The Journey to Self-Organization: Key Insights into Leadership Development

01-The trend of self-organization

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the most talked-about topic was the VUCA era, characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. The things we used to be certain about seem less certain in this era. We made plans and set strategies for 2020 before the Christmas, but the pandemic forced us to pause and reassess and adjust all our plans.

As a certified international coach, I have discovered through self-exploration and practice that my natural talent lies in future-oriented thinking and action. It was inevitable for me to encounter coaching, teal organizations, self-organization, and Holacracy. Whether as a CEO, entrepreneur, or providing coaching services to support clients’ leadership evolution and organizational development, I have been practicing coaching mindset and self-organization. I also face the common problems and challenges that many leaders encounter, such as team development, business models, achieving performance, and crisis management. This often leads to confusion, anxiety, and fear. This has compelled me to constantly reflect on how to mobilize people’s inner drive and spontaneity. How can we make teams self-driven and highly creative? How can organizations be agile in the face of uncertainty and change? How can they achieve sustainable development?

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In providing executive coaching and team coaching services to clients in recent years, the most discussed topic has been “transformation.” Whether it is personal, family, team, organizational, or societal and global change, transformation can sometimes be painful and uncomfortable, but it also holds tremendous wisdom, as mentioned in the book “The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life”: “If you think something is a problem, then it is a problem. The good or bad of something is all based on your own perception. Pain leads us to encounter the most beautiful things.”

What does transformation truly mean for individuals, teams, organizations, and families? On the positive side, we have the opportunity to undergo transformation in this era. For example, in the era that the baby boomers lived in, transformation was rarely discussed. People could have one job for their entire lives. But now, transformation is a common occurrence.

In some organizations, managers find that they can no longer manage the younger generation, the so-called “post-80s” and “post-90s,” in the same way as they managed the previous generations. If the younger generation is not happy, fulfilled, and able to realize their value and achieve a sense of accomplishment in their work, they may simply leave and find another job, leaving the boss behind. They seem to have more courage and power to fully unleash their creativity when they are aligned in body and mind, doing what they love. They live by the motto “I do, therefore I am.” They do things that we may not have dared to think of before. Slash youth, super individuals, and creators of new lifestyles have emerged. For example, during the day, they may work as white-collar workers in a company, and at night, they may be a live-streaming host or a writer, expressing their personal opinions through articles. This era has given people many opportunities, and everyone has the possibility to follow their inner desires, do what they love, build their personal brand, and live out their talents.

This strong inner drive to live authentically poses new challenges for organizations in the present and future. Traditional authoritarian management is no longer effective, and organizational development cannot be based on suppressing the life force. Faced with such challenges, how can future organizations empower individuals to unleash their subjective initiative, supporting them in realizing their talents and passions to fulfill their personal missions while also promoting the better development of the organization? In “Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness,” the author suggests that there are signs that another shift in mental models will be accompanied by a new type of organizational model, which is likely to emerge soon. When human consciousness evolves to its current stage or even higher stages, how will the organizational model change? A coherent organization is about to be born, and what will it look like? It could be more meaningful business, soulful schools, and more effective non-profit organizations.

In other words, as human consciousness evolves to a new stage, the organizational model will inevitably change. The reason for this change is that individuals are seeking meaning and value, pursuing the realization of their life intentions. An organization is an organic living entity that needs to be driven by a mission. A future organization must focus on both the individual and organizational missions, work towards the future, self-manage, be ecologically open, and have a vibrant life force.

Holacracy proposes a new organizational model that effectively supports individuals and organizations to work and develop based on their missions. It is also highly flexible, allowing individuals in the organization to unleash their creativity as long as they fulfill the mission and responsibilities of their roles. When discussing the future development trends of organizations with friends and managers, some may find it too idealistic. However, many organizations and pioneers are already implementing such practices. In the process of implementing Holacracy, many new startups are practicing this management model. In these organizations, individuals have unleashed great creativity, and the organizations have demonstrated vitality and energy.

02-The inner growth of leaders

At this point, we have a question: What is the role of leaders in mission-driven, self-managed, and ecologically open organizations? How can leaders evolve together with the organization as they transition into teal organizations and self-organization?

