Tag Archive for Heifetz and Laurie

See the Big Picture

Earlier this month, I shared a post on the importance of using a dashboard to help you keep your eye on the big picture.  That post reminded me of the equal importance of simply being able to see the big picture, which was the subject of a post that I shared about a year and a half ago.  It seemed appropriate to revisit that topic, to help us connect the value of a dashboard with the value of seeing the big picture.

I enjoy puzzles. I enjoy all kinds of puzzles – word puzzles, number puzzles, brain games, etc. – but in this instance I am specifically referring to jigsaw puzzles, the ones that are pictures cut into hundreds of little pieces that need to be assembled. And I have a preferred method of assembly: first turn all of the pieces face-up, setting aside those that have a straight edge (the outside frame); then assemble the outside frame; finally, begin to assemble the rest of the pieces, looking first for pieces that more obviously fit in the same section together. In the process of putting the puzzle together, however, one of the most important components is not the puzzle itself, but rather, the picture on the box.

It is the picture on the box that provides the perspective and the vision of what is being assembled. It provides a visual landscape that helps in determining the general context or place where an individual piece belongs. It’s a map that lets you see where you want to go. I once used the picture on the puzzle box to illustrate a lesson in a class I was teaching, by giving a puzzle to each of several small groups of people. Some of the groups had the puzzle box, so they could see their picture, but some of the groups did not (and some had all the correct pieces, but some had the wrong pieces or were missing pieces; that served to make a different point). Part of the purpose of the lesson was to illustrate the importance of “the big picture,” or the master plan, for managing a process, a task, or life itself.

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, demonstrated the same concept when he and the company of dwarves were traveling through the Mirkwood Forest. As they traveled, the troupe lost sight of the path they needed to follow and became lost, and began to be disoriented. Eventually, Bilbo was sent to climb a tree in order to get above the canopy, and when he did, two things happened: his head cleared, and he could see where they were in relation to where they needed to go (in the movie, he could see the edge of the forest; in the book, he could only see more trees).

Heifetz & Laurie address that idea in a Harvard Business Review article, “The Work of Leadership.”   In the article, they discuss the importance and challenge of adapting behaviors and changes in order to thrive in a new or different environment, and specifically identify six principles for leading adaptive work. The first principle is labeled “Get on the Balcony,” which is explained as follows: “Get on the balcony. Don’t get swept up in the field of play. Instead, move back and forth between the ‘action’ and the ‘balcony.’ You’ll spot emerging patterns, such as power struggles or work avoidance. This high-level perspective helps you mobilize people to do adaptive work” (2011, p. 60). They go on to say that “business leaders have to be able to view patterns as if they were on a balcony. It does them no good to be swept up in the field of action” (p. 60). The emphasis in on the importance of a leader being able to move between the balcony and the field of action, and the necessity of the balcony for providing perspective.

Collins & Hansen also address the idea in Great by Choice (2011), in a chapter that discusses identifying and responding to dangers and changes in the environment. Using the terms “zoom out” and “zoom in,” they point out that effective leaders, “when they sense danger, immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives” (p. 122). The authors then describe the discipline required to “zoom out for fast yet rigorous decision making and zoom in for fast yet superb execution” (p. 122). The discussion emphasizes the need for effective leaders to be able to step back and zoom out to the big picture in order to recognize and understand the changes and issues in the environment, which then makes them better able to zoom back in and focus on plans, objectives, and details.

The implication is simply this: a good leader needs to be able to see the big picture. Like puzzle pieces, each piece of the context, the environment, the organization, or the situation fits into a larger context, and the leader can best see how it fits when viewing the whole picture. In order to see the whole picture, that leader must be able to get on the balcony, zoom out, and get above the forest to be able to see clearly. Being able to do this will keep him from getting lost among the trees, and will provide the perspective necessary to implement changes and adjustments. Learn to see the big picture.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Quotable (Heifetz & Laurie, on seeing the big picture)

“Get on the balcony. Don’t get swept up in the field of play. Instead, move back and forth between the ‘action’ and the ‘balcony.’ You’ll spot emerging patterns, such as power struggles or work avoidance. This high-level perspective helps you mobilize people to do adaptive work.”

