In this step, we begin turning ideas into directions. Too many people, once they have developed guidelines for action or high-level principles, leap straight
to doing. That is not the best way, and it is not what a role model leader does. It is far better to develop a variety of options and then consider them all – their shortand long-term implications. Only after doing that thoroughly and effectively is it time to develop a set of actions that we may take.
This stage, then, might be called the mid-level or strategic step in the thinking process. To be more speciic, formulating direction involves taking your ideas, cascading them down the levels of thought through concepts, strategies, and designs, and then writing them down:
Concept: A few short sentences that describe the idea from the perspective of an idealized or future state.
Strategy: How the concept is to be accomplished. Three to ive statements of purposeful action should be enough. They should include a range of acceptable alternatives.
Design: The development of a detailed set of strategic projects.
This triad of concept, strategy, and design should serve as a stand-alone statement of the idea you originally sensed. If you have little doubt about your idea's value, there is no harm starting with the strategic part of this triad.
A inal point: you might revisit the concept, strategy, design triad on an annual basis if your organization is embarking on major or transformational change.
Having formulated a direction, proceed naturally to the next step, which is to implement it.
This is the inal step in the leadership thinking process. Here, your competence as a role model leader – your skills, character, and behaviour – will be essential to the organization's success. This is the step that generates results. It is where thinking processes evolve into doing processes, where plans are converted into actions. It is where strategic thinking turns into tactical thinking and then into results.
This process of achieving results can also be viewed in terms of three cascading levels:
Action: Another word for this is tactics. Action is what we actually do to carry out the design. Put less simply, actions are what we must
do to carry out the detailed strategic projects developed during the
design step. Usually there will be a number of distinct steps for each aspect of the project.
Audit: This involves checking what is actually happening against what is supposed to be happening. Are the results what you expected? Will you have to change your actions on the basis of the results you are getting?
Evaluate: At this inal level of thought, you compare your speciic objectives to your measured results. Did you achieve what you expected? Is it necessary to go back and take different actions or not?
The evaluation stage is, in fact, ongoing. With every evaluation you make, you adjust the actions you have implemented based on the results your actions are generating.
At this stage, your thinking will be highly tactical: you monitor the project, evaluate whether you are achieving the results you want, and you make thoughtful decisions to change what needs to be changed. At this critical stage, role model leaders engage with managers and with other followers to ensure that everyone understands the purpose of the work and that everyone is focused on achieving the results expected. The goal here is to inluence people to take actions that will result in the desired outcomes.
In summary, the premise in this section is that thinking an idea through in an orderly and disciplined manner before taking action will yield better results:
Sensing an idea about something important
Thinking about the idea in terms of its value to us
Thinking about how to do something to realize beneit from the idea
Thinking about what speciic actions should be taken to get results from implementing those actions
Taking action, measuring outcomes, and getting results
As I said in earlier sections, the goal of all leadership is to inluence people to make positive changes to the ways things are done. And an important tool for successful leaders is a disciplined, systematic thinking
process that enables them to explore the beneits of ideas before launching them at the organization.
The distinctions in meaning among the nine levels of thought are subtle. Even so, in some instances, there will be great beneit in taking the time to parse the thinking process of a group or an individual into all nine levels of thought. Doing so can be very helpful when the thinking is directed at a complicated and important change or transformation where the aim is common purpose and understanding. In other instances, however, it can be enough to integrate the levels into the three triads of thought (see Figure 4.1) – Why? How? and What?
An Example of Thinking Effectively
A group of engineering students discuss the idea that both they and society in general would beneit if leadership development were made part of the curriculum. These students conclude that a leadership course could strengthen the engineering curriculum. They decide to do some disciplined thinking about this idea, using the thinking model they have learned.
A summary of the nine-level thinking process is provided below. Note that it gives only one statement for each of the levels of thought. In the real world, before a result was obtained, there would need to be many statements and choices at each level.
THINKING ABOUT AN IDEA
Belief: Engineers in the workforce today are not helping improve the world as much as they could and should.
Philosophy: If engineers learned leadership skills, character attributes, and purposeful behaviours early in their university years, they would become better engineers and better citizens as well as agents of positive social change.
Principles: The Faculty of Engineering will strongly encourage its undergraduates to learn about and apply leadership skills, character attributes, and purposeful behaviours.
Concept: Engineers with leadership capability are the ones best equipped to lead transformational change across a broad spectrum of society.
Strategy: Leadership learning opportunities are to be provided throughout the undergraduate curriculum and experience. Design: A series of academic courses and leadership experiences are to be provided in each undergraduate year and in graduate programs.
Action: One important action step: experienced leaders will be asked to teach leadership courses to those students who wish to learn something about the craft.
Audit: The Engineering Faculty will conduct a disciplined, credible selfaudit of engineering graduates ive years beyond their graduation to ascertain the beneits of leadership training for undergraduates. The action steps will then be revised to relect the audit's indings.
Evaluate: A disciplined, credible set of metrics to measure the beneit to society of a leadership program will be used to test and ultimately justify a sustainable effort in the faculty. Also, the action steps will be revised to relect the measurement so that improved results are obtained.