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On Managers, Leaders, ..... and Coaching

Theoretical Underpinnings of the STYLO Development Model - A Note From The Developers

Maximizing Team Performance

A Metaphor for Improving Effectiveness

Using STYLO in the Canadian Public Sector

Bringing New Power to Organizations

Improving Our Effectiveness


by Steve Zeisler, Zeisler Associates, Inc.

A lot has been said about "Management" vs. "Leadership", about developing" leaders" not "managers"... some organizations are even at the point where the title "Manager" is taboo. What's this all about?

To put it quite simply, in times of steadiness - the straight line portion of the "S-curve" - the controlling aspects or "managing" ascend in importance. To go from one point to a subsequent one in a "steady-state" world - to be successful - you just do more of what you did in the past. So control or managing behaviors becomes an essential part of achieving goals; doing more of the same, minimizing variability, squelching deviance from the norm and ensuring that the efficiencies of the organization are maximized. It's about putting the system back to a previous state when deviation pulls you out, and then doing more of the same things.

But in times of turbulence, in the world of today and the foreseeable future - in what the US Army War College calls VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity - it's about transforming the system to new states, because doing what you've done in the past is dangerous, it's your Achilles Heel. It's about discovering, guiding - leading - the organization to a place its never been before.

Making sense of the barrage of data from the marketplace, trying to separate the signals from the noise, discerning, judging, anticipating, innovating requires organizations to be flexible, to not lock in to what they know too well. It requires a shift in behavior and attitudes from one in which managing/controlling deals with everything to one in which leading/enabling behaviors are at the forefront. In this complex world of vast interconnectedness, leadership becomes essential and management becomes, all too often, a disability.

OK, given that, what does a good Leader have - or what must one develop if they are to transition from a Controller/Manager to a Leader?

You can look at the research - and there's a lot of good research out there - on what makes great leaders great, what puts top performers at the head of the class. And I can compare it to my observations and the wisdom of others in this field. And one theme runs through it all. One steady pattern, the source, if you like; and that is that the very best leaders have developed a set of skills which allow them to know themselves very well. They have very deep and accurate knowledge about themselves. And the more complex and ambiguous our environment, the more absolutely essential it becomes for leaders to have accurate self-assessment.

And from this single wellspring, a lot flows from it: accurate self-assessment means they know their own strengths and weaknesses well which enables them to put their strengths to work - and to do something about their weaknesses. Knowing oneself accurately means you are able to know others well and tap their strengths and offset their weaknesses. When I know myself with a high degree of accuracy, I am able to make better judgments because I am better able to see situations as they are not as I want them to be. Therefore my judgment about what is going on and my interventions (what I do) are better. Peter Drucker calls this "Intellectual Integrity", the "ability to see the world as it is, not as you want it to be."

So from this single source, what Socrates meant when he said "Know thyself", a vast set of strengths emerge.

The key question then is "How does one go about getting accurate self-assessment?"

Exactly. And it's not necessarily an easy thing to do. On their own, people have always found it difficult to generate meaningful data about themselves, to understand it and then to do something with it. It's why the demand for Coaches has risen dramatically. Unfortunately for both individuals and Coaches, many of the tools they are using are faulty, incomplete, inappropriate or downright inaccurate.

And if the feedback is faulty - if the data is suspect - then whatever interventions take place based on these inaccuracies are at best, dubious and at worst, harmful.

What's worked for you?

That's a question, the answer to which is huge.

The willingness of the Client to receive feedback, to learn and move forward is, of course, the key. What is her commitment level? Maturity? Motivations? How sincere is he in attempting change?

The quality of the Coach is vital - how well does he know himself? How skilled is she at communicating, monitoring, providing help? What is his knowledge of the business world or the world of her client? Can he develop a collaborative partnership in this effort? Flexibility? Creativity?

The Context and Climate in which they are operating in must also be considered. Where is the feedback coming from? Is it valid or not? What's the level of censorship in conversations?

But let me set aside those aspects and enumerate a list which I have used to identify specific tools for personal transformation and development which has worked so well for my clients and myself.

