“Without connections, nothing happens” (M. Wheatley/M. Kellner-Rogers)


Didier Marlier

May 22, 2021

From Disruption to Engagement

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In an excellent article about self-organised teams (“The Irresistible Future Organising” 1996) visionaries Meg Weathley and Myron Kellner-Rogers wrote: “People need opportunities to “bump up” against others in the system, making the unplanned connections that spawn new ventures or better integrated responses.”

Several times, in this blog, I have displayed a simulation designed by Ernst & Young, in the early 2’000’s, called “Buttons”, exemplifying the non-linear progression of knowledge in an organisation where people connect with each other.

These past 18 months, as you may imagine, I have spent weeks coaching teams and individuals at a distance. One of the themes consistently coming back is: “How can I engage my team/organisation/community when I don’t meet them, when there are so many of them I haven’t even me,t before they even joined the organisation?” And what strikes me each time is this “Professional default mode” which sets us on the wrong track: We look for procedures, agendas, set-up regular meeting and all I see is a transactional way of handling those, when we just just…connect!

To be relational is something very different. It is about

Curiosity: I don’t know what I ignore, hence, why not exploring and trying to uncover knowledge and persons I didn’t even know existed?

Safety: I must install a climate of Psychological Safety, if I do not wish my relational moment to turn into a superficial, guarded, social chitchat.

Interest: I must genuinely be interested into the other person’s point of view, belief and position, something quite far away from what our British friends call “interesting” 😉 .

Taking Risks: If everyone, in my attempt to be relational, remains protected and guarded, people will rapidly go away. To obtain Psychological Safety in a group, Google found out that team members need to display self-disclosure and vulnerability. It is exactly the same, when switching to a relational way to connect.

Informality: We can’t force connection; we do not have a procedure to become more relational. The main reason why so many “e-gatherings” don’t yield what they’re supposed to, is that they are entrenched into a process that makes them feel inauthentic and forced.

Purpose: Nevertheless, people need to understand why we encourage them to build relationships. Failure to do so will bring the relational moments at the bottom of the bottom of very busy professionals.

I must have first met Saila Laitinen, when delivering an advanced Leadership Program for Nokia, where she worked. We then lost touch and, not so long ago, I discovered that, after leaving Nokia, she had founded a cosmetics firm whose name immediately seduced me: “Activism In Elegance” (A.I.E.). In short, this avant-garde and disruptive brand caters to Elegance Rebels who uncompromisingly stand for ultimate beauty and the health of our oceans. A.I.E. aims at changing the way people think of beauty and consumption! Of course, I connected Saila, with another kind hearted and determined Activist In Elegance, top model and philanthropist Noella Coursaris and her Malaika Foundation. A new product came out of it, accompanied by a unique drawing from a Malaika child.

The symbolic story of how Saila got the idea of creating A.I.E. is highly telling: She was on holiday in Croatia, in a nice B&B. Kind and curious about others, as she is, she started engaging into informal conversations and congratulated the owner for the quality of her skins. She replied that this was thanks to the home made product artisanaly produced by her daughter. See, on this short story what happened next.

This is what connecting in a free-spirited way means and what it can bring to businesses and humans alike. One does not become relational by training. It is an evolution in mindset and values.

Enjoy your leadership journey!


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“Engaging Leadership” has been written for leaders who are about to engage their organisations in change."

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