I love the phrase, “natural time.”
When I first heard it, I had no idea what the heck it meant, but something about it sparked a thought.
I first heard the phrase from my colleague, Michele, who mentioned it during a conversation the other day.
Michele is a Nia instructor—also something I had not heard of until I met her. Nia is a mind/body conditioning program that integrates martial arts, modern dance, and yoga.
It turns out, the idea of “natural time” is one of the key principles of NIA. One site describes this Nia principle of natural time as “The concept of honoring the rhythms of nature as opposed to following the current calendar and clock that run most of our lives.”
The instructors encourage individuals to get in touch with their body’s natural rhythms and to dance in their own unique way.
I love this concept.
While it’s unlikely you will see me in a Nia (or any studio that involves dancing) anytime soon, the phrase “natural time” resonates with me as it relates to developing leaders and developing as a leader.
Developing Leaders in Natural Time:
We use a variety of techniques in the workplace to attempt to replace a natural development cycle with something that fits clock and calendar time.
Mostly, they are noise.
Classroom training is fine, however, expecting classroom training to accelerate leader development is naïve.
Training offers context and a bit of practice, but nothing that meaningfully changes the pace an individual develops.
The sink-or-swim method mostly sinks and always stinks…for obvious reasons.
Coaching is helpful for behavior identification and development or correction, but it doesn’t alter a person’s natural pace of growth.
Training plus coaching is a wonderful combination we should all take advantage of if offered to us. It leads to more thoughtful discussions, quicker recognition of poor or great behaviors, and appropriate correction or reinforcement.
I like training plus coaching sustained over time, much more than one and done approaches.
The operative phrase is: sustained over time.
Developing as a leader takes time.
Deming had this right as he did so many other aspects of effective management. It takes years to understand a business much less how to lead it.
Rotating through various roles from the shop floor to customer delivery to sales and the other functions of a business helps a person understand the whole picture.
In this era of teams and projects, learning to participate as a contributor before striving to lead anyone or anything is essential.
Cultivating an appreciation for how to adapt one’s style to the different individuals requires growth and maturity.
Leading without the title requires self-confidence born of experience.
Standing in front of people in a crisis and galvanizing action and creativity when everyone’s instinct is to run and hide, isn’t learned in a book or class.
Instead of perpetuating checkbox training approaches, why not accept and leverage the idea of natural time.
Don’t expect individuals to develop on your schedule.
Do provide them support and guidance and let them dictate the pace.
Do offer encouragement and coaching if you perceive they are awkwardly stepping ahead of or falling behind their natural time.
Accept that some will never dance as leaders.
Quit evaluating development on the annual calendar.
Talk about development often, as situations and coaching opportunities present themselves.
If you draw upon the educational and behavioral benefits of training and coaching, sustain it.
Death to one-and-done techniques. It does no one any good.
The next discussion I want you to have with your management and those ostensibly responsible for talent development is about the concept of natural time. Challenge them to think and act differently.
By the way, never outsource talent development to another department. That’s weak. That’s crap.
You own supporting leader development on their own natural time.
Developing as a Leader in Natural Time:
This one’s personal.
No one owns your development. No one owes you development.
You need to seek it out. You need to own it.
It’s nice if someone helps you along the way. Just don’t count on it.
If you listen to yourself—your mind and body—you will understand what natural time is for you as you strive to develop as a leader.
It’s not that voice saying, “I’m not ready.” That’s nerves or resistance shaking your self-confidence.
What you have to listen for is that quieter voice—the feeling that you are up to this, whatever “this” happens to be at the time.
I learned to tune-in to this voice years ago. It required me to rudely shove resistance out of the way and step into roles people could argue I had no right to step into at my age. (It turns out, age is a poor indicator of readiness!)
It was the sense of exhilaration over the opportunity. It was the excitement of the adventure. It was the self-confidence that I would find a way forward to success, even through setbacks.
My natural time was fast.
I’m grateful for the managers who recognized this and opened a path for me.
You know your sense of natural time.
If you want to run and no one is letting you run, that’s a problem to solve.
If you feel as if you are so far out of your element that you are spinning and disoriented, chances are someone pushed you past your natural time.
I like concrete. I like data and facts.
Natural time is all about feelings.
As the folks at NIA suggest, it’s about knowing yourself.
And acting accordingly.
There’s a more important measure of time than our calendars and clocks. Those are aberrations.
Strive to tune-in to your natural time.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Squishy for me, but important, and I believe closer to goodness and right than wrong. Personalize your development efforts to the individual, not to the annual review cycle. Be sensitive to whether their dance as a leader seems forced or stilted, and coach them to find their natural time.