Address to 2023 Graduands

Address to 2023 Graduands

Address to the 2023 graduands

Thomas Mitchell

By Rhianna Perkin, alumnus, 2021 recipient of the John F Newton Award for academic excellence

Thank you for having me tonight – it is such a privilege to be speaking to you and celebrating with you.

In thinking about what to say tonight, what I would share with you, I thought I would draw on an approach my best friend took when I gave birth to my daughter – the sharing of the three quotes to live by….

“this too shall pass”
“do what you have to do to get through”
“don’t strive for perfection – you just need to be good enough”

No, just kidding, whilst these might hold some insights, they are the parenting mantras my friend gave me. Whilst there are many many useful concepts and quotes connected systems psychodynamics, the one I found myself often drawing upon and still come back to is from Bion.

Bion said “to dare to be aware of the facts of the universe in which we are existing calls for courage”.

Let me share with you some of my journey and why I have found this so useful. Almost 5 years ago, I had a conversation with my supervisor at the time about what was next in terms of my career development. I told him I was really interested in understanding more about teams and groups and the dynamics that I had seen play out. My supervisor gave me a couple of names to google as he had come across their work and thought it might be a good fit. The names were John Newton and Susan Long. Of course, it didn’t take me long to find NIODA from there. The following day I had submitted an enquiry, a brief conversation with Wendy Harding the day after that, and four weeks later I found myself sitting in a large room with four chairs in the centre facing each other (one of them empty and representing an absent classmate I had met once) and being told to “study the dynamics of the group as they arise”. This was a far cry from the lectures I attended in my previous studies…had I landed in some sort of rehab or group therapy by mistake? And how was I meant to “study the group dynamics” when there was only myself and one other member present?

What I haven’t shared here is that in between that fateful conversation with my clinical supervisor and sitting in that very small study group, I was told that my work role was being made redundant. This was a huge shock to me. I’d been with the organisation for over 10 years and, whilst I had taken up many different roles, I had in fact only worked for two organisations. It felt a bit like being told I was being kicked out of home. I wondered if stepping into further learning was the best idea right now.

Carl Jung once said, “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call if fate.”

 I felt my connection to NIODA was fate. What I didn’t realise then but have come to understand is that curiosity and learning is my port in the storm. When I feel at sea, I fear being lost forever, so I seek stability in the wisdom of others. Perhaps you too can think of times in your life when you have felt at sea – is that what brought you to NIODA? Fortunately for me (not least because COVID-19 would hit Australia 6 months later) a role was created for me and I was able to continue to work as an internal consultant whilst I studied. I had found my port for now and dropped anchor.

But it wasn’t just in the beginning that courage was needed. Studying in this field requires courage. Not just to return to studying whilst juggling work and other aspects of our lives, but because studying in this field requires us to look internally in order to make sense of what is happening externally. It requires us to develop negative capability – the ability to tolerate the uncertainty, the doubt, the not knowing. It requires us to acknowledge that our own behaviour may be “in service of the group” in a way that might leave us feeling manipulated, powerless. And yet it is often through these vulnerable moments, when we are able to lean into discomfort, complexity, and confusion that we learn the most.

This courage to lean in, with curiosity and an openness to understanding more deeply, has never been more necessary than now. In organisations, in Australian society, around the world, we can see evidence of defensive reactions to complex problems – the desire to look away or stick our head in the sand is strong. This is where systems psychodynamics comes in, where you come in!

But we cannot go it alone. I recall that when I sat where you are two years ago, I found myself really struggling to be fully present with the various speeches and celebrations. I was experiencing a bundle of conflicting, intertwined emotions. For example, on the one hand I was incredibly excited to have finished the program and proud of what I had achieved, but I was also nervous for what the future might hold, how I would go out into the world on my own with this new lens? How would I remember it all? Would it enable me to work with organisations to create change? Somebody really needed to remind me that Bion also said “without memory or desire”!

The reality is that you are not alone. You are part of one of the most unique and special communities of thinkers and practitioners – a community that speaks your language, shares your courage to lean into discomfort and complexity, and will willingly give their time to reflect and explore with you. I have a memory of Brigid suggesting in a session on how to reference in academic writing – think of yourself as in conversation with the authors of the papers you are drawing upon. We are not just in conversation with them now – we are part of that community – attempting to make sense of the messiness together. I hope I am speaking your “unthought known” here!

