Leadership in 463 steps…blog #86

View from the Duomo, Florence, Italy

I am basically an impatient person; a person of action. Multi-tasking comes easy and being in the midst of the ‘action’ is stimulating. My mind works fast! I receive information and quickly sort through it to get to a point of resolution. Making decisions is fairly easy for me. However; through the school of hard knocks, I have learned that impatience, action, quickly assimilating information, multi-tasking, and fast decision making is not always a good thing! In fact, it’s rarely a good thing when, as leaders, we are faced with making decisions that impact those we are called to serve and support.

Many people have heard of the concept ‘balcony view’. It refers to the mental (or physical) action of stepping back and gaining perspective. I first heard about it shortly after visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, in Florence, Italy. We had spent a few days visiting places like the Galleria Dell’ Accademia and were moved by Michelangelo’s David, an impressive 17′ statue of detailed strength and beauty. We leisurely walked through the Uffizi Gallery, awed by the magnificent paintings by artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, and da Vinci. And of course, we delighted in the many cafés with their delicious pastries and memorable coffee. We quickly learned the difference between al tavolo and al banco pricing! Exploring Florence was such an amazing experience.

After putting on many foot-miles, our final adventure was to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo. The staircase quickly narrowed to a spiral climb – suffocating for a claustrophobic!   

However; once we broke into the warmth of the afternoon sun, we were rewarded with the most magnificent view…Florence from 114 metres! We could trace the path of our explorations, see each location in relationship to others, and even notice places we didn’t realize existed. I think you get where I’m going with this. 

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Florence, but until we made the climb to the top – to the balcony – it was a series of magnificent, but isolated experiences.

Heifetz/Grashow, and Linsky added to the Balcony View concept by referring to the action of – “moving from the dance floor to the balcony“. We love the  dance floor. We love being at the heart of the action, enjoying the energy of everyone dancing to the same beat. It’s difficult to pull ourselves away, to step up to the balcony and be an observer rather than a participant. But as leaders, we must. But what are we doing on the balcony?

Heifetz and his co-authors suggest three activities in which we need to engage from the balcony: observe, interpret, and intervene.

If you were to ask what we saw from the top of the Duomo, each of us would have described something different — all correct, but different. This is an important part of observing. We look at things through the lens of our personal experience and bias, so when on the balcony our view or perspective is broadened a more inclusive view of what’s happening in the everyday workings of our team or organization. The authors encourage leaders to then move into the practice of interpreting what they have observed. Once more we need to acknowledge the fact that we interpret our observations differently than our colleagues. In my previous blog I introduced the importance of checking assumptions…this is a perfect example of how the practice of critical thinking will enhance how we interpret our observations. In our human desire to get to solutions, we may tend rush through this interpreting stage. Taking time to consider, to ponder, to reflect, will enhance our accurate deciphering of what our senses take in. This pause and will greatly impact the interventions or actions we put forth. Remember, action is the result of decision making. 

I appreciate how John Dewey approaches decision making. Following a close examination of the situation (as noted above), consideration should be given to possible alternative directions in addressing the matter at hand, weighing the evidence, choosing what is deemed to be the best path, and then taking action. But it doesn’t end there. Leaders need to identify when the decision will be reviewed and potentially altered.

We took 463 vertical, winding, narrow steps to get to the top of the Duomo, a very intentional climb. It would have been foolish to immediately do the return trip without taking time to pause and appreciate the view. And, once we got to ground level again, we discussed what we saw, what amazed us, what we missed seeing in our Florence walk-about, and what we would still do. In other words, we didn’t make the climb only to ignore what we observed. We observed, interpreted, and finally intervened with a new course of action. 

Leaders of people, are you ready for a Duomo experience? It’s truly worth it.     

References:

Heifetz, R. & Grashow, A, & Linsky, M. (2009). The theory behind the practice. A brief introduction to the adaptive leadership framework. Harvard Business Press. https://cambridge-leadership.com/documents/Ch-2-Theory-Behind-the-Practice.pdf

PSDP-Resources and Tools: Moving from the dance floor to the balcony. https://practice-supervisors.rip.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Moving-from-the-dance- floor-to-the-balcony.pdf

University of Massachusetts (n.d.). 7 steps to effective decision making. https://www.umassd.edu/media/umassdartmouth/fycm/decision_making_process.pdf

Photo of Duomo view by Chloe Xie on Unsplash

Leading and critical thinking…blog #85

In my leadership class this week we will be looking at the importance of critical thinking. We hear about it all the time, but fail to realize it truly is one of the most important elements to consider at this time.  I began digging by looking at Stephen D. Brookfield’s book, Teaching for Critical Thinking,and it has certainly created a deeper desire to more analytically consider my own ability to think critically. A word I learned during my Post Grad studies was metacognition. It’s a great word that is packed with so much substance.

“…thinking about one’s thinking. It refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning; and b) oneself as a thinker and learner.” Nancy Chick

When we put these two things together, critical thinking and metacognition, something really important begins to emerge. Consider these questions as you continue reading:

  1. Do I engage critical thinking during these times?
  2. What assumptions influence my decisions?
  3. Am I clear on my values?
  4. Who am I focusing on?

So let’s put this in context of what leaders are facing in our current leadership ethos. Not only do they face the challenge of guiding their teams through uncharted waters, but in the process they are expected to learn new tools, new terminology, new ways to motivate and measure performance…I could go on! However; perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of leadership today looks at preserving culture within an organization. Or possibly the question is more about whether there is a culture worth preserving? Or maybe the realization hits that it’s time to consider the health of the culture, or to examine if what was believed (stated) as being the organizational culture is in fact what teams and customers are experiencing?

