Category Archives: Complexity Thinking

The Theory behind Mental Models & Mastery

There’s no playbook for business, leadership and life. There’s no single archetype to embody. The journey to mastery that I help take my coaching clients on is a journey of unfolding and becoming in accordance with their own morals, values, principles, beliefs and experience.

But how can you speed up that journey? As a coach, how can I work with someone who already has a good level of business experience and help them accelerate the rate at which they become an even better executive?

It turns out the authors of a fascinating book called Accelerated Expertise: Training for High Proficency in a Complex World were asking themselves similar questions and forging a theory, on behalf of the US Department of Defense.

The DoD was trying to wrap its head around the changing nature of warfare. They recognised that speed in acquiring the knowledge and skills to perform tasks is crucial, “yet it ordinarily takes many years to achieve high proficiency in countless jobs and professions in government, business, industry, and throughout the private sector”. Wouldn’t there be great advantages if regimens of training could be established that could accelerate the achievement of high levels of proficiency?

The Theory behind Models & Mastery

Business is not warfare but the military serves as a helpful metaphor, and there is a universal applicability of the book’s core theories and ideas as they relate to the acceleration of executive proficiency. It asks questions that will sound familiar to any business executive, like “How can we train for adaptivity and the need to cope with the ever-changing workplace and changing and challenging activities?” and “How can we train for resilience in the face of increasing complexity and unexpected events stretching resources and capabilities?”

It doesn’t matter whether you are in the military, or a startup founder, CEO or other executive or professional, there’s a theoretical underpinning that supports anyone’s journey to mastery. By understanding it, we can seek to speed it up.

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The Mental Models Paradox

Ever since word of Charlie Munger’s worldly wisdom built upon a latticework of mental models got out, people have become obsessed with what mental models they can use to make them smarter. If we take these mental models and conceptual frameworks and run our reality through them, then we’ll become better thinkers, make better decisions (and investments), and achieve Munger-level wisdom (and wealth). Or will we?

Here’s the paradox:  

Good mental models, and other conceptual frameworks, make us smarter but only up to a point, after which they can actually constrain our thinking.

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A fresh look at executive presence, for technology leaders

There comes a point on your leadership journey when you have largely mastered the technical aspects of your craft. You’re now a senior executive, or well on your way to becoming one. It’s not just what you think, say and do, it’s how you think, say and do it. At this stage, transitional startup founders, experienced CEOs and other senior technology executives come to me to help them work on their executive presence to support their next leadership leap.

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The Duck-Rabbit & the Polarities of Leadership

A polarity is a paradoxical situation in which two interdependent and seemingly contradictory states must be maintained for success over time. In business, leadership and life, we find ourselves presented by polarities all the time, often without even realising.

As leaders, we’re told that we must be great problem solvers. That’s true, but a polarity is not the same thing as a problem, for which a definitive solution can be reached at a given point in time. That’s why the ability to recognise when we are facing a polarity – otherwise known as a paradox, duality, dichotomy, tension, or wicked problem – can be a developmental leap for leaders. Embracing the polarites we face with a both/and mindset, as opposed to trying to solve them as problems with an either/or approach, opens up whole new ways forward.

In this article, we’ll meet a number of leaders who are facing polarities at work. We’ll focus on Shrupti, the founder and CEO of a crypto analytics business. We’ll unpack how she identified and navigated a polarity that was holding her leadership and business back. With these practical examples, you too will gain a greater understanding of how you can identify and work more effectively with polarities.

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8 Time Management Techniques for Leaders (based on real CEO coaching conversations)

Time management is one of the most common themes in my coaching conversations with CEOs and other leaders. There’s just not enough time in their calendar to get everything done. It’s a challenge for any leader but it’s particularly acute for executives in the high-growth businesses that I work with, as they realise that they can’t scale themselves at the same rate as their business. 

Born out of real coaching experience, here’s 8 proven time management techniques that will help you manage your time better and get maximum leverage from it. Experimenting with these time management techniques will likely, at the same time, reveal some deeper, psychological truths about what drives you and your behaviour.

Time Management

Click to jump to each time management technique:

  1. Calendar Audit
  2. One-on-Ones
  3. Skip-Level Meetings
  4. Delegation and saying ‘no’
  5. Focused Time
  6. Office Hours
  7. Experiment
  8. Work with an Executive Coach
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A Deliberately Developmental Experiment

When the founders at Future Arc approached me to develop a business-wide coaching programme, they were clear they wanted to do something different. It felt right that a disruptive company that puts talent development at the heart of its organisation should embrace a new approach to developing its people. Fascinated by how we can build organisations and develop individuals for the future, and already drawing on Robert Kegan and colleagues’ work on adult development in my coaching practice, I introduced them to the concept of the Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO).

A DDO is organized around the deceptively simple but radical conviction that organizations will best prosper when they are deeply aligned with people’s strongest motive, which is to grow. Deep alignment, it turns out, requires something more than making “a big commitment to our people’s growth,” admirable as that may be, even when such a commitment is followed up with significant investments in people’s ongoing learning on the job. It means something more than consigning “people development” to punctuated moments outside the flow of day-to-day work, such as standapart trainings, high-potential leadership development programs, executive coaching, corporate universities, or once-a-year retreats. Deep alignment with people’s motive to grow means fashioning an organizational culture in which support to people’s ongoing development is woven into the daily fabric of working life, visible in the company’s regular operations, day to-day routines, and conversations.

The Deliberately Developmental Organization
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4 Vertical leadership skills to help you thrive in a VUCA world

We live in Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. But what does that mean for you as a leader? Let’s explore how traditional horizontal approaches to leadership fall short and double down on the Vertical skills that leaders need to develop in order to make sense of and thrive in a VUCA world.

The book Upgrade: Building your capacity for complexity links VUCA with four leadership capacities that underpin Vertical skills:

  1. Sensemaking – Observing, understanding and processing the complexity of a situation e.g. getting your head around all the different interconnected topics, data, issues or causal relationships.
  2. Perspective-shifting – ‘Zooming out’ to benefit from a more realistic and multifaceted understanding of a situation or relationship e.g. understanding the perspectives and agendas of the various stakeholders.
  3. Self-relating – Observing, understanding, regulating and transforming yourself e.g. making sense of your own reactions, thoughts and feelings.
  4. Opposable Thinking – Responding to the dilemmas and conflicting ideas that can create tensions within us and / or between us and other people e.g. working with opposing views.
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Using the Cynefin framework to become a better leader in a complex world

There’s no shortage of “how to” advice, playbooks, formulas and even secrets and guarantees for success (at least that’s what the gurus will have you believe). This can work well in complicated situations. But high-growth technology businesses are not complicated, they’re complex. That requires a different approach to leadership, explored here through the lens of the Cynefin framework.

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Beware the Illusion of Certainty

We like to think that our lives are ordered, predictable and subject to a great deal of control. The past is finite; we see only one outcome. We attach causality and narrative to it so that it makes sense. We roll our ability to make sense of the past over into the future, which is infinite; there are many outcomes, as yet unknown and unknowable. Randomness, chance, and luck influence us far more than we realize. Certainty is an illusion. Uncertainty is everywhere.

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