Information and Theory
All leadership behavior, to some extent, is shaped by the information and theory a leader possesses—the beliefs the leader has about the state of the world (e.g., economic conditions, stakeholder priorities), and how its various elements shape experience (e.g., the likely impact of an impending merger on employee motivation). This knowledge generally comes in three forms:
Conceptual: abstract knowledge of principles that govern work activity (e.g., regarding decision making, strategy, and change management).
Domain: knowledge of the culture, structure, and activities in one’s particular firm, industry, or other work context.
Somatic: non-verbal, sensory, or experiential knowledge that can be activated in one’s work situations.
Chicago Booth, as a premier academic institution, is ideally positioned to provide leaders with essential conceptual knowledge (e.g., research on decision-making tendencies, business model change, or social capital). We will also utilize participant discussion and reflection activities to help leaders more purposefully utilize the forms of knowledge they will acquire naturally—like domain knowledge of firm-specific norms (acquired through daily experience, senior leader communications, etc.), and somatic knowledge acquired through their everyday social interactions (e.g., what challenges raise their heartbeats, what meeting behavior makes their skin crawl).
Action Skills and Skilled Practice
Although knowledge is a fundamental determinant of leader action, its translation into concrete behavior depends significantly on the leader’s action skills: the vast array of skills with which one transforms a “mental” decision into concrete, practical behavior. Often, leaders will employ these skills in a highly “preprogrammed” way, simply implementing the behaviors dictated by the lessons they’ve learned from prior experience: the behaviors taught to them as conceptually correct, the norms they’ve learned in their work domain, and the actions that have just come to feel right. These leaders do not account, however, for novel features of their present situation—features that must be addressed with a degree of improvisation. The effective leader, however, must acknowledge these uncertainties when they arise, and simply try acting in a way that will work. Notably, this need not be at a haphazard effort: It can and should be an agile response that takes into account best practices while also adapting to the present circumstances. In practice, then, the effective leader’s behavior is fundamentally experimental: It is a proactive, inquisitive attempt to take sensible risks in achieving the goals at hand, with a determination to observe and learn from what occurs.
Drawing on research, our programs will not only help participants to acquire but also iteratively practice the skills of this leadership experimentation, as demanded by their roles and responsibilities. This aspect of the participant experience will unfold in classroom lecture and discussion, interactive in-person exercises, individual and collective action planning, and guided reflection.
Successful leadership does not end in the achievement of valued outcomes. As every seasoned leader knows, there is no “end” to the leadership journey—one is continually called upon to learn and adapt, and to seek out the frontiers of present abilities, both for oneself and one’s organization. It is not a given, however, that leaders will necessarily extract from their experiences the most adaptive lessons to guide them along this journey. Generating these lessons takes insight skills—a methodical effort to update our knowledge of the world based on the data observed from our experiences.
Core elements of this process include:
Capturing data: observing and recording as evidence not only one’s actions (“Did I end up doing what I thought I’d do?”) but also the perceivable outcomes of those actions.
Analysis: organizing the evidence to reveal what did and did not occur.
Reflection: assigning meaning to the results of one’s analysis; determining what results will be given credence and weight.
Sharing: articulating and making available the insights arising from one’s reflection.
Again grounded in research, our programs will engage participants in the continuous exercise and development of these insight skills, through personal record-taking, peer and facilitated coaching, and feedback gathering.