Personalized experiences. Agile product development. Frictionless collaboration. Digital business transformation. It’s nearly impossible to read a business article or blog post without encountering these terms, and while they may seem like buzzwords, they are in fact the goals of leadership in nearly every industry. As the pace of digital disruption continues to increase, leadership alignment during strategic planning has never been more critical. While the concept of “inclusive leadership” is not new, many of today’s leaders are unconvinced of its utility or are unsure of how to practice it.
In light of that, I am always on the lookout for useful models that can help me address complex challenges. My work focuses on organizational planning, learning, and development within large organizations, and human-centered design is a central tenet for me. When my mentor Gary Wenet shared a model for inclusive leadership that he uses in his work, I was intrigued. Since Gary has spent his professional career as a consultant providing leadership and organizational coaching to companies committed to successfully scaling for growth, I was excited to learn the details. He and I sat down to discuss his model entitled, “Taking People to the Window” which he has successfully implemented with over one hundred clients. The following is an edited transcript.
What does it mean for a leader to “take people to the window?”
“Taking people to the window” represents a framework for how leaders can effectively accelerate the launch of their strategic plan and assure its successful execution. As an inherently inclusive approach for a leader to communicate their vision, “taking people to the window” maximizes the opportunity to inspire others to become part of making that vision a reality. It is based on a tenet that says anyone can be a leader whether they are an individual contributor, junior member of a team, manager, or senior executive.
The phrase is a reference for how a leader can take others to a metaphoric window, look out that window and describe the landscape as it appears to them. The landscape description includes the top opportunities for the company or organization, including the issues that are likely to surface in pursuing each opportunity and the risks that will need to be managed.
Where did this metaphor come from?
More than 15 years ago, Martin Plaehn introduced me to this metaphor. Martin has had a notable career as a CEO and member of the executive team of multiple successful technology companies. As a young CEO Martin realized that as a result of his formidable and articulate leadership style, he at times ran the risk of dampening meaningful discussion and contribution from key stakeholders in his organization. This was not his intent. He valued the input and perspectives of others and wanted to ensure that he would build a culture that capitalized on the richness and power of diverse thinking. He developed the metaphor of “taking people to the window” as his commitment to cultivating an inclusive and an interactive leadership style.
Since working with Martin, I’ve distilled this approach into four steps:
- Define the Focus: In planning a strategic thought summit, a leader wants to begin by clearly communicating the focus of that event for all who are participating.
- Identify the Stakeholders: After a leader has clarity on the objectives, the next step is identifying the stakeholders who he or she wants to be sitting around the summit table. These stakeholders should be chosen based on the people within the organization who could potentially contribute the most value to the strategic vision, and those stakeholders who are going to be most impacted by (or invested in) the ultimate outcomes.
- Structure the Pre-work: In order for each participant to go to the window, they will want to describe the landscape they see. This includes opportunities, risks, and the resources required.
- Convene and Share: Each leader has to decide whether they should share first or last. They should make that decision based on which choice would promote others to have a strong and meaningful voice at the table.
What are some of the immediate outcomes I could expect from using this method?
Using this method all but guarantees a leader the following benefits:
The leader reflects their commitment to building trust with an inclusive model of leadership.
The leader demonstrates empathy through a commitment to genuinely listening to others.
The leader activates others by valuing their input and diversity of thinking in the planning process.
The leader demonstrates their capacity to be self-reflective, and ultimately their capacity to be decisive; to be the change instead of waiting for the change.
Those are the benefits a leader will see quickly. Over the longer term, the benefits to the underlying business initiatives will be further-reaching because the leader will have included the right people early on, vetted the viable options, and anticipated risks with far more rigor than usual.
This post is the first of a series on this topic. You can find the second post on inclusive leadership in four steps here.