As a leader you’ve stood up and boldly declared your commitment to a possible future. You are inhabiting that future and have successfully onboarded your team. Everyone is raring to go, you have plans and actions listed out. But somehow things are not progressing. Action is needed to bring your declaration into the world and become real – but something is preventing that action from happening. Clearly, something authentically new and innovative has not existed before. Leaders need to create the existence systems that can give life to their commitments and create the frameworks and ways of being that support the activity needed to make that happen.
In business-as-usual situations the existence system is often memory. Either personal memory or the corporate expectation on how things get done. Repeating the processes or using past actions and building-blocks provides the template for future activities. But this approach will not support breakthrough performance. Breakthrough commitments by their nature cannot rely on these legacy existence systems. However bold and challenging your declaration it will not see fruition unless it is accompanied by a new and suitable way of being that can support the actions needed to deliver the future possibility. It is not a plan, nor a list of actions, but the framework that supports the continued reiteration of your commitment to breakthrough performance.
Existence systems are bespoke. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, the examination and inquiry that identifies the suitable system is a critical part of the approach. Individuals and organisations should question and unpack how they are when they successfully bring things to fruition. What works for you; what’s at the heart of who you are that help you get things over the line? Some people need accountability, and so creating a system of mini-commitments, or working with coaches to create that accountability could work. For others, small steps and building repeatable habits that collectively move towards the bold commitment is the answer. It can often be a clear and effective system of requests and promises – commitment to the precise use of languages to make it obvious what you need, whilst giving space for counter offers and then promises. In this way the existence system creates the space for action to move things forward.
Each organisation, leader and individual must be honest. There’s no point in beating yourself up because of the way you are. If you need outside impetus to move to action, embrace it and create an existence system that allows that. If you are great on ideation but poor at detail, create a team that balances that. Don't try and change yourself or commit to ways of being that are not within you.
However, also avoid limiting yourself and your commitments and falling into the trap of unproductive behaviours that prevent you from creating a functioning existence system. An honest self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses is critical in a leader. But deploying that knowledge as an excuse for inaction or failure to break away from established ways of working undermines your declaration and any existence systems you create to activate it.
We call these negative cycles of inactivity rackets, because, just as for the racketeer, there is a payback. We may not be conscious of it, but there will be some advantage or benefit for not acting and not embracing the system of existence you have created. Our moans and dragging of feet may seem to stem from legitimate concerns – but in reality, it is a symptom of some background commitment that is preventing us from fully embracing the vision. By reinforcing behaviours that undermine declared potential futures, these rackets prevent breakthrough results.
It is easy to complain that things aren’t as they should be, or to make excuses for not acting, but recognising these as signs of a racket is the first step in breaking the cycle. Once identified, the leader has the choice and the power to uncover background commitments, address them, and move on. They can also discover new ways of interacting that can strengthen or reform the existence system to make it more effective in supporting actions that deliver the future potential.
Building these existence systems takes introspection and can be difficult and painful. The self-awareness and self-examination required can seem daunting, and it takes courage to call out and then step away from the rackets, giving up the paybacks that made them so attractive. But if you can define an existence system that allows you to be your best it will accelerate progress and deliver the breakthrough results you desire. Creating something entirely new is always going to be hard, but an effective existence system will open the way to hugely creative and rewarding spaces that challenge and reveal new ways of working, collaborating, and interacting.
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