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Interview with Leland Sandler, Executive Advisor of The Sandler Group
In this interview, tap into Leland Sandler's experience as to what works, organizationally when engaging a client.
Where do you begin with an organization?
It often starts with culture; a sustainable culture the drives the outcomes you most desire, and at the same time create an environment talented individuals want to be a part of. Creating a sustainable culture is a particularly difficult thing to do. It has to start with principles. I don't mean just words on paper. I mean things that are built into the fabric of everyday life. I want to share with you four examples of principles that I think are particularly compelling:
Principle number 1: “In order to be excellent, we need to know what's true, especially those things that we would rather not be true, so that we can decide how best to deal with them.”
Principle number 2: “By being radically truthful and transparent, we build meaningful work and meaningful relationships.”
Principle number 3: “We value independent thinking and innovation, recognizing that independent thinking generates disagreement and innovation requires making mistakes.”
Principle number 4: “Create and support a culture in which it's okay to make mistakes, but unacceptable not to identify, analyze, and learn from them."
Once principles are agreed upon and committed to, we move to exploring the delta between what individuals and teams want to operate like, and how they are operating today.
Regardless of which principles you choose, three keys we have observed are that they're around meaningful work, meaningful relationships, and measurable outcomes.
Are there any tools that you find going to over and over again?
At the Sandler Group, we use a number of tools. My favorite is something called a ladder of inference. The ladder of inference is a tool that demonstrates to clients how inefficient their thinking is when they go from first taking in information to coming back and making conclusions and taking actions. What happens is we filter information. We not only filter the data, we make assumptions about it, and we start acting on the assumptions. That's not a clear path, and the ladder of inference, which I want to demonstrate right now, is a way to get people to catch themselves before they go too far down their road of assumptions.
The ladder of inference begins at the bottom. It starts when we selectively filter the facts and reality we experience. We then apply our existing assumptions, sometimes without considering them, and draw conclusions based on the interpreted facts and our assumptions. This leads to us developing beliefs based on these conclusions and taking action that may seem right but isn't based on complete reality. By using the ladder of inference, we engage our reality most effectively. We avoid conflict, we avoid misunderstanding, and we get great results.
Is dealing with a leader's assumptions a big deal?
It can be. We all live our lives based on assumptions. Assumptions are often a result of deep experience with a person or situation, or sometimes they are based on how we quickly categorize someone.
I think by sharing my coaching process with you, I can better illustrate what I mean.
It starts with a focal issue. What I mean by a focal issue is we ask our clients, "If you could change 1 thing, and by changing that thing, you'll have the greatest impact on your organization, your team, and yourself, what would that 1 thing be?" Once we've identified the focal issue, we go into a series of questions that probe very deeply as to what's actually getting in the way. In other words, what are they doing now versus what they would like to do?
Based on what they're doing now, what's that blind spot? What's that obstacle that they're not getting past that causes them to repeat the undesirable behavior? Those blind spots are based on assumptions, and that's the key for us. Once these assumptions are identified, we start going after them. What we want to do is to prove to the client that the assumptions that are driving his or her negative behavior are not fully valid. In fact, in many ways, they're not valid at all.
The process we use is going through a series of practices and tests.
Much like someone who plays tennis or golf, if you want to get better, you've got to practice, but you've got to practice the right way. For each client, we design a series of practices that helps them not only start acting in a better way, but gets them to deeply recognize their assumptions that are driving the behavior just aren't true.
What about leaders across an organization. What is the your methodology for an organzation's leadership development program?
The following are from a number of lessons learned and successes we have had. I would say that the highest quality leadership development program was what I helped create and implement at Amylin Pharmaceuticals in San Diego (purchased in 2012 by Bristol Myers Squibb).
It starts with the creation of a leadership development environment for an organization. To do that, there are six components.
1. We start with individuals. What are their career objectives, both the objectives they have, but also the objectives the organization has for them?
2. We go on to assessment. Assessment also takes a multitude of forms. One is simply the test that people are used to, but we test more than just the cognitive. We test their social agility. We test how they use their brain. We also send them through an assessment center. Now this is a two or three day activity where they're not only doing individual work, but they're working in groups. We get a chance to really observe them in action.
3. The mosaic meeting. That's where we get people around the table to discuss an individual. An individual is very complex. An individual has many facets. That's why we call it a mosaic. As part of the mosaic meeting, the folks doing the assessment are asked probing questions so that we can do our best to filter out bias. Yet we're trying to see somebody through as many perspectives as we can. The goal is to end up with an honest assessment and an honest career plan for that individual.
4. Downloading to the individual. This is a candid conversation and it's an objective conversation. One of the things we do in an organization is train people, talk with facts and specifics, not with judgment, subjectivity or assumptions.
5. The plan. The plan needs to lead to permanent change, so we design specific practices, activities, and experiences for that individual to go through over the next 6 to 12 months.
6. The partner. We call it the coaching partner, but it's actually a structure for change, because trying to change alone is a very difficult, if not impossible, thing to do in the context of an organization. What we do is we have what we call a coaching partner, a peer, a trusted peer, who's going to work with you to help you in terms of your growth and development, and vice-a-versa. You're there to help them.