The leadership funnel is based on the management funnel, a concept developed by Filip Vandendriessche (“Leading without commanding”).
The golden circle is a concept of Simon Sinek (“Start with Why”).
Both concepts perfectly connect and describe the essence of management and leadership.
CHALLENGE OR VISION
As a leader you have an overview of how your team and organization functions, if you achieved your goals, what consumers want, etc., now and in the future. This leads to a thorough insight and analysis of what needs to be accomplished. An effective leader can support this vision with indisputable facts and figures. So “we aren’t customer-focused enough” is not factual enough. Facts only will turn into challenges when measured against the context, mission and company values. The mission as such provides focus, direction and priority. In short it describes why a certain situation is a challenge.
The ‘WHY’ inspires, moves and gives purpose and meaning.
The leader translates this vision in goals. Goals in terms of the desired tangible end result that you want to accomplish on the short, mid or long-term. These types of goals are output goals. However, often goals are defined as input goals. Input in the sense that the goal describes the means and way (=solution) to achieve the goal.
In the first example the goal incorporates a solution ‘lower maximum speed’. Therefore we typify this goal as an input (=solution) goal. To achieve the output goal ‘less fatal accidents’ you can lower the maximum speed, construct a roundabout, educate youthful drivers about the risks of drink and drive, take away distracting billboards, etc. Formulation of a goal in output terms leaves creativity for finding the appropriate solution and addressing the real issue at stake.
The importance of formulating output goals is that you as a leader explicitly indicate to your employees what is expected of them while in the same time giving them responsibility and freedom for realizing this output goal in their own manner (=input/solution).
At this level the translation is made from vision and output on the one hand to possible solutions on the other hand. As a leader you formulate a number of criteria that represent the scope for your employees for searching fitting solutions.
Important for an effective leader is to formulate these criteria at the start (and not afterwards). Once criteria are formulated you as a leader have to accept from your employees any solution that fits these criteria!
Criteria often deal with the availability of means like time, budget, and staff. However core values of you as a leader and those of the organization are a crucial part of the playing field. In that sense the playing field becomes an way to define culture and to anchor the solutions, way of working, actions and behaviour you want. So additional criteria could be: solutions must fits organization values, must be aligned with other departments, may not imply more hassle for customers, must be co-created by the people which have to implement them and so on.
This level is about deciding which actions and solutions (how, who, what, when, where) are needed to realize your output goals and therefore your vision.
An effective leader gives his employees a free hand in coming up with solutions while he continues monitoring the process. If needed, he facilitates and gives support to his team. And of course, as a leader you have the final responsibility.
The leadership funnel indicates that your attention and priorities need to be at the level of vision, output goals, and criteria. As a leader you can permit yourself not to have a solution, however, you cannot permit yourself not to have a vision. Therefore the output level is the responsibility of the leader, the input level is the responsibility of the employees. This means that you can be quite ‘directive’ up to the level of criteria. Of course you can engage your employees to discuss the vision, goal and criteria. Not only the leader, also employees can come up with criteria (‘I need at least 2 weeks’). This makes the level of criteria a process of negotiation between the leader and his employees. Formulate few criteria as the more criteria you formulate, the more you are defining the solution. When as a leader you have defined together with your team the goal and corresponding criteria, you have to accept all solutions your employees present to you.
The leadership funnel can assist in resolving conflicts. The conflict pyramid is the opposite of the leadership funnel: at the level of solutions you can easily and often have discussions and conflicts as many options exist to address the goal. However, the conflicts are not that profound. At the level of vision you do not have a difference of opinion easily. However, if you do have a difference of opinion, it is a serious one. When ending up in a conflict about a certain solution, you can refer back to the level of vision. First find agreement at this level, then go back to the level of solutions.
For example: we most probably agree to have less fatal accidents (no conflict at challenge and goal level). However, which solution to choose to realize less fatal accidents can give many discussions and conflicts. One person focuses on the construction of the road, while the other is in favor of awareness raising.
Applying the leadership funnel is a way to influence others. In 7 steps you can have your employees ‘buy’ the vision. As opposed to ‘selling a vision’ (top–down approach) which is mostly practiced in organizations. The essentials of this ‘buying process’ is that you involve your employees in the various stages of the leadership funnel. Important is that they agree on the challenge (will you work on a solution for a challenge you do not acknowledge?).
In case of resistance you can use the leadership funnel to identify at which level the resistance is situated:
In each of these cases an action at a different level is needed to overcome resistance. For example: no use to convince with all kinds of arguments someone about the solution, if this person does not see or agree to the challenge.