Leadership Development for the Bold

Are You Focused on Outcomes That Are Too Small?

As aspiring individuals and coaches alike, we are often inherently biased towards short term outcomes. Maybe as a coach, you’re looking ahead at six sessions where you are committed to quickly impacting your client’s life. Or, perhaps you’ve committed to six months to making some more substantive changes in your professional context and are eager to see the results. Or maybe the challenges you’re grappling with are changes that will inherently take you the next two years of concerted efforts to generate.

Regardless, in each of the above examples the propensity for short-term planning can be seen dominating the horizon of our aspirations. And when our horizon is too small, it affects how we think, feel, and act as we engage with those aspirations.

While short-term achievements are important for mobilizing resources in order to generate new behaviors, they rarely effectively foster development into the more rare and significant aptitudes found in more integrated stages of adult development. Many of us learn short-term planning in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. And no matter how fancy or sophisticated we may believe our short-term endeavors to be, employing this short-term planning circuitry inherently rests upon the neurological foundations of our youth— NOT our yet-to-be-enacted larger maturities as adults that can lead us collectively into a better tomorrow.

The reason this matters, especially in the realm of coaching, is that one of the ways developmental coaching can help people grow is by picking up and then operating on broader long-term contexts. Most adults need scaffolding here. While we all should continue to participate with our own short-term outcomes, we need to resist the gravitational pull to conform to these smaller contexts. This is especially true for developmental coaches, who may be tempted to promise and fixate on achieving “developmental shifts” in their clients within the short time horizons of a coaching engagement (something which is, for the most part, not probable). If we don’t manage our attention effectively—that is to say if we don’t leave the day-to-day contexts and constructs of our lives and gain a larger view of the broader features of our life—we can easily find the totality of our intentions and the subsequent actions that follow bound up in relatively small considerations. As developmental coaches, our roles are inherently married to expanding the contexts and constructs of our client’s lives beyond the habitual and the known.

Again, while being efficient in achieving short-term aims is a good skill we should retain, we must go beyond that in order to foster our own and our client’s ability to construct new rulers of value that operate on ever larger contexts and constructs. If we do not, we will find much of our time and attention coaching our clients to achieve outcomes that are less significant. This is especially true when those outcomes are being measured by our client’s yet-to-mature aptitudes for value. As such, a fundamental prerequisite for masterful developmental coaching involves invoking and operating on long-term contexts.

I define anything up two years as short term. Three years is a middle ground transition between short- and long-term objectives. Long-term initiatives unfold over the course of a minimum of four years. And from there, I break up long-term initiatives into four different categories. Four to five years is the first and easiest; beyond that I tend to focus on changes over the next decade.

When I’m working with leaders in organizational contexts I’m often planting seeds to think about and plan for the next 20-50 years. For many of my clients, this time frame envelops the majority of the rest of their lives. Inherent in this third category includes actively thinking about and planning for one’s own death and the ability to actively and whole-heartedly participate with that which matters most in life. Lastly, and most difficult, is to work with the next 100 to 1000 years and longer. This of course allows multi-generational vantage points to infuse your heart, mind and day-to-day actions.
For those of us working with ourselves and our clients developmentally, we must be able to grow in our abilities to conceive of and then sustainably act on long-term initiatives. For those interested in the more integrative dimensions of adult development we must at least be able to sustainably invest ourselves in focused action over many decades. And not just any action, but the most important actions that are intimately connected to the ultimate gestures of service binding our hearts to our lives.

The cornerstore of this capacity rests on our honest confrontation with our own mortality, and the finitude of all that we love in this world. In order to do this we need the ability to actively and openly confront our deaths. Maturity is grown through the conscious work of reckoning with, and then taking responsibility for, our lives within the context of our passing, and situating our actions within this frame of ultimate significance.

Why?

