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Cultivating Leadership for a New C world

The changing face of leadership

The face of leadership is changing. This is the theme of much writing, reflecting and research on some of the big trends shaping the world of work, organizations and leadership.

We’re experiencing this changing face of leadership in our own leadership development and coaching work with organizations in all kinds of industries and across different countries. We’re clearly in the midst of a major culture shift in the world of work: a shift away from old-style command and control towards a new, more collaborative way of working.

Organizations and leaders mostly understand that this shift is happening. Often, though, they’re struggling to fully grasp the implications of this shift for themselves and their organizations. And even when they understand the implications, they have a hard time developing the skills and capabilities needed to succeed on the other side of this shift.

The Big C Shift

We call the big change we’re experiencing in the world of work the big C Shift. The C Shift is a memorable way to capture the essence of a significant change that affects how we work and lead. On the one hand we have “the old C world” – a world of command and control, a world of conforming, complying, even coercing others. On the other hand, we have the “new C World”, a world that is about collaborating, communicating and connecting, a sense of community and contributing to a common good.

C shift Visual New

The old C world was a world with at least an appearance of certainty and clear answers. It was a world where leaders knew what needed to be done and instructed others on what to do. The new C world is one of uncertainty and constant change, a world of questions rather than answers. It’s a world of almost infinite connectivity to people, information and ideas, a world with challenges that require co-creativity rather than conformity.

The complexity of the challenges we face, the fast pace of change, and the high levels of uncertainty and turbulence, requires us to tap into the potential of the collective to deal with the challenges that change brings. In such a world, leading as commanding and controlling others’ behaviours becomes increasingly less relevant. Instead, success requires spaces and processes that encourage collaboration at multiple levels so we can tap into our collective intelligence.

The C Shift is part of a whole amalgam of trends shaping our work world and our wider world. Some of the other trends that amplify and feed into this shift include:

  • Constant and accelerating change
  • Increased connectivity
  • Increasing complexity
  • Pervasive access to overwhelming volumes of information
  • Increasing turbulence, chaos and crisis in the bigger world
  • Globalization
  • Changes in the nature of work and how value gets added
  • Demographic shifts, and the needs and demands of younger generations
  • Increasing cultural mix of workplaces and teams
  • Need for creativity to solve complex and major problems
  • Shift in people’s expectations for work
  • Growing emphasis on the search for meaning, purpose, autonomy and mastery

Implications of the C-Shift for leadership

The C Shift has profound implications for how people work together, and for what effective leadership looks like. Clearly some aspects of traditional leadership carry over to the new C world. However, in many respects the leadership skills and capabilities needed to succeed in the new C world are different than those required for success in the old C world. More than ever before, leaders who want to succeed in the new C world need to:

leadership skills wordle

  • Shift to different leadership modes—more collective, shared, distributed ways of leading
  • Be constantly in learning mode
  • Be resilient and able to deal well with change
  • Be creative and able to support innovation
  • Deal with complexity
  • Communicate clearly with a wide range of people about complex issues
  • Connect with multiple others, in different cultural contexts and across
    traditional boundaries
  • Execute in the midst of uncertainty and change—experimenting and adapting along the way
  • Stay grounded in core values and meaningful purpose in the midst of many pressures

Collaboration is an Imperative

A crucial implication of the C Shift is that collaboration is right at the core of how work gets done and of how leaders need to lead. Leaders need to be collaborative, and they need to be skilled at facilitating collaboration. Successful collaboration is crucial to key actions such as:

  • Coordinating efforts to be productive in a world where work has become highly interdependent
  • Generating new ideas and innovate
  • Building networks and relationships—across disciplines, cultural boundaries, inside and outside the organization, in person and virtually
  • Cultivating engagement of all with meaningful goals and purposes
  • Supporting the development of future capability for individuals and teams (through coaching)
  • Collaboration requires upgraded conversation intelligence
  • Effective actions happen as a result of shared assumptions and a sense of shared history. The only way we can build these common reference points is through effective conversations.

    Emmanuel Gobillot

    With higher and more sophisticated kinds of collaboration at the centre of effective working and leading, the ability to have effective conversations across a wide range of situations offers leaders, teams and organisations a distinct advantage. Without effective, high level conversation skills it is simply not possible to have the kind of collaboration needed to succeed in today’s workplace. Leaders and teams who are willing to upgrade and cultivate a higher level of conversation intelligence will gain a significant conversation advantage.

    While we all know how to converse and have had many years of practice, we argue that leaders need to raise their Conversation Intelligence™ to be even more effective in work and in life. Conversation Intelligence™ is a term we use to describe the ability for leaders to connect optimally in conversation – with individuals and in groups. It involves the ability to have a wide range of different kinds of conversations with different purposes. It is about engaging each other in a way that is appropriate to achieve the intentions for the conversation. It involves the capacity of conversation partners to read and respond to what is going on in the outer world (their business context, cultural context, social context, etc.) as well as what is going on in their inner world (of thoughts, feelings, mindset, and so on) and in the interaction itself, and then to use that information optimally to have meaningful and effective conversations towards achieving results.

