Episode 4 · 1 year ago

#4 Resilience from organisational and psychological perspective with Trevor Hough


Resilient leadership

In this new episode Jеlena Dimitrijevic from JelenaCONSULT welcomes Trevor Hough from BlackLight Advisory consultants. Trevor Hough has worked as a psychoanalytic psychologist and organisation development consultant for the past 20 years. He works with businesses and individuals globally, focusing on strategic change, developing leadership, executive coaching and organization development and design.

Trevor, in his unorthodox style, spends time encouraging organisations to spend more time thinking about leadership than attempting to train leaders. Through the podcast dialogue Trevor attempts to dispel the myth of leadership being about one person, but rather focuses leadership as something that occurs dynamically within relationships between people. Trevor believes that shifting the focus of leadership onto relationship building, is one of the building blocks required in humanising organisational life. He further elaborates on our often-ambivalent relationship we have towards leadership. We idealise and demand it and are then most often disappointed by it.

Trevor and Jelena further consider the concept of resilience and reflect on both its current popularity and its paradoxical nature. They reflect on how we have grown up in cultures that admire endurance and grit to get by, and how this is in fact the antithesis to resilience. Organisations and Western society at large idealise individual “strength” and “grit” and these traits paradoxically diminish resilience. Our guest promotes the idea that it is in fact the recognition and integration of our vulnerabilities that is truly at the base of resilience.

Trevor, who currently lives in a wildlife reserve in South Africa, describes how the ecosystems he encounters every day in nature can help us to understand our own organisations better.

With his colleague Ajit Menon, Trevor has just published a book of stories on organisational consulting, What Lies Beneath: How Organisations Really Work, covering many of the above ideas and thoughts. It is available from the 1st of June.


My Name is Ellen demitrievitch and welcome to Yellena consult podcast series and resilience. Today are guest the trever half, and today we will be talking about resilient leadership. Let me tell you a bit about our guests. Travel half is an organizational development consultant and clinical psychologist and he helps organizations and individuals in organizational development and design, in Change Management, Leadership Development, executive coaching facilitation, and he does so in a way that combines his clinical knowledge with his knowledge of organizational systems and business strategy. And we are both threever we met as members of the ICPS, the International Society for Psychoanalytic Studies of Organizations. Right, that's absolutely correct, and thank you so much for wonderful introduction. Welcome, and I think it's interesting for the listeners also to say how you work and how you are associated with a number of organizations these days. Excellent. Thank you so much. Yes, as you said, I my original training was as a clinical psychologist and then as a psychoanalytic therapist. I am not trained in Conn relational psycho analysis and I worked as an individual therapist for probably about seven or eight years, but I kind of got restless and I loved working with groups and I grew up as as a nomad. I grew up work living all over the world. My father worked in the in the oil industry, and so we moved around a lot and so sitting in one room was quite difficult to me and so, quite fortunately, I was approached by some people who worked for a financial services institution and they were looking for psychologists to get involved in organization development. And so that was fifteen years ago and started started consulting that and did some retrained and organizational psychology as well, and have been consulting in mostly in the financial services sector, for the last fifteen years and I've been really fortunate. I am. I consult all over the worlds in Asia and Hong Kong, in India and in Europe, and right now I'm based in South Africa. I'm for the lockdown. My I was born in South Africa and studied here and I left Europe chill. I think it's almost a year ago in February, for the kind of thinking I'd be back quite soon in the lockdowns as taken over. It's been a year and I'm actually at present living in the Kreger National Park, kind of working remotely from there, which has been such a wonderful, amazing experience. Yeah, that's a little bit of kind of what brought me into the field and I think it's also interesting for the listeners that it might be there too. Recently caught authored the book about organizations and working with them. Can you tell us a bit about the least? Yeah, that's correct. So my good friend and colleague Jetmen and and I co authored a book together on our organizational stories. You know, it's kind of what lies beneath, what really goes on in organizations, and and we ready we use the metaphor of the iceberg to say that, you know, what's really happening lies underneath the surface, and we draw and probably twelve stories of our consulting lives over the years. What was such a lovely part of that book as well was that we didn't just describe the stories of the organizations we worked in, but we described our supervision or what we call extra vision conversations. Often we in this field talk about supervision where we go to somebody who's kind of perhaps more experienced than us and, you know, in a mentorship role. But extra vision is such a lovely. The GRUB institute use it as a term and and and we took it on because we thought it was it was a lovely way. So extra vision is just an extra pair of eyes, somebody outside of the system who looks on and we describe quite in depth the kind of extra vision conversations we had through these consulting experiences as ways of learning and holding ourselves honest and working...

