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Leadership + Business

Russian Dolls: Getting All of the Journeys Lined Up

by Peter Fuda


The Russian Dolls metaphor describes a complementary set of journeys that interact with a leader’s personal journey, thereby increasing levels of effectiveness. Russian nesting dolls, also known as matryoshka dolls, are typically made of wood and contain three to eight identically shaped dolls nested neatly inside one another. When you pull one doll apart, another one, slightly smaller, sits inside. Each doll in a set typically resembles the others, but may bear a unique image or pattern. Some of the most prized collectibles tell a story through different images painted on each doll in the set.

In our context, the Russian Dolls metaphor helps us to understand that a leader’s personal journey never exists in isolation; it is surrounded by multiple other journeys occurring concurrently. In our research, the subjects identified at least five different dolls, or journeys, which they felt were important in their transformation. These were; a personal doll, a leadership doll, a team doll, an organizational doll, and an up-line doll. I use the notion of “up-line” to represent the hierarchy above the leader; this might be an international parent company, a board of directors, or a state or federal regulatory body. Within the metaphor of the Russian Dolls, this constitutes the largest or outermost doll.

What we now understand is that when the journeys are neatly aligned, something magical can happen, as can be seen in Chris’ story.

In this video case study, Chris, Asia-Pacific CEO of an Italian eyewear and eye care company, talks about the interconnected journeys, or dolls, that combined to accelerate his leadership transformation and the transformation of his organization.

Chris’s story is a powerful illustration of what becomes possible when leaders create very explicit links between their own journey and the journeys of those who accompany them. His story also points to the power of storytelling to create such linkages. What Chris’s story is not, however, is a story of leadership transformation in isolation. The alignment of all the journeys, or dolls, was critical to his success.The most challenging doll to get aligned for most leaders is the ‘up-line’ doll. This doll can swallow up all of the other dolls, along with the leadership agenda, if it is not managed very carefully and intentionally. In my next post, I will provide several questions to help you work out where you stand with your up-line doll.

In the interim, you might like to reflect on the these questions:

  • How many of the dolls are relevant to your journey?
  • How aligned is your personal doll with the imperatives of your leadership journey?



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