Upon finishing my studies, I was head-hunted for a role consulting to the corporate sector. This was a huge stretch for me, away from my for-purpose roots! This time I set sail with the knowledge that I was part of a community that I could draw upon, laugh with, learn from and grow with in an ongoing way. I’ve often drawn upon my learnings, applying the thinking in coaching and my consulting work. I’ve also drawn upon the community for supervision, peer reflection and further learning. It’s impressive when I see the progress those I graduated are making – some into more senior roles including director and CEO roles, some started or building their own businesses. I know it is said a lot, but this unlike other Masters programs – you are not leaving with a set of tools and frameworks that will date. You are leaving with a new lens to view the world and I’m sure, like me, the courage to use it, to lean in.

Finally, I want to congratulate you on this wonderful achievement and wish you each all the best for whatever comes next.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Understanding organisation dynamics

Understanding organisation dynamics

Thinking systemically and understanding organisation dynamics can be leadership and management SUPER-POWERS!

NIODA students certainly think so, often referring to new skills and capabilities as having an amazing new lens on the workplace. With a 100% satisfaction rate for graduates of the Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course. They know first-hand that being an organisational leader or managing a team can be enormously satisfying but equally can be frustrating and confusing. Why do smart, sensible people behave irrationally? Why does competition seem to outweigh collaboration? Why is it so hard to shift a toxic work culture? If, as neuroscientists are telling us, 95% of our brain activity is unconscious (Young 2018), then perhaps it’s little wonder these are the sorts of confounding questions preoccupying leaders and managers. How well equipped are most of us to make sense of the paradoxes and irrationality that are regular features of work life? How able are we to just ‘get on with the job’ when we are not aware of so much of what is occurring?

How well equipped are most of us to make sense of the paradoxes and irrationality that are regular features of work life?

Business degrees typically cover disciplines such as finance, marketing, operations, strategy and leadership and are designed to equip graduates to take on managerial and leadership roles. Taking a rational, cognitive approach to analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making is valued alongside developing effective teamwork and communication skills. However, this approach on its own is not enough when people and workplace dilemmas don’t respond to logical formulas, when emotions are running high and the capacity for coming up with sound and strategic business solutions is overwhelmed.

Applying an organisation dynamics lens

This is when taking a systems perspective and applying an organisation dynamics lens will help. Having an approach to discerning what might be really going on can feel like having secret superpowers for finding a way through the maze of workplace complexities.

The discipline of ‘systems psychodynamics’ is at the core of the National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA)’s post-graduate degrees in Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics). Founded in 2010 to provide high-quality education in systems psychodynamic approaches, NIODA builds on and continues the world-class programs first delivered at Swinburne University and RMIT University.

Study designed for work-experienced professionals

NIODA’s Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) is designed for experienced professionals who wish to develop their leadership and managerial capacities. In this world-renowned work-integrated program you learn to:
– analyse, understand and manage ‘below the surface’ group and organisational dynamics in organisations
– identify blockers to change due to structure, culture and technology
– work with the emotional labour of leading complex systems in fast-changing environments.

This part-time course supports the development of individual capacities to shape and take up work roles that are meaningful, values-based, and which serve the ultimate purpose of the organisation. It provides industry-relevant, post-graduate education grounded in rigorous conceptual development and work experience and provides opportunities for engagement with real-world learning in a social and global context.

Reflecting on study at NIODA with a graduate

It is so rewarding to hear about how this is being applied by a NIODA graduate who has taken up the option of a continuing professional development subscription with NIODA. I find it such a privilege to think with Laurette about her work and carry on exploring how the concepts and skills learned in the NIODA course can be applied in the workplace.

“I’m more comfortable with the complexity, I embrace ‘not knowing’ and observe what is emergent.”
– NIODA MLM(OD) Graduate, Laurette Chang-Leng

We recently reflected on how Laurette now takes up her role managing large and complex transformation projects as compared to when she came to NIODA. “In some ways, not much has changed, except for one major thing: my attitude and the perspective I bring… large, big-budget projects still have the feeling of being impossible, but now I’m more comfortable with the complexity, I embrace ‘not knowing’ and observe what is emergent. I sit back and think when others are focused on charging ahead, even when the train is heading for derailment! I have the confidence to call it out, and I am listened to – especially because I know the value of a good metaphor!” (an early subject in the course puts a spotlight on the ways in which metaphors are used in management practice and how working with them opens up understanding and new possibilities.)

Laurette and I also talked about the benefit of knowing about her own, what we call, ‘valences’ (predispositions) or what she is bringing into work encounters and what gets triggered for her. “I’m much more in tune with what’s mine and what’s not” – what belongs to the organisational system and others within it. This echoes something I wrote a couple of years ago: The course supports you to locate and integrate learning about yourself, who you are, where you have come from and all the ‘selves’ you are bringing with you to work.

