In the last two blog postings, the topic of leading with a developmental bias was introduced through articles by Dr. Keith Webb. In particular, the focus was on developing younger leaders. It is not hard to make a case for giving priority to younger leaders since they will or should be taking over all kinds of leadership roles in the near future. However, just as every leader should maintain a life-long learning posture, all great organizations should help facilitate learning for leaders at every stage of life.
There are two important concepts to grasp when we lead with a developmental bias: the first has to do with our mindset. When you as a leader meet with someone, for whatever reason, what is foremost in your thinking? Hopefully it is not largely to share what you are thinking about or just to pass on information, as helpful as these contributions can be at times. The way you approach an interpersonal encounter will tell whether you think developmentally or not. Every encounter can become a learning experience for both parties. What makes the difference is the mindset in which you engage others.
A developmental mindset will listen well, ask questions, ask for clarification, and restate what has been heard to ensure understanding of where the person is coming from. A developer helps people think about how they can make progress from where they are currently at to where they need to be. Discernment is needed to focus the conversation where it becomes beneficial to the person. There is great satisfaction to leave an encounter, even one of only a few minutes, with the other person feeling or saying that he or she has been heard and that you have been of significant help.
Along with having a developmental mindset, a leader with a developmental bias needs to demonstrate intentionality. Every encounter can be developmental to some degree. What is required is the ability to turn an opportunity from some normal experience into a developmental one. If you naturally ask yourself, “What can I learn from this person or conversation?” you will be thinking developmentally. Such intentionality to learn will always flow over into facilitating learning for the other person as well. But, the leader needs to develop the conviction and habit of thinking developmentally as a default posture. The development of others is the priority.
There are so many times in the Gospels when we can see Jesus taking an everyday life experience and turning it into a developmental one for the disciples. Consider the simple incident when the tax collector asked Peter if Jesus paid taxes (Matthew 17:24-27). Peter answered affirmatively without consulting with Jesus. Jesus knowing (omnisciently?) of the conversation makes it into a developmental opportunity for Peter. He addresses Peter by way of a question and then an explanation to help Peter learn about who He is (Son and not a stranger); and what He can do (miracle of the coin in the fishes mouth). Jesus had a primary concern to help His disciples develop in their thinking about His person and work so that they could lead a movement that would change the world. Development was Jesus’ mindset and intention.
Think back over some of your more recent encounters with those you lead. How much did you exercise a developmental mindset? How intentional were you about helping the other person learn? This is a BIG deal if a leader is to live and lead like Jesus.
Next blog: The Learning Cycle