Diverging...to a Point

Linking Leadership to Learning

Merriam-Webster defines diverging as “moving or extending in different directions from a common point.” For Alaina, the VP of HR for a healthcare organization, diverging is common practice. Her strengths in generating alternatives and seeing the big picture allow her to be at the forefront of innovation and engagement year after year. When asked how she can spot emerging trends, she says, “It’s like I am able to stand on a balcony while others are on the dance floor.”

From there, she is not mired in details or practicalities; instead, she is able to imagine an ideal situation and detect patterns in emotional energy, events, and interactions. She values diversity, novelty, and creativity; yet, she tunes out when she detects tunnel vision or monotonous repetition.

Alaina prefers the Imaging style. In this learning style, people thrive on generating new ideas, as in brainstorming. This perspective helps Alaina to “find problems” rather than simply “solve problems.”  Where others on her team rush to a decision about how to solve the most obvious issue, Alaina takes the time to include others’ opinions and see new approaches to old issues. She can connect the dots to anticipate outcomes of any potential decision and immediately try to improve upon it. However, when Alaina diverges from the goal once a project has been put into motion, her team finds it frustrating to change course.

This tension is especially evident in times of urgency when the team is pushing to achieve practical, efficient results. Because Alaina is aware of her learning style preference, she monitors her own enthusiasm to change directions once a project is underway. She finds it especially helpful to be accountable to Dan, a team member who prefers the opposite Deciding style so that she does not linger too long imagining. Dan’s approach is to commit to one goal and measure progress as he goes. If unchecked by some attention to the opposing Deciding style, Alaina might never deliver the practical outcomes needed for her leadership challenges in HR.

If you prefer the Imagining style, use your strengths to slow down decisions that are being made prematurely by your team. Instead, take some time to generate alternatives that offer a fresh approach or spark a new insight. And, you will need to know when overusing a strength becomes a weakness. Make sure that you are not diverging once others are implementing the plan and on the way to the finish line. You can always diverge again when the time is right, and others are diverging with you. Practice this approach in any conversation by finishing one thought before jumping to the next.

If you wish to develop this style, practice by imagining three solutions to any one problem before you make a decision or jump to action. When speaking with someone, ask three questions before making a judgment. By allowing the time and space to diverge, you are more likely to identify the right problem to solve and to generate a creative solution.

How can adopting the Imagining style contribute to your leadership?  The skills of the style will provide the foundation for you to:

Create a vision. You need to tap your inner dreamer to imagine a future that is different from the present. This divergent thinking requires untethering from practicalities, perfect plans, and current reality to imagine “what might be.”

Be empathetic. In the Imagining style, you feel and watch what’s going on around you, especially with interpersonal relationships. From this gentle, helpful stance that is focused on others, you are better able to imagine what is like to feel the way others feel.

Value diversity. From the Imagining position, you are open, curious, and accepting. Your appreciation of differences in feelings, perspectives, thoughts, and actions promotes a deeply diverse culture.

The nine learning styles are linked to nine steps in any process (like learning, leading, and decision-making) and nine parts of a whole person. Leaders who build flexibility to use all nine styles of learning form a foundation for leadership that promotes effectiveness and lifelong development. Remember to spend time diverging in the Imagining style…to a point. Then, choose one direction toward achieving a practical goal.

The Learning Styles

Source:  How You Learn Is How You Live:  Using Nine Ways of Learning to Transform Your Life

© 2016 Kay Peterson and David A. Kolb