The Unleadership Movement is a growing collaboration of practitioners and scholars from public, private and voluntary sectors. The movement seeks to reflect upon leaderly practices that have been illuminated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its mission is to establish how this learning can be taken forward by participants to make an impact in their organisations and communities. In this month’s blog we focus on catching the wave – exploring how unleaders use their intuition to take action in a timely manner to make change.
As we are writing in January, let’s mention New Year’s Resolutions! Whether you are a firm believer or whether you resist making pledges that may be broken, you will all have a sense of the time being fundamentally right – or wrong. You might describe this as “gut feeling” or “sixth sense” or perhaps it’s just beyond description.
Traditional approaches to leadership advocate a more planned approach to decision making; taking action based on deductive or inductive processes. Using general established and accepted “facts” to deduce a conclusion for a particular scenario or noticing specifics of a situation and collecting enough data to generalise and induce a solution based on the evidence. These approaches to using top-down theorising, collecting evidence and making rational decisions are what is generally expected of heroic leaders. They plan, assess and review in order to align resources and direct followers to take action based on rationality and logic. During the pandemic leaders took control in exceptional circumstances and created grand plans to execute solutions to the PPE supply challenges, infection control and community support.
But as plans were created and data was gathered, others were taking small scale actions to make a difference. Fashion designers were banding together to make scrubs, teenagers were printing 3D masks, restaurants were using waste food to feed those in need. Action was being taken in a timely manner without data, evidence or strategies. These actions seem to have been guided by an innate desire to act, driven by values where a need was sensed. Unleaders were using “gut feel” or abductive reasoning – probably most akin to informed guessing in practical terms – which was described by Charles Sanders Pierce in 1929 as “This singular guessing instinct”. Our most famous example of an abductionist in literature is the detective Sherlock Holmes.
So how can we use abduction in the workplace to take timely action? What stops us? In our workshops barriers were discussed such as risk averse cultures, a preference for logical reasoning and a lack of recognition that there is value in a mix of decision-making styles. How could we enable ourselves to use abductive reasoning more in our workplaces? By not waiting for permission to be given, but to act, making space to reflect on ways of taking action, listening to others’ opinions, by seeing value created in different ways, and being clear on what adds value to our purpose. Through these experiments, it was felt that there could be potential for more information sharing, more proactivity, more problem solving and perhaps more communication in decision making. We also reflected on finding the right time was to use this approach; through being clear around risks, where we can add value and our own skills and experience. The group considered how different types of reasoning can complement each other and facilitate timely action being taken.
We decided that we could give ourselves permission to:
Give ourselves freedom to make decisions with incomplete information.
Reflect before acting – be creative.
Be prepared to fail and learn.
Focus on our purpose and intention.
Say no – to disrupt, make mischief and play.
Look at new opportunities.
Thinking about the worst-case scenario.
Deferring to hegemonic leadership styles.
Not ask permission.
Think outside of the box and be brave.
Focus on the bright spots.
Bring people together.
Delight in ideas. Develop ourselves.
So next time you have a decision to make, what will you do? Will you reflect on how you might take more timely action? Can you catch the wave? Share your thoughts with us!
Carol, Kay, Selen and Hugo @The Unleadership Movement