The Developmental Imperative For Coaches and Consultants

Geologists have identified five mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Yet as the vast majority of life has been wiped out, our planet has continued to adapt and generate conditions for life to flourish once again. Unfortunately, many experts consider us to be living in a sixth mass extinction right now. And although we can situate this in a historic pattern, our current predicament is also a novel situation. Never before has a single species been almost entirely responsible for a mass extinction. Yet this is precisely the reality we are faced with today.

In the past, species loss often unfolded over one hundred thousand years or more. Even the extinction of the dinosaurs that began with a meteor impact unfolded over hundreds of thousands of years. But in this regard too, we humans are more efficient. In this largely human-driven extinction event, we appear to be accelerating global challenges and generating multiple crisis contexts at an incredible speed.

As Thomas Friedman suggests, we are in the Age of Accelerations. Specifically, the convergence of three major accelerations: Moore’s law in technology, data and automation (which predicted the doubling of transistor capacity roughly every two years), Globalization (of trade, information & communication, and mobility), and of course climate change and population growth.

Taken on its own, any one of these forces is difficult for the human mind to grapple with. Taken together, the exponential complexity and compounding interactions exceed the limits of our computational thinking—and furthermore, exceed the ability of most leaders and systems—to adapt and respond.

As a thought experiment, imagine a young woman who, just this spring, will be standing in front of family and friends, shaking hands with faculty and administrators, and proudly receiving her college diploma. Imagine the scale of change that she’s witnessed in just her twenty-some years, compared to the hundreds of thousands of years of human history that stretch behind us.

Imagine her grandparent, or even her great-grandparent, and the changes they witnessed in their lifetime. Compare that to the changes she’s seen, and the acceleration is breathtaking.

Consider, too, that 90% of all the data generated in human history was created in just the last two years of this young woman’s college education. In just 2.5 years from now, experts predict that 40 zettabytes of data will exist. (For comparison, when our graduate started her sophomore year, the entire world wide web was estimated to contain only 0.5 zettabytes.) This is exponential acceleration. This is what it means to live in unprecedented volatility, and complexity.

As rigorous and well-intentioned as it may have been, the college education system that our graduate dutifully completed was not designed to provide her with the tools to cope with this exponential rate of change. And while it is true that change brings opportunity, it also brings suffering. We already know that some of these accelerations are not in her favor—nor are they in favor of her children, or her children’s children.

How to prepare for what you can’t imagine

The next three to five decades are likely to be an especially pivotal period in human history. And while there are many worthy places to put our attention and energy, there is one frontier humanity has only begun to understand and has yet to leverage at scale. This frontier is human development (forthcoming book by Dr. Zak Stein, Education in a time between worlds: essays on the future of schools, technology, and society). It, too, can have compounding and even exponentially generative effects.

In our view, adult development is one of the greatest unharvested resources available right now. Pervasively across cultures and continents we underestimate what we are capable of becoming. Largely, we don’t perceive our individual or collective potentials. And we have much to learn about how to effectively scaffold and scale human development.

Even though this reservoir of possibilities has yet to be effectively leveraged, we do have many decades of exquisite research that reveals how our abilities develop throughout the life-span. Powerful developmental theories reveal that we are an evolving species and suggest how we can better cultivate more powerful, ethical and beautiful aptitudes. Leading applications of these theories have produced important advances in how we participate with our capabilities at home, and within our organizations and communities.

For example, research reveals that individual development is strongly influenced by the cultural surround. Or in other words, the culture you’re immersed in day-to-day at work dramatically impacts the range of your individual capacity and the collective capacity of everyone in your organization.

An example could be seen in the divergence of North and South Korea. These people once considered themselves to be the same people and part of a unified country until 1945. Over half a century later, we might consider the developmental differences of the leadership found in each country. The North has an isolated imperial dictatorship threatening nuclear war, and the South has a self-correcting democracy that just elected to weed out corruption at the top of both its political (president) and corporate (Samsung’s CEO) power structures through the rule of law. These people are literally from the same families in many cases, but the contexts and cultures have massively impacted how leadership shows up and what developmental capacities are displayed.

When it comes to applying developmental theories and seeing results in action, two key areas stand out: Developmental Coaching and Developmental Consulting. Although we all can’t pursue advanced study in developmental psychology, we can, thankfully, engage the expertise of those who have in real-life, applied and outcome-driven applications.

In Developmental Coaching, the insights of developmental theory are married with the skill and art of individual coaching to intentionally foster the emergence of new individual abilities. Developmental Consulting applies developmental insights to support greater collective growth and increased capacity to address broad human challenges alongside current market demands and opportunities. The two work hand-in-hand to support individuals and groups to navigate unpredictable terrain with targeted responsiveness and invaluable creativity.

Developmental Coaching allows skilled coaches to up-level their impact and broaden their influence in the world. By listening to, acting on and participating with the developmental contours of their clients’ lives they can both better serve their clients more effectively and help shape our collective future in critical ways. Developmental coaches are an essential part of helping today’s leaders—in all areas of their lives and in institutions of all sizes—to become more capable human beings.

Developmental Consulting applies expertise for shaping institutions so that they may better cultivate and develop human talent. The pervasive paradigm today is one that views an employee as more-or-less fixed people who fill roles, execute core functions, and deliver goods valuable to the ecosystem of the institution. All too frequently, people are employed for their current skill sets and not effectively leveraged as a resource of evolving talent. While accurate in one respect, this functional-transactional perspective doesn’t see employees as evolving, developmental investments with exponential long-tail value that far exceeds that of short-term task and role fulfillment. Generative creativity and innovation in the people and culture themselves are often missed entirely. When leadership fails to use work—all work throughout an institution—to continuously grow talent, people, and culture, the result is that the productions of work serve to reinforce a less capable humanity.

If there were ever a time for leadership to exercise more creative and mature aptitudes (as opposed to repeating the habits of the past), the time is now. Now is the time when organizations of all sizes must become hungry for expertise that will enable them to optimally facilitate the ongoing maturation of talent and growth of people.

And just in case the urgency is lost on you, remember: billions of human lives rest in our very next actions. Our best science tells us the well-being of our species and the ecosystem as we know it are at high risk. The global nature of the challenges in this age of acceleration require the commensurate accelerated development of leaders, along with cultures and practices that accelerate higher individual and collective developmental range, capacity, and action.

In other words, the race between disaster and development is on.

Although it is clear that the people and organizations we are today, for the most part, are not prepared to work elegantly with this responsibility and complexity, there is a free and infinite resource available to us right now. Our larger potential is available in this very breath. It lives inside the place where this very sentence makes contact with our open curiosity and courageous intelligence.

We can repeat yesterday or we can re-envision tomorrow. We can fearfully pump the brakes with yesterday’s solutions or we can get a feel for the wheel and learn to turn into the skids of tomorrow. It’s all in our hands. And one of the most powerful tools that equips us for skillful action is a developmental perspective. The pivot point, the place where we take new action and direction, is always available right here and right now.

Rob McNamara is a faculty member of the Integral Facilitator Certificate program, a Leadership Coach and author of The Elegant Self. A leading expert on adult development and human performance, his coaching services help individuals increase their scope of influence where it matters most personally and professionally.

A Certified Integral Facilitator, Entrepreneur, and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Pete Strom is a core member of the Ten Directions training and consulting team specializing in elevating existing teams and events for higher impact.

Join Rob McNamara for a 12-week advanced Developmental Coaching Mastermind, starting October 2017. This is a rare opportunity for 15 coaches to be part of advanced professional coach training with Rob, where you will grow and refine your mastery as a coach, as well as focus on how you can provide rigorous, grounded and accurate developmental coaching with your clients. Click here for information and to register for the program.
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Thinking Differently About Our Development Can Facilitate Better Outcomes

For those of us interested in adult development, too often we tend to focus on stages.  In particular, we zoom in on those higher, more complex and seductive forms of maturity that presumably are waiting for us to discover their beauty, added power and desired relief. They reside “up there” in the heights of our preferred hierarchies.

Once we begin to understand development, it is easy to idealize its higher reaches. These idealizations piggyback on long histories and torrid love affairs with our deep-seated assumptions.

Our unexamined assumptions can lead us to believe that less developed equals less capable. Being less developed means we are more challenged by life’s demands;  more developed must be ‘better’.

While many of us shy away from value judgements on personal worth, our developmental assumptions—grounded in science or otherwise—find their way back into our everyday decisions. These assumptions and judgements thrive in the decisions we make about who we love, who we hire or work with, and who we surround ourselves with socially.

Implicit inside these assumptions about development is that we can be located at a specific stage of development. Thinking this way can fix us into less flexible versions of ourselves. Our ideas of who we are and where we are going can quickly lose dynamism as we idealize our gifts and focus on who we should become.

