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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Leading Beyond Change – Leadership for New Ways of Working

Leading Beyond Change – Leadership for New Ways of Working

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Audree and Michael Sahaota about leading beyond change in the 21st century.

Key Takeaways

  • New ways of way of working require us to show up in a different way to how traditional leadership has behaved
  • The current patterns of change that we see happening in organizations are barbaric, horrific, demotivating, disengaging, and actually work against what people are saying the goal is
  • The evolutionary capability of the organization system is dependent the evolution and capability of the people because the people make up the system
  • Leadership is about having the power and the responsibility to model the change we are asking others to adopt
  • Behavioural change starts with self-reflection and self-examination



Shane Hastie: Good day folks, this is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast. I have the privilege today to sit down across the miles with Michael and Audrey Sahota. Michael and Audrey, welcome. So great to see you again.

Audrey Sahaota: Thank you so much. Good to see you too.

Michael Sahota: Yeah, it's really good. We've haven't seen you in years.

Shane Hastie: It's felt like a lot longer, but if I look back, it was two years ago almost when we recorded our last podcast, which was at Agile on the Beach. So before we get into that though, there's probably some of the audience who haven't come across you before. So would you mind just giving us the quick one minute introduction?

Introductions 01:12

Michael Sahota: So my background is actually I went through engineering. The brilliant guy who goes into really hardcore technology science. I did a master degree in computer science, have a PhD. I published papers in artificial intelligence, robotics. I switched gears and started working as a software developer, moved to architect roles, leadership roles, vice president of R&D, director of software development. And all very along, pretty much my whole professional career, I've been involved with Agile. Originally starting with extreme programming in 2000. I was really attracted to this because it's like, hey, how can we do things better? That's kind of like my constant drive.

How can we do things better? And when I switched gears working as a trainer and a consultant, helping organizations on the outside with Agile, with Lean, with digital, I realized something, is that Agile alone is insufficient. And I realized something else is that I wasn't showing up in a way where I could actually really help leaders evolve, create environments where Agile could actually work. Where we could actually get the benefits we hope for. And so I went on this incredible journey of my own self-evolution and along the way, I just was trying to figure out, how do I be successful? How do I evolve myself? And how do I learn new patterns for interacting with people in organizational systems? And so years kind of culminated in this book. It's kind of this level one sort of understanding of a very different way of looking at reality, looking at people, looking at culture, looking at what does it pay to create high performance?

And it wasn't surprising for us emergent result was that Audrey and I co-create something in which we're calling the SHIFT314 Evolutionary Leadership Framework or the SELF framework. It's about scaling excellence with people and it's really this rethink of pretty much everything. And people have part of the rethink and hear little bits and pieces here, but is that, how do we have a coherent way of looking at what's happening now and choose a different path? So that's kind of what my journey's been like.

Shane Hastie: Audrey?

Audrey Sahaota: Well, I don't come from an Agile background at all. Not really good with technology, although I am getting better and I am a Scrum master because when I was introduced to Agile, in order to work with Michael and to help develop the culture and leadership training, I really needed to understand where everybody was coming from and what they were doing. And along the way, I fell in love with Agile and I'm starting from the end and I'll go to the beginning, but I really have a passion for shifting the way humanity functions on this planet and interrelates with each other.

New ways of way of working that require us to show up in a different way 03:35

Audrey Sahaota: And I found that Agile it's actually embedded in every single organization on this planet practically. And it's this new way of working that requires us to show up in a very different way. So I come from an energy medicine background, which actually means that I do energy work, some people call it spiritual healing. I don't really call it that, but I work with energy to help people heal. And the foundation of that is studying the psychology of disease, thoughts, belief systems, and conditioning in our life experiences actually create disease in the body. And our physical forms eventually will start breaking down as low vibrational energy hits our physical form we start to break down and why is this?

Is because the way we're relating to each other, the way we're relating to ourselves, the way we're showing up in our lives, our environments, both psychologically and physically are just very, very toxic. And so I had this crazy idea, I was working on a medical team in Chicago for five years and I was working with very ill people. And I really just wanted to find a way to make a bigger impact with humanity. And I thought, gosh, if we can go into an organization and shift the mindset, the consciousness of the leaders who actually are the ones that have most influence on how these organizations are functioning, the workforce that is working in these organizations and the products and the services that they're creating, this will ripple out into the world. So if we can start with the leaders and work our way down, that would be the fastest way I see it to shift humanity.

