I will be in Amsterdam for several weeks this year for THNK‘s Creative Leadership program, an 18-month, part-time, executive education program for senior international talent from social entrepreneurship, creative entrepreneurship and business intrapreneurship. THNK comprises of several intensive weeks spent on campus in Amsterdam during the first 6 months engaging in Quest (coaching), Forum (workshops) and (innovation) Challenges, followed by a personal entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial challenge (Accelerator) during the next 12 months.
An important part of THNK is Quest, which focuses on personal development through intensive coaching from professional coaches and peers, using 360 degree feedback tools, like the THNK MIRROR. In preparation for the first THNK module in early March, I am reflecting on my THNK MIRROR results (based on scores from two superiors, two peers and two subordinates on a scale of 1 to 5), trying to understand my gifts and learning edges, and identifying the behaviors I’ll work on during my THNK experience.
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My gifts lie in envisioning a better future (4.27), applying an explorative mindset (4.03), and acting with passion and purpose (4.00). My learning edges lie in orchestrating creative teams (3.74), and driving breakthrough change (3.59).
Some of my highest 360 degree scores are on storytelling that moves to act (4.67), seeking inspiration from different sources (4.33), growing and harvesting creative networks (4.33), thinking big (4.33), articulating a clear vision (4.33), and continuous self-development (4.33). Other high scores include casting the creative clash (4.20), and having the courage to be a pioneer (4.20). None of this is a surprise to me.
Some of my lowest 360 degree scores are on protecting bottom line viability (3.20), empowering others to create (3.25), flexibly driving change (3.33), and unleashing the creative organization (3.33). Other low scores include coaching creative teams (3.60), unleashing an accelerating change (3.60), personal mastery (3.67), engaging the whole system for change (3.80), critical thinking (3.83), and finding creative solutions (3.83). Again, the only surprises are the relatively low scores on critical thinking and finding creative solutions.
Some of the biggest differences between my own scores and the 360 degree scores are on: authentic leadership (2.00), engaging the whole system for change (1.80), flexibly driving change (1.33), and protecting bottom line viability (1.20). Other big differences are on: creating a sense of velocity (1.00), storytelling that moves to act (0.67), coaching creative teams (0.60), and unleashing an accelerating change (0.60). I was surprised that, in all these cases, the 360 degree scores were between 0.5 points to 2.0 points higher than my own scores.
I was most pleased by my high 360 degree scores on authentic leadership, storytelling that moves to act, and courage to be a pioneer, because they reinforce my self-image of setting an example for positive change. Specifically, I was pleased with the big difference between my own score and the 360 degree score on authentic leadership, as it gave me positive reinforcement in a moment of self-doubt.
I was most displeased with my low 360 degree scores on empowering others to create, and coaching creative teams. I think that my personality is shifting from my usual rational architect INTP profile towards an idealist healer INFP profile. So, being able to create positive change at the personal and interpersonal level (orchestrating creative teams) seems more important, or at least more immediate, to me than being able to create positive change at the organization-wide and system-wide level (driving breakthrough change).
In summary, the THNK MIRROR scores underline the reasons why I joined the THNK program. In spite of my many strengths, I haven’t been able to create real positive change. Often, I am not able to manage my own time and keep my promises, or mobilize resources to finish my projects. Even when I am able to finish the projects I start, I am not able to stay engaged long enough for them to create long-term, system-wide, sustainable change.
During my THNK experience, I would like to work first on orchestrating creative teams, and then on driving breakthrough change. Specifically, I would like to work on areas like empowering others to create, coaching creative teams, and unleashing the creative organization. Once I have mastered these skills, I feel like I’ll be in a better position to work on engaging the whole system for change, flexibly driving change, and protecting bottom line viability.
Within orchestrating creative teams, I am already really good at growing and harvesting creative networks (4.33) and casting the creative clash (4.20). I have a lot of work to do in the areas of empowering creatives (3.25), enabling change agents (3.33), and coaching creative teams (3.6). I have been working on this edge, but I think that my team members see me on a spectrum from insensitive (at worst) to inconsistent (at best), depending on how aware I am of my actions.
