For well over two decades, Otto Sharmer’s Theory U has become the most widespread and accessible social technology used by groups to chart a definitive path toward social, cultural and economic transformation. Over the same period, breakthroughs in adult developmental theory and leadership science have positioned vertical development at the centre of leading edge executive leadership programs. Those practitioners working at the coal face of organisational transformation, leadership development and strategic design are experiencing first hand how the skilful application of these models can support leaders to ‘level up,’ in terms of both consciousness AND capabilities, in order to meet the world’s most complex leadership challenges.
Dana Carman, Joseph Friedman and Susanna Carman are three research practitioners actively translating theory into practice by integrating Theory U, Vertical Development and Human Centred Design into a fresh, practical, ‘how to’ approach for navigating this reinvention territory. They call this approach, The Reinvention Source Code©, which was born out of over 30 years of Dana and Joseph’s leadership and executive coaching experience. Together they have collated the patterns of reinvention of both high impact leaders and the organisations they served. Today, The Reinvention Source Code© provides practitioners working within the mysterious realm of transformation with a methodology for developing their own, ‘reinvention facilitation’ mastery; it’s one thing to learn the patterns of this terrain and quite another to be a masterful guide navigating clients through the pitfalls and paragons of leadership reinvention.
The Reinvention Source Code© is neither activity nor practice, but rather an integral system for facilitating transformation that consists of three contemplative distinctions or action inquiries:
(i) what is so?
(ii) What is source?
(iii) what could be so?
Zooming in, it goes deeper to identify four patterns of doing, thinking and being that serve as inflection points along the transformation journey. Dana and Joseph have named these four patterns (i) Reckoning (ii) Remembering (iii) Reinvention and (iv) Realignment. It also incorporates meta-polarities of movement between convergence AND divergence, subjective AND objective, individual AND collective, present AND future, whilst recognising that transformation is THE dynamic, cyclical pattern of life - letting go and letting come, completion and renewal, death and rebirth.
In the following case study, Dana demonstrates an application of The Reinvention Source Code© and offers first person subjective insights for practitioners working in the field of transformation.
Case Study by Dana Carman
Tom is a 39 year old US based Healthcare Executive who is no longer willing to react to every 'fire drill' that his CEO conducts on a seemingly weekly basis. Approximately 15 months ago, Tom reached an inflection point on his career path where he realized he no longer had anything to lose or prove. His soul longed for a way of working that was both sustaining AND added real value to the almost 6000 employees and thousands of patients that his organisation served. From this fertile ground, Tom and I contracted to embark on a Reinvention Journey, designed to raise the quality and satisfaction of his life and work, and to uplevel his capacity to flourish as a leader in a complex environment. We acknowledged upfront that Tom would either carve out a new space to work within his current organization, or he would 'go out the top' by making a greater contribution to his current organization whilst creating his next professional position - one that would welcome Tom’s emerging leadership capabilities.
The journey commences with a 'deep dive' collective assessment of the client’s current life context and career arc, from both an 'outside in' and 'inside out' perspective. In Tom’s case we conducted a developmental assessment, ran a series of 360 interviews and spent two days walking in nature and talking. We took our conversations and mapped them so they became 'object' to both of us. In so doing there was a relaxation, a palpable sense of a much larger time horizon that we were navigating. In the timelessness of nature, Tom intuitively realized his next sense of purpose in the larger story of his life. There was also a natural movement towards his own 'self-authorship’ and a deep sense of gratitude at his good fortune to be able to take the time to engage in such a soul enriching activity.
The pattern of remembering involves working with the undigested and unintegrated psychological material that is occluding one’s capacity to live in the moment from a place of creativity and presence. In Tom’s situation we worked slowly and deeply with Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change Framework. In our work together we began to reveal the deeply embodied and unaware system of commitments that were driving Tom's predisposition towards conflict avoidance, and his seeming lack of capability to speak 'truth to power.' One of Tom’s super powers was his ability to look honestly at his 'shadow' areas and to bring objectivity and humour to these tender places. Tom had many real time opportunities to visit this difficult pattern, and to iteratively learn from each situation that presented itself. My job was to guide the process with compassion.
In the movement from Reckoning to Remembering there is a sense of 'letting go' and 'letting come' that is consistent with Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. The Remembering pattern fosters a sense of stillness followed by deep clarity of vision and intent. From this place, the necessary conditions are present for true Reinvention to take place. Reinvention that is born from this fertile soil is robust enough to transcend yet not ignore the leader’s past habits of mind and behavior. Service and humilty replaces grandiosity or shame as our leader takes her/his rightful place at the table.
In Tom’s case, he articulated a simple yet meaningful vision for himself that would guide him through the coming months and years. We began to ground his vision in restorative and regular practices that abled him to bring his 'new self' to day-to-day leadership challenges.
The Realignment pattern is dedicated to aligning the structures and patterns of our current day with our new future. In this pattern, real life informs our vision and vice versa. It is during Realignment when we must conjur our most patient, compassionate, curious and humorous selves in order to tweak our personal operating system and conduct ‘safe to fail’ learning experiments.
Tom and I met for weekly video sessions during this pattern. Together we brought a spirit of genuine inquiry to current work projects and used what was occurring to develop new leadership capabilities that were identified during the Reinvention pattern. Tom was particularly focused on: (i) learning to build political savvy and support for his key projects, (ii) preparing great presentations, (iii) enhancing his capacity to have fellow executives own a vision that he authored, (iv) empowering his team to exercise greater accountability, and (v) raising his team’s profile and system wide impact.
Each time we worked on a specific project, we reinforced the new expression of Tom’s leadership, in both the way he operated and felt about himself. Tom became happier and more energized regardless of the fact that the organisational conditions within which he operated remained consistent with what they had been fifteen months earlier.
Today, Tom leads with new purpose and freedom. He has initiated and energized initiatives that have been lagging for years and is effectively 'speaking truth to power' in a way that is truly new for him. His emergent self can also be measured by a profound, two-stage shift in his leadership mindset as measured by the Global Leadership Profile. We are now using the Leadership Circle 360 to have the way he is perceived organizationally match both his own internal experience and his scores on the Global Leadership Profile.
Tom’s profound calling for transformation in his life and work, along with the countless clients I have worked with over my thirty years of leadership and executive coaching, demonstrates how deep trust in and partnership with The Reinvention Source Code© can transform high impact leaders into who our complex world demands they become.
Some Key Operating Principles for using the Reinvention Source Code©:
Go slow in the beginning to determine if the inner and outer relational conditions and contexts are right. If not, support your client to find something more appropriate.
The deeply personal work of remembering needs ample time, space, beauty, safety and sufficient cognitive dissonance to both hold and churn the process.
Purpose alone is not enough. The emerging future needs to become vivid and embodied to pull one through difficult places.
When you allow yourself to yield with humility and courage to what is, you gain the inspiration and resilience to powerfully move back into the fullness of life.
Life wants each of us to realise the future that we are here to serve. In realising this future we need to include our stakeholders ongoing feedback in order to translate what could be into effective action.
The work at the intersection of design and leadership is dynamic and unfolding. In coming articles I will continue to follow this vein and endeavour to provide both conceptual and practical examples of application and practice. Until next time...