The Sanger Leadership Journey

To develop as a leader, you need to intentionally guide yourself on a leadership learning journey where you experiment with new behaviors on a daily basis. Our 5-step framework below explains how you can embark on and accelerate your own leadership development. This framework is based on the groundbreaking research of Dr. Susan Ashford on mindful engagement. We highly recommend her recent, highly acclaimed book, Flexing, as an essential companion to anyone looking to improve their leadership skills.

Introduction

Leadership is a set of skills that anyone can learn. To transform as a leader, you will need to intentionally guide yourself on a leadership growth journey to seek out concrete daily opportunities to expand and improve your leadership skills. Such a journey ideally becomes a way of life; we can always take our leadership to the next level. 

The 5-step Sanger Leadership Journey framework helps you design intentional opportunities for your leadership development. The framework will help you create a plan for where, when, and how you will test new leadership skills. Steps 1 and 2 are the “pre-work.” Do them once at the beginning of this process to set yourself up for success, then revisit them periodically to make sure they are still relevant and you are on target. Next, get to work. Steps 3 and 4 are about iterative action. You will experiment with new skills on a daily or weekly basis. In Step 4, you zoom out to reflect and refine your experiments in Step 3. Once you feel comfortable enough with the process, you can move to Step 5 and pay it forward by supporting others on their journeys (while still practicing yourself!).

Have a Sanger Journey Experiment to share?

We want to hear it! Fill out our form to share your journey.

Sanger Journey info graphic

(Click to enlarge graphic.)

large map

1. Identify Your Point of Origin

Step 1 is about defining your bookends: understanding yourself as you are today and what you are aiming for in the distance. To do the former, you need to define your personal values, understand your current strengths, and recognize how your social identity informs your decision-making. The latter requires you to consider and record your aspirations.

Timeframe

Complete Step 1 once. In the short run, your point of origin and dream destination will stay fixed. However, you can revisit your dream destination periodically to ensure that your experiments (which you will get to in Step 3) match what you are aiming for.

Take Action

Point of Origin

Dream Destination

Spend 10 minutes reflecting and taking notes using the following prompt:

  • Imagine you’ve reached your dream destination. You realize that every goal you have has been achieved; the best and highest hopes that you had for the future have ALL been realized. Now close your eyes and envision what your ideal self is like at that point.
    • How do you feel? Who is the person you’ve become? What’s important to you? What looks different now that you’ve reached your destination? What’s possible here?

2. Chart Your Course

Step 2 is about making your aspirations concrete and actionable. With your point of origin and dream destination in place, now it’s time to map out how you will make progress. Use the quadrants from the Michigan Model of Leadership to structure your path forward. Choose one of the four to start with, then identify a handful of specific skills from that quadrant which you will focus on improving in order to move closer to your dream destination.

Timeframe

Complete Step 2 and revisit it approximately on a quarterly basis, or whenever you feel like you have made good progress and are ready to move on to the next Michigan Model quadrant.

Take Action

  • Pick one quadrant from the Michigan Model of Leadership to start with.
  • Review some examples of skills and behaviors you might practice within that quadrant, then choose 2-4 to work on. You will practice skills one at a time in Step 3, but it will be helpful to know which ones you want to move on to next.
  • With these skills in mind, identify specific opportunities to practice them within your daily routine. Concretely, look at your calendar for the next 3 months. What professional or social events are you planning to attend? What team meetings do you already have scheduled? Circle them and make a note about opportunities to practice.

3. Run Experiment Cycles

Step 3 is where the action happens. Here, you will test out the new behaviors and skills that will move you towards your dream destination from Step 1. Think of every interaction you have throughout the day as an opportunity to practice. Your team meetings and other social gatherings are all great environments to try out something new. Students can also consider classes, clubs, co-curriculars, and internships.

This process can be broken down into three parts, which you will do again and again—this is your Experiment Cycle:

  1. Develop a hypothesis for a specific behavior you want to try out, and remind yourself of the outcome you are hoping the behavior will help you achieve. (If I do ___, then I will see ___ happen as a result.)
  2. Based on your hypothesis, pick an intentional time and place to practice your new behaviors. (I will practice ___ for one week during each of my project team meetings.)
  3. Solicit feedback from a trusted peer or colleague who has seen you in action, and incorporate insights into your next experiment cycle the following week.

Timeframe

This is where you will spend the bulk of your time on your journey. Each Experiment Cycle should last about 1-2 weeks, trying out your new behavior ideally at least a couple of times. After you receive feedback, you can either iterate on the same skill and try it again the next week, or move on to a new skill.

Special Note ~ Roadblocks and accountability

We know from research and our own experiences that Step 3 is where things get hard. You have to actually go try out a new behavior! It may feel uncomfortable, unnatural, or awkward. In order to engage in behavior change, identify roadblocks, remind yourself of why you are trying the new behavior, and build in accountability mechanisms (e.g., telling someone you will experiment) are all ways to ensure that you take this critical step forward in your own leadership development.

