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Unlearning Leadership: How To Lead In The New World Of Work (with Bev Attfield from Within People)

In this episode, Tim is joined by Bev Attfield, Partner at Within People. Listen as they talk about how to unlearn leadership and how we need to approach leadership in today’s new way of working.

Interview Highlights

  • Bev Attfield is a Partner at Within People. Within People is a group of organizational or business strategists who help people find purpose and grow. [2:06]
  • Bev can attest to it being possible — a world of no time sheets, no work hours, no structure that requires you to be anywhere at any given time, no bosses. It takes discipline, it takes intention, and it takes a huge mindset and a desire to not only be different to yourself, but work in a different way. [5:02]

Building a better world of work is about places where individuals can feel the freedom of working ‘how and when’ they choose and it’s where people are welcomed and included fully as themselves.” — Bev Attfield

  • A better world of work for Bev is a place where people are celebrated. Not over profit, because we know that profit is important, but that we acknowledge that people are at the heart of organizations and they actually drive profit. [7:26]
  • What we need to see change and what we need to see inherently built into organizations is this commitment and care of the humans who arrive there every day. And then your processes and your perks and your things that you offer your people will be an extension of that. [9:19]

It’s really about the promises that we make to our people, not about the perks that we give them.” — Bev Attfield

  • Bev shares her opinion about the LinkedIn trend around various companies that were jumping on this bandwagon of ‘show us your benefits’ or ‘show us your time off for’. [11:30]
  • At Within People, they did a body of research around ‘what do we understand as the qualities of leaders that we need to have to take us into the future world of work?’ And through that research they identified eight qualities that they think will equip the leaders of the future. And so they are vulnerability, creativity, courage, conviction, empathy, curiosity, patience, and love. [18:17]

What it means for me to be a leader in this moment is really to think about who you are as an individual.” — Bev Attfield

  • Bev is inspired by the work of Lance Secretan, an emotive leader and he thinks a lot and he writes and researches a lot about how to show up as a loving leader. [22:10]
  • For Bev, vulnerability is not feeling like you need to switch something on and off depending on the situation that you find yourself in. [23:12]
  • Bev Shares some of Frederic Laloux’s work and his book Reinventing Organizations. [25:12]

Unlearning leadership is actually starting to dismantle the structures of work in society, which opens up the potential and the possibility for us, as humans, to have a different kind of leadership.” — Bev Attfield

  • Part of why Bev is excited about being at Within People is because at Within, they are testing the boundaries of what it means to be a teal organization. [28:34]
  • It’s really about helping people along the journey of discovery of where we want to go, but what do we need to be able to do to get there? [33:01]
  • We have to move away from this way of thinking that we have these ideas that we impose on people within organizations. And that’s really where companies can misstep – is that they think they’re doing something great for their people, but it actually ends up having a negative effect on them. [37:53]
  • When we ask the question around, what do we need to do to unlearn? Bev thinks it starts with yourself, like you can’t start by trying to change the structure around you. It’s not your team’s fault. The way you lead has got nothing to do with your team. It’s got everything to do with you. So, unlearning starts with the individual. [43:08]

Meet Our Guest

I believe people are happiest at work when they’re supported in their life and work. When they’re surrounded by kindness and feel encouraged to explore, create, and belong at work. That’s why my mission is to evolve leader thinking and organizational structures to produce incredible experiences and supportive environments for humans in the workplace.

A once-in-a-century opportunity to reimagine work is here, now. I’m privileged to have a hand in shaping what this looks and feels like, for the good of all at work. My effort at Within helps me achieve my own ideal state of work-life, while discovering new people-centric ways forward with each of my clients.

Within People is a global partnership of business strategists and coaches who are building a new model for growth in the 21st century. We believe it’s one where people are the most important asset, so unleashing their full potential is what unlocks growth. The Within Way® is how we help our clients grow – and how we grow our own partnership.

We are what we do, and our structure and business model is a reflection of the vision we have for 21st century business. That’s why I’m so excited to apply my knowledge and passion to this collective of strategic thinkers and doers.

I’m a regular researcher and writer on workplace matters and have hosted over 100 leader conversations as host of the People at Work podcast.

My alter ego is fuelled by wanderlust and adventure. Eat.Run.See is where I captured experiences from my epic multi-year backpacking and running journey through 30 countries.

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Have humility about yourself, have your eyes opened and take all the feedback you can get. Ask for it. Ask for it up, down, sideways, because we’ve all got blind spots.” — Bev Attfield

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Read the Transcript:

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Bev Attfield

So I think when we ask the question around, you know, what do we need to do to unlearn? I think it starts with yourself like you can’t start by trying to change the structure around you. It’s not your team’s faults. You know, it’s, the way you lead is, has got nothing to do with your team. It’s got everything to do with you. So, I think unlearning starts with the individual. 

Tim Reitsma

Welcome to the People Managing People podcast, where we’re on a mission to build a better world of work and to help you build happy, productive workplaces. I’m your host, Tim Reitsma, and today on the show, Bev Attfield, partner at Within People, will inspire and challenge us to unlearn the way we have traditionally led and to take a step into learning how to lead in this new way we work. 

