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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

Leadership – words of wisdom

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

Sometimes I read or hear something that is so perfectly well worded that I wish I had come up with it myself.

In a coaching session my client described her professional philosophy to me. It applies to every single person in a workplace, but I think it is even more applicable to leadership. It goes like this: Don’t take things personally and understand why you are at work. I was exhilarated when I heard this statement, which may be the most succinct summary I have ever heard of my favourite theory.

Let me introduce the concept of being systems-centered. In a nutshell, it means that you are focused on the context at hand, what the purpose of the context is, and how you should take your role in the context in order to contribute to the purpose. The opposite would be being person-centered. In that mindset you place yourself at the centre of the universe and you are guided by your whims.

The next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to the extent to which you and your colleagues raise irrelevant issues, change the topic in the middle of a conversation or interact with mobile phones without explaining why (which can trigger mind-reading episodes in others). If you conclude at the end of the meeting that all the participants have been 100 per cent system-centered and performed their roles consistently, send me an email and I will gladly buy you lunch.

I’m guessing that everyone agrees with my client's philosophy. To make it easier for us to live up to it, I have some advice. At the beginning of any meeting, start by negotiating the purpose of why you have gathered together. It is also a good idea to agree on the participants' roles. Who should lead the meeting, who is responsible for which issues and what does each person's mandate look like? If you follow this advice it will be easier to understand why you are at work, enabling you to perform your roles in the most functional way possible.

The concept of not taking things personally also connects to the system-centered concept. My client told me about a meeting where she asked questions in order to understand how a particular financial figure in a follow-up report had been calculated. The person being asked the questions felt challenged and reacted strongly. How could she have handled this situation in a more functional way?

A clever thing about the system-centred approach is that it allows you to feel the irritation, embarrassment or unfairness of a given situation. But then, after a few seconds of experiencing inner turmoil, you should take a deep breath and like I wrote above, remind yourself of the context and its purpose. If the person that felt challenged in my client's story had done that, she would have realised that it is my client's responsibility to keep track of the numbers and that the question didn’t necessarily express distrust. Then she would have been able to give a straight answer unclouded by emotion.

Don’t take things personally and understand why you are at work. Do you agree with these words of wisdom?


If you are curious about how we all run the risk of being kidnapped by our minds and lose oversight, I recommend my free guide What they don't tell you about change management.


The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.


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