Using Developmental Perspective to Build Authentic Leadership

Developmental PerspectivesHow to use the five elements of innovative leadership to become a more authentic leader is the focus of this five-blog series. We will explore each element in sufficient depth and provide recommended next steps. The first component is how an understanding of developmental perspective helps you become more authentic and also create a more authentic workplace.

I had a conversation today with Colleen, a colleague, 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 is with one of her colleagues, the greater the tension is between them. She found that with SOME people, less is more and with others more is appropriate. So, the question 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?

As an analogy, we came to the easy conclusion that throughout our personal lives as we speak to children or young adults, we adjust our conversations to be age appropriate and we feel authentic adjusting 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.

Colleen and I decided that 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—knowing your type and the importance of introspection in getting to know ourselves more fully that we talked about in last week’s blog.

Now we turn to the lead others component. What does “authentic” look like? For this discussion we turn to the developmental perspective model for guidance.  Leading others means we need to be authentic in a way that meets others’ needs. This rule would apply whether we are talking about our stakeholders, peers, bosses, or followers.

Now let’s turn to how this applies to developmental perspecitve. We will start by defining developmental perspective/level, the term “Developmental Perspective” can be described 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. Incorporating these perspectives as part of your interactions will inform your decisions about the blend of authentic and useful. This model of developmental perspectives can guide us in shaping our conversations with others in a way that allows us to be true to ourselves and frame conversations 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. People whose center of gravity is earlier (lower) tend to be more concrete, have a shorter time horizon for decision making and generally demonstrate less complex thinking. People with a later (higher) level of developmental perspective tend to be more complex thinkings, have a longer decision horizon and have more nuanced approach to leadership.

The guiding principle is that our communication must be both authentic and useful. We must be authentic and true to ourselves and communicate that 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 not useful. A note of caution, I’m not suggesting withholding anything that may violate ethics; rather, advocating that we share information that is helpful. In many cases, leaders I coach find that people around them struggle to understand them. In most of these cases, the leaders are expert 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 help us understand the communication that would be most effective. This model is quite robust and can be used in many different ways. For the purpose of this blog post, it is focused on authentic communication. For more information about this model you can refer to our brief article The Story of Jill– How an Individual Leader Developed into a “Level 5” Leader or those of leading researchers in this field, Susanne Cook-Greuter and Terri O’Fallon. Both O’Fallon and Cook-Greuter provide extensive information on their websites.

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. Take the MAP assessment created by Susanne Cook-Greuter to determine your developmental perspective profile;
  3. Evaluate those around you and create a map of the predominate level of your key stakeholders;
  4. Create your own guidelines for how to best communicate with different levels based on the articles and links in the blog post;
  5. Experiment with tailoring communications to levels appropriate for your audience;
  6. Get feedback from others on the impact these experiments to gauge if you are communicating effectively.

As an innovative leader, developing yourself isn’t enough. 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. 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. The best and most authentic leaders understand that the role they play—and how effective they are in that role—is linked to everyone with whom they interact and work.

To learn more about becoming a more authentic leader using Innovative Leadership we recommend taking leadership assessments, reading the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and the Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills

1 reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] on how to improve your developmental perspective capacity can also be found in the blog post, Using Developmental Perspective to Build Authentic Leadership. Essentially, the six most common developmental perspectives are listed below in order of […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.