Brand Management, Russell Style

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russell brand with his 'fag pimp brand' sign, a gift from the WBC

In all my years scouting out the best examples of communication, leadership and tools for sustainability change agents, I never dreamt that I would be featuring UK comedian Russell Brand as a case study.

Perhaps this is not so unusual as I have already tipped my hat to Jon StewartJimmy Fallon (and that other guy in the clip with Fallon…) and others, for whom comedy well done becomes a powerful tool for communicating so much more:

Comedy is a way of ‘reaching around people’s walls’, because those endorphins (released during laughter) bring down the walls. This works in exactly the opposite way to anger, fear and panic – the fight or flight responses that release adrenalin, which raises our walls of self-defence. Through laughter, comedy enables us to question the validity of ours and others’ views on issues without becoming defensive.

The Fool, or Jester, was considered an important part of public life in past centuries – through humour, they could breach taboos and challenge conventional wisdom, whereas such actions may have been a dangerous tactic for ‘serious’ discussions.


Like all exceptional comedians, Brand is not only very funny, he is a social commentator, highly intelligent, articulate and able to run rings around those who are wrong-footed on encountering him because they are expecting The Fool.

Brand created a viral internet sensation when he interviewed leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) on his TV show ‘Brand X’ late last year.

First, a little bit of context as to why this was an interesting scenario in terms of communication.

The WBC, who subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible, have gained notoriety for their extreme homophobia (their web site URL is godhatesfags dot com) and hate tactics in general – among a string of provocative actions, they had most recently planned to picket the funerals of victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting and Boston bombing. Some sources claim that the WBC’s ‘hate’ tactics are to offend, and incite people to sue them, so that they can counter-sue on the grounds that their First Amendment rights (right to free speech) have been infringed.

Russell Brand, on the other hand, is an outlandish comedian, actor and author whose public image has been in large part shaped by his wild reputation. Marvellously sharp-witted, Brand holds views that could be described as diametrically opposed to those of the WBC.

Watch the clip (11 mins):

After I’d finished laughing until I cried at this unlikely scenario, I saw a deeper value to this example than comedy.

Regardless of what you think of Brand, the WBC or religion, what played out here was an interesting example of being open to the views of others where they do not agree with yours, withholding judgment, and stomaching hostility so that you can hear what they have to say.

This situation could have quite easily gone all Jerry Springer very quickly at any moment – but notice how Brand manages both his own reactions and potential conflict.

On introducing his guests, he makes a point of saying ‘please welcome my guests, with love…’ and follows it up by dampening the adverse reaction of the audience with ‘don’t be mean, don’t be mean!’

His guests then promptly present him with a large red sign depicting himself with three words in large capitals: ‘FAG PIMP BRAND’.

Rather than taking offence, which would be the natural reaction of the ego, he approaches the situation in a detached manner, as if the poster is referring to someone other than himself.

Instead of reacting to the ad hominem attack, he deflects the intent of the poster’s abusive message by choosing to take issue with something different – pointing out that the picture of him used on it was ‘…not a very flattering photograph’.

Did Brand create this situation for comedic purposes? Of course. Is he taking the mickey out of his guests? Yes, though cheekily rather than insultingly.

But he was also being genuinely respectful in the face of what at times was open hostility and rudeness, working to allow his guests to get their message across, no matter how abhorrent he or members of his audience may have found it.

In response to his audience’s reaction, Brand announces:

Thank you, I appreciate your vocal respect, but these people are here to explain something to me, and it does take courage and bravery to come in front of a room full of people you think almost certainly aren’t going to agree with you, but let’s hear what they have to say, because I’m actually very interested.

Here, Brand adopts a position of ‘curiosity without judgement’ in order to hear another’s point of view. After being cast as a ‘promoter of sin’, he listens patiently and without interruption as his guests explain:

When the Lord Jesus Christ said to ‘love your neighbour as yourself, you love your neighbour as yourself by warning them when their sin is taking them to hell. And as a matter of fact, if you fail to warn your neighbour, you hate your neighbour in your heart. So by a Bible standard, we love you all, and I know you can’t believe that from your goofy Hallmark standard, but from a Bible standard, we love you. And by a Bible standard, he (Brand) hates you (the audience). And, you probably hate each other.

