The reasons why leaders or teams ask for support in their development vary. It ranges from making a new organizational model work better, to transitioning into a more demanding role, or to overcoming dysfunctional habits. Some leaders really feel ‘stuck’ or ‘out of their depth’, whereas others frame their aspiration as growing ‘from good to great’. The reasons are usually a unique version of the more generalized situation described below.

Getting far

As a leader you will undoubtedly encounter challenges as you progress in your career. That is probably why you chose your job in the first place. So you put your best foot forward, organize feedback, improve your knowledge and skills. Very often this is all you need to do. Harvard professor Ron Heifetz calls these Technical challenges:  the problem and the solution are known and what’s needed is simply deploying the ‘technical’ solution.

But what if this is not sufficient?

Your ‘Growth Edge’

Let’s say you are transitioning into a new, more demanding role. It requires, for example, that you forge more complex collaborations across internal and external boundaries.  And add to it some other responsibilities such as children and parents who are growing older, and fast. Being familiar with the concept ‘What got you here won’t get you there’, you then start building up a broader repertoire of behaviours that you know are essential for success in the new senior leadership role. You work on, for example, delegating more, making conflicts productive, having courageous conversations with stakeholders, or being more purposeful and visionary.

In this transition, it is not uncommon that, in spite of your best intentions and continued efforts, you keep falling back into old patterns and act inconsistently. You have met your ‘Growth Edge.  In Heifetz’ terms you might not be facing a Technical, but an Adaptive challenge. The problem may be that you don’t know the problem and are actually treating the symptoms with more ‘skill and will’. You may now need an adaptive learning approach. One that increases your awareness and gives you ‘a good problem’. One that you could solve step by step by doing on-the-job-experiments, and that in the process ‘solves’ you.

Getting perspective

So, what if you weren’t aware of it, but each time you try harder to get ahead,  you are at the same time activating something that is pulling you back and slowing you down. That you have, so to speak, one foot on the gas and the other on the brakes, without knowing it? And that you yourself are derailing your aspirations?

In a coaching relationship people will increase their awareness of their ‘kite’,  which represents their current mindset or way they are making meaning of their experiences. This helps them to assess the degree to which this mindset still serves the new demands they are facing. It usually results in them taking on a series of on-the-job experiments to develop a bigger, better version of a their ‘kite’; one that does not hold them back, but instead pulls them in the direction they want to grow.