A week ago Alexa (our youngest) was learning to ride a bike. In true Dad fashion, I was walking with her nudging and holding her up. She has good balance but it wasn’t pretty. So I helped more; I nudged, I held, I made it worse. After a quick break and a regroup, we tried again, but this time I just got her started then stood back. Two crashes later she was away! I’d just witnessed something very important. True development is self-directed, all we can provide is a little scaffolding.
Let me go deeper in terms of vertical development. As adults develop ‘vertically’ we move through some big shifts. First, we start with a dependant (or socialized) mindset. We take our cues, sense of worth and identity from others – we are dependent. Then we grow to be independent (or self-authoring). Here we have a sense of our own identity and can assess things against an internal compass and values and paradoxically become more consistent and creative. Beyond this, we then grow to integrate the two and become interdependent – part of something bigger. The big shift most of us (need to) make is from dependent to independent. It’s not easy, humans are social animals and care deeply about how others perceive us, it’s a good thing but this need to fit in can hold our growth back. Add in social media and the impact is magnified 100-fold, effectively anchoring us in a dependent state as we seek affirmation and follow the ‘perfection’ of others.
Now the crux of all of this for us as Leadership Development professionals is an interesting paradox. Leaders want clarity and want to know how to be better. They want the bike to be held and nudged. This is exactly what many of other organizations and development approaches do, including some new very prominent technology solutions. However, this doesn’t grow people. Giving in to these requests just anchors the people we are serving in a dependent state, robbing them of the chance to truly grow. Tricky huh? However, I think we get the balance right. With the right support of reflective questions, self-awareness, gentle inspiration and safe places to have some crashes most people get started and love the process of true self-directed development.