On Leadership: Connecting the Dots

Ruth Shaw was the first woman to head a U.S. power company (Duke Energy). Equipped with a Ph.D. and a successful career in higher education, she had served as an executive in various positions at Duke. When she was chosen for the top position, she was surprised. She didn’t have technical knowledge in engineering, marketing or operations. The board chairman told her that the company already had specialists; that she was chosen to be the CEO to connect the dots. Connecting the dots is very much about having, and using, one’s intuition.

My own lifetime of connecting dots

Early in my corporate career, I set out to learn as much as I could about the large organization of which I was a part. Since I began as a bench scientist, learning more about the bigger organization meant that I needed to take control of my own learning and seek out positions in business areas that would help me learn as much as I could in the shortest time possible.

At one point, one of my managers said to me, “Mary Jo, if you want to get into management, you’ll have to stay in a position for a while” (I had never stayed anywhere in the company for more than 2.5 years at that point). He was implying, of course, that I needed deep technical knowledge in order to move up the ladder.

I wasn’t buying his advice, and have grown to understand that the learning I did served (and is serving) me well. I ended a long career with a global position that required a ton of intuition and a lot of knowledge stuffed into my brain. Because of my broad experience and my drive to learn, I am proud that, most of the time, I am able to connect the dots.

Why dot-connecting is important

As our world and our businesses become more global, connecting the dots will become even more important. Leaders who can grasp the significance and connectivity between their organizations, the larger corporation, their communities, countries, and the global context are going to be in top demand. In a poll conducted by PRWeek and Burson-Marsteller, the majority of the 252 CEOs surveyed said they were likely to rely on their intuition when making most business decisions.

The key is in being a learning leader

In order to see the whole, leaders need to be learning leaders. This implies a lot of vulnerability and a willingness to ask the questions that will help the brain to patch seemingly unconnected information together. Leaders need to be able to take in large amounts of information and make the connections visible and relevant to others. The ability to anticipate the future, solve problems with insight, and focus on long term goals are all direct results of being a learning leader.

Learning has everything to do with your ability to work with people and create healthy, strong relationships with others too. When you learn more about your followers, you are able to connect the dots in order to guide them in applying their strengths and passion to the work that is most meaningful for them and your organization.

A learning leader is able to seek out and distill a great amount of  information. They can then exercise their brain muscle by intuitively connect the dots; an in-demand skill at almost any organization. It takes a dedication and drive to learn, as well as conscious intent.

Are you being intentional about learning today in order to connect the dots tomorrow?

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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