This is a tricky topic.
My intent is to sketch out a sound relational basis for being in development with someone, or for offering development to someone.
What makes outlining a proper relation in that area tricky is that a true developmental partnership has a different substantial basis than a teaching relationship, a coaching relationship, a training relationship, a management relationship, and most leadership relations. Given that common sense usually comes from what is most common, we will not find much of use in these relations for building a developmental partnership.
First, what do I mean by a developmental partnership? I mean the kind of relation in which you place yourself and your development in the hands of another who you recognize has senior insight and power in an area that is of fundamental interest to you. Or conversely, you offer your senior insight and power to another on a basis that allows it to be transmitted into insight and power on their part in a way that ultimately fits with them.
I have already violated about six kinds of common sense. Aren’t we all equal? Don’t we each have our “gifts”? Shouldn’t each part of development be voluntary and assessed piece by piece for how it fits with the person being developed? Isn’t it just a matter of explaining clearly what needs to happen and having the person take it on and be in training with it? etc. etc. All of these questions come from a place that has little to nothing to do with a real developmental relation in which something fundamental and important can happen.
Our best bet is to take a look at the developmental relation from both directions, that of the “developer” and that of the “developee”, knowing all the while that this is too separated and reified to be accurate. However, doing this will likely get us to a place where we can transcend the separation and see the whole of the relation more clearly. These will be stepping-stones and not answers. The punchline comes at the end.
From the Point of View of the “Developer”:
There are several fundamental aspects to the Developer relation:
- having demonstrated mastery in an area of living and action and knowing the fundamental sources of power in that area (without this, what credentials you to develop another?)
- valuing this way of being and the access to it appropriately and being unwilling for it to be misused
- recognizing and being open to where people are starting and coming to know what blocks or displaces real power or mastery in the area you are offering
- recognizing the false promise that common sense or common practice makes in the area — that is, knowing that real power or freedom or fit isn’t available down that path even though the path is popular
- knowing that your development job will require disrupting, ruining, causing to break, the overblown trust or reliance on what will not “go the distance” in the area in question. Hence, part of the job is disruptive and it is a fantasy that you can merely offer the access to what is powerful without disrupting that which has had people neither see it nor bet on it before.
- knowing that there is a place for trusting the other beyond what they have earned or demonstrated in service of the chance to alter their relationship to the area you offer. This generosity of trust is neither flat-footed nor rote. When misused, it is fitting to have the trust need to be re-earned in order to proceed. You cannot do another’s work for them. They truly do need to earn their way there or they will fail to live it without your constant support.
- recognizing that you are entering a partnership in which you take on as your own (not as “your problem” but rather as part of the partnership) the dilemmas and issues of the “developee”. You are out to bring your mastery to making room for them to resolve the issue with a new way of being and a new orientation to the area. (Given that you are “getting into it” with them, it is worth making sure that their commitment to a developmental resolution is sufficient to make it worth your getting embroiled in the issues.)
- Ideal would be not to bet on anyone that isn’t going to succeed in the transformation or evolution that is called for. That is only an ideal. In fact, it is a bet each time in which the outcome isn’t known. And you can educate yourself to the signs of a better bet and a worse bet. Experience and valuing of what you have to offer will have you avoid the bad bets as a likely waste of your energy, time and good will.
From the Point of View of the “Developee”:
As a potential “developee”, one ought to consider the following:
- Do you respect and trust the developer and their competence (at minimum) up to mastery of the area, as well as their openness to partner up with you regarding your coming to be competent to masterful?
- Is the area worth being disrupted and uncomfortable for as you lose your original perspective in search for one of greater power, fit and freedom?
- Can you be responsible for what you are asking of the developer? In other words, are you willing to bring enough openness, intentionality, and connection to the relation that it has a high likelihood of paying off for both of your investments?
- Are you capable of deferring to the developer’s greater mastery in the area and can you tolerate the “lesser status” of being junior in the area?
- And can you maintain an active level of discernment while deferring to what is being asked in the development process so that you give the “benefit of the doubt” to the developer without giving up your responsibility for discernment and communication (in case the developer isn’t what they purport to be)?
From an Overview of the Developmental Partner Relation:
Overall, the development relation is a “Bond of Honor”. It is a mutual entrusting of a relation to something bigger than its starting place. It is a mutual, intentional search into an area of living and acting with a senior commitment to find out what provides power, freedom and fit. It isn’t “getting an answer from another”. It is becoming free to connect to what gives power in the area. It is about finding your own connection. It is not ultimately about “borrowing another’s connection” except to temporarily shake you loose from what has diminished you in that area of life and power so as to make a new and fitting connection there.
There are some unusual dynamics to the developmental partnership. One is that it doesn’t matter how you feel. Feelings are likely to be triggered by the one-down status of the “developee”, and they have nothing to do with fulfilling that role. Feelings are likely to be triggered by the disruption of what you thought you knew, or the status and power you thought you had. In the face of the opportunity for new development, these feelings are not worth steering by.
In contrast, what steers in the development relation is openness, intentionality, and listening for resonance or fit. What really works in this area? Who can one become that frees you to have power in the area? What is old news about you that is time to retire as a conversation or assessment of the limits of your capabilities? Being open to these questions, being intentional about their resolution with something that opens new horizons and capabilities, and listening for your fit with the area are all fitting ways to steer in the relation.
The Place of Honor and Trust:
Honor is needed in both directions: honoring what the developer has to provide (assuming that the respect has been earned); honoring the courage, openness and intentionality of the “developee”. It takes a lot to let go of one way of being for a newer one that holds more promise and range. This is worthy of respect upon entering, upon being in the thick of it, and upon successfully arriving in the new territory
As for trust, without trust, no truthfulness — just argument and opinion. Without trust, no whole hearted engagement — just “hopelessly hopeful” submission or resistance while hoping to be booted into something new.
When to Stop Pretending:
When is it time to call off the development relation as non-viable or not worth it?
I would say when the developer recognizes that they are doing all the work and they realize that they cannot do another’s work for them. Or, it is time to call it off when the “developee” sees that even with their providing of trust. openness and intentionality, that the developer is providing neither new freedom from being entrapped nor new vistas of where power is readily available based on doing one’s own work. I imagine it is possible for the combination of the two relations to be sensed to be insufficient to the task of development at hand, in which case that would be a good time to call an end to a relation that is really quite specialized to a task. The deference and openness granted the relation is no longer appropriate when development is no longer the task at hand.
A Brief Insight:
I was leading a large public program in my early days of leading. I was young and it was a matter of pride and building competence for me to ensure that anyone who worked with me would “breakthrough”. In the middle of one of these long programs, I realized while being baited by someone to “sort them out” that they would not be able to live off my energy or insight. Instead of “breaking them through” their issue, I did the equivalent of turning the lights up about what they were holding on to. I made it plain that they would either let go and explore further or sell out to it — that it was up to them.
That day was the last day I broke anyone through on my steam instead of their volition. From then on, it always required the kind of partnership in which they would be able to own the new territory taken and make it part of their lives. Either that, or they could own selling out on an area and know who did that and know that it was theirs to revisit if they wanted the new freedom.
I have gotten better through experience and interest at telling what is mine to do in the development relation and what is not. As a result, I believe that those around me wind up both bringing more to bear as well as recognizing their own contribution to the breakthroughs that happen when each of us fully bring what is ours to bring.