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Every few months, we bring together HR leaders from a range of organizations to discuss hot topics in the HR world and share their struggles and successes with each other in a roundtable forum. At our most recent roundtable, 15 HR leaders had a fascinating conversation on how to best define, identify and cultivate leadership potential.

To start the conversation, we shared a graphic of an Organizational Maturity Continuum of Potential and invited each leader around the table to rate where they would place their organization. The rating scale started at 1 (“There is a lack of understanding and standard for measuring potential”) and went up to 4 (“Measurement & development of potential is integrated into strategies and consistently applied”). The responses varied from “1 moving to 2” to “close to a 4”.

For some, their organization was just starting the culture shift necessary to understand and execute on a process for managing potential. Others had a process, but it lacked objectivity, or their definitions were murky, creating a lack of confidence that the process was achieving its aims. And yet others placed themselves on the high end, feeling that they’d “demystified potential” and had integrated it successfully into their strategy.

The 9-Box Struggle

Throughout the conversation, a theme emerged around the need for clear definitions and tools that translate directly into action. The ubiquitous 9-box tool, with its high degree of differentiation, was both “loved by our leaders” because it put a process and framework around the conversation but was also the source of some ire for the HR professionals in the room. Assigning talent to the boxes was the primary action leaders took to manage potential. There was little or no process in place to objectively assign 9-box placement.  Performance easily became over-weighted. Potential lacked a clear definition. While next steps were assigned to each box, leaders weren’t taking them. Unfortunately, the filling out the 9-box became the end goal, rather than a tool to inform high-potential development and succession planning.

Several participants indicated a recent move to simpler frameworks – a 4-box or a 5-box – that led more directly to action and focused their internal discussions. Rather than force categorization of employees across a number of boxes whose distinctions weren’t always clear, the simpler frameworks helped focus on employees who truly need attention. To fill their grids, leaders were educated on how to assess their talent – what questions to ask, what leadership behaviors to focus on – and prepared for talent reviews by gathering specific examples to back their opinions.

For some, the word “potential” itself was being questioned or replaced with other, less ambiguous terms that were easier for their executives to evaluate against. For example, one organization used the term “scalability” because it forced the question, “Scale to what?” This was also helpful in terms of discussing career paths in a more objective way with all employees – and not marginalizing mid-range performers. Another organization used the term “top talent” instead of “high potential” to better encapsulate the variety of ways potential and performance might show up (such as lower performers with high potential).

Very few participants were using an objective assessment tool to identify potential. Decisions were made primarily through calibration with varying levels of subjective/objective data to back up the conversations. When assessments were used, they were administered after a leader was identified as a HiPo and used to help inform developmental planning and coaching.

The Mobility Issue

In making decisions on talent, a key component was the top talent’s own desires to be considered for bigger roles, and other personal considerations of the leader in question. Whether the leader was able to be mobile at the time was a prevalent issue and was handled in various ways. For one organization, “not mobile” had meant “no potential” for a long time, but that hard line was starting to shift. Other organizations were flexing to the needs of their talent – if a high potential was “not mobile” and also successor for a role in a different location, the organization would consider whether the role could be mobile and change location instead of the talent. Others only felt the mobility issue when it came to preparing a leader for a new role – if global experience was necessary for readiness, being “not mobile” might mean that next role wasn’t a good one for that leader.

The amount of travel required for leaders in global organizations meant where leaders spent their weekends was becoming less and less of an issue, but the need to be able to lead like they weren’t virtual (when in fact they were) was a key consideration. While the discussion did acknowledge more flexibility in the area of mobility, our leaders admitted that mobility expectations driven by cultural pressures still widely exist.

While factors related to relocation (and any other personal considerations) can of course change over time, they can have an impact in the moment, as some cultures will question an individual’s commitment to their personal development – and ultimately, to the organization.

Taking Action

Once potential has been identified, taking timely action to unlock it is crucial. One leader suggested that whether a decision was based on subjective or objective data was less important because the organization’s bias towards action meant they’d quickly learn whether they’d made the right call.

The group found that the following actions returned the highest ROI:

  • Providing experience managing a turn-around
  • Global experience
  • Any job that stretches the leader
  • Providing a senior business mentor
  • Cross-functional teams solving a real business problem
  • Building a community of HiPos to share and learn from each other

Providing a safety net for any activities that require risk is important for top talent, so that failure at a stretch opportunity doesn’t mean they’ve failed at advancing their career. One organization tracks metrics closely so they’re able to swoop in with support should things appear to be going off-track.

