Lessons Learned as a Developing Leader

My six years at Sanofi were really the transition from manager to leader. It wasn’t always easy, but this is where I started to truly apply self-awareness to my tasks and expanded my perspectives to move beyond the day-to-day and focus on the strategic needs of building a quality organization.

I came into the organization really focused on the immediate needs of building a serious change management and change control. This was a site under a consent decree and I felt pressured to have results fast.

Over time, as the consent decree moved to later stages I shifted focus to being less day-to-day and more about implementing continuous improvements and driving a vision of what quality and excellence really could be.

I made mistakes. I had successes. I’m leaving quite proud of what I’ve done and the relationships I’ve built. Relationships I am confident will continue.

I often joke with folks that I started this blog as a public form of journaling. That remains true, and will continue in the future. As I move into my next position, here are my key things to remember:

  1. Focus on outcomes not deliverables with the long term goal of building a quality culture through innovative digital solutions and thus helping shape not only my organization but others beyond it.
  2. Don’t just instruct but inspire. Strive toinspire, to motivate, and to communicate the overall quality philosophy at every opportunity. If my coworkers are truly inspired by and proud of the ideals and values that I help communicate, then they will drive even more improvements.
  3. Communicate Big Quality Ideas. In addition to setting a digital agenda, utilize the platform to create wider strategies for quality, and defining the tone for quality culture by crafting effective, clear, transparent, and consistent messaging that inspires the best.
  4. Slow down. Be humble. Understand that I do not need to prove myself as the smartest person in every room. Encourage people to speak up, respect differences of opinion and champion the best ideas. Breathe.

Finally, remember the relationships I have and lean into them.

Not sure if these two posts looking forward and back are useful to anyone else, but they certainly position me for starting my new position on Monday.

Self Awareness and Problem Solving

We often try to solve problems as if we are outside them. When people describe a problem you will see them pointing away from themselves – you hear the word “them” a lot. “They” are seen as the problem. However, truly hard problems are system problems, and if you are part of the system (hint – you are) then you are part of the problem.

Being inside the problem means we have to understand bias and our blind spots – both as individuals, as teams and as organizations.

Understanding our blind spots

An easy tool to start thinking about this is the Johari window, a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. There are two axis, others and self. This forms four quadrants:

  • Arena – What is known by both self and others. It is also often referred to as the Public Area.
  • Blind spot – This region deals with knowledge unknown to self but visible to others, such as shortcomings or annoying habits.
  • Façade – This includes the features and knowledge of the individual which are not known to others. I prefer when this is called the Hidden. It was originally called facade because it can include stuff that is untrue but for the individual’s claim.
  • Unknown – The characteristics of the person that are unknown to both self and others.
The original Johari Window (based on Luft, 1969)

An example of a basic Johari Window (my own) can be found here.

Users are advised to reduce the area of ‘blind spot’ and ‘unknown’, while expand the ‘arena’. The premise is that the lesser the hidden personality, the better the person becomes in relating with other people.

The use of Johari Window is popular among business coaches as a cognitive tool to understand intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships. There isn’t much value of this tool as an empirical framework and it hasn’t held up to academic rigor. Still, like many such things it can bring to light the central point that we need to understand our hidden biases.

Another good tool to start understanding biases is a personal audit.

Using the Johari Window for Teams

Teams and organizations have blind spots, think of them as negative input factors or as procedural negatives.

The Johari Window can also be applied to knowledge transparency, and it fits nicely to the concepts of tacit and explicit knowledge bringing to light knowledge-seeking and knowledge-sharing behavior. For example, the ‘arena’ can simply become the ‘unknown’ if there is no demand or offer pertaining to the knowledge to be occupied by the recipient or to be shared by the owner, respectively.

The Johari Window transforms with the the four quadrants changing to:

  • Arena What the organization knows it knows. Contains knowledge available to the team as well as related organizations. Realizing such improvements is usually demanded by network partners and should be priority for implementation.
  • Façade What the organization does know it knows. Knowledge that is only available to parts of the focal organization. Derived improvements are unexpected, but beneficial for the organization and its collaborations.
  • Blind SpotWhat the organization knows it does not know. Knowledge only available to other organizations – internal and external. This area should be investigated with highest priority, to benefit from insights and to maintain effectiveness.
  • Unknown What the organization does not know it does not know, and what the organization believes it knows but does not actually know. Knowledge about opportunities for improvement that is not available to anyone. Its identification leads to the Façade sector.

We are firmly in the land of uncertainty, ignorance and surprise, and we are starting to perform a risk based approach to our organization blind spots. At the heart, knowledge management, problem solving and risk management are all very closely intertwined.