Why we are so disappointed in our leaders?
We expect leaders to possess superhuman strengths, clairvoyance, sound judgment, integrity and charisma that most of us may personally lack. We are quick to criticize and become disappointed when those above us on the organization chart fail to meet these expectations.
As an antidote, there are tens of thousands of books and articles that give advice to those leaders to promote our fantasies of what leaders should be.
Yet today’s leader’s impact on behavior (as evidenced by the general level of leadership in corporations and the government) demonstrate that thee intended improvements from books and training have failed to materialize.
In short, despite the investment of billions of dollars each year on leadership development, the needle has failed to move much.
Rather than continuing to be disappointed on such a massive scale, perhaps we should develop a more effective set of best-practices in leadership development.
Rather than promote leaders as paragons and then be disappointed when they are not, I recommend we shift how we think about leaders in the first place and then change how we do leadership development.
A “Leader” is a person. When we focus on leader, we evaluate individual capabilities and hope that the individual uses the information to improve their performance. Sometimes we provide additional support to help the person make the change.
This is the medical model for leadership development:
Determine what is broken and then fix it.
A variation on the model is to find the person’s strengths and encourage them to exhibit more of them. The reasons these approaches don’t work are many and could itself be a future whitepaper. Some are explained in this webinar with Training Magazine Network.
Rather than defining leadership as hierarchical, what if we saw it:
– As a corporate function similar to HR and Finance that has…
– Three measurable deliverables: Direction, competence, and implementation…
– That are completed not but just the people at the top…but is a shared responsibility…
– That people complete by using processes that many have learned and by
– Using the best organization/leadership language and tools…
– That people have learned in practice fields in which people use the new language and tools to address the existing strategic challenges
– We are able to work across silos as a network of leaders who are closely bonded together because they jointly are responsible for the three deliverables, use common processes, language, and tools, and have had shared experience/competence/and confidence to work on the complex issues that matter.
Redefine Leadership Practice
Then we could…
– Reduce individual competency/personality assessment
– Focus on the strategic needs of the organization and not individual development needs
– Create a stronger connection between leader development and improved organization performance
– Rely less on the capacities of a few individuals and instead build organization-wide resilience
– Move from leadership development activities which have demonstrated limited impact on organization performance to practices which help organizations more directly achieve strategic objectives
– Build organizations that can more readily adapt to change
– More easily able to re-engage employees who for far too long have focused on survival and not thriving
– Significantly reduce the waste of time and money on analysis and instead focus on effective collective action
– For specific ideas for new leadership tools and language, check out these tools in The Leader’s Toolbox