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Chief Wellbeing Officer: Learning to Live

June 9, 2018 • MacGregor on Executive Health, Team Managment

By Steven MacGregor


With the Chief Wellbeing Officer book released this week, we include an excerpt from Chapter 7 on how to achieve lifelong learning. Being surrounded by increasing rates of change together with our longer life journeys, learning is a hot topic of late, and one we consider of paramount importance for health and wellbeing.

 

They said he was an idiot. They said his sketches were infantile and that it looked like a child had done them. They were right! He did paint like a child as an adult, but more interestingly he had painted like a master when he was a mere child. Pablo Picasso was a genius. He was born in Malaga in the south of Spain in 1881 and his family moved to Barcelona when he was five, where he stayed for the next 20 years, before he left for France. He said of Barcelona There is where it all began… where I understood how far I could go.”

This chapter is about learning to survive, and thrive, in a sea of change. By better understanding the great waves of change, we can learn to be masters of disruption, rather than victims. This is true on an individual and organizational level, and we will show how the Chief Wellbeing Officer can ask the right questions to help both the person and company navigate safely and successfully.

Exposing ourselves to outside points of view and influences is healthy, as is learning from others and getting new ideas, but we must always stay true to who we are.

The very essence of wellbeing is finding, and acting according to, your authentic self. It is easy to lose sight of our authenticity due to a variety of factors, life experiences, bad habits, poor choices, and the environment in which we spend most of our time. We may even achieve a great deal of success acting inauthentically, though if that success does last, it is unlikely to be fulfilling. Exposing ourselves to outside points of view and influences is healthy, as is learning from others and getting new ideas, but we must always stay true to who we are. As Oscar Wilde said, Be yourself, everybody else is already taken.” This quest for authenticity builds on our discussion in chapter three on defining purpose, values, and vision, and we will enrich that quest through different means in this chapter, including a call to adopt a more childlike mindset.

Disruption is the natural order of life – where change, death, and rebirth are ever-present. By better understanding the main rhythms and their transitions, we may take advantage on both a personal and business level. Our belief, akin to Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma for companies is that all people, no matter how successful, must at some point leave behind the old way of doing things and make the switch to a new path.

Reinvention is becoming a child again, curious to learn and adopt a beginner’s mindset that is characterized by curiosity, exploration, and discovery. We all know how to make friends without starting with assumptions and judgments. We did that in the school playground. We all know how to openly express ourselves without fear of humiliation. Young children do that all the time. Yet over time our innate, authentic, and unique characteristics are eroded and moulded into a standardisation of what society or our family or company wants us to look like. During this process we lose the invaluable and naive ability to create, innovate, and be our authentic selves. Picasso said: “Every child is an artist… and then they grow up.”

The childlike characteristics so often stolen from us as we grow, mature, and learn to socialize are exactly what so many companies are now asking for in their people: the ability to think out of the box, to think for themselves and innovate. Children are predisposed to authenticity and optimism. These are probably the two most important leadership characteristics that companies are crying out for, yet we humiliate our employees for displaying them.

Yet wellbeing and the creativity, passion, and performance that comes from it, thrives when we reconnect with our authentic selves.

It was said recently that “companies are abattoirs of the human soul”. Companies step into our lives, just after we have been through years of training and conditioning by schools, and they keep on transforming us into the best version for them, again eroding our personal characteristics. At the same time they increasingly ask for creativity and passion. Yet wellbeing and the creativity, passion, and performance that comes from it, thrives when we reconnect with our authentic selves. This is what Chief Wellbeing Officer is here for, and there are signs that organizations are beginning to change. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked in 2017 of his admiration for the book MindSet by Stanford professor Carol Dweck:

“I was reading it not in the context of business or work culture, but in the context of my children’s education. The author describes the simple metaphor of kids at school. One of them is a ‘know-it-all’ and other is a ‘learn-it-all’, and the learn-it-all always will do better than the other one, even if the know-it-all kid starts with much more innate capability. Going back to business: if that applies to boys and girls at school, I think it also applies to CEOs, like me, and entire organizations, like Microsoft. We want to be not a know-it-all but learn-it-all organization.”

Such a learn-it-all approach is often held up as good practice in parenting, where the focus should not be on giving the answer to questions that children may have, but taking an approach of let’s find out together”, in order to awaken interest in the process of discovery. The process and thirst for the answer is actually more important than the answer itself. Such a skill will be even more important for the complex problems of the future where there may not be a single answer. The way of thinking is more important, which can be deployed today to question why things exist in the organization, not simply because that’s “the way it has always been done”.

Learning to live has two distinct meanings. First, in a longer life and career we must better navigate the waves of change and so we better learn how life unfolds. Second, on the role of learning in order to live. Learning is a never-ending process. Picasso also said, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” It seems he was a learn-it-all, too.

About the Author

Dr. Steven MacGregor is the CEO of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona [LAB] an executive education provider and management consultancy with clients including McKinsey, Telefónica and Uber. A Visiting Fellow at the Glasgow School of Art he teaches on open and custom programs at IMD, IE, IESE and CEIBS. Formerly a visiting researcher at Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon he is the author of Chief Wellbeing Officer (LID 2018) and Sustaining Executive Performance (Pearson 2015). His twitter handle is @spmacg.

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