Spoiler, it’s not about imposing a four-day work week but partnering with our teams to learn and understand. It’s about getting curious and collecting feedback. It’s about the promises and not the perks.

Hey Bev. Welcome to the People Managing People podcast. It’s so good to finally have you on the podcast and yeah. I’m so glad that we can dive into a good conversation today. 

Bev Attfield

Hi, Tim. Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. You know, you and I have had some really great chats leading up to this recording.

And I know that we’ve got some really interesting things to dig into here today, and I’m looking forward to learning from you and chatting through a number of things that are relevant to this moment in the world of work and leadership. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. We’re gonna dive into some fun and just fun topics that I haven’t talked about on the podcast.

And it’s really around unlearning leadership. We’ve had numerous guests on the podcast about how, what does it mean to be a leader? How do we lead? But, we’re gonna take a different angle on this, but before we get going, why don’t we take a moment and let our listeners know a little bit about you, about yourself and what you’re up to?

Bev Attfield

Yeah, thanks for the opportunity to do that. So I’m Bev Attfield, I’m a Partner at Within People. Within People is a group of organizational or business strategists who help people find purpose and grow. And really what that means is that we love to work with clients and leaders who are really looking to define why they’re here and then how do they go about into the world and actually execute on that vision and purpose. And, you know, we just believe in changing the way that we lead and changing the way that we build organizations and so much so that we believe that we are creating the blueprint for 21st-century business.

And we’re not only saying that’s good for the world, but we’re actually living that ourselves. So we have structured a very dispersed self-managed way of working together. And that is built on the context of freedom. So, we come together in a very non-traditional way. The way we work is not a typical way of bringing people together, but it’s a tremendously rewarding and interesting way to combine talents and skills, and passions. And have it balance with what each of us wants to get out of life and work is part of life.

So, it’s a really interesting place to play. It’s a really interesting place to look at and see what’s happening in the world of leadership and in the world of work and culture. And I’m really privileged to be able to be in this moment where so much has changed in the world of work. And I really believe that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a hand in shaping what the world of work and therefore the world around us actually looks like. 

Because never before have we had the impetus to actually make changes to work in the way that the pandemic has offered us. So, so that’s a little bit about who I am and what I do. And yeah, just looking forward to unpacking a few of the things that we’re, we’re thinking about right now with you today.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Within People is at the right time in the right year, in, in the right space. You know, the whole world of work has shifted so quickly. And I don’t know the exact stats on reading about like we’ve expedited how we work in the last couple years by 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

And so we have no, no choice but to adapt. And we continue to hear stories of companies that haven’t adapted, haven’t changed, haven’t changed the way they lead. You know, when you say, Oh, yeah, we were run on the concept or the idea of freedom. And the first thing that popped in my mind was, so there’s no nine to five? How do you do that? 

And, yeah, I work at a company where we got rid of work hours recently as well, but I know some listening are really, you know, sitting on the edge of their seat of like, how is that even possible? 

Bev Attfield

Yes it is. I can attest to it being possible. A world of no timesheets, no work hours no structure that requires you to be anywhere at any given time, no bosses.

This is all possible. But it takes discipline, it takes intention, and it takes a huge mindset of, and a desire to want to not only be different to yourself but work in a different way. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, absolutely. I was having a conversation with somebody a little bit on the same topic about performance management and how they’re moving towards performance enablement.

And so it’s not about, performance management isn’t just a, you know, a checkbox on your things to do once a year. It’s, how do we enable this performance, especially in this idea of hybrid and remote and all over the world. And I work at a company where we’re all salaried employees, but my, my boss, our CEO said, Yeah, I don’t like work hours anymore. So we’re not, we’re gonna get rid of them.

And a number of us are going, How do we do this? But it’s working. You know, I, last Friday was just really low energy and my boss looked at me and said, You look like you got low energy, why don’t you go home? So I packed up my stuff and went home. And that was it. There was no timesheets, no, nothing, no tracking.

And that’s a way to unlearn leadership, but also learn a new way of leading. But before we get into that conversation, I always like to ask my guests a couple of standard questions. I have to figure out some better language around that. 

But when you hear the phrase — build a better world of work, it really ties into a I think a lot of what Within People’s about. What does that mean to you? What comes to mind when you hear that phrase?

Bev Attfield

So I think for me it’s about places where individuals can feel the freedom of working how and when they choose and on the types of work that they want to work on. And then secondly I think it’s where people are welcomed and included fully as themselves.

And I think what this needs is a shift from this transactional type of environment to a very relational environment that celebrates the humanness of work. And that leads me to defining this as human-centric or people-centric workplaces, which is something we’re going to touch on a lot I think through this conversation we’re going to have today.

So, like a better world of work for me is a place where people are celebrated. Not over profit, because we know that profit is important, but that we acknowledge that people are at the heart of organizations and they actually drive profit. So, hopefully, that, that lands well with you. I, you know, I think in the prior conversations that you and I have had I wouldn’t say we agree on everything to the very word, but I think notionally we’d like to see the world shift to a more human-centric sort of paradigm.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, I fundamentally agree with that. I think there’s a lot in the media, a lot in the news right now, just on record profits from some industries and yet, you know, people are leaving their jobs in droves and you think, Well, these companies are making huge profits, but yet their turnover is incredible, so what’s going on? 

