Skip to content
All posts

Deliberately Developmental Leadership

Better Leader

In their Harvard Business Review article titled “Making Business Personal”, Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Andy Fleming, and Matthew Miller describe the Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO). The basic premise of their article is that the DDO structures their business practices on the assumption that people can grow.  That mistakes are not vulnerabilities, but prime opportunities for personal growth. And… when their team members grow, there is a significant and positive impact to the DDO’s bottom line.

This is particularly important for the improvement of Leadership in an organization. If the expectation of our leaders is that they SHOULDN’T make any mistakes, people in those positions are less likely to acknowledge and work on their mistakes.  They are more likely to spend time covering them up than they are to acknowledge them for the sake of deliberately developing their leadership skills. 

The notions that people learn the most from mistakes and that innovation requires risk taking are not new.  If asked, my CEO clients would scoff at the mere suggestion that their leadership team SHOULDN’T make mistakes. In fact, my clients frequently tell me that they want innovators and entrepreneurs on their teams. 

Then, the first thing their organization does when a problem occurs is find someone to blame…

The most important enabler of leadership development is an organizational culture that “in action”, not only embraces mistakes, is a culture that creates frequent, reoccurring and public forums that are safe to explore those mistakes. The first step to creating this type of forum is to understand the Kolb Experiential Learning Model, otherwise known as the Adult Learning Model.

Kolb ModelKolb found that for an adult to learn or grow we need to stop and intentionally reflect on what we learned in a training session, or from the outcome of our own actions. Taking time to reflect on the recent past for the sake of improvement, then conceptualizing how we can apply what we learned or can improve upon our results.  Once you have an idea of what improvement looks like, decide on a future approach and seek opportunities to experiment with that approach.

A simple and low cost way to begin Deliberately Developing your Leadership is to have your team members begin publishing a weekly Leadership Performance Journal (pJournal). The pJournal is a simple tool developed by the Stagen Leadership Academy that employs the adult learning model and the cultural components necessary to maximize the opportunities associated with mistakes. For the pJournal to be effective, they need to be completed by everyone including the executives and publicly available to everyone on your team.

The pJournal format

1. Mental Replay of a “Concrete Experience”

 The Situation - Describe what happened:

 Results - Describe the results, consequences, implications:

2. Reflection “Reflective Observation”

 My Thoughts - What I was thinking:

 My Behavior - What I did and said:

 My Inner State - What I was feeling:

3. Self-Authoring “Abstract Conceptualization”

 Key Insights - Describe your triggers, habits, patterns:

 Desired Outcome - What do I really want?:

 Action - My next step is or Next time I will:

Criteria for a Good pJournal

1. Identify a leadership mistake you made. A situation that you wish you handled better with other people in the room, on a call or via email.  Ultimately the premise of the exercise is to identify situations that you DID NOT influence, and where you failed to attain the result you were hoping for from other people.

2. Remember that you are the only thing in this world you have complete control over. Your insights in the journal and "Actions - next steps" should be yours. Do not list next steps that involve other people’s actions. 

3. The main outcome of this exercise is to take the time to work through the situation, evaluate your actions/results and COMMIT to how you will handle the next similar situation. When you are done with the exercise each week, you will have a road map to experiment for the purpose of refining your ability to influence people and improve your leadership skills.

4. Publishing to the team allows others to provide you with input on possible solutions or empathize.  SOLUTIONS that are created by several minds measured by the end RESULT are always better than a solution created by a single mind.

Ultimately, the pJournal allows leaders to publicly acknowledge their mistakes, lessons learned and make a public commitment toward improvement with tangible next steps.  Public commitments are much more likely to be kept which helps create velocity toward improvement and gives other team members the ability to lend support. When team members are aware of the areas you are actively working to improve, their very nature will be to support your efforts and… 

In the book titled “The Speed of Trust”, Steven Covey makes the point that when you demonstrate publicly that you are willing to acknowledge your mistakes and then keep your commitments toward improvement, people will naturally trust and cooperate with you.  People want to work with authentic, capable people that they can rely on.

The pJournal exercise creates velocity toward leadership improvement by maximizing the opportunities associated with mistakes and supercharges the performance of the entire team by fostering trust and cooperation.

Leadership Performance Journal Example #1

1. Mental Replay of a “Concrete Experience”

The Situation - Describe what happened:  In an ongoing attempt to continue to refine business practices at 120VC, I asked my leadership team to begin providing weekly forecasts for billable hours.  I asked them to start by having team members take a look at the coming 1 weeks workload and forecast the number of hours they would spend on billable work for that week.  I explained that this is a first step toward quarterly forecasting that will be used to make investment decisions, hiring decisions, swap team members across accounts, etc...  Essentially, we could be more efficient about how we are allocating our current billable workforce. 

My team asked for a month to work this out and they set a deadline to begin providing me this reporting.  Last week, I was in a leadership team meeting going over reports and it occurred to me that the deadline had passed, and the data I had requested was not in the report.

