What lies beneath the surface

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On a recent business trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I had to spend 14-days in Bahrain due to Covid-19 travel protocol, prior to entering Saudi. While in Bahrain, staying in the Seef district of Manama, I went out for a run. It was a beautiful sunny morning, with the Gulf at low tide. During my run, on the shoreline of the Gulf I saw three distinct rock circles, with water coming up through each, only noticeable due to the low tide. But while it caught my attention, I didn’t break pace and kept running.

Later that day, while searching around Google Maps for potential dinner venues, I noticed a photo map-marker with the words ‘Fresh water springs in the middle of the sea’ – it was where I was running earlier. I clicked on it, and saw pictures of those same three circles – but nothing further. I’m now intrigued.

After a few searches, I learned that Bahrain is Arabic for ‘two seas’. These two seas are the ‘sea above’ – the Gulf – and the ‘sea below’, which according to the myth, is the sweet, fresh water from below that the gods blessed the country with at the beginning of the world. It’s this sweet water that breaks through the surface, and meets the sea above to sustain life. It was this sweet water that sustained travellers from afar on their long journeys.

And so often it is with the work we do, we become so busy ‘doing’ the things that lie on the surface. When organisations go through a transformation, they remain focused on what’s happening on the surface, they take for granted what’s going on below, ‘the being’, which is the organisation’s ‘sweet water’.

It’s what lies beneath that helps you to endure

When we have that clear, clean, sweet water, we are able to support abundant life. Having a focus on not just what we are doing, but the strategic clarity around why we are ‘doing’ – this is what sustains the organisation on its transformational journey.

Transformation conjures images of caterpillars and butterflies. But that is a hidden journey, tucked safely away in the chrysalis. The reality of transformation is that it is more akin to go from childhood to adulthood – not through a safe, hidden chrysalis, but navigating the awkwardness and uncertainty of our teenage years. For many of us, that period of time is one where we lack confidence and may struggle with direction, trying to figure out how we fit into the world. Think about that note you would write today to your 15-year-old self to provide some advice – what would that clarity feel like at a time of such uncertainty?

Think about that note you would write today to your 15-year-old self to provide some advice – what would that clarity feel like at a time of such uncertainty?

That’s what we as leaders need to constantly do as our organisation is transforming – give our people clarity and reassurance about their place today and how they fit into the future.

Every transformation is a journey

When on a journey, there is inherently a simultaneity of movement – as we move towards what we want to be, we are at the same time moving away from where we were. At one time you’re making progress towards your goal (B), which may be exciting but is often felt as moving toward more unknowns. However, at the same time, you are also moving away from where you are now (A), which is known, safe and comfortable.

Many transformations fail because we get ‘stuck in the middle’, challenged with the tension between ‘being’ and ‘becoming’. At some point we have to let go of the safety of the knowns from point A, and commit to driving through the unknowns to get to point B. 

As leaders, we need to constantly revisit our messaging throughout our transformational journey. We need to give our people, who hold the capability for transformation, the confidence during that transition, which comes from them having clarity.

When you have clarity, capability and confidence, you’ll shift the odds in your favour for transformational success.

With that clarity, they more readily and confidently make the journey towards the transformational future, ready to deal with the unknowns, untethered from the past.

How to paint a vivid picture of the future:

  • Take the time to personalise the messaging
  • Celebrate the incremental steps made towards that future
  • Recognise both where we have progressed to, and what we have let go of from the past.
  • Get below the surface of the ‘human doing’, dig deep to get to the ‘human being’ with clarity.

Join me at this S&S exclusive webinar

On Wednesday 21st April at 5.30pm, I will be speaking at the S&S webinar, The Secrets of the 16%, discussing how organisations can affect change across people, strategy and leadership. Find out more and register…

I’ll see you there!