Introducing: The Personal Leadership Canvas

The practice of "making the system visible" is core to the discipline of systems thinking. In order to truly leverage change - design what can be, and implement what will be - we must understand what is. Draw it, paint it, build a model, act it out, do whatever it takes to make it visible; see the moving parts and understand how things connect.

People do things differently, even when they live and work together. Sometimes it requires diagrams to understand.

People do things differently, even when they live and work together. Sometimes it requires diagrams to understand.

My world and my work changed when I was first introduced to the Business Model Canvas. The group behind this tool found a simple and elegant way to make the business model visible and show how different aspects related to each other - on a single piece of paper. The business model canvas has been an invaluable tool in our work with clients and our understanding of ourselves as an organization.

I’ve already made it clear that I believe that leadership is the ultimate leverage point for change in any human system. At Owl, Fox & Dean, we do not teach the definition of leadership. Rather, we teach the practice of leadership so that you can define what it means to you personally and as an organization. We take a systems thinking approach to help our clients understand themselves, their relationships with others, and the context in which they operate. We can then help them imagine and design their own vision of leadership (what can be) and make the necessary commitments to implement a plan to get there (what will be).

To do this, we needed a tool that would help our clients understand themselves without judgment, in relation to others, and the context in which they operate. We needed a tool that would help visualize all of this elegantly and without over-complication. We needed this tool to point to when teaching and coaching, and we wanted an artifact that our clients could use and adapt over time, long after we were in the picture. This tool would help us leverage great change through our work. We didn’t see it out there, so we designed it ourselves.

Enter: The Personal Leadership Canvas.

We drew from a variety of models and teachings, including the work of our colleague, friend, and mentor Thom Walters (who willingly let us prototype on him), Bill Plotkin's teaching of the Loyal Soldier via Mary Kay Chess of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and even the early 19th century modern architect Richard Neutra. And of course the design of the tool was inspired by the Business Model Canvas. Most of the concepts are not our own although we do believe we’ve helped to show the relationship between them in new ways.

The Leadership Canvas provided a visual way to think through my behaviors and needs objectively, and with Caleb’s guidance, has helped me hone in on a vision and purpose to move forward on.
— Sara

We’ve now used this tool with more than 25 clients and in more than 200 hours of coaching. We are extremely happy to make it available for download on our site. We ask that you use it, share it, and tell us how it works for you.

Our goal is to bring a refreshed and unique perspective to the understanding, practice, and teaching of leadership. This tool is one step in our process of helping individuals and organizations develop a practice and culture of leadership; we look forward to sharing more with you in the future.