...out where were constantly made mistakes in our working and I think the lovely part of that in a book was that supervision is always been shrouded in mystery. You know kind of psychoanalysis as this mysterious process where you kind of which happens in the inner room with one person on a couch and and nobody really knows what goes on. It's quite secretive and I I've a real problem with that in a sense that it doesn't make it accessible to the world and I think that psychoanalysis is something that is so much value to add to the wide society we live in and for to be shrouded than mystery, I think it's problematic. And so that was the lovely part of the book because we expose this the supervision or extra vision process so that so that the reader can actually get a sense of what really happens in that room. Oh Great, we will talk about the book because I think it's also in a way connected with the topic today about resilient leadership, and I wanted to ask you to start a conversation. I mean, both resilience and leadership are huge buzz words. So I'm aware that we might be creating the super buzz word here, but besides the fact that there is a huge draw around these terms, I think there's also a huge sense of importance around both these terms during times of cold but also, you know, in the post covid world. I think it's important. So I wanted to ask you how you perceive leadership, not just now during the covid crisis, but also for the cold of covid world. I mean, I think, you know, I think we come from a world in which we've spent so much time and so much money talking about developing leaders and when I hear about leadership development, it's almost like we're developing people to take up a role or a position, and I have a big problem with that because I didn't think, I don't like to think of leadership as a role. I like to think about leadership as a verbs something we do and you know, we kind of we take up leadership and we and we conduct the act of leading for a moment. I mean you and I are doing it right here, right now. We're kind of in a moment you leading and then I lead and you follow, and it's for me it's this dynamic relationship that happens constantly of stepping into and to lead and it's simultaneously following. And so for me I'm much more interested in the concept of leadership than developing of leaders and I like to look at leadership in in society and organizations and the relationship that exists, because I think so often we look at it as a one person psychology. As you know, this is the leader and this is what the leader does and then people should follow that leader, and I think we miss out in the dynamic relationship that happens between, you know, leading and following, and it's something we do constantly. You know, you there's nobody in the world is just a leader. There's you know, then there's nobody. There's a leader all day. You know, we kind of constantly move in and out of these positions. So that really is, for me, the most important part of talking about leadership and and if I'm talking to an organization about leadership, it is exactly that. It's about leadership rather than leaders yeah, there's a huge idea all ization of leadership and there's a all fidelization of resilience as well, and I think it's a normal thing that happens in during periods of transition and there's this constant pulled to idealization. And there's another thing that reality brings us this view of leadership that, as you say, it constantly changes and it's more about leadership than about leaders well, I think. I think we have this really ambivalent relationship to the concept of leadership anyway. You know, on one level we're looking for some kind of parental figure who's going to save us and rescue us and make everything okay, and then at the same time we were rebelling against it and saying how bad you that that idea leads us, and therefore I suppose exactly what you said, this idealization of this great leader out there with some are going to save us, and then we get deeply disappointed with me realize that actually the person we're working with as a human being and you know that we impact them in the relationship as much as they impact us. I think it's such an easy thing to kind of go, well, we'll just leave it up to leadership. And I think the problem in our world right now is that, you...

