What Colour Is Your Leadership Style?

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An organization’s most important resource is its staff. How many organizations truly believe this and are doing everything they can to nurture the professional and personal development of their employees?

Toronto Rehabilitation Institute took this issue to heart when last spring it developed and launched a comprehensive leadership development program. Toronto Rehab, Canada’s largest rehabilitation hospital, is a fully affiliated teaching and research hospital of the University of Toronto dedicated to rehabilitation research and complex continuing care. The hospital has more than 1,600 employees working at five locations across Toronto.

When Toronto Rehab was created by amalgamation in 1998, it immediately developed a vision, mission and core values to provide clear direction and a ‘road map’ to achieve its goals.

Once the vision and mission were established, the hospital identified five success factors to measure both individual performance and organizational progress. The Accountability Framework¨ developed by the Kemerer Group International is an integrated method of displaying the success factors that an organization needs to concentrate on in order to achieve the corporate vision.

Pat Howard, Director of Training & Organizational Development (T&OD) at Toronto Rehab, explains that once the accountabilities were clear, the next step was to identify the key responsibilities for each leadership role. Then came the identification of core leadership competencies, or behaviours, that would ensure leadership success. These two components – accountabilities and competencies – would guide leaders in their work and serve as measures of their success.

“The result was a better fit between the requirements of the role and the competencies needed to fulfill them,” says Howard.

One of the hospital’s strategic directions focused on developing the leadership skills of the management team to ensure everyone was ‘on the same page’ in leading the organization towards its goals. Last spring the hospital’s T&OD Department spearheaded a leadership development plan. The goal: to bring Toronto Rehab’s management team together to explore their individual leadership styles against the backdrop of Toronto Rehab’s newly developed leadership competencies, create a common language, and build a cohesive vision for the future.

The real challenge for Howard and her team was to bring together a diverse group of managers – those new to their jobs, some new to the organization and others with previous management experience – and create common ground on which they could focus the organization’s strategic direction.

Howard collaborated with Brett Richards from Connective Intelligence Inc., to assist with the development of Toronto Rehab’s leadership competencies, as well as design and deliver the two-day, off-site retreats for 63 Toronto Rehab managers and directors.

Drawing on research that indicates the strong relationship between thinking and performance, Connective Intelligence analyzed and “colour-coded” the specific thinking processes driving each of Toronto Rehab’s 21 leadership competencies prior to the leadership program.

To offer the leaders an opportunity to explore the relationship between their preferred style of thinking and their performance, Howard and Richards chose to use a framework called SmartSkills¨ in the leadership program. Using three primary colours – blue, red and green – the framework establishes six possible “mindframes” or types of thinking:

1. The Logical Mindframe: Hard Blue
Characterized by relevance, proof, comparisons, disciplined and logical reasoning

2. The Personal/Evaluative Mindframe: Soft Blue
Driven by action, personal values, commitments, enthusiasm and personal views

3. The Analytical Mindframe: Hard Red
Focuses on realism, quantitative information, data, precision, organization and a sense of context

4. The Impressionistic Mindframe: Soft Red
Characterized by impressions, sensitivity, qualitative information, concern for communication and a holistic perspective

5. The Ingenious Mindframe: Hard Green
Focuses on ideas, options and outside-the-box approaches

6. The Imaginative Mindframe: Soft Green
Driven by hunches, metaphors, “what if” scenarios, vision and imagination

Prior to the retreat, each person completed the Rhodes’ Thinking-Intentions Profile¨ (TIP) on-line which was tabulated and presented to them when they arrived. Howard explains that during the sessions, people were able to compare their personal thinking preferences with the new leadership competencies through small group and one-on-one application exercises.

The retreat participants validated the new leadership competencies and checked how well they aligned with their personal leadership performance and expectations. Howard explains that as part of the validation, groups of leaders identified the dominant thinking reflected by each competency. This ensured the competencies accurately reflected the type of thinking and behaviour needed to achieve the hospital’s vision and were tied to the organization’s accountabilities.

Howard observes that the SmartSkills¨ model is used by other organizations primarily for improving personal effectiveness, critical thinking skills, collaboration, problem solving and meeting management. She specifically recommended using Connective Intelligence and the SmartSkills¨ model as she felt it would provide a comprehensive approach to leadership development at Toronto Rehab, linking thinking and leadership behaviour.

“As this was a relatively new team, the time was right to provide an opportunity for dialogue and developing a common language,” Howard explains. “We wanted to give people some tools to take away with them, not just identify types of thinking and let people figure out how they should be responding without providing them with anything concrete to help them on the job.” For example, participants worked through many exercises and received job aids to provide quick reference to the six mindframes and key questions to ask to ‘quality-check’ their thinking back on the job.

Howard says initial evaluation of the retreats indicates managers and directors are using what they learned to improve communication with their staff and colleagues. Since the retreats Toronto Rehab T&OD consultants have been successfully using the SmartSkills¨ model for team-building and one-on-one performance coaching with hospital staff. The next step, she says, is to roll out the SmartSkills¨ framework to all Toronto Rehab staff. “Developing a common language across the hospital can contribute to enhanced communication between all staff in this large, multi-site organization,” says Howard.

“This program is different from others I’ve seen and it works well. Our feedback shows people felt it was time well spent to attend the intensive sessions,” she says. Managers have suggested that follow-up sessions should be repeated frequently to help them further apply the knowledge gained at the retreats.

Susan Scott is a Public Affairs Officer at Toronto Rehab.