This story is an old one, told in many ways, which all involve a little girl watching her mother prepare a fish for dinner. Her mother cut the head and tail off the fish and then placed it into a baking pan. The little girl asked her mother: “Why do you cut the head and tail off the fish?” Her mother thought for a while and then said, “I’ve always done it that way – that’s how grandma did it.”
Not satisfied with the answer, the little girl went to visit her grandma to find out why she cut the head and tail off the fish before baking it.
Grandma thought for a while and replied, “I don’t know. My mother always did it that way.”
So the little girl and the grandma went to visit great grandma to ask her if she knew the answer.
Great grandma thought for a while and said, “Because my baking pan was too small to fit in the whole fish.”
On first reading, this is a poignant tale about the need to challenge the way things “have always been done” and whether they are still serving. This applies at an organisational level, at a cultural level, at a behavioural level, right down to the level of mindset. The story also illustrates that everyone can be a leader, demonstrated through the leadership of the young child who leads by asking “Why?”
At a deeper level, the story points us to the need to access diversity in organisations. It is one thing to encourage and promote diversity, which occurs more and more, albeit at a surface level. Organisations may seek to attract and recruit a more diverse workforce: more women (or men), persons who identify as LGBTQ, persons who are not of the dominant racial, cultural or religious tradition(s) of a society, or persons with a visible or non-visible disability. But that’s not enough.
The shift from surface diversity to deeper diversity is one of leadership and inclusion. It has to be because diversity has little impact if it is not part of the organisational conversation.
- Can everyone contribute to the conversation?
- Can everyone influence the conversation?
- Do all have access to decision makers or an ability to influence decisions?
- At a simple level, can everyone influence the topics of conversation?
This is about allowing everyone in the organisation to formally participate in the life of the organisation.
There are a myriad of reasons why this is important, but an often overlooked one is the impact of inclusivity on innovation. Inclusivity makes a difference to what we know now and to what is possible next.
We believe that the future strength of a leader will not be measured by what they know but rather by who they know – those who are of the system and can reveal it’s patterns and behaviour. Accessing diversity means that you can discover what is happening in the system and why it is happening. This was the gift of the little girl above.
But innovation comes not from just being aware of what is happening in the system. It comes from hearing and seeing and feeling what wants to emerge from the system. Not what is happening but what wants to happen. The system is not just the people in the organisation, particles if you will, but rather an entity which exists as a result of the people in the organisation and the relationships between all the people in the context in which it exists. How can you, as a leader, more fully be in relationship and aware of the system of which you are part? How can you as a fish become more aware not just of the water that you swim in, but aware of the water and the river you swim in: where it is coming from and where it is going.
The Presencing Institute offers some questions which open our hearts and minds to the possibilities that exist in all systems:
- What in your life and work is dying or ending, and what wants to be born?
- Where, right now, do you feel the opening to a future possibility?
- Watch the journey of your community/ organization/ collective movement from above. What are you trying to do in the present stage of your collective journey?
- Imagine you could fast-forward to the very last moments of life, when it is time for you to move on. Now look back on your life’s journey as a whole. What would you want to see at the moment? What footprint do you want to leave behind on this planet?
- From that future point of view, what advice would your future Self offer to your current self?
Our role as leaders is to connect to the deep diversity of our organisations, to be curious and to listen. The system holds the answer. Your job is to discover what the system has to say.
Contact us to discover how to hear the possibilities that are waiting for you in your organisation.