How to Become a Development-Centered Leader

My 2-year-old son is the ultimate leadership teacher.  

On any given day, I have tasks I need him to perform. I have tried many different strategies to get him to do the things I ask him to do—some more effective than others. The least effective sequence of events:  

  • Ask him to complete a task. 
  • Get reluctance and excuses (his current line “Not today, Dada.”). 
  • Tell him what to do. 
  • Motivate him with bribery and incentives. 
  • When this does not work, use my authority and position to get him to comply. 

Do we see elements of this behavior in the workplace?

A team works more cohesively with a development-focused leader

My parenting strategy is an example of what some leaders do to motivate team members to accomplish role objectives. My 2-year-old wants what everyone wants: A leader that empowers decision-making in others that leads them towards personal growth. Our data shows that team members are eager to find leaders willing to help them develop personally and professionally.

Development is motivating because we all want to progress and gain a sense of mastery in both our work and life. Workplaces need leaders that can balance the development and growth of others while still achieving business demands.  

So, how do you continue to become this kind of leader? 

Leaders often fall prey to the siren call of results, and their focus on developing others gets pushed to the back burner. Again, most leaders have good intentions of leading from a development-focused approach, but business demands are always the priority.  

Here are two principles to help you lead with a development-centered approach.  

#1: Avoid Telling Others What to Do

Most leaders go through a phase where they rely heavily on a command-and-control style of leadership, where the focus is on this core idea, “do what I say.” Orders and directives are issued down the hierarchy chain. This style of leadership often produces immediate results.  

Tasks are completed, but what is the cost? Morale can suffer with a heavy dose of top-down instruction. Input, innovation, and discretionary effort wane. Power struggles can ensue, and individuals may carry out instructions but only because they are compelled to do so.  

There is a time and place to give instructions and directives, but it should not be your default leadership orientation. One appropriate example of when to offer more guidance and instruction is to newer employees that are not up-to-speed in the role. 

Employees engage more with their development centered leader

A primary objective of a development-centered leader is to create employee experiences where people feel empowered to make decisions and advance in their careers. If leaders give orders and micromanage procedures, it removes the individual’s ability to make decisions, problem-solve, and ultimately, progress. Humility and patience are qualities needed in a development centered leaders’ approach to allow direct reports to learn and grow. Individuals will make mistakes; tasks may not be accomplished in the way you would have instructed, but individuals will learn and become better. They will feel a greater sense of ownership in the process and the result will be increased engagement and discretionary effort. 

#2: Co-Create Instead of Dictate

Ask yourself how often you do the following? 

  1. Lead with questions to clarify, explore, and guide other’s thinking. 
  2. Give suggestions rather than commands to allow individuals to make decisions. 
  3. Establish clear guidelines and outcomes less focused on excessive rules and processes. 
  4. Give warnings about potential pitfalls. 
  5. Hold individuals accountable for both correct and poor decisions. 
  6. Support, recognize, and reward strong performance. 
  7. Double down on compassion throughout the whole process. 

Leaders that follow these principles will benefit in both business results and team member development to confront the next wave of workplace challenges.  

The development-centered leader approach focuses on the long-term success of individuals and companies that will produce sustainable teams, leaders, and organizations. The ROI will be worth the additional time and focus it requires.  

As I continue to work at this approach, I still get “Not today, Dada.” from time-to-time but, I am finding a shared engagement, commitment, and decision-making orientation unfolding in my 2-year-old son’s behavior. Individuals on your team will value your dedication to their success. You will find a greater commitment and self-directed nature in your team.

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