Helping your leaders & learners develop the thinking agility to thrive in a noisy, fast-changing and often uncertain world.

August 2017

The Debrief | A Newsletter for HBDI® Certified Practitioners

Hi Al,

Today’s leaders and learners don’t have time to waste on sloppy thinking. The world is moving too fast, the challenges are getting more complex by the day, and the stakes have never been higher. Of course, all of these realities make it that much harder to stop and think, to get some clarity in the midst of the chaos, to be intentional.

That’s where you come in.

In a seemingly out-of-control environment, the brain is the one thing everyone has control over. But too many of us are running around on autopilot, failing to take advantage of it. Thinking agility has become an essential skill for everyone in the workplace, and Whole Brain® Thinking provides the simple but powerful way for people to use their thinking more deliberately so they can quickly adapt to the needs of the situation.

This issue of The Debrief takes a look at how you can help your leaders, learners and even yourself develop the thinking agility to thrive in a noisy, fast-changing and often uncertain world. As I like to remind people, you’re the CEO of your brain. And just like any good CEO, you need to pay attention to and manage this valuable asset.



Brain Kit

Your Mental Agility Workout

Thinking agility has become a leadership requirement in today’s world, but it’s not just a skill for leaders. No matter the job, information overload and day-to-day complexities come with the territory. Everyone’s feeling the pressure.

For younger employees and professionals looking to progress in their careers, there’s often the added pressure of trying to navigate the right development paths, find good mentors, and communicate their value and contributions to the organization. At any moment—in the elevator, the break room, after a presentation—they can come face to face with an influential leader or manager and the opportunity to make a lasting impression. Whether that’s a good impression or not literally comes down to how well they think on their feet.

In this month’s Certified Practitioner Stories segment (below), SBTI’s Al Landers shares some details about the executive presence programs they offer to help professionals learn how to talk about their work and the value they bring in a way that will resonate with different leaders or other influencers. The Whole Brain® Model gives them a framework and process to help them quickly think through what’s important so they can formulate an answer that’s compelling, concise and powerful.

When you’re working with employees who need to develop their thinking agility, the HBDI® is a good starting point for discussion and raising awareness about their thinking preferences and their potential blind spots. Use the Whole Brain® Model, the HBDI® App and other resources to provide them with actionable tools so that they can practice applying Whole Brain® Thinking skills and get more comfortable adapting in the moment. As they begin to build their mental muscles, they’ll become more agile thinkers no matter the situation.

For anytime agility, here are four thinking tips to share with your leaders and learners at all levels:

  1. Be more conscious of your mental processes and patterns, including how your thinking shifts under pressure. Don’t get stuck in an autopilot mode of reacting. Be intentional.
  2. Ask for feedback, and recognize that when there are complaints or problems, it’s an opportunity for learning—thinking preferences might be getting in the way.
  3. Schedule your thinking time. Too often we take thinking for granted, especially in today’s 24/7 environment. Even if it’s ten minutes a day, make a point to stop and think to get your focus and stay on track.
  4. Practice building your mental muscles and everyday thinking agility by finding opportunities to become more conscious of your thinking. Learn a foreign language. Try some brainteaser exercises. Look for activities that will require a stretch, and embrace the challenge of stepping outside of your mental comfort zones.

For a variety of tips and strategies to help your learners build thinking agility across the quadrants, refer to the Personal Thinking Agility Walk-Around. Encourage them to select activities in their areas of lesser preference to build up their comfort and thinking reflexes in all quadrants.

Download the WalkAround >

Certified Practitioner Stories

Interview with Al Landers
Al Landers is a Lean Sigma Black Belt, an HBDI® Certified Practitioner and a senior executive with over 35 years of experience. As a Vice President at SBTI, he provides strategic and executive-level deployment consulting, as well as project coaching and mentoring to the Green, Black and Master Belts he has trained. SBTI is a global management consulting firm specializing in deployment of powerful business and process improvement methodologies, with diverse clientele spanning basic materials, consumer goods, energy, financial, healthcare IT and utilities. Prior to joining SBTI, Al was the VP of Innovation at JM Huber, providing tactical and strategic leadership for the R&D group. He was also responsible for Business Process Improvement (Lean Sigma) for the company, which was instrumental in improving transactional, operational and innovation processes.

We caught up with him to learn more about his experience with the HBDI® and how he incorporates the HBDI® and Whole Brain® Thinking concepts into the Lean Six Sigma consulting, coaching and mentoring work he does. And we learned that there are more colors to Six Sigma than you might think.

