Skip to main content
How to Develop Leaders

Compassion Is Key to Leading—and Living to Talk About It

Click here to access our Getting to Candor training

Speaker 1:           Thinking about yourself in terms of where you’re at on your own adult developmental journey and where other people are at, because there’s you and there’s other people, and you’re trying to intervene to get to the truth of things and make things better. I think it’s important to understand, if you think about Kegan’s levels, I still refer to them as three, four, and five, I think. What does he call them?

Speaker 2:           Socialized, self-authoring, and self transforming.

Speaker 1:           Self transforming. So most of us are going to be self authorized or below that. That’s what all the research shows. So therefore, ultimately it’s the self transforming place, or level five, that is the adult developmental level that will serve you best when it comes to exercising leadership. Every notch down from that creates certain liabilities. And I think it’s important to understand, honestly, where you’re at on that continuum, and to be patient with yourself when you find yourself not able to consistently behave in the ways that you want, because you can’t expect yourself to be able to do things that you’re not developmentally capable of doing.

And so you’re not always going to be able to act according to your great theories about how to lead because of the overprotective program, or Model 1, as Chris talked about, but also because of your developmental level.

So I would just say to people, be patient with yourselves, but also have some compassion, not just for yourself, but for other people, because we all tend to see the world through our tribal lens. Whatever group that we’re part of, whatever job function that we hold, we see the world through that lens. And that’s kind of a blessing and a curse, right? That because of your history, because of your group dynamics, [inaudible 00:02:34] would call it social location. Because of your training, your job function, whatever, your culture, you’re going to see things that other people won’t see and won’t tune into, or you’ll be more attuned and sensitive to certain things. But also you’ll be blind to a set of other things that other people who have different life histories, different personalities, different training, will see.

And so when you intervene, people are always going to react from their particular tribal frame of reference. And it’s important to understand that developmentally, that’s just where people are at. The question for us is how do we bridge our version of the truth with other people’s versions of the truth? And this is hard on people because we’re asking other people to move beyond their comfortable way of knowing. Bob would’ve said, “Leaving the established bedrooms of our comfortable frames of mind.” I’m misquoting him, but that’s the idea. And also when we’re leading, the situations that we’re intervening into are often challenging our whole system of making sense of the world.

So it’s life-giving work because the opportunities to grow yourself, and develop as a leader and as human being, are going to be created by intervening in the world and trying to make it better. You’re going to extract and learn as much from that as anything that’s going to happen in your life, but it’s not going to come without its difficulties.

And then so you have this adult developmental thing to factor for, but then you also will have all these strange group dynamics that happen to people anytime you get people together. And anytime you get more than two people together, it’s like a clinic. And it’s very important to understand the dynamics of authority and how those get played out in groups. And it’s very important to understand things like your own balance. I’m not sure if you’re going to talk about that, but different roles that you tend to play in the groups almost unconsciously. And then how the group will use you to play that role.

So maybe you’re the person who likes to overturn the rock and show the ugly stuff underneath, and you just are drawn to that. That’s a good thing that the group can use you for, but they’ll also tend to overuse you and burn you out. So it’s important to understand what roles you get pulled into so you don’t get overused by the group. Or sometimes maybe you’re the joker in the group and you’re the person who always relieves the tension. Well, you’re doing a service to the group, but they can overuse that as a way to avoid confronting and dealing with the real issues. The work of the group is always to confront and deal with the real issues in the real work, and all groups want to maintain stasis, want to maintain equilibrium. When you’re exercising leadership, you’re trying to disrupt that equilibrium.

So it’s very important to understand how group dynamics play out, because this does play out at work. And then it’s important to understand cultures. And again, this theory that you came back to, Eric, saying that our theories in use and our lived values… I’m sorry, our lived values and our espoused values, or our theories in use and our espoused values are often different on individual level, but they’re also different at a cultural level. So all organizational cultures have certain aspirations for themselves, which sometimes they put on a nice mug, or a poster, or something like that.

But because we’re human beings, we have trouble living up to those cultural aspirations. And it’s not because of hypocrisy, right? All the leaders say one thing and they do another. Well, they do say one thing and they do another. But more often than not, it’s unintentional. It’s because, again, we have our espoused theories, our cultural values, and we have our organizational theories in use. And our organization’s theories in use, according to Chris, are often consistent with Model 1. And they’re profoundly self-protective. They exist to avoid people from experiencing embarrassment and threat and simultaneously learning about the causes of them.

And so if you’re going to intervene effectively in the world, as a real secret of truth in order to do greater good in the world, it’s really important that the next three things that you’re doing with them, to really understand adult developmental level, to understand culture and understanding group dynamics. Because those things will both give you a lot more compassion for how people react to you when you try to intervene to make things better, but they will also make you aware of the dangers of exercising leadership. Because ultimately, what’s the point of mobilizing people to tackle real issues if you’re not alive to talk about it?

Now, I’m not talking about physical life. In some cases, we are, like the folks that we would’ve worked with at the Kennedy School or would’ve studied with. But in organizational life, we’re talking about your career, we’re talking about your credibility and all of that. And again, that’s why I think this course is important because I want people to learn things, that should they choose to step up and speak up, and tackle their real issues, that can simultaneously help other people make progress in these issues, but also live to talk about it with minimal scars.

Leave a Reply