In his book It Worked for Me, Colin Powell uses the imagery of spheres and pyramids to describe professional development – and the need to incorporate a broad perspective in leadership training. Powell describes each unit as a pyramid, with each person inside as a sphere. As people gain responsibilities within the unit, their spheres grow in size until they reach the outside border of the pyramid. “Once that happens, the only way to keep growing and rising is to expand outside the pyramid,” he writes.

The problem arises when all the development that has occurred has focused only on the environment and skills required inside the unit (pyramid). Once someone ascends to a higher leadership role, suddenly they have a need to know other skills, such as supervision, strategy, or visioning that they may not have needed or learned within the boundaries of their previous role. The senior leader needs to understand competition, regulations, investments and trends in ways that the spheres in the original pyramid do not. Those who expand beyond their narrow boundaries suddenly are competing for resources in a much larger arena and need to master the political climate effectively in order to secure their needs.

As a supervisor, you can help develop your staff by exposing them to the world that exists outside of their current pyramid – even if they aren’t involved with it yet. Staff may be interested in going deeper with their known skill set, but learning may be richer if they are exposed to industry trends instead. Rather than having your accountant attend another tax seminar, push them to participate in a global economic summit. Send your human resources staff to a technology conference to learn how the world of work is changing. Allow your junior staff member to receive supervision training to prepare them for roles outside their pyramid in the future.

Don’t limit yourself or your staff by restricting professional development to the boundaries that exist. The growth is on the outside.

Source: Chapter 8: Spheres and Pyramids in It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership by Colin Powell, 2012.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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