Thought Leadership: Building your leadership capacity by building your inner capacities

At RADIUS, we have the hypothesis that we can play a meaningful role in shifting towards a more just, sustainable and resilient economy. The RADIUS Fellowship in Radical Doing is one of our programmatic interventions towards this desired outcome. The Fellowship brings together a cohort of radical doers, untamed social entrepreneurs and innovators who are early on their changemaking journey, demonstrating remarkable accomplishment and a relentless dedication to creating positive, sustainable impact in all they do. We meet weekly over the course of 4 ½ months, and work towards three concurrent goals:

  •      Personal leadership development
  •      Project development
  •      Network development

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing some of our thinking behind each of those three developmental areas. This week, I begin with reflecting on the first goal listed above, personal leadership development.

“The success of an intervention depends on the interior state of the intervener.” –Bill O’Brien

Personal leadership development for changemakers

This quote was introduced to me in 2011 by three students of mine in the Master’s in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS) Programme, and it’s forever impacted the way in which I think about and structure my leadership development. It illuminated the distinction between the inner space of a changemaker – an intervener – and the more visible, tangible actions taken by that changemaker. If you’ve been introduced to the iceberg model or Integral Theory, you’ll be familiar with this focus on the interior as distinct (yet connected) to the exterior, visible actions one takes.

So what DOES it take for emerging changemakers to make successful, positive interventions in society? How does one build and maintain personal resiliency, strength, and wisdom in the face of all the challenges barraging us today?
Much of the past decade of my career has been devoted to helping foster increased confidence and competence in sustainability and social innovation leaders. Early in this journey, I admittedly built programming from a sensed place more than from any kind of framework. Then in 2011, these three aforementioned students (Christopher Baan, Dana Pearlman, and Phil Long) embarked on a thesis that asked, “If our work requires us to motivate and assist others in making transformational change towards a more sustainable society, what are the inner capacities that are needed to allow for our success?” Their five month long thesis culminated in the production of a model and practice guide called The Lotus, and it has since deeply informed my thinking and design of leadership sessions, including that of the RADIUS Fellowship.

Build leadership capacity with The Lotus model

The Lotus model introduces 9 Personal Capabilities, shown below. The practice guide further supports leaders buy offering sample Practices which according to research, have been shown to help leaders build their muscles in each of the Capabilities.Besides sharing this model explicitly with them, it has deeply informed the design of the Fellowship in the past two years (since I joined RADIUS). The entire first half of the Fellowship consists almost exclusively of building and enhancing our inner capacities, from practicing presence via deep listening exercises, to hearing and inquiring about other’s perspectives in a compassionate way, to examining our own power and how we impact the world around us, to suspending our reactions when faced with conflict.

The impact of personal capacity development for innovation leaders

As I’ve matured in my knowledge and experience in designing leadership development, I’ve increasingly found value in being explicit and intentional about working on the inner and outer spaces separately, and in that particular order. I start with the more foundational, sub-surface capacities of being able to be present, compassionate, clear, and equanimous. Later, we follow with skill-building related to working with others, advancing projects, and generally taking action.

Within the RADIUS Fellowship cohorts, the outcomes of our programming in the area of personal development seem positive thus far. You can read more about the most recently-completed Fellows cohort in our 2016 Outcomes report, and we look forward to sharing the current Fellows’ reflections via the RADIUS blog (like this one) and our 2017 Fellows Twitter list.

In the first few weeks of programming in our current (third) cohort, we’ve completed exercises which have explored our personal motivations, we’ve gotten to know one another as individuals before jumping into our professional roles and projects, and we’ve been guided through a session on the concept of Growth (vs Fixed) Mindsets which left many of us percolating and trying on new internal questions when faced with challenges.

The Lotus model is of course just one of many models out there. Which ones do you use? What personal capacities have you found most powerful in your development, and how have you built them? We’d love to get your reflections – leave us a comment below.

Tamara Connell is RADIUS’s Lead Educator and Fellowship Program Manager. Learn more about her here.

Read more about the RADIUS Fellowship here.