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

See the Big Picture

I enjoy puzzles. I enjoy all kinds of puzzles – word puzzles, number puzzles, brain games, etc. – but in this instance I am specifically referring to jigsaw puzzles, the ones that are pictures cut into hundreds of little pieces that need to be assembled. And I have a preferred method of assembly: first turn all of the pieces face-up, setting aside those that have a straight edge (the outside frame); then assemble the outside frame; finally, begin to assemble the rest of the pieces, looking first for pieces that more obviously fit in the same section together. In the process of putting the puzzle together, however, one of the most important components is not the puzzle itself, but rather, the picture on the box.

It is the picture on the box that provides the perspective and the vision of what is being assembled. It provides a visual landscape that helps in determining the general context or place where an individual piece belongs. It’s a map that lets you see where you want to go. I once used the picture on the puzzle box to illustrate a lesson in a class I was teaching, by giving a puzzle to each of several small groups of people. Some of the groups had the puzzle box, so they could see their picture, but some of the groups did not (and some had all the correct pieces, but some had the wrong pieces or were missing pieces; that served to make a different point). Part of the purpose of the lesson was to illustrate the importance of “the big picture,” or the master plan, for managing a process, a task, or life itself.

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, demonstrated the same concept when he and the company of dwarves were traveling through the Mirkwood Forest. As they traveled, the troupe lost sight of the path they needed to follow and became lost, and began to be disoriented. Eventually, Bilbo was sent to climb a tree in order to get above the canopy, and when he did, two things happened: his head cleared, and he could see where they were in relation to where they needed to go (in the movie, he could see the edge of the forest; in the book, he could only see more trees).

Heifetz & Laurie address that idea in a Harvard Business Review article, “The Work of Leadership.”   In the article, they discuss the importance and challenge of adapting behaviors and changes in order to thrive in a new or different environment, and specifically identify six principles for leading adaptive work. The first principle is labeled “Get on the Balcony,” which is explained as follows: “Get on the balcony. Don’t get swept up in the field of play. Instead, move back and forth between the ‘action’ and the ‘balcony.’ You’ll spot emerging patterns, such as power struggles or work avoidance. This high-level perspective helps you mobilize people to do adaptive work” (2011, p. 60). They go on to say that “business leaders have to be able to view patterns as if they were on a balcony. It does them no good to be swept up in the field of action” (p. 60). The emphasis in on the importance of a leader being able to move between the balcony and the field of action, and the necessity of the balcony for providing perspective.

Collins & Hansen also address the idea in Great by Choice (2011), in a chapter that discusses identifying and responding to dangers and changes in the environment. Using the terms “zoom out” and “zoom in,” they point out that effective leaders, “when they sense danger, immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives” (p. 122). The authors then describe the discipline required to “zoom out for fast yet rigorous decision making and zoom in for fast yet superb execution” (p. 122). The discussion emphasizes the need for effective leaders to be able to step back and zoom out to the big picture in order to recognize and understand the changes and issues in the environment, which then makes them better able to zoom back in and focus on plans, objectives, and details.

The implication is simply this: a good leader needs to be able to see the big picture. Like puzzle pieces, each piece of the context, the environment, the organization, or the situation fits into a larger context, and the leader can best see how it fits when viewing the whole picture. In order to see the whole picture, that leader must be able to get on the balcony, zoom out, and get above the forest to be able to see clearly. Being able to do this will keep him from getting lost among the trees, and will provide the perspective necessary to implement changes and adjustments. Learn to see the big picture.