In his Essex accent (which makes what he says all the funnier), a bemused Brand looks directly into the camera and exclaims:

‘Bloody ‘ell! It’s like a really, tricky, quiz of hate!’

Later on, he offers a view counter to those of his guests, pointing out that although they are ‘good on the scripture’:

Have you considered that the Bible, like all religious doctrine, may be allegorical and symbolic, to direct us toward one holy entity of love, as opposed to a specific, litiginous text to direct the behaviour of human beings?

Notice how unlike his guests, Brand puts forward his view not as a forceful statement of position but as a question, an invitation to converse. At this point the following exchange occurs:

[RB] The Bible wasn’t literally written by a cosmic entity, it was written by people! People!

[WBC] It was written by the Holy Spirit.

[RB] The Holy Spirit – ain’t got a pen!

screen shot from the clip where Brand is telling the WBC that the Bible was not literally written by a cosmic entity

This last comment generates peals of laughter from the audience, and some conflict with the WBC. Brand then attempts to find common ground, without yielding his position.

There were several moments in the segment where Brand managed to get both his audience and his guests laughing for the same reason, at the same time – either by his persona or by making himself the object of amusement. Watch the WBC guys’ faces at 2:20, where even they lose their composure in the face of Brand’s irresistible eccentricity.

Imagine being able to sustain for longer those instances where deeply opposed groups found, momentarily, a commonality through laughter.

Ironically, Brand was far more the embodiment of the Christian values of tolerance and turning the other cheek than his guests.

He was able to maintain a fine balance between being inquisitive and non-reactive, and squeezing comedy gold out of the clash of values.

And he showed far more ability to be open to conversing with others ‘not-like-me’ than many people and groups in society.

Russell Brand’s leadership skills, intellect, wit, empathy and command of English in this exchange are admirable – this sets a standard for those in positions of power, who, if they really want to pimp their brand, would do well to learn from his example.

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The Powers of Change

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cartoon of Jesus Christ with a captive audience of The Hulk, Spiderman and Captain America: '...and that's how I saved the world!'

Creating successful, positive change is rewarding – it’s just the process of getting there that is testing, and makes you wish you had change agent superpowers!

But what is ‘power’, exactly? What kinds of powers are there, who has them and how can they be used?

Power is the ability to make things happen to achieve goals – and it can take a number of different forms.

Social psychologists French and Raven identified five types of power in their 1959 work ‘The bases of social power’:

  • Coercive
  • Reward
  • Legitimate
  • Referent
  • Expert

Raven later identified a sixth separate and distinct base of power – Informational.

In my view, these powers could also be characterised as ‘intrinsic’ or ‘extrinsic’ powers, and despite the apparent positivity and negativity of each, they all have a ‘light’ and ‘shadow’ (positive and negative) aspect.

Coercive power (‘stick’) is about punishment for non-compliance and the use of physical force, intimidation or other threats (consequences of non-compliance, such as fines, disapproval) to make someone do something against their will or intent. In its ‘light’ form, it could manifest as the protection of a child from harm or stopping a speeding driver. In its ‘shadow’ form, it could be used in political oppression. It may be intrinsic, as a result of physical size or strength, or an extrinsic power such as a weapon or threat of withholding a reward (extrinsic, because both can be lost by the coercer, eg. disarming them of their weapon, which then shifts the balance of power).

Reward power (‘carrot’) is the promise and/or ability to give other people what they want, or remove what they don’t want, in exchange for something you want them to do (light), and also the act or threat of punishment by withholding rewards (shadow). It can be intrinsic, such as withholding affection, or extrinsic, such as withholding money, promotion or a reward that depends on a third party.