  • Coaches need tools to help them draw out knowledge of their client.
  • They need tools to points to fertile areas for behavioral change and improvement. Personality typologies scratch the surface, and unsophisticated, quick-and-dirty five minute questionnaires offer little of value.
  • We need tools that generate accurate, valid and reliable information. In other words, what is measured is meaningful, and it is measured accurately and repeatedly.
  • We need data that can be "triangulated". Data I can generate about others so I know how to improve my dealings with them, and data they can generate about me that helps me see me from their perspectives.
  • The data must be based upon sound models and theory base.
  • The tools must be robust and re-usable to monitor progress.
  • There needs to be a "Freshness Factor".

Let me give you an analogy about that last point; I need to read the Wall Street Journal and Fortune, but that's not the news I bring to my clients - I need to find fresh sources - two years ago that would have been from "Wired" or "Fast Company" - today, many of my clients are reading those, so I have to constantly find new sources of quality information. The same is true for the tools I use for Coaching and Leadership Development. We all can name the same two or three psychometrics that everyone uses - my clients want new insights, different perspectives, so freshness factor is very important.

And what have you found?

The most powerful tools I've discovered recently are the STYLO Model and Indicators. Not only do they fit the criteria listed above, the added benefits of revealing behaviors in both Encouraging and Threatening Environments are really exciting.

Understanding one's responses to Threat and improving one's ability to cope or successfully deal with threat are critical skills for all of us - not just executives - to acquire, especially in times of turbulence and rapid change.

What are the next steps for persons interested in STYLO?

One tool doesn't fit all - nor does a single approach to people and situations. But when used with discernment and skill, and with clients open to growth and development, STYLO is as good as you can get. I encourage professionals in training, development, consulting and coaching to investigate how it can work for them. Professionals

And if you are an individual looking for a tool to unlock the door to your own development, you can access a sophisticated key through a development expert who uses STYLO - or via the STYLO Website. Individuals

Steve Zeisler is a Director of Zeisler Associates, Inc. He brings 25 years of experience in business, consulting, personal coaching and development to individuals and organizations around the world. Steve's areas of focus include Creativity and Innovation, Executive Development, Organizational Transformation, and Customer Focus.

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Alan Hamilton and Ron Jackson

Many visitors to this site have expressed interest in the theoretical underpinnings which ultimately yielded the STYLO Model and Indicators. Those accredited in STYLO know that our work in its development drew on many threads of different origin, which have in common an emphasis on the need of the human species to make sense of the world.

One thread in the STYLO Model comes from the work of Julian Rotter. A generalized description of his approach to understanding behavior is "Social Learning Theory". It proposes that our experiences or interactions influence one another, and that previous experiences affect new learning. There is a strong assumption that behavior is goal-directed. Different behaviors are functionally related to one another, that is, they may all operate to secure the same outcome. We live, and work, in a culture in which it is possible to identify events which reinforce behavior; that have known effects for both individuals and groups.

The main elements in Rotter's theory are:

Behavior potential. This is the possibility that someone will behave in a particular way the more certainly he or she expects some valued outcomes and rewards, from doing so. Our potential for behavior is affected by our perception of the other behaviors available to us in a given situation.


  • For reinforcement outcomes - "If I do this, others will....."
  • For reinforcement sequences - "When I do this, this and this will happen."

    Any behavior which has been associated with a reinforcement gives rise to an Expectancy. This means that to predict behavior we need not only to understand the importance of a goal to someone, but his or her expectation of being able to satisfy it.

    Reinforcement Value. The degree of preference for any one need satisfaction if the probability of all of them being satisfied were equal.

    Psychological Situation. The subject or respondent's definition of the situation he or she perceives him or herself to be in. This will involve both dispositional and situational influences. For example, he or she may strongly prefer to do something in a certain way because of his or her previous learning experience, but not do so because of some situational deterrent.

    Freedom of Movement. Someone will have high freedom of movement if he or she expects that much of his or her behavior will lead to success. He or she will have low freedom of movement if he or she expects the opposite.

    Minimal Goal. The lowest goal, or achievement, which provides satisfaction to someone, failure to achieve or attain which he or she would feel punishing or threatening.