 

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Quotable (Heifetz & Laurie, on calibrating and communicating expectations)

“A leader must strike a delicate balance between having people feel the need to change and having them feel overwhelmed by change . . . A leader is responsible for direction, protection, orientation, managing conflict, and shaping norms.”  The Work of Leadership, Ronald A. Heifetz & Donald L. Laurie

 

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Calibrate Expectations

During this past winter, I had the unfortunate and harrowing experience of being caught in a snowstorm while driving on a rural two-lane highway, and at one point the visibility became so poor that I eventually ended up stuck in a snowdrift on the side of the road.  It was about 10:00 p.m., and when I called for roadside service to come and pull me out, I was informed that it would be about two hours before they could get to me because of the numerous other vehicles also stranded in the snowstorm.  To make matters worse, it was a bitterly cold night with below-zero temperatures, so I had to keep the car running while waited – which would not have been an issue except for the fact that I ran out of gas about an hour and half later.  At that point, I had the hope that the tow truck would be there soon, until I received a call from the towing service that their truck had gotten stuck in the snow and it would likely be at least another hour.  It wasn’t until nearly 1:00 a.m. that I was finally rescued, but don’t think I felt warm again until at least a day later.

The next day, as I was driving to work, my car seemed to be pulling a little to one side, and when I reached highway speed, I started to feel a vibration in the steering wheel.  I told myself that it had to be the condition of the road because I couldn’t fathom that a snowdrift – a pile of white powder – could have affected the alignment of my tires so much.  But when the vibration was still there later that day and again the next morning, I decided to take the car to the mechanic.  As you might expect, after checking the vehicle, he informed me that it was out of alignment, and needed to be calibrated.

That experience serves as an example of a very important lesson for interacting with people: sometimes their expectations need to be calibrated.  People tend to operate with preconceived expectations, and they generally allow their own expectations, whether conscious or not, to effect their perceptions and responses.  I’ve seen it over and over in marriage counseling, when either spouse in a relationship has expectations that they believe should be met, but often those expectations are unrealistic or haven’t been identified and communicated, resulting in frustration and conflict.  She’s expecting some kind of expression of appreciation when he walks in the door, or he’s expecting some kind of affirmation when she walks in the door; but when they walk through the door, rather than giving appreciation or affirmation, each one waits with an expectation, and when that expectation is unmet, resentment begins to build.

The same happens in an organization, when expectations have not been appropriately identified and communicated.  Customers or constituents expect a certain product, service, or response, and they often have a preconceived idea in their minds of what that product, service, or response should look like.  Employees have an internal (generally unspoken) expectation of compensation, recognition, provision of resources, communication, and so on, from their leaders.  Leaders have an expectation of performance and commitment from their employees.  And everyone has a personal viewpoint on how things should be done, which becomes their expectation.  So when those expectations are allowed to exist without being appropriately calibrated, the result is a “vibration” that causes tension, conflict, frustration, and anger.

That’s why it is important for leaders to calibrate expectations.  It is the leader who is “responsible for direction, protection, orientation, managing conflict, and shaping norms”  (Heifetz and Laurie, p. 65), and who therefore “orients people to new roles and responsibilities by clarifying business realities and key values” (Heifetz and Laurie, p. 65).  If people know what to expect because you have clearly communicated what they should expect, then when those expectations are met, those same people are satisfied and supportive.  Not only have you met their expectations, you have also demonstrated consistency by doing what you said you would do, which builds trust.  And this needs to be a proactive skill, not a reactive response.  Don’t wait until someone is frustrated because you didn’t establish expectations.  Instead, get out in front of it.  When I meet with people, I make it a normal practice to establish expectations for the meeting on the front end, so that everyone knows what we think will come out of the meeting.  At the end of the meeting, I then communicate what they can expect me to do moving forward.  By doing this, I have calibrated expectations to match the reality of what will happen, and the result is a much more cooperative and supportive relationship.

You can and should do the same.  Help people to know and understand what they should expect from you, from your organization, or from an experience.  Calibrate expectations, which will help them to listen better, respond with more support, and walk away more satisfied.

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Quotable (Heifetz & Laurie, on giving people a voice)

“Giving a voice to all people is the foundation of an organization that is willing to experiment and learn.”   The Work of Leadership, Ronald A. Heifetz & Donald L. Laurie

 

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.