Our Approach

Our approach to leadership

Thirty years of work and research across sectors and around the globe have convinced us that:

  • More than any other single factor,  relationships have the power to slow down or to speed up the ability of leaders and collectives to innovate, learn, and grow in ways that drive impact.
  • When leaders invest together in building capabilities and relationships strong enough to harness basic differences, they innovate, learn, and grow faster, as do their teams, organizations, or networks, accelerating growth and expanding impact.

Our approach—called Leading through Relationships (LTR)—is distinct in three respects:

  • Focus: We target and transform mission-critical relationships within and across organizations, turning them into contexts that spur innovation, learning, and growth—for leaders, teams, organizations, and networks.
  • Approach: Based on extensive theory and research grounded in practice, we stage change to transform relationships, and through those relationships, the capabilities of leaders and the cultures they create.
  • Results: We produce results that can be measured by metrics both meaningful to leaders and measurable by them.

Our design principles

We draw on seven design principles to help social sector leaders drive systemic change and contribute to societal renewal:

  • We catalyze the will and we build the ability of leaders to forge capabilities and relationships strong enough to withstand the pressures and harness the conflicts they will inevitably face.
  • We help leaders while they work together on high-stakes issues, not just one-on-one behind closed doors.
  • We strengthen and transform the capabilities and relationships affecting the ability of leaders and organizations to learn, innovate, and grow.
  • We cultivate within leaders more powerful ways of seeing and doing things with and through others.
  • We turn insight into action and help alter the mindsets that prevent leaders from seeing or acting in more powerful ways.
  • We focus on what leaders actually say and do—not on what they say they do—while they work with others.
  • We produce results that are meaningful to leaders and measurable by them.

Our guiding metaphor

In metal-smithing, a forging heat is used to transform resistant materials into new, more powerful shapes. Similarly, in our work we:

  • Use the heat of the moment to help people and relationships become more malleable.
  • Bring different people and groups together to form a new, more powerful collective shape.
  • Ensure that, in the end, the new form serves a good purpose.

Sensibilities for a change

In a world of constant flux, leadership is not about getting the right answer once and for all.  It’s about constantly adapting to shifting circumstances with people who often see things quite differently. It’s about constantly revisiting and revising how we see and do things. In our work,  we’ve identified six sensibilities that inform what we call an adaptive stance toward change:

C Having enough curiosity to ask tough questions while having enough
courage to pursue answers wherever they lead.
H Sustaining the hope needed to continually strive for the boldest aspirations
while retaining enough humility to handle falling short.
A Appreciating signs of growth and progress, while acknowledging their limits
and your own contribution to them.
N Seeing even the toughest people and situations with enough nuance to be able
to invent new responses to them.
G The generosity of spirit needed to invest in the next generation through whom change and growth must be sustained.
E Empathizing with what we ourselves and others are up against, while ensuring accountability for the outcomes we together create.

Many of these sensibilities straddle tensions that accompany leadership and change. The challenge is to keep these tensions alive within ourselves, instead of playing them out with others.

What leaders say

In over 20 twenty years, this work is one of a very few that has catalyzed my growth as a leader. The impact of this work on our team has been equally powerful, helping me and my colleagues focus on those relationships and behaviors that were affecting our ability to drive change at key points in our organization’s history.
COO, Charter School

This approach gave us a safe space to work through our most challenging issues, to define a common path forward, and then speak with one voice to the broader leadership team.
President, National Youth Organization

This work has been extraordinary. And I cannot be more clear about one thing: this is not ‘soft’ stuff. This is among the most intense work I have ever done, and as a result so very productive.
CEO, Charter School

I always thought about leadership as exhibiting a list of qualities you’d find in a textbook. This work helped me see that I needed to become more fully myself—especially in relationship to others—and that has forever changed me as a leader.
Senior Leader, Philanthropic Organization