The Perils of Leadership: Making Chief is the Easy Part
by Chief John Buckman
Here is the 3rd installment of Chief John Buckman's Leadership Series.....
Three key drivers of leadership development are assessment, challenge and support. Developmental experiences are most effective when all three elements are present.
These elements serve dual purposes in the development process. First, they motivate people to focus their attention and exert effort toward learning, growth, and change. Second, they provide the raw materials or resources for learning: the information, observations and reactions that can lead to a more complex and sometimes quite different understanding of the world. To enhance the development of leaders we need to help them find, create, and shape a wide range of learning experiences, each of which provides assessment, challenge and support.
Assessment: The best developmental experiences are rich in assessment data. Assessment is important because it gives people an understanding of where they are now, what an individual’s current strengths are, the level of their current performance or leadership effectiveness.
In the context of their everyday work, people may not be aware of the degree to which their usual behaviors or actions are effective. In the face of a new challenge, they may not know what to continue doing and what to change. Even if they do realize that what they are doing is ineffective, people may believe the answer is to just work harder, or it may not occur to them to try a new strategy. But when an experience provides feedback on how they are doing and how they might improve or provides other means for critical self-reflection, then people are more likely to understand their situation and to capitalize on a learning opportunity.
Challenge: Experiences that can be most potent to development are those that stretch or challenge us. Individuals develop certain strengths--ways of thinking and acting that work for them, become comfortable for them, and lead them to habitual ways of thinking and acting. As long as conditions don't change, people feel no need to move beyond their comfort zone and develop new strengths.
In a comfortable assignment, they use their familiar strengths well in serving the needs of the organization, and they do not learn very much from the assignment. The same is true for a comfortable relationship, with incoming feedback that confirms a training program or skills that have already been mastered. In all such cases, comfort is truly the enemy of growth and continued effectiveness.
Challenging experiences force people out of their comfort zone. They create an imbalance, causing people to question the adequacy of their skills, frameworks and approaches. These experiences require that people develop new capacities if they are to be successful. Consider a task-force assignment in which the task is critical to the business...in which success or failure will become known...and after which task-force members will present an action recommendation to senior officers within that department. Such an assignment can be thought of as developmental because challenge is embedded deeply in it. However, this type of assignment will prove particularly developmental for people who have not faced such challenges before.
People feel challenged when they encounter situations that demand skills and abilities beyond their current capabilities, when the situation is very confusing or ambiguous or when the person in question is confronted with a situation they would rather not deal with. The challenge might be negotiating the resolution of a conflict between two divisions with opposing views on how something should be done, or it might involve confronting people with the fact that they are not going to get the promotion they think they deserve.
Some challenges are due to a lack of experience. They require the person to broaden and acquire new skills and perspectives. Other challenges require changing old habits; either the situation has changed and old responses are no longer adequate or old responses were never that effective in the first place.
Support: Developmental experiences stretch people and point out strengths and weaknesses, but are more powerful when they also have an element of support. While the element of challenge provides the motivation to change, the support elements of an experience send the message that their efforts to learn and grow are valued. If people don't receive support in the form of confirming messages, and if other people do not allow and encourage them to change, then the challenge inherent in a development experience may overwhelm them, rather than opening them up to learning.
Support helps people handle the struggle and pain of developing; it actually helps them bear the weight of the experience. It is needed to help them maintain a positive view of themselves as people capable of dealing with challenges who can learn and grow, who are worthy and valuable. Seeing that others place a positive value on their efforts to change and grow is key for people to stay on-course with development goals.
Perhaps the largest source of support is other people: bosses, coworkers, family, friends, professional colleagues, coaches, and mentors--even a favorite author. Support can also take the form of organizational norms and procedures. Organizations that are more supportive of development have a closely held belief that continuous learning and development of the staff is a key factor in maintaining organizational success. They emphasize helping people identify development needs and working out plans for addressing those needs. These organizations use a variety of development strategies, make resources available for learning, and recognize and reward efforts to learn and grow. Feedback, cross-group sharing of knowledge and information, and learning from mistakes are all parts of the organizational culture.
Tomorrow, I will post the 4th part of Chief Buckman's Leadership Series, "WHAT HAPPENS TO UNDERDEVELOPED LEADERS".
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So check back tomorrow.
Until next time....