Monday, April 26, 2010

What kind of leadership skills are we talking about?

These days there sure is a lot of focus on developing leadership skills. But what kind of skills are leadership skills? Skills are simply a capacity to do something well. It is an action one takes that accomplishes something. Identifying leadership skills depends on one's understanding of leadership.

If leadership is understood as the exercise of authority, getting others to do what "the leader" wants, then these skills will be different from the skills derived from an understanding of leadership that is more systemic and influence based.

As a practitioner and educator in leadership, I have come to make sense of leadership in terms of various world-views. In other words, different leadership theories and perspectives reflect different world-views people hold. World-views are a dimension of human consciousness and function as large cognitive structures which people, individually and collectively, make sense of the world and guide their actions in it.

Leadership theories that are individualistic, authority-based, focused on quantifiable, predetermined results, which followed from predetermined organizational objectives fit into a particular world-view. Joseph Rost (1991) refers to this as an industrial paradigm of leadership and Marion and Uhl-Bien (2007) refer to this perspective of leadership in terms of a bureaucratic paradigm of leadership.

Leadership theories that are more systemic and collaborative in nature, are more influence and relationship based, focused more on making progress in the direction of mutually derived purposes, while responsive to the dynamic and complex nature of organizational life, are part of a different world-view. Referred to by Rost (1991) as a post-industrial paradigm of leadership and by Marion and Uhl-Bien (2007) as a complexity paradigm of leadership, this world-view tends to be more a more complex world-view.

These two world-views outlined are not mutually exclusive, the more complex includes yet transcends, the less complex. An understanding and practice in a more complex world-view of leadership allow one to flex into less complex one when needed.

Back to leadership skills, it follows that different world-views of leadership require different kinds of leadership skills. So what do you think these are? What kind of skills are part of the industrial or bureaucratic paradigm, and which are needed for a post-industrial or complexity paradigm?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What "develops" in leadership development?

I have become very interested in this question. I should be since leadership development is my "business." I hope to pique other's interest in this question as well. What do you think should get developed in leadership development?

Here are some of my thoughts on this today. I suppose the simple answer is that leadership development programs develop skills and capacities in people. But in what ways? To answer to this question seems dependent on how one understands leadership. If leadership is that which leaders do or should do, in other words, the styles, behavors, traits of individuals in their roles exercising authority with subordinates (followers), in service of predetermined goals and objectives, then development involves skills to be more effective in one role, and more akin to being a good manager or supervisor.

But if leadership is understood to be something more--beyond role, involving leading AND following on the part of all participants, based in influence not authority, emerging from the relationships in any social network, in service of the larger "reason to be" then development it involves a different set of skills or capacities. While this sketch of two possible perspectives of leadership may seem overly simplistic, I think you get the picture.

Different perspectives of leadership informs what gets attention in leadership development. Even though both perspectives may include interpersonal skills, there are differences in the complexity of these skills in the first versus the second. For example, in the first perspective, these skills may be limited to effectively communicate goals, directions, and relevant information. They may also focus on getting others to follow directions--useful skills in some contexts such as field operations in emergency management.

In the second perspective, interpersonal skills may include the above, but also focus on such things as trust, building social capital, working with differences, and finding common ground. Communication is two way, involving listening as well as expression. When a group is working with what Heifetz and Linksy call adaptive challenges rather then technical ones, collaboration and shared inquiry are required to solve problems in which there are no known solutions.

In this example, different perspectives of leadership tend to focus on different skills or different skill levels. But since leadership is fundamentally about seeking meaningful change in any kind of intentional social activity, regardless of the perspective leadership development is essentially about developing people. In the Leadership Studies Programs here at Saint Mary's College, we pay a lot of attention to the whole person focusing on developing a wide range of skills and capacities in people, so that they can be effective in the settings and contexts in which they work and live.

One of the best resources for learning more about how developing people being the center of leadership development is the Center for Creative Leadership. Check out the blog Leading Effectively for some really intelligent writing on the subject.

I have only scratched the surface of this topic, I would be very interested in hearing from what you have to say about the question "What 'develops' in leadership development?"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What is 21st Century Leadership?

I started this blog in 2009 to explore with an understanding and practice of leadership for the 21st century with good intentions of posting regularly. Thirteen months later I am back with renewed commitment to foster a conversation of what kind of leadership is needed in our world today. While the invitation still stands, to share your ideas, questions, experiences, and stories here about leadership in the 21st century, I realize there is plenty for me to contribute to this exploration.

For one, I have been active thinking and writing about leadership and leadership development, particularly in what I have been calling 21st Century Leadership. Not meant to be another theory or kind of leadership but a term intended to represent an inquiry into the kind of leadership needed for today's world, and how to develop in people and the social organizations to which they belong. There are others who use the phrase "leadership for the 21st century" or "twenty first century leadership." One notable example is a leadership program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Here in our MA in Leadership program at Saint Mary's College we have been working with this phrase since our inception in 2001. Moved by the call from Joseph Rost in his 1991 book "Leadership for the Twenty-first Century" to develop leadership capacity in an expanded paradigm of leadership, our program was founded. For past eight years we have not only sought to educate people in such a leadership but also to inquire into how to understand and practice it.

Here is how I describe 21st Century Leadership:

Broadly speaking, leadership can be viewed as our individual and collective response to change the world for the better. And given today’s highly interdependent world, full of enormous complexity, accelerating change, and unforeseen and unprecedented events, an understanding and practice of leadership responsive to this world is needed.

21st Century Leadership is a perspective of leadership intended to respond to the unique challenges and opportunities of today’s world. Reflective of an expanded paradigm of leadership, it draws upon and integrates theories and practices from a wide range of disciplines and traditions to foster practical knowledge and transformative change in service of the world.

The expression of this contemporary perspective of leadership incorporates a full spectrum of values, and fosters a wide range of capacities, competencies, and skills, which are enacted in the various spheres of life in context-specific ways. These include but are not limited to: critical, creative and systems thinking, self-awareness, communication and dialogue, social and cultural intelligence, and facilitation of team and collaborative processes. To develop this perspective of leadership development both an inward and outward orientation is required involving the whole person engaged with the whole system, and involves the whole person and the whole system.

More than the behaviors, traits and styles of individuals, 21st Century Leadership views leadership as a property of any social network. Not solely the domain of those “in charge, ” leadership is something in which everyone participates. While complementing management and administrative functions, leadership is a distinct dimension of organizational life, and its development requires its own focus of attention.

In summary, 21st Century Leadership is a multidimensional and integrative view of leadership that is based in relationships. Through shared purposes and aspirations it brings forward new ways of being, knowing and doing, respecting the developmental nature of the human life. It is oriented toward being inclusive, collaborative, and of service, to individuals, the social good, and ecological sustainability.

Next post: what actually gets developed in leadership development?