Column: Innovative Leadership Development

December 18, 2016

[Written by Dr. Cara Miller & Eric West]

Leadership Development in Organizations

It is no surprise that in today’s ultra-competitive business environment that most companies are making significant investments in leadership development and human capital. Investing in existing and potential leaders hasn’t just become normative, it is now necessary. To stay competitive, organizations must retain key talent and institutionalize their investment in people assets.

However, standard-issue leadership development often takes the form of offsite trainings, generic management education, and traditional forms of executive coaching. This philosophy has proven successful for many companies for roughly the last decade since leadership development began to be seen as actual strategic development and succession preparation, rather than the behavioral, punitive, and corrective reputation it bore previously.

Currently, the most forward-thinking, agile, and innovative companies are identifying and developing leaders in the midst of day-to-day business operations. These organizations that are growing and changing in order to meet industry and world market pacing, are developing collaborative, innovative, global leaders internally.

They are doing this by engaging their key people in developmental coaching, a collaborative, complex version of executive coaching that keeps those being coached right in the middle of their own organization. Additionally, it benefits the organization greatly by having their potential leaders connect their learning to the direct operations of the organization that is sponsoring the development.

What is Developmental Coaching?

Developmental coaching is a more complex form of leadership coaching that draws from individual and organizational psychology to address the increasingly complex stages through which adults mature. Developmental coaches assist the leader in accessing the edges and limits of their current competences and helps creates increased leadership capacity to enable measurable growth beyond those previous benchmarks.

A Developmental approach to coaching acknowledges several things:

  • It is difficult to translate the leadership learning you do outside of your usual context, back into it, namely the organizational context.
  • The speed at which business takes place does not afford the time required to travel, study, and learn leadership capacity with outside case studies.
  • Your home organization, with all of its realities and dynamics, is the most prescient case study from which to learn leadership and grow capacity. Notwithstanding that it is where you will actually be prototyping new skills.
  • A more complex and specific perspective, taken with a developmental coach, on the various roles a leader lives [social, organizational, personal] also influences leadership growth inside the organization.

How It’s Done

Developmental coaches are uniquely trained to:

  • Utilize powerful frameworks for understanding greater organizational dynamics.
  • Assess the leader’s current facility with key emerging capacities [e.g. tolerating ambiguity, navigating uncertainty, maneuvering polity, garnering consensus, crossing functionality] and in response, design context-driven case studies for the client, which stimulates learning through practice and then demonstrates growth.
  • Invoke validated protocols to inquire beyond a leader’s behavior into the reasoning behind an individual’s decisions and behavior.
  • Transcend the stance toward reorganization that characterizes more traditional executive coaching methods, taking up a posture of reorientation toward the psychological and organizational realities of the leadership role.

Here’s what we’ve learned

Companies that make coaching investments aimed specifically at developing the leadership practice and developmental capacity of their key talent at home within their own “case study,” find their people more committed to and performing better within their organization.

Additionally, not only do these rising leaders increase their leadership capacity and stay within the organization, but their learning gets passed down to individuals they interact with and the organizational culture starts to become more growth minded and higher performing.

- Dr Cara T. Miller is a executive leadership coach, organization developer, and change consultant to organizations across industries (finance, military, non-profit, higher education). She teaches and coaches teams in the fields of leadership, organizational change and adult development through the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Cara received a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a PhD in Organizational Leadership Studies at the University of San Diego. Dr. Miller is a Partner at Inquiry Partners.

- Eric West is an organizational development consultant that focuses on organization wide transformation as it relates to process consultation, leadership development, culture, executive coaching, psychological assessment, and internal structures and processes. Eric received a Bachelor in Psychology from Harvard University and a Master from Columbia University in Organizational Psychology. Mr. West is a Partner at Inquiry Partners.

Update: The original attributed this to Dr Miller, while it was actually co-authored by both Dr Miller and Mr West, so has been amended to reflect.


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