Coaching Letter #64

Good evening, I hope you’re well.

I got some feedback that Coaching Letter #60 before Thanksgiving was a little “preachy”, so this is my attempt to make the same message more palatable.  Try reading this Harvard Business Review article by Mark Bonchek (and if you like it, you can click on his name to find other articles by him–he’s good.)  In this article, he talks about the gaps that can open up between strategy and execution–he describes three, but it’s the first one that relates to my message in #60–he posits that the thinking styles of the people who create strategy are different from those who implement.  I’m not sure I totally buy that—we know that the concept of learning styles has been debunked, so I don’t know why we would hold on to a similar concept of thinking styles.  I do think, however, that the type of thinking required to design strategy is different from the type of thinking required to implement: strategy is about the long term, and big ideas; implementation is about what you’re going to do tomorrow, so it’s about detail and action.  But his description of how things can go awry strikes me as totally on point:

Those who create the strategy are often thinking about the destination, particularly the opportunity and intended outcomes. Meanwhile, those responsible for implementation are thinking about the realities of what it will take to get there. When the strategy is presented, they naturally begin to ask questions about risks and roadblocks — a natural consequence of having a detail-oriented thinking style. But to strategists focused on the big picture, this seems like resistance: “Don’t they see the brilliance of the strategy?” So they get defensive and begin working on overcoming the “resistance.” In turn, this makes the implementers feel suspicious: “I was just trying to understand it better. Why are they being so defensive?”

He goes on to say that strategists (or, I think more accurately, the people who are responsible in this instance for developing the strategy) should expect different kinds of questions from the people charged with implementation, and should “understand that this can just as easily be a sign of engagement as a sign of opposition”, which seems to me to be a particularly useful bit of wisdom.  It’s the point that I was trying to make in #60, but less preachy.  Remember that the only appropriate response to feedback is “thank you.”

There is more to mine in Bonchek’s article, so I may come back it some time.  In terms of improving your decision-making, not only by being a better consumer of feedback, you could also try one of these options:

  • Listen to Jennifer Garvey Berger on the Knowledge Project podcast.  Or read one of her books, like Simple Habits for Complex Times.  She has a lovely, soft voice, and does a great job of delivering many of the same messages that I try to convey: assuming that you are wrong about many things; asking better questions; the overwhelming power of listening; the importance of feedback (she has this lovely phrase about how great leaders are aware of the whispers that are out there; how important it is to see the world from the perspective of others; understanding systems.  Definitely not preachy.  Very soothing.
  • Listen to Tyler Cowen on the Knowledge Project podcast.  He, unfortunately, does come across a little preachy.  But he is very clear on the importance of assuming that you are wrong a lot of the time.  He also uses the phrase “epistemic modesty”, which is my new favorite piece of terminology.
  • Listen to Annie Duke reading Thinking in Bets on Audible.  I listened to her read the book before I read the book–the enormous benefit of doing so much driving around the state is that I get to listen to a lot of books and podcasts.  She has great tips on how to challenge your own thinking–her essential point is that you can switch on a critical part of your mind by just asking yourself, in the face of any assertion–“wanna bet?”  She’s not preachy either.  Very smart and engaging.

As always, if there is anything I can do for you, please let me know.  And if you have any feedback about this or any other Coaching Letter, I would be glad to hear it.  Yours, Isobel

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