I see the fruits of this self-knowledge all the time in our supervision sessions. Laurette has a courage and a curiosity for reflecting on roles, and what is being avoided or defended against. It is so exciting to witness how she is building capacity to take up bigger roles, for fostering healthier dynamics, and creating a more effective and resilient team and organisation.

Postgraduate study with 94.7% student satisfaction

Laurette is just one of the many students who have valued learning with NIODA. We are proud of the high 94.7% overall student satisfaction rating we have gained in the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT). QILT is a suite of government-endorsed surveys for higher education that NIODA has participated in since 2021. Currently, all 41 Australian universities and around 90 non-university higher education providers take part in the surveys. Over the two years of our participation, our students reported higher levels of satisfaction than the QILT national averages on key indicators including: learner engagement (NIODA received 97% compared with the national average of 42%), teaching quality (97% compared with 78%) and student support (97% compared with 74%). As institutes of higher education go, NIODA is small, but punching above its weight with these teaching and learning outcomes.

If you’re interested in knowing more about studying system psychodynamics and developing leadership and management superpowers, enrolments are open for 2024. We have two more preview sessions before the first semester starts in March. At these preview sessions, you will be introduced to NIODA and system psychodynamics and encouraged to consider if NIODA is where you’ll find your learning edge.

Young, E. (2018). ‘Lifting the Lid on the Unconscious’, New Scientist, Viewed 20 June 2023, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23931880-400-lifting-the-lid-on-the-unconscious/.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Hybrid working – the devil is in the detail

Hybrid working – the devil is in the detail

Hybrid working –
the devil is in the detail

Helen McKelvie & Thomas Mitchell

Helen McKelvie
Thomas Mitchell

An unconventional organisation, NIODA has operated across online and onsite modalities its whole life. Initially, the learning opportunities were always onsite as the experience of working together in a room is where the study of organisation dynamics began. By contrast, ‘running’ the organisation, forging a new direction for the study of organisation dynamics in Australia, leading a not-for-profit education institute, devising and managing a master’s degree, and establishing a workplace training and consulting practice, began with the founders and staff working virtually. Working from home wasn’t as accepted, or as easily achieved for a small start-up, in the ‘naughties’ as it is today, but NIODA found a way to make it work.

‘The work’, for NIODA staff revolves around developing high-quality experiences that support participants across academic and workplace activities, to develop practical skills and knowledge. Our work is differentiated by its attention to the experience participants have and the resultant insights gained. Going online as a mode of choice was out of mind for NIODA before COVID pushed much of our working lives into the digital universe. The unspoken assumption may have been something like, as a student, academic, coach, group or organisational participant, interacting online will not provide us with the depth or quality of experience we expect when it comes to working with organisation dynamics.

When COVID rapidly took hold, we went from ‘this is not what we do’, to the realisation and acceptance that, not only was it possible to do this work online but that this possibility represents a significant opportunity for the organisation. NIODA leveraged existing staff skills and capabilities and successfully went live interactive online. As COVID restrictions have wound back and organisations have begun inviting, demanding in some cases, staff return to the office, NIODA has plunged whole-heartedly into the hybrid space. We now teach a portion of our academic classes in a hybrid fashion, we offer workplace training experiences as hybrid events. We routinely work with consulting clients who have dispersed workforces and therefore request to work online or in a hybrid format.

The societal scale switch to working online was driven by a global health crisis. Informed and empowered by the forced switch to working online, many organisations and individuals now choose to work in a hybrid fashion part in the office, part online. Studies of hybrid working often survey various industries and report the risks and benefits of the practice and comment on the likelihood that the hybrid workplace is here to stay.

From our experiences running hybrid events, we have a few observations that are starting points for further consideration:

The energetic paradox of online participation

Not having to commute, maintaining more integration with day-to-day lives, and overall being less taxed, are reasons those who have flexible arrangements often choose to work from home. These were the reasons for two students who lived locally but opted to be live interactive online for a week-long NIODA hybrid experiential learning event. By the end of the week, the students were identifying just how exhausting it was to be online and asserting it was more taxing than being onsite. Energetically, we also noted an end-of-event ‘high’ was evident for many of the onsite participants, much less so, for those online. These observations lead us to wonder about how the stresses of both onsite and online work are being monitored and managed in organisations – what are the longer-term impacts of these stresses for engagement and productivity?

