This is part 10, the conclusion, of the 3×5 Leader Development Handbook. I encourage you to start with the series introduction here if you have not yet.
Imagine so valuing the importance of developing people’s capabilities that you design a culture…[which] sweeps every member of the organization into an ongoing developmental journey in the course of working every day.
—An Everyone Culture, by Fobert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
I like to imagine our organizational leader development processes like building a garden. We can envision what we want our garden to look like and what we want to get out of it – certain vegetables, plants, and/or flowers. We then build the actual garden in the selected location with high-quality resources. Finally, we plant our desired plants. However, we know that gardening does not stop once the plants are planted; that is only the beginning. Gardens require consistent attention – watering, pruning, re-fertilizing, etc. – all done and re-done season after season. Moreover, different plants have different needs like varied levels of water, sunlight, pruning, and types of fertilizer.
Our leader development approach is very similar. We can create the most robust, highest quality development process with impactful activities, but much like a garden, our developmental approach must receive consistent attention and “pruning.” Leaders must routinely and continuously reinforce a culture of development after we have initiated our processes and activities.
I believe that 1% of our leader development effort is actually creating the processes and activities – like building our garden and planting the plants. The other 99% is maintaining it every day and achieving organizational alignment to the processes – the continuous cultivation, watering, pruning, and re-fertilization of our “leader development” garden.
Below, we culminate our exploration of the 3×5 Leader Development Approach, which we introduced in part 1 of this series, and look at the final step – building and reinforcing a culture of development.
Reviewing Our Leader Development Approach
Before diving into our final step in our leader development approach, it is appropriate to review our exploration of leader development through this 3×5 Leader Development Handbook up to this point:
- Part 1, the introduction, presented our leader growth journey and our 4-step leader development approach (above graphic). In it, we defined leader development and offered a few qualifying notes on the structure and language in this series.
- Part 2 addressed step 1 in our approach: managing organizational demands. It challenged leaders to shift attitudes about work and how to categorize things that take our time and attention into urgent and/or important. From this new way of thinking, we are able to create new, added capacity for leader development with our people.
- Part 3 looked at step 2 in our approach and how leaders must role-model development before anything else. We defined self-development and offered a few recommended self-development activities to engage in daily or weekly.
- Parts 4 through 9 introduced a leader development process model and the 3×5 Leader Development Matrix. It covered the details of the different domains and methods of creating a wholistic leader development process with impactful supporting activities.
The below graphic captures the core models covered in our Handbook and how they nest within our foundational model – the Leader Development Approach.
Challenge & Support: Critical Elements of Developmental Experiences
One of the primary ways leaders build and reinforce a culture of development is by purposefully maximizing the integration and touchpoints of the three core elements of developmental experiences – assessment, challenge, and support – which we introduced in part 4 of this series as part of the leader development process model.
Assessment is feedback; it provides measurable data points for growing leaders to determine how they are performing and how that compares to their self-perceptions of their performance. It is a critical self-awareness improvement tool. Different organizations leverage different assessment tools. The U.S. Army, for example, uses Officer & Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs & NCOERs) as our annual assessment report. They allow first- and second-line supervisors to provide quantitative and qualitative feedback on one’s performance, potential, and how the rated leader compares to his/her peers. Generally, organizations have very prescribed assessment mechanisms.
What is less defined are the elements of challenge and support. Challenging developmental experiences force growing leaders out of their comfort zones and make them stretch their ways of thinking; challenge, newness, and even failure all offer rich developmental opportunities. Support, on the other hand, helps growing leaders appropriately manage the emotional toll of challenging experiences and maximize their learning and reflection from those challenges. Support captures the way we help nurture our growing leaders through their experiences.
Leaders need to offer both challenge and support to continue to build and maintain a culture of development across our organization. It is important to offer high levels of both, as seen below.
In looking at the above plane of high-low challenge and support, we can see the impact leaders can have on their growing leaders’ development:
- In an environment of high challenge-low support, our people are experiencing drowning crucibles. Crucibles may be appropriate for certain seasons of our growth, but we cannot spend too much time in that type of development. In crucibles, we aren’t afforded the ability to pause, learn, and reflect from experiences.
