You can’t manage knowledge workers.
As Peter Drucker’s quote implies, managing knowledge workers only holds them back. As we move deeper into the information age, it’s likely that many of those whom you facilitate, train, and lead will be knowledge workers to some degree. There has to be a more empowering way to lead those whose work we may never understand.
In his book, Masterful Coaching, Robert Hargrove talks about the importance of being a “thinking partner.” In this age where thinking and information are the coin of the realm, a “thinking partner” may be the most appropriate role a leader can play. Defaulting to old habits of command and control, or even managing for results, will simply hold many people back in the information economy.
To assist you in becoming a “thinking partner,” Hargrove introduces the “triple loop” learning model which distinguishes between “incremental learning” (single-loop), “reframing” (double-loop learning), and “transformational learning” (triple-loop). These distinctions are important to group leaders seeking to not only empower people to achieve more, but to transform who they take themselves to be.
Much of the work leaders do takes place at the incremental level, that is helping others to learn new skills and take more effective actions. Sometimes they work at the level of reframing, challenging their people to reshape their patterns of thinking. Seldom do leaders, however, work with their people at the transformational level, creating a shift in context or point of view about themselves. Hargrove articulates the goal of transformational learning as follows:
Transformational (Triple-Loop) Learning involves transforming who we are by creating a shift in our context or point of view about ourselves. This is what I refer to as “stepping into a parallel universe.” Something that we thought and felt (and had manifested in our behavior) has come into question. We may feel exhilarated, stunned, shocked, humiliated, disoriented, and/or depressed at points during this process. The change may happen gradually or all of a sudden. But in this particular context, we will never be the same (there are other contexts by which we operate and which are still open areas for exploring assumptions, etc.).
Increasing leverage in Learning and Coaching
To take advantage of triple loop learning when working with individuals or groups, Hargrove recommends asking yourself the following three questions:
1. Does the person need to switch a way of being or role, perhaps becoming a leader instead of a manager?
2. Does the person have ways of thinking that are leading to an ability to solve the problem or to misfired actions?
3. Does the person need a tip on how to do the same thing better?
Where can you employ the triple-loop model in your work? Is there a situation right now where you’re stuck in one loop? How might you reframe the situation or change your definition of self? Please share your questions, feedback, or experience in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.