    Another thread reflects the work of Erich Fromm. In his work, some structure is given to the formulation of human needs. For Fromm, the most powerful motivating force for a person's behavior stems from his or her attempts to find a reason for his or her existence. Fromm postulated some basic human needs.

    Relatedness Need: To be in contact and to share experiences with others.

    Stimulation Need: To have variety and a striving towards development.

    Rootedness Need: To feel we have a place within the group, community or society.

    Identity Need: To be aware or our own characteristics and capabilities.

    Transcendence Need: To overcome the accidentalness and passivity of our existence by action and creation.

    The work of Abraham Maslow provides yet another thread. The concept of "Meta Needs" - those at the apex of his familiar Hierarchy of Needs - includes the need to know and understand phenomena that go beyond events associated with the gratification of basic needs, and the need to realize one's own potential.

    On the other hand, we are aware that the exercise of our discovered abilities will give rise to increased responsibilities and duties which we may feel unable to manage. This fear may inhibit us from moving from where we are comfortable, and reduce the likelihood of our reaching our full potential.

    A further thread comes from the work of Carl Rogers. A central term in Rogers' theory is "Self-Concept" - that set of characteristics that a person sees as being peculiar to him or her self. The Self-Concept is the product of socialization and is largely based on the valuations of us by others. We have a greater tendency to rely on others than ourselves for judgments about our own self-image. We see experiences and behaviors as acceptable to us only if they meet with our experienced image from others. Those that meet with other people's disapproval are seen by us a unacceptable.

    According to Rogers, when our own self image and behavior inclinations are congruent with our experienced image from others, we are predisposed towards growth and self-actualization. When there is incongruity between self image and the experienced image we feel threatened and anxious. This anxiety leads to use of defensive mechanisms for coping with threat. If the incongruity between self and experienced image is too great or significant, defense may be unsuccessful and a state of disorganization occurs.

    Two further threads come from theories of work motivation. The first is from Clayton Alderfer who identified three groups of core needs, similar in many ways to the Maslow hierarchy, although Alderfer's suggest a continuum rather than a hierarchy.

    Existence needs are concerned with survival - for example, keeping or enhancing one's position and source of income.

    Relatedness needs are concerned with the importance of interpersonal and social relationships.

    Growth needs are concerned with a person's inner desire for personal development.

    The inference is that environment as well as the biographical background of the individual may determine where he or she is putting the emphasis. Important to Alderfer's model is that an individual will emphasize the need he or she believes can be satisfied. For example, if he wants more empowerment, is frustrated in getting it but knows he can command more salary, he will agitate for the second rather than the first.

    The second comes from the general studies of what are called Secondary Motives. Much of the theory on the first three comes from the work of David McClelland.

    The need for Power:

    • influencing people to change their attitudes and behavior
    • controlling people and their activities
    • being able to make things happen
    • controlling the allocation of information and resources
    • overcoming opposition and obstacles

    The need for Achievement:

    • doing things better than others/ competitors
    • reaching or surpassing a difficult goal
    • solving a complex problem
    • successfully executing a challenging assignment
    • developing a more effective way to do something

    The need for Affirmation

    • being accepted by many people
    • being a valuable part of a group or team
    • working with people who are cooperative
    • maintaining harmonious relationships and avoiding conflict
    • participating in social activity

    The need for Security

    • job security
    • protection against loss of resources
    • protection against physical harm, illness, disability or hazard
    • avoidance of tasks or decisions with risk of failure and blame

    The need for Status

    • keeping up appearances
    • working for the "right" organization
    • having the 'right' educational qualifications
    • fitting-in with the environment.

    As the developers of STYLO, we are confident, and have had our work confirmed by independent psychometric reviews that the behavioral model underpinning this Model and Indicators is firmly rooted in classical behavior research spanning more than 50 years, representing motivational drives that manifest themselves in overt behavior. As such, the theoretical structure is well established in terms of the defined domains and their linkages with the behaviors, the order and intensity of the preferences for which the instrument measures.

    The significance of STYLO from a user's point of view is that it has been developed to maintain the highest standards of excellence both in its theoretical constructs and in its psychometric integrity. As a result, practitioners will have no anxieties about using data generated by this instrument.

