[Please note that this post is longer than normal given that it addresses and compares three viewpoints. I am posting it as one integrated conversation given that it culminates in the third part. You might want to read it a section at a time over time if you don’t have time for 2250 words in a row.]
Take an area, e.g. leadership (whether of one’s life or at work), and let us see what each lens (a learning perspective, a training perspective, or a development perspective) would reveal and what it would call for. Each perspective seems legitimate within its own perspective, and the three perspectives aren’t often compared and selected appropriate to the circumstances. People tend to be stuck in one mode of approach and use it to death because they are familiar and comfortable with it, think “it” works, and blame its failures on the recipients.
[The test here for whether all three approaches are appropriately available is to be able to say when you would use each appropriately and how the three integrate.]
From a learning/teaching perspective:
This approach calls for a new idea about leadership that isn’t yet known by the learner, and to teach them to understand that idea, and once understood, try to apply it.
- This can include reading about great or effective leaders, and trying to imitate their strengths and actions. (There is a whole book industry to support this with its yearly offerings.) Reading about inspiring people offers the same for one’s individual life.
- One can read case histories about who did what when that they said worked, understand the “applied” elements and approach as part of leadership, and again try to apply that understanding to your particular situation.
- One can watch a successful leader in your organization or person in your relational sphere and try to understand their perspective (from your perspective). Then, you can see what of that understanding you can put into play in your life or work.
The downsides of this approach:
- Understanding doesn’t necessarily translate to application (the “myth of application of understandings” hides this – if you say it fast it seems to make “common sense”). For example, many can talk about an area intelligently, however that doesn’t mean they can do what they are talking about – relationship being a good “topic” of greater understanding than practical living of those understandings.
- Modeling after another makes “common sense” and hence ought to be more suspect. Whoever is being modeled after is likely working from their own strengths and how the world appears to them. Their strengths are likely NOT your strengths, and how the world appears to them is likely NOT how the world appears to you. By imitation you are doubly screwed—losing the opportunity to find your strengths, and locking yourself into a way of leading that doesn’t fit you. You will be a bad imitation of the one you are emulating (for whom that approach is natural).
- Learning is better for passing an academic test on leadership than for actually providing leadership in real life situations (see the discussion regarding people doing better at knowing the right answers about relationship than at living them when the situation is highly emotionally charged).
From a Training Perspective:
The ideal from a training perspective is to turn leadership into a set of actions to perform. Certain methods are analyzed and turned into activities that can be applied in given situations. These activities can be practiced in simulated situations, can be “coached” in a simulation or in a real situation, and practice and experience over time ought to improve the application of the method.
Here application is the focus, as is “knowing what to do” on an action basis.
Being decisive, setting clear expectations, requesting clear promises with time and specific outcomes, setting an inspiring vision and codifying it into a mission – all of these can be seen from an action/method perspective as actions leaders can take. Picking one and practicing it, asking for coaching in its application, and seeing its results while continuing to correct your method (trial and error) can all improve an ability to “lead”.
Downsides of this approach include:
- Being “action”-led and “method”-led, the appropriate timing and choice of actions may be off and the underlying relationship may be insufficient to support the action selected. One might do what one knows to do, or what one is working on instead of what is really called for by the whole situation (the others involved, the level of trust in the relations, the challenges afoot, timing, issues, creative challenges, etc.)
- There is a tendency to be formulaic. People naturally tend to resist being manipulated, or fitting inside a simplistic formulation. They may pretend to go along (after all it may be a matter of their livelihood, which may not be lively but pays the bills). However, it is difficult to be wholehearted and fully engaged in what doesn’t seem wholly real, multi-dimensional, real life inclusive, and doesn’t call on them for their full contribution as distinct from “compliance” with the current program that is supposed to “solve” the “problem”.
- This approach can easily call up anywhere from resistance to boredom when used for the 5th, 10th, or 100th time. People have the sense of being manipulated rather than listened to and engaged with, nor do they feel free to provide what they have to provide. And they are being manipulated. That is what a set method, practice or “technology” does. It isn’t open to input that doesn’t fit the method. Hence, it usually doesn’t evolve or develop beyond itself. It lives as an answer or solution. A thing. A fixed method which makes others the fodder for the method.
From a Development Perspective:
When one’s interest is in developing power, freedom and fit, leadership becomes a deep question, with “common sense” about it being held as highly questionable – most often used to hide an absence of power in the area than to provide some. The area gets opened up to hear its essence — its fit with people and life. And this is seen from two perspectives – what is called for and what normally gets in the way. The second part is as central as the first.
Most methods assume they are talking to a rational human being who would do the right thing if they knew what it was. This is far from the truth about people. Many are steering by things they not only don’t recognize, but would be horrified to have to say the steering determinants out loud.
