"Pimp My Boss": Design Thinking for Tomorrow's Leaders

March 24, 2021

The new leadership-workshop

How can leaders thrive in our modern working environment? As helpful classic workshops are, they have their limits, particulary when it comes to implementing the learnings into daily business. But things can be different, as the new leadership workshop “Pimp My boss” offered by the WU Executive Academy shows. Based on the principles of design thinking, executives work on solutions for better leadership together with their teams. Konrad Holleis, team lead of Custom Programs, has given it a try together with his team.

symbolic pic enhance leadership
Involves employees in leadership development: the new ledership-workshop format.

The innovative workshop “Pimp My Boss – leadership by design thinking” taught at the WU Executive Academy offers a unique format that not only involves managers but also their employees in leadership development. In our new world of labor, leadership has long ceased to be a one-way street. For this specific workshop, Max Lammer, an employee experience expert, and Martin Giesswein, an innovation and management expert, have applied the methods of design thinking to the context of leadership.

Leadership Means Serving the Team

“The behavior of their supervisor is the most important aspect of employee experience within a company,” Max Lammer says. Employee experience describes the cycle of experience with a given company and its corporate culture a staff member goes through, from onboarding until they leave the company. Leaders, however, are not always aware of their own conduct: blind spots can lead to frustration among staff, which in turn can result in dramatic losses in productivity. “Pimp My boss” makes a U-turn with regard to feedback: from the employee to the leader.

Pic of a chalkboard with feedback for leadership
A good feedback culture is important - in both directions. Photo © CC0 Licence

Improving Leadership Qualities Together

Before the workshop, it is important to assess the current status of leadership quality through an anonymous employee survey, which is then shared with the manager. “Anonymity is of the essence here so that people will provide honest feedback and share their real experiences,” Martin Giesswein clarifies. The workshop leaders will then create a prioritized cluster of topics: the issues that are relevant for the majority of employees will be addressed and worked on together during the workshop.

Portrait Martin Giesswein

Martin Giesswein

  • Innovation and management expert

Just like a service, you can shape leadership behavior through the seven-step design thinking process.

In this way, leadership qualities are improved through team development. The most important rule during the workshop: “No shaming, naming, or blaming,” Max Lammer explains. The design-thinking process puts interpersonal issues in an objective frame and applies structure to team development. There can still be emotional moments, though: “It doesn’t make a difference whether the team is tight or already at serious odds. What counts is that a shared development process is initiated,” Lammer specifies.

A Self-Test With an Aha Moment

Before the WU Executive Academy added the external workshop offer to the portfolio for companies, it was tested on site: by the Executive Education team of Konrad Holleis, team lead of Custom Programs.

Portrait Konrad Holleis

Konrad Holleis

  • Team Lead of Custom Programs

Even before the workshop, an open and friendly communication style with our teams was very important for us. During the workshop, my staff’s feedback still laid bare certain blind spots of my management style, especially with regard to structure. As uncomfortable as it may be sometimes, feedback like that is extremely important if you want to go forward as a team.

Especially working on solutions together with regard to team management and cooperation was highly fruitful, Holleis confirms. “For me, the best moment was when we realized as a team that we needed to come up with solutions together. After that, we determined the roles in our development process. One colleague suggested to put down the process and our targets in writing and have everybody sign the document. The fact that we as managers don’t have to decide everything on our own was a great experience for me.”

Just the Beginning: In for a Penny, In for a Pound

This one-day workshop is only the beginning of team and leadership development. During the workshop, measurable targets are agreed on, which the team will pursue together following the Scrum approach.

Portrait Max Lammer

Max Lammer

  • Employee experience expert

The team leaves the workshop with clear milestones and a joint commitment for the following weeks and months.

During regular retrospective meetings, employees discuss with their manager how the targets agreed on in the workshop have been implemented and take stock of their experiences so far. “We reflected on our process three times a week in so-called stand-up meetings: are things moving along; are we on the right track?” Konrad Holleis says.

“Pimp my boss” not only serves to better structure collaboration and distribute assignments within the team more effectively, it also promotes open communication, Martin Giesswein emphasizes: “Often, false harmony hampers collaboration within a company. We encourage employees and managers to talk about the elephant in the room: this way, obstacles can be named and, most of the time, overcome.”

Konrad Holleis recommends this workshop especially for leaders and teams who want to face their blind spots head on: “This does require courage. As a leader, you need to be able to deal with the feedback you receive. But this courage will pay off: through better leadership, communication, and productivity.”

For more information about the leadership-workshop "Pimp my Boss", please click here.

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