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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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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