...know, in politically for this per se, because we're so desperate for somebody to step in, we have these people who step up and say, Hey, I'll take that role. I mean we've seen it. We saw trump, we've seen it with Johnson, we've seen it with Peute and we've seen it with a gun. We've seen all of these people who kind of say I'll take up that position and then we get so angry with them because like they've disappointed and let us down and and and we don't look at ourselves and say, well, you know, why did I expect that person to rescue me and take care? I think it's something about our dependency that speaks up in those moments. Yeah, I keep remind being reminded of a beyonce thing about like how members of the group collude, you know, to find the leader who has sufficient wisdom or who is, for example, authoritarian enough. In examples of trump or Johnson ors some we also have some kind of leader later in serve you, you know, and when they don't prove to be kind of the smartest person in the room, then we have a problem, we have a crisis and we want to eject them because they weren't who we hope there would be. Yeah, it's it's a beautiful thing. It's I think it was Plato said, be aware of a nation who needs heroes, because some found something for me about needing heroes. I mean, you know, I think from a developmental point of and I think that's the lovely part of coming from a clinical background and is, you know, develop mentally, early in our lives we look up to parental figures, of fathers or people to be our heroes. And yet if we're still looking for heroes as adults, I think there's something really dangerous in that because it means that there's an aspect of myself that I split off and I don't own. And I see this in organizations all the time, you know, kind of people waiting for the leaders determine what to do to make me feel okay, and a sense then of a loss of agency. And then we complain that we don't have agency. So I think it's a really important part and and especially when we're looking working in organizations and in this thing we call leadership development, helping to somehow prick the bubble, you know, some of that little bit of that narcissistic bubble when people think they're going to become leaders, and actually kind of help them to say, you know, try not to take up what is projected onto you. Be Aware of that because you know, I mean, I have that saying that I know you've heard me said a few times. So no good d goes unpunished. I like to think of a little bit like, you know, kind of your follow us as please rescue me. So almost like they're holding a ball of fire and they want to handle ball of fire to the next thing. You're holding the ball of fire and and you go, I don't know what I wanted, what to do with us, but you know, you've let them off the hook and I answer. This dynamic relationship around dependency is something that I think plays out very much in our organizations. And you brought up the term resilience. You know, I think that that resilience is also in myth and sense, because we have this idea that we have to be strong and in control and and all of that stuff, but I think that resilience is really a sense for me, of of not taking on the ball of fire. I like to think of it that if we're going to help people in organizations when there's anxiety, when their difficulties, is the person in the WHO's taking up leadership at that moment able to help the person who's following in the moment? Put that ball of fly up on the table and let's talk about it, let's look at it, rather than somebody having a sense that they have to own it. Yeah, I like it that you mentioned this balance between, you know, kind of being, for example, having a vision or motivation and this thing, that idealization, and on the other hand, this one no ability and, you know, taking things out in the open to discuss them. Yeah, I think it's a good way for this balance to be achieved. Yeah, yeah, now what if they're one of the most beautiful things happened in the last year. Of trained further and I trained as the Game Ranger and I've been living out in the wild, as you know, out in the Bush the Group of Park and I go walking off and I am. You know, one of the things up here is when you train the game ranger, you train in with rifles and a lot of people walk with their rifles because their elephants in line and everything around. I don't like walking with rifles unless I have to take clients out, which I don't do very often, because I feel that if I take a rifle out with me it's like wearing armor.

