The Biggest Difference You Can Make

Next month, my grandson Liam, will turn two. In the last 23 months, he has undergone an incredible transformation. He looks, sounds, acts like a completely different human being than the little bundle of flesh and blanket I held in my arms the day he was born. His language skills are coming on line and he is now able to call me by name and tell me which storybook he wants me to read him.

Yesterday, we were playing with building blocks in front of the TV. It was on mute, but behind Liam’s head, I could see pictures from North Korea about its latest nuclear test; images of people in Houston, Texas wading in chest high contaminated water to escape their flooded homes and a stream of the latest tweets from President Donald Trump.

I think a lot about the kind of world Liam will inherit, particularly given the crisis in leadership we are currently experiencing. Never in our history has the need for individual and collective leadership been so great. The great complexity of the world we live in has dangerously outpaced the complexity of our minds to respond effectively.

I believe that the seeds to the way forward are contained in the very same impulse that has created the amazing capability of the two-year old intently playing with blocks in front of me. The impulse to grow up and the impulse to wake up.

Never in our history has the path to outstanding leadership been so clear and so achievable.

The Leadership Path

The Leadership Path is what it will take to respond to the urgent need for effective leadership in the world. The Leadership Path is a commitment to the conscious and intentional dedication to the practice of leadership and the continuous, life-long development of our capability and capacity to positively impact the world and the quality of our lives.

The Leadership Path calls each of us to grow up into our full potential and to wake up to new levels of awareness.

It also calls us to support the growth and development of others so that together we can create a critical mass of effective leaders to lead us toward a better world.

Answering that call and my enormous excitement over what we now know about leadership and how to develop it in ourselves and others, is making it impossible to fully retire. It continues to inspire me and it fuels my colleagues who are working tirelessly in the field every day.

Why We are So Excited about the Possibilities for Leadership

The field of leadership and adult development and developmental coaching is exploding. Scientists, academics, researchers and developmental coaches have a better understanding of how human beings develop and what it takes to become an outstanding leader. We now have a clear sense of the end state and what it looks like. We can create a fairly good map of the competencies required for effective leadership and the level of emotional, psychological and intellectual maturity required to inspire people to work with us and follow our lead. And, finally, we now know how to work with leaders to accelerate that process.

Four Discoveries Changing the Way We Think About Leadership

Discovery #1 The Brain Can Change Itself

Advances in neuroimaging have enabled scientists to see the inner workings of the brain at a microscopic level and this has lead to many new and surprising discoveries about the brain and how it works. It has also inspired the emergence of a new field called Neuroplasticity. Scientists used to believe that once a human being reached adulthood, the brain remained largely unchanged until it began to experience decline due to aging. We now know that the brain can evolve, rewire itself and adapt and that thought and activity can change its fundamental structure.

Discovery #2 Growing Up is a Life Long Process

Similarly, up until three or four decades ago, scientists, psychologists and educators believed that our psychological and intellectual development essentially stopped when we reached adulthood. Further, they believed that our talents, gifts and intelligence were innate and fixed and could not be grown or transformed. Longitudinal research by developmental psychologists like Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey of Harvard and others have uncovered that humans have the capacity to continue to grow, evolve and transform throughout their lives and that development follows discernible, consistent and predictable patterns. They also discovered that less that 1% of adults have stably achieved the highest known level of adult development and most of us are operating at a full two stages below that. In other words, we have lots of room to grow.

Discovery #3 We now have compelling data that draws a strong correlation between level of development, leadership effectiveness and organizational performance.

Bob Anderson, author of Mastering Leadership and creator of the Leadership Circle Profile™, talks about a leader’s outer game and inner game. The outer game refers to the competencies a leader needs to acquire to be effective and the behaviours and actions she takes to affect change. Leadership competencies are analogous to software applications running on a computer’s operating system. The inner game refers to the operating system itself – how you see the world and how you construct meaning from it and what underlying and often unconscious assumptions and beliefs are driving you. The applications are only as effective as the complexity and capacity of the operating system they are running on. To lead in an increasingly complex environment, you need an operating system upgrade.

Discovery #4 New, more sophisticated leadership assessment tools can measure where you are on the leadership path and where you can focus to move forward.

Tools like the Leadership Circle Profile™ can tell you which leadership competencies you have AND what operating system they are running on. They point to which competencies you need to develop and the assumptions, beliefs and way of understanding the world that may be standing in your way. The research also now tells us which competencies are most strongly correlated with leadership effectiveness.

These discoveries and others are enormously powerful for leadership coaches and give us the capability to see where our clients are on The Leadership Path and where we can best focus to support them to accelerate their growth. They also show us where WE are on the leadership path and where we need to grow to equip us to be excellent companions on our clients’ development journey.

Three Steps to Equip You to Make a Difference

Growing up and waking up are the essential ingredients to effective leadership in the world and to your ability to affect change. The most impactful thing you can do to create a better world for you and for your family is to work on developing the biggest and most mature expression of your leadership to meet it. Here are three things you can do to get started.

#1. Put yourself on The Leadership Path. The Leadership Path is the commitment to the conscious, intentional and continuous development of your leadership capacity. It is the ongoing and continuous commitment to your learning and growth.

#2. Find out where you are on the path today. Assess where you are in your leadership trajectory and learn where you can most effectively focus to take your leadership to the next level. You can do this informally by soliciting feedback from the people who rely on you to lead. Or you can accelerate your development by getting a more precise assessment of your leadership and where you can most effectively focus to further your development.

#3 Find other leaders on the path. Whether these are colleagues, classmates, leaders from other fields, mentors or leadership coaches, seek out others who are serious about their development as leaders and who are willing to do the deep work necessary to grow. Work with them, practice with them, create the conditions that will support you to accelerate your growth.

What’s at Stake?

Outstanding leadership is not a gift bestowed on a precious few, but a capacity that can be unlocked in each of us given the right conditions. We each have the capacity to transform ourselves and our world beyond what we currently believe is possible, and each of us is called to grow and lead to meet the enormous challenges before us.

If Liam is to inherit a world that is better than this one and not worse, I have work to do. Everyone who cares about him and loves him and the almost 2 billion children like him in the world, has work to do. That work IS The Leadership Path.


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About the author:

Cathy Jacob

Cathy brings a unique skill for deep listening, an unwavering belief in her clients and a gentle sense of humour to her coaching practice. She opened a full time coaching practice in 2004 and in 2009, she co-founded Fire Inside Leadership to expand the impact of leadership development and coaching in her community and beyond.

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