Case-In-Point without Heifetz in the room
“The report of my leadership development death by power point was not an exaggeration.” – A program participant with a nod to Mark Twain.
Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky at Harvard developed a teaching method many years ago call Case-In-Point. The leadership development sector has been in disequilibrium ever since.
What Heifetz and Linsky did was turn the work of developing leaders upside down. Instead of using the “expert” in the front of the room and PowerPoint slides to dump lecture notes into the heads of participants; they elected to give a big chunk of the learning responsibility back to the students and in so doing, accessed the heart of the learner as well.
A foundational premise of their classroom work was that everything that is needed to learn and develop leadership capacity is already sitting in the room. The work is to get it out and make it visible. Achieving this result requires both the instructors and the students to partner in the exploration and discovery. It turns out that building that partnership is hard to achieve but with effort, it works out for most everyone.
Much has been written about the Heifetz/Linsky approach. So much so that case-in-point has taken on mythic status inside the leadership development community. For many practitioners, CIP represents the high bar for teaching leadership.
I am one of those practitioners and for a long time I saw CIP as both a high bar to clear and a kind of merit badge to achieve. Having cleared the bar but still waiting for the badge, I have learned a few things that I want to share with others.
- I think that CIP is an invaluable approach to facilitating and developing leadership capacity. It makes use of all of Malcolm Knowles’ six principles of adult development. I believe that Knowles gets the credit for lighting the path of development that CIP leverages.
- In my experience there are roughly two groups of CIP facilitators. The first group is made of people who took the Harvard course. Within this group, it further divides into those who want to deliver CIP the way Heifetz does. This is a near impossible task but try they do. Others are anxious about the Heifetz approach to CIP so they shield themselves with slides and lecture and mostly intellectualize the work instead of facilitating the experience. The second group never took the Harvard course, have little or no exposure to Ron Heifetz and therefore facilitate CIP without much of the myth and anxiety that seems to burden the first group. This group can facilitate CIP without the shadow of Ron Heifetz standing in the back of the room. That is useful to everyone.
- Facilitating CIP does take grit and stamina to hang in when the room gets heated. It is helpful to know how you can get hooked in difficult conversations.
- Seeing the work in the room as a system of relationships and avoid becoming fixated on individual stories is useful to for learning.
- Observe, observe, observe (getting on the balcony). This is a fundamental piece of facilitation craft that will always be helpful.
- Case-in-point facilitation will be challenging but it is more rewarding then lecturing and showing seventy slides to a room full of experienced adults.
I encourage more practitioners and internal learning and development professionals to hone your case-in-point craft. It is harder development work but because it is harder, it is more rewarding.
I will continue to write these briefing notes on developing leadership capacity because we need more skilled facilitators helping leaders build their capacity.