My intent is certainly not to address organizational culture in this blog (perhaps at another time), but to look at what critical thinking skills a leader needs to employ when examining such matters.

In his writings, Brookfield suggests the purpose of thinking critically is “…so we can take informed actions…not just to survive, but also to live and love well”. Beautiful. In order to do this he states that individuals need to discover what assumptions influence the way they think and act. He then encourages the checking of those assumptions as to whether or not they are valid and reliable. Finally, Brookfield urges that time is taken to envision our assumptions from others perspectives and points of view. All this before any informed action is taken.

But (and there so often is a ‘but’), the ribbon that must run through all of this is: values. What values actually inform our critical thinking. As leaders, do our values encourage critical thinking that leads to decisions and actions that truly are in the best interest of those we are entrusted to serve?

Back to leadership ethos. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ethos as “The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.

Moving that into the realm of leadership ethos, we learn that:

Leadership ethos is associated with actions which add value, honour commitments to stakeholders and society…leaders…choose service over self-interest.” Dr. Ken Kalala Ndalamba

Getting back to those guiding questions, let me once again ask, as leaders do we:

  1. Take time to think about how we are thinking critically when navigating and guiding our teams through uncharted waters?
  2. Do we stop to consider what assumptions are influencing our decisions?
  3. Are we clear about, and committed to, the values that guide our actions?
  4. Does the leadership ethos we create result in putting those we serve over self-interest?

Interested in talking more about this? Please feel free to email me, reach out via LinkedIn, or simply comment on this post.

References

Chick, Nancy. (nd). Metacognition: thinking about one’s thinking. Center for Teaching, Vanderbult University. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/

Brookfield, Stephen D. (2012). Teaching for Critical Thinking : Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions: Vol. 1st ed. Jossey-Bass.

Ndalamba, Ken. (2017). Leadership Ethos and Culturally Oriented Strategic Management: A Conceptual Framework and Research Propositions. Journal of Values-Based Leadership. 11. 10.22543/0733.62.1216.

Photo by Marcel Strauß | @martzzl on Unsplash

Leading and adaptivity…blog #84

Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

Have you ever been on your way to an appointment, perhaps with a client, or for a social event and were met with unexpected road construction causing you to be unfashionably late? Or perhaps you were set to make a presentation to a client only to discover the Internet gremlins had done their worst somewhere in the cyber space around your computer and caused the connection to be less than adequate? I have, and it was not a pretty sight! Adjustments, re-arrangements, rescheduling, and great apologies had to be made before things got back on track. Things happen, things outside our control, that call for change. It takes time to get our head into a different arrangement, to get over the frustration of the disruption, to recalibrate, to settle on what appears to be a less than outcome. But is it always a less than outcome?

Several years ago, when our kids were much younger, we set out on a family trip to Disney World where we would meet up with my brother and his family. We were all so excited! Our family was travelling from British Columbia and my brother’s family from Ontario. These times together were precious, and so much fun. Everything was packed, we boarded the plane, we were good to go. Until ‘it’ happened. Hurricane Gordon.

Our flight path was interrupted and forced an overnight stopover in Denver, Colorado. We were not prepared! Being the eternal optimists and dearly looking forward to the feeling of the Florida sun on our winter white skin, we were dressed in shorts, t-shirts, light jackets, sandals, and no access to our checked luggage (another reason to fly with only carry-on!). The excitement meter plummeted from extreme high to extreme low in a matter of minutes. Even though this turn of events was totally out of our control, the disappointment was palpable. Sitting in our hotel room, gathering our hotel supplied hygiene necessities, it was hard to fathom the ‘less than’ outcome could be anything but gloom. Until ‘it’ happened.

A forgotten shared memory was recollected by my husband. A memory I had shared but long forgotten. You see, several years earlier I had travelled throughout the US with a singing group. As it happens, at the time of my 19th birthday we were performing in Denver, Colorado. A forgotten shared memory was recollected by my husband. A memory I had shared but long forgotten. You see, several years earlier I had travelled throughout the US with a singing group. As it happens, at the time of my 19th birthday we were performing in Denver, Colorado. That’s when I was introduced to Casa Bonita the most exciting Mexican restaurant I have ever experienced. Food, cliff divers, mariachi band, caves, and sopapillas just waiting to be drenched in honey. Why I hadn’t thought of introducing this adventure to my family is beyond me! However, Rob was on it! Before long we left the warmth of the hotel, tip toed through the snow in sandals, climbed into a taxi and journeyed to Casa Bonita. It was amazing…maybe a little cornier than I had remembered, but well worth the thrill of sharing my former life with my family. And they loved it!

Café in Centrum, Amsterdam set up for working from anywhere

So where am I going with this. Some changes are totally beyond our control. Right now most organizations have been forced to make a change to their SOP. Life in the office as we know it is no more, but not because we chose it…the decision has been made for us. Some may think that the outcome will create a ‘less than’ result, however, I beg to differ. To be sure, a disequilibrium has been created in which we now need to live, but until ‘it’ happened, many organizations, or employees, would not have considered the opportunities provided by a work from anywhere concept. My intent is not to go into the many proven benefits to all involved with WFA, but rather put it in the context of change. To bring attention to how we, as leaders of people, have been handed a mulligan, a do-over. We have an opportunity to do business differently, to adapt rather than mourn the loss of how things used to be; to take advantage of an unplanned change and re-write the next phase of how we work, where we work, when we work, and what work we do.

I’m not saying any of this is easy…far from it. In fact, leaders are called to be the pioneers in this journey of discovery and transition. As leaders we are called to practice adaptive leadership. In other words,

To practice adaptive leadership, you have to help people navigate through a period of disturbance as they sift through what is essential and what is expendable, and as they experiment with solutions to the adaptive challenges at hand.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky

Are you up for the challenge?