Every year since 1878, a group of powerful men gathers for two weeks in the woods of Northern California, in a somewhat secretive retreat called the Bohemian Grove. It has been said that, in addition to some strange rituals and ceremonies, important business and political deals have been made during the event. One of the main rituals is the “Cremation of Care,” in which torches-carrying members accompanied by an entourage of other men dressed in robes and strange-looking hats carry a human-like figure made of wood to be burned. The whole point of this ritual is allegedly to burn the concerns that these “important men” must deal with so that the two-week camp can begin. There is, of course, a lot of booze, food and other activities for the attendees.
Mysterious, intriguing and secretive gatherings like the Bohemian Grove can draw much attention. The not knowing leaves average people like me in a state of never-ending guessing, which in turn makes these events strangely captivating. While these gatherings may work for a group of elite men and the socialite, a Bohemian Grove-like approach at work is outdated and can be bad news. Remember when seniority could be measured by your office’s square footage and the floor you sat on? Something like that.
There are reasons why you, as a leader, should think carefully about the best and most effective strategies to ensure your routines and actions convey the right message to your teams. A key element to attacking these challenges is being empathetic and having the right mindset. Below are three tips:
1. One of the most toxic elements leaders can inject into their organizations is uncertainty. Your people have a voice. They are watching you closely, and they want to be heard. It is your responsibility to create the conditions for psychological safety, free of prejudice, to encourage everyone to participate in your thinking process. Nobody expects to be rubbing elbows with the bosses at a retreat in Nantucket, but not incorporating your people, especially junior associates, in some creative way (e.g., surveys, brainstorming sessions, debriefs, etc.) into your “elites-only” meetings can create noise and send the wrong signal. Not following up or sharing some information afterward is even worse. Leaders could leverage network effects by creating “broker” roles and somehow incorporate other divisions or junior representatives into these sessions, for example. The idea here is that you, as a leader, open useful conduits so that raw, unfiltered information and ideas can get to you, and vice-versa.
2. Leaders should feel like things move in slow-motion. Have you ever wondered why, as an adult, your days go by pretty quickly? The answer is a bit complicated, as it may have both physiological and psychological explanations. The one that I like the most is that, as kids, we are in a constant state of exploration, learning and discovery of everything around us. Have you ever counted how many “whys” a 4-year-old will ask you in order to understand a new thing or a situation? Have you ever seen a baby’s face when they interact with water for the first time? As we age, we progressively learn more about the world around us and stop analyzing things more carefully. Events and elements start to become normal, and somehow we stop being in a state of awe. We inadvertently become insensitive to the things around us, which may include the reason we were chosen to lead an organization in the first place, our people.
Leaders should take control of the time machine and slow things down by assuming a “beginner’s mind.” Questioning your strategy, plans and ideas by giving your teams the freedom to challenge your assumptions can lead to valuable insights (also preventing internal FOMO). Like Neo in The Matrix, you’d slow down the time machine, sharpen your senses and visualize the situation more carefully. Over time you’ll assume nothing, question everything and lead an organization in a constant state of learning and reinvention. How cool would that be?
3. Leaders should leverage bias towards action and curiosity as key anchors. You don’t need a two-week camp, rich men or weird rituals in Northern California to develop good ideas. Indeed, new design and problem-solving processes (e.g., Design Thinking) are built to encourage team interaction, fast iteration and rapid analysis of key findings. This may sound a bit unconventional to those who have built their careers around long processes, bureaucratic organizations and dated business frameworks, but it works. These methods are effective because they promote the idea that nobody knows everything and that information (about anything) is distributed unevenly across people. These methodologies also reaffirm the importance of diversity and inclusion in the context of ideation. The more you allow people to share, the better the insights. Good insights lead to a much more refined understanding of a situation. By allowing time for exploration and space for free expression, leaders build teams.
By encouraging risk-taking and allowing failure, leaders build trust.