Developing Strategic Leaders as Managers and as Individuals

“Times of great change create an enduring need to do significantly more leader development more often” (Sullivan and Harper).

In today’s world of rapid change and through growth focused strategies, it is critical that as evolving leaders we devote significant time and effort to creating ourselves as solid, progressive leaders. This mandate to become fully evolved progressive leaders falls not only on the shoulders of executives and managers of teams and groups, it also rests upon we as individuals to become more mindful of what it takes to be strategic contributors.

There are many corporate leaders and psychologists who argue that one’s definition of development depends on the way in which one frames the concept. One frame is to take a “learning perspective” and to consider leader development as the “acquisition of knowledge, skills, and values associated with effective leadership.” This definition of development is often addressed as “adding new tools to the tool box”. When we identify strategic performance requirements, using this approach, we are defining new knowledge and skills strategic leaders will need going forward.

But it is important to note that leadership at the strategic level is more than the acquisition of knowledge and skills. It consists of “qualitatively different ways of doing business”. There is a second frame and that is a developmental perspective. This perspective concentrates not so much on the knowledge acquired, but how to interpret it and what to do with it. The developmental approach is concerned more with who the leader is and how the leader makes sense of the world. It is thus concerned more with expanding frames of reference, perspective taking, building mental maps, and the development of conceptual capacity rather than the acquisition of skills and knowledge. This process of leader development involves adaptive change in the leaders frame of reference as he or she advances upwards within an organization.

What provides the impetus for this adaptive change? Often, it is the recognition that existing frames of reference are not sufficient to deal with the performance demands placed on the individual team members. Think of it as being “outside your comfort zone”. When a leader is confronted with VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity– characteristics of a strategic environment) that existing frameworks cannot explain there is a mandate for development and adaptive change to create frameworks which can deal with these new demands. How does one go about developing these new frames of reference and increase conceptual capacity? It involves two steps: Self Assessment and Development Planning.

Self Assessment and Development Planning provide the insights that lead to adaptive change. Feedback from Self Assessment either confirms things you already know about yourself or provides you with new insights. If you decide to stop at that point, however, you have not begun the process of growth and change. It is only when you commit to development that the real value of the assessment process is realized. The pivotal question to focus on is “how can I maximize my personal and professional growth and maturation?”

Development involves life-long change, with each part of life having corresponding satisfaction events and challenges. The first step in planning for development is Self Assessment. This process, however, goes beyond the use of feedback and assessment instruments. When you engage in Self Assessment, look at all of the areas of your life. The rationale is simple: Your life can be viewed as an integrative whole, a system. Your goals, hopes, challenges and opportunities in one area will have impact on other areas. One key question to address in development is “how can I achieve a balance in my life?”

In asking the question about life balance, what should have emerged from the process is that what’s going on in your life is that there are multiple demands, challenges and opportunities being faced by you and your team members simultaneously. How can you pursue multiple goals in different life areas simultaneously? The answer is, you cannot. What often happens is that we pursue goals in one area at the expense of the other areas, and our lives get out of balance in our profession, family, community, or self.

The balance most of us find the hardest to achieve is the balance between profession and family.  The demands of your profession are such that there is not much time left to spend with your family. The only way to resolve this dilemma, i.e. profession and family life balance is through prioritizing. Establish goals in each of your life areas then determine which are most important. If you find that your life is out of balance, trade-offs in one area may provide the opportunity for achieving goals in other areas.

To achieve “a balance in your life” there are some key questions (each of the italicized questions that follow are vitally important questions to be considered by you and your team members) you may wish to consider such as, “What are the major challenges you and your team will face in the future?”. A large part of development is preparing yourself and your team to face anticipated major challenges. For example, one major professional challenge may be to prepare yourself to operate as a more strategically focused member of your team. An example of a major challenge in the family area may be caring for aging parents, Another example of a significant challenge is “how do I shift from being a participant in my team’s discussions relative to projects” to “How do I evolve as an emerging leader of that team with greater emphasis on solutions development which emphasizes collaboration among the team members to achieve optimal approaches?”. The first essential step for planning for development and growth is anticipating the challenges one will face in the future.

Another question you’ll need to ask is “What can I as the manager and the team control?”  In your profession you may not have a great deal of say about where you will be assigned and on which projects, but you can control how well prepared you’ll be for a particular assignment. An essential part of development planning is determining where you have choices and when you can exercise some control over those projects and your life.

Your self-assessment efforts will need to address “Where do I want to be in the future and how can I be of assistance to my team-mates in achieving their goals?” This is the second step in planning your life journey – envisioning the future. Don’t forget to ask yourself the question “Where do we wish to be in 5 years? In 10 years? In 20 years?”

It is important for you, in concert with your team, to review the answers to these three questions because careful consideration of those answers opens up possibilities and choices for you and your team members rather than limiting opportunities and restricting choices. In this self-assessment exercise those who achieve their dreams early on and continually ask, “What can I do to reach my goals and help others achieve theirs?” They then develop and implement a plan to achieve what they want to accomplish.

In asking yourself and your team members the crucial question, “Do I/we really want to commit to development?” Here is a brief model for development which involves 3 choices. This model is just as valid for individuals (you) as it is for your team members:

  • The first choice is to recognize your short-comings or identify where there is room for growth or improvement.
  • The second choice is to accept responsibility for short-comings, mine and the teams. If you deny any responsibility for your weaknesses or the team as a whole (its weaknesses) then there is no reason to try to do anything about them. You must accept responsibility for your weaknesses and determine their causes if you’re going to overcome them.
  • The third choice is what can be done to cope with these weaknesses and build new strengths from your efforts, individually and collectively.

As one goes through this self-analysis and team analysis, the goal is to derive workable solutions that are rapidly implementable, which are fully understood by each of the team members, and which engender a sense of enthusiasm for the development process within your team which emphasizes building new strengths, anticipating situations, compensate for short-comings and committing to changing one’s self and the team dynamic toward being progressive, inclusive and on-target.

We have helped facilitate many sessions related to balance and growth issues and we welcome the opportunity to help you and your teams address these issues.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *