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The problem – and possible solution – with Leadership Development

Article by: Phil Dourado | Published: 8 November 2016

“I would argue that more leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit, or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together.” – Warren Bennis whom The FT called ‘The Dean of Leadership’

Kamenev and Zinoviev were two Bolshevik leaders under Lenin. The impression Lenin made on them was so great that they both developed his handwriting.

Marty Sklar was one of Walt Disney‘s right-hand men and became Chief Imagineer for the Disney Corporation. Walt always used a red pen to make notes. Long after Walt‘s death, handwritten red notes were still being passed around the Imagineer department, because Sklar would only use a red pen. At Disney, when casting around for a creative solution, the question everyone uses, even now, is ―’What would Walt do?’

The imprint leaders leave on people is mysterious and the legacy of effective leaders runs deep. But one thing it is not is standardized. HR departments in large organizations, currently working diligently on standardized leadership behaviours, and development systems, please take note.

The leadership consultant Rene Carayol put it this way:
“We have been told for years now that there is a standard, homogenized great leader type or template we have to aspire to. Organizations deliver one training programme, people are expected to become clone leaders. That doesn‘t work. The marketplace tells us that difference works. Challenging the status quo and standing out from the pack is what makes a great leader.” Rene Carayol

If you systematize anything you end up with too much similarity. And that applies to the way large organizations develop leaders. There is already too much sameness out there.

Take this example from the maverick business leader Ricardo Semler, who sometimes teaches at Harvard Business School, and told me this when I asked him about his approach to leadership: “I ran an exercise with forty-three Fortune 500 CEOs. I got them to write down their company values on a piece of card. Then, when they were at coffee, I swapped all the cards around without telling them. When they came back it took them a while to figure out that they had somebody else‘s values in front of them. They were all saying the same thing.”

According to all the recent research by The Gallup Organization, Marcus Buckingham and others, most corporate leaders are still failing to engage and inspire their people, despite the billions of dollars poured into management and leadership development every year.

The late, great Warren Bennis, described by the Financial Times as “The Dean of Leadership”, said “I would argue that more leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit, or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together.”

Bennis and other leadership experts stress that the ingredients of leadership cannot be taught through courses. But, they can be learned.

Principles for successful leadership development
Large organizations will find they only really succeed if the CEO and other formal leaders are actively involved in a hands-on way. When top management commit time and energy to the development of leadership is when it is taken seriously by those involved (Note 1).

Best-practice companies also tend to use fewer competencies in their leadership development models, feeling that simplicity and focus are strong advantages. (Note 2)

Leadership development has to be derived directly from the organization‘s strategy and revolve around real issues. The ideal approach is developing-while-doing.

Finally, get people to manage their leadership development in short, focussed chunks of time – say regular daily or three times a week 10-15 minute bursts – that are part of the working week and link to their actual leadership activities, rather than just relying on traditional seminars, retreats, MBA courses, or other events that take people away from work for long periods. (Note 3)

About The Author: Phil Dourado is the author of two leadership books published by John Wiley. His company, The Leadership Hub, has pioneered a new form of leadership development for large organizations – an online leadership community of practice within the organization in which the rest learn from the ‘best’ (the high performers). How this works in a FTSE 100 organization that has had a leadership community of practice for the past eight years is described on this link .
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SOURCE NOTES
1 The Leadership Investment. How the World’s Best Organizations Gain Strategic Advantage
Through Leadership Development, Robert M. Fulmer and Marshall Goldsmith
2 Growing Your Company‘s Leaders, Robert Fulmer, Jay Conger
3 The work of David Rock, Jeffrey Schwartz and others suggests regular short high-attention
activities are more effective.