    Finally, we would be remiss in not acknowledging that much of the material from this section has been drawn from "Theories of Personality" by R. M. Ryckman. We recommend this excellent work to those of you interested in further learnings.

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    by Alan Hamilton, Format Systems, Ltd. and Steve Zeisler, Zeisler Associates, Inc.

    Whether it's from Senge, Katzenbach, Handy, Argyris, Peters, Hammer or any of the many others throughout the world, there is a widely and authoritatively expressed idea that says for organizations to compete successfully and thrive in the turbulence of the twenty-first century, people must be tuned to learning collectively and help each other develop new skills, share ideas, insights, assets, and information.

    Central to this argument is that no one person's knowledge and experience is sufficient to ask, let alone answer, all the questions that today's complex and uncertain environment raises; that no individual can possibly "know the answers" from his or her own resources alone.

    This view makes a lot of sense as we see so many organizations investing significant resources into anticipating, clarifying and preparing to meet the specific and volatile future needs of individual customers, and to identifying those signals among the noise and clutter which, though weak and at the edges of detection, may have vital consequences for its future success. There are obvious limits on how much an individual can observe, and on how broadly she can interpret it. Organizations which draw on the observations and interpretations of many people and encourage dialogue and debate, are found to benefit from the number of observed phenomena and the richness of the interpretation. They become, in the familiar phrase, "Learning Organizations". Judging by the scarcity of such organizations, discovering how to become one is not easy. Among the obstacles are well-entrenched behaviors which run counter to what is needed.

    Within any organization there will always be a number of groups offering members some sense of shared identity. But in the Euro-US culture, for the greatest part of their workload, members of many organizations still function independently of one another; each having separate accountabilities, each focused on the achievement of local outputs and objectives. While they acknowledge some common and overarching objectives, the achievement of these is usually seen as coming after, or as an indirect consequence of, attaining the goals of their particular area of responsibility. Only where individuals recognize and appreciate the benefits to themselves of knowing the objectives and planned activities within functions other than their own, and place a high degree of importance on processes which encourage sharing relevant experiences and best practices will they be inclined to cooperate rather than compete, to negotiate rather than confront, to coordinate activities rather than duplicate them.

    But even this degree of teamwork is not easily or naturally achieved because it runs counter to the paradigms which dominate in British and US organizations and, to both greater and lesser extents, in many European ones. We are very much inclined to determine status and reward by individual achievement of results, and therefore hoard resources and knowledge. We restrain ourselves from expressing feelings and emotion, finding it embarrassing or uncomfortable when they are displayed, and therefore discourage drawing out the truth about our own and otheers' behavior and motivation. We tend to emphasize technical skills. We most admire those whose direction comes from their own counsel, who judge, decide, and commit themselves to actions through their own experience, research or intuition.

    There is much to value in these behaviors. But when they become the "default" mode, when they are demanded and rewarded more than any other way to behave, the consequence is that all too often the organization is a great deal less than the sum of all its parts. And so the knowledge and abilities of most people are severely underutilized. The house has indeed many apartments, but the occupants keep them locked against, and don't talk to the neighbors. Information is withheld from, or given a "spin" to mislead those who don't "need to know". One person's failure or stress is exploited as someone else's opportunity. The only accepted data is that which confirms what is already known or believed. Departments and their principal figures engage in obstructing, denigrating and seeking to dominate other departments. Sadly, it often seems to be presumed that while this is going on the organization's performance and chances of survival somehow won't be affected.

    Quite clearly, "teamwork" has to be striven for against a well-worn tendency to concentrate on outcomes and effects (Task Content). And this is the rub; Task Content cannot be achieved effectively if the way the tasks are performed (Task Process) is poor. The way tasks are performed and the quality of outputs achieved are likely to be poor if the performers have low expectations of each other (Interpersonal Content), and if they aren't consistently able to work in ways which optimize the strengths of all involved (Interpersonal Process).

