Developmental Dialogue

Building upon the helpful model of experiential learning in the last blog is the leadership skill of facilitating a developmental dialogue. Such a dialogue is vital to nurturing learning in others and leading with a developmental bias.

Although it is difficult to find these principles applied between Jesus and the disciples, they can be seen in the early church. In Acts 6 with the appointment of deacons and in Acts 15 when the Jerusalem Council mandated a few essential practices for new converts, there was a developmental dialogue so agreed upon practices could be performed.

Every person accepting a role or task would benefit by knowing the answers to these questions from her/his supervisor:

  1. What am I tasked to do? (responsibility)
  2. What does it look like when the task is done well? (expectations)
  3. How can I get help when needed? (support)
  4. How will I know if I am on track? (feedback)

Once there is agreement concerning the responsibility (hopefully with outcomes as clear as possible) along with access to the support and resources available, there can be ongoing dialogue to ensure both success for the project and satisfaction for the leader. A wise leader and worker will embrace, yes, even demand such a dialogue.

In modern terms and processes, consider the benefits of these conversations:

1. Discuss the job description and primary outcomes for which you agree to be held accountable. Seek to differentiate the major responsibilities (big rocks) from those that might be easy and helpful but are not determinative for success. Seek to understand the scope of responsibility (including what not to focus upon) and the authority given to hopefully accomplish the task.  Many a leader has regretfully learned after accepting a responsibility that there was little or no accompanying authority and frustration resulted.

2. Negotiate what success would look like in a way that requires faith but is not presumptuous. Tasks that require faith both please God and stretch the leader. Faith can be seen as something that is out of reach but not out of sight—you know you cannot accomplish the task without God’s active involvement but you are not presuming upon God to engage in a way that is not promised.  Either the leader or the supervisor can lack faith and both need to agree to something more honoring to God.  As much as is possible, picture and articulate what the final and intermediate outcomes look like.  Once agreed upon, milestones can be a powerful guide to monitor progress.

3. Honestly share where you are competent and where you would benefit from development. No one is omni-competent. There is no shame in admitting from self-awareness where you have developed strengths for your task and where you lack the skill and confidence to effectively serve.  Then prioritize developmental opportunities to grow.  Positioning yourself for success honors God and brings enriching satisfaction.

It is easy to assume the good intentions of a supervisor and easier yet to avoid awkward questions. However, the best time to establish a commitment to mutual understanding is when beginning a new role or assuming new responsibility.  Initiate developmental dialogues with those whom you serve and with those to whom you report.

Next blog: Feedback & Assessment

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