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.

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