There’s a tie there, I mean, I haven’t done the research, but you know, just my, my thoughts and theory is that, Yeah there’s an opportunity to humanize that workplace and to bring that human element. And as you said, to celebrate people, to include people, to welcome people, which then you’re able to drive these unique ways of working.

So, you know, just implementing a four-day work week, doesn’t solve necessarily a problem. If anything, it can create a whole lot more problems. But having workplaces that are welcoming, including drive clarity people are celebrated then, yeah, we are on the path to be able to sustain a new way of working.

Bev Attfield

Yeah. And I think you touched on an interesting point there that it’s not about having these structural things like, Okay, we’re only having a four day week or we’ve got unlimited paid time off, or we’ve got these amazing benefits for people like, cuz those things can lead to, as you said, can lead to creating more problems than they can solve.

So I, I think what it, what we need to see change and what we need to see inherently built into organizations is this commitment and care of the humans who arrive there every day. And then your processes and your perks and your things that you offer your people will be an extension of that.

So it’s really about the promises that we make to our people. Not about the perks that we give them, because the perks can sometimes become the band-aids, the things that just attract people into the door. They’re not actually going to be the things that keep people there. It’s actually the promises we make around how we’re going to look after them, the opportunities we’re going to be providing, how we will be, you know, making them feel like whole humans at work. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Yeah. I can’t imagine, you know, I love the idea of a four-day workweek, but I couldn’t imagine if I struggled to get all my work done in five days and now I’ve got four days to try and figure it out.

And then on a performance side of things, I’m, you know, now getting in trouble because I’m not able to get that work done, but yet, so it’s, there’s a lot to go into figuring it out and figuring out how to make these benefits work in their intended purpose. The same goes for like unlimited sick time or unlimited wellness days in the wrong context.

It could just means that people don’t show up. But I worked at an organization where we actually saw a decrease in days being taken because people felt that, Hey, I, I’m seen, I’m heard, I need maybe to take four hours off this afternoon because I’m tired and I just need a nap. So you just track it and that’s it.

It’s taking that four-hour nap might prevent four days from being off of work. And so, so it’s, again, I kind of went down this little rabbit hole, but I think it’s important to not just say, yeah, the perks are great and I’m, I fully support it, but it’s creating a workplace that people are truly excited to, to contribute to and feel heard.

And I like that you said it’s the promises, not the perks. And that’s a great idea. 

Bev Attfield

Yeah. And I just wanted to add one quick thing before we move on from this. And I don’t know if you noticed this on LinkedIn a few weeks ago. There was this sort of trend around various companies that were jumping on this bandwagon of show us your benefits or show us your time off for, and it was sort of like one-upping each other around, Okay, well, we’re gonna do this.

Oh no, we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do that. Oh, and we’re gonna do this and this. And revealing what people’s time off for people care policies were. And I celebrate that but what I’m concerned about is that’s just a very small part of people’s time at work, is the time that they take off and the time that they need to go to the doctor or look after their family.

What about the rest of the time when they’re actually in day-to-day conversations, discussions, interactions with their bosses and people around them? Like, what does that look like? What’s the texture of those relationships, right? And so that’s where the promises piece comes into it is, it’s one thing to have this sort of neatly squared off things that we’re offering our people.

But what are you actually doing holistically to make those people feel like they belong there? The language you use, the way you meet, the way you include, like, what does all that look like? Is my question to those organizations and everyone really is. That’s what we really should be thinking about.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, absolutely. It’s, I remember growing up and hearing people around me say, you know, the best thing about their job is the weekends. And so, are we just really living for those weekends or living for those vacations? Can’t wait to take the time off work. What if it flipped on its, you know, we kind of flip it around and say, I can’t wait to get to work.

So I love, you know, working from my home office or going to an office and the people that I work with and I feel cared for and heard and understood and have opportunities to stretch myself and question and be questioned and yeah, that, that helps us grow as humans. Versus here’s your task lists, just go get it done. 

Related Read: 10 Best Task Management Software For Managing People Remotely [2022]

Bev Attfield

Yeah, totally. Yeah, it’s funny. My husband and I were chatting on the weekend about how, when we were younger and growing in our careers and we were in jobs that maybe we didn’t love and how we really did live for the weekends. And it was a clear like distinction, weekday versus weekend day that they were things. 

They were completely separate. And you relished Friday evenings and you detested Sunday nights. And now that both of us, we are both in, he’s in the tech space and I’m now, you know, with Within, and it’s just our lives. Like, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Saturday or a Tuesday. We may be working, we may not be working. 

But it’s just, we both love what we are doing so much so that there is no distinction and we don’t find one day to be better than another. And maybe that’s dangerous. And I do say that there is, it’s a slippery slope into burnout and into, you know, not having like clear boundaries.

I get it. But it’s just, it’s interesting you said that about, you know, living for the weekend, because I think that I used to do that and I’m so grateful that I’m now in this place where this is just my life and I’ve got this, you know, abundance in every day of my life, not just on the weekends.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, it’s a, it’s, well, there’s a phrase that, you know, I don’t know if you agree with it or not, but you know, I don’t agree with work-life balance. I don’t, I’ve never saw it as work-life balance. I just see it as life and we choose how we allocate the time to this life. And it’s a blend and it’s, but it’s not a balance.

