A Simple Framework for Leadership Development

I listen to a weekly podcast by Dave Stachowiak, the founder and host of Coaching for Leaders. Each week at the beginning of the podcast, Stachowiak says, “Leaders aren’t born, they’re made.” I guess we could go round and round about whether leadership is an innate talent, or whether leadership can be learned. (To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to; Po-TAY-to, Po-TAH-to…). Regardless, the truth is this: every organization has leaders waiting in the wings, each with the potential to become the leader they were meant to be.

The challenge for many existing leaders is that, although they know this, and even have a desire to develop this group of willing learners, they fail to do so because they don’t have a roadmap for development. It’s kind of like a coach who shows up on the first day  of the season without a practice plan. Can you imagine? “Hey guys, welcome to the team. Just go out there, throw the ball around, maybe practice some shots, and if you want, play a little 5 on 5”. A season that begins this way is doomed from the start. Conversely, the best coaches come with a plan on how to develop the team as a whole, and also how to help each player develop individually.  

The same is true for any organization.  The most successful ones have an intentional, planned out leadership development approach. In this post, I’d like to share what I have found to be the best approach (or framework) for developing leaders.  This approach can be applied to individuals, or groups. It can be used to train on one topic, or an entire role. It’s simply referred to as “The Leadership Square.”

Leadership development is a process. And like most processes, development takes time and comes about in phases or stages. The “Square” illustrates the four phases each person being developed (“D”) goes through, as well as the approach the leader (“L”) should take in each phase.

  • Phase 1: In this initial phase, the person being developed is “Unconsciously Incompetent.” This doesn’t mean they’re stupid. They just don’t know what they don’t know.  They are often characterized by excitement, and even confidence. However, this is uninformed. The Leader takes a Directive approach here by teaching and giving instruction. In essence, the Leader says, “I do, you watch”.  

  • Phase 2: Over time, the person being developed will move into this phase, where they become “Consciously Incompetent.” Often, their learning and realization of the challenges ahead result in frustration and anxiety. Reality strikes when they realize they don’t know as much as they thought they knew. Here, the Leader takes an Invitational approach. Leaders can paint the vision for the future, and invite the learner to go there with them. Also, the Leader should provide safe space for them to learn, ask questions, etc.  In essence, the Leader says, “I do, you help.”

  • Phase 3: This is where the big turn happens, where the person being developed becomes “Consciously Competent.” They’ve grown in understanding and know-how, because they now know what to do. Knowledge, skill and wisdom don’t come naturally just yet, but there is growing confidence because they have the answers, or at least they know where to find the answers. Here, the Leader moves to using a Coaching approach. This approach is collaborative and collegial. In essence, the Leader says, “You do, I help.”
  • Phase 4: Finally, the person comes to a place where they are “Unconsciously Competent.” They now have very high confidence, and they are performing without having to think about it. They may even be able to help others who are coming along behind them. Here, the Leader takes a Delegation approach. The leader can turn over responsibility to the person being developed. It’s also a time to celebrate the milestones achieved. Here, the Leader says, “You do, I watch.”

Once you understand the four phases, and what your responsibility as a Leader is in each, then using this framework is a three step process:

  1. Define what success looks like for each phase. Be able to answer the question, “What will they know, do, or be that will let me know they are ready to move to the next phase?”
  2. Determine the learning activities in which they need to engage so they can get to the success defined in Phase 1.
  3. Set regular times of progress review to celebrate what’s been accomplished, get perspective on the current state, and determine the next steps in development.

Research shows that potential leaders yearn to be developed, and this simple model – in my experience – works every time it’s tried. I trust it will help you as you invest in your leaders and build a culture of development.