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A Leadership Consultant’s Challenge: Moving a System From Surviving to Thriving

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PhotoLorenzoThe leadership consultant will often face many intractable challenges such as low morale, poor performance, and quality issues. Typically, in such situations, more problem solving attempts, workshops, and retreats have little impact on change. There exists, however, talent and capacities in organizations that must be surfaced in order to identify the “invisible in plain sight” (Sternin, 2011).

When working on a consulting project, nine times out of ten, we find stacks of existing consulting reports neatly piled on a shelf. The recommendations are so vast and extensive in nature that the client is overwhelmed and often decides that just having had the report completed is a sufficient exercise in change.

It is, in fact, important to have this information, but such information often relies on the Western medical model of identifying pathology and then removing it. One alternative approach is to take a strengths-based approach (or asset-based) to identify what is working well for the organization, and what “DNA” (Heifetz, 2010) we want to keep so that we can move a system into better functioning.

In such situations, human systems issues should be addressed immediately before any technical interventions have a chance at success. Healthy functioning individuals and a healthy functioning organization are needed to create useful output.

In your discovery process, be sure to include the narratives of those working within the organization as they are in fact the best experts to what is happening. When it comes to the implementation of change, that change must come from a shift in thinking and action within the system. The reliance on the outside expert to “fix” everything is an indication of that system wanting to avoid the hard work involved in change.

The decision to support change is typically not based on logic; it comes with a shift in attitudes and feelings. If this shift occurs, technical issues will see improvement. This may flow against the conventional approach to consultation, however, if we create a context of adaptation to the swiftly changing world in which we live in, the organization has a better chance not only to survive, but also to thrive.

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Hi, I'm Ligia, business strategist and co-founder at I am interested in the concept of teaching through games and play. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

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