Legitimate power (‘authority’) is invested in a societal position role (such as a judge, a King or Queen, a Chief Executive, a Minister), or derived from social rules and norms. Positional power can be used to uphold those norms (light), and it can also be abused (shadow). It is typically an extrinsic power ie. the weight of authority or influence travels with the position, not the person. notes:

A common trap that people in such roles can fall into is to forget that people are obeying the position, not them. When they either fall from power or move onto other things, it can be a puzzling surprise that people who used to fawn at your feet no long do so.

Referent power (‘esteem’) is the ‘popularity power’, that of the charismatic and famous, those people are attracted to and want to be like, or be associated with – think rock stars, elite athletes, social leaders, actors. Referent power is also held by those who have earned respect from others for their integrity, contributions and personal qualities. This power is about social status or standing, and can sometimes overlap with legitimate/positional power, such as in the case of charismatic leaders or political figures. Raven and French offer the following caution as to which powers are in play:

We must try to distinguish between referent power and other types of power which might be operative at the same time. If a member is attracted to a group and he conforms to its norms only because he fears ridicule or expulsion from the group for nonconformity, we would call this coercive power. On the other hand if he conforms in order to obtain praise for conformity, it is a case of reward power.

Referent power can be used as a ‘currency’ to draw attention to issues and causes (light), and it can also be abused for personal advantage or used for coercion by socially excluding others (shadow). It is typically an intrinsic power embodied in a person, although it is also extrinsic in that it is granted to someone by public opinion, and if those with it fall from favour then the power vanishes.

Expert power (‘know-how’) is held by those with knowledge and skill that someone else requires. It can be used to solve problems and determine options for action (light), or to obfuscate and confuse (shadow). This power is intrinsic, although its value can diminish as a result of extrinsic circumstances eg. if the need for that expertise declines.

Informational power (‘know-what’) is possession of or access to valuable information that, if it is accepted, may persuade people to change their opinions and/or behaviours. It could be used for awareness and empowerment (light), or with the selective use, concealment or framing of information in a certain way, it can be used for shaping behaviour that supports a hidden agenda, propaganda etc (shadow). It is intrinsic if guarded and used to control, but extrinsic in that competing sources of information may be able to displace it.

In my experience, there are two other forms of power that don’t fall within French and Raven’s types:

Connection (‘know-who’)

The power of weak or ‘loose’ ties (acquaintances, friends of friends, online connections) as social glue has been well documented since the 1970s.

Knowing who is who, who does what, what they are interested in, what they are looking for, and who can help you or others, enables matching of ‘offers and needs’ and is very powerful in making things happen, especially where there is little money.

This is, in fact, how informal economies work – through social capital (see Trust) and gift culture. It is connection that has, among many examples in the digital era, powered the emergence of the sharing or collaborative economy (see Shareable, Collaborative Consumption and The Mesh) and augmented the speed and reach of popular uprisings such as the Arab Spring.

‘Connection’ power has been defined elsewhere as ‘access to others who can provide rewards or sanctions’, but my interpretation here is different.

Trust (‘relationships’)

If people know and trust you, it means you can Get Stuff Done. It is the power of relationships, which was identified in a survey of leaders as the single most important power that they currently leverage with their superiors and their peers, and which is seen as the most important power to cultivate in the future. Underpinning the emergence of the sharing or collaborative economy is the idea of ‘trust between strangers’. Reputation, a measure of how much people trust you, is literally a new currency in the digital age, expanding circles of trust and access to resources, skills and contacts far beyond those which could previously only be cultivated through in-person interaction.

So maybe you’re not in a position of influence in your organisation or group – but it doesn’t mean you can’t be influential:

…relying on legitimate power as your only way to influence others isn’t enough. To be a leader, you need more than this – in fact, you may not need legitimate power at all. Anyone is capable of holding power and influencing others: you don’t need to have an important job title or a big office. But if you recognize the different forms of power, you can avoid being influenced by those who use the less effective types of power – and you can focus on developing expert and referent power for yourself. This will help you become an influential and positive leader.