- Low challenge-low support is essentially wasted opportunity. I challenge leaders fostering this type of environment what they are even spending their time or efforts on, because they are not developing the next generation of leaders to follow them.
- Low challenge-high support is overly nurturing and coddling. We are not stretching our leaders enough here to grow and face future problems on their own. Our future leaders are thus not prepared to take up the heavy mantle of leadership responsibility.
- Finally, high challenge-high support is our desired environment of high-growth. This is where our growing leaders are consistently challenged AND supported to maximize learning.
Challenge and support activities will differ across organizational contexts. However, for shared understanding on how to materialize these two elements, below are common activities we can all engage in.
Common challenge activities can include: SMART goal-setting and accomplishment, 360-degree feedback tools, setting high organizational standards and discipline, intense on-boarding processes, and putting leaders in expansive leadership roles to stretch their span of control and problem-solving responsibilities. Additionally, coaching can also be a challenge to our young leaders as a means to force decision-making and responsibility on them while helping guide them through their thinking processes.
Support can often look like counseling, after-action reviews, fostering a peer coaching or mentorship program, performance recognition, and educating our leaders on new leadership theories/models/ways of thinking.
Ways to Reinforce Our Developmental Emphasis & Achieve Alignment
Finally, one of the best ways to build and reinforce a culture of development is through your own purposeful behaviors. Below are a few recommendations to enact to reinforce your organization’s culture of development.
- Role-modeling: Leaders need to set the example every day. We must be deliberate in our on-the-job coaching, teaching, counseling and feedback, mentoring, and leading / participating in developmental programs. We need to reflect and share what we learn from it. We need to engage in self-development.
- Recognize & reward development: What gets measured gets done. We cannot expect A but reward B. Recognize, reward, and celebrate your people who are developmental champions in your organization. Use it as an expectation in initial counseling, specifying that is part of their performance evaluation.
- Purposeful questions: during your LBWA times, ask seemingly casual, yet very purposeful questions about development. Ask junior leaders, “what are you implementing to develop your subordinates?” Ask your most junior people about their most recent developmental experiences that their supervisor enacted or created for them. You’ll definitely get a pulse for development through these casual, low-threat sessions.
- Counseling: Just like the LBWA questions above, leaders can focus significant portions of routine and performance counseling sessions on development and understanding the processes and activities enacted, which ones are going well, current challenges, etc.
- View everything with a developmental lens: No matter the situation or task at hand, I challenge leaders to view every activity, opportunity, or challenge/threat as a developmental experience for you and your people. Always ask yourself, “how should I intervene in this situation? Should I take over and decide/act myself? Or should I educate, teach, coach, or mentor?”
- Assess, assess, assess: Finally, just as in operations and tasks, leaders need to continuously supervise, assess, and refine the leader development processes in the organization. Consider leader development at the individual, team and group, and whole organization level to see what our strengths, activity gaps, and improvement needs are to grow the impact of development. For example, with a full year under my belt in my current duty position as a USMA Tactical Officer, I am creating a near-full overhaul of our company’s leader development process for the next academic year. This comes after seeing our gaps and remaining development needs over the last two semesters. Remember, gardening needs continued pruning and cultivation.
Our journey over the last 10 parts of the 3×5 Leader Development Handbook aimed at offering a holistic approach to organizational leader development. We’ve covered a myriad of topics, provided numerous graphic models to support these concepts, and emphasized real-world application to materialize the theory.
I hope that this series has provided you with a better understanding on the complex topic of leader development. We may be successful as leaders, earning the highest grades, evaluation marks, and accolades. But success does not necessarily equate to significance, especially in the lives of our people. Deliberately developing our 2nd and 3rd generations of leaders to follow behind us is one of the best ways that we can be significant as leaders.
Remember, leader development occurs daily, not in a day.
The content and thoughts within this article are my personal views only. They do not represent the views of the U.S. Army or the United States Military Academy (USMA).
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