What game are we playing?


This blog from TPC Leadership’s Associate Partner Vicky Ferrier discusses the different type of leadership required in today’s unpredictable world and how the TPC Leadership framework for development can help this new breed of leader to emerge.

Leading from good to great does not mean coming up with the answers and then motivating everyone to follow your messianic vision. It means having the humility to grasp the fact that you do not understand enough to have the answers and then to ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights[1]

Different leadership

Today’s unpredictable world, characterised by disruption and constant change, requires different leadership, that starts with asking different questions. The capacity to ask questions and to adapt and shift our thinking is critical, however therein lies the challenge: how to transform institutions that have been hardwired for consistency, control and predictability into cultures where learning, surprise and discovery are truly valued?

In traditional top-down, command and control structures, learning is impeded, because such structures are rooted in out-dated notions of power, authority and leadership: the man at the top has all the answers. Relevant for WWII generals, not so much for the 21st-century. Today, the greatest intelligence about our clients, customers and patients – and the thinking as to how we can better serve them – lies not at the top, or in “head office” but with employees on the front-line.

Commitment to learning

Surfacing this intelligence is much harder than it sounds. Leaders need to have a huge commitment to learning: this will require first, unlearning old habits, giving up some control, and possibly the most challenging thing of all, to say “I don’t know”.

Instruction, direction and class-room training do not create the shifts required – learning must be facilitated through personal discovery, such that attention can be paid to what’s going on inside us, what Tim Gallwey calls the “inner game”. We must constantly ask ourselves: “what game am I (and we) playing?” And “does this align to the requirements of the outer game?” The game out there in the real world of short-term demands, performance metrics, constantly shifting goals and interference from regulators, government and stakeholders.

Aligning our inner and outer game

It’s not for the faint-hearted. Aligning our inner and outer game requires discipline and asks you to manage fear, build trust, navigate through conflicts and differences, while being inclusive. It requires valour, and the courage to go to your edge: because this is where learning, insight and genius happen.

The role of coaching

The role of coaching in such a context is critical: a coaching culture creates the conditions in which people can experiment with new ways of being, question conventional wisdom and examine how their values, beliefs and behaviours play out. “High performers are simply people who learn faster”[2]: we learn faster when we see the world as it really is, not how we wish it could be. We believe creating these conditions is the difference that makes the difference to organisational performance.

Framework for leadership development

Based on decades of experience, we believe that effective leadership involves the congruent expression of values and behaviours across the dimensions of knowing, doing and being; our framework for leadership development is a model that recognises that all aspects of leadership ultimately come from a sense of ‘identity’ – who a leader sees themselves to be, the purpose which drives them, the values and beliefs they hold about themselves and others – and how this is translated into the skills they develop and focus on, the behaviours they display and the environment they create.

We hold this model at the heart of all that we do, whether that be coach training, board development, development of skills for first-line leaders or complex cultural change interventions. In application, the difference lies in the level of depth at which we explore each of these facets of leadership identity.

Unleashing the power of an organisation’s collective intelligence

With respect to leadership and decision-making at the most cognitively demanding level in organisations – senior executives and boards dealing with systemic and strategic issues in volatile, complex environments – coaching has to be about more than technical tools. The coach must demand that leaders think hard about who they are, what they believe and how they show up in every encounter.  If they are to have any hope of unleashing the power of their organisation’s collective intelligence, senior leaders must always consider themselves beyond self and in relation to the people, teams, organisation and systems they are asking followership from. They must see beauty in this system: they must discern patterns, themes and interlinking elements in the complexity.

Our interventions explore these ideas – not in too safe a space, where cosiness can lead to collusion – but in one which creates the conditions where leaders can experiment, take risks, ask uncomfortable questions and reflect deeply on the answers that emerge.

Having paid attention to what’s going on inside them, they leave ready to face the game once again, the one played out there, in the real world.

[1] Jim Collins Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t

[2] Peter Senge – The Dance of Change

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