Author Archives: Rob McNamara

Rob McNamara

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As aspiring individuals and coaches alike, we are often inherently biased towards short term outcomes. Maybe as a coach, you’re looking ahead at six sessions where you are committed to quickly impacting your client’s life. Or, perhaps you’ve committed to six months to making some more substantive changes in your professional context and are eager to see the results. Or maybe the challenges you’re grappling with are changes that will inherently take you the next two years of concerted efforts to generate. (more…)

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Where Are You Orienting From?July 12, 2017

It’s 2001 and I’m standing on an elevated ridge in the White Mountains of Maine in the United States. My map is laid out in front of me on a flat rock, and with compass in hand I’m triangulating our group’s location. We are about to immerse our team into a thick deciduous forest for about 15 miles. The orienting calculations we make now have everything to do with our success of getting to our extraction point before we run out of food and fuel. It’s these fine measurements here on this ridge that will allow us to be successful later on. And with the right understanding of our location right now, we can calibrate each bearing, shoot from tree to tree, and plot an accurate course through the forest. (more…)

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For those of us interested in adult development, too often we tend to focus on stages.  In particular, we zoom in on those higher, more complex and seductive forms of maturity that presumably are waiting for us to discover their beauty, added power and desired relief. They reside “up there” in the heights of our preferred hierarchies.
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For many of us, the experience of adulthood involves what I call  “completion projects” in The Elegant Self.  Completion projects are our unexamined drives to become (or appear) more whole and complete. Because they are unexamined, they are the unseen agendas that appear to have most of us. (more…)

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Different streams of evolution flow at their own pace. For example, the responsive movements of culture are more dynamic and exciting. By contrast, genetics develop at a rate that no human lifespan sees, with changes unfolding over the course of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. While we may see advances in editing and augmenting genes for more healthy and adaptive human beings, until now this remains only a possibility.

Meanwhile, the rate of individual development straddles the middle ground between culture and genetics. Here we see a series of personal transformations spanning throughout our childhoods, turbulent adolescences and the many diverse forms of adulthood we traverse through our lives.

The social and political currents in the United States are a perfect example of this cultural flux. For some, President Trump’s rise to power is precisely the advancement they have been hoping for. For others, the past 18 months represent a regressive backward turning of the clock.
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Feeling Good About Yourself?April 3, 2015

I remember doing my first graduate lecture on the further reaches of adult development close to fifteen years ago. I stood up in front of a classroom of people, all whom were older than me, and began my lecture. It was an intense ride. I couldn’t feel much of anything that was going on in the students I was presenting to.

Me, I was too busy attending to the conceptual distinctions in my own mind. I was busy sharpening my intellect. Soon after finishing I could dimly see the aftermath. It was as if an intellectual gatling gun had gone off for the better part of three hours. Metaphorically, you could say I pulled the trigger and didn’t let go until the very end of class. Sure, I opened it up for questions, but my ability to be present and make heartfelt contact with the students in front of me was many years off in my own maturity.

Instead of feeling my own anxiety and uncertainty, I chose to attend rigorously to the sharp and nuanced distinctions in my conceptual world. Instead of acknowledging the nervousness in my hands and the fluttering in my gut, I turned my attention to the multilayered relationships between various theories of adult development. I wanted to deliver unparalleled resolution on the subject matter. And attending to my intellectual prowess was a lot easier than accepting and attending to my embodied sensations of inadequacy and uncertainty.

I share this brief flashback for one reason: I was profoundly wrong in one of my orientations. Then, I taught adult development from a purely conceptual vantage point. Now, I approach development entirely differently.

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Authenticity is a popular topic that I frequently hear discussed in a number of different contexts. In personal growth, relationships, professional development, leadership and performance—authenticity shows up as a highly desired trait. This widely pursued aim is especially prized in hyper-individualistic cultures where every individual’s uniqueness is one of the unquestioned goals.

Whether you’re at home with your partner and your family, at dinner with friends, pursuing the next athletic win, or in the office leading and managing the next steps for organizational success, this idea of being more authentic, and the cultural preference to be authentic, often seduces us as “the way” we should or ought to be able to show up.

While being more authentic is a popular frame of reference for working on ourselves personally and professionally, most of us fail to clearly define it. It remains a nebulous, unexamined term that can, and often does, change.

In our drive to be more authentic we often are captured by two unexamined assumptions. Both of these assumptions are mistakes if we value adult development and growing new capabilities.

First: Authenticity is not the same as competence

The first assumption sees authenticity as some way of being that is more competent than you currently are. Unfortunately, authenticity and competence are not synonymous, although many of us would like them to be. (Authentic leadership is not necessarily more effective leadership, it’s just leadership that feels more “at home” to you.)

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In 2007 Accenture surveyed over 900 top executives in some of the world’s largest companies across North America and throughout Europe, China, and Japan about the need for more advanced management capabilities. Of those surveyed, nearly 50% of leaders said that their organization was not well suited to producing executives with the capability to manage and lead in the face of rapid change.