So when I'm met Michael, I actually met Michael in India and I told him this crazy idea before I knew who he was or what he did. And he was just like, "Oh, that sounds interesting." You know? And then when he invited me to come to one of his certified Agile leadership courses to actually coach him because of what I wanted to do, I started to train as a professional coach. And so I came to coach him and seeing the flip charts on the walls and the post-it notes and all these people talking about these new ways of working and people-centric, I was like, oh, my God, there's hope for the planet. And this is exactly what I was talking about. And that was almost five years ago now.

Michael Sahota: It's almost five years ago.

Audrey Sahaota: And we've written two books and we've created amazing courses. And I get to wake up in the morning, really excited about life.

Shane Hastie: And you've become a couple?

Audrey Sahaota: Yes, we have.

Michael Sahota: But there a right sequence, step one, fall in love. Step two, figure out how to be together in the same place in the planet.

Audrey Sahaota: I like the before and after pictures because it's really a testament to my amazing coaching, I think is Michael Sahota before Michael Sahota after and I just show that to my clients. And they're like, oh, my gosh, I'll take full credit for Michael Sahota.

Shane Hastie: Let's explore a little bit, the latest book, Leading Beyond Change. What's the intent there?

Leadership, high performance and how we approach change are all one topic 06:46

Michael Sahota: The title says it all. It's about understanding leadership, really high-performance culture, how we approach change. These are all one topic that we're looking at from different dimensions. And when we see them from an elevated, more conscious, more aware perspective, it actually unlocks all dimensions. So you can think of the title in different ways. It's about how do we lead into the beyond on our team, in our department, in our organization. And how do we move beyond what we usually think about change?

The current patterns from change that we see happening in organizations, even in the name of Agile are barbaric, horrific, demotivating, disengaging, and actually work against what people are saying the goal is. So it's about really understanding what is the beyond? What is the future of work? What is the potential of human beings to work together to create high performance and amazing products? And really 80, 90% organizations are traditional business patterns which are trapped in like a historical legacy of command and control behavior that most leaders are conditioned into and not even aware that they're operating that way.

Audrey Sahaota: In a nutshell.

Shane Hastie: So what do we do about it?

Changing the paradigm starts with awareness 07:52

Michael Sahota: Step one, before you can change anything you have to become aware of the problem. So one level of the bulk is like a big awareness. It's just a big awareness of like, wow, we are trapped in traditional business as usual patterns and it's creating extraordinarily bad results and I'm responsible for it. And how do we do that? We give people a series of patterns, patterns of this is what a traditional organization looks like. This is what an evolutionary one looks like, and these are the consequences. So we're helping people understand like the laws of cause and effect like, well, when you treat people better, they perform better. If people aren't performing the way you want them to, why don't we just examine how you're treating them? It's dumbing down the whole book to like a really basic idea.

You use the term evolutionary organization. What does that mean?

What is an evolutionary organization? 08:40

Michael Sahota: Okay. So everybody wants the ability to be adaptable, to thrive in a VUCA world. From Agile, we talk about respond to change over following a plan in order to respond to change it means we have to have a characteristic called adaptability. Adaptability at a personal level and an organization level. So evolutionary captures the notion of what kind of people, cultures, organizational systems have that evolutionary capability? They're able to evolve in the face of the changing needs and demands of what's happening externally and internally within a company. That's what we mean by an evolution organization. Now it's roughly synonymous, you want to think about like a Teal organization. Most Teal organizations have that evolutionary capability, exponential organizations, people are talking about really high performance organizational systems have this kind of characteristic. But what we've done is there are many, many ways to talk about something but when we talk about it is what is the evolutionary capability of the system?

The evolutionary capability of the system is dependent the evolution and capability of the people because the people make up the system 09:32

Michael Sahota: We go, wait a second. Well, the evolutionary capability of the system is dependent the evolution and capability of the people because the people make up the system. Then we go back as well, what is my rate of evolution as a human? What is my rate of evolution as a leader? Then it ties directly into the concept of evolutionary leadership, which is a choice as a human being to evolve myself, to learn the tools and capabilities needed to evolve an organizational system. And so it's really kind of waking up to say, well, look, there's an important dimension we're not even aware of, which is what is my rate of evolution and what are my evolutionary capabilities and how do I acquire more? But first understanding, where am I?

