Why we also need to transform ourselves if we want to transform our organisations

: Sarah Carter

In the final of a 5-part blog series on mindful leadership and organisational culture, Sarah Carter reminds us that everything starts with us as individuals and introduces Wisdom Fish’s five Building Blocks of Character.

As leaders, we’re increasingly called upon to be creative and innovative – to find new and better ways of doing things. And certainly innovation has never been more important to us as a sector. But there’s often this misconception that if we’re asked to innovate that we need to run around and “innovate” at every opportunity – to look busy, take risks, be creative.


Innovation can be in the little things we do every day

But let’s not forget that innovation isn’t always about technological developments or the latest invention. Innovation doesn’t have to be about huge changes or projects; it can be in the little things that we do every day. It’s just as important (perhaps even more so) that we’re innovative in the way that we develop ourselves as individuals and our organisational culture. For without the foundation of healthy individuals and cultures, the right kind of innovation just can’t happen.

The previous four blogs I’ve written in this series look at the impact our patterns of behaviour can have on ourselves, our teams and organisations; they’ve looked at leadership style and how Wisdom Fish’s Building Blocks of Culture, including initiations, can enable us to have a direct influence on the health and vitality of our organisations and the individuals in it.


Everything starts with us as individuals

But for all of these things to mean anything, for us to be able to impact on others and our culture in any meaningful way, we have to put time and attention into ourselves and our own character.  If we ignore our own character, our own development, not only might we fail to realise our potential but we also potentially let down those around us and the cultures that we’re a part of.The Building Blocks of Character

So what elements contribute to our character? Wisdom Fish believe there are five building blocks on which our character is built. These relate to the needs we all have within us as human beings; they are at the heart of what it is to be human, they bring us to life. These building blocks include: 

Activity – responding to our human need to do. The need to do is about our need to have an effect and show we exist as human beings. It’s fundamental to who we are, to getting things done and to the practical activity within our organisations. But there can be a danger that we get so caught up in ‘doing’ that we don’t connect activity to our bigger sense of purpose and direction; it becomes activity for its own sake. We become stressed, exhausted, worn out because we don’t connect it with the bigger picture and lose the point of what we’re doing. 

Interaction – responding to our human need to relate. This is about how we interact, express, co-operate and empathise. It’s about our ability to understand ourselves and others and a recognition that our strength as individuals lies not in trying to be someone else or to manipulate and control others but in being authentic and true to who we are. It’s here that we lay the foundations and set conditions for healthy, honest relationships. If as individuals we’re pretending to be something we’re not, not only is it emotionally exhausting, it can also mean we avoid the experiences and relationships which may enable us to psychologically grow and develop.


Direction – responding to our human need for purpose. This is about wanting to find our role in life; we start to ask important questions about where we want to be, our place in the world, why we’re doing what we’re doing. 

Wholeness – responding to our human need for psychological integration, developing our identity and recognising our shadow. This is where mindfulness and self-awareness are key. We need to be aware of the impact of our mental states on those around us and recognise the importance of owning those mental states and holding ourselves accountable. 

Meaning – responding to our human need for meaning and our philosophy on life. Individuals who have spent time developing the building block of meaning in their lives are able to create, communicate and sustain their vision. We are drawn to these individuals as they touch something very deep in us. Whilst they have their eye on the bigger picture, they’re still very much engaged in activity and doing. Neither Nelson Mandela nor Mahatma Gandhi, for example, just sat there talking a good job. They had to show as well as tell. 

These building blocks of character aren’t a tick box exercise; they are things we work on throughout our whole lives. And, in the main, we don’t ever master them - we just understand that they’re part of who we are and they need to continually be worked on. Or at least we do if we take the time to listen to ourselves.


So why are these Building Blocks important?

Why is it important to understand and work on these building blocks of character? Well, firstly, because we’re human. And, secondly, because if you’re a leader that understands these building blocks, you’ll have a direct route to develop and transform yourself, your team and your organisation as a whole. Because if these are in us as individuals, then they’re present within our groups and organisations too. And so we can treat the group or organisation as an individual living organism and develop the building blocks of character within them as well as within the individual person.


Building space to listen and reflect

To begin to develop the building blocks of character within ourselves, one of the places people may like to start is by building space into their lives to listen and reflect – as we can only respond to our needs if we take the time to listen to them. 

And surely that in itself is innovation? Whilst this may not feel big, it may not feel ground-breaking, it may not feel innovative, finding the time and place to be still, to be quiet and listen to what it is we need as human beings has the potential to be life-changing and transformative for us as individuals and for our organisational cultures.

Sarah Carter, Wisdom Fish

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