A silo-busting leadership thought from Drew Gilpin Faust

Recently, The New York Times interviewed Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University (and formerly a leader at my alma mater). She told a short story of asking Michael Porter to run a session at a retreat with the deans of Harvard’s various schools, as she sought to “build cohesiveness and integration” across the multi-tentactled behemoth that is Harvard University. Apparently, Porter asked the group, “How does being part of Harvard University give you an unfair advantage?”

Dr. Faust thought this was just the right question, because it asked each dean to consider how his or her school — medical, law, divinity, you name it — was better positioned to succeed because it is one of the behemoth’s tentacles. As Dr. Faust put it, this great question “allocated to [the deans] a self-interest in buying into the larger university purposes but also the aspiration of thinking about how we can all be better together.”

So how could a “right question” like this help you, a leader in your own organization, align interests toward the larger whole? What do you want your “deans” — directors, or managers, or vice presidents — thinking about so that they not only own their own success, but see the larger picture and want to contribute to making it a rosy one?