Managing Potential Involves the Whole Organization

Throughout our conversation, the degree to which this process involved the whole organization was reflected in various ways.

We talked about the intersection of Potential and Diversity & Inclusion goals. To make sure they have visibility on the widest range of talent, one organization brings every single manager into the talent review conversations. Another brings the team below into the executive team’s discussions.

Others talked about the importance of providing mentors (even going outside the organization to find appropriate mentors that match on important variables), as well as sponsors who will advocate for top talent and open doors for them. While for some it can be a struggle to create a mentoring relationship that properly adds value, getting asked to be a mentor in one organization has become an honor – it’s seen as an opportunity to expand their legacy beyond their own domain.

Providing a team of supporters for top talent was a common approach. Executive coaches, managers, skip-level bosses, senior business mentors, and sponsors were all used to create a group of stakeholders that took responsibility for accelerating the development of HiPos.

Bottom line: the more support and mechanisms for accountability you build around your high potential, the better.

Most organizations are still at the beginning of their journey toward fully integrating potential into their leadership identification and development processes. We will continue hosting roundtables on this and other areas to create a forum to share learnings on important topics that impact organization’s quest for top leadership talent.

The post What 15 HR Leaders Have to Say About Managing Potential appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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I worked recently with a CEO (let’s call her Elaine) who was deeply confounded by a sudden change in her effectiveness. Her niche organization had found solid business footing with steady margins, but available-now resources and the ability to scale with a parent organization had made acquisition enticing. After much deliberation, she agreed to join a strong brand with deep pockets that would allow for greater integration across a number of adjacent businesses. Once the dust settled, despite a shining entrepreneurial career, Elaine found that her leadership skills were not getting traction in this new context.

As the new operating relationship unfolded, Elaine found herself in a dicey situation. She was getting edged out of strategy meetings that involved her organization, she was encouraged to play support roles in sales meetings, and prospectus information was increasingly siloed out of her reach. The results she was so accustomed to earning felt as if they were slipping away. Without doing anything wrong – and while pouring every ounce of results-focus she had into being successful – Elaine had entered what we call the ‘grey zone.’

There are few experiences quite as exasperating as applying all the rigor, intellect and energy you can muster to achieving an outcome…and finding the results fall short. It’s even worse when you give everything you have, and your efforts barely create a ripple of impact. Those empty times when the tire has fully lost contact with the pavement can be heartbreaking and disempowering.  But these moments are also great opportunities for learning. The most challenging leadership experiences are almost always excellent vehicles for growth, if effectively translated into applicable learning and then successfully integrated into one’s leadership.

What is the ‘grey zone’?

Leaders fall into the ‘grey zone’ when they employ an approach that was effective in another context to a new challenge – and it doesn’t work. This often leaves executives vexed by their lack of effectiveness, and struggling to figure out why their efforts fell short. In these moments, it’s hard for them to navigate the way back into their sweet spot. Common entry points to the grey zone include ‘playing a game’ that was successful in the past, over-leveraging a strength, or misperceiving others’ intent, rather than reading the current context and adapting accordingly.

Falling into the ‘grey zone’

Through partnerships with leaders like Elaine, we see clear patterns around how leaders get in their own way, restrict their impact, and make inaccurate assumptions about the landscape being navigated – all which result in being in the grey zone putting in maximum effort with negligible impact. Commonly, these assumptions are based on miscalibrations of ‘IQ’ and ‘EQ,’ or how we integrate our analytical acumen with our emotional intelligence to arrive at wise insights. Consistently doing this well is akin to catching lighting in a bottle; less than 1 percent of leaders effectively maintain high levels of both results-focus and relationship-focus. Thus, the grey zone is an easy trap to fall into, and identifying the right pivots to get out of it is an important skill to sharpen.

Are you playing the right game?

If you find yourself in the grey zone, the first step to navigating a path out  (and re-calibrating IQ and EQ) is to identify ways of better integrating yourself into the challenges you face. Keep in mind that the goal in these moments is to bring more of your humanity into your leadership, not change who you are as a human. Doing so requires a deeper examination of the leadership approach: what actions are reflexive in the current circumstances; where are your blind spots; and what biases are in play? Rather than looking for silver bullets and aspirational goals, the work is often about better understanding the new landscape, and the interpersonal and strategic adaptations necessary to succeed in this new environment.

Getting out of the grey zone by asking better questions

Our work with senior leaders and teams focuses on identifying the right adaptations at the right moments to gain control of the environment and translate leadership into results. In these moments, I have found that answering three fundamental questions will help any leader develop a clear headspace to see their way out of the grey zone:

Who are you?

