How to lead and learn when you can’t rely on your past experience? That’s the question Otto Scharmer has posed at the beginning of his decades spanning research into change leadership at MIT Sloan School of Business. He has based Theory U on the answers to that question, and later condensed his action learning based theory into the shorter The Essentials of Theory U, to gear it to the modern attention span. And with the U-Lab, he and his colleagues have brought it all into the virtual world. This week I want to share what the U-Lab, and in general, Theory U, can do for your leadership growth.
Why you should experience Theory U with others
Although the researcher in me loved the book, the best way to immerse yourself into Theory U is to experience it with others. Going through the U-Process over six weeks in the online programme helped me grasp it and shifted something for me. Repeating it during a 4 day face-to-face immersion, helped me to fully grasp the momentum it can create. By interacting with others, I found a mirror in them, which helped me uncover blind spots and grow beyond my current capacity to see, sense, and transform who I am in the world and what I contribute to it. It also gave me many valuable perspectives on the challenges I was working on and every time I repeat the process, say with a Case Clinic – a peer-to-peer coaching, I get to profit from others’ perspectives again.
How to experience it
The lowest barrier of experiencing Theory U is to join the U-Lab: Transforming Business, Society and Self. Registration for this MITx online course is open now, and the six week course starts on 14 September.
And if you want to make the worthwhile investment to experience Theory U in a more condensed form over the course of 4 days with a fellow group of leaders, then the Presencing Foundation Programme is for you.
As it’s starting soon, let me tell you a bit about the U-Lab.
What to expect
The U-Lab is a 6-week online programme, with
- Webinars to explain what it means to lead from the emerging future and what capacities we need to cultivate to be able to lead from there
- Small group formation for peer-to-peer coaching that utilises the intelligence of the head, the heart and the hands
- Local Hubs, where people can meet face-to-face wherever they are in the world, and form a local community of changemakers
- Interviews with change and thought leaders who illustrate what Theory U looks like in practice
What we love about it
The U-Lab is how I first encountered Theory U in 2015, when I had a bit of time on my hands while lying on my couch recovering from surgery. This first experience of “Going through the U” has swept me off my feet. It changed my world view and my view on how I impact it with my intentions, beliefs, actions and interactions. It sent me on my path to question who I am as a leader which ultimately led me to train as a coach and a leadership guide.
One year later, I enrolled in the Presencing Foundation programme, which was amazing yet again, and only after all of that have I finally read the book (just as well, that huge volume might have put me off, but now I devoured it.)
How we ground our work in Theory U
Theory U informs our work and has led us to adopt two of the 9 principles which guide our work: The system holds the answers, and:
Everyone needs to be seen and heard.
This is why it is so very effective for leaders who are stuck in having to come up with answers to wicked problems on their own – an often futile endeavour.
Why it matters to leadership in organisations
To be successful in our fast paced and uncertain world, leaders can no longer just apply old solutions to new problems. You need to learn to navigate change and to co-create it with the collective rather than prescribing it top down. We need a new way of leadership to solve the problems which our old thinking has created. In other words, leaders need to help their teams and organisations to stop co-creating results that nobody wants and start co-creating results that impact the whole system in a positive way.
Theory U provides powerful tools to lead from the system:
- Tools to sense into the present moment
- Tools to let the information sink and create the conditions for having one of the proverbial “best ideas under the shower” moments, and
- Tools to prototype the future as it emerges and unfolds in front of your eyes.