If we cannot measure our lives from our finality, then we will remain fundamentally distracted in the lesser purposes of what it means to be who we are. The more intimate you can become with the reality of your own approaching death, the more clear you will become on the overarching mission of your life. When you participate with this unique life-force in full recognition of what it is—a fleeting, and quickly passing opportunity—your goals and the aspirations that guide your life become fundamentally more rewarding, devastating and valuable. And if you are to be a support to your clients in doing this, then you must first be living your own mission with this profound and sincere orientation.

From this place, the practice and skill of goal setting, and the relative value of our short-term goals is radically reorganized by the urgency of our mortality. Or, looked at another way, if we don’t take seriously the reality of our own passing, we won’t ever be able to grapple with the true meaning of value and actually bind ourselves to the pursuit of those most meaningful and valuable goals—for our own lives, and for the lives of generations to follow us.

When we turn our attention to developmental coaching, embodied mastery requires that we participate in the advanced curriculum of adulthood, in which our confrontation with mortality is a pivotal and critical step. Through this maturation, we gain the ability to bring the more full intents of our lives into intimate contact with our current contexts. This is how we develop the skill to seamlessly marry these two often divorced contours of life; intention and action, purpose and goal. On the one hand, we have our penetrating insight into the meaning of our lives. These orientations reveal our more sincere aspirations and intentions. And then there are the day-to-day contexts to grapple with. For many of us these are two very different parts of life. But for our more evolved selves these are one and the same. The whole of your life is a tapestry through which your mission takes shape and, over time, weaves the story of how you are living the question of what it means to live fully and well within the context of your own short life.

Now, not all of our clients are ready to explicitly enact this radical confrontation with themselves and their lives. But as a developmental coach, your position is never agnostic. Either you are implicitly seeding the possibility of this fruition in the future, or you are merely watering the existing person as they know themselves today, including their mission-annihilating choice to turn away from the reality of death and attempt to live as if it were not, in some actual sense, true. Personally I find it more rewarding to be watering the seeds of a humanity that can re-envision itself into a more beautiful, powerful and ethical species. But more importantly perhaps, I believe it is the best possible choice that we can make when we find ourselves in the privileged position of being invited to help another person to grow and develop.

I encourage you to find out what you are implicitly nurturing in yourself, and in your clients’ lives. And I encourage you to commit to going beyond the the short-term contexts of your life or your client’s lives. Our world and our shared future depend upon it.

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.

Join Rob McNamara for a 12-week advanced Developmental Coaching Mastermind, starting on October 5th, 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 to find out more and to register for the program.
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Where are you orienting from?

It’s 2001 and I’m standing on an elevated ridge in the White Mountains of Maine in the United States. My map is laid out in front of me on a flat rock, and with compass in hand I’m triangulating our group’s location. We are about to immerse our team into a thick deciduous forest for about 15 miles. The orienting calculations we make now have everything to do with our success of getting to our extraction point before we run out of food and fuel. It’s these fine measurements here on this ridge that will allow us to be successful later on. And with the right understanding of our location right now, we can calibrate each bearing, shoot from tree to tree, and plot an accurate course through the forest.


Fast forward, and today the terrain of exploration has shifted from that deciduous forest to the complex and beautiful landscape of my clients’ inner worlds. While mountaineering, coaching and leading all appear different enough on the surface, they all present similar challenges. One of the biggest similarities is the need to have an accurate understanding of where we are orienting from. Whether we are leading a team through the wilderness, leading an organization through challenging times, or scaffolding clients to achieve the most meaningful changes in their lives, our orienting reference points inform where we can ultimately go together.

To effectively move forward, we need to understand our present locations. To make progress we need to know where we are advancing from. And to expand or develop new abilities we need to understand what skills are already available.

Understanding our own developmental orientations is key for effectively navigating our lives, and it is critically important for coaches, because development is always powerfully influencing every facet of our lives. Within the territory of coaching, our developmental orientation is a prerequisite for how we coach our clients. And our understanding of our clients’ development is the foundation that our coaching is built on.