In fact, in the long run, it is the intrinsic, personal powers that are the most effective, not rewards, coercion or pulling rank – even the most powerful positional leaders must operate from this basis if they are to be successful:

Paradoxically, unless it is well supported by other forms, legitimate power lacks higher-order legitimacy.  Lack of such legitimacy is why organisational hierarchies are often ignored…employees simply fail to volunteer referent power to those occupying superior positions in the organisational hierarchies.

So never assume you are powerless or don’t have as much power as someone else. Do a stocktake of the powers at your disposal – these may be powers you have, or those others who are willing to support you have. For example, you may have the best plan or idea, but someone else may be your best messenger. Assess what you already have and do well, stick to the ‘light’ side with your use of power, and cultivate those powers you’re not as strong on yet. Know the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of of power, and when it is appropriate to use them.

index card with Venn diagram - circle A 'what your job description says' nested inside circle B 'what you can do'

Image credit

Even superheroes don’t have all the powers they need for what they must do. Superman was stopped in his tracks by Kryptonite. Batman couldn’t turn invisible. Spiderman couldn’t breathe under water. They can all do different things well because of their unique abilities, but for certain tasks, they too need the abilities of others.

If you’ve ever hit a brick wall or ended up down a cul-de-sac with your change efforts, feeling powerless and frustrated, remember – there is more than one kind of power that you can leverage.

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Leadership on the Line: Responses to Leadership Challenges

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leadership on the line book cover

This is the second of a two-part post on this book.

Following on from the first part of this review of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, this week we examine the authors’ suggested responses and approaches for leaders facing challenges.

Get On The Balcony

The authors use the metaphor of ‘going up on the balcony’, as if to overlook a ballroom floor full of dancers, which enables a different perspective than being among the dancers.

While it is important to ‘become the witness’ – the observer of yourself and your role in a situation, as well as observing others – it’s also important to then get back on the floor again to take action and be a participant.

The authors suggest techniques for avoiding blind spots and traps (ie. missing perspectives), including finding out where people are at by being curious about their views, and starting where they are, not where you are.

Think Politically

Work out who are your allies (people who are with you); who are your opponents (people who are against you, or appear to be against you – but do you understand why?) and those who are uncommitted (may be wary, or may be waiting to be convinced).

Do some market segmentation on the field of players to help you understand their motivations and connections – draw up a matrix and list who you think are your allies, potential supporters, resisters etc are, then think about the following questions in relation to each:

  • Who They Are – what work are they doing/where are they at, how does it connect to the situation at hand?
  • Perception – how do you want this group to see and respond to this issue?
  • Alignments, Clashes – where might this group see the issue aligning with theirs – or not?
  • Engagement Story – what’s in it for this group, what’s the benefit?

Partnerships can be important, as it is easier for your opposition to push you aside if you are on your own, and partnerships can strengthen the credibility of an initiative by bringing in a diversity of viewpoints. However, the flip side is that partners might push their ideas, requiring you to compromise your own, thereby slowing you down and diluting your leadership.

The authors make a critical point in noting:

Partners who are members of the faction for whom the change is most difficult can make a huge difference…Know their existing alliances and loyalties so that you realise how far you are asking them to stretch if they are to collaborate with you.

Don’t discount the value of partners whose perspectives differ from yours – if you can find some common ground and collaborate effectively, these partners can be more powerful in effecting a shift than those already allied.

Further along the spectrum of difference, the book advises working as closely with opponents as with supporters:

Opponents have the most to lose by your success, your allies the least; for opponents to change will cost them in terms of disloyalty to their own constituency; for allies it may cost nothing…

Pay close attention to those who will be most affected by the change you are proposing – your opponents are the ones most in need of your compassion.

Orchestrate the Conflict

Bugs Bunny as Leopold, the conductor

Conflict is typically seen as something to be avoided, or a source of disturbance or danger. Yet it is through conflict – with those who think differently or hold different values – that we can learn and even be transformed through having our own experiences and assumptions challenged.

Leadership requires working with difference and conflict in a way that can simultaneously harness the energy this generates, and diminish its destructive potential.

Changing the status quo generates tension and produces heat by surfacing hidden conflicts and challenging organisational culture. It’s a deep and natural human impulse to seek order and calm, and organizations and communities can only tolerate so much distress before recoiling.

