Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Leadership development?

What would have to happen for any leadership development to be called a success?
That it develops more knowledge?
or better skills maybe?
Oh and some leadership models or theories maybe?
A mixture of all of these?

Just what are the attributes of a successful leader and how to best develop them?

How many coaches, leadership trainers and lecturers have answers to these questions that they have thought about before you ask them?

I was interested in what would happen if I started to ask such questions of the people who's job it is to develop leaders either in universities or in industry. The results were enlightening and somewhat depressing. Before I go any further this was an informal research project, but as a result of the findings I have started thinking about a more robust and formal exploration of this subject.

I have set about this task in the last couple of months and made a pest of myself with every leadership trainer and lecturer I have met. On the whole they were all happy to answer me. I have spoken to 161 such leadership developers since January. The lecturers from universities were much more likely to have thought about these questions before hand. Trainers and coaches tended, with a few exceptions, to have to think about this on the spot suggesting that they were just running programmes based on the activities and exercises they knew about.
The academics tended to have thought more about the end result and developed material that focuses on that.
It became apparent that trainers split roughly into two: trainers who mainly run set packages and facilitators who tend to work off the data presented to them by the delegates.
The problem with the academic solutions is that they tend to concentrate on the development of knowledge rather than skills.
Neither group had a ready answer to questions about what is their strategy for developing critical thinking, creativity, and autonomy.
When I asked how they helped to ensure that the leaders developed flexible practices and what they did to develop emotional resilience and the ability to deal with ambiguity I drew a total blank. No one had any thought out suggestions.

It would appear that there is a big difference between academic and industry leadership developers in their outlook and scope. Academics focus more on knowledge development, trainers on skills development and facilitators and coaches on personal development. These are not exclusive, just tendencies towards certain development activities.

Academic sources tend to be more up-to-date than their industry based colleagues. Additionally they are much more likely to present counter arguments for certain theories that industry trainers. Academics are also much more likely to have had their thinking and teaching challenged by peers.

On the other hand trainers are more likely to incorporate new material into their programmes than academics, however such material is much more likely to be unverified. In other words trainers will include material that has little or no research backing. This means that what you could get cutting edge thinking or a pile of drivel. Academics however are not immune to this either, but it is less likely to happen.

When asked how they help leaders make better decisions the most common answer was that simply knowing more helps here. Some (all academics) said they included decision making sciences in their programmes but weren't sure if this actually helped.

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