Previously published on Forbes
I’m a fan of ongoing learning and development for every human being. The journey of becoming whole and happy and well functioning is never really done. That’s the exciting part. There is always more to discover, to learn, to integrate.
I think of development as an inside-out job, a spiral that begins with you at the center and then moves outward to include interpersonal interactions with others. Next comes team and group skill development, then culture, and finally strategy or whole systems leading. It moves you from inner growth to outer change and the ability to make a difference with your leadership and your life.
At the center of this spiral, a leader first takes a good look at who they are, including their strengths and weaknesses, and courageously tells the truth about both. Naming core values is also at the center of personal development.
As you move out on the spiral, you begin to better navigate your interpersonal relationships. You communicate more cleanly, you ask for what you need, you stop passive aggressiveness. You learn how to calm yourself down when you are upset rather than jumping into actions that create collateral relationship damage. You learn to voice the good that you see and to look for it when you can’t see it.
Team and group leadership skill is the next development frontier. Does your team feel inspired and uplifted with you as their leader? Ask them. Engage in a 360-degree feedback process so you can learn about how your team perceives you. Then fix the stuff that doesn’t work for them. Make changes that matter. How strong are you at clarifying roles? How swiftly and compassionately do you offer needed feedback? Do you high-five people and leave their dignity and self-respect intact? These are the skills of a strong team leader.
Cultural leadership is being aware of your ripple, your impact on the larger system. What kind of culture are you creating? Culture is communicated in everything you say and do, and it’s often unconscious, meaning, no one has declared what kind of culture is intended. Learning more about culture and how to create an intentional culture is the work of leaders.
The final outer ring in the spiral of inside-out development is the whole system. Can you see the whole system? It’s kind of like squinting your eyes or coming to a soft focus so you can see the larger patterns at play. Ron Heifetz calls it “getting up on the balcony” so you can see more clearly. To visualize the system, you often have to engage others, like your leadership team or other key stakeholders. Look together and share what each member is seeing. What’s working in the whole system and what’s not? What is the collective vision for the system?
I challenge you to begin at the center of your development and work your way out, gaining strength and momentum so that you are a leader by choice. You’ll be proud of your efforts. And you’ll make a difference in a world in need of clear leadership.