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Part II: What I Learned From Interviewing 30 Leadership Development Experts Around The World – “Coll

Updated: Sep 21, 2018

O.K., I’m back. In my last post, I talked about how I’ve been interviewing leadership development experts about the methods they use to vertically develop leaders. I also described that there are three main levers that they focus on to accelerate development.

1. Colliding Perspectives

2. Heat Experiences

3. New Map Making

This week I am going to focus on the first lever, ‘Colliding Perspectives’. This involves orchestrating collisions between people who see the world from very different perspectives. If the leader can keep an open mind, these collisions expand the number of angles from which he can see a problem. It also increases the combination of solutions from which he can create. It is like an artist getting brand new colors on her palette from which she can paint her picture.

So below I’ll describe five methods you can use to create collisions for leaders. In addition, I’ll suggest a key design lesson to consider from each approach.

I am already in trouble with some of my colleagues for writing the first one, but no matter! Enjoy.

1. Retire Bad Action Learning In my opinion, Action Learning is one of the most overused and poorly applied methods in all of leadership development. Organizations usually select the most overloaded leaders and give them another project. Rather than feeling like a developmental opportunity it usually just feels like more work. Instead, try creating groups made of the maximum-mix of different backgrounds, training and worldviews (Finance, H.R. Operations, I.T., Strategy, Manufacturing). Then teach them how to peer coach each other on real work issues they are each actually facing (not fake projects they are given). As part of their jobs, each of these functions focuses on different questions, therefore peer coaching forces each of the leaders to look at their personal challenges through many different perspectives – consider Finance and Operations leaders coaching H.R. and vice-versa. Key Design Lesson: The problem with most workplaces is not the lack of developmental opportunities, but that no one is learning anything from them. Begin by creating forums where people learn how to learn. It doesn’t take anything fancy, just a process for asking each other questions about real work and real problems. We don’t need to keep adding development; we just need to start extracting it.

2. Spend a Day in Your Customer’s Rice Paddy: Frame Breaking Experiences Few experiences are more developmental than seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. My favorite example is John Deere’s ‘Farmer Experiential’ in which high-level leaders are driven out to a rice paddy in India to do the work of their customers. The executives begin the day by planting crops by hand in 100°F/ 40°C temperatures with water and mud up to their knees. They then compare what a John Deere tractor can achieve in the same amount of time. The experience of living a day in their customer’s rice paddy helps them truly see the value their product makes to the lives of a farmer and his family. Walking a mile in another’s shoes is informative: spending a day in their rice paddy is transformational. Key Design Lesson: Design experiences which ask leaders to look through the eyes of different stakeholders in the organization and outside. For most of us, taking and holding other’s perspectives is both very hard and very developmental. Sneak it into your designs wherever you can and amplify it by giving it an emotional charge like this farmer example.

3. Step into Another Worldview: Deep Listening Few people listen well. Part of the reason is that our brains prefer to reinforce what we already know, rather than what someone else does. But development requires us to go against the grain of our brain and instead stretch to take on more perspectives. One of the most direct ways to do this is by practicing deep listening. C.C.L. does this by asking leaders to take on deeper aspects of their peer’s perspective: from listening for content, to listening for emotions, to listening for values. This progresses to team dialogue in which the group puts a ‘fish on the table’ (a difficult topic e.g. Do we avoid conflict with each other?) and members ask questions to probe for the different beliefs and assumptions people hold about the topic. This shift from advocating my own point of view, to getting curious about others points of view is a radical shift for many leaders. In an increasingly fragmented world it will be only those leaders who can hear and represent many perspectives, who will be trusted and followed by all. Key Design Lesson: The process of development is the process of taking on and holding more and more perspectives. Design experiences where leaders must suspend their own assumptions and beliefs so they can learn the skill of taking on another’s – easy to say, hard to do.

4. Learn to Hold Two Opposing Ideas in Your Mind: Polarity Thinking Are you able to hold two opposing ideas in your mind and see both as right? A breakthrough for many leaders is the realization that their business is full of natural tensions that can never be resolved, only managed. These tensions or polarities are pairs of interdependent opposites that pull against each other e.g. centralization vs decentralization, standardization vs customization. Managing polarities requires a move from either/or (black and white) thinking to both/and (shades of grey) thinking. This creates a tremendous developmental pull for leaders as they try to grapple with the question of how to get the best of both sides of a polarity e.g. centralization AND decentralization (“It’s not possible!!”). Leaders practice this by taking on real polarities in the business and working through a five stage process to: See, Map, Assess, Learn and Leverage the polarities. This leaves many leaders feeling dizzy but also with new perspectives they didn’t previously possess. Key Design Lesson: Leaders develop blind spots when they overvalue one side of a polarity (e.g. flexibility.) and neglect the other (planning). Have the leaders examine real business issues and identify the polarities that exist within them. Also get them to identify the polarities they wrestle with in relation to their own leadership style e.g. supportive and demanding. See http://bit.ly/1oedJfw

5. Learn To See Through a Systems Perspective: The Organizational Workshop This is a frame-breaking half day experience which requires leaders to see their organization from a systems perspective. Leaders are placed into a mock organization at different levels and asked to collaborate up and down the organization to meet customer’s needs. Everyone promises to collaborate, but as the experience begins systems dynamics dictate otherwise: coalitions form, enemies are identified and the blame game erupts. Half way through, there is a facilitated discussion on what is really happening in this system. Perceptions change, collaborations form and with a higher-level systems lens, leaders rise above their interpersonal biases (sometimes) to create a higher functioning organization (or sometimes not, which is always rich for development). For more see – http://bit.ly/1lCeClP Key Design Lesson: Many leadership programs focus only on behaviors (360 feedback, influence) and personality (MBTI, conflict styles). When you help leaders to also see systems, you give them not only more perspectives to work with, but also a more accurate view of how organizations really function.

Note to trainers and consultants – If you really want to help leaders develop you have to show them what development looks like. I see a lot of trainers asking other people to open up, share their worldview and have collisions, but not being prepared to do it themselves. It doesn’t work. The very best facilitators I have seen aren’t spectators, they show the way by opening themselves up and becoming vulnerable. If you’re not prepared to go first, don’t expect anyone else in the room to move either.

Next week I’ll outline five approaches the experts use to create ‘Heat Experiences’.