1st Executive Blog

02 Aug Finding Strategists in Executive Search

The cover story on the most recent Harvard Business Review (HBR.ORG July-August 2021) poses the question “how good is your company at change?” The article referred to discusses identifying “change power” as a strong predictor of a company’s ability to adapt and change. It talks extensively about how Delta Air Lines changed operational focus and responded across the whole organisation to provide a survivable response to the Covid 19 pandemic which initially decimated the airline industry. The operational improvements and speed of implementation were sector leading.

While the article contained some really useful reference points around readiness and agility the key element of deep strategy appeared to be missing. Perhaps this is not surprising as the focal point was how businesses responded to external threats such as Covid 19.

However, it reminded me to re-familiarise myself with Otto Scharmer’s Theory U to consider how executive search processes may help deepen strategic capability.

Scharmer identifies the “blind spot” in leaders developing transformational change. He describes this as the “source dimension” – the “innner place from which we operate”. He identifies four types of listening:

1. Downloading - which reconfirms habitual judgements

2. Factual – “the basic mode of good science. Let the data talk to you”

3. Empathic - where we may “begin to see how the world appears through someone else’s eyes”

4. Generative - where we “access not only our open heart, but also our open will” in order to connect to the highest future possibility that can emerge.

Theory-U-One-Process-Six-Leadership-Capacities-Source-Scharmer-2009 (1)

I realise that as impressive as the Delta response was, it was based on “factual listening.” I wondered how the airline industry, and many other industries, are currently “connecting to the highest future possibility that can emerge.“

The reality is that the way that the executive search process is required to identify the right leaders with the right skill set is just base camp. Executive Search and leadership development needs to go deeper to start to unearth and develop systemic and transformational leadership skills at a time such as this.

It is somewhat ironic that around 10 years ago social media experts were talking about the first step in their process as “listening” which was essential to develop effective social media strategy. There is no point messaging where there is no dialogue to begin with.

Since then inattention levels have skyrocketed as leaders deal with more and more data. Scharma talks about “observing, observing, observing” which leads to a stage of “letting go” in order to “let come”. In our view, the key roles for executive search and leadership development are in the sourcing and development of talent who are prepared to operate with an open mind and open heart and then apply their open will to designing strategic, transformational and systemic change. I hope executive search practitioners are capable of exploring this.

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