From Managing the Probable to Leading the Possible

I read a terrific article in the McKinsey Quarterly titled Delighting in the Possible that presents the case for a shift in leadership that better addresses the complexities of our modern, fast-moving, business environment. The best articles are those that spark a conversation and create a path to deeper thinking and discovery. I invite you to read this article (link here) and start your own conversation.

The argument of the authors, Zafer Achi and Jennifer Garvey Berger, is we revert to “routines grounded in a mind-set of certainty … characterized by sharp-edged questions intended to narrow our focus”.  We do this quickly and unconsciously based on our experience. Yet the challenges we face today often need a broader view where we ask very different, and at times, uncomfortable questions.

This is a story of modern leadership where we move from “Managing the Probable” to “Leading the Possible”.  It is not enough to break down our reality into component pieces and study each. A broader, wide-angle view that surprisingly starts within our own mindset is needed. Those individual leaders and organizations that welcome and practice such an approach will outpace the competition forever stuck in their search for certainty.

The article presents three so-called “Habits of Mind” for our consideration:

Ask different Questions – Instead of questions focused on breaking down the situation, ask new questions that explore the edges where you gain a different perspective. It can start with a seemingly simple question, “What question are we not asking?”

Take Multiple Perspectives – Seek multiple views to open up the field of vision. Seek new data beyond what is readily available. Accept true diversity of thought including counter views that expand the conversation.

See Systems – Focus on patterns of behavior and stop  with simple cause and effect linear views of our practice at work. Understand that elements in a larger system are connected in ways that are not directly understood including time delays. Connections are not readily apparent until we begin to see and explore in a different way.

Change is ongoing in all organizations and industries. Less complex and demanding change processes labeled as developmental or transitional continue. Yet more complex transformational change is a certainty and leaders that “delight in the possible” shall lead us forward.

“Opening ourselves up to the delights of the possible comes at a cost. One casualty may be our cherished image of the traditional leader. The default model of a clear-minded person, certain of his or her outlook and ideas, is not consistent with the qualities that allow possibilities to flourish.

In a complex world, we’re often better served by leaders with humility, a keen sense of their own limitations, an insatiable curiosity, and an orientation to learning and development.”

– WeMoveTogether

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