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Deliberately developmental leadership

As an executive leadership coach, it’s important for me to keep up to date with academic research and new approaches. An emerging area is deliberately developmental leadership (DDL), a leadership style which focuses on self-awareness.

DDL is about being clear, direct, helpful and authentic. For me, as a coach, it means developing people to be self-aware about their strengths, areas they can develop, and encouraging people to be honest about where they’re lacking.

This type of leadership is particularly important in a crisis, especially one on a global scale such as the pandemic. People are under a lot of pressure for various reasons. They’re likely to have lost colleagues but have the same workload and targets.

Creating a culture that’s about the personal growth of people rather than sales or productivity provides a much more positive environment. Personal development should be woven into the fabric of an organisation, with a clear set of values and a vision that people can relate to and work towards on an individual level.

The skills needed for DDL include direct and strong communication, strong influencing, a can-do and positive mindset, self-awareness and a desire for self-development. Leaders should have the ability to put gentle, healthy pressure on people, but not unhealthy pressure that causes stress – it’s a very particular skill. They need to be strong in relationship building, transparent when talking about what went wrong and how it can be improved and making it clear that mistakes are OK as long as you learn from them.This style of leadership is about so much more than the individual because everyone is truly empowered and accountable. They’ll know where they can and can’t make decisions, and work with a much more collaborative approach.In a deliberately developmental culture, you’re encouraging people to focus on work/life balance and health. A health and wellbeing strategy will be genuinely adhered to, to help people build resilience and competencies.

It’s not for everyone. Some leaders believe their authority is absolute, which is never going to work with a DDL model. You also need to be comfortable giving positive feedback – developing people is critical, so if leaders aren’t used to being collaborative that’s going to be a big problem.

DDL may be a relatively new concept, but for successful leaders it won’t be a surprise. The best leaders have always had the ability to balance a mix of personalities to bring the best out in everyone and create a culture of psychological safety.