Fluid leadership: The illusion of the Wham Bam experience

Why individual and team healing and development is about ongoing grieving practices not peak quick-fixes

Sienna Miller

“Share now”, “buy now”, “swipe right for luv tonight”. We live in a world of the ‘instant fix’. This expectation of often tech-enabled rapid gratification pervades our lives: in social discourse, in how we consume, in the bedroom.

However, it is in leadership, team and human development that the notion of the quick fix really is a myth.

A current high-profile example of this is Sienna Miller’s recent psyhco-detox. Four thousand dollars and a week in a stately home and apparently that’s it - detoxed! All out of the system, and hey presto she has “an immense about of space” in her head and “there is no fucking noise in it for the first time”.

Sorry Sienna, I don’t buy it. The Hoffman process is an example of what what could be called the “get-well-quick” phenomenon. The most famous exponent of this trade is Tony Robbins, but of course there are many variants on the same idea. It goes something like this:

1. Tell someone your problems - the ‘audit’

2. Come to understand those problems; put them in context

3. Now let---it---go.

The all important final step of letting go, “putting the past in the past”, forgiving them, making it all meaningless. Whatever the flavour, it’s all mind washing. It remains in the mostly in the cerebellum - with only cursory engagement of our deeper emotional centres. All mental tricks to have you feel better for a few weeks, a few months, maybe even years if you keep telling yourself the same thing every day, usually supported by a peer group of like minded solipsists.

I believe that these “audit-understand-let go” processes are woefully lightweight when it comes to personal development. In terms of effort, they pale in magnitude to the real development work of painstakingly reliving and grieving all of our early negative experiences. Those same early experiences that subconsciously had you at the knees of Hoffman, Landmark Education, Tony Robbins, CBT, NLP, your local yogi.

For the real healing that I’m describing, I like the analogy of emptying a bathtub with a teaspoon: there might be times when it feels like you'll never make it, like it's totally pointless and it's not worth the effort. However, given enough time and determination, it is possible to empty a bathtub with a spoon. It can not be done in a weekend. It can not be done in a week. A lifetime may not be sufficient, but you’ll definitely get better along the way.

Coming back to Miller's comments .. I think the clue to the truncated nature of her 'recovery' is in her language. Again, she speaks of 'an immense about of space’ in her head and ‘no fucking noise in it for the first time'. Real growth and recovery is a grounded, full body experience - the mind does not ‘empty’, it gradually normalises. The thinking becomes more rooted in reality and the body becomes less agitated .. less taxed by the weight of needing to repress old pain. The mind doesn’t empty; it settles - slowly.

I see a clear the parallel in the world of business ... businesses who make the investment in properly grieving their losses, as opposed to obsessing about ‘staying positive’ benefit enormously over time. The remain more in touch with reality and ultimately better able to respond to their environment.

The best example today of a formalised grief process in business is the custom of Agile retrospectives. Teams and companies who commit to regular retrospectives and to grieve their collective pain effectively are better at aligning their efforts to what’s really working. They actively and ongoingly seek to break any delusions they might hold about their environment. They are much less at risk of having to prop up failing features, products or processes.

This communal grieving is relatively speaking, a huge investment. Nobody writes any code or sells any product in these sessions, but the benefits are enormous. They don't have to put in all the management effort of maintaining great, wasteful edifices of self-denial .. they're able to be honest with themselves, grieve and build afresh .. their collective mind isn't 'empty', it is firmly rooted in reality.

Here at SLP Global, we have developed “Agile ++”. This is our strategic, industry agnostic approach to Agile. Whilst incorporating much of the Agile and Lean Start Up thinking and approaches, it also places ‘grief’ as a part go the daily practice. What we mean by ‘grief’ in this context, is the daily acknowledgement and letting go of things that didn’t work out. This means we learn faster and quicker, we are constantly cleansing the emotional and psychological team space. This is not about positive thinking, or ‘pep talks’. It’s about allowing hope and a constantly refreshed sense of possibility emerging naturally as a result of letting the grieving process to take its course.

Richard is an SLP Global partner, speaker, writer and a highly experienced leader of transformational programmes.

A huge thank you to Neil for his editing of this piece.