Being online may be deauthorising

In our hybrid events, we often have an online tech support staff member who intervenes as needed to suggest adjustments that will improve the experience of those online. For example: could those in the room wave and identify yourself before speaking because it’s hard to make out who is who? Exercising this authority is welcomed and expected. When there is no designated tech support role we notice that online participants can struggle to speak up about fixable issues that might be bothering them and are more likely to ‘suffer in silence’ even when specifically invited to identify issues. At the same hybrid event noted above, an academic staff member who was online for the first day said he felt disempowered and disconnected from his role as one of the holders of the space, “I felt like a portrait on a wall…sometimes I would be looked at directly and spoken to, otherwise I felt very passive”. … as if being together in the room was the ‘real’ experience and being online was ‘not real’. Paying attention to how authorised participants feel becomes important for anyone facilitating hybrid events or managing hybrid work, lest unhelpful power or other dysfunctional dynamics develop. From the perspective of feeling and being authorised to take up leadership, is this more difficult from an online position when hybrid working?

Fluid authority relations around work location

In the hybrid experiential learning event, self-authorisation around moving between onsite and online became a feature of the experience. As staff, we noted that on the second morning, a number of students did not arrive onsite for the first check-in session of the day, but they appeared onscreen. We had not articulated ‘rules’ around attendance, after the initial onsite/online choice had been made, but noted the students clearly felt they could make this decision for themselves. Such self-authorisation could have felt like undermining the authority of the staff group. Still, we felt it was in line with the expectations that the student groups would undertake the assigned task in a self-directed manner. We had no compelling reason to require onsite attendance for the purposes of the task, as the spaces and technology available were not impacted, so we decided to make no comment. Monitoring the effect of the waxing and waning of onsite attendance became important for our sense of being able to adequately manage the boundaries of the system created for the purposes of the event. The continual attendance of staff onsite and adherence to the set time boundaries for each of the sessions in the timetable felt especially important. This experience seems to have a strong resonance with the ‘real-life’ workplace boundary management and maintenance of containing work environments – we wondered about how workers feel when there is no management presence onsite or availability is uncertain. Another implication of self-authorised fluctuating attendance is where the use of space and other resources are impacted. Downsizing of office space and hot-desking is a feature of the modern office environment, with the longer-term impacts on team dynamics and productivity yet to be fully understood.

In many ways, these observations could seem mundane and yet, as Paul Kelly sings, ‘from little things big things grow’. Small frustrations may soon grow into larger, and more problematic, issues. NIODA’s 2023 Group Relations Conference identifies that this move to hybrid working arrangements has, for many of us, occurred so quickly that we have not taken the time to consider the nuanced impacts, both positive and negative. The conference is offering participants an opportunity to work with the experience of hybrid working and its impacts on ourselves and our roles, on leadership, authority and on our work relations. Created as a temporary learning organisation, the conference will operate onsite and live interactive online and offer members and staff the space to explore the hybrid experience in-depth and to learn from experience about ourselves, groups and organisational dynamics.

Helen McKelvie & Thomas Mitchell

November 2023

Hybrid working – the devil is in the detail

Hybrid working – the devil is in the detail

Helen McKelvie

Helen McKelvie

NIODA Director of Leadership Development and Consulting

Helen McKelvie is an alumni of the NIODA Master’s program and is now a member of the academic staff and holds the role of Director, Leadership Development and Consulting. She has previously worked in organisations as an internal planning consultant, policy and project manager, and lawyer in workplaces in both the public and private sectors. Helen has been a staff member on the 2018 group relations conference hosted by Group Relations Australia and is excited to be staff on the 2023 conference learning about Authority, Role, and Distributed Leadership in the Hybrid Workplace.

Thomas Mitchell

Thomas Mitchell

NIODA Master’s Course Lead

Thomas Mitchell is personally driven by a primary philosophy of strengthening the humanity of organisations and teams by building their capacities to work together. He identifies his dedication to working with organisations, teams, and individuals to think about, explore, and enhance organisation dynamics by, in part, connecting with, and striving to make sense of reality, and think about next steps. Thomas has a Master of Leadership and Management (Organisational Dynamics) from NIODA, a Master of History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Melbourne and is a current PhD candidate at NIODA. Thomas holds a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Academic Practice, a Diploma of Leadership Coaching and Mentoring, and is an accredited Analytic Network Coach. He is a member of the ISPSO, OPUS, and Group Relations Australia.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Distributed Leadership – are we up for it?

Distributed Leadership – are we up for it?

Distributed Leadership
– are we up for it?

Dr Brigid Nossal

The Use of Drawing as an Agent of Transformation: a case presentation

Distributed Leadership – are we up for it, and do we really know what is meant when it’s suggested?

This is the fourth in a series of blogs about the title of NIODA’s forthcoming Group Relations Conference (GRC), ‘Authority, Role and Distributed Leadership in the Hybrid Workplace: the challenge of transforming experience’ 30 Oct – 3 Nov 2023, on-site in Melbourne, Australia, and live interactive online… In this blog we consider distributed leadership.

What do you think of when the term ‘distributed leadership’ is raised?

