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A fundamental principle of my teaching – in workshop and courses alike – is that people, communities, organizations, and institutions have the possibility of fulfillment and greatness. In fact, my entire work is committed to that possibility. As such, my aspiration is often to bring about breakthroughs – not just improvements – for people, so that they can get in touch with their power to lead and make a difference in the world.

My programs are not informative, and informative learning – adding to a learner’s skills by imparting new knowledge – is not what my purpose is. Instead I use a transformative learning approach that gives people an awareness of their basic structures of thinking and acting. When I build this awareness, a fundamental shift can happen that leaves people more fully in touch with their own possibilities and those of others around them. This “shift” is only possible if people get a clear understanding of themselves as LIMITED in their ways of thinking and acting beyond existing views. And if they engage in some leadership unelarning to dismantle this self-imposed limitations to personal and professional lives.

I notice that this leadership work is easier to do when we are presented with this discomforting or unpleasant reality through stories; stories that illustrate these rather “philosophical” concepts of “limitations to our world” and “new thinking” and that expose the limitations of our own current perspective that must be overcome. Which stories best illustrate our own self-imposed limitations? Here are a few that I use to highlight the quality of the shift required to pormpt our own leadership unlearning:

  • THE BLUE ROOM: In a room where everything is blue, you can’t define BLUENESS, as that is only possible by contrasting blue with other colors. What we are doing is insinuating the possibility that as a leader you can’t see, because your life as a leader is about being blue and seeing blue all around you. The lesson is: we see only what we decide to look at. The decision to look is not neutral.
  •  THE LANGUAGE: I ask you to choose a language in which we can both communicate verbally. But when I do that, I have already made the choice to use one language to be understood; the presence of that language MUST BE THERE before I start talking or else we can’t communicate verbally. That choice of language is undiscussed and it carries consequences of which I am often unaware. The lesson is: again, there are a set of decisions that got us to a decision point that continue to influence our future even if we are not aware of them.
  • THE NUMBERS: 3 X 1 = 3. You might think you are 1 because you are not making a difference. Yet if you change the relationship between the numbers and not necessary the numbers themselves then your impact changes. For example, 3 + 1 = 4 while 3 – 1 = 2. The lesson is: when it comes to looking for results, we often look for people or a single individual to blame, we rarely thing to consider the relationship among those people. This ignores the actual leverage point for real change that often starts from a different quality of relationship before getting anywhere.

What would be possible in your team or organization if you were to become aware of the limitations of your current way of thinking?