I discovered the journey is a lot messier than that.
For example, in one moment I looked very skilled as I resolved a tough conflict in a way that made everyone feel included. The next moment, I looked unskilled as I allowed an angry team to provoke me to giving an abrupt, authoritarian directive rather than first carefully listening.
The primary challenge of development is using the skills we already have.
Such experiences led me to see development as a spiral of continual learning--applying the same skills but in different ways in ever more varied, complex, and difficult situations. The core issue is not as much what to learn as it is how to learn in real-time and as quickly as possible.
This led to two more important realizations. First, human situations rarely have just one right assessment or action. I had better results when I allowed for uncertainty and error. Second, all of us are at risk for being pulled at times by stress back down the spiral into unproductive reactions. Blind spots for this are very common. With that angry team, I was initially blind to my own reactivity, By accepting my error, I could actually improve my relationship with the team.
Immediate impact is the aim.
As I found my way as a leader, I sought the best ideas from psychology, organizational development, adult learning, and improvement science to define principles and methods for development “in-the-moment”--using any situation to learn and get results at the same time.
The basic approach is relatively simple. Instead of just reacting to situations, take time for assessment, thinking of multiple options, choosing actions, and learning from results. Such before-and-after reflection eventually improves thinking and action in the midst of situations.
Though the approach is simple, deliberate and steady practice is required to do it well especially under stress. The practice has multiple facets. For example, one aim is steady improvement of the balance of taking time to think versus taking action. Another aim is steady integration of evidence-based principles for effective interventions in complex systems.
Make assessments and plan actions based on key guiding principles.
Based on strong evidence and experience, the principles below offer a crucial foundation for the best results. Over 30 years of work, I have also developed additional layers of principles and concepts to address interpersonal and organizational complexities. Ideas from other leadership frameworks can be easily integrated as well if desired.
Snapshot of key guiding principles for leadership development in-the-moment.
- To focus actions, orient to both results and the aim of high quality relationships.
Impact means results but strong evidence indicates the best results, sustainability, and resilience happen through high quality relationships. So, the key question is “What does this situation call for to enable progress to results and to develop high quality relationships?”
The nature of “high quality relationships” needs to be translated into concrete, actionable behaviors by each leader, team, and organization. For example, compare “create trust” to the more concrete “everyone should feel their opinions are heard by checking for understanding.”
- Always consider and address potential blind spots and reactivity in onself and others.
- Learn the way to success through taking action.
- Assure two-way feedback, especially across power differentials.
Build development into day-to-day work.
At any moment, the odds are high we are under stress. At minimum, using these principles for learning and results diminishes the pull down the spiral into unproductive actions. But the promise is greater---true growth and exceptional results. Much self-direction is required to learn in this way and that needs to be a focus of support and development for individuals and teams.
- Obtain the Resource Guide for In-the-Moment Leadership Strategies with brief descriptions of each strategy and links to articles. Available to subscribers only--subscribe for free monthly resources at Subscribe.
- Selected references for this article can be round at References.