Exceptional Leadership, Requires Imaginative Thinking

Leading from Within Image

A few weeks ago we unveiled our second newly designed leadership workshop, Leading From Within, hosted by Kent Osborne. Those that attended the workshop valued one of the leadership tools that Kent shared with us, so we thought we would share this technique with you.

Exceptional leadership demands imaginative thinking. While the analytical thinking of your left brain enables you to manage your business, it’s the intuitive wisdom resident in your right brain that enables you to creatively unlock the knowledge you’ve acquired. Understanding the power of combining logic and intuition is the key to masterfully coaching the men and women directly reporting to you.

Kent’s workshop provided participants with practical, powerful tools for knowing when and how to help your direct reports use imaginative thinking. One tool focused on performance reviews.

Kent directed participants to be wary of spending time discussing performance “in general terms.” This common practice leads to platitudes about what a performer could have done or should have done differently, but it generates no change in future performance and thus adds no value. Instead, leaders should guide direct reports into a detailed discussion about a specific moment in time. The direct report needs to imagine that she is observing herself performing, and from that detailed observation she will literally “feel” both her strengths and her weaknesses. The emotional connection will fuel a specific conversation that will surface meaningful insights about performance improvement.

If your organization wants to get more value from performance reviews, or if you’d like to explore the possibility of transforming the way your leaders coach their direct reports, contact Lisa Gilbert at The Kingbridge Centre and she will discuss how Kent’s work can be customized to meet your learning outcomes.


Conversations that Build Trust, Agility, Resilience & Creativity

image for tree post for Michael

Last week at Kingbridge we unveiled our first newly designed leadership workshop, Leading through Conversations that Matter, hosted by Michael Jones. One of the techniques that Michael shared with the group involved using the ecology of a tree to help us understand the distinction and value of learning how to host three very different levels of conversations.

Those who attended the workshop found this valuable so we thought we would share the information with you.

Most organizations are not short of innovative ideas. What they do lack, however, is an environment that allows for the careful enrichment of the soil in order for these seeds of possibility to take root and grow.

What builds this soil is conversation. But not all conversations are the same. The leader’s ‘art’ involves knowing which conversation they are taking part in – and which ones they need to be taking part in – in order to achieve the results they desire.

One picture that helps us understand different levels of conversation is the image of a tree. This image offers a lens for making distinctions between three levels of conversation and how each contributes to growing the culture of an organization.

Level 1: Tactical/Incremental
In Level 1 conversations – the primary question is, “how do we do things differently?”

In Level 1 conversations, the focus is on the distribution of power, influence and getting things done. There is an emphasis on negotiation advocacy, tools, techniques, problem solving, action planning and results.

Level 1 conversations see the enterprise as a mechanical system for which all problems have a corresponding technical or expert-driven response. To extend the tree metaphor, Level I conversations – like the upper branches and the leaves of the tree – are highly sensitized and reactive to changing circumstances. Because they are focused on the performance of the parts rather than the system as a whole, their emphasis is on efficiency-based thinking, quantitatively-driven results and mechanistic responses to problems.

Level 2: Strategic/Transactional
Here the primary question is, – “how do we do different things?”

At Level 2 we see not only the leaves and branches, but their connection to the trunk of the tree as well. Here the focus is on structure and strategy as well as rational problem-solving through policies, technology, detailed plans and systems thinking.

Level 2 conversations shift the emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness, embracing a human resources lens which encompasses human assets and potential, matching people to jobs and working in teams.

Both Level 1 and Level 2 conversations tend to focus on change that is instrumental. They don’t ask the larger questions like ‘why’ or ‘what for?’ For this more profound shift of mindset to occur and to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world, we need to look to another level of conversation.

Level 3: Regenerative/Transformational
With regenerative Level 3 conversations the primary question is, – not on “how we act differently”, but in “how we see differently.”

Here, there is a shift from mechanistic thinking to engaging with the organization as a living system. If the other levels focus on the leaves, branches and trunk, Level 3 conversations examine the soil and the root system underneath.

By ‘regenerative’, I mean conversations that focus not only on the people, the power and the structure of the system, but also on the culture and the sense of place where the leader is also the steward, the sage or prophet, the storyteller and place maker.

