If you want to go far, go together

Posted on by CATALYSIS

There is an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” Don Shilton, Catalysis Executive coach and former CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener in Ontario, Canada recently referenced this quote while sitting down to record an episode of our podcast, The Lens. Don used this quote to illustrate the value of a buddy system in leadership development. Below are some highlights of what Don shared on the why behind the buddy system and the important characteristics to look for in choosing and identifying a “buddy” in personal development.

Reality vs. Perception in Transformation

According to Don, “As senior leaders, many of us have big egos. We think that we do everything really, really well and reality is, there are many things we don’t do so well, and we may not have the insight to know what those things are [that] we don’t do well.” He added, “There’s no doubt that as you are transforming a complex organization that it’s highly difficult. It’s incredibly difficult to also transform ourselves. To move from being more of a transactional leader to now your role becomes one of developing others.” Without having another person’s perspective, it can be nearly impossible for senior leaders to clearly see their own opportunities for growth and change. Without this self-knowledge, a leader will often continue the same path.

He explained, “Many of us leaders have reached our roles, our senior leader roles in healthcare, because we’ve solved problems and that’s our main tool kit. As a lean leader that is no longer the way you need to function. You’re now responsible for developing people and you want to create this army of people who can solve problems and ultimately improve the performance of your organization.” The style of leading that has worked in the past for many executives is very different from what is needed in a lean organization, that is why having a buddy can provide such value – by holding a leader accountable, encouraging them, and being a sounding board as they experiment and cultivate new behaviors.

Identifying a “Buddy”

Don also provided some tips for an executive who is trying to choose and identify a buddy. The buddy needs to be someone who:

  • You can trust
    • It doesn’t have to be someone on the same level as you in the organization, but your buddy needs to be someone who will be honest about what they are observing and how you can get better.

  • You can sit down and make a plan together
    • “Tell them explicitly, ‘I want to get better in the following ways.’ Then the two of you can talk about on what occasions this buddy can observe you. You might be in meetings together, in huddles together, or at a report out for instance.  Really think about the opportunities for this buddy to observe you as you experiment with these new behaviors.”

  • You can give specific questions to think about while observing your behavior
    • “I want you to watch me to see if I do this more often, or I’m trying to not do this… I’ll always remember Kim Barnas when she was coaching us at St. Mary’s, this great advice that she gave when not jumping in with solutions is that there may be 100 solutions to a problem, and I know four, but as a leader, if I put any of those solutions out on the table, then that discourages any of the other 96 to also be put on the table. Any of those other 96 may be way better than my four.”

  • You can build in reflection time with
    • “Review what has been observed, what your buddy has seen and take the time and reflect on, ‘Okay, what do I need to do next?’ This is what my buddy has seen and given me feedback on currently. Now what do I need to do to get even better? It’s sort of that study and adjust part of the PDSA cycle that we’re not that good at.”

Who in your organization could be your personal development buddy? How do you build in the time with them to observe and coach you?

Related Items

Original Podcast Recording "How a Buddy System Supports Personal Development"

Principle-Based Executive Coaching

Becoming the Change: Leadership Behavior Strategies for Continuous Improvement in Healthcare

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