I lose touch with what's really going on around me. I had an accounter the other day with an elephant that got quite upset and chat and, you know, kind of like charged me and made a big noise. I wasn't didn't have a rifle. But the pleasure with it is that I've felt quite vulnerable in that moment, but the vulnerability left me kind of activated and aware and and I was able to move off and and that control and lead. In that moment. I was quite happy to follow, follow his lead, but nobody got hurt, whereas I can imagine that if I felt Gung Ho and that I was, you know, kind of strong and I had my rifle, things could have gone horribly wrong and I and so I use it as a metaphor that I think that I took. I think that the the Bush and and ecology can teach us a lot of lessons about leadership, about organizations, about ecosystems, because I didn't think of organizations as anything but just another ecosystem. I think we as humans like to think that we're different in some our special and above the other animals, but we function in an ecosystem like any other ecosystem. Yeah, and leadership should be kind of informed about that. Right. Well, completely, leadership is about functioning with an ecosystem, but I think we've lost track of that. I think we've had this mythology of control and that we can control people in organizations, we can get them to do what we want them to do, and that if we control and measure them and you know that somehow we're going to be successful. I really think that if we look at this covid pandemic, you know, this is really strown us the how little control we really have. Your imperial spoke about this being an existential pandemic rather than just a medical pandemic. It's an existential crisis for humanity because in a way we have to ask, I think, really look at how little control we really have and how, by the belief that we had control, led to this, to this point. So I think it's a really, really good inflection point for us as a species. So, as a leader or, for example, as a role of leadership, it would be just to you know, kind of acknowledge this existential fear, or however we want to call it, and kind of help over the followers overcome it, not to be kind of stuck in the anxiety and so on. Well, I think you're absolutely right. I think that what we're having to do is acknowledge the anxiety, and the anxiety is there for all of us right now. I mean, you know, if you're not anxious right now, I think there's a there's a problem. You know, this is a brand new world, I mean, and I think the acknowledgement of it and the getting together to work out, you know, how do we car do we react to it, rather than having hopes and desires that we're going to return to some old way that's going to be, you know, perfect and everything's going to be fine. And so I think that, in the role of taking up leadership right now, is is about acknowledging that. It is about, you know, being able to to cocreate a new future with the people that we're working with rather than, you know, having to have all the answers. And we talked a lot about the leadership, but I wanted to ask you how you perceive resilience. You said a bit about that, but I want to ask you some more because I noticed it's a very popular term these days. You know, when people started portraying resilience, you know, as if it's a muscle that can be built. I mean, it can be built, of course, but I think this metaphor of resilience being a muscle and also there's there are a lot of, you know, those Harvard Business Review articles about, you know, climbing mountain peaks and so on. So kind of a biological field, biological metaphors. So how do you see it? I mean I think it's said it it just did God set, because I think it is thrown around and bandied around like this new happy term. You know, I kind of you know, I have a difficulty when people like talk about searching for happiness, as if happiness is a destination or resilience as a destination that we achieved. You. I know, one of the things that I'm seeing a lot of in both in my private patients but also organizations, is that, you know, instead of working with resilience, we are working with what trying to work with endurance,...

...and I think we mix the two up in a way that we you know, we've gritted our teeth and thought, well, we've got to get through this pandemic, that you know, if we just gritted out and you know, we'll be okay. And you know I mean. I used to cycle marathons and long distances and if you go to cycle a hundred and fifty kilometers, it's tough, but you know exactly what the finish line is and you can watch on your on your there dominitor or whatever, as it climbs down towards that and you use endurance to get there. And once you have the finish line you can fall over, it doesn't matter. You use the energy to get to the point. For me, the resilience is something slightly different, resiliences where we don't know what that end line is, and with Covid I think that's the reality. You know, we've hearing from everybody. Well, you know it'll be fined by the stummer or once the vaccines are out. Everything is going to be fine and will return to some old world, and that, to me, is utilizing veensurance and every team and every organization. I talked to you right now. What is the thing I hear the most? We're exhausted, we're burnt out, and I mean I feel it myself. I feel I wake up in the mornings, are sometimes feel irritable. I'm I'm tired, and partially because I felt that I could grip my way through this. Now I think resilience is something slightly different. I was telling you the other day about this pride of lions that hang around where I live, and lines are incredible creatures. They look strong, they beg they kind of you know that they're powerful. They eat probably every second of third day and when they when they hunt, they are ferocious creatures and to watch a line killing something is is quite a thing. It's ferocious. However, they use all their energy to quickly catch. It takes some twenty minutes to catch something, and then they eat it and takes in two hours and then they lie and they sleep for sixteen hours. So lions, like most cats, been, you know, most of the day lying around sleeping. That's why they look so strong. They in fact use resilience in that sense, and resilience is about resting, it's about, you know, kind of strong effort and then taking and taking a break, and I think, I think that's something that we're not doing right now. You know, if we talk to people in Organization, people that have work, I mean I see it every single day. I'm mean very fortunate having the work that I'm in the you know, both a clinician as a consultant. My work is increased over the last year, but so many of my colleagues and friends have lost jobs, are out of work, don't have work, and there's something that happens in me when I speak to them off and letter. How are you doing? And as I'm tired because I'm so busy, I feel guilty. I feel guilty that I have work. In a way, it's almost like a survivor guilt. It's a professional survivor skill. I find when I live with that survivors guilt, what happens to me is that I tend to work harder. Like you know, I need to be up six in the morning and I know we need to work at ten at night because I need to be grateful and I and guilt pushes me into into taking in undertaking tasks like that, and I see a lot of people who going through that. So how we work with that guilt, I think, is important and it's important and how it hits us in terms of our resilience as well. And you were work with a lot of seals and leaders, and how do you think they perceive at how do they how do you help deal with this guilt that they have? It? I'll do challenge their perspectives on leadership, on resiliens. I mean, I think the first thing for me is to is to somehow, even if I can just get them to acknowledge that they really don't know what the answers are, and even if in private they can say that to somebody. I think their biggest fear, and I mean I know for many of them, they terrified of people that work for them losing their jobs, you know, kind of these families that rely on them. I'm thinking it's a deep sense of responsibility that most of them have and I think they pretend that they've got everything under control because they don't want to other us to know that. You know that they don't often know what's going on, and so there's something wonderful about and quite about the space of working with the CEO that often it's the only time that they can say to somebody, if they trust you, I don't know what I'm doing or I'm terrified, and I think it's such a paradoxical thing because just the capacity to say I'm terrified or I...

