Design Thinking for Leaders

I often talk about my view of leadership as an opportunity for balance, collaboration, and adaptation.  This past weekend, my enthusiasm for leadership in the 21st century was reinvigorated with the opportunity to internalize the relational importance of leadership.

Orbital Leadership

Füsun Akarsu, of Istanbul, Turkey, spoke to a group of Monterey Institute students about her newest ideas regarding leadership.  In that workshop, we had the opportunity to not only hear a lecture about the three relational concepts utilized by leaders, hierarchical, orbital, and organic, but we also had the opportunity to embody them.  A group of twelve students played the ‘same’ game three times, with three different scenarios.

Each game had a leader who was instructed to lead the other 11 students through a simple obstacle course.  The ‘followers’ had their eyes closed in all the games, but the way in which they interacted with the leader changed each game.

After each game we discussed how we felt by telling the stories of our journey as followers and leaders and as observers (for those not playing).  It was really interesting to see how people felt about the different types of leadership, not only because of how they interacted with their leaders, but also how they interacted with each other.

Hierarchical Leadership

This exercise in leadership, relationships, and connections sparked reflection on how leadership is intertwined with design thinking.  In each of the games, the leaders had to use different methods of communications to help their followers traverse the course without bumping into desks and chairs.  Essentially, the leaders were designing the experiences of each of the individuals based on the limitations of the relationship.

In the hierarchical game, students at the end of the line were so disconnected from the leader, they were forced to make independent decisions, creating small groups of collaborators who acted separate from the group.

In the orbital game, each person was touching the leader.  The leader was responsible for ensuring every single person took the right step at the same time.  This process was the least efficient and most claustrophobic.

In the organic game, the leader also had their eyes closed, so the leadership actually rotated depending on who was interacting with the priority obstacles at any given moment.  The leader in this game acted more like a facilitator by asking important questions and directing the group’s attention to the priority areas.

The leaders in each of the games utilized different methods of communication, defining the problem areas, acquiring information, analyzing data, and find the solutions.  In each of the situations, their were pros and cons.

Organic Leadership

The first was more efficient as far as getting from A to B, the third made the participants feel more comfortable and trusting, while the second forced the leaders and followers to more clearly articulate the problem and solutions.

Our conclusion was that leaders and their followers may need to be willing to institute any of the three concepts within one problem, depending on what is most appropriate to the problem and the goals.  It was a great physical reminder why leaders need to be flexible and open-minded in how they structure their relationships with their colleagues and followers.  The ability to be fluid and amorphous to the varying structures could prove to produce the highest efficiency and greatest outcomes, but also enhance the overall experience of all the participants.

Read more about this Hands on Leadership event!