Business leaders Sam White and Michelle Morgan offer some insight on a) sharing your secrets and b) knowing how to have a conversation – as tools for mobiling action in others. PLUS: designer Wayne Hemingway MBE says that to involve people properly, you need lots of small ideas, not big top-down masterplans.

an unbroken line drawing of an ear


There are some people who might say this to you. FOLLOW ME. Very overtly and loudly. Some will infer it; imply it; more quietly and conspiratorially. Psst. Come over here.

Either way – it can be very compelling, and we often dive in without asking too many questions.

But why?

What is it about those with gifts to mobilise and galvanise so effectively? We expect it in politics, law, the military, medicine and in education; that sort of instructional leadership is baked-in. But in business and in charities it is more nuanced – and the Pied Pipers that have us queuing behind them eager to hear more are not always the ones obviously in charge.

Leadership in the 21st century is about the balance between individual charisma and collective action. If we look at who are the Gen Z heroes, it’s not charmed billionaires with hundreds of magazine covershoots as we might have found in the 90s (Bezos and Musk are famous curios who have a lot of status, but we’re suspicious of them). It’s not even untouchable demigods like Ghandi and Mandela and Mother Theresa any more. We don’t really believe the grandeur of self-sacrifice and spiritual callings so much these days.

Instead, it is the unlikely galvinisers that are very human and very flawed. But know the detail. Speak from the heart. Stand up to doubters. And say ‘follow me’ into their movement of change – rather than reliant on judgement or idolatry.

To my mind, it is Greta Thunberg (Fridays for Future), Mick Lynch (RMT), Jamie Klingler (Reclaim These Streets), Patrisse Cullors (Black Lives Matter) that have their heads above the parapet – along with thousands more who are shifting the dial slightly on what they care about.

And this is happening in business too. The quiet ones are starting revolutions. Often defined as ‘systems leadership’, the capacity and confidence to see your impact beyond your own organisation – much more for your sector, community, region or social reform issue – is a skill worth developing wherever we can.

Recommended MUST READS on galvanising and mobilising action – from friends of always possible:

Sam White - Why you should share your secrets

Insurance entrepreneur, Northern Power Woman and visible LGTBQ+ business leader SAM WHITE spoke to us earlier in 2022 about sharing her ideas as a way to mobilise others to collaborate…

You know, I’m not a control freak, I know that completely. I’m more than happy to bring people on and pass the reins to them and let them build their own version of how they want things to roll out.

But I think one of the big challenges that most people have with collaboration is the level of transparency and vulnerability that they need to get to do it well. And it definitely does frighten my team, who are probably a bit more cautious than I am.

I went out to lunch with one of my biggest competitors a couple of weeks ago. And there wasn’t really anything that I didn’t put on the table and talk about, because I’m interested to know his perspective on things. And if I hold back and don’t share, I’m never going to discover that.

But I also look at it on the basis that people generally like their own ideas. So my assumption is that just because, I think I’ve come up with some great idea, and it’s something that should happen at some point, I’m going to have to put it out there for everyone to see anyway.

But there’s the idea that that people will automatically steal that and run off with it. Meaning that leaders are constantly asking “what what secrets do I keep to myself? And what do I share?”

I think true collaboration can’t happen without you being prepared to really stick yourself out there, because you will then open yourself up to the right challenge. If you’ve not given all of the information, then you won’t be challenged properly. So then what’s the point?

Have I had deals that haven’t gone as well as I might have hoped in the past when I’ve been completely transparent? Yeah, of course. But I would say that on a net-even basis. I’m far more up than I am down. And I’ve made some incredible connections and had some incredible experiences off the back of it. So you know, I’m all good!

Michelle Morgan. talking. Properly talking

MICHELLE MORGAN co-founded multi-award-winning global youth marketing agency Livity, and ran it until she burnt out. Now on a big mission around mental health, Michelle says that single most important skill we need in order to galvanise others is the art of honest, authentic, conversation…

You can have brilliant policies, processes, and provisions on the topic of mental health.

But you must have genuine leadership, the voice of leadership, the presence of leadership in that conversation – not just signing off your policies, processes and provisions, strategy.