At Level 3 there is a greater attention on dialogue and listening together as well as on the regenerative power of beauty, destiny, synchronicity and mythic thinking in which art and poetry, music and celebration carry an equal voice. Generative conversations are participative, reciprocal and imaginative. They involve a collective search for deeper meanings and insights to emerge.

In so doing, these conversations shift the focus from preserving the life of the tree to growing the tree into a sturdy and fertile oak through the constant turning and care of the soil.

Eighty percent of what determines the health of a tree is the condition of the soil – the ‘magic’ that supports and nourishes its roots. In the context of an organization, this ‘magic’ is found within its creative spirit: conversations about what we aspire to, about when we feel vital and alive, about the gifts and heritage from our past and our present challenges and opportunities. These are ‘root’ conversations that focus on the common roots of our shared human experience. As such, they create the fertile ground – so frequently passed over in a fast-paced environment – where the seeds of our future can take root and grow.

It is commonly believed that the fastest way to change a system is with Level 1 and Level 2 conversations. So the overwhelming majority of an organization’s attention is usually focused in these two areas and the typical goal-setting processes that have been used for decades emphasize specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and strategic time-bound results. Yet these rarely correlate with either work satisfaction or real success.

We need to be highly literate with Level 1 and Level 2 conversations while being aware that they concentrate our attention on the most obvious and visible issues. They promote an expert-driven ‘outside in’ response and rarely evoke a fundamental shift of mind when practiced without Level 3.

All levels of learning are necessary, but only Level 3 conversations invite us into seeing new possibilities in the future. As such they take tactical and strategic learning in new directions that could not have been foreseen in advance.

The practice of engaging in Level 3 conversations connects us with how nature itself creates and sustains life. We become allies with each other and our destiny in ways that intellect, tactics, and strategies alone cannot encompass. Our destiny is rooted in the rich soil of intuitive wisdom, the power of place, our heart’s desires, our greatest aspirations, the gifts in each person and the collective intelligence that has called us to be together on this journey.







Artists in the Boardroom

A recent article in Fast Company magazine posed the question: Is an MFA the new MBA?  Author of the article Steve Tepper points to the need for creativity in the next generation of business leaders, making the point that those trained in the role of artist (such as a graduate of fine arts) as being ideally suited for the new economic climate fraught with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  On the one hand Tepper challenges us to literally bring an artist into the boardroom or the business planning process to see one’s organization through fresh eyes.  He also offers several excellent points outlining how business leaders could strive to tap into the talent nurtured in the creative arts, those traits and skills that may be hiding in plain sight within their workforce.

Our “Kingbridge Knowledge Gift” for this week comes from Tim Dixon, one of our strategic partners within our Collaboration Institute and our Meeting Experience Architect, working with our clients to design and deliver Kingbridge Organizational Programs:

In reading this article, I was reminded of those times when I have facilitated strategic conversations about “charting a new business direction” or “engaging our employees during a significant organizational change” – when words simply weren’t enough to convey meaning.  The shared understanding of the participants’ “cultural climate” was greatly enhanced during those types of leadership forum events when we were literally able to “ask an artist” what they were hearing.  The use of a graphic scribe allowed us to capture the essence of the dialogue so that the organizational landscape the artist was able to record provided a visual anchor for those leaders to engage their own teams when subsequently telling the story of their new direction and initiatives.  Below is an example of such a graphic representation of organizational complexity in uncertain times, which emerged during a multi-media simulation based on the metaphor “cross the desert of change”.

graphic scribe of shifting sands program

Another gem that can come from an arts-based orientation is a concept I picked up many years ago from a mentor and longtime thespian – Dr. Possibilities, who taught me the importance in an organizational setting for being a ‘SpectActor’.   Howard Jerome – aka Dr. Possibilities and founder of the Canadian Improv Games reminds students and executives alike to play their part in the grand theatre of life or business, while aware of how one’s role serves to bring the best out of the other actors.  This skill of critical self-reflection in action is what adult learning theorist Mezirow saw as pivotal to transformative learning.  So let us all strive to draw upon our inner Spectator to enhance relationships in our teams and with key stakeholders, as well as seek opportunities to bring the artist into the organization to see business through a fresh set of eyes.


