Work is a place where we spend a great deal of our time and talent every day. And through the exchanges and situations we face there, each of us has an opportunity to grow ourselves up — to become more mature, more resilient, and wiser — but only if you consciously engage in your personal and professional development at work. Several years ago, the term “deliberately developmental” was coined by Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Matthew Miller and Andy Fleming. In their 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review, “Making Business Personal,” they shared their findings about organizations that promote a culture where employees can pay attention to their personal growth as part of their work environment.
A deliberately developmental approach involves sharing and naming your blind spots — those weaknesses and failings you instinctively hide. This kind of sharing requires trust on a team. The sharing itself is a contribution that allows others to share more openly and freely.
Leading a Deliberately Developmental Team
Every other week, my team gets on a Zoom for a “check in.” This is where each team member shares what they’ve been paying attention to, where they are stuck or stalled, or what they are present to at that moment.
The sharing is rich. Last week, one of our senior team members shared his embarrassment about receiving some feedback from a colleague about his impact — a blind spot for him. He was so embarrassed about it that he said he’d considered hiding out and not joining the call.
Just sharing this out loud took courage. And it gave permission for the rest of us to be human, to experience our own shame and embarrassment and not try to chase it away. He stopped hiding in that moment and could get back to feeling like a valued part of our team. We held his sharing as a gift.
A deliberately developmental team recognizes that blind spots or developmental areas cause harmful impact. By sharing them, it furthers the team’s growth while increasing trust and connection, the pillars of collaboration.
Taking Ownership of Weaknesses
Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindsets highlights the fact that, at a certain point, children begin to reject learning. The idea that they have not achieved mastery in some area becomes a source of pain as the child develops self-consciousness. Unless and until a person can face and take ownership of their lack of mastery, as well as their flaws and gaffs, they will not grow.
Instead, though, many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to hide these areas. As Kegan puts it, “In normal organizations ‘everyone is doing a second job no one is paying them for’ — namely, covering their weaknesses and managing others’ good impression of them.”
You’ve heard the phrase, C.Y.A? “Cover your ass” is a strategy used to avoid criticism or responsibility. It’s about looking good. The challenge is that impression management takes an enormous amount of time, energy and attention.
In deliberately developmental organizations, people direct their time and energy in a more productive way by weaving personal development into daily routines. In meetings, in one-on-one sessions, and over the course of their everyday activities, they work together to surface their weaknesses and get help to overcome them. As a result, both they and the organization get better.
An organization that’s committed to a deliberately developmental approach knows that team members grow through a combination of challenge and support, which includes recognizing and transcending blind spots, limitations and internal resistance to change. For this approach to succeed, employees must be willing to reveal their inadequacies at work — not just their business-as-usual, got-it-all-together selves — and the team leader must create a trustworthy and reliable team to make such exposure safe.
How to Be a Deliberately Developmental Leader
To be a deliberately developmental leader, you have to slow down and create space and time to think, reflect, see and name the patterns and larger forces at work. It requires giving up expediency for the moment. It’s about going slow to go fast.
This might look like taking a pause in a meeting or conversation and creating the space for a moment to learn together. Maybe it’s naming a dynamic about the way the team is working together. It might mean saying out loud what is just under the surface in the conversation. Or telling the truth about your own reactions. From this courageous step, the team has an opportunity to move from personal insight to collective action.
Being committed to becoming a deliberately developmental organization takes rock solid trust. As a leader, you must create an environment where people can take risks and be more vulnerable in sharing ideas, which will ultimately lead to better outcomes for the organization.
You don’t have to wait and hope that someday your organization will take up this call. You can be a leader who is deliberate about developing the people you lead.
Previously published on Forbes