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Messy leadership: Walking on the wild side

Posted by on 2 December 2016 | 0 Comments

How do you feel about colouring outside the lines? Take a two-dimensional outline and colour not only the red petals, green leaves and stem of the flower, but allow that colour to spread over the carefully drawn line onto the rest of the page. How does it make you feel?


In a society where lives are rewritten, filtered and sanitised for consumption on social media, the mess of real life can create anxieties that can be rife, like garden compost with a life of its own that we’re desperate to keep hidden at the end of the garden.


But what if out of that mess could come great things? What if we could see the beautiful flowers destined to bloom and flourish from the compost? Would that make us more likely to embrace the discomfort?


As leaders, it can be tempting to project the image that we always make the right decision.  That we will keep waters still in times of trouble and be untarnished by the tricky times. In reality, leadership only exists because change does, and change is messy. An absence of change would guarantee a tomorrow that looks and feels very much like today: Groundhog Day. Instead, can today’s mess be tomorrow’s marvel?


At Orbital, we’ve been developing leaders and leadership for more than two decades. Navigating the fast-changing world of business and relationships has meant exploring paths that initially didn’t seem to belong in a neat and tidy leadership framework, such as those that led to self-awareness, self-understanding and empathy.


As leaders, we don’t undertake a series of cookie-cutter changes in an organisation fresh off the assembly line. We enable teams to embark on unique changes in one-of-a-kind organisations. Organisations rich in distinctiveness, diversity, history, culture, values and politics. These are all elements that are essential to enrich the business community, but they do not make for a sterile leadership process.


A universal solution or sanitised technique is destined for failure because no one organisational change or challenge is the same as any other. Messy leadership focuses on how we deal with the challenge of uniqueness. It recognises that faced with our distinctive trials we end up having to improvise as we go along. Success and achievement depend on how well we can ad-lib; how effectively we access and reframe past experiences, seek out and recalibrate our skills and reference the wisdom and insight of others.


This is the art of leadership. Digging deep into the messy situations and emerging stronger and more resilient through the positive experience of not only capably navigating the turbulence, but being seen to be doing so, struggles and all.


At Orbital we seek to guide, support and challenge our clients, allowing their particular style of leadership to grow and develop. We can offer suggestions, give opinions and help you identify opportunities for improvement. It is a collaborative process where we help you to find your way. We will not squeeze you into a prepared model or method of leadership. 


Our leadership programme doesn’t turn away from the tough and messy jobs; it helps you to explore, understand and approach them, armed with a selection of options developed collaboratively with both your expertise and ours. We support you to dive into the metaphorical compost at the bottom of your organisation’s garden and grow some blooming brilliant flowers.


We have captured some of the themes from our leadership programme below. It’s not definitive but does add some shape to how your leadership programme could be designed. Each module can be delivered as a half-day overview, a one-day summary or a two-day intensive workshop.  


Disrupting yourself

Messy strategies to develop your helicopter view

From messes to marvels

Strategic success through messy leadership

Building Messy Networks

International & cultural stakeholder strategies

Navigating the political dimension 

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