What can leaders do to promote knowledge and skill development in their direct reports?
A curated list of resources for leader-led development.
To get new rock climbers to the top of the wall, instructors have to guide their charges through a number of moves, all the while teaching the climbers about toe holds and hand holds, and about safety and contingency plans. And good instructors encourage skill-building and amplify the exhilaration of the climb so that the new climber feels competent and confident.
Developing people on any skill can be conceptualized that way. Developmental leaders – those who actively support development in their direct reports and teams – can deploy a number of moves to help people reach their peak capability. Just like a rock-climbing instructor’s recommended moves take advantage of the terrain and consider the skill level of the climber, the developer’s moves are contextualized and personalized.
There are six categories of moves at the developmental leader’s disposal, each developing employees in different ways. The six kinds of moves are meant to:
Clarify – moves that define goals and describe desired capabilities
Coach – moves that introduce and hone knowledge and skill
Challenge – moves that provide the context for learning through work
Connect – moves that match people with others who can support growth
Curate – moves that make specific recommendations for learning materials
Customize – moves that address individual needs of employees related to their professional development
Developmental leaders take advantage of serendipitous opportunities to advance people’s knowledge and skill. But to transform your team or accelerate the development of a direct report in a specific arena, you should be more planful. You can strategize a route to capability by employing several moves up, sideways, or even downward a notch in order to develop skill and confidence.
Making a plan for development makes it more likely that these steps will be taken when the time comes. A complete plan frequently starts with a move to clarify and is always customized to the employee and the context. You can envision that moves will be progressive or repeated for impact, or engaged in parallel, or laid in wait for an opportune moment. The value is in taking time to identify the moves that might be particularly useful so the sometimes limited time you have to invest in development is used wisely.
These recommended moves were synthesized from a wide range of sources, both scholarly and practice-oriented. They are gleaned from what we know about developing learning culture, about scaffolding self-directed learning, about promoting workplace learning in general, and about engaging leader-led (or manager-led) development in particular. The tactics are in alignment with theory, research, and practice on experiential learning, social learning, self-directed learning, informal learning, career development and related topics.
The curated resources below can help you dig into effective approaches in each move category and give you plenty of inspiration on how to facilitate another person’s ongoing development. The Quick Guide to Developing People summarizes these ideas for easy reference.
If you would like to support your leaders in learning how to effectively accellerate development of direct reports, my synthesis of tactics for Developing People may be of interest to you. Contact me to discuss options.
Dig into each of these categories to see example moves, key principles and a selection of deep-dive resources that further describe how leaders can accelerate development.
Moves that define goals and describe desired capabilities
Example clarifying moves: > Offer career conversations > Assist with capability assessment; communicate clear quality criteria > Collaborate on identifying development areas > Assist in development of learning plans
Key practices when clarifying: > Make it a two-way conversation > Attend to process (how to get there), not just outcomes (desired result) > Explore multiple moves for growth
My blog posts on clarifying
Bringing development into focus On areas that may need clarity before you considering your other moves: career trajectory, learning goals, quality critiera, development plan
Charting Your Course // Catherine Lombardozzi, Learning 4 Learning Professionals The Charting Your Course Workbook provides some guidance for creating a self-directed learning plan; the guidance on options for learning resources and activities can be especially useful
Promotions Are So Yesterday // Julie Winkle Giulioni, ATD Press (2022) Describes new ways of thinking about career growth – ways that don’t depend on moving up an imagined ladder.