    Our premise is that there is a significant shortfall in conversation abilities in general, not just the so-called “difficult conversation” or the coaching conversation. The new way of working and leading places demands on our conversation intelligence that exceed our normal, naturally acquired ability. Hence, leaders at all levels need to enhance their conversation intelligence overall. That will help them be more effective in the wide range of conversations needed to get the “conversation advantage” in today’s world of work. Providing leaders and teams with practical conversation tools and opportunities to enhance communication skills can help them gain this important advantage.

    Collaboration requires high quality social climate

    For the first time since the Industrial Revolution you cannot build a company that’s fit for the future without building one that’s fit for human beings.

    Gary Hamel

    Increasingly, work requires real connections, interactions, collaboration and conversations to support high levels of performance. The more that work requires interaction, connection, conversation and collaboration to support high levels of performance, the more vital the social climate becomes. Consequently, the social climate in which people work is becoming more and more important. Work requires people to use emotional and creative energy instead of simply performing rote behaviours. This, in turn, requires that people’s core human needs—regarding trust, affiliation, appreciation and so on—are met. As the quote above suggests, we need to create work environments that are truly fit for humans.

    Leaders, teams and organizations that manage to cultivate high-quality social climates will increase their chances of success in the C-shifted world. Social climate is the invisible but highly potent forces that supports high-quality human connection and engagement—or else undermines it. Examples abound of how a bad social climate can lead to significant failures and disasters. When leaders and teams understand how their behaviours can contribute to an optimal social climate, they become more willing to take responsibility for looking after this key factor that affects their team’s performance and success.

    Rather than looking at social climate as an unmanageable and unmeasurable aspect of the work environment, it is in fact possible to make this key factor for the more collaborative world measurable and more important, actionable. When leaders and team understand what the key variables are, and how their behaviors can contribute to the preferred social climate, they are able to take responsibility for cultivating a social climate that supports their performance and success.

    In summary, leadership in the new C world calls for higher and more sophisticated levels of collaboration, higher levels of Conversation Intelligence, and an increased ability to create and sustain a social climate that enhances human connection. As part of the shift towards a more distributed and collaborative leadership frame, the circle of people who have to take responsibility for these elements is growing larger. It is by no means only the responsibility of those “at the top”. This means that leadership development is not just about individuals, but collectives – teams, groups that interact with and influence each other.



    Cultivating Leadership for a New C world

    The ability to learn is a defining characteristic of being human; the ability to continue learning is an essential skill of leadership.

    Warren G. Bennis & Robert J. Thomas


    We face a world today of almost infinite complexity, endless possibility, and near constant change. If our educational institutions and our informal learning environments are going to take advantage of these changes, our approach to education and learning needs to be as rich and complex as the challenges and opportunities we face.

    Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

    A changed – and ever changing – world requires us to shift how we work together and how we lead, as we argued above. More than that, though, we believe that it also requires us to consider how we develop the leadership capability to respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by this world. Just as the C Shift creates the need for new approaches to leading and working, we can also ask what does a new C approach to developing leadership capability looks like?

    In line with what Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown calls “the new culture of learning”, we need to make some key shifts in how we think about learning and leadership development (at all levels). How to we develop leaders today, so that they can deal with a tomorrow that might be quite different than today? Some of the key shifts in how we think about and approach learning we need to consider are:

    • Shift away from an expertise, answer-based approach to leadership development towards a development approach that is more focused on developing leaders’ capacity to explore questions, to reflect and to deepen their discernment and wisdom. In a world of constant change, the key leadership capability is being able to ask the right questions and reflect with discernment, not having ready answers that no longer fit the challenge.
    • Shift away from an approach that focuses mainly on developing individual leaders towards developing the team and the collective – a greater focus on a “learn with” approach that aligns with the need for the collaborative approach needed for working and leading.
    • Shift away from wanting to control, contain and manage the learning process towards creating more space for the messiness of play, imagination and creativity. These are crucial learning processes as we develop the capability to deal with new worlds and novel challenges.

    Note that we are not suggesting abandoning the “old” listed above. Instead, we’re arguing for a shift towards the other side – including more of the new C ways of learning into our learning and development processes.

    There are several implications of the shifts towards a new C approach to learning. For now, we want to highlight one of the big implications: the increasing use of coaching as of method of leadership development. This includes executive coaching or leadership coaching by external coaches as well as the growing focus on internal coaching, and it includes individual coaching as well as team coaching.

    Coaching serves to elevate performance today, while at the same way building capability that will come into play in the future. Coaching for individual leaders is widely seen as one of the most effective ways to support leaders in engaging skilfully with their complex, changing world, while developing capacity for the future. Coaches who understand the C Shift and the changing face of leadership offer a distinct advantage to leaders who must figure out what it means to lead in new ways in a new environment, where many of the old truths about leadership no longer apply. Leadership coaching can provide powerful support for the deeper personal development, and the deeper reflective capability that is inevitably at the heart of cultivating the leadership capability required for a more connected, collaborative world.

    Similarly, team coaching is also increasingly valued as a powerful process to enhance the performance level of teams, while developing their collective ability to collaborate effectively – within their team, and with stakeholders outside their team. A team coaching process is a “learn with” process that integrates with the team’s work, allowing for collective experimentation and play for the sake of learning.

    Adapted from: The Leadership Coach’s Advantage, Chapter 1 and 3.

    © Melinda Sinclair and Dorothy Greenaway 2014

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