I would like to become a leader who inspires people to achieve their full potential and create their best work. I would focus more on people and less on projects, and continue to enable and empower people, even when things are off-track. I would find the time and the energy to help each person on the team to grow, but also create the conditions for the team members to come closer to each other. I would resist the temptation to try to do everything myself, but continue to stay engaged and support the team. I would coach the team to think more creatively, tease out the creative conflict, and challenge themselves to find more meaningful answers. If I am able to do this, we will be able to create much more impact together than I can create on my own.
To bring about this change, I would need to shift my focus away from “I” to “we”, and from “I” to “you”. I would need to become more aware of myself and others, and remember to stay aware. I would need to live my intention to be always kind and nurturing every day, including to myself, through my words and actions. I would need to rein in my fight or flight impulse, rein in both my sharp tongue and my tendency to retreat within myself. I would need to become better at setting the right expectations for myself and for my team, and working together to create the conditions for us to reach them.
I am trying to manage my energy by deepening my yoga and meditation practice; I am hoping that it will also help me become less self-centered. I am also trying to manage my time more intentionally by becoming more organized and practicing a regular productivity workflow on Trello. I have cut down my commitments in terms of both workstreams and travel to create more time to coach my team. I am also trying to minimize my “coordinate” time, and prioritize my “coach time” over my “create time” by creating Trello projects titled “growth and happiness of X” for each of my direct reports.
Finally, I would also like to build upon my gifts of envisioning a better future, applying an explorative mindset, and acting with passion and purpose to create my THNK Accelerator project (a hybrid of two ideas: a social innovation collaboratory called FutureCrafting and a near future science fiction novel called Mirror), with the intention of inspiring, organizing and energizing changemakers to strive for their best selves and craft better futures.
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In preparation for the first THNK module in early March, I am reflecting on my leadership philosophy, including how I think about the underlying principles, and how I want to see them lived out in practice.
I feel that I am at my best as a leader when I am working with a small group of creative and innovative people, with the shared purpose of creating meaningful change, for people, organizations, communities, and the world. The shared purpose helps us create a common understanding on both the destination we wish to reach and the possible paths that might lead us to it.
I invest time and energy in selecting the right people for my team, often working with them on a side project before I invite them to join the team. If I like them, I ask them to take the MBTI personality test, and they almost always turn out to be idealist NFs or rational NTs; my preference is to surround myself with ENTJs and ENFJs to round off the edges of my own INTP/ INFP personality.
I am deeply committed to the growth of my team, and like to create both the space for them to learn on their own, and opportunities for them to learn from our work. I insist that we always do our best work, and inspire them to explore their boundaries, by setting high expectations, and leading by example. I often see myself as an agent provocateur, the one who asks “what if?” and “why don’t we?”, the one who casts the creative conflict, the one who changes the status quo.
I often find myself saying “this isn’t good enough” and “this is how we do it” and I sometimes worry that I always want things done my way. Over time, I have learned to say “do you understand why we are doing this?” and “what do you think; how else might we do it?” as often. Now, I would like to become better at saying “this is why I love what you did” and “this is why I love working with you”.
I would like to become more consistent as a leader; less like the brilliant but absent-minded professor who takes them on a roller coaster ride, from ephemeral moments of epiphany, to nagging doubts of inadequacy, interspersed with days of benign neglect; and more like the personal coach who understands their aspirations and motivations, their strengths and weaknesses, and helps them become better every day.
Beyond my team, I proactively build and nurture a network of likeminded changemakers all over the world. I am generous in sharing my ideas with them, connecting them with each other, and creating new opportunities for them. I am curious to learn why they do what they do, what makes them tick, how did they become themselves, and where do they go from here. I would like to go beyond sharing ideas and become better at collaborating with them, co-creating new projects, sharing ownership, and scaling impact.