How did you first get introduced to the HBDI®?

It was in 2006, when I was working at Huber Engineered Woods as Vice President of R&D. A consultant came in to facilitate a change management initiative with our leadership team, and as part of that process, we all took the HBDI® and he conducted the debrief with us.

This is no exaggeration: That was a turning point in my career.

How so?

I was in the sciences, working in a very analytical career, but I’d always been told, “You’re not the typical R&D guy.” I’d get bored if someone spent a lot of time on details. So, getting my HBDI® results was very interesting. My strongest preference was in the yellow quadrant, with some red, but under stress, I had a blue streak.

The whole experience was like a lightbulb going off. My boss was pretty heavily green, so it also helped us come to an understanding of each other. We ended up using Whole Brain® terminology a lot as we worked together. He would assign me projects and joke by saying things like, “This is a good project for your green,” since that was my least preferred quadrant.

Looking back, it also helped explain why I did better in chemistry than physics in school. I remember, I had just gotten my PhD in Chemistry, and a professor said to me, “You should go into chemical sales. You’d be very good at that.” I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me! I didn’t realize until later what a compliment that was, and I didn’t realize until I’d taken the HBDI® why he thought that.

How did you end up integrating Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI® with Six Sigma?

I was in charge of Lean Six Sigma training for Huber, and we brought in SBTI to do Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and Design for Six Sigma training for the R&D division. In 2011, I had the opportunity to take early retirement from Huber, and that’s when I joined SBTI. When I got there, I told the CEO about the HBDI® and asked if I could get certified in it. I started using it with a few clients, and then I facilitated it with our executive team, and they loved it.

How do you use it with clients? Are these all Six Sigma trainings?

Yes, in addition to Green and Black Belt training, we do something called Master Black Belt, which is an advanced class that comes after Black Belt and incorporates leadership skills as well. It’s for people who run programs and have to interface with executives in their companies. Instead of bringing in an outside consultant, they take on that role, so we’re “teaching them to fish.”

Part of that program is a simulation with role play, where they have to teach a module around project management. So, one thing I’ve done is incorporate the HBDI® and Whole Brain® Thinking into that experience. After learning what their HBDI® Profile is, I’ll give them a role that’s the opposite of their dominant preference so they can step into the shoes of other people and understand how others’ thinking styles react.

Is there generally a stronger tilt in these groups to certain preferences?

By and large, they’re “Whole Brain” groups, but they lean toward blue and green, since these are mostly engineering professionals.

Do you get much resistance trying to introduce “soft skills” training into the mix?

Initially, sure. Especially with analytical people, you’ll hear, “Oh no, here we go again.” But the utility of Whole Brain® Thinking helps win them over. And it helps that I have a PhD in Chemistry. That brings some credibility with it. I also emphasize the analytical side of the tool—the research and data that supports why it’s useful. I bring that in because I know it’s important to them. I know they’ll latch onto it.

How does learning about thinking preferences and Whole Brain® Thinking help them with their Six Sigma responsibilities?

I can always teach people how to do the statistical stuff, but where they tend to trip up is in the soft skills area. That’s why the HBDI® is so helpful. If you can’t explain a statistic, it doesn’t matter that you’re “right.” There’s a difference between being right and being effective. To be effective and communicate in a way that people will listen, you need to understand the other person and how they prefer to think—and most importantly, you need to be able to communicate in a Whole Brain® way. You can pick up some clues about how they think, but even if you don’t know their preferences, by communicating in a Whole Brain® way, you’ll be more effective.

What are some of the specific challenges they face in their roles?

The communication piece is so important at all levels—in the Green and Black Belt training as well—and that includes not just speaking, but writing, Powerpoint presentations, one-on-one conversations, emails. There can be some “intellectual arrogance” in this role. In other words, this person’s got the stats, knows they’re right, communicates in an overly complicated or confusing way, and then thinks everyone else is stupid if they don’t “get it.”

But what we talk about is the fact that these other people aren’t stupid; they just think differently. By using a Whole Brain® approach, you’ll be more effective and you’ll have more credibility. We often find that the smartest ones who are up for promotion are the ones who need the most help when it comes to their ability to communicate effectively.

And communicating with non-technical people is a big part of the job, right?

Definitely. In most cases, Lean Six Sigma professionals are coming in because things aren’t working and a change is needed. There’s probably some negativity internally about what’s going on, and people are already going to be resistant. So you really need the tools to communicate effectively and get people on board.

We’re talking a bit about leadership agility in this issue of The Debrief, and it seems like these are leaders who certainly have to be agile.

