Age Old Wisdom on Leadership Part 5: Pulling it all Together with Project Management
Over the last four weeks, I have explained the meaning of all four parts of the Medicine Wheel within us. Unfortunately, most of us have gotten a little lazy with developing our full leadership capacity. Rather than intentionally taking on challenges and tasks and developing skills that make us a more balanced and effective leader, we tend to rely on others to fill our gaps. We marry them, go into partnership with them and employee them to address issues that we should be facing on our own. This leads me to our final input in this series: How can we develop our areas of weakness? One way is to faithfully use the wheel as a project management and/or problem-solving tool.
After extensively studying various models on project management and creative problem solving, I’ve discovered that there are about nine stages that show up in a particular sequential pattern that align perfectly with the Medicine Wheel. Here’s a visual:
The first thing we need to do when managing a project is to go into the middle of the Medicine Wheel and identify the problem we are trying to solve. Let’s say our problem as that our Pre-K through 12 independent school has an enrollment problem in the Lower (elementary) School. The first thing we will do is come up with a root cause analysis based on data we have gathered about demographic patterns and retention figures in terms of who is leaving our school and when. Then, we will conduct exit interviews with departing families to see if there is anything more to gain from their experiences. For example, if we discover that the root cause of dipping enrollment is three pronged:
- A lack of new families moving into the community
- An increase of strong public/charter school options
- A lack of a convincing case for our value proposition during the elementary school years
Assuming we have verified these key variables as critical to our solution, we can begin to travel around the wheel, starting with the East way.
Going East involves gathering relevant information near and far from schools who have faced similar challenges and filtering them against what is relevant to our environment. With this discovery as our platform, we can then begin brainstorming potential solutions for our school. The idea here is to think expansively and get out of the box. Then, with a list of potential ideas for addressing our problems listed in front of us, our next move is head “South”.
Going South involves reflection, synthesis, frustration, patience and intuition. It means allowing ourselves enough time to incubate on the ideas of others long enough until we see a new way forward that will work for us and our system. Once we have a potential path forward, our next step involves deep analysis and refinement. In other words, it’s time to head “West”.
Going West involves “kicking the tires” or asking the really hard questions. Questions such as:
“Why might this solution fail?”
“What could potentially sabotage this path forward?”
“ What will this solution cost in terms of time, human and financial resources?”
“What are the contingency plans if things blow up?”
“What will be our metrics for success?
“Where can we pilot our solution?”
“How will we monitor progress?”
After we answer these hard questions, we have to come up with a plan for piloting our solution and a process for evaluating its impact. To do that, we head “North”.
Going North means establishing who will do what, where, and when. It means to remain undaunted by all the obstacles that show up along the way and holding ourselves and others responsible for following things through. Going North means we are 100% committed to achieving positive results.
Finally, as a last step, after we have fully walked through the four places of power on the wheel, we need to revisit the middle of the wheel and ask the following questions:
What has worked?
What was missing?
What is needed?
If results are less than we expected, we need to go back to the middle of the wheel and revise our initial cause analysis of why the school has continued to have a shrinking lower school enrollment. Then, we begin recycling through this entire process again.
By making a commitment to touching all parts of the wheel personally while managing projects and solving problems, we are exercising parts of the wheel that need our attention. The impact of working the wheel in this way is to become a more balanced and effective leader.
To read further into the positions of the medicine wheel, click the following links:
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