The IdOO pattern as leadership model

The IdOO pattern (below) is integral to the first two chapters of the Agendashift 2nd edition (March 2021) and also to our Leading with Outcomes and Coaching with Outcomes training (self-paced and interactive workshop respectively). It hardly seems possible that the pattern is only a year old, but this post from April last year really does seem to be my first mention of it.


So what is it? Well, it’s at least four things in one, demonstrating its considerable “stretchiness” in terms of the timescales involved:

  • It’s a leadership routine – three or four quick questions, some quick answers, taking just moments
  • It’s a coaching pattern – a higher-level structure to wrap around your favourite coaching tools to bring some strategic perspective – less emphasis on getting to the next commitment, more on the strategic landscape in which options will be developed
  • For facilitators, it’s the overall arc for a string of workshop exercises, whether that’s an hour’s worth or a day’s
  • For consultants, it’s a way to frame a client engagement – as helping them understand where they’d like to get to, what’s in the way of that, and what they might achieve along the way

When taken slowly enough it’s fractal: there may be obstacles in the way of any outcome, and there is always the opportunity to bootstrap the process and identify new ideals at different levels of detail.

This post relates most closely to the first of those uses, IdOO as leadership routine. Here is the IdOO mnemonic not as the structure of a conversation but as an easily-remembered leadership model:

  • Ideal – sustaining a sense of overall direction, connecting people to purpose, helping people find meaning in their work
  • Obstacles – building trust and empathy by recognising the obstacles that people face – their everyday frustrations, the “struggling moments” of actual and potential customers – everything that stands in the way of performance and success; real, relevant, and representative problems that better-designed organisations or products would alleviate
  • Outcomes – keeping at the forefront the goals around which work is organised and to which streams of work are aligned; remembering to celebrate their achievement and to focus the associated learning (both organisational and individual) to the maximum

It’s not a million miles away from my 3-point summary of Servant Leadership. Here in the last chapter of Right to Left I’m channeling Greenleaf, noting what I describe as his “masterful systems thinking”:

  1. The first responsibility of the Servant Leader is to help others to be successful – removing impediments, ensuring that basic needs are met
  2. For people to remain engaged, the Servant Leader must help others find autonomy and meaning in their work, together discovering, developing, and pursuing the organisation’s values, mission, and purpose in society
  3. For this process of transformation to be sustained indefinitely, Servant Leaders must help develop Servant Leadership in others

Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows (2019, audiobook 2020)

I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that IdOO supersedes any of that (IdOO only scratches the surface of point 3, for example), but it could be a good starting point if you find Servant Leadership hard to grapple with.


I’ve mentioned my Agendashift (2021) and Right to Left (2019) already; let me mention some other books I’ve referenced in one or both of those:

  • Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, Robert K. Greenleaf (Paulist Press, 25th Anniversary edition, 2002) – decades ahead of its time and still an inspiration; I re-read it every few years
  • The Serving Leader: Five powerful actions to transform your team, business, and community, Kenneth R. Jennings & John Stahl-Wert (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2nd edition, 2016) – a recent take on servant leadership and a tweak on the language that some will welcome; I’m grateful to Agendashift partner and Servant Leadership champion Angie Main for finding that one
  • Host: Six new roles of engagement, Mark McKergow & Helen Bailey (Solutions Books, 2014) – a change of metaphor and one that brings new insights
  • Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, L. David Marquet (Portfolio, 2013) – another great book all round; helpful advice here with regard both to obstacles (when and when not to take them away, for example) and to the learning and development aspects of the model

Not referenced but worthy additions to that list:

  • Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, Stephen M.R. Covey (Free Press, 2006)
  • Demand-side Sales 101: Stop Selling and Help Your Customers Make Progress, Bob Moesta (Lioncrest Publishing, 2020)

I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Covey’s Speed of Trust, good stuff so far. Bob Moesta’s book fits here better than you might guess from the title; it’s a great book on Jobs to be Done, and it’s my source for the the phrase “struggling moments”.

IdOO at the the conferences

Don’t forget the Agendashift 2021 conference on May 18th – not long now! The IdOO pattern will certainly get a mention in my opening introduction (not keynote – that honour goes to Pia-Mia Thorén). And I’m thrilled that Gervase Bushe will be speaking on leadership in the closing keynote. He is the author or co-author of two of the 2nd edition’s key references, The Dynamics of Generative Change and Dialogic Organisation Development.  

Possibly a mention of IdOO in one form or another in my LAG21 talk on the 25th, trust-building being a key element of the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation (see the last couple of chapters of the Agendashift 2nd edition). Agendashift Academy is proud to sponsor that conference too.


Listed now on the Agendashift Academy’s Store page are our scheduled workshops:

And always now the self-paced option:

Selected appearances by Agendashift partners, me where unspecified:

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