Leading a group of peers is arguably the hardest situation a manager can find themselves in. For whatever reason—be it slightly more experience, a higher level of maturity, or perhaps the trust of supervisors—we can sometimes find ourselves placed in charge of a group of colleagues who hold roughly the same rank and position as our own. Without a base of power to fall back on, these situations call for a unique style of leadership that we don’t often talk about. To understand how to be successful in this type of situation, we should first unpack the basics of leadership research and then dive into how effective (and ineffective) peer leadership techniques can help us be successful.More
3×5 Leadership Note: Leadership by Wandering Around was the first article we wrote and published when we created 3×5 Leadership. To date, it remains the most popular article. That tells us the idea resonates with many. So, to celebrate 3×5 Leadership turning 5-years-old this month, we want to revisit this essential idea and expand on the idea with what we have learned over these years. Enjoy!
The idea of presence remains a critical component to effective leadership. It is an essential ingredient to building trust, deepening connections, and creating shared understanding with those we work with and lead. And while physically being present is the foundation of this idea, it requires so much more like our attitudes, words, and behaviors during those times. Regardless of industry and organizational context, leader presence is necessary; it is something we can enact across physical and digital domains.More
How are you developing yourself as a leader?
How well can you answer this question? I’m sure some may respond with a deer-in-the-headlights look supported by initial “um, well…uh…” Many others are likely to respond by listing some books, articles, magazines, and/or blogs they’ve read recently – which is great!
But I think my next question would be: Awesome! What else?
I don’t offer this follow-on question judgmentally or pretentiously. I ask it with all the well-meaning intent I can. However, I think only reading and consuming developmental content, even in various available formats, is an insufficient model for self-development. It helps us to gain new information and perspectives for sure, but that alone does not help you process the information, clarify lessons or goals, integrate new approaches into your behavior, or assess growth or effectiveness of it all in your leadership.
Reading for development, while valuable, is insufficient alone for your self-development as a leader. A complete approach to our self-development requires the integration of four activities – goal setting and achievement, seeking feedback, broad knowledge gathering, and reflection. More
Consider this all-too-common scenario: Your division or team receives a new manager, or maybe your military unit receives your new commander. This new, energetic leader quickly establishes a “leader development program,” where they intend to get everyone together monthly for some sort of professional development session. This may commonly be known as leader professional development sessions (LPDs) in the military, professional development (PD) in education, or staff training in other industries. These sessions seem promising as the covered topics include important processes on how our team operates, maybe new ideas on teamwork, and how we can better interact with one another. However, over some time, you notice nothing is actually changing or improving within your division or your unit; no changes seem to be happening and how we work and interact remains the same. We are conducting these monthly lectures and discussions, but results, processes, nor people seem to be improving.
Unfortunately, the concept of “leader development” has broadly boiled down to a mere leader check-the-block task. As leaders, many think that because I am creating some routine event to talk about a topic aimed at making something better, then I am achieving leader development. However, this aspect of lecturing to provide new information to our people is only a fraction of what wholistic leader development can and should look like within our organizations. This alone does not make for effective leader development.
While leadership and developing our leaders is highly contextual – what we need from our leaders and our organization’s specific developmental needs are unique – there are common elements of a more wholistic approach to leader development. These elements, outlined below, serve as buckets to categorize the activities we create and enact within our teams to develop better, more capable leaders. The details of activities can vary so they are tailored to your specific contexts, but we must ensure we attend to all the elements by creating quality, sufficient, and sustainable activities to saturate our peoples’ routine experiences across all elements.
A Precursor: Readiness for Development
We can create the best leader development program and activities in the world, but if they are not offered to people who are open to and ready for development, it is worthless. A necessary precursor for effective leader development is people who are in fact ready for development. I simplify readiness for development into two basic components: willing and able.
Being willing to receive development means our people value the opportunities for and process of improving. They recognize growth is a life-long pursuit, value the process of improving, and personally commit to doing so. As a leader, I can only bring the horse to the water; the horse must also be willing to drink.
Able means that our people have the capacity for development. If everyone in our organization is maxed out of their mental, emotional, and time capacity merely trying to accomplish their day-to-day work, they do not have any available capacity to pour into the challenges of developing as leaders. So, we must ensure that our people have the capacity to take on development.
A few ideas on how we can build and encourage a readiness for development within our teams:
- Building capacity: Ensure our organization’s systems and processes are both effective and efficient.
- Role modeling: Inspiring others to commit to their development through our energy and example. Development begets development; pour into your own leader development and you’ll be surprised how much that encourages others to follow suit.
- Communicate perspective: Share why this matters, the value in it, and the impact it will have. Informed people are equipped people; equipped people are inspired people.