The authors speak of ‘controlling the temperature’ and ‘setting the pace’ as being about knowing how much, and how quickly, an organisation or community can tolerate change.

The ‘heat’ needs to be high enough to get people to pay attention, or there is no distress and incentive for change. It’s also essential to turn the heat down when necessary, when tension becomes counterproductive or to allow people to focus on the task in front of them.

Even people who like a proposed change will need time to prepare and adjust. By spacing out the change over a longer period, it helps people to adapt. The authors note that ‘…change involves loss, and people can sustain only so much loss at any one time.’

Acknowledging people’s fears, breaking the change down into parts (eg. timeframes, roles, so that the change is framed like a more familiar technical problem), temporarily bearing more of the responsibility, using humour and fun can all help people cope with the scale and speed of change.

Celebrating shared successes, and regular reminders about the positive vision being worked towards can help make the pain of change feel worthwhile as well as diminishing the pressure for keeping the status quo. People who are focused on ‘what could be’ are less likely to be caught up in what will be ‘let go’ as a result of the change.

Orchestrate the conflict, don’t become it.

Give The Work Back

How many of you have found yourselves in the situation where, by virtue of your job title or reputation, you have become the ‘sustainability’ or ‘environment’ person in your organisation?

In many cases, such people see themselves and/or are seen by others as carrying the majority (or total amount) of the responsibility for effecting change. This conveniently absolves others in the organisation from taking on their share of the responsibility.

You gain credibility and authority in your career by demonstrating your capacity to take other people’s problems off their shoulders and give them back solutions…all of this is a virtue, until you find yourself facing adaptive pressures for which you cannot deliver solutions…the situation calls for mobilizing the work of others rather than knowing the way yourself…When you fulfil people’s expectations, they will call you admirable and courageous, and this is flattering. But challenging their expectations of you requires even more courage.

For a long time, I carried with me an ethos of service – to ‘fix’ other people’s questions, demands, needs. It is difficult for ‘people pleasers’ like myself to understand that service can also mean helping people to develop their own capacities, which they will not do if they have someone to troubleshoot for them. There is an art to knowing how to help, but not help too much.

In addition, if you take on the issue, you can become identified with it and then the way to get rid of the issue is to get rid of you! Taking on the problems of others means taking on the risk.

You stay alive in the practice of leadership by reducing the extent to which you become the target of people’s frustrations. The best way to stay out of range is to think constantly about giving the work back to the people who need to take responsibility.

Anyone who has ever gritted their teeth when yet another committee has been formed, or more research called for, or another meeting arranged in lieu of decisive action will recognise the symptoms of ‘work avoidance’, which arise from not wanting to confront difficult or painful change:

…denial, scapegoating, reorganising, passing the buck (setting up another committee), finding an external enemy, blaming authority, character assassination. These mechanisms reduce the level of distress in an organization or community by deflecting attention from the tough issues and shifting responsibility away from the people who need to change.

Leaders must take the work off of their own shoulders, and place the work where it belongs.

One way of giving the work back is to make observations – statements that reflect back to people their behaviour or describe current conditions (effectively, shifting the group ‘onto the balcony’).

You can follow an observation with a question – such as ‘what’s really going on here’, or ‘what is the real issue that is preventing a resolution?’

Be aware: if you incorporate your understanding of events into the question, it becomes a loaded question which may be seen as you attempting to manipulate the group into assuming your interpretation is true, and starting the discussion from this point.

You can follow an observation with an interpretation – not a question, but offering your interpretation of events.

Be aware: people generally do not like their statements or actions interpreted by others. Offer the interpretation, then listen for the way the group responds.

Hold Steady

By its very nature, adaptive change work generates ‘heat’ and resistance, creating danger for leaders. Perhaps the hardest kind of heat is when it is coming from friends and allies, who may want things calmed down rather than stirred up, as ‘heat’ is expected from your opposition.