From there, an obsession with “being better” can easily consume our attention and energy. Some of us focus on deficiencies instead of strengths and talents, further fixating our self-concepts as being inadequate.

These narrow perspectives on ourselves (and each other) create an unfortunate consequence of understanding adult development. Valorizing the stages “above” where we pin ourselves and others can produce a tendency to declare ourselves to be more developed than we actually are. . We quietly ignore an inadequacy beneath the facades of confidence, instead structuring our narratives around our brightness, intelligence and assumed complexity.

On the flip side, we may be overly harsh with ourselves. No matter where we are and what we are able to accomplish, we are never good enough. We ‘need’ more development. Regardless of the emotional tone and focus of our narratives, the source of both types of distortion is our assumptions, which narrow what we are willing to experience.

The antidote to this ‘vertical pursu-itis’ is to look instead at what we call developmental range. This is different from our “center of gravity”, an abstracted normative range in which you (or others) tend to show up developmentally, but which moves us away from the specificity of our aliveness in any given moment.

Developmental range instead steers us towards specific contexts, particular behaviors and distinct skills. Instead of generalized abstractions, developmental range focuses on the immediacy of our developmental complexity in response to environmental and contextual surrounds from moment to moment. The concept of developmental range focuses us on the dynamic, relational quality of our skills and behaviors.

For those of us seeking to support more advanced competencies within  ourselves, our clients, or others that have developmental nuance and rigor, I advocate for the intimate study of reality as it is discovered in the here and now. As Freud proposed, let us abandon the fantasies of who we are for ever more intimate confrontations with reality.

If you are thinking of yourself, your clients, partner, colleagues, or family as individuals who abide in a particular stage of development, I encourage you to instead consider the realities illuminating diverse developmental ranges. Developmental complexities—and the rest of the gestalt of our identities—are always being formed and co-constructed with the dynamism of our surroundings. Once we stop enacting a dimension of ourselves, this complexity dissolves in service of enacting what is now present and center in ever-changing experiences.

This view into our micro-developmental processes invites us into more attuned understandings of how to work developmentally with ourselves as well as our clients, teams, organizations and others. While developmental range can help us hug the more intimate contours of our moment-to- moment experiences, it also helps us include the more conceptual developmental insights, which of course also hold their own partial truths.

Amidst our explorations into developmental diversity in action as immediacy, we may find a freedom from the developmental aspiration to grow up. Then we can participate with the full range of development that is available to us in any given moment.  In this way, we may become more elegant in growing “down” into refining our developmental foundations as well as “up” into our higher possibilities.

Rob McNamara
Leadership Coach & Author of The Elegant Self
Faculty & Coach, Integral Facilitator Certificate Program

Join Rob McNamara for a 12-week advanced Developmental Coaching Mastermind, starting October 2017. This is a rare opportunity for 15 coaches to be part of advanced professional coach training with Rob, where you will grow and refine your mastery as a coach, as well as focus on how you can provide rigorous, grounded and accurate developmental coaching with your clients. Click here for information and to register for the program.

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Your Instabilities Are a Good Thing, and So Are Other People’s

For many of us, the experience of adulthood involves what I call  “completion projects” in The Elegant Self.  Completion projects are our unexamined drives to become (or appear) more whole and complete. Because they are unexamined, they are the unseen agendas that appear to have most of us.

Adult Development expert Dr. Robert Kegan refers to what has us as that which we are subject to. This is in contrast to what we hold as objects in our experience. Objects are  what we have, or can manage as parts of our experience. On the other hand, what is subject is a pervading quality throughout all our experience.

For most of us, our completion projects are not objects in our attention but are actually part of the subjective fabric of our identities. Completion projects, in their various flavors and forms, are part of who we are that is doing the looking, thinking, deciding and acting. These projects often mediate us.  Our completion project isn’t the kind of explicit undertaking you have at work, which you can work on, then put down to go home or engage another project. For most of us, completion projects are the operative norms behind most of what we do in our waking lives.

Wholeness and completeness are intoxicating ideas.  As experiences, they become even more seductive. When we complete large initiatives in our lives, we tend to relax. Whether it’s  completing a new certificate program, getting a degree, landing a new job, or being chosen  for a key promotion, there’s a sense of finishing what has been challenging us in meaningful ways. With the validation of the completed accomplishment, our nervous systems relax as we release the gas pedal of effort and action. Once achieving a completion, there’s a sense of greater wholeness. These experiences are fleeting, but enjoyable. We expand, we feel bigger, and we hold more in our interiors as we peer upon what’s now both inside of us and behind us.

What completion projects reveal is how we weave narratives that illuminate our biases toward stability. Socially it makes sense to be predictable. We are often rewarded for being consistent. The more stable we appear, the more trust people grant us. When we present a steady and stable self, we  gain social capital. In all of these instances, the  quiet and pervading agenda to present ourselves as more whole and complete is at work.

Although our conceptions of ourselves tend to privilege wholeness, developmental research reveals we operate far from this stable, predictable self. Decades of research conducted by Kurt Fisher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education reveals that who you are, and what you are capable of is always embedded in social, cultural and environmental contexts. These shifting surroundings change the ways you know yourself. And, changes in conditions around you shift what you can and can’t do.

This means that in reality, we are always in constant flux—despite the allure of our bias for stability. This sense of being in constant flux is heightened when we peer into our developing aptitudes. Looking at how we step into new capabilities, we’ll find that our personal and/or professional lives are often demanding that we find a different landscape. When growing new skills, our abilities need to fluctuate. Sometimes these fluctuations are dramatic. With these changes in ability, our sense of self fluctuates, While our ability to perform a given skill set can become more consistent  in varying contexts, the path of development is littered with instabilities as we vacillate between old ways of functioning and new emerging skills we likely need. While stability may be a consequence of practice, and may even be something we value highly, we ought not over-value it against instability. Because our instability is actually a sign that we are growing.

If  we are to more readily develop ourselves, we are all wise to welcome our instabilities. It may even be to our advantage to encourage and actively seek out our instabilities, because these areas may yield important developmental adaptations over time.  So it’s important to put down our completion projects and suspend the drive to consolidate identity around our competence and more fixed skill sets. We can be kinder to our own and to other people’s growing edges, where we risk  feeling inadequate, insecure and uncertain.

If you’re committed to being a more capable, compassionate and influential human being, and if you also want to support  other people to  generate more goodness, truth and beauty, then allow yourself to fall into the unknown contours of what’s next—and what’s just out of reach. Allow yourself to let go into the free fall of not being entirely certain about who you are. The rewards might just be a more elegant life for all of us.

Rob McNamara
Leadership Coach & Author of The Elegant Self
Faculty & Coach, Integral Facilitator Certificate Program

Join Rob McNamara for a 12-week advanced Developmental Coaching Mastermind, starting October 2017. This is a rare opportunity for 15 coaches to be part of advanced professional coach training with Rob, where you will grow and refine your mastery as a coach, as well as focus on how you can provide rigorous, grounded and accurate developmental coaching with your clients. Click here for information and to register for the program.
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Bridging the Gap Between Personal and Cultural Evolution


Different streams of evolution flow at their own pace. For example, the responsive movements of culture are more dynamic and exciting. By contrast, genetics develop at a rate that no human lifespan sees, with changes unfolding over the course of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. While we may see advances in editing and augmenting genes for more healthy and adaptive human beings, until now this remains only a possibility.

