Clear Confident Leader Weekly Observer, Issue #30
From the Greenbelt of Boise, Idaho, Spring awakening
I’ve often noticed that we are not able to look at what we have in front of us, unless it’s inside a frame. – Abbas Kiarostami
It’s important to be precise about words, because of the thought value of them – they frame and shape so much of the way we understand things. – Michael Nesmith
There is no single right answer or path forward, but there is one right way to frame the problem. – Clayton Christensen
Executives and professionals are very good at solving problems. We have to be amidst the non-stop flow of challenging situations we face. The ability to make decisions and get things done propelled us into our current positions.
The issue is, we’re not able to perceive all that is in front of us and the teams we lead. In addition, patterns and language that made us successful in previous situations are used unconsciously, filtering how we see and understand what is happening now. Our problem-solving strengths when overused can lead to giving “answers as direction”.
Setting the right frame for making sense of a situation, is one of the most important skills to lead effectively. The frame set and the words used to describe it can provide clear focus and engage people to act confidently, or lead to disengagement and lack of resolution.
How do we set the right frame?
First, we need to realize not all situations are the same. Traditional management science assumes we operate in a predominantly ordered environment with a certain level of predictability. This simplifying assumption falls apart in an increasingly complex world.
The Cynefin framework, developed by David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone, enables people “to see things from new viewpoints, assimilate complex concepts, and address real-world problems and opportunities.” (Cynefin, pronounced ku-nev-in, is a Welsh word that signifies the multiple factors in our environment and our experience that influence us in ways we can never understand.) Their November 2007 HBR article, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making” provides a lens for categorizing situations in five different domains with different models of analysis and decision making. The domains are:
- Obvious (simple) – solutions are self-evident to reasonable people based on the evidence (e.g. requests that fit existing skills and/or known processes).
- Complicated – solutions can be determined by analysis and/or evaluation by experts (e.g. responding to requests where an answer is unclear, or resolving an unknown breakdown in a previously effective process).
- Complex – many plausible solution directions to consider, however, the solution outcomes are not yet known, they emerge over time. (e.g. improving trust and collaboration within a team, or which investments to make to grow a business).
- Chaotic – things have broken down, and decisive action is needed fast (e.g. a fire in the building, or an emotionally charged situation on the verge of being explosive).
- Disorder – not knowing which of the other domains we’re in.
Using this framework we can consciously explore what we’re facing by asking:
- How do I see the situation?
- What do other people involved and/or affected see?
- What would an independent observer see?
We may discover conflicting objectives that raise a paradox, dilemma or unsolvable problem, resulting in polarity system to manage and leverage.
As we build a common understanding of the situation, we can ask how do we frame this in a generative way to enable achieving the outcome(s) we desire?
Finally, we can identify all those to involve in pursuing resolution, and who would be best to facilitate and/or lead the work?
Before reacting to challenging situations by giving direction, I encourage leaders to focus on setting the right frame.
I work with executives and professionals to confidently lead in the face of uncertainty and complexity. Together we build trust, and cultivate leadership and organizational effectiveness to create a better future today. To learn more visit here.
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