A guide to Four Territories for developing as a leader

What does it take to develop, as a leader?

The day after hosting a webinar with Stephen Duns on Beyond Vertical leadership I had two conversations with peers and leaders in challenging situations. In both the webinar and conversations ‘Developmental Inquiry’ was front of mind as a way to develop as a leader.

This post is to briefly introduce Developmental Inquiry and give a taste of one way to work with “Four Territories” to expand your attention, illuminate new options and become more effective in your actions. This article is a ‘practical guide’ to doing this now, rather than something to be read purely for its value as abstract information. Doing this inquiry process as you read it might take 10-15 minutes.

So, a bit more back-story for context. The leaders I spoke to, their situations felt full of developmental potential because:

  • their experiences of the challenges were visceral – feeling exhausted, pain that needed physical therapy, tension, heat, like they were colliding with others and being pulled to elevate their perspective and performance,
  • their challenges are characterised by complexity, continuity and fluidity. That is, there is uncertainty about what or where or what to focus on, they sense there are looping patterns in their behaviour and relations, and more than an answer or solution there’s a sense of that the change will be an evolution (or transformation).

As we talked through some of their thoughts, feelings about options, I shared a little explicitly and implicitly from different territories of Developmental Inquiry. It was a truly shared inquiry, because I too, and perhaps you (now!) are conscious of feeling the same sort of visceral feelings, pull to evolve, and questions about what to do about it?

Developmental Inquiry is, in a way ‘what to do’. As described and used in the Harthill approach to Leadership Development, Developmental Inquiry addresses the apex faculty that is distinct from and leads other developmental activities. It’s different from:

  • skill acquisition and mastery in new domains,
  • delegation and communication to enhance relations,
  • innovation or introducing new systems and processes,
  • expanding your networks, or accessing more diverse perspectives.

Instead, Developmental Inquiry is attending to your own meaning-making, directly. One way to consider this is to put on an explorer mindset, and become curious about exploring the territory of your own experience. It’s very useful to be genuinely curious, to really not know yourself and your territories and genuine want to explore them. It’s a method, like science, that can be done repeatedly to address any situation.

The territories are:

Contexts – the situation in which this inquiry is grounded, what’s the purpose?

Frames – the ideas, models, hypotheses and strategies being held?

Actions – what physical and verbal actions, habits, skills are being employed? What are you doing?

Information – what data is available: facts, insights, outcomes, indicators and consequences?

Here’s how to explore them.

Let’s use an example of a trigger and reason to explore them, such as feeling overwhelmed. For you, this may be characterised by feeling heat, tension, pressure and exhaustion at the number of things to do, and not knowing what to do.

It’s in that situation that distinguishing between and exploring the territories can create space for insights and solutions. And, doing this, especially initially, requires some space. Exploring is hard to do when contracted, fixated or under pressure!

One way to create space is to have another help you, to say things out loud and turn subjective experience that has and is you, into ‘objects’ you ‘have’ that are separate and you can work with.

Or, if just on your own….Pause.

Perhaps change your posture, position or location.

Breathe. Breathe again. Take a third breath.

Notice where you have your attention.

Select one of the territories and notice what has your attention in that territory?

If “Information” then what datasets do you have, what are you feeling, what hunches, what consequences, what indicators?

You may want to make some brief notes. Rather than causes, links, narratives and implications, just write short phrases or lists of what’s in your attention.

Then shift to another territory, perhaps Actions: what are you actually doing? Physically, what’s occurring? Where are you spending time, doing what, for how long? Again, notes may be useful. And again, hold off on conclusions or implications, stick with observations.

Then shift, perhaps to Frames: what theories do you have, what ‘shoulds’ or beliefs about the way things should be, what models, strategies, tactics, plans are being executed? Making notes helps make these explicit.

And, then Contexts: what location are you in, what role are you playing, what language are you speaking, what purpose are you pursuing, what identities are you holding on to? This may seem obvious, but the overlooked obvious is the stuff of enlightenment!

So, now that you have given attention to all the territories, what comes up?

What is revealed? What is present or absent? Do you feel any intuition, hunches?

Don’t judge what comes up. Be honest.

Of what comes up, perhaps the first thing, what’s one thing you could action?

A tip: rather than an intervention and lever that requires more effort, look for moves or changes that could create space, room, an intercession. What’s the open door that you don’t need to push on? What could be let go of or held more lightly? Where haven’t you gone that seems both too easy, yet also the hardest (because it’s a different logic)?

Of what comes up to do, do it. With curiousity.

You don’t know if it’s right, or if it will work, until you do it (though you can learn from others experience). No one else can do it for you, you must develop your own wisdom, intuition (though you are, generally, working with others as a leader, so you can ask and work with them).

So, go do it. As an inquiry. Be bold and inquisitive.

Notice what occurs and if / what shifts.

Revisit your inquiry into your territories.

If you changed Context, what happened in the other territories? If you changed your Actions, did that shift the Frames? If you paid attention to or collected different Information, did that reveal new possibilities for Action?

This is Developmental Inquiry – not abstract, not navel-gazing questioning, but actually doing AS an inquiry. As a deliberate developmental habit. As an exploration of your own experience, effectiveness and leadership. Doing with the intention of going first, in advance, as a leader, exploring new territories. And intending that by doing so, you also create the space for others unfolding, evolving, a new sense of you, of them, of us, emerging.

And, just like developing a new skill at work or strength in the gym, this does take deliberate practice. Knowing the distinctions and thinking about it is insufficient. One inquiry like this a day would be plenty, one a week is fine also, just get started with what you can commit to and build confidence in your capability.

Happy exploring!

And, to note, what massively enhances the effciency and effectiveness of exploring is knowing that there are ‘maps’ pre-existing of the continuum of meaning-making. The Leadership Development Framework has been used with more than 10,000 leaders, identifying patterns in their meaning-making, their strategies, their actions, AND the most effective types of actions that each can take to develop as a leader.

To read an example of generic recommendations (like “Speaking from the Heart”) for a particular type of meaning-making, I recommend reading Stephen’s recent article on Transitioning from Technical Expert to Successful Leader.

And, if you would like a guided tour of those maps, demo of Developmental Inquiry or to receive a full Leadership Development Profile assessment, debrief, guidance and support for yourself or team, please get in touch.

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