Innovative Leadership - Developmental perspective

Building Authentic Leadership – 6 Steps to Leverage Developmental Perspective

Innovative Leadership - Developmental perspectiveThis blog is number three in a series focused on building authentic leadership. In this post we will explore how we can leverage our understanding of developmental perspective to become more authentic in our leadership. Let’s start with an example of how a manager applied her understanding of developmental perspectives to a difficult work situation. I recently had a conversation with a client, Colleen, about the question of authenticity—specifically, “If I’m not transparent, am I authentic?” The basis for the question rose from Colleen’s dilemma that the more transparent she was with one of her colleagues, the greater the tension was between them. She found that with some people, less is more and with others more is appropriate. Colleen’s questions became: “Can I be authentic and yet edit how much I share? If I edit what I say or do, how much of my authenticity is lost? Are there models to help me determine what and how much to share and in which settings?”

With Colleen’s example in mind, let’s explore the “developmental perspective”. It can be defined as “meaning making,” or how you make sense of experiences. This is important because the algorithm you use to make sense of the world influences your thoughts and actions. We believe that people proceed through different developmental perspectives as they mature in life. Incorporating an understanding of these perspectives as part of your interactions will inform your decisions about the blend of authentic and useful. One of the primary uses of this model of developmental perspectives is guiding you in shaping your conversations with others in a way that allows you to be true to yourself yet frame them in a way that is helpful to others. When working with developmental perspective, it is important to remember there are not better or worse developmental perspectives—all are necessary to make an organization function optimally. There are, however, better and worse ways to interact based on the perspectives of those involved.

As an analogy, throughout our personal lives, as we speak to our children or young adults, we adjust our conversations to make them age appropriate and we feel authentic when we adjust our language and complexity. So, can and should we adjust our conversations in the workplace with our colleagues in the same way to match their level of development (developmental perspective) or type preferences? Adjusting conversation to match our listener’s preferences is as appropriate and authentic as adjusting conversations to match the level of development of younger or less experienced people. Not only is it appropriate, it is required to optimize our effectiveness and theirs.

As leaders, we must be authentic with ourselves. It’s not helpful to hold secrets, or be unconscious about our own inner “algorithms” or the way we make sense of the world in how we make decisions, set our ground rules, determine our goals and values, and so on. This is the lead-self component which means knowing your type and the importance of introspection in getting to know yourself more fully.

The guiding principle is communication must be both authentic and useful. We must be authentic and true to ourselves and communicate what is useful to the other person in order for us to collectively accomplish our desired goals. Anything we communicate that pulls us away from our goals may be authentic, but it is not useful. A note of caution, we’re not suggesting withholding anything that may violate ethics; rather, we’re advocating the sharing of information that is helpful, not distracting or detrimental. In many cases, leaders find people struggle to understand them. In most of these cases, the leaders are experts in their fields and those around them do not share this expertise. What is most useful in these communications is to respectfully communicate to the listener at the level of detail they can understand.

The developmental perspective model is a complex model that allows you to augment your instincts within a structured framework, and get close enough to understand the communication that would be most effective. This model is quite robust and can be used in many different ways. Here are some recommendations to improve your ability to communicate authentically using the focus on developmental perspectives:

  1. Read an article on developmental perspectives to gain a general understanding of the framework and your level;
  2. Evaluate yourself based on what you read in the article to see where you believe you score (please note that we really score across a range of levels with a center of gravity at one specific level). Even better take the Maturity Assessment Profile (MAP) assessment created by Susanne Cook-Greuter to determine your developmental perspective profile;
  3. Evaluate those around you and create a chart of the primary developmental perspective of your key stakeholders;
  4. Create your own guidelines for how to best communicate with people at different developmental perspectives based on your reading and experience;
  5. Experiment with tailoring communications to perspectives that are appropriate for your audience;
  6. Get feedback from others on the impact these experiments to gauge if you are communicating effectively.

As an authentic leader, you must also have an ability to understand others through the developmental lens and relate to them using developmental perspective as an important filter for interactions. The best and most authentic leaders understand the role they play—and how effective they are in that role—is linked to everyone with whom they interact and work.

Maureen will be a presenting Building Authentic Leadership by Innovating how You Lead at the WELD Leadership conference on June 4, 2015 at Otterbein University in Columbus Ohio. Click for more information.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

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