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A Common Toolset Connects Leaders & Enhances Collaboration

, | May 14, 2024

by Brian McDonald

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Brian McDonald, Founder of MOR Associates.  Brian may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

Last week’s Tuesday Reading was devoted to how creating a common language can connect people across different cultures. The reference to how Swahili’s adoption as the language helped unify Tanzania prompted my friend Seph, a safari guide in the amazing Serengeti, to share, “Swahili was the golden thread to help us get connected.”

Swahili may have created the connection, but a common currency, the Tanzanian shilling, enabled people to engage in trade and cooperative ventures.

Our clients tell us that shared language, common constructs, and relationships built during the program result in leaders working together in new ways. In addition to this common vocabulary, whether we are suggesting, “You can lead from where you are,” or “Leaders need to get up on the balcony,” or “The answer is in the room,” there are specific constructs that are foundational to developing the capabilities people need to lead. These constructs serve as the common currency that makes collaboration more accessible. The experiences in MOR underscores that leadership is a collective pursuit. We can get much more done working together than we can on our own.

The common constructs build the needed leadership capabilities that enable diverse groups to collaborate. Whether we are looking through the “3 lenses,” building relationships through the “4 I’s,” or going from “open to narrow to close,” these frameworks or constructs enhance a group’s ability to work through issues and address initiatives together across what historically have been political or cultural barriers.

This Tuesday Reading highlights core constructs that make up the curriculum.

MOR Leaders Core Constructs

  • Growth Mindset
  • Presence Matters (4 E’s Enter-Energy-Engage-Ethos)
  • Leading From Where You Are
  • Leading-Managing-Doing
  • Building Relationships (4 I’s Initiate-Inquire-Invest-Influence)
  • Focusing on the Important versus the Immediate
  • Developing New Habits- Cue-Routine-Reward
  • Open-Narrow-Close to Facilitate Action
  • Leaders Focus on the Strategic
  • Identifying the Desired Future State
  • Leveraging the 3 Lenses: Viewing Change through the Strategic-Political-Cultural lenses
  • Leadership In Higher Education Involves Exercising Influence
  • The Leader As Communicator
  • Leaders Create an Inclusive Environment
  • Emotional Intelligence Makes a Difference
  • Leadership As a Performance Art—Leaders Are on Stage
  • Delivering Results & Metrics—Leaders Deliver Results
  • Talent Development Is a Force Multiplier
  • Stretch and Challenge

The next section provides more insight on a few of these program components.

One foundational construct that stays with people throughout their careers is recognizing the distinctions between Leading, Managing, and Doing. The subsequent exercise, where each person projects how much time they think they spend on each of these responsibilities, is quite revealing. 

Leading can be defined as looking out at the forces and trends shaping the future and strategically positioning the organization to be successful in this evolving context. Leading can also be described as a set of behaviors. The individuals who speak up, step up, take initiative, and bring people together to address opportunities are also leading. 

In the Leading From Where You Are Program, a recent participant shared the following reflection: “I am now getting it that leading does not mean you are the leader; it means you are using your expertise, skills, and ideas in the best way to achieve the goal.” 

It is not waiting to be asked or even asking for permission; it is seeing a need and taking the initiative. As Jay Dominick, the former CIO at Princeton, said, “There are lots of opportunities where you see something that needs to be attended to or something we could do better. Pick up one of these torches and be the one to carry it forward.”

Following the recognition that people must intentionally carve out time to lead or step up and take the initiative, we offer the session on Balancing the Important with the Immediate. Moving from reactive to proactive starts with resisting the need to start your day by opening your email and having your inbox rule your day. Participants are encouraged to begin the day by identifying the 3 or 4 things they must accomplish in this workday. Participants are then encouraged to complete one before opening their email. As simple as this practice is, a participant returning to their second workshop recently said, “That one practice changed my life.” Another senior director said doing this has helped get traction on the strategic priorities that were taking a back seat to the more pressing operational needs.

Amy Guttman, a prior President at the University of Pennsylvania, shared with a leadership cohort that “relationships are the coin of the realm in higher education.” MOR has introduced the “4 I’s” as a simple construct to enhance the ability to build these relationships. (Initiate-Inquire-Invest-Influence) MOR repeats frequently the maxim, relationships are currency, the more you have the more you can get done.

To make a connection, initiate by reaching out or engaging a colleague. Upon doing so, participants are encouraged to inquire, ask questions to draw out the other person while showing interest in their perspective. This inquiry leads to a two-way exchange in most cases and the beginning of a relationship, even more so when they discover a common interest. There are people we meet with whom we want to stay in touch with and continue to invest in taking this connection further. If we have built a rich network of people with whom we have established a rapport, when we need to reach out to bring someone on board or seek their advice or assistance, we are far better positioned than if we were unfamiliar with this individual. 

For example, Seph, my guide on the Serengeti, and I have kept up our connection and invested in getting to know each other. As a result of this relationship, when I reached out to Seph, he played a role in helping me with an educational initiative in Robanda, a village in Tanzania where children are now encouraged to go to school. 

It is essential to view initiatives through the three lenses: the strategic lens, the political lens, and the cultural lens, another core construct in the MOR model. The political lens refers to the many stakeholders likely to have varying interests in whatever effort is underway. A leader engages these stakeholders to get their input and ensure their interests are acknowledged and, when possible, reflected in the strategy. A stakeholder grid gives a leader a window to view people who may have a stake, along with what degree of interest and influence they may have.

The maxim “culture eats strategy for breakfast” underscores that the culture of how work gets done in an organization can support or undermine strategy. 

Like the Leading-Managing-Doing, the three lenses tend to stay with people throughout their careers. 

These are just a few of the MOR core constructs. Future Tuesday readings may focus on others.

Last week we asked how you could be more intentional in promoting the common language and collaboration needed to advance the initiatives critical to your organization’s success.

  • 39% said invest in critical relationships where collaboration is or will be needed.
  • 23% said renew my effort at leading from where I am.
  • 23% said brush up on my adoption of the MOR shared language.
  • 15% said connect with others who have been through MOR to identify ways we can continue to build a leadership community.

Revisiting the shared language and re-investing in important relationships will contribute to building the connections along with the leadership community that can make a positive difference. Leadership is a collective pursuit rather than an individual one. If you want to go fast go by yourself, if you want to go far, go with others.