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Six Supersenses

Providing Evolutionary Advantage for Senior Leaders

Executive Summary

The Six Supersenses® are the semi-innate but learnable facets of senior leaders which help them and their organizations survive and succeed within the context of challenging environments. The Six Supersenses® have been derived from the observations of widely experienced executive coaches, who in turn are now using them to develop existing and future senior leaders across a range of organizations and fields of endeavor.

The Challenge

Today’s Senior Leaders have much to contend with in terms of competitive threats to their organizations, challenges to themselves and an unprecedented amount of fast-paced global change. This is often summarized as the “VUCA challenge” (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) for which there appear to be few simple and reliable answers amongst the academics and business gurus.

We already know that some species of animals and plants have what scientists call “supersenses” which are far beyond the range of human perception and enable them to respond to their environments in a manner which appears to be anticipatory in nature. These “supersenses” are of positive evolutionary advantage to them over their competitors and have allowed them to adapt, survive and succeed.

As a result of more than 20 years of observing and coaching leaders at various levels across a wide range of sectors, it has become clear that some leaders appear to have an innate talent for success. This guides their approach and responses to situations, which other less talented people struggle to cope with. It appears they have some “sense” of how, when and why to respond, or not, to situations. These are neither leadership competencies nor skills, but they are both largely innate and possible to develop.

The Six Supersenses®

The distillation of our observations leads us to conclude that there are “Six Supersenses®” that have a particularly powerful evolutionary advantage for senior leaders, which in turn enables them to successfully survive and thrive in today’s VUCA environment. In outline form the “Six Supersenses®” are:

1. Sense of Purpose: One of the key roles of the leader is to determine the strategy for the organization and then hold themselves and others to account for its delivery. A true sense of purpose and clarity is essential to arriving at this with wisdom, care and consideration. The leader needs to instill appropriate confidence in others in order to harness their abilities and ideas. It is their sense of purposethat is fundamental to nurturing this confidence in and from others.

“You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.” Abraham Lincoln

2. Sense of Direction:  Scanning the event horizon for as yet unseen risks and challenges is a key requirement of all leaders. Giving a true sense of direction in terms of how they want those risks mitigated, helps the leadership team in managing situations at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. It is the leader’s internal guidance system and awareness of the possible ways forward that provides stability, in the same way that a gyroscope provides navigational stability to aircraft and ships. This internal guidance relies on the leader having a keen senses of who they are, what they are about and what drives them. They can then from a stable base choose rationally in which directionto take themselves and their organization.

“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

3. Sense of Duty:   Being a modern leader is a 24/7 role. Leaders require that sense of duty to put the organization’s needs in front of their own when considering all matters of consequence. It’s this sense of duty to the organization and its stakeholders that underpins the stewardship that is essential to all well run organizations. It relies on a high degree of self-awareness and willingness to do what’s right all the time regardless of the consequences. It’s the sense of dutywhich instills the trust of followers and colleagues alike, particularly when they come to know that the leader will act appropriately on every occasion.

“Horses … Men … Self...”   Royal Horse Artillery Officers’ Mantra

4. Sense of Timing:   During their careers leaders work in organizations which evolve and grow at differing speeds in relation to their environment and the competition. It is the leader’s  sense of timing that can help the executive team determine when managerial effort is best applied and when organizations can best respond to stakeholder, shareholder and competitive demands. What is essential is that the leader has the ability to judge correctly when, whether and how to respond rather than reacting to a situation.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Dwight Eisenhower

5. Sense of Adventure:   Identifying opportunities for change in what the organization does in anticipation of events requires that leaders have a sense of adventure rather than being passive in their responses. All leaders require a sense of Adventure, along with the imagination that often accompanies it, if they are to create the conditions necessary for the future success of their organization. It is the sense of adventurewhich is quickly able to assess the risk/reward balance and tilt it towards capturing opportunities that others have not yet identified, or even create the conditions for disruptive innovation.

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” Publilius Syrus

6. Sense of Proportion:   Leaders in many organizations react with speed and sometimes haste to events which on reflection could be handled better. It is the leader’s sense of proportion, in handling complex and multifaceted problems through reasoned discussion that helps organizations remain sustainable. Those more distant from the coalface are also in a position to judge what it is fair and reasonable in terms of organizational behavior and reach decisions calmly and sensitively in a VUCA environment.

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur


Applying the Six Supersenses®

The Six Supersenses® are now being used as a structure on which to base the development of existing and future senior leaders. The Six Supersenses® provide a strong basis for executive coaching engagements, particularly those where step changes in organizational or leadership team performance are thought to be necessary. For more details of the Six Supersenses® or how they can be applied please contact david@globalexecutivecoaches.com or alli@globalexecutivecoaches.com.