Meanwhile, the rate of individual development straddles the middle ground between culture and genetics. Here we see a series of personal transformations spanning throughout our childhoods, turbulent adolescences and the many diverse forms of adulthood we traverse through our lives.
The social and political currents in the United States are a perfect example of this cultural flux. For some, President Trump’s rise to power is precisely the advancement they have been hoping for. For others, the past 18 months represent a regressive backward turning of the clock.
Whatever your political orientation, it’s hard to deny the restless, even chaotic, nature of cultural change. What appears solid and stable suddenly feels fleeting. What seemed absent, or at least hidden from view, suddenly takes center stage. For some, these are the first strokes of relief that they have experienced in their lifetimes. For others, an entire life’s work, an individual’s freedom, or a family’s ability to be together can all be erased with the stroke of a presidential executive order. And while this new energy can provide hope, excitement and relief for some, these fluid movements also can invoke anxiety, panic, dread, dismay, and a vivid sense of betrayal for others.
In times of great change—for better and for worse, depending on our dispositions—it’s important to stay focused and attuned to your ongoing personal development. The integrative and adaptive structure of your adult brain and nervous system is more durable than your social contexts. Your meaning-making and what deeply matters to your heart endure more than the shifting cultural landscape around you.
Whether things are going “your way” or not in the cultural surround, you have the opportunity to craft yourself into a more effective instrument of service to what matters most to you. Making a greater impact in yourself and our world is possible for all of us right here and now. And while we tend to only root for those similar to us and our cherished orientations, it’s also important to advocate for and support the ongoing growth and development of everyone–especially for those markedly different from us.
If we believe our own culture(s) to be ‘better than’ others, our participation in these social norms can stand in as a substitute for your personal development. Identifying with some form of cultural elitism might lead us to believe we are more developed as individuals. However we define “better than” in ourselves and our like-minded tribe, and whatever failings we see in those different from us, it’s important to distinguish between individual and cultural development. These are two separate forms of evolution. When we rest on cultural development as a substitute for personal growth, we limit and fixate ourselves in ways that can keep us being capable of less.
Take, for example, the rise of postmodernity over the past 40 to 50 years. This ignited the pluralistic postmodern movement which enjoyed a ferocious march that has taken over much of mainstream media, education, business, government, and even religion.
Postmodernity advocates for “world-centric” orientations: Truth claims are always context-dependent. Respect and inclusion of diversity are important. Opportunities should be shared equally. Regardless of race, class, religion, gender and orientation, we deserve equal footing in society.
Now postmodernity and its movements are often seen as advances over modernism. This leads to a misguided assumption that identifying with postmodern worldviews automatically implies we are more personally developed than those identified with premodern or modern lifestyles and sensibilities.
While carefully crafted criteria help us track how culture evolves (and devolves), assessing personal development requires different measures. My area of expertise studies identity development which, according to developmental psychologist Dr. Robert Kegan, is defined not by the content, but the structure, of our meaning-making. In other words, the content of the culture we relate to does not signify our level of development. Person A could identify with premodern culture, Person B with postmodernity, and Person C with modernity. All three could be at the same stage of identity development. Or they could be at different stages. In fact, the person relating to postmodern culture could be the least developed. Keep this in mind because we often conflate cultural development and identity development.
I share this in light of the cultural divisions highlighted not only here in the US but around the world. Postmodern culture continues to be critical of its cultural predecessors. Some criticisms may be warranted, while others may be misguided.
Regardless of the cultures we identify with, we need to become more skilled at welcoming differences amongst–and within–ourselves. Now I’m not simply echoing some of the postmodern sensibilities around welcoming diversity. Paradoxically, many postmodern advocates are highly critical of, and condescending towards, those who don’t advance their cultural sensibilities. I’m proposing a welcoming embrace that goes beyond postmodern cultural norms.
One defining feature of identity development shows up around our relationship to cultural diversity. Adults operating in or around what Kegan calls the ‘Socialized Mind’ stage are often threatened by interpersonal differences, which the divisions thriving in the US so painfully show us. And, while many postmodern people presume they’re more developed than those at earlier stages, they still experience fear, anger, and distress when confronted by those earlier worldviews.
Our world needs leaders who have the ability to extend curiosity, compassion and unbiased interpersonal warmth into anxiety-producing differences. These qualities rest upon the more integrated brains and nervous systems found in our larger adult maturities. Regardless of our cultural orientations, greater personal development is needed.
For most of us, we require modeling from masterful exemplars who exude these more adaptive and effective skill sets. We need rigorous training to dislodge our current identities from our familiar limitations. Perhaps we all need to be immersed in ongoing challenging, yet supportive, contexts to exercise our larger aptitudes.
Only then can we become more valuable instruments for the people, systems, cultures and environments around us. If we are resolute in our noble vows and committed to our more mature and heartfelt intentions, we can become a relevant answer to the divisions threatening our world and jeopardizing our children’s futures

Regardless of our cultural orientations, liberal, conservative, postmodern, modern, or otherwise, let's come together to train rigorously. We need each other. Let's engage our differences with a more adaptive mutuality, and use our diversity to develop ourselves into more worthy instruments able to serve what we most value.

Regardless of our cultural orientations, liberal, conservative, postmodern, modern, or otherwise, let’s come together to train rigorously. We need each other. Let’s engage our differences with a more adaptive mutuality, and use our diversity to develop ourselves into more worthy instruments able to serve what we most value.

Rob McNamara
Leadership Coach & Author of The Elegant Self

Rob McNamara’s premiere developmental audio learning program, Commanding Influence: Your Development for Greater Mastery at Work, is now available. Learn More.


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Feeling Good About Yourself?

I remember doing my first graduate lecture on the further reaches of adult development close to fifteen years ago. I stood up in front of a classroom of people, all whom were older than me, and began my lecture. It was an intense ride. I couldn’t feel much of anything that was going on in the students I was presenting to.

Me, I was too busy attending to the conceptual distinctions in my own mind. I was busy sharpening my intellect. Soon after finishing I could dimly see the aftermath. It was as if an intellectual gatling gun had gone off for the better part of three hours. Metaphorically, you could say I pulled the trigger and didn’t let go until the very end of class. Sure, I opened it up for questions, but my ability to be present and make heartfelt contact with the students in front of me was many years off in my own maturity.

Instead of feeling my own anxiety and uncertainty, I chose to attend rigorously to the sharp and nuanced distinctions in my conceptual world. Instead of acknowledging the nervousness in my hands and the fluttering in my gut, I turned my attention to the multilayered relationships between various theories of adult development. I wanted to deliver unparalleled resolution on the subject matter. And attending to my intellectual prowess was a lot easier than accepting and attending to my embodied sensations of inadequacy and uncertainty.

I share this brief flashback for one reason: I was profoundly wrong in one of my orientations. Then, I taught adult development from a purely conceptual vantage point. Now, I approach development entirely differently.

Today, every lecture I give on adult development comes with a caveat. From the beginning, I encourage my audiences to pay careful attention to their intellectual appetite for ever-refining conceptual distinctions. I caution my audiences—being consumed by these conceptual growth narratives can erode both your well-being and your sense of happiness.

That usually gets people’s attention.

After all, it’s not common for an expert on adult development to tell you that their theories may have negative impacts on happiness and overall well being. But in fact, that’s what some of the research tells us.

While development itself does generally lead to richer, more rewarding lives, when it primarily unfolds as  cognitive or intellectual development, things tend to take a turn for the worse.
Sadly, I’ve met far too many people who have loaded up their intellect with a tremendous arsenal of conceptual distinctions. Meanwhile, these ideas and the mental identities that tend to constellate around them remain divorced from their embodiment.

And, related to that, the quality of their relationships remains untouched by these lofty ideas.
They search for people who can commune with them in their disembodied abstractions. “If only I could find more people who are like me.”

It’s not uncommon for individuals caged in their conceptual developmental narratives to wholeheartedly believe they have outgrown the relationships around them. One of the more hilarious narratives I’ve come across is the belief that a person has more or less developmentally outgrown where humanity presently is.

This of course skips an all important point. Rarely if ever does this narrative inquire into another person’s experience to see how they might be able to serve someone else in the moment.
At least in my own mind if I had sincerely outgrown much of humanity, I might at least extend a helping hand, right?

One of the more ironic forms of this I’ve seen is in highly cognitively developed individuals who have crafted personally-tailored embodiment philosophies. Intellectually, some of us realize we can’t be just a mental symbolic self. So, the next best thing is to intellectually narrate a conceptual integration of embodiment philosophies. The next thing we know, there’s some serious high powered intellectual discourse happening about the body. Unfortunately these conceptual narratives about the body often have little impact on embodiment.

The complexity of developmental movement does not change year-in and year-out, even though the stories we rehearse mentally become more complex.

George Vaillant, one of the magnificent researchers in Harvard’s longitudinal Grant Study on life-long adult development, states in his most recent book, “Maturity makes liars us of all.”

Keep that in mind. Our developmental narratives are often imbued with distortions and flat-out lies to give us the sense that we are developing. How many of us put ourselves “above average?” How many of us are intoxicated by narratives proposing that we are either more or less developed that we actually are? Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Our stories are incredibly important—their integrative scope matters—but our lives are bigger than any story that can be told.

When we look critically at how all-consuming our narratives are to us, it’s easy to see how well-being can quickly start to erode because of an over-reliance on conceptual narratives about development:
Our developmental ideas grab hold of identity. Embodiment often suffers, and we tend to craft narratives that we’re outgrowing the very relationships our culture depends on.

That’s not good. Furthermore, we see systemic developmental limitations all around us. While we can dream up extraordinary ideas of what’s possible, we all too often remain impotent at igniting the cultural shifts our overly complex minds can see.

It’s a nasty place to get stuck. It’s a painful place to get stuck.

