Understanding leadership cultures that enable innovation

Sent: Thursday, June 26, 2008 4:26 PM
To: Harrison III, Steadman
Subject: Leadership Metaphor Explorer


We used the LME with our media client last week as we originally conceived the exercise: the participants explored leadership behaviors that enable and disable innovation. It was a memorable exercise in that it got the participants up on their feet so they could view the cards as well as stimulating fascinating dialog surrounding the questions. It was remarkable what people saw, how they interpreted it and then how they pursued consensus given their perspectives. I intend to share our experience at the AMI meeting in Banff. I’d be glad to elaborate more on the experience with you if you are interested and have the time.

Jim Myracle
TMT Associates, Inc.
“Experience Delivering Results”

Here’s the process —

I used the LME cards to support a learning module on leading innovation and deliver on the objective to understand the leadership behaviors and cultural attributes enabling innovation. Since this module was part of a leadership development program that had been custom developed for one company, I also designed the exercise to deliver on the broader program goal of network and colleague development. To work within the available time, a pre-determined mix of enabling and disabling cards were distributed to four groups of four participants each.

The morning began with an interactive discussion of product life-cycles and how organization culture and leaders evolve as products succeed and organizations grow. This was followed by an exploration of the unique types of innovation; process, sustaining (incremental) and disruptive (new-growth).

It is at this point that I turned to the Leadership Metaphor Explorer to help identify the leadership behaviors and cultural attributes that had been hinted at. In the first round, each group was asked to discuss messages from the15 cards at their table and then collaborate to select up to four cards that depict leadership behaviors or cultural attributes that disable innovation. They were asked to share:
1. The disabling behaviors or cultural characteristics they saw in the image,
2. The type(s) of innovation that would be inhibited, and
3. The ways in which leaders display such disabling behaviors or organization culture works to send out these subtle messages.

A sampling of cards and comments selected during this round were:
o Calculating Brains – forcing outcomes based on the needs of now
o Well-Defended Warriors – use power to overcome resistance, oblivious to outside intelligence
o Lone Ranger – holding on to the glory, individual star
o Swarm of Bees – what happens to someone in our company if they make a mistake, fall short

In the next round, the groups were asked to revisit their discussions and collaborate to select up to four cards that depict leadership behaviors or cultural attributes that enable innovation. This time, they were asked to share:
1. The connections between the image and the enabling behaviors/cultural characteristics,
2. The type(s) of innovation that would be supported, and
3. The ways in which leaders display and cultures support such enabling behaviors.

A sampling of cards and comments selected during this round were:
o Shepherd – guiding, protective against interference, observant and listening, comes in all sizes and types
o Co-Creating Musicians – teams of unique contributors working in a highly integrated way to deliver one success they could not deliver on their own
o Creative Repairmen –Competent in the old and also open to a new way
o Garage of Innovators – An overall favorite card among all the participants
o Network of Peers
o The following 4 cards were told as one story:
Polarity of Opposites coming together, with the help of involved, knowledgeable Player Coaches, can organize and integrate a Community of (diverse) Craftspeople to set sail together as Ambitious Pioneers charting a new course.

Each table captured their key messages from the cards and discussions that spontaneously followed, thus enabling the participants to begin building their own vision for innovation leadership.

The Leadership Metaphor Explorer cards were enthusiastically received. There was absolutely no hesitancy to get involved. The differences in first impressions of the images led to both laughter and focused listening to one another. Participants easily collaborated, and I witnessed better brainstorming technique during these discussions than had been accomplished during an earlier brainstorm practice. Importantly, the LME experience also heightened the awareness of how perspectives differ when viewing the same image (or situation), what can be learned through effective sharing of the perspectives as well as the dialog skills and time required to share the perspectives.

My wish list:
1. More time:
a. To allow familiarization with the deck and avoid pre-selection
b. To allow for more discussion and collaborative work with these images. For example, one member at a table selected “A Polarity of Opposites” as an enabling card. A colleague challenged him that there was a wall separating the two sides from each other. A third participant at the table immediately pointed out that it looked like the wall was crumbling, while the fourth admitted that he had not even seen the wall in the image because he was focused on the meaning of the color vs. black and white difference. They were well on their way to a rich conversation when time ran out.
2. A deck without captions. To some degree, I feel as if the captions set boundaries on the messages of the images.

Thank you for the early use of these cards. The LME is a wonderful tool that lends itself to a wide range of leadership, cultural and community-building explorations at an individual or group level. I also think they can be a valuable reflection and discussion tool for leadership coaches, and look forward to working with the LME in that capacity soon.

About Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth

Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth are Senior Fellows at the Center for Creative Leadership. Many thanks to Steadman Harrison III, CEO of GO Innovation.com, and Senior Associate for the Center for Creative Leadership.
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