The most overlooked element of leader development is the daily work of our organization. Too often, leaders view daily work simply as “the work” to get done and then leader development as some whole separate occurrence. However, research shows that 70% of development in the workplace occurs on the job through work experience. We need to shift our thinking around leader development – it is not some exclusive activity outside the bounds of our daily work, but inclusive into how we do our routine work, how we interact and influence one another, and create shared understanding and commitment to what we do. Development of our leaders must include how we do business every day.
A few considerations on maximizing development through our peoples’ daily experiences and routine work:
- Creating challenging experiences: Think about coach Pat Summitt’s quote when she said, “In order to grow, you must accept new responsibilities, no matter how uncertain you may feel or how unprepared you are to deal with them.” To encourage and maximize peoples’ development, leaders must create and offer challenging experiences to stretch peoples’ abilities. Consider a person’s developmental needs or next step in their professional progression and construct opportunities to grow them in those areas.
- Use of “developmental communication”: Every interaction with a member of my team is an opportunity for development. How I communicate in that interaction must be tailored to best meet the developmental needs of that person in that moment. Do I need to provide clear expectations, give feedback, mentor, coach, or teach? All are important forms of communication, but which one is best for their development right now? Leaders must leverage all of the forms of developmental communication, applying the right flavor at the right time.
- Feedback: Feedback is the essential foundation for development. There is no better way to improve self-awareness, self-management, and performance. The issue is, however, that feedback is incredibly sensitive. We are socialized to shy away from giving or being willing to receive it. Leaders must normalize feedback within their team, which includes education, training, and repetition. Explore the Feedback Primer to dive deep into all things feedback.
- Balancing challenge & support: Development through experiences must appropriately balance challenge and support. Challenge includes high expectations, accountability, candor, adversity, surfacing and addressing underdeveloped areas and needs for growth. Keys to challenge are incompetence and discomfort. Challenging activities include feedback, intense onboarding processes, situational workshops, etc. People cannot experience challenge alone though. It is not sustainable as people will eventually cave under the immense pressure that challenge creates. We must balance it with support by creating identity and belonging, cohesion, relationships, and psychological safety. This can include methods to recognize people, gratitude, and cultivating all the sources of cohesion.
New Knowledge & Capacities
Leader development must also provide new information and ways of thinking. This element equips people with new knowledge, skills, and abilities, which are necessary to excel in increasingly more challenging roles and to achieve improved results. Though I addressed the issue of simply considering monthly professional development sessions as leader development, these type of leader development activities are important – they just cannot be the sole source of development.
Formally, we can educate through lectures, classes, etc. At the organizational level, such opportunities can be used to address trends of collective needed development or to prepare the group for upcoming change to our processes and how we do business.
Informally, we can through mentorship; coaching; and providing helpful resources like books, articles, and podcasts. These opportunities can be more personal, tailored to a person’s unique developmental needs.
Education and training are important, but alone are insufficient. New knowledge must lead to improved performance through future experiences with the support of reflection.
The final common element of leader development, reflection, is the mechanism that enables people make cognitive connections between information, ideas, and experiences; to make sense of their experiences; and ultimately emerge with new information, lessons, and intentions moving forward. It is a critical mechanism to help people put things together and in the right place within how they view their work and the world.
Reflection is a highly individual and unique experience; how I prefer to reflect may look very different from how you might. But a leader’s responsibility is to encourage and create opportunity for reflection by providing time, space, and structure. There is no right way to reflect individually and collectively, but processing is an important component to development. Leaders must enable, encourage, and foster reflection within routine processes in our organizations.
There are myriad ways to approach each of these elements and how to connect them for a wholistic approach to leader development; there is no right way. I do offer this model, below, on how the precursor and three elements relate from Forsythe & Spencer’s research (2018). When trying to cultivate a more complete approach to developing leaders through this approach, I recommend three simple steps:
- Identify the activities that already exist and label them by each of the elements. I like to actually print this model and write current developmental activities that exist in our organization in red pen next to the element it helps achieve.
- Then, consider the activities that exist in relation to the elements. Where are any noticeable gaps? Does your organization heavily weigh new knowledge activities with little to no activities that support developmental experiences and reflection? This helps us understand where we need to pour some attention into and work to create activities around.
- Finally, create high-quality, sustainable activities to fill those identified gaps. You can find great ideas and examples from many resources online, from books, mentors, etc. Or you can brainstorm to innovate new ones with members on your team.
I hope you are a little more equipped and inspired to take the next step in developing leaders with a more complete approach by using all the elements of development so we can maximize the growth of the next generation of leaders.
Forsythe, G. B. & Spencer, E. H. (2018). Leadership development: Growing effective leaders. In Smith, Swain, Brazil, Cornwell, Britt, Bond, Eslinger, and Eljdid (Eds.), West Point leadership. New York, NY: Rowan Technology Solutions.
