Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Four Things to Look for in a Leadership Development Program

In response to a recent question, "What should I look for in an leadership degree program?" I thought of four things. They are as follows:

1. A focus on leadership not management 

Leadership and management are distinct (and complementary) dimensions of organizational life. Each deserving of their own focus in an education program. If you want to learn management there are many excellent ones out there, including those at Saint Mary's College. But if you are looking for a leadership education, be sure it is not a management education dressed up as leadership. 

There are many ways to make describe the distinction between the two. I like the notion described in the book In The Leadership Mode,* that in organizational life leadership and management two distinct but interacting modes. Knowing when to employ one mode versus the other is key to effective stewardship (Dunoon, 2008).  Simply put, in my view leadership engages the social life and change dynamics in an enterprise responsive to the more adaptive challenges in service to its "reason to be." Management on the other hand,  focuses more on the strategic, operational and administrative dimensions of the enterprise.  

2. A focus on a full range of learning outcomes

Assuming you now have settled on seeking a leadership education, be sure it promotes a full range of learning outcomes. The range should go beyond mere academic,  theoretical and applied outcomes to include ones such as self-awareness and critical reflection, interpersonal and cross-cultural competency as well as collaboration and creativity.  This is essential because the skillful exercise of leadership in the 21st century requires a breadth of competencies and multiple intelligences.

3. A curriculum that delivers what it promises

Take a look at the educational design and kinds of learning activities offered in a leadership development program. Are they ones that will produce the range of outcomes promises? For example, if they identify collaboration as an important competency for leadership, are there learning activities that actually help you develop that competency? 

Also, check out what kind of learning environment is fostered.  Does it engage the students as active participants in the learning endeavor? Since leadership is about engagement and practice the program should offer the student the opportunity to be an engaged learner in his or her education. 

4. A focus on the future

Because the world today is in perpetual change, a leadership education should develop capacities to work effectively in an emerging and unknown world.  All too often the focus is on what is already known, and not enough on what is “yet to be known.”  To enact leadership in an unknown, emerging, and future world, people need to develop capacities that are systemic, imaginal and on learning how to learn in times of uncertainty and collaboratively.  

I think these four things should be a good place to start, but certainly there are many more things one should consider. How would you answer the question, "
What should one look for in an leadership degree program?"

*Dunoon, D. (2008). In the leadership mode. Trafford Publishing.