For at least the last fifteen years, client CEOs have approached me to support them and their staff (starting with the Executive Group) to transition to a more ‘distributed model of leadership’. Typically, what is meant by this are ways of working that are more inclusive and democratic in terms of how decisions are made, strategy is developed and innovation or change is led. This is by contrast with current or previous ways of working that are experienced as more hierarchical and autocratic. My sense is that there are taken-for-granted assumptions that a) distributed leadership is a good thing and b) we all know what it is and how to do it.

The concept of distributed leadership emerged in management and leadership discourses around the early 2000s. It marked a shift away from a preoccupation with identifying the desirable ‘leadership’ attributes of individuals to the recognition that, in practice, leadership is a distributed, co-created and collective process. In the achievement of any organisational task, leadership moves from one part of an interconnected system to another. It can occur anywhere in the chain of exchanges between people in the course of work and it can shift from one person to another and back again. When we speak of organisations shifting to more distributed leadership, we are really talking about changing our perspective on the true nature of leadership and less about a Board, CEO, or Executive Group’s desire for a ‘thing’ to be achieved and transitioned to.

While the language of distributed leadership may have only been a buzzword in organisations for the past 20 years or so, the philosophy and ethos are also embedded in ideas that go back much further. For me, steeped in Western thinking, my mind goes to thinkers like John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Emily Pankhurst, Paolo Friere, Mary Parker-Follett and so many more. Their thinking is imbued with the ideals of freedom, egalitarianism, democracy and social justice. Going back millennia, respect for the unique contribution, interconnectedness and interdependence of all beings have been core principles for First Nations’ communities for the longest time. We may wonder why then, for many people and organisations, a shift to distributed leadership presents such a difficult challenge.

Without going deeply into the whys and wherefores, it seems that in the iterative shifts away from tribal community life (think monarchy, church, imperialism, patriarchy, feudalism, industrialisation, capitalism, individualism, etc.), we have been schooled into paradigms of master-slave, generals and soldiers, winners and losers, rich and poor, bosses and workers, dominance and dependency, us and them. No doubt there have always been counter-streams of thinking, reflected in the work of some of those named above, but surely, the residues of so many centuries of hierarchical ways of thinking about leading and organising are deeply embedded in our psyches, if not our very DNA.

It has only been since the 1940s in Western management theory and practice, that there has been a slow, collective movement back towards more democratic ways of thinking about and being an organisation. This is less than a century as against millennia of patriarchy and hierarchy; little wonder then that the desired shift to more distributed models of leadership seems hard. As alluded to above, the fundamental change that needs to take place is as much a perceptual one as it is structural. For, although people in organisations may have been enacting real leadership all the time, as they go about their work, the shared dominant and deeply embedded paradigm of hierarchy means that neither the individual nor the system would allow them to recognise it as such.

This presents the organisation that has an express desire to embrace distributed leadership with a complex challenge. It is not only the organisational chart that may need to change. More importantly, it is the ways in which we think and how we make sense of what we do that will need to change. In a traditional hierarchical mindset, so many small acts of leadership go unrecognised as such. Consequentially, the felt sense of authority and importance that might flow from correctly recognising and naming these everyday acts of leadership is also missing. What is required is nothing less than a paradigm shift – how do we each come to think of ourselves as leaders and also recognise others as leaders when our internal architecture may not allow for it? How do we completely rewire our internal operating system without switching it off?

In addition to these internal and external rewiring and redesign challenges, there is also the question of possible unintended consequences. Often, distributed leadership seems to be regarded as synonymous with non-hierarchical or flat organisational structures. Indeed it may be the case that shifting to a flatter or networked structure may be a better fit with distributed leadership, but in this evolutionary shift, we also need to consider what additional functions hierarchy may have been serving over millennia. In my field of work, as one example, hierarchy can be seen to play an important role in protecting against some of our primitive destructive tendencies to envy and rivalrous ‘sibling’ competition amongst peers. There is something quasi-parental in the role of more senior manager that seems to mitigate against these things being acted out when the ‘boss’ can take up the role of ‘container’ into which these projections can be directed. There is also the way that hierarchy allows for differences in appetites and ambitions, skills and interests, responsibilities and accountabilities that may be useful to preserve. This raises the question of whether distributed leadership can co-exist with hierarchy.

The intention behind the design of this GRC as a hierarchical organisation is precisely so this question can be explored, along with the many other questions inevitably raised by the ideas in this blog post and the thoughts and ideas that staff and members will bring.

I hope that you will join us in this ambitious endeavour. Scroll to find more information and the other blogs.