    Senior corporate management seeking opportunities which reside in the pace and scope of social and economic changes and the rate and volume of information growth need to appreciate the value of collaborative teams and ought to foster them in their organizations. Some teams will be temporary, to complete a specific job, others on going, woven into the fabric of the organization. In either case the members of these groups accept a high degree of interdependency. The common purposes or objectives always influence those of each individual; in fact each member appreciates that she can't achieve her own accountabilities without inputs and support from some or all of the others.

    There's a massive payoff for everyone involved in this sort of group. Where there are teams of interdependent members, contributing in relevant and worthwhile ways to corporate objectives, the organization is sending a clear message that the people are a valuable asset and that this is not just a line in the mission statement. A member of this sort of group gets more fulfillment from his work, learns to improve his social skills and gains an increased sense of self-worth. The leader of such a group learns high level skills to manage such a quality of membership, and in doing so she raises the overall level of organizational performance.

    The challenge which faces organizations with a "western" culture is, therefore, how to blend its positive elements with elements from other cultures. We are aware that organizations in other cultures seem to be able to access the potential of more of their people more deeply and to create more synergy from it than we do. If we want to be successful in a complex world we have no choice but to achieve this blending, counter-cultural though it may be. STYLO, which promotes objective appraisal of strengths and weaknesses, and provides framework for dialogue and improving judgment, is a unique and powerful tool in helping establish the new behavior patterns which are required.

    The team's activities are related to the following elements, which should be seen as a pyramid. That is, "the sharp end" of achieving agreed goals is made possible only if the ways in which members seek and find agreement to work together are managed well. Team Development interventions should therefore concentrate on improving the quality of the base of the pyramid.

    It is at the Interpersonal Process foundation that STYLO makes particularly valuable contributions. In order to create a climate in which people identify, surface, and discuss new ways of doing things, future possibilities, and complex problems which lie outside their current fief of experience there must be a climate of trust and openness among the people involved. This calls for people to be cognizant of individual strengths, biases, preferences and weaknesses and aware of how these play out in patterns (or not) in groups, teams and the organization.

    STYLO contributes to the creation of this climate by revealing how people can:

    • Identify and manage individual strengths and weaknesses and to recognize and appreciate different strengths in others
    • Plan and implement constructive feedback about the impact and appropriateness of the management of Process
    • Benefit from differences in perception, preference and performances to shorten transition times and increase capabilities in weak signal detection.

    In addition to the impacts discussed above, people must understand how they and others manage - or mismanage - threatening situations. People must learn to cope effectively with threat and conflict resulting from problems of transition between roles, functions, stages of team development and rapidly shifting playing fields. STYLO reveals a significant but frequently overlooked part of individual and Team performance and contributes to better management of threat by;

    • Showing why certain situations can be threatening to some people, and not to others.
    • Helping individuals identify and improve how they respond to and make judgments under threat.
    • Enabling people to recognize the effects of threat on each other and to reduce its impact.

    Finally, to ensure that the essential Task and Interpersonal Processes are managed appropriately, people must identify the roles and functions which are essential to the effective performance of the group or team. STYLO contributes to identifying and adopting group specific roles and functions by:

    • Making links between an individual's preferences for Process and the roles/functions he inclines to fill in the team.
    • Helping individuals to implement the behavior changes necessary to fill essential but unfilled roles and functions in the team.
    • Making links between an individual's preferences for Process and the roles/functions he inclines to fill in the team.
    • Helping individuals to implement the behavior changes necessary to fill essential but unfilled roles and functions in the team.

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    Excerpt from the User's Guide to the STYLO Operating Style Indicator
    Format Systems, Ltd.

    We would say that someone who wears clothes and accessories which both make the best of his or her shape, color and features and are appropriate to the situation in which he or she wears them, has "Dress Sense". We are not evaluating the extent of their wardrobe, rather their judgment about what clothes they wear. It is perfectly possible to have this "Dress Sense" with a limited range of clothes. Conversely, poor "Dress Sense" can be seen in people who have both limited and extensive wardrobes. It is not necessary to have a wide range of behavioral approaches at your disposal for you to have good judgment about how to display them, nor does it follow that because you have a wide range you necessarily have the judgment to use them appropriately.