What are your innermost motivations in the face of the current circumstances? What level of focus and energy do you want to give, now and going forward? What is your preferred risk/reward ratio? What actions can you take when your balance of ‘IQ’ and ‘EQ’ has become miscalibrated? What level of control do you prefer to have over your organization? What organizational responsibilities do you prefer not to own?

Why are you here?

How does this moment play into your career and aspirations? What’s negotiable and what isn’t? What will you ask for, what will you take, and what will be done if these actions are ineffective? How is this a pivot point towards broader opportunities?

What gifts are embedded in this moment?

What undeveloped elements of your leadership is this situation exposing? What lessons and opportunities are embedded in the experience that present an opportunity to promote both professional and personal growth? Where could you channel more empathy, support, and collaboration in your working relationships? What can you take away from the current experiences and translate into your broader leadership approach?

Answering those challenging questions doesn’t always yield immediate results, but it does lead to a clearer sense of what adaptations you can make to bring your leadership out of the grey zone. Addressing these questions did not magically snap Elaine back into achieving results the very next day; however, it did clarify her context, sharpen her focus on the key actions she needed to take, and give her greater resolve to work her plan. She began to adapt in new ways and carve a line through the ambiguity she was facing.

Have you ever found yourself in the ‘grey zone’? What did you do to navigate your way out of the ambiguity? What did you achieve? Tell us in the comments below!

The post What To Do When Your “Results-Focus” Isn’t Getting Results appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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A few years ago, I was having lunch with a friend whom I hadn’t seen since he landed his new position two years earlier. While we munched on our salads, I asked him how he liked his job. Half expecting him to share some level of unhappiness, I was pleasantly surprised when he told me how much he loved his new gig. I have found, after years in the human resources profession, that rare is the time when someone has told me how much they love their job.  It turns out the reason for his satisfaction was his immediate manager, whom my friend described as the ‘best boss’ of his 20-year career.  Intrigued, I asked him to tell me more. His response:

“I am given autonomy and freedom to do my job. I have decision-making authority for virtually all matters that affect me and my team. My boss keeps me informed on organizational happenings that could impact me. He sets high expectations. He gives me timely, constructive feedback when necessary and recognition when warranted. He always ‘has my back’ in a company that is very political, especially to a newcomer like myself. And, maybe most importantly, it is clear that he cares about me as a person, not just as an employee.”

Wow, who wouldn’t want to work for someone like that? It made me wonder if others had a best boss in their lives.

The Best Boss Study

Fueled by this curiosity, I and my Lead Well LLC partners, Dr. Toni Pristo and Dr. John Furcon, decided to study the Best Boss experience. We invited individuals to answer seven open ended questions intended to tell us how their Best Boss had impacted their performance, career and life. While many of our nearly 60 participants worked in a corporate setting, we also received feedback from people with public sector, healthcare, education and small business backgrounds. Many people so enjoyed recounting their Best Boss experience they forwarded the survey to their friends. More than a few people were inspired to reach out personally to say thanks to their own best boss.  Cleary we were on to something. (If you want take the survey yourself, click here.)

Once the survey concluded we analyzed each response. Our first discovery was a set of ‘Best Boss characteristics’ which served as the catalyst for a strong relationship between the individual and their manager. This relationship could be one dimensional or multi-dimensional (e.g. collegial, personal, mentoring, etc.) and was always built on a solid foundation  of personal characteristics such as humility,  integrity, humor, trust, thoughtfulness, fairness, intelligence and optimism.  While these characteristics would vary from boss to boss, the one consistent trait among all Best Bosses was, perhaps not surprisingly, respect.

Our analysis then identified five behavioral traits that that were repeatedly highlighted by our survey respondents. These traits are described below:

  1. Leads From a Higher Purpose – The Best Boss has a purpose beyond self-interest / self-profit that is put into action on behalf of the individual.
  2. Activates Potential – The Best Boss observes, values and takes steps to activate the present capability and future potential of the individual.
  3. Grants Autonomy – The Best Boss imparts knowledge, business acumen, big picture thinking and establishes an autonomous space for the individual to perform.
  4. Continual and Pervasive Feedback – The Best Boss seamlessly uses frequent and diverse feedback to constructively shape, reinforce and / or modify behavior.
  5. Encourages Risk Taking to Drive Learning – The Best Boss fuels reasonable risk taking to assure learning while realizing that mistakes are a natural part of the growth process.
The Best Boss System