Dr Brigid Nossal

September 2023

Distributed leadership – are we up for it?

ps NIODA’s Group Relations Conference is 30 October – 3 November 2023. This is a hybrid event both onsite in Melbourne and live interactive online. Click HERE for details.

What is a Group Relations Conference (GRC) and why is it important?

What is the big deal
about Authority?

Why is the idea of 'Role' important?

Distributed leadership - are we up for it?

Distributed leadership – are we up for it?

The Use of Drawing as an Agent of Transformation: a case presentation

Dr Brigid Nossal

NIODA Group Relations Conference Director

Brigid is a co-founder and Director at NIODA. She combines academic teaching, research and supervision with consulting to organisations. For the past 20 years, systems psychodynamics and Group Relations Conferences have been central to her work. She has worked on many GRCs in Australia, the UK, China and India. Brigid directed the 2017 NIODA GRC on the theme, Leadership, Authority and Organisation: exploring creative disruption. Brigid is also a member of GRA and ISPSO.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Emerging Leadership: Cometh the Moment, Cometh the Leader

Emerging Leadership: Cometh the Moment, Cometh the Leader

Prof John Newton: Reflection in Action Panel

Emerging Leadership: cometh the moment, cometh the leader

 Professor Emeritus John Newton

Emerging Leadership: cometh the moment, cometh the leader.

Popular literature and human dependence promote the idea of The Leader, someone who can be relied on to show us the way. As if The Leader is always a leader. Some individuals are able to manipulate this wish and convince others that they have some special quality which makes them a person to follow in all circumstances. However, the evidence of history is that successful leadership is always circumstantial, regardless of whether history judges the outcomes to be good or bad. Such circumstances are a combination of the social forces that originate outside the person and the unique capacities that emerge from within the person at the right time.

At this time in Australia, we have a pending referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. We have official ‘leaders’ seeking followership, The Prime Minister (Yes) and the Leader of the Opposition (No). Both the individuals occupying these roles are currently regarded as uninspiring, just playing politics, not really mobilising others to identify with the possibilities of change.

Formally they are regarded as ‘leaders’ but on this issue, they are just politicians. The historical moment, which neither of them can claim to have shaped, is searching for a person or group who/which can connect the historically determined circumstance to the lived experience of those who will decide Yes or No through their vote.

The vacuum of leadership on this issue is not surprising because neither formal ‘leader’ can point to any convincing personal appreciation of what is at stake. Nothing is emerging at the top level; it is all about fixed arguments, ‘righting historical wrongs’ versus ‘threats to the constitution that has served us so well’.

Navigating Ambiguity: The Essence of Emerging Leadership

The notion of ‘emerging leadership’ is that it is a dynamically contingent relationship between what capacity an individual or group can find within themselves and how this speaks to the challenges others experience about which path to follow. We don’t need a leader if the choice is clear; then we only need an administrator or manager who decides the way forward based on some established criterion; a way that is tried and true, efficient, technically feasible, politically correct, evidence-based etc.

The emergent leader actually embraces an ambivalent situation and can look inward to discern an aspect of their being that connects to the deliberation about possibilities; and on the basis of that reflection argues for this way rather than that way, regardless of the formal position they hold, whilst mindful of the values of those they seek to influence.

Emergent leadership can be an everyday occurrence, not necessarily one of national and historical importance.

Discovering Leadership Through Personal Experience

Some years ago, working as an organisational consultant, I was persuaded by an acquaintance to offer assistance to her sister’s small business. Having started a fashion design business from her parent’s garage, this young woman had, with the unpaid help of her husband, achieved enough sales to employ another sister with marketing expertise and then, following further business growth, was needing to hire the first employee from outside the family. She wanted help in conducting the selection process such that this critical decision would enhance her growing enterprise whilst not threatening its family values. She had never used a consultant before, was appropriately dubious about the cost, and asked me if I knew anything about small business. I replied in the negative since all my consulting had been with larger entities.

We negotiated a sliding scale contract that would limit her risk depending upon the value she determined I was providing. She was really trusting her sister’s recommendation that I would be worth the expenditure. And I was impressed by her practical common sense.

It took two meetings between the sisters and me before I emerged as a leader in this circumstance.

As I reflected on my experience with the two sisters, of what was being said and not said and how this made me feel, I suddenly could not believe that I had told the client and myself that I did not know much about small business. When my conscious mind relaxed enough, I recalled that I had actually grown up in a small business. My father and his brother had started a small business after WWII and run it for 40 years. My whole young life had been shaped by the vicissitudes of a small business but the ‘professional’, adult me had left that all behind. When I got back in touch with my early experience, including memories of all the financial precariousness that my parents had tried to shield us from, of interfamily dynamics, and the direct satisfaction that I saw my father gain from being valued by his customers, I was in a changed state of mind when talking to my small business client.

