Guide The Three-Dimensional Leader

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In the midst of the most hectic organizational turnaround, babies will be born, relatives will fall ill, couples will become engaged, and couples will break up. In other words, the emotional lives of colleagues will continue whether or not the organization recognizes that there is life outside of work. The leader with relational intelligence stops—with surprising alacrity—to divert attention from the organization to the person, to transfer attention from the ensemble to the soloist.

While passion does not appear on the balance sheet, it is surely the asset that matters most for leaders and followers alike, and passion is most wisely invested by leaders in human relationships. Nodes represent complex connections, and understanding these complex interactions is at the heart of systems thinking.

With the addition of a single variable team member, supplier, creditor, customer, patient, service provider, student, investor, or interest groups , the number of systematic interactions increases exponentially. In fact, we can plot the relationship between the increase in nodes and system complexity as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. This chart reflects the potential complexity for only seven nodes, but consider the interactions for which most leaders are responsible. You could list a couple dozen and not depart from the confines of the instructional staff of a school.

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But systems leaders also understand how bus drivers, administrative support staff, cafeteria workers, finance specialists, and a host of other people influence student achievement and core organizational objectives. They know, for example, that bus drivers who understand and apply lessons on student motivation and discipline will deliver students to school on time, safely, and ready to learn. Systems leaders know that an error by a finance clerk who is right What is the level of complexity if the leader considers only 20 nodes and their possible interactions?

Consider Figure 4. The first column lists the number of nodes, and the second column lists the number of interactions, calculated by the quantity of nodes minus one, and that number is multiplied by each smaller number in the number system down to 1. With just a few more nodes, the complexity is staggering. Although all interactions are not equally important, there are far more interactions than many leaders acknowledge. Only a handful of school leaders, for example, require central office departments to post and share data in a transparent manner with the same diligence that is required of schools.

When they do, the community sees, for example, how energy savings, food service quality, bus safety, and the talent pipeline provided by the human resources department all contribute to the mission of the organization. The leader with systems intelligence must take the time to understand each interaction and its impact on the entire system, and then communicate this complexity in a manner that enables each member of the organization to understand and consistently use these important interconnections.

This practice recalls the concept of the leader as architect who is able to make complex connections and master thousands of details in blueprints, yet build a temple that is masterful in conception and design and elegant in the simplicity of its steps, columns, and roof. Thus systems leadership is not merely about complexity but about an even greater challenge: simplicity. This book is not the forum for a rant on the irrelevance of many graduate school leadership programs, though Levine and his colleagues have given us a splendid and long overdue start. Equipped with many advanced degrees and years of bad intellectual habits from writing dissertations, the graduates of educational leadership programs are sometimes skilled at rendering simple subjects complex, substituting jargon for plain speech.

It is far more difficult to take something that is complex, such as systems leadership, and make it simple. For example, despite the apparent overwhelming complexity in Figure 4. This idea is at the heart of the theory of Six Degrees of Separation, which was popularized by a Broadway play but is in fact based on experiments performed by psychology professor Stanley Milgram at Harvard almost 40 years ago. The participants' packets were equipped with forwarding letters, based on the best estimate of the number of forwarded mailings that would be required to make the journey.

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The average number of actual times that letters were forwarded: 5. Because every leader has far more than half a dozen people, tasks, projects, and constituencies all clamoring for priority treatment, the task of the systems leader is to know which of those competing factors have the greatest leverage. For example, we will learn later that some elements of teachers' professional practices, such as focusing on nonfiction writing and immediate feedback, have a disproportionate impact on student achievement across a wide variety of subjects. Therefore, while it is folly for a leader to claim to monitor all effective teaching practices, it is malfeasance to abdicate the responsibility and monitor none of them.

The pilot of the small private airplane in which I am now flying has 29 gauges in front of him—I just counted—along with a radar screen, navigation equipment, and a bank of radios. While he may conduct an occasional instrument scan, as pilots are trained to do, he focuses most of his attention on this particularly turbulent flight on his attitude indicator, compass, and altimeter.

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When we are in the clouds and have no external visual references, we need to know if we are flying right side up, in the right direction, at the altitude where we promised the air traffic controller we would be, and safely away from other aircraft. The pilot also keeps an eye on the gas and oil pressure, and before landing, he also will check the light that confirms our landing gear has been deployed.