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I recently had a junior leader that I mentor in my office visibly distraught over the lack of perceived change and growth that had occurred within his 130-person team since he took responsibility of leading them some 20 weeks prior. He laid out his efforts up to that point of raising performance and expectation standards, holding members accountable, and doing what he could to explain the intent behind the team’s efforts and priorities. However, he felt that no one on the team was buying in to his efforts, committing, or even caring. He believed he was doing everything right – what he could and needed to do to improve the team through his efforts – but growth was not occurring.
As this leader spoke, I knew his intentions were in the right place and he cared deeply. Yet, as I continued to listen, I couldn’t help but think back to two foundational ideas that heavily influence my leadership style and intentions; there were certainly at play in his scenario:
“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” – John C. Maxwell
“People are interested in those who are interested in them.”
I believed this leader was facing a challenge to many of us at some stage. The challenge is that in an effort to build effective teams, leaders unintentionally overlook the personal, human-dimension of cohesion; we see team members for the value they bring to the team and fail to simply see them as human beings who have worth no matter what. We unfortunately have a limited view of what defines an effective team and the full range of team cohesion sources that feed into it. So, to build effective teams of committed people that last, leaders need to start with a people-first mentality and fully understand what team cohesion actually is.More
I recently had a conversation with an organizational leader who expressed that “empathetic leadership” is one of the biggest threats to the performance of his team. He believed that team members simply sought for their leaders to be more empathetic to their challenges and circumstance (really sympathy), and that leaders felt called to be more nurturing of their people, leading to an inability to maintain high standards of performance. As I listened to this leader speak more on his unapproving perceptions on empathy and leadership, I realized the source of the issue – I think he has an inaccurate and limited view on the role of empathy in leadership.
This issue is not unique to this leader or case. We have an enduring problem in our understanding of empathy and leadership that tends to fall into one of three issues.More
Inspired & Inspiring – 8 Ways Leaders Fulfill Their Responsibility to Inspire the Next Generation of Leaders
When I think back to when I completed my Army company command in 2016 (for non-Army readers: this is completing my 18-month command of an Army company of about 120-Soldiers), there is one conversation that still resonates with me and continues to remind me of my “why” for military service. In the closing days of my command, one of my platoon sergeants (a senior enlisted leader in the company with 12-years of experience), known as a passionate leader and tactical expert across the entire battalion, made a casual comment to me. He said, “I just want to thank you for what you’ve done. You’ve reignited my fire and have made my job and being the Army fun again. I’ve been missing that for a few years now.”
I still get emotional when recalling that moment, even years later.
But through this and numerous other experiences, I continue to maintain that sometimes, the most important thing I can bring to the team is not some particular skill or ability, but energy and inspiration. Leaders must inspire, both our people today in what our team is doing as well as tomorrow’s future generation of leaders. We do that by being inspired and inspiring others. More
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant…” –Max DePree
When considering one of my favorite leadership-defining quotes, many (to include myself) focus on the aspects of gratitude and servant leadership. But what about the leader’s first responsibility to define reality? What does that mean and what does that look like?
Leaders defining reality means seeking and surfacing the truth for the team. Improving team performance requires change. To prove the need for change, the team must face their honest reality. This can require addressing brutal facts that have been hidden or ignored. It can be just like any process to recovery – the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Leaders must create a climate within the team where the truth is spoken and heard. This applies up, down, and across the team where no one is above the truth or not responsible to share and address it. Within our high-performing team, we need to have people willing to speak the truth and, more importantly, leaders willing to hear the truth. To enable this team climate of open feedback loops and where people feel safe to speak “truth to power,” I believe there are a few behaviors that leaders should initiate:More
Leading change is extremely hard. It challenges the organization’s status quo, interrupts peoples’ assumptions and comfort zones, and creates an often uneasy unknown or unconfirmed future for the organization. Thus, obstacles and resistance to change are often consistent and come from many sources up, down, across, and even external to the organization. Leading change can easily feel overwhelming and unsuccessful at so many points through the process.
But leading change is inherent and essential to leadership. I think back to Jim Mattis’s comments in his book, Call Sign Chaos, claiming that a “leader must be willing to change and make change.” Leaders must get results for their organization and stakeholders absolutely, but I truly believe that alone is insufficient. Leaders must also make the organization and others better; organizational change is critical to effective leadership.More
Feedback within the realm of leadership is a challenging topic. There are so many subjective dynamics to delivering it well, integrating it across our teams, and using it to improve our leadership and performance. Yet, despite its complexities, feedback is critical for our leader growth and team performance. Through this Feedback Primer, I aimed to provide everything I have learned and experienced on feedback in a commonsense way to help you and your people. Over this Primer, we have looked at:More