Inside Out, Outside In:
Accelerating Leadership Growth
This article was recently published on the OPP website, in advance of my speaking at their London conference on 6/15/17. MBTI® refers to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Click through to learn more about this conference.
Defining leadership in the 21st century is not a straightforward task. There are complexities at every turn: governmental influences, globalization of markets, new organizational structures, multi-national workforces, technology innovations, and the ever-accelerating pace of change.
But however we define leadership, we can probably agree that being a leader requires two elements — a destination, and people who will be led. The question is, how do we help leaders to succeed in their role and accelerate their growth, no matter their circumstance?
The Outside In/Inside Out development model proves a useful tool for this. It has three steps:
- Understanding the leader’s role
- Recognizing blind spots (‘inside out’)
- Adjusting actions toward results (‘outside in’)
Let's take a look at the first point: the role of the leader.
Understanding the Leader’s Role
While researching leadership models for Introduction to MBTI and Leadership (2nd Edition, © 2016 CPP, Inc.), I discovered compelling evidence that leadership is best described in terms of actions – how leaders behave – rather than in terms of the characteristics of those in top leadership positions. The majority of leaders, of course, do not sit atop their organizations. Most sit firmly in the middle of their organization. They may have many direct reports or few, and large budgets or almost none. But every such leader has a job – to move some (group of) people to achieve some goal. They take action, and work toward results – if they want to be seen as successful. These are the leaders for whom we design leadership development programs. And their jobs have gotten harder over the last few decades.
This is because today’s organization is increasingly complex, operating in many countries and across invisible boundaries (courtesy of the internet). It needs to move ever faster. And information is more widely distributed; few leaders know everything necessary to make a good decision. Leaders need to involve more people, influence more people, and coordinate actions among more people. Further, the people probably don’t all report to the leader; they are as likely to be bosses, peers or in different groups altogether.
The modern leader must simplify, and can do so by focusing on the three core activities of leadership:
- Set clear direction
- Engage others to join the journey
- Enable people to execute brilliantly.
In prior articles, I’ve introduced this as the world’s simplest leadership model. Understanding these core leadership actions is a crucial first step toward becoming a better leader.
Recognizing Blind Spots
The second step for the leader is to expand their self-awareness, understanding what comes easily to them and what takes more effort and energy. Leaders should pay particular attention to how they enact their leadership. [One useful vehicle for this is understanding one's MBTI type]. Having learnt their MBTI® type, including their favorite and least favorite mental processes, the leader should reflect on how they currently approach setting direction, engaging people and enabling execution. As the leader further develops their type, they should seek to understand any type-related blind spots that may affect their leadership success.
To illustrate, let me introduce you to two leaders. Pat is a leader whose favorite mental process is intuition. Kim, a peer leader, favors sensing. They each are effective at setting direction for their own teams. Pat sets direction by creating a vision, and using metaphors and evocative language to describe long-term goals. Kim, in contrast, sets direction using more specific language to define nearer-term, concrete goals. Either approach can be quite effective, unless there are team members who don’t understand the direction as described. Perhaps Pat’s team includes a number of sensing types, who find the future vision hard to connect with, and don’t know what they should be doing. Or Kim’s team of intuition types finds the goals too narrow or perhaps hard to get passionate about. In this story of two stereotypes, both leaders have blind spots – they are using their favored mental process and not balancing it with their less favored process.
By employing MBTI insights and expanding self awareness, whether in workshops or through coaching, leaders can develop their leadership from the 'inside out’ – recognizing habits, exploring blind spots, and practicing the use of less favored mental processes. By addressing each of the three leadership actions in turn, the leader’s ‘inside-out’ development helps to expand the range of behaviors the leader could choose.
Adjusting Actions toward Results
Modern leaders are measured not by intentions, but by the results they achieve through their own efforts and the efforts of others. These ‘outside-in’ results are the organization’s means of score keeping, whatever the leader’s functional domain – strategy implementation, product engineering, new market entry, operations simplification, acquisition integration, or new technology introduction. To be successful, then, a leader must not only modify their actions, they must do so in ways that will deliver the results on which they are measured.
Following this three-step method, leaders can accelerate their development from both outside in and from inside out. Outside in, the leader starts with the question, “Am I getting the results I want? If not, what can I do differently to get better results?” Inside out, the leader asks, “Who am I? What do I know about myself, and how I can become a better leader?” The intersection of their answers, when applied to each of the three core activities of successful leaders, reliably points each leader to their developmental sweet spot – the few changes they can make that will most improve their results.
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