“TechCo” is a wildly successful global technology company, now coming into its teenage years. The rate and pace of change at TechCo has been in line only with the handful of other companies who have gone from idea to household name in their first five years. The Leadership Development (LD) group had surveyed senior leaders and found that complexity, ambiguity, and change were the most significant challenges leaders faced: team size grew, rapidly increasing products became the responsibility of multiple overlapping teams, the external context became political and highly-charged as a little garage company became a global powerhouse. Thus, the mandate was clear: they wanted to build a program that would help their senior leaders become more capable of leading in complexity. They did a global search for a partner firm to help, and they selected Cultivating Leadership. The LD group had the highest standards for this program—TechCo leaders were intensely smart, they moved at great velocity, and they were considered the best in the business. Leading in Complexity would be their flagship leadership program.
We offered a flexible, complexity-based response. At first we consulted to the LD design team and supported them to find the tools and approaches that would meet their needs. As the relationship deepened, we began to co-design the program with them, blending our experience with theirs to create an innovative two-workshop design unlike anything either of us had ever designed before. Based on Berger and Johnston’s Habits of Mind, the program was a careful blend of theory and experience—all grounded deeply in the TechCo context. Together we created the experiences and materials, and when the time came to teach the program, we stood side by side at the front of the room, Cultivating Leadership facilitating the program while our TechCo LD partners hosted the space and added TechCo context and perspectives.
We began five cohorts in the first seven months of our work together and scheduled seven more. The program was an instant success. Participants found the content intellectually rigorous and immediately practical. They told us it was “life changing” and that they were “liberated by the ideas of complexity.” They brought the ideas back to their teams and began asking the LD team to facilitate complexity-based off-sites. We ramped up our support of our TechCo partners, running train-the-trainer sessions to get them more comfortable with complexity ideas and facilitation approaches. We worked with their global team to create and facilitate team-based programs around the world, and helped our TechCo partners design and facilitate these programs without us. In each engagement, leaders talked about the transformational power of the Cultivating Leadership tools and approaches to leading in complex times, and they told us how instantly helpful these ideas were: they listened more deeply to their colleagues, thought about their challenges in new ways, and became more courageous in their experimentation.
We are only eight months into our work with TechCo, and we are watching the ideas take off. Leaders are talking about complexity from San Francisco to Santiago, from New York to New Delhi. They are trying new approaches, progressing on their most complex challenges, and engaging with each other and their teams in new ways. 96% of our participants recommend the course to others, the highest rating of any program TechCo has offered.
Just as exciting is the change happening with our LD partners. The content of the program has begun to shape the way TechCo thinks about developing its leaders—not just in this program but in their whole suite of work. The core ideas and theories are being designed into programs for less senior leaders and for the most senior executives in the organization. Cultivating Leadership and our internal partners hope that together we can help TechCo become even more successful at using technology to tackle some of the planet’s biggest challenges.
Leadership is self-facilitation first, and working well with others is a reflection of how well you work with yourself. Developing this understanding is an arduous journey; with Jennifer alongside it is much less so.