Leadership Paradigms: Why Some Soar While Most Struggle – Part 3: The Developmental Paradigm

By Max Shkud and Ben Haggard – originally published on Linked In

The original article has been divided into three parts for publishing by Enlivening Edge Magazine. This is Part 3. Part 1 covers the introduction and the Behaviourist approach to leadership. Part 2 covers the Humanist approach. The full original article can be found here.

Developmental Paradigm

The developmental paradigm springs from a fundamental belief that every living being—a customer, an employee, even a company—is born with a unique essence and distinct potential that it yearns to contribute to something greater than itself. But uncovering and manifesting this potential requires a deliberate development of will, character, and capability.

Based on this philosophy of purposeful development and contribution, a developmental leader pursues three overarching aims, which can be visualized in terms of a framework:

First, developmental leaders evoke purposeful contribution in every organization member. They do this by illuminating the company’s unique essence—its core identity—and connecting it to the customer aspirations and societal imperatives that the company aims to serve. Within this generative context, leaders call on every employee and team to discover the unique contributions that reflect their own distinct potentials.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s renaissance CEO, is masterful at this aspect of developmental leadership. When he stepped into the role, he made rediscovering the soul—or essence—of Microsoft his top priority. Why did Microsoft exist? What would be lost if it disappeared?

Paul Allen and Bill Gates founded the company with a dream to democratize computer technology. Although technology has evolved dramatically since that time, Microsoft’s original aspiration endures.

Nadella often says that Microsoft is at heart a productivity platform that empowers both customers and employees to pursue and achieve their most ambitious aspirations. He prompts his colleagues to ask themselves, “What is my unique role and contribution within this grand adventure we’re on? What am I aspiring to? What is my audacious promise to those we serve, and who do I need to become to realize it?”

Understanding that Microsoft’s core promise must be regularly regenerated in service to the evolving lives and aspirations of real customers and beneficiaries, he challenges the company to ask, “What does it mean to empower this specific customer, to make this specific beneficiary more productive? What is our unique contribution and how do we become increasingly purposeful about it?”

Developmental leaders also seek to build whole-business thinking at every level of their organizations. They understand that to build a successful business, innovative ideas must be translated into financially viable products and services. This happens most effectively when organization members have a whole-business view and are capable of making decisions that benefit the whole.

Behaviorist and humanist leadership paradigms assume that for most people responsibility begins and ends with their own job or role. In contrast, developmental leaders build everyone’s capacity to take responsibility for the whole business and work across departments and functions as one integrated business team.

People develop this kind of responsibility when they know how their decisions and actions contribute to customer outcomes and the financial effectiveness of the business—its earnings, margins, and cash flow.

The third leg of our triad is cultivating tri-level development. When we introduce the developmental paradigm, leaders often ask, “What about people in my organization who aren’t driven by the desire to contribute or think more systemically? What about those who are motivated by money and promotions, and who simply want to do their job and provide for their families?”

It’s a fair question. While the capacities for purposeful contribution and whole-business thinking described here are inherent to all humans, they tend to be dormant, a result of narrowly focused education, behaviorist corporate cultures, and humanist cultures that take them for granted and fail to develop them fully. We see this as a key reason why so many employees are disengaged at work.

Developmental leaders believe that the capacity for purposeful contribution and whole-business thinking can be activated and grown in every organization member, although it takes an ongoing and deliberate developmental process that builds:

  • Critical systemic thinking – the capacity to make sense of the complex dynamics of the business, its customers, industry, and markets, and discern increasingly effective ways to create system-actualizing effects.
  • Interactive effectiveness – learning to order and organize one’s thinking, as well as manage one’s reactivity and attachments when engaging with others.
  • Personal mastery – learning to manage one’s ego, motivation, and energy drains in order to maintain focus and productivity in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, and disruption.

We are not talking about yet another humanist-derived, HR-driven “learning and development” program for employees who occasionally (and often begrudgingly) pop into a workshop, eagerly waiting to get back to real work.

The tri-level development we are describing must be embedded into how work is done. Carol Sanford describes the difference in this way:

This process of developing people is built into the design of a business and how it works. It is not something that gets bolted on, along with other management practices that have accumulated over the years. Rather, it is fundamental—a necessary part of what it takes to grow a successful, holistic, highly intelligent organization.

In Conclusion

Taken together, the three core premises of developmental leadership—evoking purposeful contribution, building whole-business thinking, and cultivating tri-level development—work together as a whole dynamic system.

When organization members can connect their aspirations to the essence of the business and the real lives of customers, they develop caring, which awakens their will and creativity. They learn to focus their attention on how to make customer lives more healthy, meaningful, and fulfilling. As employees come to understand how a whole business works, they become more effective and agile in delivering innovative and financially effective solutions.

Supported by an organization’s commitment to their tri-level development, employees become more able to act on their caring, driving innovation on behalf of customers at every level of the business.

Most business leaders we meet are full of intelligence, passion, and commitment. But what they often lack is a coherent and well-tested leadership philosophy and methodology. This causes many of them to adopt ineffective and conflicting practices, mostly sourced from the behaviorist and humanist paradigms, which produce confusion, resistance, and other unintended side effects.

This is why this essay focuses on building paradigm consciousness—paying attention to how you think and make choices and where your convictions come from.

Our aim is to help you become more discerning and precise about the nature of change you wish to generate, and the approaches and methods that will therefore be required. It is our experience that the developmental paradigm is the most comprehensive and powerful for building an innovative, engaged, agile business—as well as a responsible citizenry and healthy democracy.

But we also know that it takes deep commitment and courage. Most importantly, it takes developmental leaders. Are you willing to become one?

Republished with permission.

Some block quoting, some paragraph spacing, and Featured Image added by Enlivening Edge Magazine. Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay