Connecting the Dots

Ruth Shaw was the first woman to head a U.S. power company (Duke Energy). Equipped with a Ph.D. and a successful career in higher education, she had served as an executive in various positions at Duke. When she was chosen for the top position, she was surprised. She didn’t have technical knowledge in engineering, marketing or operations. The board chairman told her that the company already had specialists; that she was chosen to be the CEO to connect the dots. Connecting the dots is very much about having, and using, one’s intuition.

My own lifetime of connecting dots

Early in my corporate career, I set out to learn as much as I could about the large organization of which I was a part. Since I began as a bench scientist, learning more about the bigger organization meant that I needed to take control of my own learning and seek out positions in business areas that would help me learn as much as I could in the shortest time possible.

At one point, one of my managers said to me, “Mary Jo, if you want to get into management, you’ll have to stay in a position for a while” (I had never stayed anywhere in the company for more than 2.5 years at that point). He was implying, of course, that I needed deep technical knowledge in order to move up the ladder.

I wasn’t buying his advice, and have grown to understand that the learning I did served (and is serving) me well. I ended a long career with a global position that required a ton of intuition and a lot of knowledge stuffed into my brain. Because of my broad experience and my drive to learn, I am proud that, most of the time, I am able to connect the dots.

Why dot-connecting is important

As our world and our businesses become more global, connecting the dots will become even more important. Leaders who can grasp the significance and connectivity between their organizations, the larger corporation, their communities, countries, and the global context are going to be in top demand. In a poll conducted by PRWeek and Burson-Marsteller, the majority of the 252 CEOs surveyed said they were likely to rely on their intuition when making most business decisions.

The key is in being a learning leader

In order to see the whole, leaders need to be learning leaders. This implies a lot of vulnerability and a willingness to ask the questions that will help the brain to patch seemingly unconnected information together. Leaders need to be able to take in large amounts of information and make the connections visible and relevant to others. The ability to anticipate the future, solve problems with insight, and focus on long term goals are all direct results of being a learning leader.

Learning has everything to do with your ability to work with people and create healthy, strong relationships with others too. When you learn more about your followers, you are able to connect the dots in order to guide them in applying their strengths and passion to the work that is most meaningful for them and your organization.

A learning leader is able to seek out and distill a great amount of  information. They can then exercise their brain muscle by intuitively connect the dots; an in-demand skill at almost any organization. It takes a dedication and drive to learn, as well as conscious intent.

Are you being intentional about learning today in order to connect the dots tomorrow?

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

8 comments on “Connecting the Dots

  1. One has to put conscious effort while learning things. Especially if you want to become a Good Leader. In this ever growing highly competitive market where businesses are going global, it is all the more important that we as Managers should learn consciously and implement that in future. And take prompt & right decisions from our previous learning & instincts that helps to connect the dots to make a better and sensible organization.

    Thanks for the Post Mary Jo.

  2. Wow, excellent post Mary Jo, you rock it! Conecting the dots to me is a learning process, that is a malleable behavior that we will hone and grasp as we go out there and face ourselves with the day to day real life situations, so intuition comes on top of that. Thank you for sharing this great stuff with us. I loved it!

  3. Mary Jo,
    Thank you for your insightful post on learning leaders. I consider myself a “connect-the-dots” type of person and have learned, over the years how important it is for me to rely on and trust people who have more technical depth than I. Another analogy I like to envision when I think of the role of an intuitive, learning leader is that of sewing together a quilt. A master quilter, just as a leader, has the opportunity to bring together a vast amount of fabric in every color and texture in order to create a unique, beautiful and functional quilt. Each piece of fabric used in the quilt is vital to its’ pattern, contributes to its’ beauty, and becomes part of something bigger than it was before. The genius of the quilter is his/her ability to see how each individual piece of fabric, when arranged in the right place, in relation to the other pieces, will enhance the overall splendor of the quilt.

  4. I definitely agree. Today’s global business almost forces us to cross culturally interact with others. This requires learning. And it seems the more you “know,” the better prepared you are for success or to capitalize on opportunity.

    Also, it seems to me that the “dots,” seem to be very flexible and can change very quickly because of the fast paced environment live in.

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