Let Go & Lead
Meg Wheatley Author
Co-Founder of the Berkana Institute

On Solving Tough Problems (4:30)

You know a great quantum scientist said about human nature, and also about the whole universe is that we’re all bundles of potential that manifest only in relationships. And that’s what we’ve got to work with. How wonderful. So what we need to do is figure out how to put our attention – using the processes that have been well developed at this point that bring people together so that they can discover their connections.” …

As, you talk about people, bundles of potential that manifest themselves through relationships. What might be ways that leaders could post those relationships coming together?

Yeah well, the first thing is you don’t host relationships for the sake of relationships. You bring people together because there’s work that needs to be done or problems that need to be solved. And they each have input and expertise that’s relevant. So you never just bring a whole group together to get to know each other or to develop good listening skills. I don’t support any of the work that’s done around communication skills, good listening skills, how to hold a good conversation. I don’t support it if it’s done in the abstract like you should just learn these skills. But I very much know it’s necessary once we begin the work, so. And the role for leadership for me is very clear in this way that you need to notice the issues that people are already talking about; the work that needs to be done. So sometimes you see that because you’re the senior leader but the things that people are talking about is where you will find a lot of leverage and a lot of motivation if you make those conversations that are informal if you bring them to a visible formal level.

So the important thing though, and I’ve just been hearing this over and over, I learned from my uncle who was at WWII on the Bataan Death March who said that, you know, what got us through was our relationships and we got passed all the issues of diversity and all the problems before they were on this terrible march. He just talked to me about how they were so well together across difference…Because they had a clear purpose and clear mission. And I think we need to reinvigorate our realization in that people need work. People are there to do work. They’re there to solve problems and instead of taking the problem to the senior group, you bring the problem to the people. And they if you notice their issue is of not listening well. If there are issues of diversity or past history or complaints that are getting in the way then you deal with those.

But this goes back to an earlier point I was making in which high engagement participative processes are much more productive and people get things done faster. So there’s never a time lag even though most leaders when they hear about engagement processes say well we don’t have time for that. You don’t have time not to engage people because once people will get focused on the work, then you get all of their internal motivation and they work out relationships. You know, and they work out past problems they’ve had with people because the work is this magnetizer. You know the work is what calls us together. And solving tough problems together is the most invigorating experience for people. And I see this over and over again in the most economically poor oppressed communities as well as the poor oppressed corporations these days is that when people solve a problems where others have said it was unsolvable or intractable, they develop a sense not only of camaraderie but they develop a sense of themselves and as a collective that then is an unimaginably rich resource for leaders to work with.