As an executive advisor, I am always searching for new and innovative ways to help professionals excel in the business world by enhancing their communication and leadership skills. At the Sandler Group, we use a number of tools to help our clients master these skills and effectively interact with other professionals. One of our most valuable tools is called the Ladder of Inference.
The Ladder of Inference is a tool that demonstrates to an individual how inefficient their thinking is. When an individual takes in information, they often unknowingly observe an incomplete reality based on their preexisting assumptions and past experiences. They filter the information without thought or consideration and draw conclusions based on their interpreted facts and assumptions. In this way individuals often develop beliefs based on these assumptions and take action that may seem right, but could be disastrous.
So what happens? In today’s business world, these self-generated beliefs remain largely untested. This often leads to a loss in ability to achieve great results. A business’ chance of succeeding drastically weakens when a group or individual has the mindset that:
-Their beliefs are the truth
-The truth is obvious
-Their beliefs are based on real data
-The data they select is always the real data
The Ladder of Inference is a tool that works to prevent this way of thinking by getting individuals to “catch themselves” before they go too far down their road of personal assumptions.
There are two types of skills that play a key role in helping individuals overcome these inaccurate assumptions: reflective thinking and inquiry. Reflective thinking involves slowing down the thinking process in order to become more aware of how we are reaching our conclusions and assumptions, and then sharing that thinking. Inquiry involves engaging in conversations where we can openly share views, share assumptions, and ask for more information about one another’s point of view. The goal is really understand what a person is saying and how their thinking makes sense to them.
Working with the Ladder of Inference will help professionals become better team members, communicators, and leaders. It will help businesses implement strategies that are the most effective for everyone involved. By using the ladder of inference we engage our reality most efficiently; we avoid conflict; we avoid misunderstanding, and we get great results.
Startups are great in terms of cultural development because it’s a fairly easy thing to do. They’re small, the work is not that involved, they start practicing certain ways of acting from their very beginning, so it’s not a difficult thing to implement. Executive advisor Leland Sandler discusses how the process should start by identifying the fundamental principles of what’s going to make the startup successful or minimally, what’s going to at least initially keep it from failing, defining what success means and what the main ways are to get there.
Hiring a veteran military officer brings your company a foundation of skills and competencies that you’re unlikely to find almost anywhere else in the private sector. These individuals are disciplined, have an exceptional work ethic and success orientation – characteristics key to the leadership of any business.
I had the incredible opportunity to work with the military through the San Diego Chamber of Commerce Military Advisory Committee. I and other San Diego-area business leaders gladly gave our time to these men and women who are making such a huge difference for our country. In my case, I used my expertise as an executive advisor to provide career development advice to officers who were about to come out of the military. Starting with basic questions such as what was important to them and what they thought they might want to do as a civilian, we determined, based on their skill set (especially leadership skills) what industry and what role might be a good fit. Through the members San Diego Chamber of Commerce we placed these officers into private sector jobs, greatly easing their transition from military to civilian life.
As an executive advisor I immediately saw the leadership skills possessed by military officers. What was interesting is that those skills were not as immediately apparent to many of them, as they often misjudged how readily applicable their military leadership experience was to the private sector. It’s true that one of the challenges some military officers face when they get out into the private sector is their hierarchical orientation. This is a key part of the military’s organizational structure. Yet, in today’s business world, we’re looking for flatter and flatter organizations. We’re looking to drive decision down throughout the organization, to broadly empower. In my advisory sessions with these officers I was able to explore with them key ways private sector leadership differed from military leadership, along with strategies for most effectively channeling their leadership abilities. While just about any career shift involves adjustments and adaptation, the skills and experience veterans obtained in the military form a solid foundation for senior leadership in business.
In my career as an executive advisor, I’ve learned a number of things both about myself and about business.
As for myself, I realized early on that I needed to embrace an ongoing process of self-development and self-improvement. This ongoing process is a way in which I could become a better version of myself and, consequently, a better asset to my clients. This process of self-development and self-improvement is what I use with all my clients. Living it myself has made me more effective in helping others embrace and live it.
From a business perspective, the most important thing I’ve learned is how to build authentic relationships. I spend a great deal of time going to different events, meeting different people and discovering who they are, what they’ve learned and what I might be able to learn from them. When I look at building relationships, I don’t think about it from the standpoint of whether I am going to get work from it or not, I’m thinking about it largely in terms of connecting with other individuals. The result, interestingly enough, is that almost every relationship has been of value; whether in a personal way, or helping me build a successful business.
For the past seventeen years, I’ve done the bulk of my work advising life sciences executives and it’s been exceptionally rewarding. I have learned what it is to work with dedicated scientists and engineers building products that affect the lives of millions of people. It is an industry where I’ve also built lasting relationships and learned about the complexities of leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies, lessons that are applicable to other industries as well.
Finally, building any business is challenging. Being an executive advisor has given me a vantage point to understand the challenges a wide range of issues and challenges that executives face in building their businesses. A somewhat unique challenge to my work is getting the business community to see the work of an executive advisor as a need to have rather than a nice to have. In learning how executives change other people’s assumptions, I am learning how to change assumptions about executive advising related to real value. I have learned that my work needs to be focused on metrics and results. All the work I do has specific outcomes that we hold ourselves to. I discuss that with the client on the front end. I measure throughout the process. And I measure at the end. I want to demonstrate that the executive advising makes a fundamental difference in their business.