While these themes were interesting, they were hardly groundbreaking findings in unlocking the secrets of great people leadership.   But when we looked deeper at our data we saw a couple of things that really caught our attention. First, it was evident that our five behavioral traits did not operate independently but were actually part of an integrated ‘Best Boss System’ that worked holistically together to motivate others.  It was clear that Best Bosses make it their mission in life to help individuals realize their potential.  But they also understood that this leadership approach was just the starting point. They instinctively knew that potential cannot be fully activated without simultaneously developing skills, setting clear expectations, providing constructive feedback, creating an autonomous space to operate, and encouraging risk taking without the fear of retribution.  This system created a powerful organizational impact by building employee engagement, retaining top talent and driving superior performance.

Powerful Stories

The other compelling part of our Best Boss study was quite simply the personal tales that people shared with us. These were powerful and emotional stories that transcended well beyond work. It was obvious that our Best Bosses leave an indelibly positive impact on us, not only as employees but as people.  Take a look at some of these quotes from our survey respondents and I am sure you will feel the same energy we did as we read their stories:

  • “(My Best Boss) made me believe that you could lead with your heart as well as your wisdom, that competence and firmness need not be at odds with compassion and integrity.”
  • “He would do all sorts of things to get me out of my comfort zone – push me, and even sometimes provoke me. He saw potential but also saw that I was holding something back and wouldn’t accept that I was giving everything I had to give.”
  • “I felt like I could take risks and push myself. I was never afraid of making mistakes and could work outside the box and try new things.”
  • “When faced with a difficult decision, her first question was always ‘What’s the right thing to do?’”
  • “The greatest boss EVER … he cared about everyone in his department. He had extreme competence and was trusted by most important people above him. But really it all came down to giving you a clear direction and, within that, complete autonomy. He didn’t allow ‘run-arounds’ by his direct reports, stuck up for you with your peers and other departments and if he didn’t agree with you, he dealt with you in private and let you sort things out. He had an open door and always made you feel welcome when you came in to talk with a hi”
  • “Thank you!! You made me a better person… not just a better leader. You made me learn how much more people can do when they feel supported and appreciated. Far more importantly, you made me a better wife, mother, daughter, and friend by sharing your contagious love of life. You taught me to take chances, celebrate success, and appreciate that if I don’t make mistakes, I’m not challenging myself enough!”

Logically this is where I should conclude by sharing insights on Best Boss traits and how they impact leadership and organizational performance. After all, that’s what you expect from in an article about leadership, isn’t it?  And from enhancing individual performance, engagement and retention, there are plenty of things that Best Bosses do to drive organizational success.  93% of our respondents said that their individual performance excelled.  82% made statements that indicated a high level of engagement. 77% said that their Best Boss had a positive impact on both their development and career. If you are a leader yourself or have accountability for driving leadership behavior in your company, these numbers should at least give you pause for consideration. At most, they should  inspire you  to bring these traits more into your personal leadership style and your organization’s leadership capability.

But just focusing on the organization impact would leave out perhaps the most compelling element of the Best Boss experience, which is the spark that is created between two people and how lives change as a result. To reinforce this point I want to share a remarkable story from Courtney, a friend and former colleague, who was one of the first people I had asked to complete the Best Boss survey. Courtney decided to write about Bob, a manager from early in her career. Here is how she described him:

“Bob was a mentor, friend and one of my greatest advocates and supporters. He played a tremendous role in instilling many values that I bring to work each day. I am incredibly grateful, appreciative and privileged to have known and worked with Bob. I have taken everything he taught me into all of my future roles in work and life as a colleague, friend, wife and mother”.

Shortly after Courtney completed the survey she found out that Bob was terminally ill. Courtney printed her survey responses with the hope of sharing them at the hospital with Bob and his wife. But Bob was too sick to see Courtney, so she gave them to Bob’s wife, and attached the following letter:

I was recently asked to be interviewed regarding my favorite boss, who is resoundingly YOU.   I felt like my responses truly captured all that you mean to me and the multitude of ways you have touched and enriched my life over the years, so I’ve enclosed the transcript for you to see.  It could never do justice to expressing the role you’ve played in my life and the special place you hold in my heart, but it’s a start. 

I hope you find comfort and peace knowing how many people love you and the level of positive impact you’ve had on everyone you’ve touched in this world.

