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1-Page Leadership: Autonomic For The People

stanfordhealthcare.org

No matter what kind of books you search for — business, management, leadership — on amazon.com, you get the same sobering answer: “over 100,000 results.” Which could be 100 million, and just might be. Each is hundreds of pages (and thus hours and hours) long. Ouch.

Let’s go the opposite way: One-Page Leadership. In this installment …

Autonomic For The People

Are you breathing? Digesting? Heart beating, blood moving? Pupils adjusting to ambient light? Good! 

stanfordhealthcare.org

That’s your autonomic nervous system at work, 24/7/365. It controls your breathing, digestion, heart function, and pupillary response plus everything from your metabolism and body temperature to your blood pressure and sexual response, pretty much automatically (hence its name).

But I bet you weren’t thinking about it until I asked. Now you’re aware of your heart beat and feeling your lungs move. Maybe you’re even consciously slowing your breathing and feeling your heart slow down a little in response. Your pupils, your digestion? No such control. 

Like your body, every organization — big and small — has an autonomic nervous system. It’s policy, it’s process, it’s culture, and it’s response to stimuli and stress and change. Sometimes it is handed down generation by generation until no one remembers the “why” for the thinking or behavior; they only know that that’s what we do.

The organization’s “talk-the-talk” is one thing; the organization’s autonomic nervous system is how an organization “walks-the-walk”. How does it act and react, day-in and day-out?

As essential as it is, its surprisingly hard to discern, whether you’re a 20-year employee or a new hire. How efficient is the organization really? How nimble is the organization really? How resilient? How effective in defining and implementing actually its strategies, in reaching its goals without redefining them? 

Stop for a moment and focus on those same autonomic indicators for your organization. What do you see, hear, and feel? Ponder those questions above. 

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Now think about change. What can you change outright, like breathing, when you focus on it? What can you affect indirectly, like conscious breathing can affect heart rate? And most impactfully, how can you train the organization’s autonomic nervous system to better respond to opportunities and threats, much as consistent meditation allows you better control your breathing even when you’re not focused on it? In other words, how can you catalyze permanent change in what would otherwise be an automatic (or autonomic) organizational response?

I hope you’re breathing easier already.

 

Lincoln Bleveans is a 25-year veteran of the global electric power industry. He is currently an executive at a progressive, vertically integrated municipal electric and water utility in Southern California. A frequent speaker at industry events, he is the author of “Like Water to a Fish: a Future of Energy Everywhere”, “Sustainability 2.0”, and other works on energy, sustainability, and leadership. Tweets @bleveans. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, or other group or individual.

Lincoln Bleveans's picture

Thank Lincoln for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 15, 2019 9:58 pm GMT

What can you change outright, like breathing, when you focus on it? What can you affect indirectly, like conscious breathing can affect heart rate? And most impactfully, how can you train the organization’s autonomic nervous system to better respond to opportunities and threats, much as consistent meditation allows you better control your breathing even when you’re not focused on it? In other words, how can you catalyze permanent change in what would otherwise be an automatic (or autonomic) organizational response?

These words seem like they could ring especially true in the utility industry that's sometimes known to be slow moving and stubborn to change. I'd be curious to hear the thoughts from some execs in the energy companies on this

Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Lincoln Bleveans on Oct 17, 2019 12:30 pm GMT

Thanks Matt.  The utility business is change-resistant by design but the coming years (and careers) will rock the status quo that is the basis for that.  That said, telecom went through it with dereg and then mobile, shipping went through it with containerization, retail with "Amazonificiation", etc.  We can do this -- we just need to do it purposefully and thoughtfully.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 17, 2019 1:47 pm GMT

We can do this -- we just need to do it purposefully and thoughtfully

Preach it!

Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Lincoln Bleveans on Oct 23, 2019 2:53 pm GMT

Thanks!

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