Example coaching moves: > Teach fundamentals > Ask generative and thought-provoking questions > Help employees solve problems and learn to solve them on their own > Provide effective feedback > Scaffold self-directed learning > Support learning to learn > Share own learning projects (successes and challenges); model learning
Key practices when coaching: > Keep your purpose in mind > Lead with questions > Model the way
The Leader as Coach // Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular, Harvard Business Review (2019) Describes the leader’s coaching role in depth, including selecting coaching style, engaging the core process, and using the GROW framework; contains links to additional HBR resources
Unleashing the power of anytime coaching // Teresa Kloster and Wendy Swire, The Public Manager, ATD (2010) Describes key practices garnered from interviews with public sector managers: observing, inquiring, listening, and responding
The feedback fallacy // Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, Harvard Business Review (2019) Points out surprising myths about the importance and effectiveness of feedback, and provides recommendations on how to help people excel
Scaffolding self-directed learning Catherine Lombardozzi, Learning 4 Learning Professionals (2020) A summary of research-based advice regarding what leaders can do to promote self-directed learning, with curated links to additional in-depth resources
Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible //Allan Collins, John Seely Brown, and Ann Holum, American Educator (1991) A seminal article on the concept of cognitive apprenticship – how people can be given a window to “observe” thought processes and decisions that are made in the mind; scroll down to the section titled: A Framework for Designing Learning Environments
Desirable difficulties // Learning Scientists (Weekly Digest #58) An overview of the concept of desirable difficulties with links to learn more about their characteristics and what makes them impactful
What is psychological safety? // Tom Geraghty, Psychological Safety (web site) A brief but thorough explanation of the concept of psychological safety
Moves that match people with others who can support growth
Example connecting moves: > Introduce employees to subject matter experts and communities > Assign peer developers > Assign collaborative projects > Recommend role models > Assist in finding mentors > Identify people to follow on social media > Fund attendance at professional meetings and conferences > Create team learning opportunities
Key practices when connecting: > Nurture trust and rapport > Foster informal conversations > Attend to diversity and inclusion
My blog posts on connecting
Remote but connected Steps to take to remain connected to remote employees and help them to be connected to one another
The surprisingly effective impact of becoming a connector manager // Sari Wilde, Book excerpt on Better Humans (2019) Nice overview on the research that uncovered the power of being a connector manager – one whose strength is connecting people to others who can help them learn, plus info on what it means to be a connector manager
The Connector Manager // Jamie Roca and Sari Wilde, Penguin Random House (2019) Book-length description of the ways connector managers connect people to support development and build strong teams; includes research results and case studies
With a little help from our friends // Catherine Lombardozzi, Learning 4 Learning Professionals (2013) A synthesis of how social learning works, the methods of knowledge and skill acquisition through developmental relationships, and what makes those relationships effective
Community 101 // The Community Roundtable TheCR is a member organization for those who manage communities, and this page will point you to some of their free resources on building community (may have to give email)
Moves that address individual needs of employees related to their professional development
Example customizing moves: > Take a personal interest and show genuine caring > Allocate time for learning > Build on the individual’s strengths > Remove obstacles > Check in on progress > Celebrate advances in knowledge, skill, and behavior change
Key practices when customizing: > Get to know people, their individual contexts, challenges, and dispositions > Lean into being human: listen, empathize, relate > Maintain regular contact, both scheduled and informal
Tools and Further Advice for becoming a sought-after people developer
The resources above give you a deeper understanding of how to effectively make developmental moves in the six categories described in the quick guide. And if you aspire to be a strong people developer, the resources below provide templates and advice for that role.
People Development Worksheet (Learning 4 Learning Professionals) A succinct process for using the Quick Guide to Developing People to create an action plan for your work with an employee.
GROW Model Conceptualized by Sir John Whitmore – initially as a guide for coaching performance – this model is an often-used templet for solidifying development goals in collaboration with your employees.
Developing Your People Skills Activities (Learning 4 Learning Professionals) Knowing what to do and being able to do it effectively are two different things. Here are some activities you can engage yourself to support your own growth as a people developer.
These books provide useful resources and guidance for developing people writ large.
Make Talent Your Business // Wendy Axelrod and Jeannie Coyle (Berrett Koehler, 2011) The practices these authors advocate are based on their research on developmental leaders, so they are able to share plenty of specific behaviors and examples. See my blog post for a review.
Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go // Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni (Berrett-Koehler, 2nd Ed. 2019) Written as a guide to career development, this book as useful advice for engagiging with employees in discussions about their growth. Pair this with Julie Winkle Giulioni’s Promotions are SO Yesterday for additional insight on the wide range of avenues for growth that can be part of these conversations.
The Connector Manager // Jaime Roca and Sari Wilde, Gartner (Portfolio/Penguin, 2019) Gartner’s study showed that being a “connector manager” – one who focused on connecting employees to others who can support their growth – had the most impact on employee performance. The chapter on the employee connection is particularly relevant to the work described in the Quick Guide.
Idea books If you’re looking for activities you can assign to or engage with employees to develop specific skills, these resources provide succinct advice. Organized by competency, and directed at the employees, these provide specific activities and advice. You can borrow these ideas for your own work.
Skills for Career Success // Elaine Biech (Berrett-Koehler, 2021) Written for employees, this guide gives advice and activities for developing a wide range of professional and leadership skills. Provides a link to 65 pages of additional tools and templates.