“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” — Henry Thoreau
In today’s fast-paced diverse business landscape, building an ecosystem that supports the continuous development of our leadership capabilities as a team is vital for Celfocus’ mission and success. We strive to cultivate a culture of autonomous, motivated people who collaborate to deliver quality work, speak up, and add value.
Today’s technology-rich world makes achievement easier. We’re caught up in measuring success by productivity and efficiency. We’ve learned to be constantly occupied, failing to pause and reflect – we are proud of being busy. Conversations revolve around tasks and execution. We became experts at doing, and we always deliver. Could we risk compromising something else on the way?
A myopic focus on short-term tasks and deadlines can lead to a lack of attention to long-term strategic thinking. We may miss out on opportunities for sustainable growth and adaptation to changing market conditions. Continuous improvement and personal growth can take a backseat when the emphasis is solely on tasks and efficiency. Learning often requires time for exploration, experimentation, and reflection, which can be overlooked in a culture of busyness. Focusing solely on execution can hinder team collaboration and morale. Healthy team dynamics often require time for relationship building, sharing ideas, and supporting one another. An obsession with achievement can lead to burnout and negatively impact people’s mental and physical health, ultimately affecting long-term performance.
Embracing our humanity, like mastering martial arts moves, requires consistent practice and deliberate effort. In this piece, we explore the need to, as a company, practice humanity, shifting from being human-doings to human beings. We highlight 3 practices in that pursuit: making deliberate choices with clear meaning, seeking the right kind of challenges for learning, and engaging in meaningful connections. These practices drive transformative change and cohesion. As you read on, consider our insights alongside your experiences. Pick two or three things you can do differently.
Make deliberate choices with clear meaning shared by everyone
Humans alone could envision future possibilities and make decisions relying on that awareness. To have a clear vision of the future we aim for and how we will get there, we need to build a shared understanding of the meaning and implications of our strategy. And this is not an intellectual exercise. It is not attainable by posting fancy statements on our social networks, sending everyone an email or delivering a carefully prepared slide deck presentation either. It is rather about continuously crafting a common understanding of our deliberate choices as a company. Strategy becomes part of the dynamic pace of daily life when our teams discuss focus and prioritize areas where energy and resources will be invested so that strategy execution can take place. Growth opportunities become clear and connected to people’s desires and growth needs when we uncover them through joint reflection and exploration. Clarity is built through active discussions. It’s up to us not just to get the job done but to inquire into why it matters, what outcomes we are pursuing, and how they will ultimately contribute to the bigger picture.
Make sure your team sees tasks as strokes on your shared vision’s canvas. At the end of the day, it means each of us can, without a blink, relate what we do and how we do it to Celfocus’ strategy and values.
Get the right kind of heat for learning and growth
We’re absolute beginners; with eyes completely open but nervous all the same. That’s how David Bowie describes this edgy feeling, the same we get when starting something new. A beginner’s mind has been described both in science and poetry as the right mindset for learning and growth. We may experience it when facing an exciting challenge. We will call these challenges “heat”.
Maybe you can recall a time in which you felt too stressed and anxious towards a challenge that was too demanding, or that in the face of which you felt unsupported. That usually leads to unhealthy stress and potential poor performance – we burn. On the other hand, we can also get bored when work and life, do not offer enough arousal, and our interests and attention are not triggered. However, when the heat is just right, we feel energized, passionate, and focused – the right kind of nervousness.
This sweet spot for learning is what Educational Psychology call “Zone of Proximal Development”, and it sits between what we can and what we can’t do. We navigate these challenges by solving problems and dealing with real issues in daily work through small, manageable steps, the same way we learned how to walk or ride a bike, and in the process learned to tame our fears of falling. Heat experiences imply we change the way we think and behave; we adapt and expand. These experiences can be found when working with people from different cultures; taking the role of the coach, instead of an expert; moving beyond your technical skills to find yourself managing more ambiguous and changing situations; or leading multi-disciplinary stakeholders. These experiences may also encompass learning new or more advanced skills.
Heat and help go hand in hand. To navigate through the heat, we need the support of others – such as peer shadowing, frequent feedback, mentoring or coaching. We need a trustful environment so that we feel safe enough to experiment, fail and try again, voice our opinions, explore differences out in the open, take ourselves to higher stakes and feel accountable. This is what leads to personal growth and optimal team performance. Late research in this field has also dismissed the idea that there is an ideal age for learning. We can learn throughout our whole lives if we get the temperature right and have the right kind of support.
Engage in meaningful connections
Throughout human history, communities, connections, and meaningful conversations have played a pivotal role in our survival and progress as a species, far more than hierarchical authority.
Take a moment to do a simple exercise. Think about how you use your time and energy in the kind of conversations you have, by dividing it into what John Cleese calls either a closed or an open mode. When we have conversations focused on coordinating action, such as status meetings, planning and analyzing progress bars, we are what John Cleese calls “closed mode” – a tighter, rigid, hierarchical, tunnel-visioned mode. That is a great mode for executing a solution once found, for taking off or acting in a crisis.
An open mode is a more relaxed, receptive, exploratory, inclusive, playful, and humorous one. In the open mode, we are the most aware, creative, and connected. The open mode requires psychological safety, we need to feel relaxed and not judged or pressured – we need to trust the people we work with. We need to learn how to play with a problem, rather than jumping on solutions offered by the same contributors. We need to try strange and unserious ideas in pursuit of understanding the problem – and humour is a great way to get us there. Conversations focused on how we can work better together; exploring possibilities and encouraging different voices and perspectives; and reflecting and challenging our current conversations and beliefs, all require an open mode.
True impact comes from genuine connections, not just authority. Create space for human connection – be present, and empathetic, and encourage diverse thinking. Authentic conversations tap into collective wisdom, fostering innovation and better decisions.
True significance isn’t measured solely by the completion of endless tasks or the accumulation of achievements. It’s about the lasting impact one has on others, organizations, and communities. The journey’s power rests within us – the choice is ours.
In a world that values always being busy and getting things done quickly, have you ever thought about whether this constant busyness is taking away from our long-term plans, our personal growth, and our meaningful relationships?
As we explore moving from just “doing things” to “being human” in leadership, are you ready to question the usual way of doing things, and ask yourself: “What kind of leader do I want to be?”.