What are the barriers that prevent you from pouring into your peoples’ development? Is it time? I’m sure many of us barely have the time at work to accomplish the tasks on our to-do list let alone to find time to engage in developmental activities with others. Somehow, the urgent things currently in front of us tend to overpower the long-term, important ones.
Or is it confidence? We may struggle with the conviction that we are skilled or experienced enough to aid in others’ development. What do I have to offer or teach? I don’t know how to help others grow when I don’t even really do it for myself as well as I know I should. As a result, we don’t authorize ourselves to find ways to add value to others’ learning and growth.
These struggles are commonly seen around mentorship. As leaders or managers, we don’t see ourselves as viable mentors. We don’t think we have sufficient experience or knowledge, let alone time to mentor others. We tell ourselves that we don’t know how to do it quote-unquote right, so we simply avoid trying to be a mentor.
So, yes, developing others is hard. But I’d also argue that it is one of the most important things a leader does. I believe the number one job of a leader is to build other leaders. So, it is something that we must figure out, commit to, and engage in.
And there are ways to make it easier. So, in today’s episode, let’s explore 3 ways to make leader development easier, both for ourselves and for how we support others. So, here we go.
Welcome to the 3x5 Leadership podcast, where we champion intentional leaders who create significant impacts. In this show, we share simple, practical strategies to help you live, lead, and learn more intentionally. I’m Josh and thanks so much for joining us today.
Now, when I say 3 ways to make leader development easier, what I don’t mean are hacks. I find the word and peoples’ obsession with hacks as searching for a way to cheat – to avoid the necessary hard work to do something right. Hacks are thoughtless, and if there is one thing leadership is not, it’s thoughtless. Leader development still requires our investment, care, and intentionality.
However, easier does mean reducing barriers to development. It means lessening the burden on us in case we feel unprepared, unqualified, or insecure to try and lead a leader development activity or strategy. So, the 3 ways we look at today are just small habits to try and inject development more regularly and consciously every day without having to deplete us of our time, energy, or resources. And the 3 ways we look at build, from first focusing on our own development, to then the development of other individuals, and finally to how we can develop groups. Now, let’s dig in.
The first way to make leader development easier is focused on our own self-development. It is to simply choose developmental activities over non-developmental ones. What do we mean by that? When we have the opportunity to choose an activity to engage in, consider choosing the developmentally fruitful one. This could be choosing to listen to an educational podcast or audiobook instead of music during our commute to work. It could mean choosing to read 10 pages in our book before we pick up our phone to doom-scroll through social media. Maybe it’s choosing to connect with a colleague in the conference room before a meeting to nurture and develop that relationship, instead of the common habit of reading emails in awkward silence across from them. It might also be choosing to read an article while you eat lunch instead of staring at your phone or participating in office gossip.
I hope these examples show you that not only do opportunities abound each day to choose developmentally productive activities, but that they are also small, simple decisions that we have to commit to and make.
But then beyond that, I also want to emphasize that this is not a challenge to completely replace non-developmental activities. Music is not bad. Scrolling through social media is not bad. I am not arguing to eliminate these things. I am, however, urging us to choose developmental activities instead of non-developmental ones just a few times a week. Or maybe we choose to engage in the developmental activities for a short time before we transition to enjoy other, more mindless ones. For me, that means reading 10 pages in my current book before I transition to emails or social media on my phone. It also means I choose to listen to a podcast episode or 30 minutes of my audiobook during my long weekend run before I transition to music and zone out.
So, we can make our own development as leaders easier by simply choosing developmental activities over non-developmental ones each day.
Now, the second way is focused on others’ development at an individual level. It’s to view every interaction with someone as an opportunity to add value…and to be thoughtful in the type of value we add in that moment. Let’s look at an example of what this means.
Say a direct report brings you an issue where their project has fallen behind schedule, so they are looking to you for a decision on how to deal with it. For most of us, the easy, natural answer is fix it by making the decision and giving guidance. Maybe you direct to extend the schedule, letting them off the hook for getting off plan. Or maybe you increase the resources to get them back on track.
So, one option to add value in this moment with your direct report is to give clear, decisive guidance. However, are there other ways you can add value other than giving guidance? Could you coach them through the issue, asking questions to help them analyze options while still maintaining responsibility for the situation, rather than absolve themselves and make it your problem? Or maybe your direct report is new in their role, so some mentoring and teaching could help equip them to handle the current issue while also preparing them to handle future ones better.
Maybe in a different scenario, a peer of yours didn’t get selected for a promotion and doesn’t really understand why. So, understandably they are frustrated and disappointed. What options do you have to add value in this scenario? For one, we could just listen and offer encouragement; maybe this is a time when they need support. But we could also help them take action, like through giving them feedback from your perspective, which could lead them to make sense of the decision why they were not selected. Or you could work with them to create a plan to seek clarification and feedback from their boss on the decision to better understand as well. With that information, they are in a better position to address their shortfalls or needed improvements for the next promotion opportunity, and not simply be a victim of their circumstance.
The argument here is that any moment is an opportunity to add value to others. But how do we know what kind of value to add? First, consider the situation. Is it a challenging crucible for them like reaching the deadline on an important project that can’t fail? If so, maybe they need us to throw them a life preserver to address the immediate needs right now instead of giving them swim lessons to help prevent future situations. For crucibles like this, guidance and feedback may be appropriate options. However, the situation may be a low threat scenario where adding some developmental friction is feasible, like helping a direct report assume some new responsibility, having to unite a small team to accomplish a task for the first time. Here, we can mentor, coach, or teach them. In instances like this, they might have the capacity for some developmental swim lessons.