It’s clear that today’s professional environments demand greater sophistication of knowledge work; broader global perspectives, infrastructures, and multi-national systems; as well as leaders who are able to self-initiate, self-direct and self-manage. Yet at the same time, high performing leaders continue to be in short supply.

Whether we peer into big business, government, mature non-profits, mid-size companies or startups, the findings are similar: strong leadership is needed and the demand for it vastly outpaces our ability to ready the next generation of leaders to thrive in today’s business climates.

One of the few strategies that can help us to develop greater leadership aptitudes is the use of developmentally crafted curriculum, exercises and assessments. However (and unfortunately) most leaders in organizations are unaware of this body of research, and they aren’t using it to drive leader development in their organizations.

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There’s a substantial body of research that supports the idea that managers and leaders at higher stages of development are more effective than those at lower stages of development. This holds true for most meaningful measures of business and organizational effectiveness. Post-conventional or what we sometimes call “post-heroic” forms of leadership and management out-perform and out-maneuver less developed individuals.

Research into nearly 500 managers across a wide range of industries reveals the 80/80 principle. 80% of managers scoring near the bottom of the Leadership Development Profile were found in junior management positions. In contrast 80% of the individuals testing near the top of this developmental assessment were found in senior levels of management. (For those of you not familiar with the Leadership Development Profile, it was created by two of the most trustable names in adult development, Bill Torbert and Susann Cook-Greuter, and has over 40 years of research behind it.)

What this means is that when your capacities develop or mature, you get more options. More choices become available. More diverse behaviors become viable responses. Vertical development yields greater response-ability. Vertical development yields greater command, and more influence.

So, following from that, it also means that if you’re interested in climbing the organizational ladder, one of the most essential tools you need to invest in is your development. And, there’s a good chance that in order for you to even thrive at your current position—let alone add complexity to your job description and responsibilities—you may need to develop.

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Most people won’t recommend disappointing the people you report to as a strategy for furthering your career. It’s simple: your boss or the board you report to are to be pleased by your work, not disappointed. Right? Not necessarily.

I want to share with you why disappointing the people you report to can be more efficient in garnering greater respect and demonstrating larger capacities. I call this The Art of Disappointment.

The first thing to understand is that supplying the people you report to with what they want is not a wise strategy. It communicates complacency. Yes, this strategy yields a particular kind of trust—but one that is rooted in dependability.

Merely executing on the expectations of others who hold organizational power over you demonstrates a lack of vision on your part. It means you can’t lead yourself.

Fulfilling the vision, agendas and desires fashioned by others demonstrates you’re a solid employee but not a worthy leader. Be too consistent in merely following your marching orders, and you’ll be communicating a message you might want to carefully reconsider before sharing it with the people who determine who gains new responsibility in your organization.

Now for those reading this who don’t have the ability to consistently execute on the demands handed to them, this isn’t for you. Don’t get ahead of yourself. This message is for those who’ve already spent many years delivering solid, predictable and valuable work day in and day out. While many people want to skip some steps along their professional development in the hopes of getting ahead faster, premature deployments of complex strategies can have undesirable outcomes. Consider this your warning.

But for those of you who know the heart of discipline, sacrifice and commitment and are ripe to take your professional development to the next level, this is for you:

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The desire to impact and influence our world in lasting and meaningful ways is one of the most important maturations of adulthood.

Erik Erikson, the first developmental psychologist to propose a developmental model covering the entire lifespan from birth to death, called this drive for greater influence generativity. He contrasted this immensely generative, service-oriented stage of life with what he called stagnation. Instead of devoting life to serving the mosaic of humanity, when we are caught in stagnation we remain largely self-centered. Instead of focusing on the broader community, organizational and institutional well-being, we remain fixated on what’s good for “me,” “myself” and of course what’s “mine.”

Yet longitudinal developmental research conducted at Harvard University and spanning over 80 years reveals an interesting fact: If we do not remain selfish enough to take care of ourselves, we cannot be the generative human beings we are supposed to be as we mature into adulthood. The individuals who just give again and again burn out. Because they are not resourcing themselves in the essential ways, they often detract from the larger well-being of their communities, organizations and institutions. Instead of being a brighter exemplar of how to live, those who don’t take care of themselves become reminders of what not to do.

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Competing Cultures, Conflicting ValuesSeptember 18, 2014

One of the perennial challenges facing leaders is competing cultures, because competing cultures inevitably fuel conflicting value systems.

Competing value systems are critical for leaders to pay attention to because these are “hot spots” where conflicts often swiftly obscure creative and collaborative opportunities. Where people could collaborate, they now fight. Where there might have been agreement, we find resentment. Coherence is traded in for conflict. When this happens we demonstrate our shortcomings. Larger possibilities are forfeited for all-too-common expressions of our weaknesses as a species. We feel threatened by cultures not familiar to us. Differences bring out hostility. We become destructive instead of constructive.

The issue for many leaders today is that when faced with these consequences, it often appears like the best approach is to retreat from difference, diversity and tension.

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Boxing Yourself InAugust 8, 2014

One of the most basic constructions of identity is to locate your sense of self in opposition to one side of a polarity. An example in its most basic form: you like being warm and you hate being cold. You are attracted to this, and you are opposed to that.

This may seem to be a trivial stance, however it is anything but trivial.

A polarized way of organizing or structuring yourself is a persistent challenge that stunts leadership effectiveness, limits behavioral flexibility, and chops the amount of freedom you have in half. (And unfortunately for us, none of these limitations are the biggest problem.)

The biggest problem is that these polar constructions of identity (as I call them) happen without you even knowing about it.

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The biggest problems facing leaders today will also be some of the most perplexing challenges our future generations will confront. Why? It’s simple: we have built-in challenges. Just as human beings are hardwired to handle certain problems with ease, there are shortcomings in our design. While in many ways we are walking and talking miracles of complexity, we have also been built with gaps. These gaps are where we struggle in our own personal and professional lives, as well as from one generation to the next.

So, while you have been built to learn and change in important ways, there are also limits to your adaptability. Now if you’re like many people you may be assuming that adults all share the same limitations. In some ways this is correct. For example, our eyes can’t see infrared light without the help of technology. Yet, adults also have different measures of adaptive capability. Some of us are more adaptive, responsive and capable than others. The fields of leadership development, cognitive development, identity development and many others study these changes in adaptability.

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What is Facilitative Leadership?June 12, 2014

Facilitative leadership is one of the emerging leadership paradigms making its way into more and more organizations, governments and institutions. It is a co-creative leadership model asserting that leaders should effectively facilitate deep collaboration. Deep collaboration means the parties involved—all of them, including the leader—undergo transformations through the work they are engaging. In short, groups undergo what Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government lecturer and founder of the Center for Public Leadership, Ronald Heifez, calls “adaptive changes.” This means development is a central part of leadership.

To be clear here, Facilitative Leadership does not get rid of hierarchical forms of leadership and management. Contrary to popular opinion, it does the opposite. Hierarchy thrives within facilitative leadership. It thrives because pre-existing hierarchies are no longer rigidly in command. As leadership capacity develops beyond traditional hierarchies resting upon position, a new form of hierarchy emerges. A more effective form. Organic and responsive hierarchies come forth—they emerge—and are subservient to the most proficient and creative outcomes. Role and position no longer exclusively distribute power. Now, capability does. And as any seasoned leader will tell you, innovation and productivity have powerful agendas that challenge us to transform ourselves into more adaptive and responsive human beings. Rest assured, if you’re working with leadership models that have abandoned top-down hierarchical models of management, you are going in the wrong direction.

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by Rob McNamara

In Integral Facilitator® programs, one of the core competencies we cultivate is the competency to use the self-as-instrument as a vehicle for greater influence.

Here’s what that looks like:

It’s Sunday morning on the last day of our 5-day certificate program intensive.

Participants have been invited to take center stage in front of their peers, instructors and coaches to take a stand and/or commit to taking a risk in their professional development.

The pressure is on.

On the surface, this exercise is a strong encounter with themselves and the group. But underneath, what we are actually engaged in together in our training is much more complex.

Across the board, participants in this program have taken great stands for their “noble intentions,”—each participant’s intention for their own development. But what unfolds in the moment when someone physically “stands” in front of peers and coaches is something no rehearsal can prepare us for.

In fact, rehearsal invariably leads to “presentations” of self—not the pure force of your body, mind and heart unified in the moment discovering itself as a vehicle for facilitation.

The invitation to take a “stand,” be recognized, and held accountable is a rare opportunity most people simply cannot find anywhere else in their lives. Rare are the deliberately developmental contexts that see beneath our “presentations” of self and call us to show up fully.

One participant takes her stance in front of the room, and begins to speak. Quickly, her coach interjects, pointing out the gap between her embodied presence and the words she’s speaking. She tries again. More coaching is offered, and then again.

When her expressed intention is lived through her presence, the message lands in the room. The entire room feels the dramatic difference. Some of us have tears in our eyes.

Another participant stands up, presents, then attempts to take their seat. I find myself saying, “Not so fast, you’re not done!”

It’s clear to me, a subtle betrayal is occurring. The self is not yet joined to the immediacy of the instrument of facilitation. Again, there’s a gap. I find myself working with her body, inviting more bold and powerful energetics to conduct from a vulnerable heart that is focused and on a mission.

As each person takes their seat, I can see a visceral change in who is sitting down. In just a short 60 or 90 seconds, participants are transforming. They are being reshaped into more worthy and powerful instruments for facilitative leadership.

While we each want to escape the hot seat when we find it’s our turn, I can also see this is what we have come here for—this is what we have been starving for. Real, genuine, developmentally-fueled feedback.

Why do we do this?

It’s simple: influence. Our participants are driven. They are looking for a new level of engagement from themselves. They are wanting to give themselves more fully to their vocations and the many people they can serve. They follow the threads leading them to greater embodied presence, greater discernment and more powerful leadership that is born only from the unique mixture of their unique gifts and the Integral Facilitator® certificate program.

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