Love always,


A short time later, Bob passed away. But not before Bob’s wife was able to read Courtney’s words to her dying husband. A few days later, Bob’s minister shared Courtney’s heartfelt story at the funeral.  It was an amazing moment that reminded everyone in attendance about the incredible impact one person could have on another.

A Final Thought

Whether you are a senior leader in any type of organization or simply someone’s supervisor, you are in a position to bring the power Best Boss traits to your organization. And, if you have been paying attention, you know that this is much more than an organizational topic. It’s personal. If you are lucky enough to have had a Best Boss relationship, it likely has had a transformational impact not only on your work but your life as well.

To conclude, let me ask you to think about the best job you have ever had.

Why did you like this job?

There could be lots of reasons. You understood the importance of your role. You were having an impact. You were learning. Your values were aligned. You were having fun. You were making a difference. You were trusted. You were respected.

You mattered.

Not just as an employee but as a person. Do you remember how you felt?

Your commitment was unquestioned. Your direction was clear. Your development was enhanced. Your performance excelled.

Your entire life was brighter.

There was probably a Best Boss at the center of it all.

Shouldn’t everyone feel this way? What would happen if they did?

That’s the extraordinary impact of a Best Boss. And we should do everything we can to make sure we have a lot more of them.

We would love to hear your Best Boss story. Visit the Best Boss Experience to share your story, watch videos, and learn more. Contact us if you’d like to talk about bringing the Best Boss Experience to life in your organization.

This article originally appeared on Duncan Ferguson’s LinkedIn.

The post The Extraordinary Impact of a Best Boss appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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A recent anonymous NY Times Op Ed boldly proclaimed that some officials within the current presidential administration are actively working against the President’s agenda and blocking some of his efforts. The defiant, salacious, and anonymous message has dominated the news cycle as pundits scramble to find evidence of the claims and uncover the author.

Political ideologies and affiliations aside, this is not an uncommon leadership issue and one worth exploring. When creating change, there will always be resistance. Savvy leaders anticipate resistance to change, plan for it, and use it to their advantage to improve change initiatives.

But if individuals are actively hiding their resistance and instead working to sabotage your efforts, what is a leader to do?

The most important factor in whether you can uncover resistance to change is creating open dialogue.

When someone actively seeks your opinion, listens to your input, offers feedback on where they see merit in your ideas, and adjusts their own plans to accommodate your thinking, you are overwhelmingly more likely to share your ideas with them. This is obvious, and yet so many leaders either fail to do this entirely or simply go through the motions and then continue to drive their own agenda. These are the instances that breed yes-men and yes-women and offer leaders little input beyond compliments for their own thinking, or restated messages that align with the current plan.

If you’re experiencing or leading a change and have not created open dialogue with your team, do these three things:

1. Actively seek feedback, individually or in small groups, about the proposed change and do not provide your own commentary (yet).

Show that you take the feedback seriously by taking notes, not interrupting, and listening intently. Then, repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you understand. Lastly, thank your employees and let them know what you found helpful about their input. Do not discuss where or why they are wrong. This is not the time. This is the time to listen, hear, and thank them for sharing.

2. Create multiple and ongoing venues for employees to ask questions.

Many organizations utilize large-scale town halls where everyone gets the same message at the same time and hears the same answers to the same questions. Others create a “comment box” program where people can anonymously drop questions for the leader into a box that gets reviewed at staff meetings. Still others start team meetings with requests for employees to bring forth information from the ‘rumor mill,’ and the leader commits to dispelling or finding out the truth about these rumors and reporting back to the team. However you orchestrate it, questions will continue to emerge as change takes hold. Allow continuous opportunity to raise concerns, not just a one-time event.

3. Avoid creating an “us versus them” environment between acceptors and resisters.

Remember, we are truly all on the same page here. In the example of the NY Times Op Ed, the author indicates that the resistance’s motivations are to stop actions and policies they perceive as destructive. Employees may too feel they’re protecting the company’s legacy, values, history, or employees by resisting change. In some ways, these are noble and genuine motivations that signify the employees’ commitment, and you want to foster and support those feelings. Even better, refining your vision to specifically address areas of concern for employees (i.e., preserving company history) is a valuable tool of influence because allowing employees to make an impact on the vision will inherently increase their buy-in. Understanding the motivations and fears of your resisters is key to aligning the team or organization for success.

Have you ever privately resisted a change? What could your organization have done to get you to open up about your concerns?  What have you done to mitigate resistance as you’ve led change yourself? Sound off in the comments.