The inner state and mental growth of leaders are crucial, as they determine whether leaders can create a safe space for people to be their authentic selves and radiate the brilliance and vitality of their lives. However, living as our authentic selves is challenging. In our practice, we use team coaching to facilitate team communication and co-creation within organizations. By creating a safe and open space where everyone is seen, allowed, and accepted, we go beyond only acknowledging each person’s strengths and accomplishments. More importantly, we embrace everyone’s fears, concerns, and even mistakes. This allows each person to be their true selves and unlocks the potential of team members.

I have a friend who is a management consultant for a company. He noticed several obstacles and bottlenecks in the company’s development: employees lacked intrinsic motivation, the boss was always putting out fires and acting as the company’s top salesperson, talent development couldn’t keep up with organizational growth, the internal culture revolved around the boss’s authority, and employees were afraid to express their true thoughts. When he tried to introduce agile management, progress was slow. After extensive learning, he hoped to support the company’s transformation into a self-organized entity through coaching. However, the implementation didn’t go smoothly. In our conversation, I asked him about the boss’s perspective on driving organizational change. He said the boss acknowledged the direction but focused more on solving immediate problems, as if organizational transformation wasn’t the most pressing need at the moment. He had previously attempted to implement coaching-style management within the company, but it didn’t take root. I further asked him about the attitude of the boss and company managers during this process. He said everyone thought these new management methods and trends were great but believed they weren’t suitable for the current company context. The evolution of future organizations requires an essential condition: the consciousness evolution of leaders.

In teal organizations and self-organization, there are no longer authoritative leaders. The role of leaders is to be supporters and enablers. This requires leaders to let go of their authority and control, be more open, and possess a growth mindset. This transformation of mindset leads to behavioral changes and creates an open and trusting team atmosphere that supports team evolution. Gradually, it expands the intrinsic drive and creativity based on mission, promoting the organization’s evolution towards teal.

The evolution of leaders primarily manifests in their self-awareness and mental growth. It involves leaders leading themselves, maintaining a state of harmony between body and mind, and being resolute and empowered. Secondly, it involves leaders interacting with others, organizations, and the world, leading others and organizations. Leading oneself means becoming the master of one’s own life and truly living out one’s mission. When we know how to lead ourselves, we know how to support others and lead organizations.

How can leaders lead themselves? First, they need to clarify “Who am I?”

So when we experience any negative emotions or fears, we simply acknowledge them and feel the sensations in our bodies. By observing the beliefs that drive our thoughts behind these bodily and emotional reactions, we realize that we are not alone in experiencing these fears, worries, and pains. Every person in life has them, and this realization gives rise to compassion: we are all the same. Learning to fully accept our lives and everything that happens in the present moment is the most authentic way to live. When we approach life with an open heart and meet it without judgment, we can truly heal ourselves and begin accepting and loving ourselves. Only when we truly accept and love ourselves can we accept and love others. And this also determines whether leaders can create a safe space in the process of organizational evolution, where members dare to express themselves and be true to themselves. Authentic expression and being true to oneself are the core elements that allow individuals in future organizations to unleash their vitality and creativity.

When you have a clear understanding of who you are and your mission, courage and strength will emerge to support you in taking action and making the choices you need to make. We can then achieve a state of being still and true to ourselves, embodying the intention of life and fulfilling our mission.

So how do we interact with others and organizations and demonstrate leadership in this process? The key is to “let go”: let go of control, let go of validation, and let go of success.

Letting go of control. Many people are already outstanding before they first lead a team, either with excellent performance or outstanding abilities. Many organizations promote such talents to become team leaders. When I first led a team, I was relatively young and didn’t know how to lead a team. I was solely focused on doing the job well, so I demanded that everyone perform their work perfectly and excellently. However, some people couldn’t meet the requirements, which made me uneasy. I started to supervise, inspect, and control, and if there were mistakes, I would punish and criticize. All this control was aimed at achieving perfection and good results. But this process was very exhausting for myself, and the team lost opportunities for growth and development. There is another form of control where leaders often believe that doing certain things can promote the company’s development and business growth. However, due to external constraints, it is often impossible to do things according to their own wishes, leading to internal conflicts. In fact, the only thing we can control is ourselves. By focusing on what is within our control and allowing things we cannot control to unfold naturally, we practice the wisdom of “trust” and “going with the flow.” This is also a core coaching mindset. Each member has a chance to decide the decision to see if they support or not. I recommend a meeting tool with you, it is Huddles.app, it has a section called [feedback] to show each team members’ agreements.