Learning how to stomach hostility and anger is a difficult but essential ability for the change agent:

The people you challenge will test your steadiness and judge your worthiness by your response to their anger…receiving people’s anger without becoming personally defensive generates trust. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi…Mohammed, Jesus, Moses – all gained extraordinary credibility and moral authority by receiving anger with grace. Receiving anger is a sacred task, because it tests us in our most sensitive places. It demands that we remain true to a purpose beyond ourselves, and stand by people compassionately, even when they unleash demons. Taking the heat with grace communicates respect for the pains of change.

Silence and stillness are both ways of keeping your cool when things are turbulent. Learn to identify, and know how to handle, different ego states.

Often, leaders will be thinking and acting ahead of the group they are leading. But be careful not to get too far ahead, and try to push an issue before it has ‘ripened’ or you may find that both you and the issue are sidelined.

Wait until the issue is ripe – when there is a widespread urgency to deal with it – or ripen it yourself.

Factors that determine whether an issue becomes ripe include:

  • what other concerns are people engaged with?
  • how deeply are people affected by the problem?
  • how much do people need to learn?
  • what are the senior authority figures saying about the issue?

There is a relationship between the level of knowledge and attention about an issue, and it’s level of ‘ripeness’. The authors point out that a crisis can change the level of both very quickly (eg. tragedies generate the urgency to tackle issues), and that sometimes creating a crisis is the only way to shift the focus to the issue so that it can ripen.

Authority figures are important, because they can command and direct people’s attention – however, be mindful of the position your authority figures are in when engaging with them:

Those who have authority put it at risk by seeking to raise unripe issues. They may not move out the front to take a stand; they may need to help other people to ripen an issue to leave their hands free to orchestrate the conflict…For people exercising leadership without or beyond their authority, ripening an issue becomes more difficult, requiring more dramatic and therefore riskier steps.

In terms of directing attention, a useful observation by the authors is that people may see routine mechanisms for getting attention as being about routine (and therefore ignorable) problems.

How can you change your engagement strategies to maximise attention, and ‘interrupt’ the business-as-usual frequency? If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had – so what can you do differently? The recent example of how the University of Adelaide took what could have been a routine process of deciding on loan funding and turned it into an event is one way.

There is so much of value in Leadership on the Line that two blog posts cannot do it justice. A useful snapshot summary of the book can be found in this slideshare presentation, however I would strongly recommend getting hold of a copy of the book and taking on board the wisdom captured within it.

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Leadership on the Line: The Heart of Danger, The Faces of Danger

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leadership on the line book cover

This is the first of a two-part post on this book.

Do you consider yourself a leader? If you’re intent on creating change, you already are!

One of the most useful books I’ve read that has helped my work is Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through The Dangers of Leading by Martin Linsky and Ronald A. Heifetz of the John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. It was recommended to me by a colleague who had participated in the Governor’s Leadership Foundation.

What makes this book worth a spot on the change agent’s bookshelf is best summed up in a review by President Emeritus of Harvard University, Derek C. Bok:

This is not a conventional book about how to inspire and lead a large organization. It is a much more ambitious work that describes the personal challenges and tactical problems that arise in trying to exert a constructive influence in all kinds of organizational settings.

Leaders are typically engaged in adaptive rather than technical challenges – technical challenges are where there are known solutions and processes, and where people’s routines and behaviours need to change. But adaptive challenge is where there are no ‘known’ ways to resolve complex issues, and when change in hearts and minds is needed. The authors caution leaders about being pressured into treating adaptive challenges as technical.

Leadership on the Line provides insights into why change-work and leadership creates challenging professional and personal situations in ‘The Heart of Danger’, and the varying ways in which the forces of resistance will attempt to neutralise efforts for change in ‘The Face of Danger’. It then sets out five challenges for adaptive leadership, and also approaches and techniques for self-care.

The Heart of Danger

When we are seeking to create change, we are often in the position where we must tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. When we are pushing people to question long-held values, beliefs or habits, this makes us appear dangerous to people.

How do people typically respond to danger? Fight or flight. Possibly more familiar to leaders in this day and age as resist or avoid!