And so, you know, maybe the blend is mixed up or wrong or you need to, you know, add a little bit more work or add a little bit more play or whatever that looks like. But you know, when we got rid of work hours, it was a couple weeks ago. It was you know, my sitting down with my boss in a 101 and saying, Oh, what’d you guys get up to on the weekends?

And my family, I’ve got two small children and my wife and I we picked up snowshoeing. We love it. And he pulled out his phone and I thought, Oh, he’s tune, tuning me out. And he pulled out his phone and said, Hey, Tuesday looks like a nice day. Why don’t you take Tuesday off and go snowshoeing? And it is just such a weird concept.

But I didn’t take ’em up on it. I was, you know, I had some meetings, I just couldn’t move, but just that idea of, Yeah, it’s raining on Saturday and I’m just gonna be sitting, staring at, you know, my Netflix, why don’t I just work on Saturday and then go snowshoeing on Tuesday when it’s supposed to be nice out.

Like, how do we get to that? And that is part of unlearning leadership is by leading in that direction, not leading, well, you gotta be nine to five. You’ve gotta be sitting at your desk. I’m gonna install employee monitoring software to make sure that you’re doing what you need to do. Because when you were in the office, I knew that you were in the office, even though that could mean, you know, you’re a professional coffee drinker. It meant nothing.

Yeah, where it’s just like, Okay, I’ve, you know, how many laps can I do around the building before getting caught? And you know, how many cups of coffee? You know, I know days where I showed up at the office and you know, many years ago, I was like, I am just like, I am burnt out and it’s Friday and you drink like 12 cups of coffee, and now you, your hands can’t even type a on the keyboard, but you gotta be there because, know, it’s work. 

Bev Attfield

Yeah. Bums and seats. 

Tim Reitsma

And I’m throwing off some air quotes right there. But yeah, I think that’s, it’s when we think of this in the current world that we’re living in what does it mean to be a leader in this moment? Like what comes to mind? You know, we, it’s like great.

We’ve got all these cool perks potentially or we’ve, but without a change in how we lead, it’s just gonna cause, in my opinion, a lot more grief and a lot more hardship down the road. So, you know, what does it mean to be a leader in this moment?

Bev Attfield

Yeah, well, I think this is a pretty unique moment in the history of how humans have come together to work.

You know, it’s been a long time since we’ve actually had a moment where we can change things significantly so that we can improve the condition for humans in the workplace. You know, so I think notwithstanding the pandemic-induced opportunity that we have here. I think that there was already a shift towards a different style and a different way of showing up as a leader, even before the pandemic arrived. 

I think the pandemic, it tested a lot of us in many ways, but I think it also, you know, opened the doors for hard conversations to happen. And for us to really rethink what it means, to be a leader in the kinds of organizations that we want to have in the future.

And we’ve been thinking about this a lot at Within and we did a body of research around, you know, what do we understand as the qualities of leaders that we need to have to take us into the future world of work? And through that research, we identified eight qualities that we think will equip the leaders of the future.

And so they are vulnerability, creativity, courage, conviction, empathy, curiosity, patience, and love. And if we think about what’s common across those eight qualities is there’s nothing in there that suggests control. There’s nothing that suggests structure like rigid bosses who tell you what to do.

You know, there’s nothing in there that says you can’t bring your full self to work. There’s even love in there, which you know, is a word that people don’t like to use in the context of leadership and workplaces. So, I think it’s a really interesting opportunity for us to start exploring, okay, well, if we acknowledge that we would like to see these qualities in our leaders, what has to change for us to be able to dismantle what the structures are in which we lead.

And I’m gonna get to that in a little bit later when we start to talk about unlearning leadership. And I think on top of all of this, those eight qualities, and I’m sure that other people have different ways of expressing it or thinking about this, but I think ultimately this emphasis on human-centric workplaces means that leaders have to focus on themselves.

Like being human-centric means that you actually focus on yourself first and in this moment, I think that is actually what it means to lead. It’s being aware of who you are as a person, how you’re showing up and how you make others feel first. And I think that sounds like a selfish thing to do, and it seems egotistical, but it actually isn’t. It’s actually the opposite of that in my opinion because I think, I don’t think you can help other people.

And I don’t think that you can embody any style of leadership unless you actually understand what your own leadership strengths and shortcomings and blind spots are. And so I think in this moment, more than ever before, we’re actually giving leaders permission to look at themselves and, and address who they are and celebrate who they are, but also be vulnerable about who they’re not and where they might need to improve.

So, that’s what it means for me to be a leader in this moment is really to think about who you are as an individual.

Tim Reitsma

There’s a couple dimensions that stand out to me. Curiosity, I think is one of my personal core values. You know, if I’m not learning something new or I could get lost in my Google research on a certain topic just to drive deep and just to get a better understanding. Love, I mean is not necessarily in the same realm as work. 

And I agree, I think there’s, we need to be bringing those in closer together and, but also vulnerability to, to some and to some previous mentors of mine is a sign of weakness. You don’t get vulnerable. You don’t tell your team how you’re feeling. You don’t, you know, honor your own emotion. 