...don't quite know what the future looks like, it kind of liberates that and and in a way that is what creates resilience, of kind of connecting with another person emotionally and be able to share that vulnerability without the fear that everybody else is going to find out, and then building specially right and building strategies around it. But you first need to understand you know, I don't have all the answers, and I think that's that's often very difficult for people, and especially men, you know, kind of the kind of way masculinity has been to being constructed in the world that we live and of having to have all the answers and be strong and whatever that might mean. But you know, I think I think, I think men are floundering in that. I must say one of the things that I've that are struck me through this pandemic is the number of men I've heard of and come to in a sense of out of desperation, of not knowing what to do. I've heard in many places come across that and it's a frightening thing that's happening in our world. But how do you kind of build support to prevent this in is organizations and around them? Well, I think it goes back to the very thing we spoke about, which is that, you know, organizations, if you take away everything else, is just a bunch of relationships. And my question always is what what is the quality of those relationships? How do you dance together? How do you and the people you work with dances? You know, what does the dance look like? And I think that if you do dance well, if you're able to and see it as a dance and you can see the importance of relationships, sharing something in a relationship takes away some of that anxiety. I mean, I know I've, you know, over the years of working as a therapist, I've lost patients it's being really sad, you know, kind of to suicide. And there's something really interesting that happens and that is that when it when somebody that you know work with commits suicide. Every single time you go, where did that come from? How did I miss that? And it's such an interesting thing because in fact is research published on it that when we worry about somebody because they've told us what's going on, they don't take their own lives often, and my experience has been and and research shows it up, that people who take their own lives don't tell anybody that they're in trouble. It's a very lonely, isolating process. So I think if you know in that sense of helping people understand the resilience is not something you develop on your own. It's not a muscle that you go out and train on your own life running. It's something that you develop in relationship with other people and also on your own as well, kind of through those, I don't know, behaviors that you might develop like rituals. Yes, absolutely, absolutely. You know, I think can put in the work that we do. I mean it's such an important part of you're going to be carrying things and containing people every day. Who looks after you? I talk to my colleagues or see them burning out. You know, it's I remember you know that strange thing we used to do flying aeroplanes, you know, when we when we traveled where you've got on board and they said, you know, in case of emergency in the oxygen masks, please put your own on first before you help anybody else. And I and I really believe that for leadership for ourselves, look after yourself first. You conduct after anybody unless you're okay. That's one one way to but they're also other ways. Right, absolutely, yeah, but I truly, I mean I'm, you know, I'm based in that way, but I believe that it does happen in relationships. It's not something it happens on our own. It kind of circles back to the notion that leadership is not a person. It's kind of thing happens in relationships between people. Yes, I really believe that it's and relationships between, you know, between people, between different parts of the businesses, between you know, kind of you know, we speak about it, you know often. Edgar shy and spoke about that the main job of leadership was to manage culture, and I questioned sometimes worth that part because I think, you know, leadership is culture. You you end up in a leadership position because you fit the culture rather than you manage the culture. You know, cultures, culture is not something it it's not something that you can...