Leadership needs to come in the hierarchical sense, but also remembering that leadership can come from us all. And it has to be authentic.

I would say that the skill we should be developing through education is talking. Which might sound a bit simple. But I think that really talking has become a little bit of a lost art.

It is quite scary when so much of how we communicate is by typing, and texting, or even visually through pictures and videos. But video is one way. We’re not having a conversation.

And I’ve certainly noticed through myself how I communicate with people – with clients, but also my daughter who is 18. There are certain scenarios where, if it is suggested that we make a quick call and talk to someone – or pop in and talk to someone – that is treated as something unheard of. “What are you asking me to do?!” Even if it’s not a particularly tricky conversation.

And that has been fueled, of course, by the last few years as well.

But the skill and the courage to talk and to have conversations. It is something that I think we need to revisit and invest in, celebrate, and have the courage to do.

Why have we lost this ability?

Again, it may be a simplified, and slightly unfair reason, but I think it is technology.

Because technology is always the new and shiny and easier and quicker. And so behavior has changed, which is now fueled the more scary and vulnerable part of having a conversation with someone in real time. Where you haven’t got time to construct your email or your text message sometimes.

It doesn’t stop us from shooting off the odd one that we regret. But it is just hiding behind something. The natural concern from people might be about saying something the wrong way, or not knowing how someone’s gonna respond. But I think that is because of the new ways that we can communicate. And that’s only being fueled by the lure of the Metaverse and all of those spaces, but it still won’t be real traditional talking.

Wayne Hemingway. Focus on the small grassroots ideas

Design and urban planning legend WAYNE HEMINGWAY MBE believes that you mobilise people to share a vision for a place or space by valuing and building on the smallest ideas…

It’s never easy, to mobilise collaboration, when you do any kind of urban design or regeneration, because the length of time there is with so many barriers in the way.

When you start to have significant ideas about a place… significant ideas cost money. The cost of changing the way that a road operates to be more bike friendly or more pedestrian friendly.

All of those things, like pedestrianisation, are easy with a pen. You can just put a line in a drawing. But then when it comes down to working out the cost of what you have to do to make that work… The change of the surfacing, the legal changes, trying to persuade – well, maybe not persuade – but work with highways engineers, of which a lot of them are still wedded to the car being the most important thing in our lives. Well, they’re very afraid to change that.

We’ve worked in so many towns now over the last few years creating ‘masterplans’ (horrible word), for change in a town. And it’s not that hard to come up with the ideas.

I think a good team knows what a good life is for people and how to improve and unpick, decades and generations of mistakes. And mistakes are natural; mistakes are always made, because life evolves, the world evolves. Something that people thought was right in the 50s and 60s can be very different today.

And so what we find is that, when we got when we go into towns, we honour a whole series of masterplans that might have been done 10 years ago, five years ago, or two years ago, maybe even more recently. And they’re all full of great ideas from great architects and urban designers, but they’ve sat in a drawer. Nothing has happened. Diddly squat has been delivered because the money can’t be found and there has been too much arguing.

So we have a very different approach. We believe that even if the smallest things happen, it creates momentum. So we make sure we work on lots of small ideas, which might seem, you inconsequential and lacking in substance to some people. But we know that once you get started, the community comes along and says, “Well! Change can happen!”

And ultimately, real change happens when people make it happen. Not not when architects and urban designers make it happen.

So that’s our philosophy. And it works.

And we’ve seen it work all over, in the 12-13 years now since we started it. Wherever we work, if you can get that groundswell up, rather than top down, you’ve got a chance.

The always possible team provide award-winning workshops and strategy sessions for ambitious teams. We help businesses, charities and public services to make decisions about who they are, who they want to speak to, build influence and cut through the noise.

In each of these Insights newsletters on LinkedIn, we’ll draw on expertise from our team as well as very special guests from The Possibility Club podcast – who have practical suggestions and ideas on what could unstick a challenge in your work.

If you’re inspired by anything you read, and want to know how you could unlock potential in your business or charity, book an informal call in our online calendar.

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