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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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.

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