Navigating Complex Leadership Dynamics: Balancing Intuition and Expertise

I began listening and speaking from a different space. I became a quiet leader whose thoughts and suggestions were amplified by my intuitive understanding of the risks and excitements my client was trying to estimate and choose. She was a talented and ambitious designer, a start-up entrepreneur in a notoriously risky sector and she had young children. Whose needs would prevail? Could it be both/and?

When I undertook that assignment I was already a ‘senior’ in the world of leadership development but obviously still very humanly vulnerable to putting conscious ‘knowing’ ahead of ‘coming to know’ within a particular circumstance. The case revealed that my most relevant resources were in my lived experience rather than my formal knowledge. I had to ‘emerge’ as a leader in the particular circumstance so could I lead my client to articulate what she felt about bringing an outsider into her business; a business that was outgrowing the family.

My sudden remembering of a past I had ‘forgotten’ is what Freud meant by getting in touch with the unconscious. In the consultation I did not need to explore why I had repressed my early experience, it was enough to embrace the creative lead it gave me into the current circumstance. It gave me a voice that was missing up until that point. A voice that was sufficiently authentic for my client to take it seriously.

Cultivating Emerging Leadership: Unveiling Personal Experience for Future Possibilities

So I now argue that a critical aspect of leadership development is a process of helping individuals to recover the resources that exist within their own experience. This is different from developing an administrator, manager or executive who is rightly expected to have requisite knowledge and skills for the job they are employed to do. Leadership is not a fixed position. The need for leadership emerges and it can be offered by those who have some insight into future possibilities; possibilities that can connect the known to the unknown. We cannot be trained to do that but we can be primed to do it, if we learn to reflect in an intentional way to recall, to recognise and to harvest our past experiences as a resource for the future.*

Leadership does not belong to a formal role; it finds a voice of its own.

It is quite possible that neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition have the internal resources to inspire a future for the Indigenous Voice but that does not mean such leadership will not emerge. Leadership does not belong to a formal role; it finds a voice of its own.

*My colleagues at NIODA are offering a leadership development workshop to encourage just this,  ‘Embracing your personal history for impactful leadership’. Learn more here.

Professor Emeritis John Newton 

August 2023

Emerging Leadership: cometh the moment, cometh the leader

Helen McKelvie

Professor Emeritis John Newton

 

John Newton is a freelance consultant to managers and organisations. After early career employment in the public and private sectors he entered academia, first at Swinburne University of Technology where he became the founding director of the Master in Organisation Behaviour in 1987, then as Associate Professor at RMIT University where he founded the Master in Organisation Dynamics in 2002. He is a member of ISPSO and GRA (President, 2011-12) and sits on the editorial boards of the journals Socioanalysis, and Organisational and Social Dynamics. John is a past NIODA Board of Governance Chair and is now the Chair of NIODA’s Board of Governance (Learning Activities)

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

What’s more important for leaders, goal setting, or the inner compass to stay the course?

What’s more important for leaders, goal setting, or the inner compass to stay the course?

Helen McKelvie

Will Inner Development Goals replace traditional goal-setting?

Helen McKelvie

What’s more important for leaders, goal setting, or the inner compass to stay the course?

Introducing Inner Development Goals

As a leader in an organisation, you might experience the act of setting goals as what’s important to direct your steps and those of the teams you lead. The idea that goals fill us with inspiration and propel us to great achievements is an assumption sitting behind an ever-increasing number of frameworks available to guide this activity in management literature. “Make sure your goals are ‘SMART’ (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound)” is a widely adopted recommendation. More recently setting ‘Big hairy audacious goals’ (BHAG) is a favoured approach for motivating and aligning teams towards a common vision. But perhaps goals, whether they are smart or big and hairy, are not what keep us on track?

The shadow side of goal-setting

Researchers at Harvard Business School have contributed to a much less popular discourse on the shadow side of goal setting. They argue that the beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored. Their research identified specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behaviour, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation. The authors suggest that leaders and managers need to consider the complex interplay between goal setting and organizational contexts, as well as the need for safeguards and monitoring.

When we are unable to meet them, instead of being inspirational, goals can feel defeating

In my own working life, I’ve both participated in and led planning processes focussed on goal setting. Working in organisations I’ve also found taking action towards specific goals can sometimes be difficult. When the action steps to meet set goals are not part of BAU it can be hard to devote the required time; and when circumstances change and new competing priorities emerge what seemed like clear goals become murky and a sense of overwhelm sets in. When we are unable to meet them, instead of being inspirational, goals can feel defeating, like a measure of what we have failed to achieve. This seems to be true in organisational settings and in bigger contexts such as collective efforts to combat global issues.