The post Watch Out, Leaders: You Won’t Be Alerted to Employee Resistance Through Anonymous NYTimes Op Eds appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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“Either/or” thinking is all around us, even though common sense tells us life is not black and white. For example, consider the business leader who asks the marketing team to determine if the business should invest primarily in technology or design for the next release of their product line – either technology or design!  Why not both?

Or, when the Board of a healthcare system facing its CEO’s upcoming retirement asks, “Should we recruit a physician-leader or do we need to find a strong business leader?” The two desirable features cannot appear in a single person?

Or, when a conflict arises between the heads of two departments about the loss of a key account, and the blame game begins. The inevitable emails are volleyed until an ultimatum arrives from an otherwise sensible and very valuable leader: “Either you back me up on this or you can start looking for my replacement.”

“Either/or” thinking is the decision-making equivalent of painting oneself into a corner – or, in the example of the ultimatum, being painted into a corner by others. Under high-stress conditions, people lose their ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity; they take flight into the simplicity “either/or” thinking provides, even if that refuge is short-term and ultimately costly.

So, what does a business leader do in the face of “either/or” thinking? Here are three prescriptions for those who aspire to be a “Both/And” leader.

Ask for a Third Option

When the first attempt at solving a problem comes in the form of just two options – especially if those options reflect the perspectives of opposing camps – push back and ask for additional options.

A software company was falling behind in the development of new products because they had to allocate the time of their engineers to supporting customers who were having difficulties with previous releases. The customer service people were asking for more time from the engineers while marketing and sales were asking for the next new product.  The head of engineering demanded a decision at a senior team meeting: “Either we support what is already out there, or we abandon our customers and focus on new products. It’s one or the other.” The President acknowledged everyone’s point of view but then proposed a different approach: “Look, we’re pulling on opposite ends of a rather frayed rope. We will support our customers and we will design new products, but we can’t accomplish these things going at it the same way we have in the past. We need to re-think how we support our customers and  develop new products; we can get more out of what we have.” By re-framing the problem and extracting the team from “either/or” thinking, the President initiated a process that ultimately led to gains in both customer support and new product development – without adding more people. 

Establish Criteria

Challenge your team to draw up criteria that would represent a good outcome before they start recommending actions. Then, build options that meet the criteria. Insist on considering “Both/And” options that accomplish multiple goals – both cost reduction and improved quality; both functionality and design; both increased productivity and improved safety.

In anticipation of the new health legislation, a small health care system hired two black belts trained to find options for improving quality assurance and patient safety. The management team made it clear to them that there were many opportunities to improve the system, but they wanted to focus on changes that would accomplish three things simultaneously: improve patient outcomes, reduce costs and engage the health care professionals. By setting multiple criteria to filter decisions about which opportunities warranted attention, the management team prevented wasteful debate.   

Employ an Inclusive Use of Data

Use an open, inclusive approach to gathering data. Actively invite multiple perspectives, invite both hard data and soft data, e.g. both error rates and focus groups; both survey data and expert opinion.

A large city’s Department of Public Health was struggling to find a cost-effective approach to meeting the needs of the mentally ill. There were plenty of opinions, and heated arguments bubbled up which often seemed to be built around professional turf issues. For example, some felt the patients were put on medication reflexively and without sufficient human support.  A physician overhearing that concern became angry: “What do you people want? Either we get these poor people on medication or they will be roaming the streets hallucinating. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” The head of the Department hired a university to study the question, and they employed a very transparent approach to ensure all parties were heard, including patients. There was plenty of hard data, but also an effort to gather the perspectives of those who worked there, those who referred patients and those who chose not to refer patients. A fuller picture invited a more thoughtful approach to the complex problems the Department faced. The final report provided focus and direction by articulating how to move toward a system of care that would be both adequate to the needs of the mentally ill, especially those with chronic and severe mental illness, and sustainable.

If the villain in this story is “either/or” thinking in the face of complexity, the hero is the leader’s capacity to manage the tension that comes with high-stakes decisions and to discern what is best by weighing all the information available.

Periods of crisis bring pressure and that, in turn, can degrade the quality of organizational thinking. A common indicator of problem-solving gone wrong is the inclination to retreat into “either/or” formulations of issues that are much more complex. It is at these moments when leaders can have their greatest value as they help their organization step toward the complexity and demonstrate the importance of “Both/And” thinking.

Have you ever faced a problem with two seemingly incompatible solutions? How did you find an option that satisfied all needs? Tell us about it in the comments below!

The post How to Become a Both/And Leader in an Either/Or World appeared first on Vantage Leadership Consulting.

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