And so, when we hear about vulnerability, what does it mean? You know, in some worlds, in some places that’s a sign of weakness. So how does it help us be a better leader?

Bev Attfield

Yeah, I think, how I think about that is, is inspired by the work of, I don’t know if you know Lance Secretan. He’s someone who is a very emotive leader and he thinks a lot and he writes and researches a lot about how to show up as a loving leader. And his position and I really like the way that he has said this is, if you think about who you are in front of your family and your friends, you know, what are some of the dimensions of the relationship that you have with your wife or your husband or your children?

You’re probably not gonna have some of the, like leader traits that you might if you show up as a command and control leader in front of your employees, right? You’re probably more likely to be vulnerable, curious, loving to your family members. So, why would you show up differently to people who are also part of your life, but just in a different capacity?

So, I think it’s about not, vulnerability for me is not feeling like you need to switch something on and off depending on the situation that you find yourself in. So if you’re in the workplace context, well, you can’t be vulnerable, but if you’re in your, the rest of your life, you can be vulnerable. And maybe some people struggle with it, generally. 

I’m not saying that we’re all vulnerable just because we’re with our families. I get that. But I think it’s just about giving yourself permission to take down the mask, take down the armor and be prepared to be, to feel something and to hurt, and to really just be raw in moments and not have all the answers.

And I think that ties into some of our old hardwired ways of being as leaders, where we have to show up with all the answers. We are the boss, we’re in control, we call the shots. And that makes us armored and that’s a lot of what Brené Brown speaks about is this courageous leadership, where we actually take off the armor and it’s okay for us to not know everything.

And it’s okay for us to not have all the answers. And we don’t have to keep a stiff upper lip. We can show emotion in a work setting. So, that was a, you know, quite appropriate of an answer for you there. But you know, I think there’s, it’s not as simple as just saying, Well, just be vulnerable. Like I, I think you’ve gotta learn how to be vulnerable.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Speaking of learning and unlearning, it’s the unlearning of, as you say, the armor and the unlearning of that need to always be right. And that unlearning of, yeah, I need to lead with, with just a hundred percent positivity and I can’t show weakness because if I show weakness, my team will see me as weak and being able to unlearn things.

And so when you say, when we hear the phrase unlearn leadership what does that mean to you? What comes to mind?

Bev Attfield

Yeah, so at a macro level for me and I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I was recently introduced to the work of Frederic Laloux. I don’t know if you know Laloux’s work.

Tim Reitsma

No, I don’t. 

Bev Attfield

So he has his, one of the works that I’ve read of his is Reinventing Organizations and he’s really studied and has looked at the, not only the evolution of human society over time, but how humans have come together to do cooperative work. And he’s basically plotted the evolution of human work overtime and the phases that we’ve gone through as we’ve collected together to do productive work and what the quality and feel of each of those moments is.

And so, he’s structured this according to this gradient of colors, where we were, you know, originally we were these foraging brands or bands, sorry. And we would come together and form groups of people who had you know, the authority figure was the elder in the village. And, you know, we evolved through that into these more formal hierarchies and command and control, you know, leading with the stick, which then softened a bit into leading with the carrot with matrix organizations and eventually into what you know, we are starting to see emerge now is a bit of the softening of that, right?

We’re starting to see relationships above outcomes, you know, purpose-driven organizations, and the pinnacle of it, where we are currently striving for is the teal organization. Which is really the full expression of that is a self-managed organization, which has an evolutionary purpose. So, it’s really fascinating.

Like it’s, I’m so new to it, but I’m so fascinated by it because it is, it’s such a visual representation of, how we are growing and how we’re evolving as a group of humans globally and how we come together to do work. Now, what’s interesting within this structure is that at each of those moments, there were different kinds of leadership traits and abilities and characteristics that would show up in order to enable that type of structure to thrive. 

And unfortunately, we have become stuck in the framework of very power-driven command and control hierarchical structures, which has dictated what types of leadership can thrive in those environments. 

And so getting back to your question in a very roundabout way, what is unlearning leadership? Unlearning leadership is actually starting to dismantle the structures of work in society, which opens up the potential and the possibility for us as humans to have a different kind of leadership.

So, unlearning leadership isn’t just as easy as saying, well, I’m going to decide to, you know, not be incredibly controlling at work today. I’m going to become more fluid in my management style. Like it’s not as easy as that. If we’re actually going to be successful in unlearning leadership, we need to unlearn how we are building organizations and Laloux’s work is definitely giving us a picture and painting a picture of what this could look like for us.

And that’s part of why I’m excited about being at Within because Within is testing the boundaries of what it means to be a teal organization. So, you know, what does it mean to be self-managed? How do each of us show up as leaders in the self-managed organization? We bring a sense of wholeness, so it isn’t work-life balance.

It is a whole life and you have parts of that life consist of doing productive work with other humans, but what does that look like? What are the rituals, like what are the ways we come together to work? How do we speak to each other? All of that has to change. And that is all part of unlearning leadership because when we show up every day, it’s not just in the deliberate ways that we show up, it’s in our tone of voice.