    The STYLO Self Perception Operating Style Indicator reveals to you the extent of your "wardrobe" and something about which of the items in it you are most comfortable wearing. STYLO Model and associated materials offer you insights, guidance and strategies to make the most of your preference - in other words, to develop improved Dress Sense in behavior. If, having improved your Dress Sense, you want to extend your wardrobe, you can look more closely inside to discover items you usually overlook but which have been there all along.

    Doing this may be uncomfortable initially, but, with motivation you will find that you grow into it. STYLO enables you to receive and give constructive disclosure and feedback about the effects of behavior because it provides a language for you to describe both what motivates your behavior and what other people's behavior looks like to you This language avoids both judgment and norms. If feedback from and to others is mutually acceptable, everyone can use it to improve; to be more effective as a leader, manager, team member, peer or subordinate. This way our self understanding is enhanced and kept up to date. A highly effective way to develop this feedback process is to make use of the STYLO Associate Perception Indicators.

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    by Willy Pullen, Managing Principal
    Gordon Pullen Consulting

    Gordon Pullen Consulting uses STYLO exclusively in executive development in the Canadian Public sector. To date, we have used the instrument with managers and senior executives in the Federal Government, the Ontario Provincial Public Service, and the New Brunswick Public Service. We have also used it with executives in health care. About 250 executives have been exposed to the instrument in the last year.

    We tend to use STYLO as the main instrument in leadership development, partnership skill development, and in transition management programs. Our participants are typically within two reporting levels of the top of their organization and they find STYLO brings a fresh view to the challenges of leading and managing public sector reform. Participants particularly appreciate the fact that STYLO, unlike other well-known instruments presents them with some choices they can make about their own growth and development as leaders.

    We use several group exercises with STYLO. One simple one requires four tables. We have participants sit at the table that corresponds to their preferred style in a positive environment. After some discussion about how often this kind of world obtains, we have them redeploy to the table that represents their preferred style in a threatening environment. The movement and comparison of the new seating arrangements generates animated discussion.

    We have also used STYLO as a tool in intact-team development. The instrument has been used to make several management committees aware of their strengths and challenges relative to the kind of strategy they are implementing. For example, one organization that we are working with is implementing a strategy based on partnerships. Using STYLO with the executive committee we found that the style preferences for this group did not include those which one would normally associate with partnering. This insight has generated considerable discussion and clarification of the strategy within the executive group. Another team has concluded that they need to be more aggressive in pursuing their internal agenda. STYLO helped them see what behaviors they could build on to improve their performance.

    We find that STYLO requires some patience from users and we go to considerable lengths to clarify questions and alleviate concerns. Some people find it high-maintenance. However, we feel that the effort required to complete it is well worth the effort.

    We would welcome any opportunity to share our experience with you and to exchange techniques and insights.

    Willy Pullen
    Managing Principal
    Gordon Pullen Consulting

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    STYLO is an essential basic tool for the Learning Organization: Bringing New Power to Organizations

    Alan Hamilton, MSc., MA, Format Systems Ltd.

    Today, organizations throughout the world are facing technological and social changes unlike any before. Compounded by global communication networks and the overwhelming information glut, individuals and organizations struggle to find ways to rapidly upgrade their skills and abilities, to learn at a rate that keeps them equal to or ahead of the wave of change.

    While much of the focus of change has pertained to external content areas, increasingly, successful individuals are improving their knowledge about self and others. Today, more than ever before, almost everyone associated with an organization needs to be able to know, accurately, his or her preferences and biases in carrying out tasks and in working with and through others. This applies whatever the size and ownership of the organization and whether run for profit or not.

    Accurate self-assessment1 is the "threshold" to acquiring or improving any of the generic and organizationally-specific task and interpersonal skills people need to perform effectively. We are experiencing a rapidly shifting overtly democratic but, paradoxically, highly competitive and unforgiving work climate, and we can expect to go on experiencing it. So the need to make sound judgments quickly is critical to survival and growth. Without accurate self-assessment, people make defective judgments about situations shaped by preferences and biases which they do not properly understand and therefore cannot compensate for.