Take Action

  • Review the Journey video to learn more about how to design your experiment cycle.
  • Document, document, document your experiments. Record each hypothesis, how you practiced it, the results you observed, and the feedback you received.

4. Reflect & Update Goals

In Step 4, pause. Take a high-level perspective. Celebrate your successes. From here, you want to decide whether you will continue with skills from the same Michigan Model quadrant that you have been working on, or move on to a new set.

Timeframe

Do this periodically, approximately every quarter. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your growth and capture any learning that will help you move forward.

TAKE ACTION

5. Guide Others

Step 5 is about sharing your knowledge with others. Once you have gone through the previous four steps at least once, you can support others along their leadership journeys. Whether it is helping them understand the process, refining goals, offering feedback, or holding them accountable to practicing through their experiment cycles.

Timeframe

Do this once you feel comfortable enough with the rest of the process. This may happen at the end of one semester, or a year, or more into the future.

TAKE ACTION

Set up a feedback partnership with friends, colleagues, project teams, or clubs.

Support on Your Journey

The Sanger team is here to support you along the way. You may connect with a member of our team with any questions. Additionally, we can be reached at rossleaders@umich.edu.

Tracking Sheet

To begin tracking your Journey, you may copy and use our spreadsheet below, or you can track it using your favorite journal or planner. Do whatever works for you!

FAQ

General

Why should I complete the journey?

Leadership is a set of skills that can help you achieve your goals and create more thriving relationships across all domains of your life. Improving your leadership skills is something anyone can do, just like learning math or a new sport. However, learning a new skill takes practice, feedback, and dedication. The Sanger Journey is a framework that helps you coach yourself on a daily basis to do the work needed to accelerate your leadership growth. Doing this work can open up doors for you across your life!

Who should complete the journey?

Anyone who is committed to developing lifelong leadership skills and abilities should engage in the Journey framework.

Why is it called The Journey?

The term “journey” is used to describe that the process is ongoing and when we begin to learn a new skill, we are not experts; that the process of learning something new is an adventure, a journey. We believe that each social interaction you have—be it a dinner with friends, a project team meeting at work, a volunteering event, or a class lecture—offers you the chance to experiment with new leadership behaviors and expand your leadership skills.

Who can I ask for help?

The Sanger team is available to answer questions over email, Zoom, or meet with you in person. Reach us at rossleaders@umich.edu to let us know how we can be of help!

What research is this based off of?

The Sanger Journey is based on research on mindful engagement by Sue Ashford and others, the social sciences on behavioral change, coaching best practices, and leadership behaviors management research.

Example citations for this research are below:

Ashford, S. J., & DeRue, D. S. (2012). Developing as a leader: The power of mindful engagement. Organizational Dynamics, 41(2), 146-154.

Milkman, K. (2021). How to change: The science of getting from where you are to where you want to be. Penguin/Random House.

Passmore, J., & Fillery-Travis, A. (2011). A critical review of executive coaching research: a decade of progress and what’s to come. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice, 4(2), 70-88.

Morgeson, F. P., DeRue, D. S., & Karam, E. P. (2010). Leadership in teams: A functional approach to understanding leadership structures and processes. Journal of Management, 36(1), 5-39.

Routine & Timing

How long will it take?

  • The Journey framework is designed to be conducted in cycles. While the Journey is self-paced, we suggest completing one full Journey cycle (steps 1-5) within 3-6 months.
  • While steps 1 & 2 are set once and revisited a couple of times within a year, you will spend the majority of your time in step 3: Run Experiment Cycles. As you complete experiment cycles and gain confidence in your progress, you’ll complete steps 4-5, a few times a year.

How do I build this into my routine?

There are plenty of opportunities at your fingertips to build Journey experimentation into your weekly routine. Whether it be within classes, clubs, the workplace, social engagements, or Sanger programs, we suggest carving out time each week to craft your hypothesis and identify opportunities to run experiments. You are more likely to be successful if you ask an accountability buddy to hold you to the process and provide you with feedback.

How could I integrate this into my team or workplace?

The Journey is a great tool to create a culture of learning in your organization. One way to build it into your team is suggested below. This method will allow each team member to focus on a learning goal, while also sharing with others what they are working on so others can assist.

  • On a monthly basis, ask your team to fill out a shared spreadsheet that documents each person’s experiment. Be sure to include their names, experiment, and accountability partner.
  • During a team meeting, have each person explain their greater goal and their experiment.
  • Offer a space at a weekly meeting for any team member to share updates on their experiments.
  • At the end of the month, hold a short review meeting where each team member describes how their experiment went, and their actions moving forward.
  • Repeat the process monthly, or however often works for your team.

How do Sanger Programs fit into the Journey?

Maximize opportunities for growth by participating in Sanger programming while on your leadership journey. Sanger’s action-based programs accelerate your journey in three ways:

  • Be immersed in a safe low-stakes learning environment 
  • Develop a wide range of valuable leadership skills
  • Access to immediate opportunities for experimentation 

Select the Sanger program that aligns with the skills you want to develop, use the experience as an opportunity to experiment with new behaviors, then reflect and integrate insights into your next Journey experiment.