Sometimes, when we anticipate that things might not go as we want them to, we try to control them and prevent unwanted outcomes. However, the more we try to control, the more things seem to go against our wishes. This not only makes us exhausted but also strains the team and breaks trust. If we allow things to unfold naturally, the results may naturally align with where they are meant to be. There is a saying in Tibet that if milk is processed using the right method, it becomes yogurt, but if not, it turns into cheese.

The wisdom of going with the flow does not mean being passively accepting of outcomes. Instead, if there are actions within our control that can support a better direction, we should give our full effort in the present moment. If there are things that we cannot lead, expending a lot of energy may not lead to favorable results. In such cases, we can let things develop naturally and offer support if needed, approaching it with love. As a leader, it is important to be aware of the underlying fears that drive us behind the desire for control. Many of our behaviors stem from these internal fears.

Letting go of seeking approval is another important aspect. Many of us strive for perfection, and the more accomplished we are, the more we seek it. But what lies behind the pursuit of perfection? It is the desire to show others that we are excellent and to gain approval. The craving for approval is rooted in a deeper fear of not being good enough. True freedom comes from seeing things as they are. When we seek approval, we become influenced by external circumstances and lose our sense of self, making it difficult to see the situation clearly and make sound decisions and judgments. How can we maintain a stable state of equanimity? By returning to ourselves, our life purpose, and mission.

Letting go of the attachment to success is also crucial. Some leaders measure success based on annual business performance, company growth targets, time to go public, and so on. We often set ambitious goals and strive to achieve them with all our might, but sometimes the outcomes do not align with our initial intentions. What do we truly seek behind the pursuit of success? Many of us want to prove ourselves. When we have the need to prove ourselves, we exert excessive effort and are unable to live in the present moment. Our decision-making and performance are affected by whether the desired results are achieved or not. However, in the VUCA era, if we cannot approach tasks with a state of flow, relaxation, inner drive, positivity, and openness in the present moment, we cannot have a holistic understanding of systemic changes and trends. We cannot perceive opportunities within the changes, and we may not achieve the success we desire.

Life is a journey, and the ultimate outcome is not the only pursuit. What matters is the state in which we engage in our actions. I later told my team members that we should not focus on grand goals and visions. As long as what we do aligns with our mission, we are living authentically.

03-How self-organization earns wealth in evolution

Some may ask, “But first, businesses need to survive. If they can’t survive and make money, what’s the point of talking about a mission?”

Professor M, the founder of Chaotic University, shared a quote in one of his public speeches: “Goodness is the highest form of connection, and Chaotic University aims to pave a path of goodness with wisdom.” As a leader and influencer of an organization, Professor M understands that “goodness” is the true way to connect oneself with others. In the future, what kind of organization can truly survive and develop? Teal organizations and self-organization are obvious trends, and a key aspect is that all organizations and individuals act based on their mission. It’s not a competitive relationship; people and organizations can support and empower each other. Through this support and empowerment, true wealth flow can be generated.

Whether it’s an individual or an organization, we should ask ourselves: What kind of contribution can our actions make to others and the world? Contributing to each other and acting with goodness is the law that drives the world. When we truly contribute to each other, a high-energy wealth will flow, providing us with the energy and resources to move towards a better future. Looking ahead, whether we are business operators, executives, or managing our own lives, we should ask ourselves: What kind of contribution does our existence, the existence of our organization, or our family make to the world? This will guide us in how we act and conduct ourselves every day.

04-How coaches support leaders’ inner growth and organizational evolution

When providing one-on-one executive coaching or team coaching services to clients, or even in our own personal growth process, whenever we encounter problems, dilemmas, or challenges, we can engage in coaching dialogues to inspire wisdom and insights and find solutions. Coaches apply professional dialogue tools and processes to create awareness, reach the inner self, and gain insights and wisdom. Through an objective perspective, coaches help us see our belief systems and how these beliefs trigger our emotions, thoughts, and actions. We need to be aware of whether these beliefs are driven by fear and control or by love and compassion. The role and process of coaching is to support individuals in reaching a state of calmness and wisdom. For leaders or founders/owners of organizations, facing the complex external environment, what they need most is to find inner stillness and calmness, generate wisdom, and make decisions and take actions that align with future trends.


Author: Lily Taylor

ICF International Coach Federation Coach Member International NLP Association Certified NLP Master Practitioner

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