and duplicity at every turn. Of course, some are guilty, but not all. Why are they lumped together? What distinguishes one leader from another?
Demonstration is crucial. It is one thing to say you’ll do something, another to deliver on the promise. Compromise, U-turns and abandoning policy pledges has in extreme cases ruined the reputations of some leaders, and at least tarnished the integrity of the political party brand.
Viewed through the prism of the integral quadrants, the most devout promises made internally are soon diluted if the alignment with the organisation’s shared values are not realised, or beyond that if they clash with societal expectations. There comes into question the validity of personal honesty: to thine own self be true. If the group or organisation clashes with deeply held beliefs then the issue(s) need addressing urgently. Is it time to move on or redress the balance? Honesty is intrinsically linked to values and without aligning those it is impossible to demonstrate effective leadership – you will be pulled in two directions at once.
How to strike the balance and bring honesty and integrity under hardship and strain? You may perceive internal values and beliefs to be ideal but if the support system externally for colleagues is failing, how does that undermine your belief system? Is there dishonesty at play through overlooking the plight of others? As with authentic leadership, the truth will out and it may not set you free…
To read the Fire Knowledge Insights paper visit: fire-magazine.com
To find out more about the Have A Go Integral Leadership Model contact Andrew at: [email protected]
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