As I explore development in my leadership coaching, professional trainings and various teaching and speaking engagements, the dimension I focus on is embodied growth narratives.

These developmental distinctions are not rooted in more complex ideas. While I still find conceptual growth themes important, they are secondary to having a rich embodied understanding of the various stages of development. Instead of placing concepts first, this teaching methodology is grounded in the deepening felt sense of your own life.

The researcher who opened my eyes to this all-important distinction is Jack Bauer. (Not to be confused with the action hero Jack Bauer from the TV show 24.)

Bauer the devoted student, author, professor and researcher of adult development maintains, “only experiential growth narratives, not intellectual growth narratives, correlate with well-being.”
If you want greater well-being, then you should be seeking qualitative changes in the felt texture of your own sense of aliveness. Want greater happiness? Bauer explains, “Participants at the highest stage of ego development appeared to be happier and more focused on experiential growth than participants at lower stages.”

A simple way to understand the distinction I’m advocating for is this:
Experiential growth narratives reveal an increasing capacity to feel good about yourself and a broader ability to love the people around you.

In other words, reaching beyond complexity we find elegance.

No complex theories. No super-abstract distinctions. Some of the highest stages of development we know of, which are correlated with your greater well-being and happiness, come with a larger ability to love yourself and the many people around you.

Find a part of you that isn’t liked? That’s your growing edge. Find someone who you don’t love? There’s your developmental limitation.

Pursuing development is a deeply wise investment. There are very few things more valuable to invest in. However, in my experience the intellectual dimensions are the easiest. Don’t forget about the living felt textures of your experience right now in this sentence. Don’t look past the next person you relate to. Your further development and the securing of greater well-being and a broader—perhaps even “unconditioned”— happiness depends on it.

Rob McNamara
Harvard University Teaching Fellow
Leadership Coach & Author of The Elegant Self

Rob McNamara’s premiere developmental audio learning program, Commanding Influence: Your Development for Greater Mastery at Work, is now available. Learn More.

crossposted from TenDirections.com
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Grow Your People, Grow Your Organization


In 2007 Accenture surveyed over 900 top executives in some of the world’s largest companies across North America and throughout Europe, China, and Japan about the need for more advanced management capabilities. Of those surveyed, nearly 50% of leaders said that their organization was not well suited to producing executives with the capability to manage and lead in the face of rapid change.

It’s clear that today’s professional environments demand greater sophistication of knowledge work; broader global perspectives, infrastructures, and multi-national systems; as well as leaders who are able to self-initiate, self-direct and self-manage. Yet at the same time, high performing leaders continue to be in short supply.


Whether we peer into big business, government, mature non-profits, mid-size companies or startups, the findings are similar: strong leadership is needed and the demand for it vastly outpaces our ability to ready the next generation of leaders to thrive in today’s business climates.
One of the few strategies that can help us to develop greater leadership aptitudes is the use of developmentally crafted curriculum, exercises and assessments. However (and unfortunately) most leaders in organizations are unaware of this body of research, and they aren’t using it to drive leader development in their organizations.

Of the many important business initiatives a company can invest in, the explicit mental development of its leaders and future leaders ought to be an essential priority. Some of the most competitive organizations today are those with a “deliberately developmental” architecture built into the fabric of how they operate—through their leadership development and programming, talent cultivation, and talent retention strategies.

Based on my experience as a coach working with leaders who are struggling with this very issue in their organizations, my contention is that the mental development of leaders is the defining factor that will increasingly determine which organizations will thrive in the next decade.
As an example, here are two key organizational outcomes that are driven by greater individual development:

Inner Agility

One of the most cherished aptitudes of adult development is the emergence of a trustable inner authority.

Your trustable inner authority is the value-generating faculty that initiates change from within you. It means you are inherently self-directing, or that you possess what I call “self-directed integrity.”

And inner authority is not to be confused with the ability to parrot what a brilliant professor told you, what a senior manager mentored you on last quarter, or what you recently read in the latest Harvard Business Review.

Having a trustable inner authority means that you’re not merely dependent upon external forms of authority. When you face critical decisions, when you confront uncertainty, you don’t run to a board member or to a senior manager with more experience.

Instead, you turn attention inward and begin to carefully assess your experience and the situation from multiple perspectives. You draw on past experience and open your attention to new possibilities. You’re able to use mentors or senior management to cultivate greater curiosity and gather and assess broader information flows—even if you don’t have clear direction, succinct next steps forward or instructions. And because you’re surveying more information, you can avoid limiting assumptions, succeed at generating new directions, and have access to more nimble responses capable of serving you, the people around you, and your organization.

Many companies implicitly demand this inner authority from their leadership, while others fail to develop it entirely. Two mistakes are commonly made here. Either they presume their leaders already have these aptitudes, or the organizational culture becomes entrenched in the notion of an external authority.

In the first instance many leaders find themselves feeling unsupported. In new situations they easily become overwhelmed and they assume they should not ask for help. In the second, members of the organization are taught to follow the chain of command upwards in order to establish direction. This can often leave leaders feeling disempowered. They run a risk of becoming disengaged from their work. This causes organizations to lose flexibility and responsiveness.

In both cases, leadership development and the cultivation of critical business acumen is compromised.

Organizational Diversity

Diversity is a major initiative in many organizations today–most of the progressive and leading edge cultures practice welcoming diversity in important ways. This is a developmental achievement for the leaders doing this work and its a feature of more mature forms of organizational development.

However, welcoming diversity isn’t just about welcoming in people who are different from you. And its not merely a protocol for hiring. Diversity is fundamentally about difference. And difference is fundamentally about change. Which means to welcome diversity is to welcome change.

Fast-paced and rapidly shifting landscapes drive tremendous changes in organizations today. These differences elicit tremendous anxiety in many adults, leaders included.

At more conventional stages of adult development, diversity is threatening. We tend to avoid the challenge. Leaders all too commonly insulate themselves from change, but when this happens, leadership fails. Organizations fall short. Change is adopted slowly, if at all.

But more nimble organizations operating with greater leadership development are inherently more welcoming toward diversity. Difference and the changes that it invites are not met with anxiety and avoidance but instead with curiosity and a willingness to confront uncertainty with openness.
So, what is greater discernment, vision and self-management worth to your organization? Why might it be required later on today in your most important projects? What is the return on investment for having leadership that welcomes diversity with curiosity, rapidly approaches change without anxiety, and creatively adapts new innovations? How might leadership need the ability to vision and re-vision the way employees approach their jobs and how people conceive of an organization as a whole? How might these aptitudes impact the bottom line?

As you contemplate these questions, consider these steps that can help you and your organization be more “deliberately developmental,” as Robert Kegan, Harvard’s professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development, suggests.

1. Think about ways you can get your leadership and management to step outside of their day-to-day workflows, agendas and plans. When decision making can rest on a durable internal authority, your organization’s leadership can see their job and institution from the outside in (instead of just the inside out). This will yield higher resolution insights on effective action.

2. Challenge leadership to orient from beyond the culture of their professional relationships. This means asking different kinds of questions, challenging the unspoken and often unseen cultural assumptions your leadership team holds, and regularly reflecting on the management culture your organization holds.

3. Remember, diversity is your friend. Invite greater diversity and change into your everyday operations. Do not insulate your organization from change. Train your management to be open and curious in the face of diversity. Difference creates contrasts. These contrasts enable leadership to take new perspectives on the organization and leverage new opportunities.

4. Bring in programming, training and consulting that is well nuanced in adult development. Get your senior leadership thinking about the development. Deploy curriculum to help new managers become more agile and capable in the face of fast pace change. And most importantly, begin deploying strategies to help change the nature of the work they do day in and day out so that it is directly supporting and challenging people to develop new aptitudes for the future.

Rob McNamara

Leadership Coach & Author of The Elegant Self

Rob McNamara’s premiere developmental audio learning program, Commanding Influence: Your Development for Greater Mastery at Work, is now available. Learn More.

References
Moe, I.E. (2007), “Behov for a ̊ skape globale ledere” (“Need to create global managers”), Dagens
Næringsliv, 26 January.
Harung, H., Travis, F., Blank, W & Heaton. D, (2009), “Higher development, brain integration, and excellence in leadership”. Management Decision, Vol. 47, No. 6. Pp 872-894.
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The Lie of the New Year's Resolution


It is that time of year.

You know it—we are just around the corner from those good old New Year’s resolutions. Suddenly a new focus emerges. Ideals around getting “back into shape” emerge. Resolutions to cease bad habits strengthen. Maybe it’s to stop drinking or smoking. Maybe it is a firm resolution to spend more time with the family. Or a commitment to give yourself the time needed to nourish and replenish yourself captures your attention as January 1st brings in a new year.

