Case-In-Point without Heifetz in the room
“The report of my leadership development death by PowerPoint was not an exaggeration.”
– A program participant with a nod to Mark Twain.
Over a period of 15 years, at Harvard University, Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky developed a teaching method called Case-In-Point. The leadership development sector has been in disequilibrium ever since.
Heifetz and Linsky turned the work of developing leaders upside down. Instead of using the “expert” sitting in the front and PowerPoint slides to dump lecture notes into the heads of students, they elected to give a majority of the learning responsibility back to the participants, and, in so doing, accessed the heart of the learner.
A foundational premise of their classroom work was that everything 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 requires both the instructors and the students to partner in the exploration and discovery. Building that partnership is hard to achieve but, with effort, it works out for most.
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 a high bar for teaching leadership.
I am one of those practitioners. 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 is made up 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 lectures, and mostly intellectualize the work instead of facilitating the experience. The second group never took the Harvard course and/or have had little or no exposure to Ron Heifetz. Therefore, they facilitate CIP without much of the myth and anxiety that seems to burden the first group. This second group can facilitate CIP without the shadow of Ron Heifetz standing in the back of the room.
- Facilitating CIP takes grit and stamina to hold the space when the room gets heated. It is helpful to know how you get seduced in difficult conversations. Seeing the work in the room as a system of relationships and avoiding becoming fixated on individual stories is useful for learning.
- Observe, observe, observe. Get on the balcony to step away from the action study the participants.
- This is a fundamental piece of facilitation craft that will always be helpful. CIP facilitation will be challenging, but it is more rewarding then lecturing and showing 70 slides to a room full of experienced adults.
I encourage more practitioners, and internal learning and development professionals to hone your CIP craft. It is harder development work, but because it is more difficult, it is more rewarding.
I will continue to write these briefing notes on developing leadership capacity because we need more skilled facilitators helping leaders develop their capacity.