I recently saw a meme on Facebook. It was a butterfly sitting next to a chrysalis. The chrysalis says, “You’ve changed.” The butterfly says, “You’re supposed to.”
Why is it that, when we notice growth in another person, we often feel surprised? And how do we recognize growth in ourselves?
Last month’s CBODN Book Club discussion was about the book Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger. The author presents a model for adult development that is designed to help us understand the complex world we live in. Many of the concepts are derived from Robert Kegan. The model includes four phases, or stages of growth.
Stages of Adult Development
So it’s not all about me?
During our Book Club discussion, we looked at the four stages and considered which most describes us. I was particularly intrigued by the notion that the first two phases, Self-Sovereign and Socialized, are “subject-oriented;” whereas, the second two, Self-Authored and Self-Transforming, are “object-oriented.” It felt very intuitive. The subject-oriented phases are less developed—less mature people feel as if they are (always) the subject of a situation or occurrence. They attach all meaning to themselves, and they may feel the need to prove their worth. Adults in the object-oriented phases are more grounded and better able to consider others’ perspectives and multiple perspectives. They know not everything is about them, and as a result they are not triggered as much by life’s annoyances—or worse.
Here’s where the “AND” comes in
The notion of subject/object orientation could seem binary or “either/or,” but it’s more complex. And here’s where Polarity Thinking can help drive insights. You’ve heard me espouse the benefits of Polarity Thinking before. It’s a brilliant model to help you think at a higher level, consider multiple possibilities, and—most importantly and uniquely—consider two (seemingly) opposing ideas at the same time.
Here’s an example that has come up with more than one coaching client. Imagine a leader who loves connecting with people and who finds joy in the human connections at work. This is a person who knows everyone’s dog’s names and who remembers birthdays and maybe even their favorite colors. This leader does a great job, moves up in the organization, and suddenly is less hands on. In order to make room for strategic thinking and taking a broader view at the work a group/team is doing (to contribute more broadly to the organization), executives often need to let go of the more hands-on work related to specific projects or deliverables. It can feel like a trade-off, and it can cause feelings of loss for leaders who enjoy and take pride in connecting with their teams, seeing them in action, and of course socializing with people they enjoy.
How does Polarity Thinking help?
The first step is to identify the polarity at play here. What are the two seemingly opposing viewpoints, or where is the tension? The tension is how to maintain personal connections while maintaining a broad oversight over the entire team. More succinctly, this may be managing the tension between managing individuals and groups.
If a leader focuses too heavily on spending time with the individuals, they are less able to manage at a strategic level and will likely get burned out in the process. On the other hand, if the leader focuses too much on managing at the group level, the leader may come across as distant or disconnected.
What I have found is that leaders who manage this tension successfully do so by becoming culture keepers. They set the tone and expectations for their managers around the values that are important to them and the organization, such as recognizing achievement and building personal connections. Then, instead of investing time directly with the individuals, they work with their next level down, or “second team” as many companies refer to that group, and build a culture where it’s not dependent upon the behaviors of the one leader. In practice, it may look like this:
This is just one example of a tension that I hear quite often during my Executive Coaching conversations. Polarity Thinking allows individuals to elevate their thinking and approach to consider creative options for managing on-going tensions. Once you’ve become a leader, the problems you face are not simple “black and white” problems, but rather complex tensions that have multiple right answers. When leaders learn to elevate their thinking process, they are able to reach solutions that are more effective and sustainable.
What tensions do you face as a leader each day?
How do you manage through those tensions?