The other gauges may be interesting, but even in perfect weather they do not command the attention of the pilot as much as those six indicators. An educational leader faces an array of information that is at least as complex as that faced by the pilot, in conditions that can seem even stormier on a good day.

Systems leaders know the six indicators to watch, the nodes in their network with the greatest leverage, and the warning signs that will help them avoid catastrophe and eventually travel safely to their destination. Adrenaline is not enough for the long-term systemic changes that effective leaders must create.

New leaders typically bring with them the benefit of the doubt and at least a brief honeymoon, while the constituencies that decided to offer the leader the job all hope that their bet was correct. Emotional intensity, commitment to a vision, goodwill, and sheer intensity can sustain the performance of leaders, athletes, and fugitives for only so long. Every marathon runner knows that while emotions are important, in the long run, it is preparation, monitoring signals, and making midcourse corrections and occasional changes in pace that are essential not only for victory but for simply finishing the race.

After a couple of marathons, mountain ascents, and many leadership endeavors, I have learned that during the course of any major initiative, the leadership team must stop, take stock, and impose order on chaos. Reflective leadership is rarely among the characteristics associated with the mythological leaders who never recognize obstacles or consider retreat, and always seem to win through sheer guts and determination.

Myth yields to history, however, and reflection trumps bravado. Pulitzer Prize—winning historian David McCullough in his brilliant book reminds us that, though George Washington was undeniably heroic and brave, his most decisive move during the Revolutionary War involved the safe retreat from New York. The colonists' extraordinary victory in Boston was achieved with hardly a shot being fired, as stealth, positioning, and intelligence led the British to sail out of Boston Harbor in haste, after having enjoyed domination of the town with naval and land forces that had been superior to those in rebellion.

Likewise, Winston Churchill recognized obstacles and responded to them with strategy rather than bravado. Without this strategic retreat, the D-Day offensive in June of may never have happened. Both Washington and Churchill, it turns out, had extensive experience with the values of waiting, being silent, retreating, and executing circuitous routes to victory, as historians Joseph Ellis and Roy Jenkins have documented in detail.

Indeed, even a mythological hero such as Odysseus had years of reflection for every moment of victory. Reflective leaders take time to think about the lessons learned, record their small wins and setbacks, document conflicts between values and practice, identify the difference between idiosyncratic behavior and long-term pathologies, and notice trends that emerge over time.

Kathy Whitmire, former mayor of Houston and president of the U. Conference of Mayors, encourages leaders to reflect on their proud moments. Another leadership journal Reeves, a asks the leader to focus on these essential questions: What did you learn today? Whom did you nurture today? What difficult issue did you confront today? What is your most important challenge right now? What did you do today to make progress on your most important challenge? Reflection is so important for leaders because of the gulf between the theoretical abstractions of academic leadership development programs and the daily lives of leaders.

Leadership roles and processes are full of novelty, difficulty, conflict, and disappointments.


In other words, leadership itself is a development challenge. Noel Tichy, one of the foremost leadership experts who has considered leadership in multiple contexts, including academic, business, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations, encourages leaders to literally write their leadership story. A leadership journal need not require an exceptional commitment of time nor must it become a maudlin exercise in therapeutic self-revelation. Objective statements, such as those in response to the questions noted above, can seem mundane in isolation, but they are quite revealing over time.

Although journaling is, in general, an intensely private activity, the reflective leader knows when personal revelation can have a profound impact. In my own case, some of my toughest leadership decisions have been prompted by a review of journal entries that forced me to recognize that I had attempted the same solution for a particular problem on several occasions, and unsurprisingly, the results did not improve with such a stagnant approach. My reflections forced me to recognize that conditions were not changing, people were not changing, and results were not changing—all because my leadership decisions and actions were not changing.

Reflection forced me to admit that I had been as resistant to change as the others whom I had accused of being resistant and insufficiently enthusiastic to my favored initiatives. Reflection, in brief, forces leaders to climb down from the mythological perch, admit our human foibles, and get real.


Collaboration implies shared decision making and a willingness to concede one's own agenda, while leadership requires asserting a vision, accomplishing a mission, and where necessary and appropriate, exerting authority and making unilateral decisions. President Eisenhower was fond of telling the tale of a meeting in which his staff unanimously supported an idea that Eisenhower opposed.