It’s our body language. It’s our attitude. It’s our own biases that we bring. So it’s, it’s pretty complicated. But it’s very, very exciting because we have a chance to change. As I alluded to earlier, never before have we had the moment where the impetus is there. We can choose to now step into that opportunity and that abundance. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. And organizations do need to embrace this, right? We’ve moved from an office environment. Many of us have moved from that office to, you know, I’m sitting in my home and you’re sitting in your home. And but how we lead in our organizations is different than how we might lead if we had our teams all around us.

And so, unlearning leadership where, I remember going to an office many jobs ago and I’d walk through all the cubicles of my team to get to my office so I could, you know, see and I was told, you know, Oh, make sure you check what’s on people’s monitors. See what they’re doing. Well, you can’t do that anymore.

So, how do we unlearn that style of leadership that we’ve been so ingrained into this place of, I trust you? Hey, I’m, here’s what, here’s where we’re going. Here’s what you’re responsible for. Here’s how we’re holding you accountable. And I trust you. I trust that you’re able to get your work done.

And so this idea of, yeah, just coming into work and you know, if I go to the office tomorrow and say, Oh, I’m gonna be I’m gonna listen more today, do less talking. Well, at the end of the day, I know I’m going to get on transit and say, I did way too much talking today, but it’s how? Like, and that’s the muscle that we really need to exercise is do some reflection.

You know, how do I wanna show up today? Looking at those eight to, eight dimensions, those eight characteristics, things like curiosity, love vulnerability and how do we wanna show up? I think it’s, it’s not easy. It’s not easy, but you know, I’m curious at Within People if you’re going into a client and say, Okay, we’re gonna, you know, unlearn leadership.

Where do you start? Is it just, yeah, how do you lead and then start crossing things off a list. Like I, let’s define the five things you lead by Tim and Okay, stop doing this to start doing this. Sound good? I’m being a little sarcastic there, but 

Bev Attfield

Well only because you’ve been there, right?

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, been there. It’s you know, often my team, you know, they’re pretty transparent with me and if they don’t like something they’ll, they’ll call me on it. And I love that because that’s how I can unlearn some things and relearn how to navigate a new team in a different organization, in a different work environment.

Bev Attfield

Yeah. I mean, it’s an interesting question. Like I don’t think it is, it’s as simple as just saying, okay, what’s your menu of the five things you want to work on and okay, here we go. Here’s the prescription, go off and do it. 

Tim Reitsma

It would be so easy though. 

Bev Attfield

It would be so easy to do that, but you know, I think for us, like we like to help our clients get into a future stage.

So, what would it look like for you if you were operating as X kind of company and what does success feel like when you are operating in that way? And then how do you feel as leaders when you’ve got the special kind of culture and you’re enjoying the success together as a group of people? What is it that you feel as a person in that moment and what then has to change?

So, let’s look back. What has to change from today to get you to that state? So, it’s really about helping people along the journey of discovery of where do we want to go, but what do we need to be able to do to get there? So it’s, yeah, I mean, it is complicated and I think it is multilayered and multifaceted, but that shouldn’t stop people from trying to change and improve and be better versions of themselves. 

And, you know, I think even though you know, in Laloux’s work, he’s talked about the different sort of organizational paradigms and that the types of leaders that are successful within those paradigms. He still has the position that and I’ll quote him here.

He says, the general rule seems to be that the level of consciousness of an organization cannot exceed the level of consciousness of its leader. So he still acknowledges that the, if we wanna change organizations, we actually have to start by changing the individuals who are driving that organization and then are leading in that organization.

And that starts with personal intent like you need to want to be operating in a different way if you’re going to operate as part of a teal organization. Because you can’t be command and control in an organization that has no hierarchy, right? So you have to want to make that shift for yourself and for your people and for the good of the organization.

And I think that’s what’s curious about where we find ourselves now is more and more organizations are starting to realize that their impact and their profit is actually not in monetary terms. It’s actually in what they’re doing for people who work there, it’s the consumers of their product, how it makes them feel in their lives.

It’s the wider societal benefit from them being there. And even though I think that’s gonna take a fair amount of time for us to broadly get there with corporations and organizations. I think we’ve got this like the momentum is there. We’ve now sort of started to make some movement towards this different way of operating.

And it’s gonna be super fascinating to see in the future if we could get big multinational organizations to operate in a self-managed, non-hierarchical structure, like the teal organization that Laloux talks about. I don’t know quite how it’s possible at scale. I don’t know enough about his framework and his ideas, but it’s certainly food for thought. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, definitely food for thought. I, I was talking to somebody a few weeks ago just about how, you know, we’ve, many industries had the opportunity to go into this remote and hybrid workforce. But what about industries like, hospitality or banking? You know, bank tellers still have to go and interact with people. So how do we change industries that we’ve always kind of said, oh, we can’t change that industry.

It needs to be a nine to five, or it needs to be an eight to four, or it needs to have specific work hours. So how do we grow and adapt, in different industries? Like we’re really seeing this in the technology, digital space, and those companies who are able to make a quick switch into online. And but yeah it’s gonna be really interesting, you know, maybe we’ll have a, another podcast if you know, still podcasting 5, 10 years from now.

And to have that conversation of, let’s look back and see what has changed. It’s hard to imagine, but I love that approach that you talked about Bev, which is thinking of that future state. And when I was in the consulting world, we were really consulting about purpose and values and we would have these future state.