The TED Meeting Phenomenon – Chapter 2

In the previous blog I explained the history of the TED Meeting (actually the official name is the TED Conference) and how it has become a new genre of dialogue that has both grown and been copied around the world.

Richard Saul Wurman sold the TED Meeting to Chris Anderson, a British entrepreneur and publisher in 2001. Anderson bought it through his Sapling Foundation so that it became a not-for-profit.  Despite the high cost of admission, which was $6000 per person in 2007, demand for the event and related activities, including international meetings, continued to grow dramatically, and the prestige of having given a “TED Talk” grew with it (great for your resume).  Anderson was a creative marketer and came up with TED Prizes, TED Fellows and other initiatives which strengthened the TED community.

He continued to video the presentations as Wurman had done before, but decided to experiment with the idea of putting some of them online for free.  The response was so phenomenal that he decided to turn his concept upside down.  Since his vision had always been “Ideas Worth Spreading” he built a website around the talks.  The conference was the engine to generate the great content, but the website was the amplifier to take these ideas to the world.   In July 2012, a total of 1300 TED talks had been posted, with 5 to 7 additional talks posted every week.  In June, 2011, the number of views passed 500 million.  By November, 2012 it had exceeded one billion!   If you’ve watched a TED video you have to appreciate the production quality of each talk.  Multiple cameras, excellent audio and professional operators assure first class output.

Obviously not every talk is fabulous.  So, not every talk is posted.  But the real reason there are so many good talks is that Anderson introduced a new concept in 2009 called “TEDx”.

As the TED website explains, Continue reading

The TED Meeting Phenomenon

Why are lessons from TED meetings so extraordinarily relevant to running successful businesses and organizations?

Have you watched a TED video?  Many millions of people have.  The TED meeting and its children, TEDx meetings, have become a popular genre for sharing ideas.  Indeed, the motto of TED is “Ideas worth sharing”.   There are many thousands of these meetings conducted around the world today.  Understanding where they came from and how they work will be the subject of several upcoming blogs.

The TED meetings were started by Richard Saul Wurman, an architect and prolific author, in the early 1980s.    “TED” stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  For Wurman, the idea was like having a personal dinner party in which the guests were very knowledgeable and experienced in certain fields, extremely articulate, and passionate about their beliefs.  They weren’t trying to sell you anything, they were sharing their most intimate discoveries and passions.  Speakers came from many backgrounds and spoke about totally unrelated topics.  Architects have to be integrators, so he was ‘architecting’ a meeting.  He even wrote a fascinating book called “Information Architects”.

Wurman was able to attract some amazing leaders in various fields to come and share their ideas.  He was also very good at juxtaposing speakers in a way that inspired the audience to think.  The audience members were just as prestigious in their fields as were the speakers.  Part of the ritual was that speakers had exactly 18 minutes to do their presentation.  Wurman would give a short introduction and let them speak.  As they got close to the allotted time, he would come on stage and start walking closer.  In extreme cases he would escort them off. There were no questions allowed.  Instead, he provided for one hour breaks between groups of talks to give the audience plenty of time to interact with both speakers and each other.

He developed a “10 Commandments for TED Speakers” that exists with some variations to today.   Here is the version I received in preparation for my TEDMed talk in 2009: Continue reading

Collaboration and The Marshmallow Challenge

Some years ago Tom Wujec, author, Senior Fellow at Auto Desk and an amazing graphic illustrator gave a TED talk called “The Marshmallow Challenge”(video below). In the talk he described how different groups of individuals approach a technical design problem.  The objective of the exercise was for each group to build the tallest free-standing structure in 18 minutes with one yard of tape, one yard of string, 20 sticks of spaghetti and a marshmallow. The groups in this exercise ranged from CEOs to MBAs to lawyers, engineers, architects and kindergartners. The results of this challenge showed how these different groups worked together on the challenge.

Perhaps the most surprising result of this experiment was that the children did better than the CEOs and the MBAs were the worst!  The reason the children did so much better was because their design process included prototypes and instant feedback from each other sharing what they learned along the way. They discarded the failed ideas and built on their successful structures. The MBAs on the other hand spent much of their time debating who would be in charge and what plans they would follow. Architects and engineers did pretty well.  The message taken from this exercise is that how we collaborate is influenced by our habits and the cultures we come from. Understanding and managing those cultures is essential for effective collaboration.