Slow progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015 the United Nations goal setting was aiming high, introducing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a holistic blueprint for achieving global sustainability by 2030. The set of 17 interconnected goals aims to address social, economic, and environmental challenges by promoting actions such as poverty eradication, hunger alleviation, gender equality, climate action, sustainable cities, and partnerships for sustainable development, among others. I remember feeling inspired when the SDGs were announced. The vision created by the SDGs in 2015 seemed to provide a path forward. However, the actual progress toward attaining the vision has been dishearteningly slow.

New hope with Inner Development Goals

Recently when a colleague in Europe mentioned the Inner Development Goals (IDGs), I went looking and had reason to feel a renewed hope. The IDG’s aim to address the main obstacle to achieving the SDGs: a collective deficiency in coping with the escalating complexity of our environment and the associated challenges. Seems like that familiar overwhelm leading to inaction. The Inner Development Goal initiative offers a framework of essential skills for sustainable development; it encompasses five dimensions and 23 skills and qualities crucial for leaders addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and for individuals worldwide. They are based on research demonstrating that the inner capacities required for addressing these complexities can be cultivated. The IDG framework is gaining traction in Europe including via three MindShift – Growth that Matters conferences that have been conducted with 3000+ active participants.

Inner growth is at the heart of the Inner Development Goal framework; the first of the five dimensions is ‘Being – Relationship to self’, with the related skills:

Inner Compass
Having a deeply felt sense of responsibility and commitment to values and purposes relating to the good of the whole.

Integrity and Authenticity
A commitment and ability to act with sincerity, honesty and integrity.

Openness and Learning Mindset
Having a basic mindset of curiosity and a willingness to be vulnerable and embrace change and grow.

Self-awareness
Ability to be in reflective contact with own thoughts, feelings and desires; having a realistic self-image and ability to regulate oneself.

Presence
Ability to be in the here and now, without judgement and in a state of open-ended presence.

It makes sense to build the inner capacity of leaders to be able to sit with uncertainty, to think through overwhelm and to keep working towards and adapting goals as change happens. To my mind, this is part of “considering the complex interplay between goal setting and organizational contexts” as the Harvard research (above) recommends.

Leadership development for an inner compass

The Inner Development Goal approach resonates strongly with the leadership development work we do at NIODA. We hold that as a leader, knowing yourself and getting in touch with the conscious and unconscious drivers of your own behaviour underpins the capacity for managing yourself in your leadership role, and being able to lead others from a place of authenticity. One approach we use with our students and clients is to hold a space for inquiry into each person’s unique personal leadership history allowing connections to be made between past experience and present role challenges. This is just one powerful tool for growth and development of the inner compass needed to navigate the complexities of contemporary organisations, and as with the IDG’s, bigger world problems.

At NIODA we are interested to learn more about the Inner Development Goals and the non-profit foundation that is working with leadership development experts, scientists, practitioners, and organisations globally to explore, gather, and disseminate evidence-based skills and qualities that enhance the ability to lead purposeful, sustainable, and fulfilling lives. This is important work keeping the Sustainable Development Goals alive and hopefully more attainable.

NIODA’s related contribution is to continue to offer a post-graduate leadership and management course that goes deeper than a motivational goal-setting approach. The courses take a psychodynamic view of human behaviour. Students develop insights into individual and group behaviour and how to apply these to create meaningful change in the workplace – finding ways to deal with the overwhelm and consider the context for goal setting and much more. Learn more

We also offer a series of leadership development workshops, starting with one for emerging leaders to develop that inner compass by ‘Embracing your personal history for impactful leadership’. Learn more

Helen McKelvie

August 2023

What’s more important for leaders, goal setting, or the inner compass to stay the course?

Helen McKelvie

Helen McKelvie

Director of Leadership Development & Consulting, NIODA

Helen McKelvie is the Director of Leadership development & Consulting at NIODA, and is a teacher in and a graduate of the Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) program. She brings over 25 years of her own experience of working in organisations to her coaching and consulting services in leadership development and organisational change. Roles as internal consultant, policy and project manager, and lawyer in workplaces in both the public and private sectors have provided her with first-hand experience of the complexity and challenges in organisational life.
Helen is passionate about improving workplace dynamics to contribute to better organisational outcomes and to benefit the working lives of those who make up organisations. She works with leaders and teams helping them enquire into workplace dilemmas to uncover and work with system issues and hidden dynamics that may be inhibiting role clarity and collaborative work. Helen uses a systems psychodynamic approach to create reflective space for respectful communication and connection, opening up possibility for greater alignment with organisational, and team role and purpose.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

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