Honor in Development

Feel free to read the title in all its variations in meaning.

  • There is honor in development.
  • One can be in development regarding honor.
  • One can have honor with respect to development.

I recommend all three.

Here is what I have come to know from engaging in honorable development with many thousands of people over roughly 40 years: everyday culture and organizational culture undervalue honor, undervalue development, and undervalue honor in development. And they deserve what they get for doing so — having to live and work with people hypnotized by actions in behalf of near-term results while failing at long-term development of their most important and satisfying strengths.

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You Can Lead A Horse To Development, but….

I recently received an email from a friend that contained the quip, “You can lead a person to knowledge, but you can’t make them think.” It had a picture of a horse staring back at the reader, head held high but obviously not drinking. It occurred to me that it is even more the case that, “You can offer development to a person, but you cannot accomplish their development work for them.”

When said this way, people will readily assent. However, in practice, I see people doing the exact opposite on a regular basis — often spending the most energy on the least receptive people.

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All Issues are Time Issues

Issues and difficulties can look like they are circumstantial, or personal, or competence- or action-based (not enough results, not enough money, not enough people or talent, etc.) Addressing them as such will get you in trouble — not the kind of trouble people readily recognize, rather the worst kind: silent trouble. And the trouble will be from hiding time or timing as the central issue and moving it off the table as the area to resolve.

Another way to put this is that if you master time/timing, all issues are issues of a lack of congruence with time.

Yet time isn’t given its due in our culture which is hypnotized by activity and personalities. Time is seen as clocks and calendars, the deadline for promises, the expansive amount of hours that can be worked, etc. Less so is it seen as the very medium in which we live that has multiple dimensions each asking for their due (and making you pay if you don’t give them their due). Even much less so is the mastery of time regarded as central to work and personal fulfillment where the various dimensions of time come together in a single, integrated orientation for fulfilling one’s life and life itself. From this point of view of mastery of time being available, all persistent issues are seen as an issue of incompetence in one’s relationship with time.

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Basics of a Developmental Partnership

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.

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Solve the Simple, Transition the Complex

If it’s simple, just solve the problem. If it’s complex, transition.

Whatever you do, don’t solve a transition as if it was merely a simple problem.

What does all this mean?

If the situation, issue or crisis before you:

  • is one for which you have plenty of power,
  • have plenty of capability,
  • fits your current base of power,
  • and only requires a new solution
  • to a relatively focused, well-identified and isolated “problem”,

then by all means direct your attention to solving it.

For example, if everything is humming along in your organization and there seems to be a “leak” of money in one department, by all means find out who or what the problem is and fix that. If someone is cheating there, or incompetent, or not following procedures that are working everywhere else in the organization, then it would be silly to overturn the entire organization in response to that situation, or apply its solution too broadly when the issue or problem is quite localized.

Not much needs to be said about problem solving. Most leaders, managers and workers are taught, whether by experience or training or both, to solve problems. There are also many systems available for how to identify the “root problem” and brainstorm and test ways to solve it. This area (problem solving) gets much attention and, in my experience, is least often how organizations get in real lasting trouble.

 The worst trouble organizations get into in the area of problem solving is often due to avoidance. Avoidance usually looks like not wanting to address the actual problem and stir up the political and interpersonal difficulties that go along with a change in that area. The worst case scenario here is that the problem continues to have the same negative effect. As we will see in a moment, things could be much worse.


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Sufi Story — The Storied Illusion of a Path

There was once a person who was so very willing to learn.

They felt sure that this willingness to learn would be sufficient to making their way through life. In fact, their willingness to learn was so strong, that its very intensity had them believing that it was the very key to fulfilling their life.

This Willing Learner decided to think up the best questions they could. Then they planned to go out and find the wisest person they could to learn from and ask those very questions. Their hope was that the wise person would tell them exactly how to answer those questions with their life and actions. Then, they thought, they would know exactly how to live their best life.

The best questions the Willing Learner thought up over time were two:

  • What should I do with my life?
  • And, what should my life look like when it turns out in a fulfilling way?

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Always and Only One Developmental Theme Up

This post ought to be fairly short. Its length is out of proportion to its importance. If pressed I would say that this is the heart of the matter of development, and it is rarely well done.