We can compel their attendance and compliance, but only they can volunteer their hearts and minds. Leaders can make decisions with their authority, but they can implement those decisions only through collaboration. Leverage for improved organizational performance happens through networks, not individuals. If the only source of inspiration for improvement is the imprecations of the individual leader, then islands of excellence may result and be recognized, but long-term systemwide improvement will continue to be an illusion.

In fact, decision making takes place at three levels in every organization. Level I allows for individual discretion. In schools, teachers enjoy wide discretion in choosing their teaching practices.

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Despite pervasive claims of micromanagement and teacher-proofing lessons, one need only watch three different classrooms of the same grade level and same subject to note significant differences in practice, interaction, questioning techniques, feedback, and assessment. In fact, to a greater degree than we might think in an era of standards, curriculum content varies widely from one classroom to the next.

Level II decisions are made collaboratively: teachers and administrators seek common ground. Level III decisions are made unilaterally by leaders, and they usually are issues involving safety and values. After all, the decisions to have fire drills, cafeteria hygiene, and gun-free schools are not matters of discretion, nor do they require a great deal of collaboration.

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While this three-level decision structure seems logical to most people, surveys of teachers and administrators throughout North America reveal a striking trend. The surveys included more than 2, teachers and administrators from more than 60 school systems, including urban, suburban, and rural schools.

Two parochial school systems were also represented in this survey. When asked to identify which levels of decision making are most common, the results, as reflected in Figure 4. The vast majority of respondents believe that the majority of decisions are those at Level III, where the leader unilaterally makes the decisions. I then asked the respondents to list those decisions over which they knew teachers exercised discretion based on their own professional experience—the real Level I decisions.

Similarly, I asked them to list those actual decisions that were the result of teacher and administrative collaboration. Finally, I asked them to list those decisions that were Level III decisions made unilaterally by administrators, with neither collaboration nor discretion by teachers. The results were surprising in many respects. First, the actual decision-making structure is the opposite of the stereotype, with discretionary decisions by teachers representing the plurality of actual decisions in schools. As Figure 4. Surprisingly, the actual data were consistent.

The responses from quite diverse groups, including groups of teachers alone without administrators and groups of administrators alone without teachers all had the same sequence of decision-making frequency and uniformly defied the stereotype. The point of this research is that just as leadership nostrums that are too simple to be true probably are, our own stereotypes about the leadership environment in which we work every day are also suspect and should be subject to challenge.

There are times when each decision-making level is important, but the finding that most decisions in schools are either collaborative or discretionary decisions involving teachers is encouraging. Given the demands for training the next generation of leaders, the development of collaborative teams will be particularly important, as Van Velsor and McCauley conclude As we worked more with the same organizations over time and with multiple leaders in the same unit or organization, we became attuned to the limitations of an exclusive focus on individual development. Individual leaders can no longer accomplish leadership tasks by virtue of their authority or their own leadership capacity.

Instead, individuals and groups need to carry out the leadership tasks together in a way that integrates differing perspectives and recognizes areas of interdependence and shared work. For organizations or other collectives to experience sustained leadership over time—to have a sense of direction and alignment, to maintain commitment to the collective work, particularly when dealing with difficult problems that require organizational change—they need more than well-developed individuals.

They need well developed connections between individuals and deeper and more meaningful relationships around shared work. They need to form and deepen relationships within communities and across the boundaries between groups and collectives. They need to develop the capacities of collectives for shared sense making and for change. They need to get better at integrating the learning into a unified sense of purpose and direction, new systems, and coherent shifts in culture—that is, to enact leadership together through the connections between individuals, groups, and organizations.

Just as there is danger in greatly elevating analytical intelligence over every other intelligence, there is also danger in minimizing the importance of raw intellect and problem-solving ability. Leaders must consider the interaction of many complex variables, challenging facile conclusions and simple solutions. Even as technology is broadly disbursed and using computers is no longer just for nerds, the prototypical analytical leader in education is the master of budget details, assessment scores, and statistical data; he is apparently the smartest person in the room and is not afraid to let everyone else know it.

Facts end arguments, and opinions fade away against the mountain of evidence, or so the stereotype goes. Analysis and collaboration are, in this stereotype, at opposite ends of the continuum.

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However, Boston Consulting Group leaders Philip Evans and Bob Wolf , drawing on studies of groups such as computer programmers and automobile engineers, found that even in an intensely analytical environment, collaboration was at the heart of group success. Indeed, the most daunting analytical challenges required, rather than avoided, the greatest levels of collaboration.

