How Are You “Wired” for Learning, Change, and Reinvention?
What’s the “right” (best, optimal) leader posture today, given all the uncertainty and volatility?
Take a look at the simple clockface below (remember that old analog friend in our digital world?!). Read the characteristics of the two positions—12 and 6 o’clock. Now think about the pattern of your leadership, your default tendencies. Don’t fuss too much about what you’d prefer them to be. Just be as honest with yourself as possible.
Where are you on this dial? Any position north of the “equator” means you’re more often exhibiting the characteristics of the 12 o’clock position. Straight up 12 means those characteristics are full blown. The further down the right side of the clockface you go (1, 2, 3, etc.), the more you are welcoming and embracing the 6 o’clock characteristics. Down the left side from 12 to 9 o’clock, you’re heavily influenced by the 12 o’clock characteristics yet acknowledging and tolerating the 6 o’clock characteristics.
Just reverse that when starting from 6 o’clock. Straight up 6 o’clock means those characteristics are full blown in you. The further up the right side of the clockface you go (5, 4, 3, etc.), the more you are welcoming and embracing the 12 o’clock characteristics. Up the left from 6 to 9 o’clock, you’re heavily influenced by the 6 o’clock characteristics yet acknowledging and tolerating the 12 o’clock characteristics.
But what if you think you’re at the 3 or 9 o’clock positions? Perfectly blended/balanced? Perhaps. Trust your intuition. I’d say 3 o’clock leans more toward 6, and 9 o’clock toward 12 o’clock characteristics…but your interpretation/sense of yourself should dictate.
Take a second and note where you are on this image.
12 O’clock characteristics:
Prefer continuous change; invigorated by new ideas; move fast; welcome experimentation; willing to “blow up” current processes/products to make way for the new; constantly scanning the horizon; lead with question of “why” and “what if?”
6 O’clock characteristics:
Prefer order and repetitive patterns; drawn to simplifying complexity and establishing systems; getting it right and running smoothly is 6 O’clock more important than speed; welcome stability; pay attention to best practices; lead with questions of “how?”
Now do the same thing with your team (or board, or unit)—the people primarily responsible for design and execution of your strategic initiatives. What can you infer from the exercise so far?
Think about what this might suggest about how you and your leadership team are wired for learning, for change, and for reinvention.
The image below is an alternative way of looking at the clockface with which you were just working. I’ve adapted the 12 and 6 o’clock position characteristics to more organizational language. The image below is drawn from a recent client engagement with a diverse planning team responsible for setting the next agenda and business model for the whole organization. Each star reflects the self-identified location of one team member.
Not absence of order, but the presence of multiple orders • Surfing uncertainty • Healthy chaos • Transformative innovation (working against the grain of the dominant culture and patterns of behavior).
Reordering, simplifying, and organizing the complexity until little remains • Systems run smoothly • Stability reigns • Ordered.
This exercise produces some fascinating insights each time I employ it with teams. Most common are:
- There is no single right/best/optimal position for “the leader.” Leverage your strengths. In an operating environment with deepening complexity requiring increasing speed of adaptation, every contribution adds value at different times in the business cycle. All strengths contribute in a constant need to adapt.
- As with all human and natural systems homogeneity brings stasis or constant disruption, both of which are deadly. Diversity fosters adaptation. Big or small, change is the constant—especially now. If you’re a leader who loves to shake things up and embrace the new, you’ve got to acknowledge and make space for those whose gifts are in service of bringing order, efficiency, and operating value to the bold new direction upon which you’ve propelled the team/organization. Look at the scribble image at 12 o’clock, signifying an ordered single line (left), followed by a mad scramble (center), and then less varied, more patterned scrambling (right). Kinda sounds like what you’ve experienced through Covid times?
- Illuminating a team’s default tendencies often reduces tensions stemming from seeing only your perspective, leading you to think about colleagues, “You just don’t get it!!.”
- Thriving means adapting…quickly. Each of us needs to recognize we’ll have to get more comfortable with fast and slow – and our calibration of speed likely differs from others. You’ll need to take time to pause periodically. Individuals and teams need pauses to celebrate adaptive victories (think: reinforcing that which you want to grow) and loss. Let’s face it, change triggers grief in us in powerful, visible ways and in many subtle, invisible ways. Big changes evoke a sense of real grief at the loss of the old order. (Think about our widely shared grief about the loss of “normal” during Covid.). These are indeed powerful times.
- Propelling change that sticks requires you to embrace—even fan—chaos. Any transformation requires a period of chaos to produce the level of disruption necessary to get beyond the old order. It requires courage and tenacity because so many around you (and many of the supporting operating systems you’ve put in place) are steeped in patterns, predictability, and order—by design. Reinventions that stick produce a fundamental transformation that can’t revert back to the old order. New supportive operating systems and processes will be required…out of which new order and predictability will grow.
- The best reinvention thinkers I know (like Nadya Zhexembayeva) remind us that reinvention is the whole cycle, not just one hemisphere (e.g., creating chaos or managing complexity). The right side of the cycle allows for pause, to recalibrate processes, to test our assumptions (especially around our legacy processes [i.e., stuff we’ve been doing because we’ve always done it that way]). While stories of left side behavior make the business literature hot list, the truly sustainable, continuously adaptive organizations and companies embrace the whole cycle.
- This one exercise illuminates many mental models, which is hugely important for making fundamental and lasting change. If you’ve seen the iceberg image of human systems you know that mental models exist well below the visible water line (and, therefore, out of view), yet they subtly shape the structures, rules, policies, and cultural practices…that give rise to patterns of behavior….that are evident in daily activity….which, regrettably, is the level at which most managers attempt change.
If this simple exercise sounds intriguing but you’re not sure if you can employ it without a little guidance, give me a call and I’ll happily talk you through it. I’d be even happier to talk with you again after you’ve done it so I can support your sense-making.
As I said years ago, there’s something so compelling about the deep end of the pool.
With love and admiration,
(Your compassionate coach of positive reinvention)