I asked why I didn't have the data and they pointed fingers at each other.  The next few questions resulted in excuses and I got mad.  I said...  "This is bullshit! Someone should have told me...  Instead I had to discover that it hadn't been done by noticing the information was missing from the report?  This is totally not cool."

And then I gave them 10 minutes to come up with a solution and a near term completion date.  I left the meeting and returned 10 minutes later to a plan and commitment.

Results - Describe the results, consequences, implications:  The immediate result was that I was given "another" plan and completion date.  The consequence is that we didn't work as a team to figure out the root cause of the failure and therefore I had no confidence in the new plan or the date.  My team didn't learn anything that would impact their future decisions...  We made no progress as a team and learned nothing from the failure.  We essentially fixed the symptom without addressing the root cause.

2. Reflection “Reflective Observation”

My Thoughts - What I was thinking:  What else isn't happening that I don't know about?  Cuz apparently if I don't log it in the risk log and micro manage, I can't trust that they won't just blow things off.

My Behavior - What I did and said:  I threw a tantrum.  In a very professional way I might add...

My Inner State - What I was feeling:  I was furious that these super highly paid professionals that essentially run 120VC were like...  Oh ya, we did say we would get that done (paraphrase in the tone of stoned surfer dude).  I felt really let down and was hurt that they left me hanging.

3. Self-Authoring “Abstract Conceptualization”

Key Insights - Describe your triggers, habits, patterns:  I felt left out.  Like their last priority.  Like...  My contribution is not important to them, even though history shows that my contribution is uber valuable. Uber = Super in Southern Californian speak.

Desired Outcome - What do I really want?:  I want my leadership team to do what they say they are going to do, when they say they are going to do it, or...  Circle back and let me weigh in.  To either disagree with me or tell me they don't understand so we can develop a go forward plan together.

Action - My next step is or Next time I will:  The next time something like this happens (and it will), I will remember that they don't want to disappoint me.  In fact, I believe that the last thing on the planet my leadership wants is to let me down.  I believe they care about me.  Next time I will remember our core value and make the failure safe so we can get at the root cause. 

We have had several meetings on the topic since and as it turns out, they didn't understand what I was trying to accomplish.  They needed my help and didn't ask for it.  If I had made it safe, we would have worked it out in that meeting and we would have avoided the drama I caused by getting frustrated.  As a leader I can chose to be right or I can chose to be effective.  No one in the universe would say that I didn't have a basis for being angry.  However, I would rather have made progress that day with my team by showing them exemplary leadership. 

Leadership Performance Journal Example #2

1. Mental Replay of a “Concrete Experience”

The Situation - Describe what happened:  This week I hosted the first tele-conference for the Project Leadership Program (PLP). I planned to help my students review their posts from the first weeks assignment and assess their mindsets as either "Knower" or "Learner" for the sake of value creation.  I also introduced a new piece of technology for the conference call that I thought I had thoroughly tested.  This technology was supposed to help by giving my students some private time in small groups to work through the topic of Knower vs. Learner…  When the technology failed… or I failed to use the technology correctly, I was really embarrassed.

Results - Describe the results, consequences, implications:  When my students appeared to challenged my motives by pushing back on the exercise as "asking them to be judgmental of each other", I was already off my game and I felt “accused”.  Instead of playing for them by acknowledging their points of view I justified the lesson, or I justified my motives.  Let’s be clear, I did the latter.  Instead of helping them connect with the value of working as a team to recognize when the knower is manifesting and help guide each other back to learner, I feel like I made them feel judged.  Critique for the sake of value creation is a really hard topic because the only distinction between constructive criticism and judgment is motive.  Essentially, where the messengers heart is…

2. Reflection “Reflective Observation”

My Thoughts - What I was thinking:  This team is really important to me.  I know that I can contribute positively to their Project Management and Leadership journey, and I look like an idiot with this technology.  They are going to think I didn’t test it.  I did test it between me and Steve.  Clearly that wasn’t enough and tantamount to no testing at all.  They are right, I let them down.

My Behavior - What I did and said:  I defended myself instead of doing my job.  I was supposed to be the leader on this journey.

My Inner State - What I was feeling:  Shame

3. Self-Authoring “Abstract Conceptualization”

Key Insights - Describe your triggers, habits, patterns: I don’t like to look incompetent in front of people I respect.

Desired Outcome - What do I really want?:  I want to do a great job for my students.  I want them to have an amazing experience in the PLP and I want their leadership to recognize that their efforts in the Program contributed to significantly improving their (already awesome) ability to inspire their projects teams to greatness, and complete Projects on time and on budget. 

Action - My next step is or Next time I will:  The next time I make a mistake in front of my students, I am going to acknowledge it out loud and ask them for a moment to reset.  I will remember that we are all on the same team and that I will never be perfect (just damn good).  I will then recommit to my role which is to serve them.