Goal Setting (Steps 1 & 2)

I don’t even know where to begin. What is some advice to help me get started?

  • First, identify the specific roadblock. If it’s a matter of the ‘chatter’ in your head telling you that you can’t, Ross’ own Ethan Kross has some excellent, practical tips on how to tame that voice and reframe the experience.
  • If you understand the framework but want to see it in action before diving in, review the Journey examples below.

If you just have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Sanger team at rossleaders@umich.edu.

What are some examples of specific skills that I could practice to move closer to my dream destination?

Once you have selected a quadrant of the Michigan Model of Leadership, check out Sanger’s Leader Behavior Encyclopedia to get some ideas for specific skills you would like to practice.

Experiments (Step 3)

How do I know what experiment to run, where do I get leader behaviors?

Once you have selected a quadrant of the Michigan Model of Leadership, check out Sanger’s Leader Behavior Encyclopedia to get some ideas for specific behaviors you would like to practice. While behaviors that are data-driven have a higher chance of being successful, you also could ask others around you for ideas on how to accomplish your goal – for example, what are behaviors I could do in the team to be more inclusive?

Where can I track my experiements?

You can track your experiments using our Journey worksheet or in a physical notebook/journal, whichever works best for you! 

How many experiments should I practice?

You should focus on one experiment at a time. Experiment cycles should last about 1-2 weeks, and you should test out the behavior ideally a couple of times during the cycle. After you receive feedback, you can either iterate on the same skill and try it again the next cycle or move on to a new skill.

What are some examples of where I can actually practice my experiments?

We encourage you to practice experiments in any context: at a team meeting, at a family dinner, at work, and in class! Anywhere that makes sense for what goals you’re trying to achieve.

How do I create a hypothesis?

Your hypothesis should be an if/then statement: If I do ____ behavior, then I predict that I will see ____ outcome. Keep in mind that your hypothesis is just your best-educated guess about the effect that your specific behavior/skill will have on others. Remember: it will likely be imperfect. That’s expected and that’s ok. You can (and should!) revise and re-experiment. In fact, that’s exactly what makes this process iterative. Visit the Journey examples if you want to see how other people have framed their hypotheses.

Reflection (Step 4)

What if I don't have an accountability partner?

If you’re not able to establish a classmate, friend, colleague, or supervisor as an accountability partner, research shows simply informing others of your goals helps keep you accountable. Consider posting your goals, experiments, and progress on a social media platform such as LinkedIn so your network can follow along and help hold you accountable.

Guide (Step 5)

I’m not confident enough to be a guide for others yet. What should I do?

Being a guide for others doesn’t mean that you have all the answers, it means that you have the wisdom to share. Based on the experiments that you ran, think about what you could teach to others. It’s up to you to think about how you will use your new skillset and share your expertise with others. 

Share with others that you are on a learning journey and while you don’t have all the answers, your insights as to what works and what doesn’t could be valuable to those around you.

What does a guide look like? Who are guides?

A guide is a person who advises or shows the way to others. It could be in an advisory capacity, a mentor, or a trusted friend. Think about the expertise you have and how it could benefit others.

examples

Example Tracking

Want to see exactly what your tracking sheet should look like? View the example below for one WMBA student’s journey.

FEATURED EXAMPLE: MBA1 STUDENT

Learning Objective (Step 2):
Become more self-aware; ask for feedback to increase self-awareness and identify opportunities for improvement.

Hypothesis, Experiment, & Feedback (Step 3):
Hypothesis: If I ask for help in the form of feedback, then I will learn more about how others perceive me.
Experiment: I will practice seeking feedback in my project groups in Fall A and B.
Feedback: After facilitating our first meeting, I followed up with a classmate who knows me well enough to provide feedback and asked if there was anything I could have done differently to be more effective.

Reflection (Step 4):
My peer gave me feedback that didn’t align with my feelings about the meeting, which was a helpful check-in. I had left the meeting feeling anxious and on edge, but got feedback that I was efficient, clear, and set the team up for success. This has made me more comfortable asking for feedback and served as a reminder not to let my anxiety get the best of me. I always have room to improve, but I also have strengths that I can draw on in a group setting.

FEATURED EXAMPLE: SANGER STAFF MEMBER

Learning Objective (Step 2):
Gain comfort with ambiguity, especially in brainstorming meetings where not many decisions are being made or action is being assigned.

Hypothesis, Experiment, & Feedback (Step 3):
Hypothesis: If observe and listen intently at meetings and study group interactions vs. try and think of my next “to do” item, I will more thoughtfully engage in brainstorming and be a better team leader.
Feedback: I shared my experiment with the team and asked managers for feedback.

Reflection (Step 4):
Managers felt I appropriately contributed to brainstorming while at the same time promoting team members to action. Personally, by giving myself a one-hour time block at the beginning of the week to project plan, I eliminated the need to project plan while in the actual meeting, freeing up my mind to contribute to the more ambiguous situation.

Need more examples?

Browse the Leader Behavior Encyclopedia to view behaviors that could align with a new experiment for you.