People do not fight change per se – they want to avoid perceived loss. We expect our leaders to be the heroes and have ready answers, rather than raising questions that go to the heart of how we think and behave. We expect our leaders to protect us from the pains of change.

Yet as Linsky and Heifetz point out, the chances of successful change depends on people internalising the change, not being sheltered from it or having it resolved for them.

The dangers of exercising leadership derive from the nature of the problems for which leadership is necessary. Adaptive change stimulates resistance because it challenges people’s habits, beliefs, and values. It asks them to take a loss, experience uncertainty, and even express disloyalty to people and cultures. Because adaptive change forces people to question and perhaps redefine aspects of their identity, it also challenges their sense of competence. Loss, disloyalty, and feeling incompetent: That’s a lot to ask. No wonder people resist.

Effective leadership lies in the capacity to deliver disturbing news and raise difficult questions in a way – and at a rate – that people can absorb, prodding them to take up the message rather than ignoring it, or killing the messenger.

The Face of Danger 

man in suit holding a black face mask over his face, having just taken off a similar white face mask

There are many different manifestations of danger that may present themselves to the change agent. The objective of these manifestations, which appear in a range of guises, is to neutralise those who are exercising leadership in order to preserve the status quo.

According to Linsky and Heifetz, the ‘masks’ danger can present itself in are:

  • Marginalisation

Leaders should endeavour to orchestrate conflict – that is, managing the range of different interests – rather than embodying it. The authors warn that becoming the embodiment of an issue under your authority is dangerous, as it ties not only a leader’s success, but very survival, to that issue.

  • Diversion

Been promoted unexpectedly? Had some enjoyable or important tasks handed to you? Finding yourself lost in others’ demands? Take pause and consider whether this is a tactic to divert you from addressing an uncomfortable issue.

  • Attack

An attack on the person with the message wastes the currency of leadership – attention. Linsky and Heifetz note that no one criticises when you have good news or rewards, they do so when they don’t like the message:

The spectacle of attack…creates a drama and moves people away from underlying issues…By personally responding to attackers, leaders are colluding with the attacker in distracting the public from the real target.

Hence it is critical for change agents to be aware of ego states, and know how to handle personal attacks.

  • Seduce

This mask is about losing your sense of purpose, and happens when your guard is down, when defence mechanisms are lowered by the nature of the approach. It can emerge from those opposing you, or from within your own supporter base – for example, are you finding you are keeping those close happy at the expense of a broader group?

These masks are intended to neuter the disturbance created by change leaders, maintain what is familiar, and protect people from the pain of change.

Leadership requires the ability to recognise the manifestations of danger, and also the skills to respond effectively to them.

In part two of this post next week, we’ll examine Linsky and Heifetz’s responses to leadership challenges.

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Changemaker Profile – Dana Pearlman

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This is the fourth in a series of Changemaker Profiles, which introduces the work of changemakers I know and admire, and offers insights into their approaches to communication and change work.

Dana Pearlman is co-founder of the Global Leadership Lab, bringing together systemic change-makers to transform our world towards a thriving ecosystem through leadership, community and project/venture acceleration. She is co-author and publisher of The Lotus: A Practice Guide for Authentic Leadership Towards Sustainability. Please see Dana’s longer bio at the end of this post.

headshot of dana pearlman

1. Tell us about the work you are involved with:

In modern society, we have become fragmented and disconnected from many aspects of our true selves, disconnected from one another and from our deep human need for community and from our planet. My work is about reconnecting people to their true selves, to their values, to one another and to our greater global community.

I host conversations that matter and design and deliver learning experiences that enable transformation at the individual and collective levels.  My work aims to support capacity building in change-makers to help them become more effective in their work through collaborative and authentic leadership development as well as venture acceleration that aims to change the world for the better.

Oftentimes, world-changing ventures do not get the support they need to make an impact. We are building an ecosystem of systemic change-makers to support these ventures and giving them the attention they need to thrive.

2. What motivated you to be doing this work?

A number of years ago I went through a period of great discontent. I was no longer satisfied with my career and life path. I felt called to do something much more meaningful and I needed to be part of the healing of our planet.

