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7 Critical Tactics To Lead Your Business To A Better Future


by Otto Scharmer, author of “The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications

This is a relentlessly turbulent time for business, with quicksilver shifts that can upset even the strongest organizations and throw firmly established plans far off course. It’s up to CEOs to find the most effective tools for meeting each wave of change — and it’s a responsibility has keeps many an executive up at night.

The key lies in increasing the capacity of yourself, your team and your business to meet any disruption head-on. That means building a solid eco-system of partners, cultivating a collaborative mindset, and being able to co-sense and co-shape each challenge so you can actualize its opportunity. It means letting go of old systemic beliefs in a quest for truly effective solutions. To arrive at the place with the most potential, use these seven critical tactics:

Go to a place of stillness — so a deeper knowing can emerge.

It’s mission-critical to unplug, even during the toughest times. Great leaders answer the two root questions of creativity:Who is my Self and what is my highest future possibility? And: What is my Work — what is my purpose, and what is the story of the future that I am trying to be in service of? To find out, we  must break away from the external demands of the modern work environment to find a place of intentional stillness.

Crystallize your vision and your intention.

The force that propels economies and human creativity forward is built on the power of activating and aligning attention and intention — not just individually, but collectively as well.

Energy follows attention: wherever you direct your attention is where the energy will go, whether it’s the energy of the people around you, or your own. If you crystallize your real vision and intention and align it with the work of a team, that intention will attract helping hands, collaborators and opportunities for next steps. 

Deepen your listening.

There are four levels of listening: habitual — which reconfirms what you already know; factual — in which you open your mind to discover new, disconfirming data; empathic — which involves opening your heart to see through the eyes of another; and finally, generative, in which you open your will to sense the emerging future. To co-sense and co-shape the future in your own context, cultivate the deeper levels of listening — listening to others, yourself, and what the universe wants you to do.

Deepen the conversation among your core team.

It’s the leader’s job to enable a team to operate at the right level — by reshaping the internal and external conditions – space, time focus, diverse voices, and a sense of shared purpose. That includes the way your core team conducts its conversations. Assembling high-IQ individuals is a pointless endeavor if the team suffers from low collective IQ — or “WeQ.” Raise the team’s WeQ by raising the level of the conversation, letting go of politeness, conformity, and offering just “what people want to hear,” Head for a connecting dialogue that factors in the whole picture, a collective creativity that looks at the emerging future, and not the past.

Take your teams on sensing journeys.

Too much time is wasted in the same work environment, from meetings and conferences to phone calls and emails. Few new ideas are generated in these stale contexts. But far more will happen when people engage with the edges of the system, immersing themselves in places that have the most potential — where they can listen with mind and heart wide open. Then, mine the gold created during these immersive experiences with generative conversations.

Invert your organization by turning the focus from the inside to the outside.

Across all industries, sectors, and systems, transformation happens in similar patterns: closed structures open up; and top-down silos flatten and become more agile and fluid. In order to effectively lead this process, make sure the team at the top embodies an opened mind (curiosity), heart (compassion), and will (courage). The focus and the mindset will shift from managing to cultivating; from silo to innovation-directed eco-system; from limited perspective to a fuller awareness of the whole system.

Prototype to explore the future by doing.

The mantra of prototyping is “Fail early to learn quickly.” It’s the leader’s job to create spaces for radical new thinking — and protect the visionaries and heretics who challenge the status quo. Ask these questions to arrive at the right prototyping idea: Can you do it rapidly? Can it be done in rough form cheaply first? Does it reflect the right aspects of the whole? Is it relevant to individuals and the organization? Is it revolutionary? Does it leverage the key networks and relationships? Is it replicable on a larger scale?

Facing change in this day and age has to do with focusing on the larger context — and closing the gaps that keep us disconnected from nature, ourselves and others. It’s up to the leader to find the ways to close these ecological, social and spiritual divides. Team by team, organization by organization, practice by practice, we can improve our future by working together, starting the process with these seven tactics.


Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT and cofounder of the Presencing Institute. He chairs the MIT IDEAS program for cross-sector innovation, which helps leaders from business, government, civil society innovate at the whole-system level. He is author of “The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications” and coauthor of “Leading from the Future as It Emerges“. In 2015 he co-founded the MITx u.lab, a massive open online course for leading profound change that has grown to more than 100,000 users from 185 countries.