How to Help Leaders Evolve and Grow

Posted: October 4, 2009 in Professional Development
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In the last two newsletters I described the stages of leader development according to Torbert’s and Cook-Greuter’s Action-Logics model of adult development. To recap, there are 7 levels of development: the Opportunist, the Diplomat, the Expert, the Achiever, the Pluralist (or Individualist), the Strategist, and the Alchemist. I described all of these levels in some detail, save for the Alchemist, which is extremely rare and somewhat speculative, in my opinion.

This month, I want to give you some tips on how you can promote the evolution and growth from one stage to the next. However, rather than providing a narrative description, I’m incorporating a table which summarizes some of the tactics you can use to move from one level to the next. I’m also including a table that summarizes the way different leadership stages respond to feedback and seek to influence others. This information is based in part on an article by David Rooke and Bill Torbert that appeared in the April 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review, “Seven Transformations of Leadership,” and is supplemented with my own insights.

Tactics for Progressing from Stage to Stage
Transition Developmental Tactics
Opportunist to Diplomat Wait before speaking or reacting, put yourself in the other person’s shoes, apologize, ask questions, listen more than speaking.
Diplomat to Expert Be more assertive, speak before thinking, do something specifically for yourself, protect your turf, perfect technical skills or expertise, get technical training or coaching.
Expert to Achiever Focus more on delivering results than on acquiring more detailed knowledge, question your assumptions and beliefs, try saying things like “I would like to understand why you say that.” Get some leadership coaching. Find a mentor. Do a time management course. Read up on organizational behaviour and psychology. Stop pontificating. Secure work or a position outside your professional stream. Ask for a foreign posting.
Achiever to Pluralist Question the validity of stated goals and objectives. Try to improve procedures and systems. Seek alternative inputs and points of view. Consult and include diverse opinions. Do something completely different. Get some life coaching. Read works of philosophy and classic literature. Make a drastic change.
Pluralist to Strategist Engage in peer-to-peer development. Establish mutual mentoring and coaching with peers or colleagues, people you respect. Consciously model the behaviour and beliefs you wish to acquire. Observe yourself in action. Write in a journal. Take up a self-awareness or meditative discipline.
How Leaders at Different Stages Respond to Feedback and Seek to Influence Others
Stage/Action Logic Typical Understanding and Response to Feedback Typical Methods of Influence
Opportunist Sees feedback as an attack or threat. Takes matters into own hands, tries to coerce, win fights.
Diplomat Sees feedback as disapproval or as a reminder of norms. Enforces existing norms, encourages, cajoles, requires conformity.
Expert Takes feedback personally, defends own position, dismisses feedback from those not seen as experts in same field (e.g. a manager). Gives personal attention to detail and seeks perfection, argues own position and dismisses other’s. Highlights facts and figures.
Achiever Accepts feedback, especially to improve and achieve goals. Provides logical argument, data, experience, makes task or goal oriented contractual agreements.
Pluralist Welcomes feedback as necessary for self-knowledge and to uncover hidden aspects of self. Adapts or ignores rules where needed, or invents new ones, discusses issues and airs differences.
Strategist Invites feedback for self-actualization, conflict is seen as an inevitable aspect of relationships. Leads in reframing and reinterpreting situations and issues so that decisions support principles, strategy, etc.
Alchemist Sees feedback loops as a natural part of living systems, essential for learning and change, but takes it with a grain of salt. Reframes, turns inside out, upside down, clowning, holding up mirror to others, often behind the scenes.

Both of these tables add to the stage descriptions I provided in the last two issues of this newsletter. They are also helpful for identifying one’s own developmental level, as well as that of others. The second table is particularly useful in helping to craft approaches to assist others with their development, to providing feedback, and to influencing them in a manner that is most effective given the proclivities of their stage.

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