Ed-Tech Company CEO Shares Leadership Style Approaches

Monica New HeadshotRecently a business school student who was working on a project with my company, Listenwise, asked me what kind of a leader I was: effectual or causal.   

I hadn’t really thought about it, but it made me curious.

First I looked into the different approaches to the thinking styles. Effectual reasoning means you don’t choose a specific path in advance. You make the path using your strengths and opportunities. Causal reasoning means a leader sets the path in advance and follows the steps she believes will keep the company on that path. An entrepreneur who uses causal reasoning has a set goal and finds ways to reach that goal. An entrepreneur who uses effectual reasoning will start with what they have and look for all possible ways to reach that goal.

Wikipedia describes the different leadership styles by using an analogy with cooking. An effectual chef would use the ingredients at hand to make a meal. He would think about the different possibilities all those ingredients could create in taste, flavor and color.  In the end, there will be a delicious meal. 

The chef who uses causal thinking sets the meal plan in advance. She buys the right ingredients to make the meal, follows the recipe closely  and the food also turns into a delicious meal.

This analogy is interesting to me because in the kitchen, I know exactly what kind of person I am. I am a causational chef. I meal plan every week, purchase all the necessary ingredients and cook dinner nearly every night. It’s stressful for me to look in the refrigerator and see what there is and what could come of it.

I like the certainty of a good meal at the end of the day.

But at Listenwise, I am an effectual leader.  Some of the principles underlying this approach speak to how I started the company. I began with what I had and understood. I was an NPR reporter who leveraged my connections to build the first collection of curated public radio stories on Listenwise. I raised my first investment money, like many entrepreneurs, from family and friends.

Part of being an effectual leader includes testing things to fail and learn, and to do this by not investing more than you can lose. I did this in the early days of Listenwise by working on the concept for nearly a year before leaving my job. We still take this approach, running small-scale tests on new features or products to validate or disprove our hypothesis.

Another element of being an effectual leader that speaks to me is building a network of people who want you to succeed. This helps reduce uncertainty in the early stages. I met my first mentors more than five year ago as part of the LearnLaunchX ed-tech business accelerator. They are still mentors to me today. And even if someone’s expertise wasn’t needed by me at the time, I still made and kept the connection because in the future they might be helpful.

I think one of the most distinctive characteristic of an effectual entrepreneur is they don’t try to predict trends. Too often predictions go wrong. Instead I shape my own future and use what’s happening in the market to my advantage, for example when we created our listening assessments.

So, as I reflect on my personality, in the kitchen and as CEO of Listenwise, I can see a little of both of these approaches in my life.

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2 thoughts on “Ed-Tech Company CEO Shares Leadership Style Approaches

  1. Thanks for introducing me to the causal versus effectual. I am clearly an effectual leader as I have had several thoughts circling in my brain over the last eight months since being laid off. Started my consulting business in April 2018 and loving it as I finally get to create what I have envisioned for years. A business that works with corporations to get invested now with K-12 schools at a minimum. If they want the workers they need for tomorrow, they need to get enrolled now to make sure they are prepared. I am all about STEM Professional development, having lived in the high tech, aerospace, and engineering world for 25 years of my career. After 9/11 when Aerospace slowed down, I left a lucrative sales career and went back to school at Arizona State University and got my Secondary Education teaching certification. I continued and obtained a Masters in Education, emphasis in Educational Technology with Dr Alice Christie as my professor, mentor, and dear friend. Also discovered recently we are related on both sides of my family. She is my 8th cousin, no wonder I think like her! I also finished all but my dissertation in Educational Technology. I’ve gone back to school at Harvard to get a Business Analytics certificate and learn AI, Machine Learning, and Block Chain as I am going to build the databases needed by teachers to find grants, and one day, the platform to get rid of high stakes testing. Yes, I have grandiose plans but I love what I do, and can’t wait to make a difference for educators getting corporate America involved.

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