Second, in addition to considering the situation, also consider the person and their developmental needs. Maybe they lack experience, so mentoring and teaching might be of most benefit for them. They don’t know what they don’t know yet, so some perspective and new knowledge will best equip them. Or, instead, they might simply lack the confidence to act on their own. Here, coaching and encouragement might be most helpful, thus continuing to build their self-sufficiency and ownership. If they lack self-awareness, consider feedback. Or if they are in a mentally and emotionally low state, maybe the best thing we can do is to really do nothing. Just be present, listen, and offer encouragement. And remember, consider what the person needs and not just what they want. Some people may just want the answer – for us to give them guidance that they can easily execute, reducing their responsibility for the burden. But that tends to be the lazy approach. Think about what is in the best interest of their continued developmental needs beyond this immediate moment.
In any opportunity, think about what we can do…what we should do…to add the most value. Adding value does not mean we take up all the leadership space to give guidance, direction, and to fix the matter at hand – often referred to the hero bias in leaders. Instead, think about what the situation and the person need most. What can we do to build them up, to grow their abilities, and make them more self-sufficient and capable over time? Invest the time and effort to add lasting, long-term value.
And finally, the last way we can make development easier – this time focused on groups – is to just simply create the time and space for intentional, developmental conversations. When we think about trying to pour into others through leader development, there are two common barriers we typically experience – time and confidence. Look at your weekly schedule and your to-do list. I’m sure that, like me, you have a ton of events and meetings to attend, an overwhelming list of tasks to complete, and simply no time to pause and focus on anything that is not urgent. But then say we do have an opportunity to gather our people to try and invest in their learning. What do we do? How do we make it worthwhile? And who am I to be the one to do leader development with these people? What do I have to teach or offer? I’m not qualified or ready to be a quote-unquote leader developer.
To that, I say let’s just focus on creating the time and the space for intentional conversations. How do we do that? Well, first, we need to actually schedule time for focused development. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not going to happen. Just pay attention to your current or upcoming week. Over the course of a day and a week, how often do we engage in thoughtful, meaningful, intentional conversations that are not centered around task execution, team synchronization, or crisis management? Unless we actually schedule time to pause, think, and talk, we will never move out of the urgencies of today to focus on the important of tomorrow. It could be a unique, standalone event or even something we integrate into existing scheduled events as an additional agenda item. But first and foremost, just schedule time.
Now, what do we do with the time we schedule? Do we need to create some robust plan or curriculum or have a long list of talking points? I mean, maybe. But what if we feel unprepared or unqualified for that? What if we are new to the leader development game, and lack experience and confidence? Well, let’s just start with asking questions to encourage good conversation.
In leading workshops and small group developmental sessions over the years, I’ve come to determine a reality – that the less I talk during these sessions, the better the conversation and the bigger the impact on others. Do we as leaders have a lot of knowledge and experience to share and maybe even a lot of things we want to communicate? Sure. But what I’ve found to be much more impactful is getting a group of people to co-create ideas and meaning through good conversation. So, instead of coming into a leader development session with a robust agenda and a long list of things to talk about, I now tend to bring a short series of planned, thought out questions to spur conversation.
Here's an example. Say we want to do a leadership-focused session where we help educate the group on what we need from leaders in our organization. Instead of lecturing the group about leadership and telling them what we want, we could simply start the session with a question, “what do the best leaders in this organization do?” Then, back up and let them work, ideally around some whiteboards. After some time to discuss, we continue to guide conversation with a second question, “Of these things we’ve identified, what qualities are most important?” From there, then we can then ask, “Where do we fall short right now?” And finally, the last question we bring could be, “Now, acknowledging all this, what do we need to do once we leave this room?” Through this approach, not only do we talk less and invite others fill leadership space, but we also come up with a whole framework for leadership customized for our organization’s unique requirements. And moreover, we’ve identified existing gaps in that framework and a collective plan of action to address it. And to me, that type of discussion is a lot more powerful than me simply lecturing at people about leadership for an hour.
And we can do this with a lot of different topics or goals. We can start a session with the question, “Where do we experience injustice in our company?” Through a few follow-on questions, we explore where there may be perceived unfairness in decision-making, resource allocation, or how we treat people, while also clarifying what organizational justice means to our group.
Or start a conversation with, “How do we define our business’s culture?” to explore what culture is and how ours is being actively shaped.
We can also go with a question like, “What is not working in our team right now?” as a means to understand the things that bother our people the most and need our attention to get fixed.
I hope these examples show that just through a short set of quality questions, we can not only facilitate peoples’ learning and growth, but we can also begin to solve organizational problems. And when people have the opportunity to weigh in, they tend to buy in. Now, we have a small group – a coalition – of committed people to help us champion this cause we just discussed because they’ve made meaning from it and have contributed to it.
So, the final way to make leader development easier is to merely create the time and space for development. And once inside that space, we can just plan to offer a few thoughtful questions to inspire rich, meaningful, and productive conversations. There’s a ton of power in just asking questions.
Now, as we consider the 3 ways to make leader development easier, look at your current or upcoming week.
Is there one place or time this week where we can choose a developmental activity over a non-developmental one? Even just doing it for a few minutes before we transition to our default non-developmental one can initiate compounding impacts.
Is there an opportunity this week where we can try and be more intentional in the value we add to someone, say during an upcoming meeting or employee one-on-one?
And finally, can we find a small window of time to create space for meaningful conversations? Sometimes, all we have to do is ask the right questions to get it going.
Well, I hope this episode encourages you to be more intentional this week. As you go, if you found today’s episode helpful, I invite you to give the show a like and even a review.
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Thanks for joining us today. And thanks for your continued support and for showing up everyday as an intentional leader wherever you serve. It matters.
So, until next episode, friends, take care and lead well.