    Not the least problem which arises when undertaking an assessment of strengths and weaknesses is that it creates feelings of demotivation and threat, especially if the assessment focuses on capabilities. Those who have experience of US and British organizations will recognize the existence of a concern with weaknesses rather than with strengths. There is a preoccupation with what is wrong with us rather than with what is right. We may speculate about the origins of this preoccupation but many of us bear witness to its unproductive - even destructive - impact on people's behavior. In a time of rapid change in the social, economic and commercial environments, we need to be able to assess ourselves and others in a less destructive and negative way. We should do it with the intention of learning to use and develop our strengths - as Chris Argyris2 has put it, "...for companies to change, employees must take an active role not only in describing the faults of others, but also in drawing out the truth about their own behavior and motivation."

    Make no mistake, accurate self-assessment is a competence and therefore takes effort and sacrifice to acquire. People invest ego in their preferences. These may also be reinforced by the organizational culture with the result that they feel that theirs is the right way to go about things and that there is something wrong with other ways which causes them to feel uncomfortable when they see and hear someone else using them. It will cause them some anxiety to have to question the appropriateness of their preferences or to have others question it. There is a paradox here. It is only when people accept that they need to know and that they don't, with its associated discomfort, that they are stimulated to learn. But feeling threatened and anxious also has the effect of closing the door on learning - stimulating defensive reactions and emphasizing the universality and reliability of what one already knows. People need help to transit the threat which accompanies the sense of "not knowing" so that it is a learning opportunity.

    Seeing assessment as a Learning Engine

    If we can't avoid continuing to work in "white water" conditions we must be learning all the time. Our knowledge (what we already know) has to be refreshed and updated; we have to be prepared to "unlearn" some of what we know to be able to use knowledge. Otherwise we can't expect to negotiate unpredictable and unfamiliar stretches of the "river", solely by using what we already know.

    The kind of learning we're talking about is illustrated by showing the different elements and the interconnections between them.


    It is important not to confuse "learning" with "knowledge". If people "know" something they don't have to learn it. So they add to their knowledge of people and events through learning what they did not already know. It is also important not to confuse "knowledge" with "the facts". What anyone knows may not be wholly, partly or even remotely, "true", or it may not be capable of being proved "true". People's opinions, perceptions and values are part of what they "know".

    Perhaps most of what you learn about yourself or the environment about you, you get from observing or listening to others. They will consciously or unconsciously communicate to them things they didn't know. They have to be receptive to the disclosure, otherwise there is no learning for them.

    When others are communicating feedback to you and you are communicating disclosure to them, a true dialog is going on and then there is learning for all. And this learning has a direct and beneficial effect on the common and shared knowledge base. Not only does it grow but it is refined as knowledge, is tested and is assessed against what we have newly learned.

    The Learning Engine brings new power to the Organization

    The receptiveness to feedback and disclosure is a skill which has to be developed in most people and throughout most organizations.

    In a survey3 of British managers in 1994, respondents identified nine skills and qualities which would be required to effect the changes and meet the challenges of the workplace around the millennium. Of these the first three in order were:

    • strategic thinking
    • responding to and managing change
    • an orientation toward total customer satisfaction

    and numbers five, seven and eight were:

    • facilitating others to contribute
    • verbal communication
    • sensitivity to how the organization works

    These are the critical "soft" skills that cannot be acquired unless the "Learning Engine" is running. Almost all (86%) of the respondents believed..."there will be an increased need to acquire new work-related skills." Notice they speak of "new" skills - the existing skill base is clearly felt to be inadequate. As Vail4 says, "...this calls for a collective self-awareness, openness and maturity that are still not widely found in our culture."

    Starting the Learning Engine in the Organization

    Completing the STYLO Self-Perception Indicator is the first step. Once the profile it generates has been explained, people have the chance to learn about what drives their behavior, what are the strengths and weaknesses of that behavior and how those impact on the task and interpersonal situations which arise in carrying out their role and function.

    People are then able to appreciate where their judgments about what is happening in given situations is sound and where it is flawed - and in both cases, why. They will also be able to see clearly the link between the quality of the judgment of the situation and the appropriateness of the behavior they bring to it.