Whatever it is, this year I urge us all to proceed with caution.


While our calendar has just made its new transition, the holidays have ended and the new year’s celebrations have come to a close, and we are all back inside the same lives. The same contours surround us. The same challenges and responsibilities push and pull on us. The same aspirations will draw us forward and the same unseen competing commitments are holding us back and they will continue to hold us back.

In this overarching reality, our new year’s resolutions don’t have much of a fighting chance. That’s just the honest truth. That’s why by the end of January, the gym will return to its normal volumes filled with the familiar faces of the regulars. Resolutions to cease bad habits flounder and eventually disappear into forgetfulness. The existing habits of our lives are likely to swallow us whole. This is the power of most new years resolutions: 


In three weeks, the same behavioral patterns will enslave us.


Now don’t get me wrong. I love intentions. I love new resolutions to change ourselves and our life. I am all for them. My entire livelihood is built around helping people evolve themselves. I spend just about every day of my life focused on how to facilitate my clients’ development. Whether it is in their jobs, families, intimate relationships, company, community and/or in the realm of athletics, I’ve got my hands, head and heart fiercely engaged in improving how people perform in all walks of life to make their lives better.

And for adults attempting self-directed changes to improve their lives, these changes always originate in perspectives. Your vantage point or outlook is your most fundamental asset. Whether we call it perspective, vision or a new year’s resolution, inner directed change does stem from your insights and commitments to change. And, whether or not your intentions actually embed themselves into new mental, emotional and behavioral patterns rests on one major question:Is your vision, intention or perspective worthy?

New resolutions are a dime a dozen. They are cheap. Ideas for change are not by any means lacking. To recognize when your mind and efforts have been temporarily hijacked by a cheap insight is itself a dramatic move forward in clarity. This year, I encourage all of us to be suspicious of what resolutions tend to seduce us. The first and most important challenge in changing our lives for the better asks this all important question:


Is your perspective more worthy than the existing intelligence of your present life?


Most people look into their idealistic resolutions, aspirations and new intentions and instinctively say, “Yes, it’s totally better than my current life.” Don’t be seduced by these lies. Our more superficial assessments often fail to understand the broader implications of the intended changes we are envisioning. Intoxicated optimism does not understand the ingenuity and creative adaptation that is structuring, guiding and stabilizing our present lives into their current orbits.

So let’s ask ourselves, “Are my new resolutions for change truly worthy? Are they genuinely worthy of my life force? Is my intention valuable enough for me to, at least in some important ways, abandon part of the intelligence of my present life? Does this perspective provide greater value? And is this value more powerful than my existing habits to keep anxiety at a minimum?”

Most efforts at change fail here so straighten that spine, deepen your breath and sharpen your focus right here. Often the preference to not experience anxiety in change is greater than the desire for change. As such, visions are too small. Resolutions are too fleeting. Intentions are infused with wishful fantasies. Perspectives are less complex than the realities presently governing our lives.Regardless of how sincere, excited, determined and/or committed we may be, if our perspectives fail the value test, real sustainable change isn’t in our favor. A vision that is too small or a resolution that merely extends a few months (or even a couple of years) will fail most adults. Intentions fueled by or resting on hopeful fantasies fail. Visions holding less complexity than our present lives fail.

I often find myself repeating the saying, “Go big or go home!” Our perspective has to be bigger, more complex and hold greater continuity and endurance than our present lives. If we are not bold, we will likely fail. Our guiding perspectives must be born from courage. If it is weak at this this starting point, our minds and hearts will lack the ability to reshape the reality of our lives.

Reality rules, my friend. Our minds are either an early manifestation of a reality that is greater than our present life, or our minds are seduced into tinkering with shadows as they flicker on the wall pretending to be real.

Once our perspectives passes the value test, the next all-important question to ask ourselves is, “Can my desire for change conduct from intention to behavior?” With my clients, I use a proprietary system called Core Asset Management. It follows this critical thread from our perspectives down into our behavioral adaptations.

Without carefully following this sequence, ideas (regardless how valuable they are) remain as glimmers of possibility in our minds. Here now, gone in a short while. Meanwhile, the gravity of our habits powerfully cascade from one day to the next. From week to week, month to month and year to year, our life habits carry onward for better and for worse.

By adulthood, many decades of momentum are in full swing. When new year’s resolutions surface, the sheer force of life’s habituated intelligence dismantles even the most sincere attempts at positive change. Regardless of how painful or limiting habits may feel now, they are carried by a pragmatic tradition. They work. While we may be desiring to outgrow certain habits, they are still employed to fulfill a purpose.

Let’s save ourselves some frustration this year. Let’s not fall into the trap of wasting energy in efforts that may already be eroding our precious life force. Instead, focus intently on cultivating an intention, perspective and vantage point that is truly worthy.

Do not expect to discover it with a vision worksheet, in an hour’s conversation with a professional coach or over dinner with your partner. If we want real change, we have to give ourselves fully to this endeavor. Devote weeks to this endeavor. Apply the full intelligence of your life into this single inquiry. 

Some of my clients spend months piercing through the entrenched limitations of their mind until finally something immeasurably precious occurs. A worthy resolution emerges. A new perspective captures them. They cannot forget about it because it is not merely an idea that comes and goes. Instead, it is an intention that permeates all that they are. It informs who and what they are at a fundamental level. When this foothold has taken shape, the flywheel of habit, its momentum and intelligence are but small pieces in a now larger, vaster and more capable self that is genuinely capable of life-altering and world-sculpting change.

This year, go big, my friends. Our world needs it and so does your heart.

~Rob McNamara
Leadership and Performance Coach, Author of The Elegant Self and Strength To Awaken

www.RobMcNamara.com
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Is Planning Stunting Your Productivity?

Recently I released my Satellite Development document to my network and within it I gave the explicit instruction "Do Not Plan" which has raised some questions. It's a great question. Actually, it is an excellent question because the whole design of creating your own satellite feed is to be able to architect, manage and execute with greater effectiveness.

So, why would I instruct leaders not to plan?

It's simple. The most dangerous tool you currently have is the plan you are already holding in your hands. Why? Because the plan makes assumptions that you likely do not question every day. Your plan powerfully controlls your perspective, attention, energy and behavior not to mention where you spend your organization's time and capital. Sometimes these assumptions are fairly innocent. Other times they cost leaders their jobs. Or a leader may direct his or her organization with a misguided plan leaving thousands without a job. Worse yet, leaders can steer nations into missteps costing not just jobs but lives.

Simply put, your current plan obscures your ability for pattern recognition. Planning imposes patterns onto life. This is part good news as it enables you to press into and influence your organization in important ways. The bad news is that it obscures one of your greatest human intelligences. If you need to perform at your peak, you need a satellite feed.

Every day you should be getting out of your plans such that you can adaptively respond to life in creative and innovative ways. Gain more altitude. Get more perspective. This is what your satellite feed does for you.

Stop the planning that imposes your own agendas, ideologies and expectations. Allow your brain to do what it does best if more data is allowed into your mind: pattern recognition. New patterns, when assembled from your orbiting data feeds include your past plans and integrate them into a more coherent and powerful strategy for moving forward.

Good luck with your center point training.

~Rob McNamara
Harvard University Teaching Fellow, Leadership Coach  & Author of The Elegant Self
www.RobMcNamara.com





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How Performance Betrays Leadership

Performance, who doesn't love it?

It drives results. It makes progress unfold quicker. It yields greater efficiencies and ultimately yields greater adaptability. All in all the drive for refined and elite performance is something many of us love and knowingly or unknowingly worship. I've been doing performance coaching for a solid decade now and I have to say performance still has a bright and curious life force within my heart. As I use the term worship here, I am pointing us toward an integrated gesture where we offer ourselves to that which is worthy. For leaders who change the landscape of the world we live in, they know how to identify that which holds great value and worth. And, they know how to drive us toward these aims with proficiency in mind.

Yet we are only looking at the bright side of performance. Performance has an underbelly. It has a dark side. It is this dark side that few leaders know how to successfully manage. The underbelly is simple, the drive for innovation, speed and responsiveness within the ideology of performance commands the leader. The leader loses his or her power. The loss of power is the forfeit of the leader. And thus we must ask ourselves an important question, as leaders are we commanding performance or is performance commanding us?

One yields greater power while the other leaves us powerless in the face of the ferocious drive for higher levels of performance.

The reason why I love performance is that it can have an intimate and alive connection with development. If there's an area I've focused my attention it is on this intersection: human performance and
adult development. Leaders must acclimatize themselves to learn how to yield both. If they don't they run the risk of not leading. And just for the record leadership is not a position, but an activity.

