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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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.

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