Ready for the Change Lab?

Blog post
By Pam Ashby | 26 October 2017

Are you an expert? An achiever? Or are you a catalyst?

This is the question that occurs once you’ve had a conversation with Debra Whitestone from ChangeWise, the pioneers in leadership agility based in Boston. She and her fellow principal Bill Joiner presented their first Leadership Agility Change Lab workshop in the UK on 9-10 November in London, hosted by the Agile Business Consortium.

Inside out and outside in

“The Change Lab is all about action,” Debra Whitestone tells me. “People bring their real projects and we get some serious work done over the two days!

“Delegates get two kinds of outcomes. They can initiate or rethink key elements of their projects – setting direction, focusing on stakeholders and pivotal conversations, and learning new techniques to generate breakthrough solutions. In parallel, a personal development journey begins. One that explores a leader’s effectiveness and the impact they are having, on their teams, their organisations, and of course – themselves.

“Our approach looks ‘outside in’ and ‘inside out’. We consider the impact of an organisational environment, and also look ‘inside out’ at how our own mindsets and emotional reactions can drive our behaviour. The exciting thing about adult development is that it doesn’t necessarily correlate with age or even the seniority of our role. It may be more about your ability to reflect, and to learn from feedback, for instance. What we do in this workshop helps to develop a growth mindset.”

The Change Lab is based on a well-researched framework, from Bill Joiner’s award-winning book ‘Leadership Agility’. The two-day experience is very much about development, and not just about competencies. “We show leaders how to become increasingly agile in their approach,” Debra explains. “They leave after the two days with fantastic progress on the change initiative they brought with them, and they leave with themselves changed and with a route-map for a new development journey.

“They go back to the office with new skills and new confidence, and every expectation of seeing a big change in how their processes, and conversations play out.” As an example, she describes how conversations that initially may have appeared challenging, or confrontational, can be worked through constructively and collaboratively.

All about action

I asked Debra how she and Bill manage this lab approach, which focuses on real work in combination with coaching and development. “It’s all about action. We create a really safe atmosphere in the Change Lab and people tend to bond quite strongly and form supportive relationships” she reflects. “The first half-day is a mix of conceptual and experiential learning. The following day-and-a-half is virtually all experiential. People work in pairs and small groups. They learn a lot from each other, as well as from us. We’ve found that putting people from different industries together can be very powerful. They are surprised to find out how similar their challenges are, and they also learn a lot from the very different perspectives presented by differing sectors.” Debra tells me that the Change Lab is designed to offer ‘real support’ and that they encourage people to stay in touch after the Lab. In some cases follow-on groups are formed to support everyone as they continue to build their leadership agility.

Expert, achiever or catalyst?

So are you an expert, an achiever or a catalyst?

Here’s how Bill and Debra describe these 3 levels of leadership agility. These levels are not different 'styles' but are stages in developing greater agility – each stage building on and including what went before.

Expert: (~45% of today’s managers)

An expert leader is passionate about problem-solving and improving their technical or functional expertise. Expert leaders are tactical and tend not to seek the opinions of others. Their command-and-control approach can be effective in environments where there the pace of change is relatively slow.

Achiever: (~35%)

An achiever leader is strategic and relatively more collaborative, seeking buy-in from stakeholders when leading change initiatives. Their ultimate focus is on outcomes, and they see that outcomes can be achieved in different ways. Achiever leaders are open to feedback they believe might help them achieve valued outcomes.

Catalyst: (10%)

Catalyst leaders are the most agile. Their vision is not only to achieve strategic objectives but also to build an agile organisation that can respond well to unexpected new developments. To accomplish this, they develop an empowering organisational culture where constructive openness and 'straight talk' is the norm. They realise that 'ground zero' for this transformation is their own continued development as a leader.

Catalyst leaders are currently the most rare, but the ChangeWise research has shown that they have greater sustained success and are less vulnerable to burnout in today’s turbulent environment than the previous two levels of leadership agility.


What kind of leader are you?
        …and what kind do you want to be?




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