Four Domains of Developing Others



Leaders think about the future. They think about the future of their company. They think about the future of their customers or the market they serve. They think about new opportunities and challenges that the future will hold. The most effective leaders also think about the next generation of leaders. That generation of leaders will be leading the company, serving their market, seizing the opportunities, and facing the challenges of the future. The most effective leaders know how important it is to develop people on their team to be tomorrow’s leaders.

The work of developing people on your team can be a daunting task. Each individual is…well, just that—an individual. Each person brings unique value to the organization. Each person has unique potential. Each person has unique challenges. Each person has unique goals. When a leader carefully plans a strategy to help others grow, they quickly realize that no two people are truly alike. Each person’s optimal development path is unique. Frankly, most leaders get overwhelmed rather quickly when thinking about this responsibility, especially as the size of the team grows larger. I don’t blame them. I’ve been there.

Thinking about the comprehensive and complex task of professional development for an individual can feel too big to handle. So I want to offer some help by breaking that challenge down into four manageable parts. Looking at four domains of professional development one at a time will help you assess the needs for a given individual in each area. This will help you know where to focus your attention for each person and for the team.

Those four domains are:

  1. Character—a person’s moral and ethical qualities
  2. Chemistry—how well a person comfortably connects with others
  3. Competence in Soft Skills—a person’s ability to work in teams, resolve conflict, communicate vision, motivate others, and so on
  4. Competence in Hard Skills—a person’s ability to effectively complete tasks and procedures required for the job

Let’s deal with character first. Frankly, there’s not a lot you can do to develop someone’s moral and ethical qualities. Character is deeply ingrained in a person by the time they come to work for you. Except for a deep transformational life experience, or a spiritual transformation, there isn’t a lot that you, the leader, can do to shape someone’s character. If you have evidence that causes you to doubt the character of someone on your team, you need to seriously consider counseling that person out of the role. You must be able to trust the moral and ethical nature of each person on your team.

Second, we’ve got chemistry. Chemistry is also hard to shape, but willing individuals can indeed improve their ability to connect with others and have good relationships. Often, issues of chemistry are more about rough edges and bad habits that the person doesn’t understand.

For example, I think of myself as a critical thinker. I like to dig deep into issues to develop clarity and better understand the true nature of a problem. However, I have an associated rough edge in that my critical-thinking questions can be off-putting to others and this can create a barrier between myself and those I need to connect with in my work. Before I understood this problem it had an impact on my ability to relate to others. After a leader helped me to see this impact, I started working to temper how I exercise my critical-thinking skills. With practice, this is gradually improving my chemistry with others.

People on your team have rough edges, too. These rough edges and bad habits contaminate the chemistry of developing good relationships with others.

The third domain of developing others is competence in soft skills. This is similar to chemistry, and they are indeed related, but competence in soft skills is more generic. Where a person needs to grow in chemistry is tied to that person’s unique design. Soft skills, though, are generally applicable to most people. Soft skills include verbal and written skills, managing body language, flexibility in the face of adversity, project and time management skills, the ability to collaborate, the ability to delegate, the ability to negotiate, the ability resolve conflict, and so on.

Depending on the size of your company, your HR department probably has a series of workshops or online training modules designed to develop competence in soft skills. However, as a leader, don’t fully delegate that training to the HR department. This is very important. While your HR department may do a good job helping your employees understand collaboration and negotiation skills, they are not able to develop true competence in your employees. That’s your job, and you do that through a combination of coaching conversations and giving that person opportunities to exercise and develop those skills in real-world settings.

Finally, the fourth domain of developing others is competence in hard skills. This is the easiest of the four domains to deal with. Most companies have well-documented strategies and procedures for helping employees get trained on job-critical skills. This is especially true when safety is part of the job, when there are legal and financial responsibilities, or when a particular process is required to ensure quality.

Of the four domains, which should you as a leader attend to most? Where should you commit the most time? On character? Chemistry? On competence in soft skills? Or, on competence in hard skills?

First, you should do a quick analysis of each person on your team in the four domains. Score them in some way that makes sense to you so that you can get a quick picture of where the needs are.

Next, if you have character development concerns for anyone, carefully explore that with your HR team. If you have hard evidence of moral and ethical breaches you must address that quickly and decisively.

Then, if you identify development needs for competence in hard skills, partner with your training team to get those needs addressed quickly. Every day you wait on developing competence in hard skills is another day of reduced productivity and quality for that person and for your company.

That leaves the two domains of chemistry and competence in soft skills. Ideally, this is where leaders should invest most of their energy in developing others. It is where you can build the next wave of leaders in your organization. It can be hard work but the most effective leaders know that some of the greatest rewards come from developing new leaders.

It is very rewarding!

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Alice Achterof. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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