David Peterson: Long Term Leadership Requires Leadership Development Through Coaching

My guest on this episode loves to think of leadership through a long-term lens. He believes that the way a leader approaches today’s decisions must be informed by looking toward tomorrow. David Peterson is the Director of Leadership and Coaching at Google where he provides coaching to senior leaders, oversees internal and external coaching programs, and supports a executive development and organizational learning programs. He is the author of two best-selling books, “Leader As Coach” and “Development FIRST: Strategies for Self-Development.”

During this conversation, it became immediately apparent that David’s view of what it takes to optimize an organization for the future is a bit counter-intuitive to the average leader. He says leaders must sub-optimize current performance in order to optimize future performance. Listen to this episode to hear David explain.

In our volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world (VUCO), leaders must hold up a clear vision of long-term values and mission

There is so much coming at us these days – and the pace seems to be picking up all the time. Leaders often find their heads spinning as more data, more innovation, and bigger opportunities present themselves every day. If the leaders are feeling the impact of such things, what are those they lead feeling?

David rightly says that the best antidote to overwhelm in light of VUCA is to maintain a clear view of long-term values and mission. It’s how leaders empower their teams to stay on track, assess opportunities as they arise, and stay focused on end-goals that matter.

When quick decisions are required, should you trust your gut or depend on data?

Competition and innovation are two of the reasons game-changing decisions feel more urgent all the time. When those moments come, how should leaders make decisions when they haven’t had time to consider all the data?

Some would say you should trust your gut intuition – and David says trusting your gut works well when a situation is similar to things you’ve dealt with in the past. But research shows that even better decisions are made when the leader is able to take 5 minutes to step back and look at the flaws in their model and solicit input.

David’s rule of thumb is to make a decision when 60% to 70% of the data you prefer to have is available – instead of waiting for all the information you’d prefer to have. If you wait longer, someone else (a competitor) will make the decision before you do. For best results, act on the data you have and adapt as new data comes in.

Leaders need to learn and teach deep empathy

Organizations thrive when healthy relationships exist throughout the organization. Research is proving it to be the case. Leaders have to be out front when it comes to developing that type of culture. When they do, amazing things are possible.

David suggests leaders work to grow in what he calls, “deep empathy.” It has four components:

  • The ability to see things from other perspectives
  • The ability to appreciate things from other perspectives
  • The ability to anticipate the reactions of various audiences
  • The ability to foster a sense of inclusion (to ensure people feel understood and welcome to share their perspectives).

Leaders who employ coaching use it to empower their teams in deep empathy skills, which benefits everyone.

Long-term leadership requires an understanding of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level consequences of leadership development

Every leader needs to be developing the Jr. Leaders around them. David cites a few examples of companies who make leadership development part of their culture – some to the point that promotions and raises are dependent on a person’s ability to develop others.

Part of being a mature developer of others is an understanding of what he refers to as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level consequences of investing in people.

The 1st order consequences of leadership development are that it takes time and you don’t get results right away. That’s because the Jr. person is in learning mode, taking in a lot of information and coaching at once.

The 2nd order consequences are where things begin to get better because the mentee is learning how to apply their newfound knowledge and skills, they appreciate the learning, and they can do things that free up the leader for more important tasks.

The 3rd order consequences have both a downside and an upside. Oftentimes, people who a leader has invested in leave the organization to take positions in other organizations. But positively, the leader becomes known as a talent-builder and as such, begins to attract others who want to come work for them.

David shared many insights about long term leadership that have me thinking. Your perspective on leadership will be challenged too, so I invite you to listen.

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:39] David’s definition of leadership: The ability to inspire people to collaborate and pursue goals
  • [3:23] What is leadership development? Why David does what he does
  • [5:13] Examples of the tradeoffs leaders have to make between today and tomorrow
  • [7:27] What is VUCA? Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity
  • [9:27] Making decisions faster in today’s data-driven world
  • [12:28] How leaders can use coaching to build more empathic teams
  • [16:21] How can managers better deal with low-empathy leaders?
  • [18:41] C-suite leaders: practices to demonstrate empathy from the top down
  • [22:57] 3 things to enable leaders to be better coaches
  • [26:10] Making the link for leaders about how soft skills translate into hard value

Resources & People Mentioned

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