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Why Leading From Landscape is Generative

How does “Leading from Landscape” begin?

Get 3 tips to move from managing in "portrait mode" to managing generatively in "landscape mode" by being curious about what your teams are experiencing and seeing.

I have loved photos and photography my whole life because they were inextricably connected to a woman who lived unconditional love, strength, and bravery like no one I’ve ever met before or since. As a small child, I would sit next to my grandmother as she shared her family photo albums with my sister and me. The pages were heavy, black cardstock with worn edges, and photographs ranged from tintypes to black & white photographs each carefully mounted in frames of four, black adhesives licked and secured. These photographs were placed inside a leatherbound album that was like an exciting, treasure chest of grand adventures, historic fashions and faces, and the gift of knowledge of how choices were made and what roads were taken. Each time I sat with her, I learned more through the stories she brought to life with her literary lilt, this woman who quoted Shakespeare with ease. Our family history included tales that were risk-filled, dramatic, and painful. Others offered mirth, compassion, and determination. I would listen to her every word and study the photos looking for clues to align with the story.

I recognized in the years to come that an image, a carefully chosen image, and an image linked to a deeper message, could be as powerful as a well-crafted treatise or speech. And put them together and the results were exponential.

This unearthing of the origins of my passion for imagery is very recent. As I made my transition from executive board rooms and a 30-year identity as a leader, a maverick, in the wine and food industry into the community and profession of ICF coaching, I recognized a decade prior I was at the crossroads of the Marshall Goldsmith book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. Inviting change had become my way of thinking, living, and choosing, thankfully prior to my departure from corporate life. I had the joy and experience of working my coaching “toolbox” with a group of sales professionals who were absolutely game to learn.

Images and metaphors were essential in sales, for teams, suppliers, and our customers. Maps, vineyard photos from the ground and sky, and seeing the winemakers up close and personal, compelled buyers to follow their insights and creativity, growing our partnership. Working with rising stars, standout leaders who were rewarded for individual performance handsomely with bonuses and winery trips around the world, set up challenging dynamics. When those individual performers were promoted, they inevitably hit a wall. Questions ranged from “Why isn’t my team responding?” to “How is this not working—managing others the way I liked to be managed?” “Why aren’t they doing what I directed them to do?” “What am I missing?”

One day, a manager with all of these questions entered my office and sat down perplexed and stuck. An image showed up so clear to me as he spoke. I shared it on my computer screen. Sitting across from this district manager roiling from frustration and borderline insubordination from one or more of his team, he was creating his own suffering but didn’t know it. He was managing from ‘PORTRAIT MODE”—what worked for him, from what was he seeing and wanting his team to see without any curiosity about what they were experiencing or seeing.

When I took a cropped PORTRAIT image of him at a winery and reset it to “LANDSCAPE MODE”, he saw the entire vineyard including the cover crop in between the rows of vines, cellar workers “topping off” the barrels, the trucks delivering grapes from one of the single-vineyards in small Yellow Boxes to prevent any early fermentation from spontaneously happening, and more.

He sat back in his chair and let out a big sigh. “Oh, man! I never thought that anyone would want to be managed differently!” It was the beginning of a new way of leading for him, an opening to consider, learn and embody generative leadership.

How does “Leading from Landscape” begin? Here are the three insights I’d like to share and welcome any and all stories from you on how you’ve worked with this idea yourself with your team or clients:

1. Leadership has evolved tremendously as the paradigm of the internet and smartphones thrust the planet into new ways of living, learning, and leading. CEOs and Senior Leadership were “the experts” back in the GE, GM, US Steel, etc., days, and leading in portrait mode was highly regarded and compensated. The evolutionary shift from <2000 forward was from knowing it all or portraying that image, into a landscape perspective that is much broader and ever-changing. Human knowledge was doubling every 13 years back in 1982. It is now doubling every 12 hours. CEOs can’t possibly know an amount that equates to expertise in every part of their business/industry, though many still cling to command-and-control management. Generative “landscape” leading holds every member of the team, all with varying relationships of expertise in their area, to be Whole, Resourceful, Capable, and Creative. A leader’s expertise is in the willingness to open fully to perceiving and receiving the unique contributions of team members. Seeing beyond yourself and your enterprise initiatives is a leader’s strength. It opens them up to greater possibilities and uses their experience to anticipate changes and who are the potential leaders who are ready. The fall offering of Lead by Authentic Self Presence provides the learning essential for Generative Leading.

2. Landscape leaders are multi-lingual, inclusive and when moving to the outer edge of the horizon, they are on the vanguard of change, of paradigm shift. They are better prepared—how? Portrait mode speaks one language, at a higher decibel, and is attached to being right. Landscape mode speaks the “I don’t know” language which is vulnerable, inclusive, and curious. Leaders who are willing to be lifelong learners have teams that are more than happy to share, teach, embolden and bring their discretionary productivity more fully to the enterprise.

3. A third element of the vital shift from portrait to landscape is to release the attachment of a vertical, hierarchical path. This may be a hard one for some CEOs or Senior Leadership that perceive they’ve worked so hard to “get there” and this is their “moment in the sun” and they want to make the most of it. This last week, while exploring Enterprise Solutions with a CEO of a large Oregon winery, a new thread emerged for my metaphor. It was gifted to the conversation by our COO, Steve Thorson. Taking the metaphor in the space, he added the insight that by releasing the notion of vertical preference and bias, a leader could be on the same horizontal plane to collaborate, share, ideate, perform and produce extraordinary results. Titles and hierarchy may exist on the org chart, yes, and….in the world of relationship and relating, we can all work together, seamlessly and with diversity, equity, and inclusion to create something we would not have without that landscape, horizontal perspective.

It is time for a change in today’s corporate leadership. It is time for moving from portrait mode into a vista of ever-changing landscapes that need not activate fear or apprehension, but rather call upon our courage, creativity, and compassion. Inviting change, with daily practice, brings our childlike wonder of the unknown to life.

Grandma Mabel, wherever you are, thank you for sharing the indelible images and rich stories of our family and bringing your matriarchal, loving, and inclusive energy to my life.

Transform your leadership and the vitality of your team by Inviting Generative Conversations at work.

Sarah Graves, PCC

Sarah passionately and practically pursues the development of leaders through intentional, organic growth. She emboldens leaders to create an environment where management is expansive, willing to move with agility beyond comfort zones, and to champion the individual and collective genius within the organization. With teams in transition she inspires connection, realignment and forward progress within the awkward movements of the changing landscape. Her belief is that coaching is as essential an element for an organization as the product or service the company produces. “An employee who grows personally, grows professionally” and coaching seeds growth.
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