We are linguistic social animals. We connect, coordinate, communicate, work and live with each other through language. By sharing our stories, we establish a common truth about the world. This allows us to mobilize fast as a group while reconfirming our beliefs.
Our culture, history and experience become the lens that we observe and assess the world around us. We often misinterpret what we see through this lens as the universal truth. At best, we recognize them as our beloved prejudices.
We have not been taught to live our lives with an understanding that what we see and experience is a manifestation of what is out there and the concepts we use to interpret them. This implies that our understanding of the world and specific situations within it, are confined by the boundaries of our understanding. To put it more bluntly, we are the limiting factor of our own lives. We may intellectually understand or even accept these concepts, however, the question remains the same; what can we do differently?
All organisations and leaders within them have their own unique beloved prejudices. We call them our leadership style, methodology, approach, framework, philosophy, values or other such fancy terms. However, once we peel away the fancy slides and language there is only one thing that distinguishes the good from the great, which is the ability to listen and create listening.
As leaders, managers or consultants our primary role is to enable our teams and our clients to take actions that they were unaware of or unwilling to take in their day to day responsibilities. To do so, we need to start by extending and broadening their perspective of themselves, the world around them and future. This can only happen through constant and continuous dialogue. However, if we don’t have a method to put these concepts into practice they remain pleasant philosophical discussions.
These days everyone seeks instant answers and stimulation, which either fits into 140 characters or a few simple steps to achieve success in leadership or management. To add to the challenge, we confuse the intellectual understanding of new concepts with the ability to put them into practice. Learning to manage or lead is similar to learning any other activity. We need to combine theoretical understanding with practical coaching.
To provide substance to the concepts we have introduced in this post, we are sharing with you the guidelines we use in our engagements, which you might find useful:
- “One model doesn’t fit all”. We need to remain curious about what our client perceives when we observe same thing. The aim is to develop a shared and enriched view of the situation.
- Our version of a “report” may tell an intriguing story but there are many anomalies that only the data owners would know. The aim of a consultant is to create a comprehensive view of the available data and not to insist on their own narrow view.
- The past, present and future are intertwined. Our clients know more than us about the reasons for things being the way they are. We need to work with them to distinguish between their beloved prejudices, which are holding them back and the ones that are pivotal to their business.
- Our job is to help our clients to discover their weaknesses, issues, threats as well as their strengths, uncelebrated anomalies and unnoticed opportunities. This cannot become an information sharing exercise but an engagement which enriches our clients’ perception of their world.
- Discovery, diagnosis and design are three separate activities. We can only move from one to another when “the penny has dropped.”
- Discovery is focused on creating a joint understanding of our clients’ landscape, which is free from assessments and judgments.
- Diagnosis is about making assessment of what you have discovered, which enables our clients to identify opportunities and their values.
- Solution definition i.e. design, is about explorations and dialogues through one-to-one discussions and workshops. Ideally, we should never present the solution. Our clients need to do that. It is their solution after all.