And so when we understand that we understand that it's a journey for each of us to develop more evolutionary capabilities, to increase our evolutionary capabilities so we can help others increase their evolutionary capabilities so organizational systems can be more adaptable, really deal with all the changes and when everyone's learning, and we're just going beyond the learning mindset to what we call an evolutionary mindset, ready to learn about ourselves. When everyone's learning at such a great rate, that's what gives us the adaptability, right? So we're actually getting people to focus on what's most important to lead to the outcome that we want.

Shane Hastie: The cynic in me says, but this is all fluffy. How do I put this in practice? And I think of the target audience for InfoQ, the people who are listening to this, many of them are mid-tier or new leaders in technology teams. How do I bring this into the work that I'm doing on a day by day basis as a team lead or maybe a little bit higher, but in that technology area?

Culture bubbles – create a bubble of more evolved culture around your team 11:05

Michael Sahota: That's a great question. And everything we're talking about here is open to every leader at every level because there's a technology and there's a pattern in the book that goes into the details that's called Culture Bubbles, where each person can create a bubble of a more evolved culture system that has higher performance characteristics. It's not about waiting for some leader above you to change. No. It's about how to empower every single person. Now I'm going to go back before we get into the practical pieces, why do we need this shift? We're so conditioned to this masters of business administration, of business as usual paradigm. We actually need to learn how to lead. So this is what this technology does is how do you actually lead to help your people become engaged and motivated.

The role of the manager is to focus on increasing the production capability in their team 11:41

Now just very practically let's just talk about one characteristic. You know, we have a learning culture here and what you can do is you can look at your team, let's be very practical. What percentage of your time is your team focused on production? Getting projects done, delivering things and what time is focused on production capability? And we get sucked in the trap in a traditional world as a manager to focus on production. Whereas our actual job is to focus on increasing the production capability, the system too so-called look after our people. And when we understand that, oh, that's what's the most important thing I need to do. I need to not just manage production but production capabilities so that month by month, quarter by quarter, year by year, our system is more productive. And how do I, as a leader, bring that about?

Michael Sahota: The first one is a shift of thinking and it's like, okay, well it's determined by my rate of evolution of how good I am at helping unlock my people. Oh, so I need to evolve myself so I can help my people evolve so we can get a higher level of production capability to get even better results here. You know, whether it's more customer-centric outcomes or greater throughput or whatever the performance constraint or goal in the system is, how do I better meet my objectives and really do such an awesome job? I get promoted, get a bigger salary, blah, blah, blah, blah. Right? But that's really the focus is understanding, what do I need to do to win not just this quarter, but to set up for the next quarter?

You know, Alistair Cockburn talks about in his original book on Agile, going back to 2001, there's two competing games. There's the immediate game and then there's this, he calls it Product Development Game. But the product as a manager is actually your team. You ship your team. So how do I as a leader, how do I as a manager elevate my team so that we ship amazingness. Oh, I don't know how to do that very well. Oh, okay I better learn how to do that if I want to be successful in my role. So it's something very practical, something very tangible. And the book gives people, the maps to orient because is what the self framework is.

The maps to orient and understand what's the journey. How do I understand what I need to do? Where to focus? The principles to guide behavior. The models to reason about and understand what's happening around us so we can actually take good actions, run good experiments and very practical tools. Very, very practical tools to say, what do I do day in day out to break out of this traditional into a set of behaviors that will allow me to unlock the people around me and unlock performance. That's why it's called a Practical Guide to Business Agility or High Performance.

Audrey Sahaota: Right. Because without action none of it makes any sense or is even worth talking about. So I'm a stickler for, okay, everything that we develop, how do we put it into action? How do we give people something that they can take away tomorrow? And sometimes the concepts are a little bit simple like listening or creating equal voice or psychological safety or how you're going to show up to create an amazing team meeting, mapping out your organization with heat maps to see who's ready and who's not ready. So when you're going through a transformation, you're not pushing into the system creating resistance because it turns out that people are terrified when there's a transformation going on, they don't know, are they going to have a job? What is their new role? What is this crazy new way of working? Or even if they've been doing Agile for a while, but the other part of the organization is not doing Agile how are we going to interact with other parts of the organization to be inclusive?

And it's funny because I think in our hearts, we want to be inclusive. We want to be collaborative. We want to work together and we want to create amazing organizations. But when there's a crisis, how are we showing up? We're talking about culture and we're talking about high performance and it's the little tiny things that make these huge difference in high performance. Because when we're in fear or we're stressed out or we're under a lot of crisis that's going on, how are we showing up as leaders, as team members is going to either lock up the system or it's going to unlock the system. So there's the mindset or the consciousness or the way of being, and there's also doing. Are we going to continue our habit of command and control behavior or are we going to start utilizing the tools that we have available to us with all these new Agile ways of working? Are we actually going to stick to it and use them no matter what's going on?