Maybe something’s going on that you don’t like right now, but what if, like, what is the ideal? So if the ideal is to be a flat hierarchy and everyone’s dispersed and you’re getting rid of work hours and unlimited, you’re adding an unlimited vacation and unlimited everything else. Well, how do you lead in that?

And that’s the type of questions we need to be, organizations need to ask before they start just implementing all the perks. It’s like, okay, how are you gonna lead in this? How are you gonna lead in this space? And that’s gonna also attract the right people because you’re not going to necessarily, somebody who’s used to or has been in that hierarchy, you know, climb that corporate ladder.

Maybe we’ll thrive in a different in this kind of new way of working, but maybe not, and that’s okay. There’s no right or wrong answer in that, but it helps us to find that the type of talent we also need in our organizations. 

Bev Attfield

Yeah. And I think a key shift in just to take that one step further that I think we’re going to see is, we have to move away from this way of thinking that we have these ideas that we impose on people within organizations. So, we are imposing a four-day workweek on people. Have we actually asked people if they want to have a four-day workweek? So we think it’s a great perk, let’s do it, but what’s the basis for why we made that decision?

And I think that’s really the, you know, where companies can misstep is that they think they’re doing something great for their people, but it actually ends up having a negative effect on people, like you said earlier. Now, suddenly you’ve gotta do five days of work in a four-day workweek. Well, how does that make people feel?

Does it create anxiety? Does it make people burnt out? Like what is the downstream effect of actually bringing into action a perk like that or a way of being like that? And so I think we have to make this key shift and that’s really where we also headed here with more human-centric self-managed organizations is it’s moving away from imposing on to partnering with our employees. 

And I think we’re gonna start to see a lot more of that, in the demand for leaders, where leaders have to be working with people to get to outcomes, not telling people the outcome that we’re going to be heading towards. So I think there’s a very interesting area to play there that’s going to be quite interesting for us if we were to run the tape forward 5 years or 10 years how that’s going to play out as well. And just in terms of the level of participation of employees in structuring organizations going forward. 

Related Read: 10 Best Employee Experience Tools To Improve Engagement & Performance [2022]

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. That’s definitely something forward-thinking and something that we definitely need to unlearn as leaders where, you know, you read a book, you read a culture guide and go, yeah, that’s what we’re gonna do now.

And you know, you think it’s a great idea, but your employees are really going this actually has no effect on me. I was actually looking for X when you’re providing Y. So, you know, just that, that kind of goes into that unlearning of being the smartest person in the room. And you know, I’m definitely not the smartest person in, well, I am in my room cause I’m the one in my room, but definitely not the smartest person in, in, in my house or in my company. Collectively, we come up with great ideas.

And embracing that and using that as an opportunity and, you know, design thinky came out many years ago, but just that idea of like, you know, let’s imagine what if, you know, what are we looking for? What is that ideal state? And I know along my leadership journey, I’ve had many missteps from, you know, working in that command and control environment.

So I remember bringing that to my first leadership job. I had no idea how to be a manager or leader. It was just, Hey Tim, you’re a great individual contributor. Why don’t you start leading this global team? And me being young and naive said, Sure. And had no idea of what I was doing and you know, I won’t embarrass myself with all my missteps, but what is like, how do we change that?

Like, what is one thing somebody can do today, you know, who’s been taught that old style of leadership, that command, and control, or I’m the smartest person? Or, you know, don’t trust anyone, nobody’s got your back. You know, well, how do we flip that? How do we change that narrative? 

Bev Attfield

Yeah, that’s an interesting question.

Like I myself have come through that journey of, you know, introspection and learning and adapting. And I remember when I was a young person entering in, entering the workforce and you know, my idea of what it meant to be a CEO was that I would have all the power and I would be able to have the control and call the shots.

And that was really appealing to me, like that was the pinnacle of what I wanted to strive for as a young person growing in business, in my career. And unfortunately for me, I held that position or attitude when I started leading my own team one day, when I started having a small team to manage. And, you know, very quickly in practice I was tested and I made a lot of mistakes because I was trying to be too controlling.

I was trying to be bossy. And the one who knew everything and nobody else’s ideas mattered because if unless the idea came from me, it didn’t matter. And I’m very grateful that I had some learning experiences and some corrective experiences from people who were reporting to me as well as my own boss at the time. That sort of helped me understand that I can’t lead that way and that isn’t a sustainable way to carry yourself or help you make others feel like they want to be around you, quite honestly. 

Like that’s what it came down to for me is, did I want to show up in this way, and do I want people to be around me and working productively with me? And that’s why I ultimately realized I needed to change because I wasn’t serving myself and I wasn’t serving others.

So I think if, ask the question around, you know, what do we need to do to unlearn? I think it starts with yourself like you can’t start by trying to change the structure around you. It’s not your team’s fault. You know, it’s the way you lead is, has got nothing to do with your team. It’s got everything to do with you. So, I think unlearning starts with the individual. 

And like I said, I was really grateful that I had that learning experience very early on in my managing days. And I’m not perfect and I’m obviously not there yet. I do find myself falling back into that controlling mindset once in a while, but you know, I think look for the opportunities to be, correct it. 

