I have often been told that I see the “grey” in what some would perceive as black and white situations; a mantra that I try to intuitively apply to every facet of life.  I can compare “seeing the grey” to a well-known and often quoted musical adage; that to fully appreciate the music you need to listen to the space between the notes. You see, I completed my undergraduate degree in music and had the pleasure of studying music appreciation. I draw parallels from the many hours I sat listening and critiquing performances in the concert hall to how to challenge myself to become an effective leader. I learned a great deal in the stillness and the quiet of that hall: the space between the notes includes hidden motifs, cultural innuendos, clever plays on history, glimpses into the composer’s character, all set in the context of the time in which the piece was written. Missing such intricacies can equate to the listener being robbed of a well-intentioned emotion / theme / message that the composer was trying to depict through the composition. To this point, when I lead, I treat my staff, colleagues, clients, friends, with the same attentiveness that I would sipping a glass of chardonnay and listening to one of Johanne Braham’s Concerti’s. And so, this is my call to leaders across the board – reflect on this vision and apply the “grey mantra” as a means to energize an intention within an organization; read between the notes and allow the hidden themes to guide your conflict management practices, innovative adaptations, ability to coach and mentor, and to drive a movement of passionate leadership.

It’s through experience that I have witnessed to an organization’s ability to sustain, to adapt and grow by utilizing the grey mantra.  On the contrary, I have also witnessed to organizations that resist seeing beyond black and white; unfortunately earning a negative reputation and struggling in two key areas: maintaining competitive advantage and business sustainability. Two principles drive the grey mantra: optimism and altruism. Both principles need to be rooted throughout an organization and extend through the people that encompass all business functions. These two principles are the tools applied to turn a positive intention into a flourishing business practice.

If optimism does not flow from the head of an organization and permeate all functions, the culture will suffer, and its people may struggle to find true satisfaction or meaning in their work. This can result in wariness and discord, a breeding ground for toxic culture. It is in this state that leadership usurps the need to invest in their people with the narrow-minded thinking of profit before all else.  To prioritize profit over people will ultimately undermine an organization’s bottom line.  In a highly competitive and dynamic marketplace, investing in and prioritizing human capital will pay long-term dividends when it comes to competitive advantage, employee retention, and ultimately profit margins.

Altruism is a principle that must be practised when leading an organization to sustain and adapt to market demand. In its absence, there’s a lack of investment and mentorship in people, and personal accountabilities are not taken seriously. To build a culture of positivity and create a space where people want to work and invest their time, leadership need to be driven by selflessness and passion to motivate others. Altruism lends to an organizational culture that responds with an understanding of character traits at play, has tolerances for underlying vulnerabilities and looks for key strengths in people to enhance structure and innovation. It provides an understanding of historical processes to continuously adapt to an ever-changing climate, and creates a culture of personal accountability.

It is through transparent and communicative leadership that optimism and altruism transform the culture of the organization. These “spaces between the notes” provide energy to sustain, adapt and grow an organization, all the while creating a culture of innovation, transparency, and investment.  Seeing the grey provides people within the organization with true leadership and a sense of purpose, painting an optimistic organizational paradigm for its publics which, as research demonstrates, does drive profitability. Lead with optimism, invest in people, continuously adapt to the market effectively, and innovate to maintain competitive advantage; four simple truths driven from “seeing the grey”.


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