A Strategy for Leadership Development*

  • An activity or process combining creativity and service:
    • Creativity -- creating something new, or fitting already existing elements together in a new way
    • Service -- identifying and meeting specific needs of a client or client group
  • An emerging discipline that focuses on the commonalities among fields as diverse as architecture, software engineering, landscape design, life planning, organization design, interior design, etc.
  • A lifelong arena of "practice" -- requiring intentional focus, learning, development, application, and reflection.
  • A "third way of knowing" -- (the other two are the arts / humanities and the sciences) 1
  • A strategy for developing leadership competencies in others.
  • See examples of design as process (below). (Note that 'design' can also refer to the result or product of design activity; however, the focus on this page is on design as process.)
  • Ask (and keep asking so as to continually make more clear) "what is our design intent (purpose)?" 2
    • What are the intended product outcomes -- measurable / observable program deliverables?
    • What are the intended process outcomes -- qualitative ways that the product outcomes will be achieved? (E.g., "As our design team plans and implements the program, we intend to collaborate, value differences, improve design skills, deepen trust, build client capacity, etc.)
  • Form follows function. (E.g., when the goal becomes to finish "on time," you have ceased to be driven by purpose / function.) Design is driven by intention / purpose / function!
  • Be clear about who the client is and what each client's "stake" or interest is. In a dynamic situation, the client role may shift and/or the design specifications or scope may "creep" over the course of the design / development process.
  • When more than one person is involved in design, we call the process co-design. It is useful (and a significant leadership challenge) for design team members to:
    • talk through their respective feelings about the project and the design team
    • understand any stylistic differences (e.g., in the way they think, in their ideas, or in their energy levels) in the way they approach design, and
    • identify what their respective responsibilities on the design team will be. 3
  • The work of co-design is greatly aided by the use of non-verbal design notations (e.g., diagrams, flowcharts, icons or drawings). 4
  • Note "design patterns" that can be re-used (i.e., when reflective, "double loop" learning reveals what "worked" in a given context). One example of a design pattern for leadership development is given below.
  • Examples of "universal design principles" for products / environments:
    • Equitable use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive, Perceptible Information, Tolerance for Error, Low Physical Effort, Size and Space for Approach and Use 5
  • For reflection: What might some "universal principles" be for human environments and social events or processes?6 (e.g., "allows for meaningful participation," or "honors expressions of diversity")
Leading people and the process of design both:
  • Harness creativity to envision and achieve a desired future.
    • As management differs from leadership, so analytical problem solving differs from design.
  • Require "inner work" and the conscious choice to bring about change that will benefit others.
  • Involve doing "adaptive" work (Heifetz), especially in complex, dynamic situations fraught with ambiguity.
  • Can be shared / distributed.
In addition, they are both:
  • An applied form of service; a way to demonstrate servant leadership.
  • A participative process (i.e., not a "spectator sport")
  • Value based and action oriented.
  • A means for building organizational capacity.
  • Design for a meeting / retreat / conference / team building event
  • Design for a workshop / session / curriculum or course
  • Design for an instructional simulation, game, role play, or structured exercise
  • Design for a brochure or Web page
  • Design for a program evaluation
  • Design for a tool or survey or other instrument and/or design the process by which to administer it
  • In-the-moment re-design (when conditions change or it becomes apparent that client needs were initially misunderstood)
  • A macro "design pattern" / strategy for student leadership development:
    • Give students a co-design task (e.g., one of the above examples -- done together).
    • Coach / educate students on how to complete the task. (Specify who the client is -- it may be you or a third party. Asking students to design for themselves as client is also possible, but it adds another layer of complexity.)
    • Allow students to complete / implement the design.
    • Guide students in a reflective process on what they learned about one or more aspects of leadership in the course of completing the design task (e.g., collaboration, resolving conflict, making agreements, designing and facilitating meetings, serving, program evaluation, etc.).
    • Have students (individually or collectively) envision or plan another, similar design task, incorporating lessons learned through their shared experience.

* Poster session presentation given by Jim Ulrich at the annual conference of the Association of Leadership Educators, Lexington, KY, 13 July 2002.
1 Condensed version of the articles "Design Intelligence: The Use of Codes and Language Systems in Design" Part 1 and Part 2. For other thoughts on defining design, click here. (Back to note 1)
2 Leadership by Design: The Praxis of Intention (Back to note 2)
3 See: Preparing, Designing and Leading Workshops: A Humanistic Approach, Susan Cooper and Cathy Heenan, CBI Publishing Company, 1980, pp. 49-55. (Back to note 3)
4 See Communicating Meaning: Drawing in Leadership and Graphic Facilitation Focuses A Group's Thoughts, by Geoff Ball. (Back to note 4)
5 Principles of Universal Design, Images of Universal Design (Back to note 5)
6 See, for example, The Design of Learning Events. For a discussion of the implications of new design possibilities: New Worlds to Design. For thoughts about designing meeting environments, click here, or for more links on effective meetings, click here(Back to note 6)
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