Tuesday, January 29, 2019

thoughts on new ways of working and new ways of seeing leadership

Everyone works differently. I've seen this in my company over the years; some can work autonomously, some flourish in collaboration with others. Some crave constant feedback, others bristle at it. Some need structure while others rebel against it. I'd say having employees is the hardest but most rewarding part of being a business owner, and if you have employees you likely know what I mean.

I like it because I like dynamics and I'm interested in relationships, emotional intelligence and in group dynamics. And power -- not necessarily having power - or wielding power, but in watching the way that power flows through people, turns on or turns off as they go about negotiating their work alongside others.

We see this in groups all the time; I see it in my sheep. Thirty female sheep, rife with hormones getting fat on second cut hay and gazing longingly out from their permanent winter pen for a ram who won't be coming. (We're taking a year off breeding.) These lonely girls stand around in the early afternoon either touching lightly, standing neck to neck or butting heads violently as rams do - occasionally knocking horns to the point of bloodiness so that even I, a seasoned sheep watcher, pause for concern. They are of course, establishing an order amongst themselves. Sorting it out.

Dogs do it the same sort of thing. Deference is a word I learned as a child watching dogs. Even though Giorgio is larger and stronger than Nea now, he still defers to her when I put a cast iron skillet of lamb grease on the floor. Dogs and sheep both need to be in groups to survive. If you isolate a sheep it will get sick and die from stress. Dogs are similar, wolves, coyotes.

Lions are the only cats that live in groups; a pride of female lionesses. (Males leave upon maturity.)

I like to work with people, it unlocks parts of my creativity I otherwise can't access. I can make flowers alone or write alone, but all that comes from shared experiences gathered earlier in the day, earlier in the week or month. The artist toiling alone is a trope I'm not sure I believe in.

I sat down to write about work and specifically this article that is running around in my circles about the entrepreneurial hustle and WeWork.

It frightens me this WeWork thing because it smells like Amazon and Facebook; organizations that are supposed to make us feel connected but instead isolate us. Inside a weWork, everyone is working on different things, thousands of entrepreneurs entrepreneur-ing alone together.

I think we need to focus on what it means to work together on things; in workshops, in small businesses, on farms, and on revolutionary change. Which is to say stop championing leadership. Our culture right now seems obsessed with influencers, 'being your own boss,' and turning creative passions into a business. But I fear that leaves us in a community of lonely islands each complete with their own squarespace website.

Here at Worlds End we talk a lot about work. About the work of chores and farming, and also how to use that work to make space for each individual to pursue their own creative endeavors. Creativity is absolutely essential for every person in the world, but business is not. Why must our creative passions evolve into businesses in order to be seen and shared with the world?

We can't all be florists. We can't all be leader sheep, and we can't all be top dogs - nature shows us this. This is not an argument for authoritarianism - its an argument for restructuring the value systems that support the hierarchies that most business, workplaces, kitchens and workshops have. All of my cook friends talk about how valuable the dishwasher is; and yet restaurant kitchens repeat the same structure over and over that essentially perpetuates the same message; the chef is more valuable than the line cook, than the dishwasher, etc.

In our flock of sheep the leader changes. It's always one of the bigger girls, for sure - sheep are simple like this. People meet me and often remark they expected I would be bigger...

An email chain bounced around a few weeks ago among the Worlds End exec's; most of whom are in warmer, far flung places gathering information and fuel for the future. The message proposed a new idea around structure here; what if we took turns passing leadership around amongst ourselves. For example what does it look like for me to step back a bit and let Zoe to steer the ship for a few months, for a year? She is, in fact bigger than me.

I think we're also talking about freedom again.


Unknown said...

Creativity is absolutely essential for every person in the world, but business is not. -

I stopped and stared at these words. That is exactly the way I'm feeling for the past 2 years. People always ask me when will I start working with flowers full time (I'm doing it on weekends and evenings and working in a corporate world in the day time). But why should I? I'd have gastritis after 6 months of trying to survive and managing a group of people.
People these days are so obsessed about being their own bosses they romanticize the whole managing a business thing. Could this exaggerated urge of being your own boss be an outcome of being terrible at communication and accepting other peoples ideas?

Love that you came back to your blog <3

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes. I have been thinking a lot about this lately!!! Most of my adult life I've felt a (typically millennial I think) feeling of failure because I'm not a florist/enterpreneur/business owner/influencer/whatever, that I don't have five "side hustles" that I'm not "following my bliss". I majored in art and then got a decent administrative job that I'm good at and helps others but it isn't glamorous. For a long time this has made feel lesser-than. But gradually, I've woken up. I can afford fancy cheese, I have a great partner, I have a safe and lovely home, I have skills that help others. I have people who need me, and it's nice to be needed.

jen said...

Argh, I'm so glad for your posts. They're always so thought and honest. I can't gather up my thoughts up enough to really contribute to this conversation (I do love this idea of taking turns at the helm) but just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate what you have to say in a culture where you always "have to" be looking to make more money, be a go getter or garner more followers (reach).

jillyg said...

This is important. Leadership is more nuanced than just running the show. Sharing leadership allows for more and more nuance, which is good for creativity and growing in sensitivity. Which are critical when it comes to dismantling patriarchal leadership models!

Neil said...

More people should be talking about the "rise n grind" hashtag-hustle WeWork scam. It's a cynical ploy to make money on real estate and to further monetize our work. Reframing work as an end unto itself rather than a means to an end, promoting an astroturfed culture that mixes millennial networking with Puritanical work ethic, and then charging us rent to do it, is just a cash grab. And it's a low-tier rung in a ladder to worse prospects for everyone. Next step is WeLive efficiency apartments- the very things that Capitalism claims Socialism will force upon us, only there will be free cold brew on tap and mandatory movie nights.