The Dilts Pyramid as a line manager tool

After reading a book Visionary Leadership Skills: Skills and Tools for Creative Leadership by Robert Dilts, I began to wonder how I could apply some of that deep thinking into my day to day managerial work. It was a bit mind blowing to learn about a model, which if applied correctly, allows you to traverse and apply more than just positive thinking into a managerial practice. It allows you to remain human with all your small perks and flaws, while being able to zoom out. All the while also allowing you to tackle specific career development issues at the right level.

Robert-Dilts-Pyramid - CARRHURE Consulting

The pyramid itself is shown above. It goes from what you are offered by the world – the environment, up to what you are actually expecting-offering to/from the world – your purpose.

In your work, it’s worth to be constantly reviewing if the environment is right for you, but also whether you still are fulfilling your purpose while being in this environment. All these levels are included on this-and-that (include and extend) basis, not either-or.

To go by an example, I’d like to present a few question and situations where I have applied the pyramid with a result of a personal growth of my direct reports.

LEVEL 1 – the environment

An employee of mine had a few problems with their workspace. It was about the noise and being located next to a heavily used breakout area. I have heard this from a third person. They wanted to remain polite and didn’t really complain too much. The usual suggested behaviour here is to try and confront it, even in indirect way. My simple approach was to ask them open questions like – how are you feeling? What’s on your mind? If it really was a problem, I really wanted them to mention this first. As you mature in your managerial practice, you will notice that problems raised by your direct reports, without you prodding for it, have a much better chance of reaching a resolution, if they raise it first. Your role is to encourage and enable, while being aware of the potential problems. I do not encourage trying to take responsibility for someone’s life by suggesting they have a problem.

In this case, they did get frustrated at some point, which resulted in an outburst. All I did was say (I did cheat and was prepared in the background) – cool, I can see this is a significant challenge for you. Lets change where you sit tomorrow. And so it happened.

Environment level problems are usually easier to solve.

LEVEL 2 – the behaviours

As someone wise told me once, behaviours are like skills and have nothing to do with who you are. Also behaving like a human and showing a range of emotions occasionally will make you a better leader. As well as show you as a human being, capable of living through emotions.

This level builds up somewhat from the environment. The relation is – unsupportive environment will eventually cause more inappropriate behaviours. So work on this level only if you are sure the environment level was catered for.

Note we are approaching sponsorship area, where you can feel a person has a gift, but for whatever reason they are not keen on using it.

In my managerial work, I had a situation once, where an employee would remain completely silent in group meetings. I knew they had great ideas, though preferred (for multiple reasons) not to share them. As part of my team framework is, we need to have each voice heard, I’ve decided something would need to be done here. A bit of encouragement to have more 1:1 discussions on their ideas with other team members first worked wonders. Then I collected a 360 feedback, which clearly said – we’d like to hear more of their ideas. This person then became one of the more active speakers in my team.

LEVEL 3 – the capabilities

Capabilities are built on top of behaviours and the environment. This is basically a level of what you can actually do. Many of us make a mistake to assess potential hiree’s just on this level. Or at least put a majority of emphasis on this level. In standard recruitment model this is also what gets you the big bucks.

The challenge here is the fact that many of your direct reports in software engineering will have much more capabilities than you.

One of the people I was coaching in my line management relationship believed they could never learn a certain skill. My approach was to tell them – I am interested in that as well, lets try together. It is a common psychological factors, than stress entry level to a new skill is significantly lowered, if you are not just left to your own accord. We have agreed a learning schedule, then worked on the skill together for a while. At some point I bailed off and they managed to convince a much larger group of people to learn that skill. Also eventually became very proficient in it themselves.

LEVEL 4 – the values and beliefs

We are approach the more difficult part of the pyramid. A lot of people believe that their values and beliefs can’t change, associating these with their identity and purpose. A hard problem to tackle, if you have direct reports that strongly believe only a very specific approach works; or that only a specific approach is ethical.

Ability to include and extend our values and beliefs is something that helps our careers incredibly.

I do not have an individual example here. What I managed though is making two groups of people, from different cultural backgrounds, work together smoothly. It required a strong modelling mindset and not falling into traps of being on one or the other side. A bit more involved mentally and focused on outcome-based culture.

LEVEL 5 – the identity

I love working on this level, as it is pure sponsorship in action. (I wrote about it here). No matter what others think, what the the coached think about themselves. You just keep seeing the gift and sponsor it by actions, words and reinforcement. The ground work on this level requires a lot of 1:1 sessions, where you get to know your direct report much better. You can’t just assume what their gift to your organization is. You need to feel it, hear it and see it.

As said in my sponsorship article, I am rarely concerned with how the organization operates. If they’d like to keep happy creative people, they need to allow them to constantly change the organization to suit their needs.

My best example here is working with developers, who are not just ‘lets do it’, but have more buts and doubt. Then using it as a power horse for the company to build extremally reliable and easy to use services.

LEVEL 6 – the purpose

All I can say on this level is that the remaining ones can be neglected, but People stay in your company, only because they are allowed to fulfil their purpose. Whether it is repaying their mortgage or the willingness to solve very complex problems, no other company can offer. This is what holds employees in your company.

Working on the purpose level, you need to be prepared to not be an ‘easy going/yes-man’ manager, mainly for your seniors. To fulfil the purpose-s of your direct reports, you need to help the organization to adjust to the employee needs and continuously open up possibilities to offer new iteration of purpose.

This is also the level, where the individual gift gets a chance to be realized.

The moment your employee starts feeling their purpose is not being realized, they will leave.

Extraordinary results are achieved by individuals and organisations when leaders develop an authentic, visionary style.  These leaders create an atmosphere of trust, engagement and self belief resulting in a workplace where individuals want to grow and give their very best to themselves, their team and their organisation.

Robert Dilts

To summarize learnings of today:

  • Dilts pyramid is a useful tool to categorize at which level a specific challenge-from-the-world-or-from-within should be tackled with your direct reports
  • Employees leave your organization, when they can’t realize their purpose
  • Purpose can be as ‘trivial’ as not earning enough / not getting sufficient iteration of the incentive regularly
  • Do not expect people to take your company purpose as theirs; you need to be able to adjust company purpose to meet the individual gifts of your employees; that’s how you succeed
  • You can also apply the same on team level
  • Things take time

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