What did I learn in my Leadership Journey Part 2 — Putting Yourself under the Lens

Having taken up the Leadership role with the exciting prospects of learning and contributing I have had some great days and some not so good. I have certainly experienced the extremes — days of excitement and energy, on having executed plans, a feeling of purpose and days of utter desperation and frustration, when challenges have thrown me around.

Being in the middle of a very dynamic & a de-centralized organization, the challenges are many. Good part of my time was spent on communication, either getting myself familiarised with the developments around the organisation or communicating stuff to others. Add to this, the operational requirements of Demand, Delivery, People & Client to name a few.

In the middle of such a packed day decisions are made, directions are changed and obviously it impacts plans and people. Impacts of these decision are either localised or sometimes have wider impacts.

Over a period of time I started noticing my decision making pattern. I was defaulting to making decisions based on identifying past patterns, finding similarities and referring to the past decision. Nothing wrong with them though, you may say! But when you start to notice that the expected results do not match expectations or fail to address the issue, something had to change. Add to this the aspect of decision and the result spread over time.

Imagine yourself sitting in the middle of a project delivery review meeting, where the team is trying to grapple with the complexity of the project and team structure and the associated quality issues and customer dis-satisfaction. What do you do ? Having seen the success of introducing a new leader in the past to such situations, you could introduce a new leadership layer to manage the complexities and eventually address the customer’s woes. Sometime it works and in some occasions may not work if there isn’t a good understanding of the situations, like in this case where it failed miserably.

Organisations and projects are very dynamic systems and no one successful decision can be replicated anywhere else. I learnt this the hard way and my search for answers led me to this great article on Cynefin and understanding different kinds of systems.


In a snapshot the Cynefin framework identifies three distinct types of situations leaders find themselves in viz. Simple, Complicated & Complex contexts.

Simple — Domain of Best practices. Problem solvers can easily identify the cause & effect relationship. They typically sense, categorise & respond.

Complicated — Typical problems, but with many right answers. Problem solvers should sense, analyse and respond. There is an extra layer of analysing and approaching problems

Complex — Not solved before problems and answers need to be churned out. Its the realm of Unknown Unknowns.

I learnt that in leadership and decision making there aren’t many Simple contexts and most of the time we face situations that are either Complicated or Complex.

When your actions do not show any change and you see similar results, its time to think about how we make sense of situations and how we make decisions. Though there is a good perspective with the Cynefin framework the most fundamental pre-requisite before that is to examine your mental models. While its important to understand your thinking and specifically the mental model, its very important to consider the collective mental model of the team as well.

Looking into the mental models it will also be very critical to grasp your overall leadership philosophy. Do you operate in a trusting mindset or operate as a person who is comfortable with tightly controlling things ? Thinking and articulating this means you give yourself the extra latitude towards understanding your decision making and thereby influencing the outcomes. In other words, do you ensure that your style and mental model do not come in the way of decision making ?

When you are looking for results and focus on your organisation’s vision and goals its very imperative to discern your mental model and understand your hidden philosophy towards leadership. It will be good to ask ourselves some of these sample questions:

  • How does my leadership philosophy impact the outcomes — the vision and goals ?
  • How does it impact the way I understand people and their motivations ?
  • etc

One way I have handled this is to clearly distinguish between facts and opinions on discussions. I state that a particular point is my mental model and openly throw it for others to validate or invalidate them.

This is quite challenging to do and the first step is to start with recognising that mental models influence the way we take decisions. I pushed myself to throw the mental models for others to examine and will continue to do so.

The other useful technique I have adopted is to have a personal leadership journal. I scribble either as an “End of day” report or a note about an event or simply, “My Plans and Dreams”. Going back in time and looking at it has given me a perspective on my mindset and mental models, more importantly allowing me to relook at problems and decisions and understand my critical mental shifts.