The title is more bold than most. It uses “Always“, it uses “Only” and it uses the number “One“. There isn’t much to parse there, but for purposes of emphasis, the above axiom has been proven out by experience for decades across many circumstances and groups. It does in fact say that “always” (under all conditions), there is but a single developmental theme “up” (at issue, primed for resolutions, in proper range, having underlying power sufficient to the circumstantial bind) at a given time. And to further emphasize, there is only  one such theme at a given time that really resonates with those involved as timely, fitting, inspiring and honest.

If you can count to one, and are willing to listen for the resonant theme that is timely, you can be powerful at developing yourself and others.

If you insist on laundry lists, a complaint list of flaws, multiple “needs” that are all considered current, you will fail in the area of development. If you need to fill out a list of things longer than one upon which you will improve, you will fail at development. If you need to blame failure on a number of political players individually and collectively, you will fail at development. If you are greedy to improve and think that more areas of improvement will be better, you will both fail at development and will lock yourself into a shallow view of what is possible in the area of development.

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Appropriate Response to Well-Timed Disruption — Thank You

Disruption has a general reputation that it does not deserve. It is often held as an irritant, a faux pas, an attack, an undermine, oneupsmanship, and so on.

It has this reputation because people do not do it well enough, nor often enough, nor cleanly enough.

Most disruptions come either from anger, an attempt to change people into something you think they should be, or from a reaction to a crisis that then gets blamed on someone. Those are clearly not the best backgrounds for an effective disruption intended to serve the one being disrupted.

Disruption’s poor reputation is like writing off all art because most people don’t do it well. Mightn’t it be smarter to look to masters of disruption for the opportunity there? Might there not be an art of disruption that can be mastered for the good?

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Lights, Camera, Action…Action…Action…Action (ad Nauseum)

Having enjoyed writing the last three “Sufi stories”, I thought another might be in order. This one concerns the bias — ne’ the addiction — to action in our prevailing culture, both in our lives and at work. This addiction to action is so much the case that crises seem normal, and more action seems the most relevant immediate answer.

In this “culture of action“, a person sitting and thinking for a length of time might be mistaken as someone “not really working” — even though their contemplation or their reorienting the direction of their development might save untold unproductive activity, or untold unimportant activity.

(For those old enough to remember “Tom Terrific”,  he was a cartoon character whose upside-down funnel hat rattled around when he stopped to think, his face scrunched, and steam came out of the funnel as he thought until a giant lightbulb appeared and went on when the “aha!” moment occurred. All that obvious activity would make “thinking” more acceptable in our times because thinking would look more like struggle, effort and action — the obvious hallmarks of “work“.)

Without further ado:

The Man Of One Leg — A Sufi-like Tale

There was once a man who was convinced he had only one leg. This leg, he was proud to say, was a “leg of action.” He was always hopping “forward”. He happily had the sense of “progress” as he could easily measure where he had started out and where he wound up in relation to that starting place. He was always proud of the ground he covered.

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Three Sufi Stories Regarding Development

I once made up a “Sufi story” (a teaching story with a twist) in a conversation a number of years ago with a brilliant man and teacher who had two PhDs and had studied time for 50 years. My intent was to show the “right gradient” of development had intimately to do with an expanded view of time. The story awoke something in him that would otherwise have been hard for him to hear (given his 50-year investment in teaching and his 500-year-long historical chunk views of time).

I had the idea for this week to add two more stories to the original story to fill out the whole “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” scenario about porridge — only this time about the right gradient of development. So, what is too hot, too cold and just right regarding the rate of challenge and timing of development?

Too Hot:

Here is the first and my original Sufi story for the double Ph.D.:

The Most Evil Person in the World

There was once an unknowingly evil man who thought he was being helpful to others.

He was smart enough and perceptive enough to know what people were avoiding and what they were ultimately capable of. He was however unaware or at least uninterested in what it took for them to become that capable. He had a tendency to assume that if he could tell them what was possible, they could become it. He considered it honest and perceptive feedback.

In exactly this way, he made people deeply stuck instead of free to develop. He told them what they could be at a gradient such that they could not deny its truth (it felt “resonant” to them), yet also at a gradient such that they could not figure out any possible way to start in from where they were.

In this way, they remained stuck and suffering over a “truth” that was neither useful nor a “timely truth” about development.

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