On April 23, 1910 – 112 years ago almost to the day as of this writing – former president Theodore Roosevelt gave what is considered the best speech of his career and provided what is seen as one of the greatest quotes of the century.
His speech, titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” which he delivered in Paris to an audience of thousands, to include minsters, military officers, and students, has since become commonly known as the “Man in the Arena”. Within the speech, Roosevelt touched on many things: his personal family history, human and property rights, war, the responsibilities of citizenship, and France’s falling birthrate. Most notably, though, Roosevelt objected against cynics who looked down at those who were trying to make the world a better place – an issue that is unfortunately still all too common today.
In my previous job as a member of the West Point faculty, I had the responsibility of selecting a few cadets (of the 130 in the organization) for specific leadership positions each semester. This gave those selected cadets a focused opportunity to practice their leadership in a safe and supportive environment, while striving to improve the company they led. Of course, I could not pick every cadet for important roles over the semesters available.
But after a few semesters of managing these decisions, one of my soon-to-graduate cadets offered candid feedback during a one-on-one meeting with me. He said that many in the organization viewed me as a “puppet master,” selecting the cadets I personally preferred for these leadership positions, leaving the rest without opportunity to be considered.
Have you ever hesitated to reach out to a boss or a mentor and ask for their time – maybe to seek out advice for a current challenge?
Do you feel like a burden when you do?
What about encountering distracted, seemingly aloof communication from a boss or mentor? Though likely unintentional, even the smallest signals can message that we are distracting our boss or mentor from more important things, or that we are not someone on their short list of people worth their time.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
3×5 Leadership Note: Big Rocks Leadership was one of the first articles we wrote and published when we created 3×5 Leadership. To date, it consistently remains one of the two most popular articles. 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!
I believe one mark of an exceptional leader is a personal commitment to continuous self-development and learning. Running with this idea, let’s say you read one to two books a month for the purpose of development and learning. Additionally, you listen to an audiobook a month. You also listen to one to two podcasts a week. And you read a handful of blogs and articles each week. Great! I’d consider that quite a robust self-development habit of learning!
That’s also a lot of content to consume every week.
How do you extrapolate what is important and relevant from all that? Moreover, how do you record those ideas or lessons, retain them, organize them, or even reflect to keep them relevant months or years down the road? This is certainly a common challenge for those highly committed to self-development.More
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
In my decade-long journey of growth as a leader so far, I’ve come to firmly believe that one of the greatest impacts I can have as a leader (and a developer of other leaders) is to create leadership space for others to fill. Creating this space, enabling others to fill it, and supporting their growth throughout the experience truly is one of the best things we can do to nurture others’ leader development. This directly supports the 70-20-10 Model for Learning and Development (70% of learning occurs from challenging experiences and assignments), cultivates ownership and responsibility within those leaders, gives them experience to expand their perspectives, and creates rich opportunity for follow-on reflection and learning (even from failure).More
Can you sufficiently answer these questions about your leadership impact right now? As intentional and effective leaders, we should be able to.
Two primary goals for 3×5 Leadership are to (1) help make other leaders more intentional and (2) deliberately developmental in how they lead. Defining how we learn, lead, and develop others are all critical aspects to achieve those. To maximize our effectiveness and efficiency in these efforts, we need to model how we achieve each of those through an operating framework.
An operating framework is a representation that serves as a guide to areas of emphasis and behaviors around a particular topic. It models components and relationships as a system to explain how it works.
Leaders need to have operating frameworks for how we learn, how we lead, and how we develop others.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.