Shane Hastie: So some solid stuff in there let's get more concrete. How do I change if I recognize, yeah, I have these command and control habits because I've learned this. This has often made me successful by whatever measure we want to use for success. And I acknowledge that there possibly is a new way. How do I lean into that new way? How do I start the change journey?

Actionable advice for leaders 16:34

Michael Sahota: Success follows desire. So what the book does is really to help people understand the damage they're causing, right? And when we start to understand the damage we're causing what'll happen is we realize the way we're functioning as a leader is wholly unacceptable in terms of creating a high performance result. Once we have that awareness, then we can open to stage two, which is, oh, there's some new behaviors. There's some work I can put into this to change how I show up. Got it. Okay. You know what? That's scary. I don't know if I want to do that. I don't know if I'm ready to evolve. I don't know if I want to change. That's where we talk about evolutionary leadership being the choice to evolve until leader definitely makes that your choice to step into the unknown. But think about it, what's Agile about? It's about being comfortable with uncertainty.

How can you be a "Agile leader" unless you're ready to step in the unknown yourself? No, no. I'm just going to tell other people to step in the unknown. We're just going to tell the product owner they're not going to get a date and it's unknown and uncertain they can deal with it, but I don't need to deal with it. So we're just talking about basically eating your own dog food. If you're really talking about an Agile environment, we're just saying like, did you notice you're not living at a personal level? Like you are not living the Agile mindset basically. I mean, that's what we're saying here. People are saying that we're Agile and we do retrospect literally day in, day out, meeting after meeting. People are not putting people first. They're not modeling a learning culture. They're not in their personal ability, adapting to change. When something change happens, unexpected change, they react really badly like, whoa,

Audrey Sahaota: It's not their fault.

Michael Sahota: It's not your fault if you're thinking, shoo, I'm doing that. That's what my realization was. I wasn't living the Agile mindset. After working with Agile for over a decade, I was not living the Agile mindset. I was an expert in the practices. I could go head to toe with anyone in the world, but exactly how Agile works, but I wasn't living the mindset. I wasn't actually living the behaviors. I wasn't putting people first in everything I did. I wasn't focusing every move I could make to help other people show up as brilliant leaders.

Shifting consciousness as a leader 18:34

Audrey Sahaota: So you asked a really interesting question about how do you change your behaviors. And what people don't really understand is because we come from a Western context is that we come from a deep understanding or may maybe a general understanding of psychology and psychology while good and while beneficial has an industry developed on long term, long term talk therapy, there's even other therapies that are out there that are a little bit more progressive. We have taken what we've learned in the Eastern traditions, which has a technology to shift consciousness very quickly and we've integrated it into our curriculum. And so we've developed our own specific exercises and techniques and tools to help shift your consciousness very rapidly. And when I say consciousness, I'm talking about your mindset, your worldview, your perceptions, your behaviors, and your conditioning, but it is taken from these Eastern philosophies and practices that we learned and we experienced.

And I know for myself, I can speak probably for Michael as well, is that some of these techniques, as simple as they are, are really, really difficult to do when you're looking at contemplating how you're showing up as a leader and the damage that you're causing and the impact and the consequences, that's really hard. Leadership is about being responsible and having the power and the responsibility. What we don't really do a lot of times is we don't really become brave enough or have the courage to step inside and really take some inventory about our impact on the environment and our relationships. And once you can do that, that alone is enough to start to shift and rewire your brain and your habits. And so that's why it sounds really simple. It's more difficult to do.

Shane Hastie: I want to go deep. I want to explore that.

Audrey Sahaota: Okay.

Shane Hastie: What do I need to do? So now I'm sitting as this leader, I'm perhaps getting to a point of consciousness that, hmm what I'm doing isn't right. Isn't working well, it may have served me well in the past and I can see the impact now. And you've opened my eyes to, there are different ways of achieving the outcomes that we want. And we all want to be good people. We all want the best for our organizations and for the teams that we are leading, but maybe I haven't done this terribly well.