    The next step is for them to get feedback about how others see their impact on task and interpersonal situations. This will have the twofold benefit of helping them learn whether their perception of themselves is congruent with the view of them that others have. An effective way to do this is for someone to ask another person to complete a STYLO Associate-perception Indicator on him or her. That way both are comparing the same things in the same terms. Because each is using a specially designed yet comprehensible language to describe only the behavior he or she sees and hears, not attempting to evaluate the other's capabilities or competence, a dialog can develop and all concerned can learn.

    This is a dynamic and iterative process as illustrated here:

    For organizations to grow, for individuals and organizations to improve the quality of their decisions, of anticipating changes in the marketplace and within their own teams and groups, people must learn faster and more accurately than ever before.

    The ability to increase the flow of feedback and disclosure in a non-threatening and meaningful way requires new tools for dialogue and awareness. This is the fuel that drives the Learning Engine.

    1 Boyatzis, R., The Competent Manager, A model for effective performance (1982) Wiley

    2 Argyris, C., Overcoming Organizational Defenses: Facilitating Organizational Learning Needham Heights, Mass.: Allyn & Bacon, 1990

    3 Management Development to the Millenium (1994) The Cannon Working Party Report: Progress and Change 1987-1994" The Talor Working Party Report: The Way Ahead 1994-2001 The Insitute of Management

    4 Vail, Peter, Managing as a Performing Art Jossey-Bass, Inc. 1991

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    Improving Our Effectiveness

    To meet today's challenges , individuals, teams and groups - From Top Management to Front Line - can only work more effectively if they acquire and develop the ability to assess situations accurately and produce the appropriate behavior for them.

    "The more uncertain and diverse the environment we operate in, the more important is accurate self-assessment." R. Boyatzis, "The Competent Manager"

    There are processes that generate predictable and low-risk outcomes; that ensure opportunities and challenges are seized and met promptly; that maximize the potential of people working collaboratively and with commitment; and those that broaden and inform the knowledge base and sensitivity of the organization to respond to and recognize changes in its environment. There are individuals who have well-established preferences for one or two of these processes, and there are others who have an equal preference for all of them. These preferences play out in the behaviors they value from others, the approaches to task performance they take and reward in others, and in what they reveal to be important to them.
    Research continues to indicate that successful people are those who understand when their preferences for process - the `how' things are to be done - are not appropriate to the situation and what different behavior would be.

    Sound judgment is, above all, the critical skill by which a person avoids interpreting a situation solely in terms of his or her preferences for process ("the way I like it done is the right way in this situation"). It may be, but he or she needs to be objectively clear why. The pre-requisite for improving judgment, what has been identified as a core Leadership competency, is accurate self-assessment.

    In open-ended situations, it becomes vital to inquire into the manner in which one is perceiving what is going on."
    R. Stacey "Managing the Unknowable"

    The pace and complexity of change demands high-quality judgment of the nature of situations and how to act in them. The way to achieve quality judgments is to understand and appreciate our preferences for process, how these affect the outcomes of situations, and when, where and how we should challenge the assumptions which underpin them. This is the fundamental route to being able to bring the appropriate behavior to the situation.

    It's not what leaders are but what they do that determines whether the organizations or institutions they lead survive and thrive or not."
    Farkas and Wetlaufer, Harvard Business Review, May-June '96

    We all need tools to help us develop sound judgment to reveal potential blind spots and stimulate dialogue and learning so that we can disassociate the organizational needs for process from our own preferences.

    Personality measures alone are not sufficient for this task. Even when they are psychometrically reliable and valid, they provide at best a picture of what a person is - and they imply that the picture is likely to remain quite stable over time. What we need to know is our behavior preference pattern - what we think we do, refined and enhanced by what other people see and hear from us.

    In contrast to typological instruments which categorize us into "types" based on aspects of personality, the STYLO indicator is designed to measure our preferences for how things should be done. By inviting responses to statements which focus on work experiences appropriate to all organizations, it reveals our preference for behavior, throws light on what we can do about our actions to make them more effective and successful, and acts as the key to open the door to learning.

    Effective leaders, team members and individuals are not limited by personality. They have learned the skill of sound judgment - by better understanding their range of behavior preferences and developing capabilities to match behavior to situations appropriately.

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