Respected leaders talk about the experiences that have shaped their abilities over a period of time, not their classroom learning. While intellectual endeavors offer a starting point and models for thinking about leadership, hands-on experience is the consistent theme in the lives of leaders who have been tested and found approved.
We did a survey of participants (senior managers) in four consecutive leadership development programs. They were asked what contributed the most to their leadership learning, confidence, and skill. The results were job and project assignments with workshops, seminars, and other methods well behind in the rankings.
So my question is:
Why aren't we putting people into increased positions of responsibility so they can gain experience and maturity?
What do we expect from "real" leaders?
There's an entire industry built around Leadership. Graduate programs, consulting businesses, workshops, seminars, books, DVD's...I sometimes wonder if it hasn't become a cult in search of an idealized organizational savior. If that's the case for some, then the search will continue indefinitely but the conversation will be wonderfully angst-filled.
For those seeking a realistic and practical approach to building leadership abilities, maybe we need to start by asking:
1. What do we really expect? This is based upon each organization's strategies, value system, and the ability to bring in "the right person at the right time for the right leadership role."
2. Are we willing to invest the time, money, and energy to build mature leadership capability by purposefully putting people in positions of leadership? Are we committed to making an investment in a process?
3. If "yes," how will we do that?
4. If "no," then are we willing to change our expectations and live with the results?
If it's about speed, it isn't about maturity
The business climate now is about speed, quarterly results, and change. With people changing jobs so readily, it is almost impossible to develop people's abilities for the long run in the context of a single organization's culture and needs. When there was longevity as a result of commitment to and from employees you could track, train, develop, and promote much more deliberately. Companies had a sense of confidence about an individual's real capabilities because they had been tested and observed in different situations over a long period of time. You could assess, first hand, both skill and maturity under pressure.
Leadership and the "Project Culture"
With so much job-hopping due to corporate change and personal goals, the notion of a traditional "career" seems to be all but dead. Maybe we should get real and start to look at worklife as a series of projects. If so, then perhaps we're looking to develop leaders whose strengths include the ability to move in and out of new relationships and situations but who are adept at gaining trust and unifying people under those conditions.
One thing I am sure of: You can't microwave leaders and expect a 5-Star Experience
If we're genuinely concerned with developing leaders, it may be time to examine the validity and assumptions of our expectations. How much is driven by the cult of "celebrity leadership" or consultants and vendors who have never worked for any length of time in a corporation? Are the criteria driven by agendas more akin to a "social experiment" or the realities of leading an entity through good times and bad?
Question for Today:
How will we influence (if we can) our companies in ways that define realistic expectations, create a series of leadership experiences, and allow the time and feedback for individuals to synthesize those experiences in a way that breeds the maturity necessary to lead effectively?
Photo Source: www.bren.ucsb.edu