Four Steps to Leadership Development: Self to Metacognitive Awareness

by renita on February 7, 2011

Leadership development remains a mystery to most, which can make it difficult to choose or justify a results-oriented coach or leadership development program. While there are infinite ways of approaching this topic, this post is going to define leadership development in four stages or steps of increasing self-awareness to metacognitive awareness.

Research shows that leaders are aware of what is going on around them. And the best leaders continually integrate information and communicate it so that others feel included. Some leadership styles are authoritarian, while others are more democratic. This brief sketch includes both kinds of styles.

This step-by-step guide will be based in a sense of purpose, but it can also be understood as knowing defined goals.

A Very Brief History of Leadership Development

In the 1960s, leadership development was a matter of a retreat that could take 3 weeks or longer.  This pressure cooker allowed executives to achieve greater awareness–which they called “personal development”–which allowed them to understand their employees better.  This metacognitive awareness opened doorways to shared understanding.  This inclusive state of leadership is a characteristic of what we now call transformational leadership. A transactional leadership style gives instructions and says what the employee needs to do to get paid.  Either kind can work, depending on the temperament of the workers.  Usually, employees and coworkers prefer a style that demonstrates some degree of interest in the employee’s welfare and so opens up potential of listening to input.

A Word about 360-degree Feedback

With the retreat seminars also came a realization of the importance of feedback. 360 degree feedback is now used universally in all organizations to create new results. Feedback has become a form of formalized communication with an intercessor (a coach) and the next step of metacognitive awareness.

These days, we have many feedback tools in the coaching industry.  These are computer printouts that tell us about ourselves after we have answered a series of multiple-choice questions.  Typically, following the printout, the executive or employee has a session with a feedback expert to discuss the feedback and begin to work on areas that are called “weak.”  The problem with this approach is that we can spend a lifetime working on “weak” areas, because we are just not born that way.  However, this is good for your coach, because it means a long period of guaranteed income.   Other coaches are “strengths” based and help you to develop your strengths.

So, is this really scientific? Is it subjective? Or is it objective with measurable results? I will discuss how it is and how it isn’t.

It’s subjective: Leadership is perception. If someone thinks of you as a leader, then you are one to them.

It’s objective: Leadership is an agreed-upon status. You have a job that allows you to administrate or inspire others toward a defined and described goal.

In either case, here are the stages toward leadership. Starting from you and your Self, circles of awareness move out from there:

  1. Self (often defined by purpose)
  2. Self and Goal (often defined by purpose). This takes planning and effort to articulate.
  3. Self and Other and Goal (often defined by shared purpose). We bring in others to help us to reach our goals. When we do this, we have the opportunity of expanding our awareness to include them and how they see the goal. We do this as leaders, to be able to predict how and when we will reach the goal.
  4. Self and all Others and Goal(s) (often defined by shared purpose. We bring in more others and see how they interrelate and create a shared understanding of how to reach the goal. As leaders, the more aware we are of how they will reach the goal, how reliable they are, and what motivates them, and how they fit together, the more we can predict how and when we will reach the goal.

That is the size of it. This will give you enough information to select a consultant or leadership development coach to help you to achieve your goals. It will also guide you to choose your team and encourage you to learn about them.

The continuous integration of self and purpose and goals and others is the activity of leadership. It is a continuous activity.

Metacognitive Leadership development contains an awareness at these multiple levels.  Sometimes it is helpful to develop a shared leadership paradigm so that everyone shares responsibility for holding aspects of awareness. That is good management structure, when you have set up a communications system that acknowledges expertise in all the following areas.

Put another way:

  1. awareness of Self
  2. awareness of others
  3. awareness of direction, purpose, and goals for the group.
  4. Leadership awareness that is integration of all the above.

Leadership development requires metacognitive awareness. What is that? Here is an example:

If you have self metacognitive awareness you are aware of your actions and what effects those actions have. You know how to achieve goals because you know how to plan and sustain your energies. You know how to communicate your ideas to others becuase you have an awareness of how your words can influence them and teach them.

This begins to take you from Self awareness and what you can do on your own into Other awareness and how others can help you to do what you set out to accomplish. Metacognitive awareness also allows you to assess what the abilities are (i.e., the resources) of those around you to accomplish your tasks. In a perfect world, you know that anything can be done with unlimited resources. As resources become constrained you adjust goals and deadlines or you add to the talent pool or change it.

So, when choosing an executive coach you can focus on one of the stages and then you can measure the progress for yourself.  Do you want to

  1. Develop your own personal vision and purpose?
  2. Develop your awareness of one of your colleagues, and their skills, goals, awareness and purpose?
  3. Develop your awareness of two or more of your combined colleagues, and their skills, goals, awareness and purpose, and how they interact?
  4. Develop integration awareness of all goals and purpose and their skills, awareness, goals, and purpose?

In the process, you as a leader with goals to achieve, must communicate to others what the goals are and how you see you are proceeding toward them. The joy of leadership development is really You development. Enjoy the process.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sandy Jensen February 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm

This is an excellent history and outline of Leadership Development. “The joy of leadership development is really You development.” That is very well said! Thank you for an enlightening post!

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