You are either leading or your are not.

The development of yourself and your employees as well as the organizational structures within you operate is one of your chief concerns. If you're not developing yourself, your people and your structures you aren't leading. It's that simple.

And, if you're not developing to yield greater measurable capabilities you're likely wasting your time. Development and performance need one another. Performance left it its own devices precludes or blocks development. Why? You stop experimenting. Your team stops testing new ideas. Your organization backs down from the courageous acts that risk genuine innovation. When these kinds of experimentation is pressed out of your work day and your organization's activities you have fallen off of the leaders razors edge. You aren't leading. You are following the rote mechanisms of chasing efficiencies. When people are turned into efficient cogs you lose human ingenuity, human creativity and the kind of innovations that change market places and reshape our world.

Performance, keep a hold of it or it will control you. Development, study it. This is your counterbalance, this is an ideology that can hold, regulate and interface creatively with the worthy drive for performance. When you get it right, leadership ignites. When you miss it, you're either stuck in wasting your life ruminating about possibilities that never will be or you'll be uncritically chasing more efficient ways to tie your shoes.

Lead & lead boldly. Aim for the moon, not just for performance but for the development and advancement of human kind.

~Rob McNamara
Harvard University Teaching Fellow, Leadership Coach  & Author of The Elegant Self
www.RobMcNamara.com
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The 80/80 Principle




The 80/80 principle is simple. 80 percent of upper level management have higher levels of mental development. And, 80 percent of junior managers have junior levels of mental development. 

While the intersection of development and leadership is a complex topic, if we look at these findings from orbit, we can see a clear pattern. Over time higher levels of mental development outperform, outmaneuver and generate greater influence than less complex minds. More developed minds are promoted again and again. And, this pattern holds up across industries

Why? 

The simplicity beyond this highly complex issue might say something along the lines of, "Developmental complexity always increases choices." As Robert Kegan, my colleague and professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard maintains, what one stage cannot see, presumes to be an given, and is unquestioned becomes a choice at the next stage of development.

The simplest way I teach this is to talk about babies before they are potty trained. Before, their minds cannot see their impulses to pee. Why? Because they are their impulses. When a baby has to pee, he or she pees. It's as simple as that. At the next stage of development, impulses become an object to a now more developed mind. With development comes choices. Greater choice often yields greater efficiencies whether we are talking about potty training or steering a multinational corporation. As my book The Elegant Self maintains, more developed minds are capable of more effective action. 

In light of this evidence, how are you facilitating your own mental development? How are you growing your leadership capacities in an ongoing way? And, for those of you at the top, don't get comfortable. Developmental researchers are finding youth who are accessing quite extraordinary levels of mental complexity. In some cases our up and coming star performers are achieving levels of development that took today's leadership elite 5 decades to achieve in half the time. 

Stay nimble, commit yourself to ongoing practices that yield greater mental development. Adapt or you will find yourself being passed up.  

Rob McNamara, Harvard University Teaching Fellow, author of The Elegant Self, is an expert on adult development and leadership performance. He coaches individuals world-wide to help them broaden their influence where it matters most. 

Learn more about Rob McNamara, his courses, books and coaching at www.RobMcNamara.com.

Sign up for your Free 7 Strategies to Refine your Elegance.

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Being Selfless can Betray Development

A common misconception about development beyond autonomy is that you must lose yourself or have no self.

Each transformation of mind involves a loss of a sense of self. You must after all dis-identify yourself from your autonomy if you are to go beyond autonomy. However, you never entirely lose yourself. At least not in healthy development. What I want you to know is that development always involves a discovery of a more true and sincere you. And, this truer more sincere you is a bigger self, not a smaller or non-existant self.

Peering intimately into the nature of development like I have reveals something quite different from loosing yourself. What I found is that we do not lose our autonomous selves. The opposite occurs. For the first time we can actually have our autonomous selves. No longer does autonomy's inner-sculpted identity, ideology and differentiated sense of self have you!

This is the classic developmental transformation Robert Kegan has explored in depth over the past three decades at Harvard. What was once subject (autonomoy in this case), becomes an object that can be held, managed and operated upon.

The loss of the identification with autonomous perspectives involves the gain of the autonomous self. And, in addition to possessing your autonomous self—much like how autonomy can possess and regulate the more socialized presentations of yourself—you gain a seat of identity that is more complex, more capable and, it feels more like home.

Not a bad deal, eh?

That said, many people have purchased the lie of selflessness. And it is likely betraying your ongoing development and maturation as an adult.

Many adults can be found efforting to shed their old selves. This is often energy well spent. However, without clarity of the path beyond autonomy many often mistakenly presume becoming a no-self is the way to further develop themselves. This is especially the case for individuals reading books on meditation, spiritual practices and the like emphasizing various forms of selflessness or egolessness.

Now, the idea of being selfless is a deep inquiry. We are wise to be nuanced in our distinctions here. At its superficial levels being selfless is an invitation to drop your imperial narcissism. It is an invitation to join into and take care of the people around you and the cultures you are immersed in. Sacrificing your personal needs, preferences and interests for the larger well-being of your relationships and community is a beautiful expression of selflessness. In my opinion there is no lie here. For many people these froms of selflessness qualitatively improve lives.

In deeper contours of human experience selflessness involves realizing states of consciousness where no-self is present for periods of time. Discovering a connectedness to an all pervading unity, the stabilization of a mindful state or the absorption into a variety of transcendent states are powerful and catalytic experiences. Realizing there is a part of you that has no preferences, possesses no agendas, inhabits no form, invests in no personality, and participates in no movement (what I call the self-without-form in my most recent book, The Elegant Self) is profound and liberating beyond words. And, locating this texture of selflessness in your direct experience is a game changer for most people.

However, these meditative or contemplative achievements are nonetheless states of consciousness. Developing your mind and inducing states of consciousness are two different activities exercising two different domains of you. Perhaps the most cogent and lucid voice on this matter is my friend Ken Wilber. To confuse these two is a common mistake even some of the brightest minds in human history have made. States are transient experiences, developmental stages are enduring integrative features of you.

So, while you may cultivate states where the self drops away, these are always temporary. In time the state passes and "you" along with your personality, needs, preferences and ideology return. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. That said we must look closely here. There is a lie of selflessness at play here. It says, if you just keep entering into selfless transcendent states, everything else will take care of itself. Nothing further could be true. State training is an immense gift, it's needed. But, when it gets sold as a way of living, a way of being or an aim worthy of your withdrawal from the rest of your life be cautious. States cannot ultimately sell to us what our hearts truely desire and what our world really needs from us.

While these selfless states often captivate the spiritually inclined, most adults are not spending hours a day sitting on a meditation cushion. As such, many adults find themselves trapped in different versions of this lie. For these individuals having no-self and being selfless means asserting no preferences. It may mean efforting to appear especially mindful and aware. It often takes the form of being overly accommodating. A superficial and unexamined acceptance of relationships and our surroundings parade on display to others as if we have attained some footing in humanity's great liberation. Sadly, exiling preferences, being overly easy going, failing to assert boundaries and enabling the dismemberment of human integrity as a means of avoiding conflicts are not the fruitions of our larger capabilities as a species. Instead, they obscure what I call elegance. They entrench less capable expressions of humanity. These are all lies that betray your own ongoing development.

These substitutions of selflessness are often attempts to imitate the freedom from self-attachment that elegance demonstrates. Development beyond autonomy (not states beyond autonomy!) does bring with it a freedom from autonomy. You can pick up your self-authored, inner guided autonomy and use it. Then you can put these parts of yourself down. You no longer need to defend your autonomy in the same ways as when you were identified with your autonomy. The needs of the self participating with elegance are no longer confined inside what Abraham Maslow called “deficiency needs.” “Being needs” begin to become central to the self. This means you getting your post-autonomous needs met looks very different from just about everyone else. All this is to say, elegance appears to be selfless to less developed vantage points.

And, in some ways, human elegance—our most mature stages of development—is selfless. But make no mistake my friend, the selfhood that moves with and as elegance is big. In fact, these identities are massive. They bring a whole new understanding of what it means to have a “big ego.” Elegance is not afraid of arrogance, nor does it resist deep expressions of humility. Both are free agents to the intelligences of elegance. Your elegance can and will use the full display of you to serve our world with every facet of your being. As such your larger maturity does set and maintain boundaries in powerful ways. Your larger self can accommodate, yet it can also cut through others to modify life in dramatic ways. You can assert preferences and you can let your preferences go. You do not get stuck in either strategy. A pervading acceptance of life as it is enables you to be focused entirely on you and your self-interests.

