Level 5 Leading


I like to framing styles of leadership as I see them in the fish story. I’m adding a level 5 here that is not as easy to grasp as the others:

  • Level 1 leading – The Micromanager – tells them what to do – gives them a fish. There are some leaders that can be surprisingly effective in this mode if they happen to be experts at what they do, fast on their feet and full of energy. I’ve seen successful VPs operate at this level.
  • Level 2 leading – The Instructor – shows them how to do it – teaches them to fish. Now they can repeat the task themselves.
  • Level 3 guiding – The Eye-Opener – bestows the grit, confidence and experiences, insight and tools allowing them to solve whatever may come – teaches them to learn so they might obtain various forms of food.
  • Level 4 guiding – The Leader of Leaders – enables/teaches others to become level 2. 3 and 4 leaders.
  • Level 5 guiding – The Master Whisperer – starts by operating at levels 3 and 4 with increasing subtly that the recipient often doesn’t notice they are being guided. A level 1 or 2 leader may also not recognize when there’s a level 5 leader on their team. Ideally, everyone ends up wanting to do what needs to get done because their goals and desires align with the mission. They don’t need to be “told” what to do, they simply want to do it and are motivated to figure out what that is.
    A more direct introduction of Level 5 guiding is to take a client/employee you’ve been meeting for a while and on the next meeting/session, ask them to think about what they’d like to discuss (either new topic or a continuation of a past interaction) and keep it to themselves. Then ask them to close their eyes and listen.  Ask them if they feel they know you by know. Then tell them to keep their eyes closed and image the conversation as they know it would unfold – assure them they know you well enough so that they can predict what you will ask, how they will respond, what you’ll say next … Let them do this for 5-10 minutes. When they seem done, ask them if they feel they got a fair amount of it figured out. Then ask them to think a little more deeply about what they were unsure about and reassure them, they’ll figure it out. With this, you can demonstrate how they can consciously and eventually subconsciously channel the coaching and mentoring you would have done and thereby channel you. If far enough along, they can master this skill themselves – if you’ve been helping them along well, they will know that all the answers to their questions can be found within themselves (perhaps with the help of looking at them from perspectives other their own, but nonetheless ones they know.
    I have thus also helped people channel parents, partners and good friends they’ve lost whom they liked to go to for meaningful conversations. If they were close to the person, they know what that person would say and ask. They consistently discover that the person they lost is actually very much still with them – there to be called upon any time.
    The Level 5 Master leaves others with the ability to leverage them as their guide even long after they are gone.
Talent Whisperers - Dao te Ching 17

Level 3 and above leadership empowers, inspires, grows and scales teams and organizations.

Level 1 and 2 leadership often leads to under-utilize or diminish the potential of members of their team.

Often people have a hard time imagining Level 5 guiding. Below is one illustration of how this can be done in the Room Where it Happens:

To operate at Level 5, consider having a form or questionnaire to offer at the end of one meeting and to be completed prior to meeting along the lines of:

  • What happened since we last met?
    • What worked?
    • What didn’t work?
  • – Did anything happen related to what was discussed last time?
    • What worked?
    • What didn’t work?
  • What do you want to talk about?
  • What do you hope to get into / work on after the upcoming meeting?

Now, at the meeting time, let them know that for the first five minutes you’d like them to close there eyes so they don’t get any visual queues from you. Let them know that for that time you’re not going say a word or make a sound and they should remain silent as well. Then inform them after those five minutes, you’re going to ask them what you would have just discussed if their had been a dialog.

When that look of disbelief and confusion comes back, help them. Help them realize they know what happened since the last meeting, they know what worked and what didn’t, they know what lies ahead that they want to work on. Remind them that they know you, you know them and they know themselves. Now ask them to close their eyes and mentally go through the conversation and interaction as they know would unfold in that room if it were a dialog.

When the five minutes have passed, ask them to open their eyes. Ask them if they believe they may have mostly gotten it right. If/when they agree, ask them if they could also imagine there was something they missed. If/when they agree, ask them to tell you what they forgot to tell you or what they weren’t clear on how you would respond. Have them tell you what they overlooked and/or what they actually know about how you would respond, what questions you would ask, what action you would ask them to take. If you have built the connection and relationship well, they will also be able to answer those questions.

Now, ask them if they could do this exercise if you happened not to be in the room. Could it still happen in that room if you weren’t present? Ask them if it might be possible that at at time where it would help and/or at a prescribed time/interval they could create a room where it happens in their minds and close their eyes to “sit” in that room and have the conversation in their mind. Mind you, as a leader, it’s important to help them appreciate you’re not abdicating responsibility, but rather delegating it which could open the door to richer conversations with you to explore new avenues of growth and development for them.

Can you build a connection that allows them to create the notion of a virtual captain to guide their vessel that they could call upon at will? This can help remove a dependence, empower them and free you to move onto to do some work with another vessel.

If you work with them to together create their own captain, they can hear what their captain whispers in the room where it happens even when they are alone and physically somewhere else. It might help them to step outside of the physical space they are in, close their eyes and listen to the whispers.

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