Leadership Development for the Bold

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.


Comments

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.
- See more at: https://tendirections.com/growyourpeople/#comment-7032
Comments