Like have humility about yourself and have your eyes opened and take all the feedback you can get, ask for it up, down, sideways because you know what? We’ve all got blind spots. There’s probably some bet behaviors that you don’t even know you have that are really annoying your team, and that are really making them question whether they want to stay at your organization because of you. 

Like, that’s the reality of it, right? Who wants to come to work and be around someone who’s miserable and controlling and undermines you and doesn’t celebrate you and doesn’t include you and cuts you off in meetings as I just cut you off. But you get my point, right? 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. I get your point a hundred percent. And as I sit here and squirm in my chair and ’cause it’s uncomfortable. But that’s, I think one of the, I wanna say joy of this journey of leadership. Whether it’s, you know, somebody might be listening who doesn’t lead a team, but, you know, maybe you’re playing sports. 

Maybe you have family. Maybe you have kids. Maybe you’ve got a good group of friends that come to you for advice. You’re leading. Some way in your life you’re leading. And I’ll never forget I had a coach who a career coach who made me one of my assignments, go to my team and ask for feedback. 

And I had a form and I emailed it to my entire team and I told them that this is what I was doing and don’t hold back. Please, you know, give me feedback and not just the highlights. You know, my good friend, Matt Gould would say tell me more. Not just say, Oh, I don’t like it when you interrupt me.

Okay, well, tell me more about that. Like, what does it make you feel, so I can actually feel that and change versus just dismiss it. And I’ll never forget it. It’s actually on my wall here because it helps correct me of course, correct me when I’m feeling like something’s amiss, I don’t look to blame my team.

I, you got, we got to look internally at ourselves. I, a hundred percent agree with that. So, when we think of unlearning leadership, it’s, you know, look at ourselves. Gather the feedback

Bev Attfield

Yeah. And I think it, it helps to not think about it maybe as unlearning leadership and as, how do you want to be a better human being?

Because, you know, if we neatly put people in this sort of leadership box, then it requires us to think about certain behaviors and characteristics of traits and traits of leaders. But really like, let’s break that apart and let’s just say, what if we all just looked at ourselves as we’re just humans and we’re trying to be better humans?

And if I work on myself in whichever capacity or way that I can, chances are I’m going to improve the way that I show up in the world and that’s going to improve the way that people relate to me and with me. So maybe for those of us who are listening here that don’t see themselves as leaders, like actually think about it as unlearning human behaviors that hold us back, because that’s ultimately what it comes down to. 

It’s, you know, those eight qualities that we think are what defines leaders. They’re actually eight qualities of what defines decent human beings. So, maybe that’s a way to think about it is just, well, we’re all humans, we’re all imperfect, but this is the moment for us to be working on ourselves and imagine how much good could come from that.

Tim Reitsma

You’re absolutely right. Leadership isn’t a status. It’s as previous guests said leadership is the energy you bring. And so, it’s not a status. It’s how we show up and we show up as humans and we’re deeply flawed. Well, I speak on myself. I don’t wanna project, but I’m deeply flawed.

I mean, my, my four year old and eight-year-old remind me that of all time and correct me all the time. But you know, when I think of even raising kids and think about these eight dimensions, I want them to be full of curiosity, asking questions researching themselves or asking those around them and loving one another, loving themselves for who they are.

And you know, thinking of these three dimensions that pop into my mind right away, and then the vulnerability piece. Not being afraid to own our emotions and get feedback and embrace it and know that we’re perfectly imperfect and that’s okay. 

Bev Attfield

100%. I like to call myself a recovering perfectionist.

So, I am actively, daily working on embracing my imperfection and working on the things that I can. And you know, as someone once said, and I, which I identify with, because I happen to have dogs, but I want to be the human that my dogs think I am. Because they think that I am just, you know, the best thing that arrived in their world and I wanna live up to that.

That’s what I want to be. So that’s what guides me every day. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. So, so with that, I think that’s a, that’s a perfect ending is, you know, be the human that your dogs see you as or your, you know, tiny baby your two-month-old baby is, looks at you and smiles and thinks you’re perfect. And so how do we become, you know, that striving to be that better human. 

And so, Bev it’s always such a pleasure to talk to you. And I know we could probably go on for a couple hours, but yeah. It was such a good conversation and again, thanks for coming on. 

Bev Attfield

Yeah. Awesome. Thanks so much, Tim. Lovely to have this chance to chat and I hope that we’ll continue to keep our eye on things and come together and dissect things and see what progresses and just, you know, help keep each other honest as we work on our imperfections together as we go forward into the world here. 

Tim Reitsma

Oh, I’d love that. Yeah, for sure. Well, we’ll definitely be staying in touch and for those who are listening we’ll definitely include the links on how to get ahold of Bev, her LinkedIn, as well as her link at Within People and our emails.

So, if you do have questions about leadership, unlearning leadership, unlearning how, unlearning and relearning how to be a better human. Bev is a great resource for you. 

And as always, if you like what you’ve heard today, please subscribe to our podcast. Please leave us a rating or reach me at tim@peoplemanagingpeople.com and I’d love to hear your feedback. 

So with that, thanks again, Bev. And to all those who are listening, have a great day!

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