The best analytical leaders are not masters of answers but rather persistent questioners. Their questions require the admission of ignorance, not the assertion of knowledge. As incongruous as it may seem, analytical leaders are so aware of the multivariate nature of life, systems, and organizations that they can be the engine that drives collaboration.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The precept's merit is precisely in its superficiality.

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Saying that B causes A is simplistic—all the complexities of multiple interactions boiled down to a single cause and effect. But the chain of thought required to discover that C causes B, and D causes C, quickly takes you into a new domain, probably someone else's. So rather than concoct complex solutions within their own domains, engineers must seek simple ones beyond them. If there are intervening variables, such as teacher quality, and we learn that students who are white and wealthy have a disproportionate quantity of teachers with the greatest experience and deepest subject matter expertise, then the analytical leaders will speak the truth.

Similarly, analytical leaders inquire as to how the educational system treats males and females, students with English as a primary language and students who are learning English, students who are white and students who are brown and black. Analytical leaders speak the uncomfortable truths: Poor students do not exhibit low academic achievement because they are poor but because of the way that we treat poor children. Female students do not lag in science and math because they are female but because of the way that we treat female students.

Just as a computer programmer alone cannot fix a bug, and an automotive engineer cannot independently recall a dangerous design flaw, so, too the analytical leader will require extraordinary collaboration skills to apply and distribute the lessons that inquiry and analysis can provide. Although some effective leaders are especially effective in oral communication, the majority of the most effective leaders in Collins's study were neither glib nor articulate.

Their other leadership skills more than made up for this deficit. Of equal importance, however, is the comparison group of ineffective leaders that Collins studied which included many leaders who were distinguished more by their ability to articulate their ideas than by their ability to put them into action for the benefit of stakeholders. Nevertheless, communication is a skill that every complex organization demands of its leadership team. Although traditional written and oral communication skills are part of the repertoire of an effective leader, voice mail, Web casts, and e-mail are essential to allow the leader to create personal communication for a wide audience.

Leaders underestimate the power of personalized communication and overestimate the effectiveness of hierarchical communication. The wise limitations of our voice mail system prevent me from rhetorical excess, as a kind voice will remind me after seconds that I have exceeded the permissible limit for a message. But at least once a week, all my colleagues know, on the same day at the same time, what is happening at the Center for Performance Assessment.

I believe that this leadership crisis is in reality a leadership development crisis. First, the traditional methods used to train and educate leaders have not kept pace with the monumental changes taking place in the world. Potential leaders receive essentially the same education as did their predecessors — education that was appropriate to the demands of a different era. The primary focus in too many universities and corporations is still on how business skills will produce leaders who have strong functional, technical and financial capabilities.

When leadership development is provided, it is often treated in separate programs as if it were an isolated issue apart from the business challenges leaders face. Second, on-the-job experiences and development frequently do not produce the leadership our organizations need. Most develop a narrow functional-technical perspective as a result of spending their entire career in one area. Many are risk-averse due to the severe consequences of making mistakes, which severely inhibits learning.

Too many neglect family and friends to meet the demands of the job, and a system that frequently encourages and rewards workaholism. These experiences historically foster management rather than leadership skills. Capable of managing but unfit to lead is a fitting description of these executives. That the training and job development system produces capable managers is undisputed. But we are now in the midst of a world in which even the best are ineffective unless they can also lead. In place of a system that has tended to produce one-dimensional managers, I propose a more holistic, three-dimensional leadership development framework, a comprehensive process that recognizes that leaders need capabilities that are significantly different from the past.

The three-dimensional framework does not diminish the importance of the business dimension — the focus of traditional executive development. Instead, it strengthens the leadership and personal dimensions to balance and integrate all three areas. Each is an equally essential element of the leadership equation. It is not enough to be a consummate business expert; an executive must also be an excellent leader, while at the same time possessing exceptional personal effectiveness skills.

The business dimension is developed by providing executives with the capabilities needed to identify and address critical business challenges. Therefore, development efforts might be focused on such things as creating new organizations, building market-focused and customer-focused organizations, leading change, winning in the global marketplace, creating a learning organization, fostering innovation, and leveraging technology. The leadership dimension might concentrate on a study of a broad range of classical and contemporary theories and skills so that leaders can develop their own personal expression of leadership.