Co-creative Leadership

As a consultant and trainer, clients expect me to provide them with expert advice and solutions. I learned that I can still provide value even if I don’t fully understand the client’s context or can’t think of a solution to their problem on the spot.

Early in my career, my main product offer was a set of assessments to measure how teams and leaders were performing. After one particular assessment, there were clear signs the team and their leader in question was in trouble: there was low trust, little or no accountability, high frequency of blaming, people didn’t dare speak up, simmering as well as open conflict and as a result of all this the team wasn’t delivering on the expected outcomes.  I had never seen such a complex mix of “troubles” for a team and it’s leader. My client, the team leader, asked me for a solution. I didn’t have an answer as I hadn’t experienced this before. I was stumped.

Luckily for me, I got curious and instead of giving advice, I asked a question. And then another one, followed by another until the client had a clear picture of where there were now and where they wanted to be as a leader as well as with the team. The leader came up with their own plan and over the following months, we worked together to refine and adapt the plan as the team reacted to the new leadership approach. The client had come up with their own solution and was also happy with the role I had played. I was bewildered. It seemed I had done nothing but ask questions.

This experience taught me a lot of things:

  • The power of questions, presence, and visioning
  • To “shut up & listen”
  • Forming a partnership to find solutions is more powerful and effective than giving advice
  • Clients appreciate it if you trust them to come up with their own plan of action that will work in their context

I have since used this to provide value for others in a host of other client interactions as well as outside of work – with my wife, my kids, friends and their friends. I believe there are no limits to where these principles can be applied. I also believe that everyone can learn to apply these principles in the daily interactions they have with other human beings.

We may have to reawaken these dormant skills or strengthen the muscles that we use less often, but through practice we can hone our skills I believe we can all provide more value and support those we interact with. This way, we can provide value even if we don’t have “the solution.”