Michael Sahota: So it's okay. So the truth is that we're all on our journey. We all have adaptations to our nervous system that causes great destruction around us. We're all in various ages of letting go of the command and control habit due to our parents conditioning us and telling us what to do when we were young children and so on. So we've had this basically drilled into us since birth. So we're talking about a deep reconditioning program here, but here's the good news awareness is the technology of shifting consciousness.

Audrey Sahaota: 87.6% of the journey.

Michael Sahota: So what happens is very simple. When you choose to start, well, let me be aware of the damage I'm causing. Let me take these patterns from the book and really become aware of when am I falling into these traps? 90% of the work is just stopping the damage. It's not about necessarily learning new behaviors. Those will happen naturally over time. It's a learning journey no problem. People are good intention and we see it all the time with people trying to move to Teal or Agile, let's jump to the solution. And we're saying, please, don't do that. Please just stop. Because the only place you can start is where you are. Start with the truth of where you are and stop causing the damage of what you're doing now, which requires not having this, you know, oh, we want to have transparency in our organization.

And we want to self empower all the teams. It's like, no people aren't ready for that. Like start where they are. They're in mixed levels of engagement and you're going to get mixed levels result if you try to share all the power so rapidly and let's just do this in a gradual journey. It's kind of like basically applying Kanban to organizational evolution. It's just a very... To really dumb down the whole thing at both a personal level and an organizational level. Kanban says, look at what's happening in around you. Same thing. Just look at what you're doing as a leader and make gradual change. It's a really simple choice when you have the awareness and you know what you're doing wrong.

Audrey Sahaota: What I would say, if you were my client, I would actually have you understand or feel into what is going on in your inner world that's creating the push or the mandate or the passionate desire to make my teams go Agile. Like you can feel it. Like I can feel it inside of me like all of a sudden there's a tightness in my inner being. And all of a sudden I'm feeling a little stressed out because now I have to perform and I have to make all these other people perform. And so one of the more practical things on just a personal evolution level is to really start to identify and become aware of this underlying drive that's a fear-based anxiety ridden survival mode way of being. And that's actually underlying everything that you do. Every interaction that you have, every email that you send, every time you, well now we're not walking into the office so much any more, but even on the Zoom calls and we're feeling beings, we can feel each other and you're transmitting like anxiety, fear, terror and survival mode.

And so if you can just dial it back to an awareness of that, and we talk about it in our other book, Emotional Science, but real really becoming aware of, oh, that's my inner state. And that inner state, that is where I'm functioning from 24/7 in my relationships at work and at home. And so that's kind of where you start with yourself, you know?

Shane Hastie: Yeah. So much of what I've learned about leadership and changing leadership behaviors and leading organizations is it starts with this self-awareness and that's really hard for many, many people.

Self-awareness is the crucial starting point 24:55

Michael Sahota: That's why we created a workbook to go with Leading Beyond Change. We put a lot of effort into it and the workbook is a free download from website. And what it does is every time you go through a chapter or a pattern, it asks you to reflect on the questions. And so most people will just skip over this. They go, "Oh, I'm just going to read the book I'll get the information and knowledge." No, no, no, no, no. The whole book together with the workbook is designed to shift your consciousness because awareness is the technology shifting conscience.

Michael Sahota: When you take the time to journal and do the exercises, it will actually create a shift. You're a trainer, you know this, when people actually do something with the information it gets integrated, right? So they get integrated this understanding like, oh, whoa, this is bad. Ooh. And then when you're doing in the office and you're going, whoa, something's wrong here? Oh, this is bad. What am I doing? Right. Boom. You wake up. And suddenly you snapped out of having a moment of causing damage, disengaging your people, oppressing them, acting like a command or control boss and you can make a different choice.

Shane Hastie: I think that's a good point for us to wrap up on. If people want to explore this further, where do they find the book? Where do they find you?

Michael Sahota: The best place to find us is our website and there's a link to the book there. It's also an Amazon, Leading Beyond Change.

Audrey Sahaota: Well, there's also-

Michael Sahota: There's also an audiobook.

Audrey Sahaota: There's sampled chapters-

Michael Sahota: Download for free. Yeah.

Audrey Sahaota: There are all kinds of stuff. We really just want to help people be successful. A lot of times we're just offering as much valuable information as possible because it's tough out there and we don't have a lot of places to go. And I think when we have the tools and the techniques to do the job, we're more willing to show up to do the transformation that we're all here to do together.

Shane Hastie: Michael, Audrey, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Audrey Sahaota: Thank you for having us here, Shane.

Michael Sahota: It was our pleasure. Great seeing you.


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