Effective Development

by Dennis Hooper, copyright © September 2021, in the Christian Coaches Network International Newsletter

The Center for Creative Leadership is the world’s largest institution devoted to leadership research and education. Their Handbook of Leadership Development is a compendium of thirty years of their experiences and insights. The reference would be a valuable addition to the library of any leader, especially Human Resource professionals supporting the development of future leaders.

Have you ever wondered how to evaluate the effectiveness of your organization’s leadership
development efforts? The Handbook suggests that you consider the degree to which the elements of assessment, challenge, and support are built into the development experience.

Assessment. Assessment information points out the gaps between a person’s current performance and a desired, improved future state. If possible, measure the skill of the individual before and after the developmental experience to determine the amount of progress achieved.

If the area of focus is important to the individual, and if he or she believes in the accuracy of the
assessment, there is usually motivation to improve capability in that area. Having this awareness
usually provides clues to how to close the gap. “Working harder” is not the only (and probably not the most effective) available strategy!

“Assessment” helps people understand their strengths and weaknesses. “Assessment” stimulates
them to capitalize on potential learning opportunities. An assessment after the developmental effort assures that progress was actually made and gives a measurable basis for celebration.

Challenge. Comfort is the enemy of growth and improvement. We tend to go about our daily lives using habitual ways of thinking and interacting, usually without intentional awareness. We rely on our strengths, and we usually achieve the outcomes we expect. We accept “what is” as “normal.”

Growth occurs, however, when we face circumstances where our strengths seem inadequate, and
outcomes seem beyond our control. Challenging experiences force us out of our comfort zones.
Situations that demand skills beyond our current capabilities stretch us, encouraging us to look for new insights, and experiment with new, more effective responses.

We cannot have both beneficial development and comfort. Improvement is change, and change can be quite uncomfortable. When the outcomes of a situation matter, we are driven to try new options to meet the challenge. The stretch may require becoming competent in new areas, achieving difficult goals, managing conflicts, or overcoming the pain of loss and failure. Growth comes because we put energy into understanding complex situations, reshaping how we think, and developing new skills.

Support. Though growth requires the disequilibrium that challenging experiences provide, we also need safety while it is occurring. Further, we need assurance that there will be a new equilibrium on the other side of change. While experiencing the struggle and pain of “challenge,” we need the support of the people around us to affirm that we are valuable and capable of learning and growing.

Support can come from bosses, coworkers, family, friends, and professional colleagues. They listen to our stories, relate to our challenges, suggest options for coping, provide needed resources, inspire, celebrate, encourage, and reassure.

The support is needed both organizationally and personally. If either is missing, development will probably languish. For example, you may have a great boss, hugely supportive of your personal growth. But if there is no organizationally accepted leadership development process, you’ll both be frustrated by what feels like structural or administrative resistance.

Alternatively, if your organization has great developmental systems, but your boss provides no
nurturing encouragement or coaching, you’re an unusual individual if you are strong enough to
maintain the motivation required to generate significant growth.

My objective in these articles is to encourage you to build future leaders in your organization. I work to give you specific, practical methods for enhancing the skills of individuals with potential. Though the individual might want to make improvements in outlook and behavior, most individuals don’t know how to do that on their own. Most of us need an external stimulus to either get us started or to keep the effort moving in the right direction. Change is hard for most people! They need your support.

In this article, I want you to observe that you can enhance any leadership development experience–such as a training program, a new job assignment, or matching an individual with a mentor–by consciously considering how to build greater assessment, challenge, and support into these activities.

You are fortunate if you have someone in your organization who facilitates and coordinates a planned developmental approach. For too many individuals, however, their skill development is left to their own initiative with maybe some cursory support from the boss. If that’s true in your organization, consider an overt initiative to establish a more intentional approach to building future leaders.

Dennis Hooper is an executive coach in Atlanta. His website is www.buildingfutureleaders.com. He welcomes your comments and questions at dennis@buildingfutureleaders.com or 770-286-2250.

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