...grasp. It's a little bit like water, you know, the more you grasp at the more flip goes through your things. It's something we swimming and and I think it's good for leadership to think about that rather than some other again thinking they have control of the culture that they function within. Thank you for that thought. It's really nice and I also wanted to ask you perhaps to share some experiences with leaders from from the book that you're writing, to kind of maybe if you want to share with the listeners, I think and those stories you're going to have to. You're going to have to wait. But I can tell you I I've had some of the most wonderful relationships in my life in terms of people that I've worked with. I had been very fortunate to have some very close relationships. I have a CEO in India who who I absolutely adore. We've worked together for five years. It's been the most enriching relationship I think. You know. You know one of the things that in the past we often think that we're in the helping profession and and, you know, the client develops through the relationship with us. What I've what I've seen for myself, is is that it's a two way street, that those wonderful relationships I've had with with CEOS, with executives that I've worked with, my Gosh, I've learned so much about myself through and they teach me as much as perhaps they might learn from me. You know, I don't I don't believe that I ever go in to train anybody. You know, I'm not a I'm not a believer in the term training. I think, I think that our work is a develop mental process, that is, that is a relationship, the two way streak. It happens between two people rather than one way process. Yeah, I like what doing crancers about it. Thought Partnership. I like that very much. We help people well. Well, we create a space to where people can think. Yeah, and I will also think thinking as opposed to, you know, just action or taking quick action, is also kind of importance that our work brings. It's kind of from beyond, just putting it back inside instead of, you know, taking everything outside and having to rush into action. We live in a world like that, don't we? It's like kind of give me a quick solution. I need to know how to solve this problem now. It's this instant gratification. It's Instagram, facebook and all of that, like I want to know right now. This is see you. I work with in London, do by door. We get on really well and he often you'll say to me, I need to know three things I can do to solve this problem, and I've often I just burst out laughing because it's like, you know, if I really knew those three things, I'd be on a I'd be on my yachts, you know, kind of sailing the Caribbean, because I wouldn't have to work. There is no magic wand and gets really angry with me, but I think it's that beautiful part with CRANCIS, which is kind of you know, it's about creating a space to think in a world that we don't we don't often spend that time thinking. It's almost like, you know, the space to think has become looked down upon because you're not a man of action or a person of action, you know, and I think that's really problematic and it helps a lot just to step back with resilience as well, just to step back and it helps you in Dore More. Yeah, absolutely no. Suddenly, my supervised, my clinical supervisor, described to me beautifully one day should it's called mentalizing, right, and that's what parents do with children. They help them to mentalize, mentalizes thinking about their feelings and we manage our feelings through thinking about them. I just feeling them. and She described it beautiful to me and it's a such a lovely metaphor me. She'd imagine a little ten Yearo boy comes home and you're sitting there and he's you can see the angry, and he comes these smashes his toy on the floor and the first thing, hopefully, you do is a parent, to say by got your room because you cane to smash things on the floor and you let him cool down. But that's just the start. You then walk in the room when he's cooled down and say hey, you know, you're not getting another toy for a while, or you're gonna have to stay in your room or you're not going to be a lot of visit your friends. You put a consequence to his action, but again that's not enough. And then you say help, you understand what happened. You walked in and you looked angry. And what you do in that moment just you help...

...them to think that. You him a name for a feeling and he goes, yes, I was angry. He recognized that the feeling. And what happened? Well, my friend, they bullied me and this and that and happened at school. Ah, so you you were scared, your bullied and you came home and you took your anger by throwing it down. Yes, okay, and you help them talk it through. That's mentalizing, that's creating a thought space about his feeling. And then it's such a beautiful thing because the feeling dissipates and he learns something and then he says, you all, I can now understand, I can I have can have a new toy and you go know, you can't. There's still a consequence. But if we do that, if we help our children to mentalize, they grow into adults that are able to mentalize for themselves and you learn. I come across so many of people in the world that just never had that opportunity. They don't know how to do it and a feelings overwhelm them and then they turned to other things to, you know, to kind of gambling, sex, alcohol, whatever else might be, to drugs to try and regulate their emotions, and I think often that's what we're there to do, is to help people to mentalize. Yeah, you've put it so so nicely. Thank you so much for this, Chent, and thank you for being the guest to our podcast. Looking forward to seeing you someone the time on our podcast. I shure it's be. It'll be lovely to see you in person because it's you know, this talking like this zoom is just it's just so disconnected. But thank you so much for such a wonderful opportunity to talk to you and I really appreciate it and enjoyed it.

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