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On top of Pico Agudo in Parana, Brazil and lessons learned on adaptive leadership

Business Innovation Coaching

Pico Agudo is the Portuguese name for "acute peak" – a grinding 4hrs hike with 1000m elevation, straight up and no time for a warm-up under 30c+ scorching heat by midday in January.

It was an adventure to travel there with our rented car. To access the Pico you need to drive a knotty dirt road for at least an 1hr+ with steep hills, no infrastructure, little roaming and signage and we were lucky with the weather that day. I am not sure if we would have reached the parking entrance of our hike if it rained on wet roads without a four wheel-drive. Welcome to Brazil and the world of adaptability. 😊

I would consider myself well-travelled, having lived and worked on three different continents and seven different countries, not counting years of backpacking, however in this fast-paced world and accustomed to western quality of life, I found it difficult to adjust to the complexities of the pace of Brazilian culture at the beginning. From not being able to draw cash from one of the main bank of Brazil to using my GPS roaming data allowance at the speed of light and having to buy a local SIM card, I began to regret the backpacking days of the ‘Lonely Planet’ with no internet, its paper maps and slow pace of life, albeit always chaotic whilst travelling in developed countries.

In today’s VUCA world, “Analyse, plan and implement” has given way to more adaptive leadership that relies on experimentation, sense-making, emergence… making traditional organizational planning less relevant. During this business/personal trip I realised I still had some more inner work to do in letting go of concrete expectations around planning, structure, organisation and control, etc knowing “systems leadership” * is one of my coaching specialities. 😊

Due to time constraints on this journey and my ‘conditioned’ mindset living in Ireland, I witness inner-tensions of impatience, anxiety and frustrations due to uncertainties like driving for 1hr+ on dirt roads with an ill-equipped car in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where we were going nor reaching our destination. Only to be mesmerised by the beautiful scenery once reaching the mountain top, going with the flow, having faith and trusting the patience, guidance and instinct of my Brazilian friend.

In Brazil, an erosion of trust and faith in government in recent years has been the backdrop for a swing from the socialist policies of former Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff to the election of current President Jair Bolsonaro.

Maintaining trust is a key value and part of the attributes of an individual “systems leader” including among others intrapersonal skills such as a deep inner self-awareness and compassion leading to inner-peace, an interest in the system over one’s self (i.e. ego), and an ability to facilitate constructive dialogue.

As with the Hero’s Journey from academic Joseph Campbell, my travelling pilgrimage guided me to the threshold of my inner route map, helping me to better navigate the landscape of my inner core – i.e. managing polarities between the familiar/rational – linear mind and unfamiliar/heart – non-linear mind. When was the last time that you gave yourself permission to travel into a totally unfamiliar world (i.e. not speaking the language in an unfamiliar country and travelling like a local)?

The trip highlighted a better understanding of 'self' by enhancing my degree of conscience and compassion within my regional, budget-conscious travelling context – perhaps the best leadership training is to drop an executive by foot with limited roaming data, no Portuguese language in the heart of Sao Paulo, one of the world’s fastest-growing metropolitan with 19 million inhabitants and ask S/Him to cross the town with its famous ‘bairros’ by night time?

* “Systems leadership” is about leading in a situation where power is diffused, and where the consequences of decisions are magnified and less predictable as their impact progressively ripples across the organisation. It requires cultivating a shared vision for change, and empowering innovation and collaborative action.

According to research, systems leadership is needed to address complex problems which cannot be solved with a top-down, conventional, pre-planned approach that focuses on one area to the exclusion of others.


Journal and lessons from my latest business trip to Brazil. "Adaptive leadership is a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organisations to adapt to changing environments and effectively respond to recurring problems. First, the change itself needs to be considered to subsequently take on challenges and respond to the change."


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