Mary Olson-Menzel is the founder and CEO of MVP Executive Development and co-founder of Spark Insight Coaching.
In the echelons of innovative and transformative leaders, few shine as brilliantly as Steve Jobs. Jobs, and a few others in this rarefied cohort, with their brilliance, their vision of a better future, and a powerful drive to push humanity forward, have etched their names in history.
At the heart of their revolutionary impact lies what we like to call “3D Leadership”: define reality, declare intention and decide strategy. Let’s dissect how extraordinary minds have embodied this concept and how you, too, can adopt this mindset for innovation and leadership in your own organization.
What is 3D Leadership?
Dr. Mark Goulston,psychologist, coach, master negotiator and author of the bestselling book “Just Listen,” designed the concept of 3D Leadership with certain exceptional leaders in mind.I was fortunate enough to be one of his trusted colleagues to collaborate with him in refining what that looked like. Mark passed away recently and it feels like it is my mission to get these principles out into the world.
Jobs and visionaries like him excelled at defining reality” — not accepting things as they are, but reimagining as they could be, and in their minds should be. They have a unique ability to perceive pathways beyond the present construct and identify opportunities that might be invisible,even inconceivable, to others. They don’t predict the future; they create it.
How do they mold these visions into tangible objectives? They boldly declare Intention. Jobs wielded what was termed a “reality distortion field.” His charismatic conviction didn’t just persuade; it inspired and disrupted the norm. He made you believe in the impossible, thereby literally “mobilizing” a collective effort toward his futuristic visions.
When Jobs witnessed the underutilized potential of the graphical user interface and mouse at Xerox PARC, he didn’t just see tools; he saw the gateway to a new era of personal computing.
Yet, ideas alone, no matter how compelling, are not enough. As Thomas Edison, another legendary innovator, pointed out: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Therein comes the third dimension: decide strategy.
Jobs was known for his meticulous, almost obsessive, approach to realizing his visions. Jobs built a culture of excellence by surrounding himself with uniquely talented individuals like early partner Steve Wozniak, designer Jonny Ive and current Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Laying the groundwork for 3D Leadership
Now that we have identified the three stages of 3D Leadership, it’s worth exploring what conditions might precede them. What factors indicate that an individual may be a future 3D leader? According to Goulston, it begins with being a first-class “noticer.”
Noticers embrace the unknown as an adventure, challenge the status quo and end up changing the world. They’re always in a mental state of exploration, ready to pivot and move on to their “Aha!” moment, while others tend to see the unknown as a danger to be feared and avoided.
This leads us to what Mark Goulston called the, “Whoa, Wow, Hmm, Yes” sequence, describing the journey from amazement to decision. Observing and considering the GUI and mouse, Jobs may have thought, “Whoa!” (astonishment), “Wow!” (realization of potential), “Hmm…” (how to turn that potential into a reality), and finally, “Yes!” (unwavering resolution to do it). This sequence isn’t just emotional; it’s a powerful cognitive process that transforms observation into purpose and action.
Putting it into practice
So, what does this mean for you and me as leaders in our own work? Emulating these giants starts with nurturing our capacity to notice, to be genuinely curious about and perceptive within our environments. It requires courage to see the unknown not as a threat, but as a catalyst for possibilities. From this space, we can learn to trust our “Whoa’”moments, contemplate and flesh out the “Wow” and “Hmm” phases, and then move forward confidently with “Yes.”
The 3D Leadership model is more than a formula for greatness; it’s a mindset. Cultivate that mindset, and develop your ability to be strategic, resolute, and even visionary. By embracing curiosity, “first-class noticing” and the “Whoa, Wow, Hmm, Yes” sequence, you begin to lay the groundwork for innovative thinking and transformative leadership. Like Jobs , you too will start to operate from a place of future-creating, and that makes all the difference.
What kind of future do you want to envision, design, and create for yourselves this year? Begin by defining your reality, declaring your intention, and then start to design your strategy. I’d love to hear about it.