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.
"Most people who want to get ahead do it backward. They think, 'I'll get a bigger job, then I'll learn how to be a leader.' But showing leadership skill is how you get the bigger job in the first place. Leadership isn't a position, it's a process." --John C. Maxwell
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, then there may be a new definition of leadership maturity
The business climate now is about speed, quarterly results, and constant change.
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 commitment to-- and from--employees, you could track, train, develop, and promote with longevity in mind. Companies had a sense of confidence about an individual's real capabilities because people 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.
Perhaps many organizations aren't developing for the "long run" but instead, for a specific shorter-term window.
Leadership and the "Project Culture"
With so much job changing due to corporate change, downsizing, and personal goals, the notion of a traditional "career" is all but dead in most industries. Maybe we should get real and start to look at work life 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 as well as 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
Leaders can be developed. It seems to me that if we're genuinely concerned with leader development, it may be time to examine the validity of both our assumptions and expectations.