21st March 2019

“Do you have adequate support to develop your inner game”?

The Three Domains of Leadership Excellence

To be effective as a leader we need to develop proficiency and effectiveness in three domains of leadership.

The Game of Leadership

Two of those domains relate to the outer game of leadership. These outer games concern the processes of leadership and the competencies of leadership. To put it simply that is about understanding the science and the theories of leadership; understanding business rhythms and leadership processes and then developing the competencies required to execute to a level of excellence repeatedly whenever required.

The third domain relates to the inner game of leadership. Back in 1974 Tim Gallwey drew the world’s attention to the importance of the inner game with his first publication, ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ and since then the art and science of the inner game has become ever more the centre of focus. It is inconceivable that a modern day elite athlete would not have a world class coach and, or a sports psychologist helping them with their inner game and would quite probably have more than one.

Learning New Techniques

The fact is that it is the inner game that drives the outer game. So any attempt to learn new techniques or develop new competencies is likely to be frustrated through lack of attention to the inner game. Because most of the inner game goes on beneath the surface we may well become stuck without actually knowing we are stuck let alone knowing why and what to do about it.

Leadership is very similar to a performance sport and to reap the rewards we have to approach it as an elite athlete would and develop in all of the three domains. The two outer and the one (dominant) inner game.

On the Practice Court 

This is one of the reasons that leadership training is so ineffective. Training is an adequate way of learning the what of leadership; of learning some of the most compelling management theories and processes but it is a pretty poor medium for learning and developing the competencies. Any competency in such an interactive and dynamic field as leadership is best developed on the practice court. The closest we can come to a practice court is the coaching room where it is perfectly OK to roleplay and practice our swing, where we can make mistakes that aren’t fatal and where we can experiment and practice and make mistakes we can learn from before we are in the arena for real.

I am sure you are grateful for all the hours your dentist and your surgeon have spent practicing as I am also sure you wouldn’t want them practicing on you. Our people do not deserve to have us practicing on them.

And training is totally inadequate for helping the player to understand and develop her inner game, upon which all high performance rests. This needs to take place in the safe and challenging context of a coaching relationship, with a trusted and knowledgeable coach.

So if your desire is to become a better leader, the leader that your team deserve, understand the three domains of leadership in which we need to become not just good but excellent. Be clear that two of those domains relate to the outer game but the inner game is what runs the outer game and make sure you have adequate support and challenge to develop your inner game.