As such, do not yield to social expectations or intrapersonal manipulations to create greater cultural uniformity. Do not merely encase yourself in training states of consciousness and the excessive withdrawal from the complex demands of modern and postmodern life. And, be suspicious of agendas that attempt to negate your uniqueness, drive and aspirations. All of you, every facet of your being and what you are becoming, can participate with intelligences that transcend your autonomous self; you can and in some ways you likely must participate with elegance. In addition, we are likely to discover that we must devote absolutely all of ourselves to these larger possibilities of humanity.

Rob McNamara, Harvard University Teaching Fellow, author of The Elegant Self, is an expert on adult development and human performance. He coaches individuals world-wide to help resolve the painful and persistent limitations in their lives to become more elegant human beings.

Sign up for your Free 7 Strategies to Refine your Elegance.

Learn more about Rob McNamara, his courses, books and coaching at www.RobMcNamara.com.
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The False Promise of Feeling-Based Consciousness

Feelings are juicy. They can be sexy and alluring. Terrifying and provocative. Sometimes they do this all at once. They quietly whisper promises to you day and night. Yet, beyond the intoxicated states of emotions, they rarely deliver over the long term. When feelings dissipate, they are gone. Why is it then that many people unknowingly find themselves bowing to their feelings? They turn away from their discursive intellect and pour their trust in their felt-senses and intuitive feelings. We could argue that they are just immature. Yet people on the cusp of some of our most complex stages of development exhibit this trend.

To yield greater insight, you and I briefly look into development beyond autonomy. We glance toward human elegance. But first, autonomy...



Your autonomy is largely a mental identity. While the body maintains a powerful influence at all stages of development, highly autonomous functioning can be thought of as a differentiation away from the body and emotions. Governance is more cerebral, discursive and intellectual. And, as you likely know with great intimacy, autonomy often is often consumed in its own discursive medium.

Yet, development beyond autonomy involves a movement away from the exclusive use of cerebral functions to govern the self's conduct and decision making. In part, this is due to the linearity of discursive discernments. They become too slow for the emerging intelligences within elegance. Autonomous narratives take too long to constellate. They become too limited in their integrative scopes. Development does supersede the mental chatter that once exclusively defined the self and identity. As a result, the mind's meaning-making is no longer fixated within discursive phenomena. The intellect's activity becomes just one source for information.

However, this differentiating movement away from the discursive intellect is often clouded with confusion. Without a clear understanding of the territory ahead, many instinctively turn towards their bodies and feelings as a new orienting reference point. One of the pervasive traps many adults fail to navigate successfully—sometimes for decades—is this movement toward the body, feelings, and intuitions at the exclusion and expense of the discursive intellect. This false substitution privileges feelings over thinking.

When thought, reason, historically or creatively governed narratives and the like are seen as being less valuable many problems enter into your life. When this happens you largely stop talking about what you think. Instead, you prefer discussing feelings. Intimacy gets exiled into the realm of feelings. You tend to collapse the diversity of relating into a myopic focus on giving people the experience of feeling seen and/or heard and you are likely knowingly or unknowingly demanding a similar experience for yourself. A narcissism resurfaces where others are responsible to give you the experience of feeling accepted and supported. This false substitution is capable of holding you back. While these can feel like gifts at first, when you stagnate and flounder in feeling tones, felt senses and emotional states without an overarching direction beyond connecting emotionally, life can easily take turns for the worse.

A more extreme version of this substitution involves a stripping of all value from thinking, concepts and discursive activity. The intellect is executed. Its mental phenomena is interpreted as merely a resistance to feelings. This exaggerated substitution is dangerous. Theoretical constructs are criticized and stripped of all value. You tend to police the people around you to get rid of their tendencies to intellectualize any facets of experience. You can become organized against theory altogether. The exception, of course, is the ideological constructs underpinning the critiques of theoretical constructs you are unknowingly committed to.

Both the devaluing of the intellect’s movements and the slaughter of theoretical and intellectual intelligences are common substitutions attempting to masquerade as more developed ways of functioning. Unfortunately, when you are ensnared in this cage you often will not increase in mental complexity. Meaning-making remains stagnant at best. At worst, these attempts to differentiate from the mind’s intellectual functions fuel a regressive movement. These substitutions for elegance misguidedly fragment your nervous system. It drives a wedge between thought and feelings. Imperial emotional states and socialized allegiances functioning in the emotional brain continually spring up. Guiding yourself on feeling states is foolish at best and dangerous at worse. Without overarching discernments from the intellect, couples often become signals of stunted and immature adult minds, not elegant human beings.

Do not get ensnared inside this substitution for a larger, more complex mind capable of greater influence in your intimate relationship and our world. The autonomous mind's attempt to possess dimensions of functioning that reach beyond it always involve fundamental distortions. The divorce between body and mind, thinking and feeling, thought and emotion is a costly one. It is a shift away from the integrative capacity elegance demonstrates.

Ultimately feeling more connected is no substitution for being interconnected emotionally and mentally.

Thank you for reading & Please share this blog post now. Thank you for supporting my passion to help evolve our many cultures and our precious world. 

All my best, 

Rob McNamara
Author, The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken
Elite Coaching for Elegance :: www.RobMcNamara.com

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Break The Limits of Your Aspirations

Take a moment to look at the aspirations, intentions and desires fueling your day to day life. What are the problems you are working to solve? What limitations are you striving to overcome? What aims do you intend to achieve?

If you've got a piece of paper near by, take a few moments to jot them down. If not, launch the notes app on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Give yourself only a few minutes to get your various drives down. Don't think too hard and don't sensor. Just write down what you've been consumed by the past few days - perhaps the past week or so.

Get going now... .


Next, circle or bold the aspirations, goals and/or drives that are genuinely worthy of your life. The question I often ask my clients is, "Is this worth dying for?"

Ask yourself this question with each of your aspirations. Answer from the most sincere intelligence you are capable of participating with right now.

If you're like most adults, you'll see a whole bunch of activities, intentions and expenditures of your precious life force that are simply unworthy of your time, attention and energy. You have two options.

Option one: Develop an exit strategy. 


Set a limit on parts of yourself. Put a boundary into place with the culture you're immersed in. Say no to the distractions that are wasting your most precious assets. While conventional assumptions maintain that the life force, perspectives, attention, energy and time that compose you belong to you, this is a lie. It's an innocent lie, but a lie the autonomous self fabricates to bolster its sense of control, ownership and self-imposed importance.

From a vantage point beyond autonomy, peering through the eyes of elegance, these assets are on loan. We might even say they are a free gift belonging to something exquisite. Your perspective, the shape, direction and quality of your attention as well as your energy and behavior that follows from this gift is an experiment. Perhaps we may think of it as a test.

The exam of life is investigating your worthiness as a human being. 

If you're expending your precious life in unworthy aims, you're failing. Failure in this context is not something to be avoided. Rather, it is the doorway into a larger elegance that commands a life that does pass life's examination.

Our autonomous (and pre-autonomous) lives are in many ways already and always a failure. Discovering the failure is the opening of a precious opportunity. And, it is a simple as this. Peer into your greatest intelligence and ask yourself, What is ultimately worthy of your life?

What are you willing to die for? 
When you find something you are willing to die for, live for it. 

The failures, distractions and empty activities of your life are to end. Regardless of the consequences, an exit strategy is required in some cases. You simply must suffer the losses and inhabit the limitations of your finiteness. Elegance requires sacrifices my dear friends. If you don't know deep loss, you don't know the greatest gift life has to offer you.

So, find facets betraying the life that has been given to you and create your exit strategies. You'll likely need more than one.

There is a second option. It is a more sophisticated response to those items on your list that are not circled or broadened in bold text. This second option is also a necessity for human elegance. As much as our more conventional intelligence would like to clarify life such that we only engage in the most significant of activities, this isn't possible.

Life will not let you divide the sacred and the mundane. You cannot separate the unsubstantial from the significant for they are married to a union fundamental to the very fabric of existence. As such, you have an invitation for transmutation or what Freud called sublimation.

Option Two: Transmutation


You do possess the power to participate with a transformation that can join the unworthy aspirations of your lesser life to the very center of your greatest of intentions. To do so you must devote every facet of yourself without hesitation, limitation or mediation. Apply yourself completely. Do not give in. Do not give up. Press forward until your body, mind and heart unconditionally demand the fullness of your life.

For the areas that an exit strategy does not work, this is your other more sane option. Sure you can collude with culture and pretend that something has more significance than it really does. Or, you can play the "good enough" game where you comfortably settle into a life of habit. Years clip by no different than leaves falling from trees. All the while, a betrayal larger than the conventional mind can fathom unfolds.