Absolutely. We also have a program where university professors who teach executives how to respond to the media in a crisis come in and work with them. They focus on executive presence, posture, body language and things like developing an elevator speech. So you’re really learning how to think on your feet. Part of it is coming up with your “brief,” which is a way to talk about your work in a concise way. Whole Brain® Thinking really helps with that process, because you know you’ll cover it all if you make sure to touch on all four quadrants.

It’s really cool to see how all of these disciplines overlap.

It’s so cool. When I think of Lean Six Sigma, it’s really nothing more than the scientific method. We have a set of tools at each of the five steps—tons and tons of tools. But every step isn’t blue, from a thinking standpoint. I once gave a presentation called “Colorizing Six Sigma,” where I mapped all of the tools to the quadrants. It’s interesting to take these “analytical” tools and show that there’s actually more to it than just the blue quadrant.

How do you view the connection between Lean Six Sigma and Whole Brain® Thinking?

I think of Lean Six Sigma as a roadmap for how to do something, while the Whole Brain® Model is a framework for how to make it more effective—to recognize all sides of it, not just the blue. For example, we have a roadmap, but we don’t want people to use every tool. So that requires you to use yellow-quadrant thinking, to take a step back and look at the big picture. You also have to follow a step-by-step process, so that’s the green. And of course, it’s going to involve and affect people, the red.

As Lean Six Sigma practitioners, we don’t pay enough attention to the soft skills. I think there’s a lot more we can be doing to integrate Lean Six Sigma and the HBDI®. The Whole Brain® Model has the credibility and analytical basis, and it’s sticky and easy to remember.

Any stories you’d like to share with your fellow practitioners about how it’s played out in your consulting engagements?

A recent experience during a Master Black Belt class was so powerful. There was an engineer in the class who was a strong blue- and green-quadrant thinker—incredibly organized, literally working on a billion-dollar project. He was impressive. What was interesting was, he had told me that he was dyslexic, but that he had learned to overcome it for the most part. It only occasionally cropped up when he was under a lot of stress.

We were doing the role play as part of a simulation, where I assign people a part with the opposite HBDI® Profile. I gave him the role of salesperson, a high red profile. Well, he took it on with gusto. He was great. We all were crying, we were laughing so hard. He was talking to other people, interrupting, doing all the things I’d scripted for him to do.

We’d gone through the role play about three times when he told me he needed a break. He said he was getting sick to his stomach—that the letters and words were just swimming on the page.

It was such a powerful reminder of the energy and effort required when people have to spend time outside their preferences. It was so stressful for him that it brought on his dyslexia. We sometimes say it can be painful to stretch outside your comfort zones, but we also need to remember that sometimes, it literally is painful!


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Spotlight on Thinking

How Leaders Can Improve Their Thinking Agility

In a recent post on the Strategy + Business blog, Jesse Sostrin writes, “Leaders operate with near-constant deficits of time, energy, resources, and focus, which keeps them locked in a perpetual state of catch-up.” The end-result is that there’s little room left for quality thinking.

Sostrin, who is a director at PwC’s U.S. Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence and author of The Manager’s Dilemma, goes on to say, “The strongest lever you, as a leader, have over how you manage your people, projects, and priorities is your own thinking.” And the potential lack of the essential skill of thinking agility in a new generation of leaders is what’s keeping a majority of the world’s CEOs up at night.

According to PwC’s most recent CEO survey, 77 percent of respondents were either somewhat or extremely concerned about a lack of key skills, and the elusive talents they identified were by-and-large thinking skills: adaptability, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation.

How to build thinking agility in leaders? Sostrin explains how he uses the Whole Brain® Model as a reference point and offers specific steps leaders and practitioners can apply to make thinking an integral part of an organization’s overall talent strategy. 

Read the article >


Upcoming Certification Workshops:

  • September 19-21: Palo Alto, CA
  • October 3-5: Dallas, TX
  • November 1-3: Atlanta, GA

See the full calendar >

Events and Speaking Engagements:

IMS Global Speaking Series
Speaker: Ann Herrmann-Nehdi
Topic: Unlocking Your Brainpower for Successful Leadership
Dates: September 19th in Denver, CO; September 20 in Seattle, WA

SHRM Leadership Development Forum in Phoenix, AZ
Speaker: Ann Herrmann-Nehdi
Topic: Strategies to Increase Your Business Value
Dates: October 3rd, 4PM MST & October 4th, 2:45 PM MST

 Get event details >

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