Innovative leadership using Theory U

Theory U is a process for innovative change in teams, organisations, and communities. It helps us tackle our toughest unresolved challenges. It offers fantastic insights to leaders too, about how to bring about meaningful change and innovation.

A bit about me and TheoryU

I have been learning about Theory U since 2015. I had co-led MIT’s version of Theory U, u.lab and had the pleasure of meeting and connecting on projects with MIT’s Senior Lecturer Otto Scharmer, who wrote  when he visited the UK.

I have also led  innovation projects in the UK, based on TheoryU.  This was part of my work on community and on climate change.

TheoryU: A framework for innovation

Innovation enables us to be resilient…and resilience gives us the strength to innovate. In a time of volatility, uncertainty, adversity and chaos we all need processes to help us to develop leadership,  collaboration as well as facing our challenges.

Theory U enables you to connect with innovations that come from a meaningful place rather than knee-jerk reactions. It is one approach that offers both an innovation framework and a collaborative approach for teams and leaders. You can read about one of the TheoryU tools and how we used it at a day learning event here.

What are the leadership lessons in TheoryU?

When you take part in a TheoryU type process, you will experience – rather than hear about – the lessons.  They are to be lived.  In the absence of that happening here and now, here is a quick summary….

Deep listening and paying attention

This one won’t be a surprise – Otto states that the most important leadership skill is to listen and pay attention. To others, to stakeholders and to self – to your own intuition. It’s a mindful type of listening that is embedded in empathy for others. And to listen deeply to ourselves, there is a practice of journaling with guided questions: e.g.  Emerging future: Where do you feel ‘the future’ is in your work right now? (future themes, addressing future challenges, sensing enthusiasm for the future in projects.)

When I met with Otto, I noticed that the way he listened was full of deep attention – it was a significant feature of his engagement with you. He states: “The power of attention is the real superpower of our age. Attention, aligned with intention, can make mountains move.”

An eye on the horizon

Throughout u.lab I discovered tools for keeping an eye on the horizon – noticing the trends that were emerging in society, community, organisations and teams. This is a fundamental skill for any team player and leader too.

This way to pay attention and attune through open non-judgmental listening, journaling, team coaching and other tools gives rise to an inner wisdom about the next steps you need to take. 

We used the tools for keeping ‘an eye on the horizon’ on a TheoryU group I was co-leading on food poverty in London. As a result, we were collectively inspired to co-create London’s first Community Fridge (now closed due to Covid). This was an energising journey that sparked an interest in other communities setting up their own community fridges and led to global, national and city wide press coverage

Find out more

TheoryU is a powerful structure for innovation for leaders, teams, organisations, and communities. To learn more, drop Andry a line about facilitated TheoryU learning events and projects for UK organisations.

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