Exit or transmute, these are doorways toward elegance. Take action now. Do not delay. Do not project your larger alignment and greater aspiration into the future. This is to distort and diffuse the potency of you. You become the betrayal of your greatest purposes.

The Dialectics of Aspiration

The last step is for you to inquire if something else should be on your list, but it isn't. If this is you, I encourage you to go big. Have few aspirations, but be possessed by elegant ones. As such, go big! Let your perspective broaden, allow your imagination to dream of a world that is qualitatively more good, true and beautiful. Then live into these unknown dimensions. Yoke them from possibility into actuality. 

In order to truly go big, to dare to be dreamed by the creative advance of novelty, you must paradoxically acclimatize to a way of functioning that is free from all aspiration. The fullness and greatness of  your vision only is gifted from you if you are capable of inhabiting your greatest freedom. Liberate from your conventional aspirations. Drop them. Let them go for a short while. Get used to the space, the sheer unbounded room of your heart. Only from this place will you come to know true aspiration. 

Take action swiftly. Be infinitely still. Reflect. Clarify. Devote all of yourself to that which is worthy of your life. Stop nowhere. Give everything. 

Rob McNamara 

Performance Coach, Psychotherapist and Professor of Developmental Psychology 


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Mental Development Likely Impacts Gene Expression

Research conducted at the University of North Carolina and the University of California, Los Angeles, gave 80 healthy volunteers and an assessment to study the impacts of two different types of happiness.  Researchers then took blood samples to analyze the subject's white blood cells. The findings suggest your genes can tell the difference between a purpose driven life connected to serving others and a shallower more self-centered one. And, your genetic responses occur even if your self-awareness cannot distinguish between the two.

The two forms of happiness studied were hedonic and eudaemonic well-being. Hedonic happiness centers around self-indulgence, pleasure seeking and self-gratification behaviors. It is you consuming (consumption in the broadest sense of the term) what you want for your own enjoyment. In contrast, eudaemonic happiness points to how Aristotle used the term. Eudaemonia was the highest human good.  Some translate this term to mean "human flourishing." The researchers used this term to point toward happiness and well-being connected to a sense of higher purpose and service to others.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, show both forms of happiness had similar affective correlates. The experience, feelings and emotions of happiness were similar in both groups. However, when we turn our attention away from the subjective psychological findings things get very interesting. The two different forms of happiness had divergent RNA profiles.

Your RNA codes, decodes, regulates and performs other vital roles in gene-expression. In the case of hedonic happiness and well-being, surprisingly the gene-expression profiles were unhealthy. High levels of biological markers known to promote inflammation throughout the body we found. In the words of New York Time's writer Gretchen Reynolds, "Such inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease." While stress-related genetic responses were up-regulated and proinflammatory genes had increased expressions, unfortunately genes-expression associated with antibody synthesis decreased.

As hedonic happiness increased stress responses throughout the body and impaired critical facets of the immune system, individuals enjoying eudaemonic happiness biologically moved in the opposite direction as stress-related genetic responses were down-regulated. Positive changes were also found in antibody gene-expressions.

From a developmental perspective, we might say the happiness and enjoyment associated with your less complex self-centered needs and desires causes some negative biological outcomes. A more complex perspective, one that intimately connects your behavior, attention and energy toward serving others and moving toward a larger collective mission rewards you at the very center of your biological source code.

While I wouldn't have suggested this while writing The Elegant Self, participating with elegance graciously rewards you on a cellular level all the way down to which facets of your DNA is up-regulated and down-regulated. And it doesn't take weeks to create this change, gene-expressions are always in an intimate conversation with your mental complexity and the environment you are interacting with. Don't wait, genetic and cellular adaptations for the better can be just moments away. Start refining your elegance now.

Rob McNamara
Author, The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken

Want the hard science? Dive into the full article here.

Want the New York Times synopsis? Get Gretchen's article here.


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The Suspicion of Autonomy


Eye

Autonomy can be defined as the part of you who gives, authors or creates your own law. This is what the Ancient Greek translation of the term suggests. It represents an important feature of the adult mind where the authority moves from out there, outside of you in the culture, leadership and experts whom presumably have more information and experience than you do to a fallible yet more trustable inner authority.  Power shifts from outside of you to inside of you. When you begin to establish, author and create your own laws, ideologies and methodologies for directing yourself in the world, you are participating with autonomy.

This is a highly coveted ability for many adults as most can easily recall the pains of adolescence and early adulthood where an often unquestioned authority governed their actions in the world. Perhaps it was a teacher, coach, romantic partner or boss who, knowingly or unknowingly, governed your action and conduct in the world. When these are the only two basic reference points available, the only informed reasonable decision is to preserve inner directing autonomy at all costs.




Why regress back into less functional and less complex ways of being in the world? It just doesn't make sense. 

When I invite clients to be suspicious of their own autonomy, I am not encouraging them to return back to an unexamined alignment with an external authority. I am inviting them to step forward into a postautonomous way of functioning. This postautonomous move comes after autonomous functioning, it involves a more complex and thus more powerful way of functioning beyond autonomy. Suspicion of autonomy is a way for you to develop and cultivate greater developmental distance from the autonomy that likely captivates your larger power and authority as a human being. It is not a way to revert back to your less engaged ways of relating with power and authority. Nope, suspicion of autonomy is a vehicle that develops more power, more free functioning and greater authority.

For those of you who are getting all excited to have more power, more freedom and greater authority where this all resides inside of you, stop right there. This is the delusion of "more" that commonly shows up as a substitute for the legitimate development of you. Getting autonomy to be bigger is another "distortion of more" as I define it and explore in The Elegant Self. More power, greater influence and dramatic leaps forward in freedom do not belong to your autonomous self. They only show up in your postautonomous self.

Here are a couple core features of autonomy to brighten your suspicion.

1. The Preservation of Distinctness
Autonomy is in many ways a consolidation of a sense of self that is in juxtaposition to everything else. What makes you different? How are you distinct from those around you? What separates you from your surrounding culture? Autonomy naturally is invested in clarifying and articulating these boundaries. I like to think of this activity as the preservation of distinctness.

This preservation is worthy of your suspicion because distinctness breeds limitedness. If you are sincerely interested in more power, greater influence and a broader freedom commanding a larger authority you need to go beyond your distinctness to become permeable. Your subjectivity needs to be more interpenetrating with the surrounding environment, culture and relationships present. Greater permeability means more information flow. More information flow means more capacity for power and influence.

For those of you worried about becoming overly influenced by your surroundings as you loosen your defense of distinctness, you're headed in the wrong direction. Over conformity is a function of the preautonomous self, not the postautonomous self. I'm not pointing you toward the loss of your distinctness, I am just suggesting a loss of the exclusive identification with your distinctness. It's just too limited. Postautonomous functioning includes your distinctness, but is not longer limited to this way of functioning.

2. Inner Directing Governance 
You likely know this part of your autonomy really well. It is your agenda. Your schedule. Your value systems and ideology discerning what to do next and how best to do it. It is your best efforts to solve the problems you are presently facing personally and professionally. It is the inner directing authority within you that presses your will outward into your life and inward within yourself as you advocate for inner and outer change.

Being inner directed is an essential feature of adulthood. You cannot lose this functioning and remain an adult by most measures of psychological maturity. You can however lose your identification with this inner directing faculty. This enables you to retain an authority residing inside of you; however, it also frees you up to participate with larger, broader currents of aliveness that ultimately do not belong to you.

Elegance is one central facet of this postautonomous will. It is not something that can be possessed but only participated with. Sometimes it's originating source stems from deep within you. A within so profound its roots reach beyond you. Other times the originating source flowers up in your environment, culture or relationships. Sometimes it's a mixture of inner and outer life that coalesces into a force that is unwaveringly powerful. Participate with this and you'll know the kind of power and influence I point you toward.

That said, you simply will not be able to participate with this beauty or power if you are consumed by your own private autonomous agenda. Identify with your ideological drives and autonomous effort and the deeper currents of life sweep past you. This perhaps is one of the great tragedies of development, the most significant is always reserved for the most refined. As such, most adults misdirect themselves and the generations that follow. If our developmental tests are at all accurate, it is safe to assume most adults remain blind to the larger significance that surrounds them and is desperately needed.

Next time you see yourself resting exclusively upon your inner directing faculties or you see your autonomy working diligently to preserve distinctness, watch them like a hawk does its prey. Study your autonomy's movements. Assess whether it is an intentional act of your postautonomous will or if it is merely the function of habits in motion. Sometimes these are highly skillful responses in the world, other times your autonomous functioning is but a foolish gestures in the face of ultimate strategies for the advancement of humanity.

Happy hunting,
~Rob McNamara

Author, The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken

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