s.u.m.m.e.r. ix: holding

“Rage!”, exclaims Siu, “Black and murderous rage!”. Siu reports back from the first day of your company’s annual session for honoring all reasonable projects (s.h.a.r.p.). The session was established a few years ago to have all members of the top 200 present which of their past projects worked and which failed. The group is then supposed to jointly agree on the set of projects for the next six months. “They got into fights about everything. From apples to belts, from ships to horses – everything”. “I heard about it already”, you say, “but speak and tell the tale once more”.

“Well”, says Siu, “First, the South American team presented a proposal for a ‘magic belt’. It supposedly transports orders directly from customers’ minds into our sales systems. Then, the Mediterranean team countered with a proposal for a virtual reality horse which allows users to experience being inside an animal. And finally the North American team brought their ‘Homer App’ which shows you what you’d look like as a Simpsons character. Then, they all fought. I thought there would be killing till the score was paid”.

“The fools”, you say, “destroyed by their own recklessness”.

Again and again, leaders see people in their organizations firmly holding on to views, ideas, processes, or structures – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. In many cases, this is not a problem at all. It’s actually mostly beneficial when employees embrace the company vision, embody company values, follow safety procedures, or work according to job descriptions.

In many cases, however, people are holding on to stuff simply because it’s theirs – because this is how it was always done, because this is how others do it, because they invented it, or because it worked for them once in the past. And nobody likes to give up what is theirs. When holding on doesn’t make sense, leaders have to accompany people in their organizations in the difficult process of becoming able to separate from what they’re clinging to. The managers at s.h.a.r.p. need to feel held themselves, so they become free to assess what to hold on to and what to let go.

As a leader, your job is to hold people in ways that make them feel equally safe about holding on and about letting go, following criteria that make sense for your organization. Often, this can be achieved by carefully listening to people’s reasons for holding on, so that hearing others’ wishes you can separate holding on that makes sense from holding on for holding on’s sake.

“Let’s make an end of their anger”, you say. “It does not become us, unrelentingly to rage on. Tomorrow, we’ll make them switch projects, so each presents what the other thought up. Can you help me to make this happen?”. Siu smiles and nods: “Yes”, he says, “yes I will Yes”.


* This is the ninth of a series of blog posts exploring some uniquely motivating mindfully elaborated ramblings (s.u.m.m.e.r.) of mine, written during my summer vacation in 2019, investigating topics and trends relevant for leaders in today’s multilayered world. All persons, situations, and dialogues quoted are purely fictional, albeit informed by what I see happening in companies I work with. If you want to know what I do when I work, read more here and here [retrieved July 9, 2019].

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