I ended up attending an amazing graduate program in Sweden, and obtained a masters degree in strategic leadership towards sustainability. I actually ignored the fact that the word leadership was in the title, and while attending the program realized the huge global deficit in the kind of leadership that is needed in our world is also at the root of our current modern day challenges.

The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.

Bill O’Brien (from the book Theory U by Otto Scharmer)

During the Swedish program my colleagues and I had a webinar with Otto Scharmer and he shared this quote. This sent a few of us into an exploration of what is the ideal interior state of the intervener?

We began speaking to a myriad of leaders working in transformational spaces and encountered a massive leverage point for change: Leaders that are authentic, and use their personal learning experiences enable vulnerability in those around them, it is these encounters that enable change. This simple yet profound realization is game changing. If you create spaces of meaning and vulnerability, healing will take place.

During this exploration we also synthesized 9 capacities authentic leaders find essential in their work (these include: being present, compassion, personal power, suspension and letting go, intention aligned with higher purpose, whole self awareness, whole system awareness, having a sense of humor and holding paradoxes, ambiguities and multiple world views).

Further, we explored the practices that enable the development of these capacities, such as yoga, meditation, dialogue, peer learning. aikido and many other practices. There is a freely downloadable guidebook here.

3. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

It is all rewarding. Even the struggles. The human experience is a complex, juicy and relentless journey and in my work I am constantly being invited to deepen my own self-awareness in order to hold space for others to do likewise. I am reminded daily of the profound beauty that exists when I am able to be present with another human being and that when I really take the time to listen to another person there is an entire new universe to understand and connect to.

The work I get to participate in in our world vastly surpasses what I could have ever hoped for.

4. What do you feel is your biggest communication challenge?

I work in human complexity. When one thing is out of alignment (in ourselves or in our relationships) it blocks movement and transformation is stunted. At any given moment, a plethora of human dynamics are at play between our relationships to ourselves, and with one another.

I am constantly building capacity in myself to recognize these blocks and to address them compassionately and fearlessly. On some days better than others!

The key is to express yourself and be with those that invite this!

5. How do you handle a situation when you find yourself in conflict with someone about your work or ideas?

The pattern is typically to react. However, the goal is to navigate these moments with grace and a heightened sense of awareness. The practice is to notice the arising reaction and to take a breath. Recognize what is happening in the present moment and really focus in on hearing their perspective, or taking some space until I am able to really hear them.

In this work, it is not about agreeing with one another, it is about the willingness to listen to another human being for the simple fact that they are a human being and deserve to be heard and recognized. That is where real transformation occurs, when we can deeply care enough to listen. That is where social trust unfolds and begins to heal ourselves and our planet. It is in these small gestures of caring for another that healing occurs.

6. What’s your best piece of advice for change-makers and activists?

Rule number 6. Don’t take yourself, others and the world so f%#$ing seriously. When we were researching authentic leaders, the capacity that was essential for this kind of work was having a sense of humor. Without lightheartedness we will forget to enjoy the journey of deeply caring for our planet. Remember to take time for yourself, to reflect and remember why you are doing this work and to source your work from your deepest values and cares.

Oh, and if you don’t already have your tribe, find them! We need to be around each other doing this work!

Dana Pearlman designs and facilitates action learning experiences. Her academic background is in clinical psychology and strategic leadership towards sustainability. She uses participatory facilitation processes, frameworks and powerful questions to enable deeper wisdom at the individual, team, community and collective levels. Her sweet spot is at the intersection of authentic leadership, tapping into other ways of knowing (beyond cognition) the world, collective healing and community building in order to accelerate the profound transformation that is needed in our world. She co-authored and published: The Lotus: A practice guide for Authentic Leadership towards Sustainability. Dana is also co-creating a start up, the Global Leadership Lab, that is bringing together systemic change-makers to transform our world towards a thriving ecosystem through leadership, community and project/venture acceleration, working with ventures that will impact 1 billion people or more. 

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