Are you just a SatNav Leader?



At Ingenious, we have been working with a client based in Scotland for a number of years, creating inspiring and challenging experiences to help develop their leadership. With Ingenious based down in the rolling hills of Somerset, the easiest and fastest way to get there is to fly from Bristol airport, under an hour’s drive from our office albeit via a jumble of B-roads and country lanes. 


Now, I must have made that same journey over 30 times and each time the routine is the same:  jump in the car, pop on the SatNav, follow the route. SatNav is a brilliant thing, finding me shortcuts, cutting traffic, always telling me which way to go.  

Until, as happened to me a few months ago, it packs up midway through a journey.  


You see, Satnav has removed my need to learn. I may have made that journey countless times, but my brain, being the excellent energy-saving device that it is, has never remembered the way.  And so on this occasion, after driving hesitantly down a wrong turn, I found myself having to retrace my route home, grab a map and start again, all with the looming threat of a plane departure. Which I made, I should add.


People got where they needed to go before SatNav. Maybe it took a little longer, maybe it needed some forward planning but, put simply, our brains would invest the energy they needed to reach the goal. While we may have taken wrong turns, because we had ‘our’ route, our brains had a goal to focus on and we were more aware of our journeys. Make that journey once or twice and the map, the planning, were no longer required. We remembered, because we were learning the whole way. 

This is a lot like the leadership traps that Ingenious helps people negotiate out of.

Through the very best intentions, many leaders see their value in solving people’s problems for them.  They have the superior knowledge and experience, so it is they who can offer the advice and opinions on how to solve them. 


It is quick, it is comfortable and, often, it works. But it doesn’t lead to learning, it merely allows people to switch to auto-pilot. Follow instructions. Not figure out their own route. The only learning here is; ‘I have a problem, I go to my manager, my manager will solve it for me.’ That leads to unhealthy, inefficient cultures of dependence. 


All too often, we see people fall into this trap of not taking responsibility. Coming up with your own solutions can be a big and uneasy step, one you really don’t want to backfire. 


But ownership of a situation is empowering and invigorating, even when it does go awry. It has immediate positive impact for the managers to whom issues would otherwise instinctively be referred. Their experience and advice doesn’t evaporate simply because somebody tried their own workaround first, and more often it is enhanced. 


This is where the coaching approach as a leader is so impactful. Rather than telling people what to do, coaching helps to create an environment for people to think through their challenges and reach conclusions based on their own experience and understanding. It breaks relationships of dependence and fosters learning, responsibility and resourcefulness. 


That is what also steers how we at Ingenious approach our clients, guiding our facilitation style and session design.  We are constantly challenging the tradition of content dumping, regurgitation of theories and one-dimensional knowledge-sharing, instead creating something emotive and experiential linked to people’s goals, where our clients can genuinely learn from practice, first-hand experiences and real-time feedback.


So I say, let’s unplug the SatNav. Isn’t it time we plotted our own course?

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Kevin Cottee-Wort