For example, most people are “too busy” at work. They have “too much” to do. They work hours that are “too long” for any real effective use of the amount of time (research has shown this clearly – people are not going to be creative 50, 60, 70, 80 hours a week, not that they will notice this result.)
There is something going on here that is not acknowledged and is a pretense of working. From a developmental perspective, one would want to identify where those leading are “being led” and are losing their power, and resolve this so there is power to bring to leadership. A con, a lie, a stifling of real collaboration and self-expression exists in the following way – I call it “the con of busyness”.
Said in an English sentence, it would sound something like this: “I have too much to do. I will work hard at what I know I have to do for so many hours and with such effort that no one will have the heart to call me to account for failing because I couldn’t possibly work any harder. I am being loyal and hardworking. Any lack of effectiveness is because there is just too much needing doing.”
There are several cons here. “Have to” is one, as in “have to do”. No one “has to do” anything. People select what they do and don’t do. A responsible person says what they will and won’t do, and what will and won’t happen so that others can coordinate with them. “Have to” is the excuse for not saying what selections one is making and being responsible for saying “no” to what isn’t important enough to include as well as saying what one’s limits are and what will not happen on time or at all.
“Working too hard” is another con. It is meant to deflect criticism and being willing to account for the choices made, and the communication made or not made (what is committed to and what is not, what will happen and what will not.) Working too hard hides the absence of the higher levels of professionalism – selecting what is important and timely from what is not, and communicating those selections.
[In an organization’s culture where the “con of busyness” is widespread, there are many, many futile activities people are doing, and many projects that are either not going to happen, or will be very late. If you ask people to “bet their car” that the project will happen and happen on time, they always know whether or not to make the bet. In other words, they know what will not get done. They just aren’t being responsible for it early enough and publicly enough to coordinate with others. Instead of making a determination, they work hard until “it” fails “by itself”.]
Let us leave this one downside aspect that diminishes the power to lead as the example of disrupting a downside stifling orientation in favor of opening room for developing a higher level of power in the area. From a developmental perspective, this would be a first area to work – free up energy, time and power for real leadership of what work will get done. In behalf of development, it would be quite natural to have a potential leader take on the “con of busyness” with themselves and then with others to free up the capacity to take on what is most important to accomplish. If leaders get the important work focused upon and done, they cannot do it effectively without breaking the “con of busyness” or people will lack the bandwidth to bring to what is most important and its fulfillment.
The other dimension of development, getting at the essence of an area, beyond common sense, is where the rest of the power is. When leadership is really being provided, what is really going on? And how does one get somewhere from competent to powerful to masterful about having that happen? (“Having that happen” is not the same as “making that happen”. It is fine if one can have others provide all the elements of leadership around you. You don’t have to be the identified one doing it. It just needs to be called up to happen.)
Insight into the nature of leadership is of central interest here (not “leaders” as reified leadership identified with a person – in a very good conversation, leadership can float around the participants and settle with different people at different aspects of the conversation—the key is having sufficient leadership in the conversation, not necessarily having one person look like they are a leader for the whole conversation.)
So what is leadership from a development perspective? For purposes of this conversation, let’s say it is calling up the appropriate level of honorable relations and the appropriate inspiration and direction for what wants to be accomplished next, and establishing a culture/orientation in which a specific accomplishment and timing can be named and brought to fruition.
From a developmental perspective, one can select a next level of power of bringing their strengths (not a bad imitation of Jack Welsh, General Patton, Abraham Lincoln, Attila the Hun, Napoleon, or one’s favorite parent) to seeing that an appropriate background relation aligned around an inspiring direction gets called into being and displaces effectively what had been crystallized in the culture that isn’t sufficient to the next appropriate and timely accomplishment.
The key to developing this competence is getting interested in it, and engaging in its behalf. Also being open (to what is and isn’t happening, what is and isn’t being said) and intentional (out to cause it’s coming into being) are fundamental to development.
In all likelihood, development will take a different timing than learning or training. A longer one. There are old habits to get over, and new relations and views of oneself and others to come to inhabit. As we have said, this is an investment that pays off well over time. It establishes a sound foundation that can be built upon.
Imagine the value of getting competent or powerful or masterful in calling up the right, honorable relation behind and inspiration for the direction that maximized the next available fitting accomplishment….
And note the difference between taking on these important, developmental components of leadership and the much weaker power available from the common sense views of “exerting authority”, threatening and cajoling, “wordsmithing” a mission and visions, or setting a next goal by simply adding 10% to the last one….
The background relation and direction are different between these two approaches. The leadership is different between these two.
Being in development with the arena of leadership would likely lead to converting the common sense move to a freer, more powerful engagement with what calls up and builds leadership in the culture and in the conversations for what will be accomplished.