As a way to begin, try glimpsing into the complexity of your own development.

Now you’ll notice, I asked you to glimpse into the complexity of your development. I didn’t ask you about complicated developmental ideas. And I didn’t ask you to pin-point yourself on a developmental scale.

Many of us who are part of the conversation about development today make the mistake of too quickly classifying ourselves developmentally. In doing so, we miss complexity and instead engage with facets of ourselves that are complicated. Instead of relating from and with ourselves as fluid, dynamic and changing, we presume ourselves to be static and fixed, albeit complicated, human beings.

Many of us learned a developmental theory and tagged ourselves at a particular stage. Or we took an assessment delivering us a tidy developmental location that we’ve kept in mind ever since. It is true that rigorous developmental thinking must be grounded in sound research and robust models. However, all too often once we get a whiff of how to locate ourselves and others, we are off to the races cataloging and classifying the rest of the people, groups, teams, organizations, cultures and countries around us. It doesn’t take long before we believe we can see the entire world developmentally.

As a starting point, this can be a good thing; however, we must go further—especially if we’re interested in fulfilling our potential as coaches.

To go one step further, focus your attention into yourself. Get curious about yourself as a dynamic set of living developmental processes—not a location. Abide in the mysterious, profound and often humbling developmental nuances of who and what you are. Surprise yourself. Discover yourself anew, even in the everyday contours you enact day-in and day-out. Your investigations into your own living developments can up-level what you provide interpersonally with your coaching clients.

This is because masterful developmental coaching requires us to advance and evolve our relationship to development. We must penetrate the more static abstract ideas of development and get into relationship with the fluid, changing and living contours of development. Our view must go beyond fixed and firm developmental locations and participate with ongoing developmental processes. This breaks us free from the more abstract and conceptually rarefied developmental distinctions some of us get trapped in. When we do this, instead of the neat and conceptually tidy realm of development, we discover a mysterious living ecosystem with multilayered expressions of development in processes of ongoing change.

In the mastery end of developmental coaching spectrum, we no longer understand ourselves as inhabiting one location developmentally. Instead we are perceiving and participating with the living, uncertain, and dynamic variability of development. Skillfully operating on our client’s developmental complexity means that we’re able to see, hear, feel and think about developmental movements as they occur in real time—both in ourselves and our clients. We are attuned to experience our multiplicities, and theirs—which is to say, we experience how we’re inhabiting multiple developmental locations or aptitudes in every moment.

Put simply, you discover that you are not singular. You are plural. And this plurality becomes a living quality that guides how you relate with the complexity of your clients and yourself.

Developmental coaching at the mastery level has outgrown the comfort of static, firm and consistent ideas about ourselves and our clients. And this is what makes it masterful—it holds a higher resolution view (more accurate) perception of our clients as complex, living developmental processes.

To do this we as coaches must inhabit our own dynamism. Doing so is itself a participatory act of development that yolks us towards more complex aptitudes that we, our clients, and our world may very well need. Inhabiting our own mysterious dynamism we attain a more adequate vantage point on the immediate surrounding terrain of ourselves and our clients. With these more accurate perceptions, we can orient more effectively, understand what’s realistic and possible. We are more creative, and we are more fluid. This leads to more ingenious design, better planning, more robust strategies, and more vibrant and diverse expression of ourselves and the people around us. All of which ultimately supports better outcomes—not merely better tactical and strategic outcomes, but aesthetically enriching and ethically robust advances. All this goodness can flow organically from our intimate enactments with our own vibrant developmental processes.

So, as you finish this blog post, peer in. Where are you orienting from? How about now? Where are you headed right now? What are you in this moment? And, what capabilities are you enacting? If you look closely you’ll see all these are in flux, and that’s a good finding.

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.

Join Rob for a 12-week advanced Developmental Coaching Mastermind, starting on October 5th, 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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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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