Leadership & Ed Schein: Pt. 2 “Helping”


Ed Schein’s birthday was March 5. One day after mine…

Part II. “Helping” (Ed Schein, 2009) . This blog post is my critique of the leadership development book. Each of my critiques review the key message of the book, the high-level concepts, the book’s areas of strengths, and where it falls short. I conclude each critique with an overall assessment ranking (1-10 ascending) of its effectiveness in providing the reader applicable lessons in personal and/or leadership development.

Overview: Ed refers to helping in the context of organizational life and those seeking outside-in help. The most common reason that leaders seek consultants is to create the change processes that they need to achieve their goals. “The greatest irony here is that in order to manage others through the change process effectively, leaders must first learn to accept help themselves.”

High-level concepts: Ed’s book described three main types of helpers – an expert, doctor, or process consultant. A helper can be an expert and provide the answer, a doctor who diagnoses, or a process consultant who works so that the other comes to their own conclusions. He argues at the early stages of a relationship, the process consultant approach is the most appropriate. 

Key Message: “Starting out in the process consultant role is the most likely to facilitate status equilibration and to reveal the information necessary to decide on what kind of help is needed and how best to provide it. Only when some level of trust has been established, it is possible to get accurate information that allows the shift to the expert or the doctor role.”

Areas of Strengths: Ed is the founder of deep theory around process consultation, which is a major part of my professional job in enterprise change. His tips and principles at the end of the book are easy to pick and begin using. The strengths of the process consultant is to remove the ignorance inherent in the situation, to lessen the initial status differential (removes hierarchy) and identifies what further role may be most suitable to the problem identified. He provides contextual situations where it would be helpful for a leader to use this strategy, as in when she is (yes, she is) learning about the culture and the “practical drifts” (deviations of how the work is supposed to get done by the norms and practical best way to get work done).

Supplemental Materials: Ed and his son Peter have a site for Organizational Culture Institute at: OCLI.org (scheinocli.org)

Where it Falls Short: Process consulting is not the right answer for every type of relationship. It is, however, a good approach for new leaders coming into new organizations or situations.

Overall Assessment & Why:  I rate it an 7 out of 10. It’s foundational and helps me think about to best support others in professional interactions but its over-simplistic and doesn’t make the necessary distinguishment of relationships outside of the professional ones.