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?"

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